Author Archives: AJ
War stories and DC Comics haven’t mixed so well in the New 52. Back in 2011, the publisher launched Men of War and G.I. Combat as part of the new line-up but the books were cancelled in short order. The reasons are many of course, and not necessarily just that the titles plain didn’t sell well on the shelves. But then that’s the thing, and has become part of the larger problem of the entire New 52 launch. Still, war stories and comics, they mix together fairly well I think and numerous attempts have been made over the years to bring to them a mass-appeal.
Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, two of the best writers in the business, launched Star Spangled War Stories Featuring G.I. Zombie last month with a new #1, and I’d say that they are off to a great start. The title mixes in a zombie soldier with a D.O.D agent, sent on a mission to track down a bunch of gunrunners. The first issue starts off right in the middle of the story, with the big twist halfway through being excellent (never read something with G.I. Zombie before), and the story continues on in the second issue to be a whole lot of fun. Writing is far better than I’d thought it would be, and the (painted-ish) art by Scott Hampton is also impressive.
Black Library has had a fairly strong audio range for several years, thanks in part to the excellent work done on the Horus Heresy audios. Two years back the publisher began releasing short 8-10minute audios as well, in addition to its longer range, and they too proved fairly successful. First with Big Finish and then with Heavy Entertainment, several characters and stories have been brought to audio life by the publisher, whether we talk Warhammer 40,000 or Warhammer Fantasy Battles, and it has been a truly great experience, with very few missteps along the way.
Joining the publisher’s ever-growing audio catalog is this month’s The Tranzia Rebellion radio play. Where this is now audio format differs from the usual audio dramas and audiobooks is that there is absolutely zero narration. Everything is with the characters with no narrative commentary or some such. The first two episodes, penned by C Z Dunn (formerly editor at Black Library and now working for the parent company Games Workshop) and produced by Heavy Entertainment, are really good. They are scene-setting installments of course, but still they quickly establish the characters and the story, with the voice-acting being diverse and enjoyable.
As I mentioned in my review of Superman #32 back in June, DC’s premier superhero has had a tough time in the New 52, owing much to random editorial interference and the lack of a consistent creative team among other things. The low quality of the stories being told was secondary to all that, in a way, though there was indeed some kind of a feedback loop in the works. And then came Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr.’s Superman #32 in June, the first in their run on the title, and suddenly things looked promising. The two started from scratch, with a fresh direction for the title, and the result was spectacular.
Superman #33 and #34 continue the story of Ulysses and Superman. The former has a history much like that of the Man of Tomorrow, except that he is the son of Earth physicists who lost him during an experiment gone wrong years before. Now he is back, or rather, he has returned to his homeworld and has allied himself with Superman. As a fresh character, Ulysses bears much promise and it is really fun to see Superman interacting with someone like him, someone he can really bond with over a (somewhat) shared history. And in the midst of it all, John Romita Jr. works in some incredible artwork.
Back in Superman #31 we saw how Ulysses became separated from his parent and through Superman as a focal character, we saw how he returned to Earth’s dimension after many, many years. Of course, the two of them cooperated together and became friends even. Now, Superman #33 and #34 are all about how Geoff Johns develops that relationship and how he draws in the pieces of a much larger story than the tale of two superhumans bonding together.
The incident at the Ulysses Research Lab that got so much page-time in Superman #32 is expanded on much more in Superman #33 as Clark goes to Perry White at the Daily Bugle to hunt down some leads and his former boss tells him everything that is to know about the Lab and its supervisor, Dr. Margaret Night. From there the story continues on as more and more robotic constructs invade Metropolis, one after the other, and working as a team, Ulysses and Superman come up with both a way to stop them and track down the source, though it all ends in disaster at the end of Superman #34 and the two heroes are forced to make and live with a tough choice.
Characterisation, that’s what’s so important here. It has always been one of Geoff’s strengths, whether you look at his run on Green Lantern or Aquaman. That’s what he brings so well to Superman as well. Ulysses and Superman are quite similar to each other, but they also have nuances. Sure, the story is a bit derivative in that Ulysses is sort of a surrogate for Supergirl or Superboy or other such similar character, but there are important differences, and they are what matter in the end. The story that Geoff is telling is secondary here because his focus is primarily on the characters, what he lavishes most of his attention on.
And I love that. For once in the New 52, characters are important for Superman rather than the story. There are no funny gimmicks about long-lost Krypton or goofy villains or magic or anything. Geoff’s tale about Ulysses and Superman is something rooted in science and a modern understanding of what it means to be a superhero, to be a defender of people.
That is what Superman has always been about to me, and that is what I can see in Ulysses as well. Pretty damn good work, I say!
The art teams for these two issues are largely similar, with John Romita Jr. as the penciller, Klaus Janson as the inker and Laura Martin as the colourist. The only difference comes in that Sal Cipriano does the letters in the first issue and Travis Lanham in the second. As before in my review of Superman #32, the artwork is flat-out excellent in both issues. JRJ has a unique take on the characters and the setting, and with Ulysses he and his fellow artists have room for a lot more freedom of design, which they make good use of. The two protagonists contrast and complement each other well in terms of design, and the action sequences really make it all crystal clear. Whether it is the pencilwork or the inks or the colours or the letters, there really isn’t any criticism I can offer here.
After a good start in Superman #32, Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr. look set to continue on with a near-perfect streak, and I can’t wait for the next issue as the mysteries about both Superman and Ulysses deepen and we find out the designs of the villain working in the background at the end of Superman #34.
More Superman: #32.
Last month Gail Simone and Nicolás Daniel Selma wrapped up their first arc on Tomb Raider by going all-out with a story they’d spend six months developing and refining. The arc was a great introduction to the world of Tomb Raider and it followed on directly from last year’s video game of the same name, a game that lauded as one of the best games of 2013. Gail and Nico did a fantastic job following in those steps, and now that the first arc was done, I wondered where the duo would go, and whether they would return Lara to her roots as a tomb raider or not, because that’s what the character is about, at her core.
This week’s Tomb Raider #7 sees the beginning of a new arc on the series and also a change in the creative team as Rhianna Pratchett joins Gail on writing duties and Derlis Santacruz replaces Nico on the pencils Andy Owens replaces Juan Gedeon on the inks. The overall feel of the comic is very different as a result, but by no means does that reflect poorly, because this new arc looks set to kick ass as much as the previous one did, both in terms of the story and the art. I am certainly interested in finding out more how the new (and changed!) creative team is going to progress on with the title.
The Strain premiered almost two months ago and since then it has had quite a bit of success. With the successful format of the “half-season” shows, The Strain has quickly become one of FX Productions’ successes and with Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan backing it up (they are also the creators of the story and characters etc through their The Strain novels), it looks set to become even bigger next year when the second season begins airing. For me, The Strain is currently one of the best horror shows on cable networks, easily the match for others like Sleepy Hollow and even, to a degree, Dracula.
The first two episodes of the show set the basis for what was to follow, establishing the series ground rules, mysteries, character relations etc. As introductions go, these two episodes were pretty good. Wonderful blend of horror, mystery and character drama. The next three episodes go even further, and the stakes are raised for every element that you can imagine. Whether it is Abraham van Setrakian finally getting around to killing vampires, or Ephraim and Nora learning the truth of Regis Air 753, or Vasiliy encountering the reason why the city’s rat problem has gotten so much worse. All the excellent stuff from the first two episodes continues here, and it is a blast to watch.
I don’t know if it is just me but since Fall last year it looks like Jim Zub is quickly becoming one of the hottest writers in the industry. After the success of his Image series Skullkickers, he seems to be getting projects green-lit left and right, whether that be the awesome Samurai Jack tie-in for IDW or the Pathfinder: City of Secrets tie-in for Dynamite (he wrote more Pathfinder before as well, I think), or even a few one-shots here and there. For the most part, all that I’ve read from him has ranged from the good to the really great. Skullkickers is something that I’ve been meaning to read for a while and it looks like I really need to jump on with this, because I just need to read more Jim Zub every month.
The latest project from Jim is Wayward, the first issue of which came out yesterday. Working alongside artists Steve Cummings, John Rauch and Marshall Dillon, Jim has crafted a really suspenseful and mysterious tale about a Japanese-Irish girl coming to Japan to live with her mother and getting caught up in some kind of supernatural antics, such as when she starts to get followed by cats and can find her way to new places purely by instinct or… more. The writing is excellent of course, but it is really the art that shines through so much, with all the colourful magic quality of Japan and a bit of mysticism thrown in.
After a very, very short arc set in space and featuring some truly madcap adventures, Silver Surfer and Dawn Greenwood returned to Earth so that Dawn could come back and Norrin could have a bit of a breather as well. But things turned out to be rather weird when strange things began happening at Dawn’s home, the Greenwood Inn, and when Dr. Strange and Hulk showed up as well. Dan Slott and Mike Allred have been afire with this new series kept getting better and better, and at such a young stage too. In many ways, I think this is exactly the kind of Silver Surfer comic I’ve been wanting forever, though I could do with something a bit more serious as well.
The best way to describe this series and even this issue is that it is all light-hearted fun at its core. Dan Slott weaves in a lot of fun jokes throughout the issue and he keeps things easy and chill despite the momentous events happening. We finally get to see just what it is that is going wrong at the Greenwood Inn and beyond, and see a fun team-up between Silver Surfer, Dawn, Dr. Strange and Hulk. The particular twist here was a good one, and with respect to the art, Mike and Laura Allred have delivered some of their best work with this issue.
Thankfully, I’m finally settling back into the groove with comics reading and, most importantly, comics reviewing, as I managed to review a fair bit of titles this week and even caught up with reviewing some previous titles that I’ve unfortunately had to neglect for one reason or another.
The surprise hits of this week were Cartoon Network: Super Secret Crisis War: Billy and Mandy #1 from IDW Publishing, Wolverine Annual #1 from Marvel Comics and Vampirella #3 from Marvel Comics. The surprise flop of the week would be Batman: Eternal #20 from DC where the title seems headed downwards just when it was getting once again, and The Wicked + The Divine #3 from Image where the title took a nosedive this week after a second issue that was really good. No graphic novels again sadly, though I hope to correct that that this week. I hope..
Due to going on a vacation towards the end of July, I fell behind on Future’s End, and that kind of sucked in part because this is a highly rated series for me. It is a complex story being weaved together by no less than four writers and covering dozens of characters, so it is kind of easy to get lost but the weekly schedule helps quite a bit with that. At this point in the series, I’m looking for a sense of interconnectedness and the feeling that things are moving forwards towards some kind of a resolution. That resolution might not arrive for another month, or even two months, but that’s what I want, and fortunately, Future’s End #13-16 provide exactly that.
These four issues deal with the many secrets being kept from the many characters in this series. Such as what is really happening in the subbasement levels of Cadmus Island, or who sent Lois Lane a bunch of artifacts that have led her to uncovering some big secrets and even come face-to-face with a stark reality of her alternate life on Earth 2, or what is going on with the masked Superman and why he acts like a jock these days, or the reality of who killed Stormwatch back in the opening issues. The writers turn out some fairly good material here, and with artists like Patrick Zircher, Art Thibert, Scot Eaton and Jesus Merino, the artwork is in good hands here.
When I began my “25 Series To Read In 2014” reading challenge this year, I was intending to cover Lost Tribe of The Sith. And then just last week, or the week before that, I discovered that it wasn’t a series as much as it was a collection of short stories and I was like, uhm… well…., so I rethought the whole thing and added the Fate of The Jedi series to the challenge instead. From what I’ve heard from a lot of friends who are dedicated Star Wars fans, this particular series has a, let’s say, not-so-good reputation. So I decided to take up that challenge because I wanted to get a bit more current with my Star Wars reading, and this seemed like a good place.
Fate of The Jedi #1: Outcast presents a very bold new vision of Star Wars that really might not be for everyone. When this novel begins, the galaxy far, far away has changed considerably since I was last in it. Jagged Fel is now the ruler of the Imperial Remnant. Former Imperial Natasi Daala is now the Chief of State of the Galactic Alliance. The Jedi are a force directly under the aegis of the GA, with much of its freedom curtailed, and so on. To be honest, I loved all of this. Yeah, sure, it was all really weird at first, and I still can’t accept that Daala of all people is now the leader of democracy in the galaxy, but yeah, this was actually quite a fun book!
Recently Zenescope wrapped up its great Realms Fall arc, which was itself a part of the greater Age of Darkness arc that ran across the majority of Zenescope’s titles. This arc saw all the mystical realms fall before the power of the Dark Horde and its leaders, the Dark Queen and the Dark One. Many of the heroes are either dead or missing in the wake of this event, and as the larger story continues on in the Realm War mini-series, Zenescope is already moving forward with the Grimmverse in its flagship Grimm Fairy Tales title, which has been the bedrock of the Grimmverse for uncounted years now.
In Grimm Fairy Tales #101, the clock has moved forward a year from the events of the landmark Grimm Fairy Tales #100, and writer Pat Shand takes us quickly into the new, changed world. Sela Mathers, the former Guardian of the Nexus, is still a constant, as is her mentor Shang, and together they are rebuilding the Realm Knights. New students have been brought in, a new generation of heroes who will go on to serve the Realms, and the issue is a really fun trip through the process. And artist Andrea Meloni delivers some great artwork all through the issue, packed with tons of action as it is.
I am a sucker for nostalgia. Especially when it involves one form of entertainment or other. When Archie Comics began publishing Afterlife With Archie last year, I remembered all those days and weeks of reading various Archie comics as a kid, an obsession that two of my older cousins introduced me to, almost sixteen-seventeen years ago. Afterlife is quite different from any other Archie comic to date, not in the least because it is a horror book first and foremost, but the nostalgia from that book still hit me. I’ve looked at various Archie comics ever since, wanting to jump in at some point, but I never did. Until now.
A few short weeks ago, one of my childhood friends died a heroic death. Archie Andrews, a character I’ve loved for almost a decade and a half, a character I remember fondly to this day even though years have passed since I last read a proper Archie comic, died defending a friend from a murderer. Curiously enough, I missed the entire event somehow and didn’t realize what had happened until a few weeks ago. I have just read Life With Archie #36 and #37, and I was in tears when Archie died in the final pages of the former issue. Read the rest of this entry