Monday, February 18, 2013

The Second Time You Die Is When Someone Says Your Name For The Last Time: A Review of "Who On Earth was Thaddeus Mist?"

It's been quite some time since I reviewed something for the blog, but every once in a while a story comes along that demands such attention and Who on Earth Was Thaddeus Mist is one such work of art. Coming from "acclaimed picture book publishers of Her Majesties' Empire" (Accent UK,) and featuring work from over a dozen independent comic creators, Thaddeus Mist is one of those rare graphic novel anthologies that transcends it's individual parts to tell a completely beautiful story; and that is saying something once you know how good each part is.

As one could probably guess from the title, the plot revolves around discovering just who the recently deceased Thaddeus Mist really was. Taking up this task is his widow who listens to stories about her husband from the various mourners at his funeral, each presenting her with a different version of the man she thought she knew. While that sounds like a relatively simple premise, the bewitching style and pace in which it is presented puts most other anthologies to shame. Not only is each individual entry in this Citizen Kane-esque yarn grand in their own right they fit together perfectly, furthering the narrative and central thematic question of the book; Can one really know ALL of someone? The changing styles for the various chapters, such as the more jovial and juvenile segment of Mist as a child narrated by his former nanny or the lyrical and lustful portion relayed by his mistress, each dissipate a bit of the mist-ery surrounding Thaddeus' life but at the same time are careful to not assemble the whole puzzle for the reader.

It's been quite a while since a anthology grabbed my attention from the first page and managed to keep it so fully through out the entire book. Add together with the fantastic design of the book and you have one graphic novel that I am glad will be gracing my shelf for years to come (well, when I'm not borrowing it around that is.) As Stuntman Mike would say "This one's ok in my book," and I give it the radiant score of 5 out of 5 stars. If you still need a bit of incentive to check it out below is a trailer put together by the book's creators, and if you're ready to purchase well head over to the Accent UK digital shop located here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wednesday Pickups 5/9/12

Two weeks in row? How can it be so? Answer, lots and lots of blow. In all seriousness though, it is that time  again, where I examine the funny pages... I mean comic books of the previous week and help you navigate the ever vibrant shelves of your local comic shop. This week I'm looking at another slew of number #1s, two newer favorites, and... Uncanny X-Force (partly to challenge myself to think of new ways of saying "OMG I LUV THIS COMIC!" and partly because I know some of you slackers still aren't reading it.) So without further ado, let's get to it.

Our first book is the new title from Boom! Studios, Higher Earth #1; Created & written by Sam Humphries, art by Francesco Biagini, colors by Andrew Crossley, and letters by Ed Dukeshire. Dropped into a trash dump of a world (both in looks and how higher earths classify it) a mysterious stranger recruits one of the planet's lone inhabitants, a young woman named Heidi, for a secret mission involving planet hopping up the food chain. While I feel a lot of comparisons could be drawn between this and Marvel's recent Cable series, if for nothing else than the two main characters, this is an awesome first issue that really leaves me wanting more. Humphries and crew deliver a gritty, futuristic interstellar-adventure that is well done across the board! The story is intriguing and and well plotted; the art is eye-catching and flows so fluidly, and before I forget the best part is IT ONLY COSTS $1! Do yourself a favor and pick this book up, even if you don't like it that much you only wasted a buck so win-win. Not sure yet how I will continue with the book, whether in issues or waiting for a collected edition, but I can promise you I will be returning to Higher Earth soon.

Out next book comes from Avatar Press, Dan The Unharmable #1; Written by David Lapham, art by Rafael Ortiz, and colors done by Digikore Studios. Dan is a man with a plan; live as simple as possible, help out the occasional college coed, and oh yeah be invincible. I only moderately enjoyed the issue, but Lapham goes to one of his trademark moves and leaves us with a crazy ending that is going to make me return for more. Overall, the book shows glimpses of the work I love by him (namely Young Liars) such as it's  strange characters in "every day" settings and subtle jabs at established mindsets but at the same time it feels a bit more forced here. On the art side, Ortiz just kind of follows the Avatar party line (above average attention to detail, with as much blood and destruction as possible) but doesn't really do anything interesting with it and presents panels that feel so flat and isolated. Bottom line, I would only recommend it for those who've taken a ride with Lapham before and trust him to take you for a wild ride by the time it ends; for everyone else; I say wait and see how it all shakes out. As for myself, I have to give it at least few more issues based on  the aforementioned ending in this one and  trust in Lapham.

The final first issue of the week comes from Image, Mind The Gap #1; Written by Jim McCann, art by Rodin Esquejo & Sonia Oback, letters by Dave Lanphear, and production by Damien Lucchese. A phone call, an assault, the usual suspects, an unusual location, and an out of body experience introduce us the new "world" of Ellis Peterssen who has just entered a coma or possibly something more. Jim McCann, assisted by some beautiful artwork from Esquejo and Oback, invite us to solve (and enjoy) the mystery of who attacked Ellis Peterssen, and I for one am accepting the challenge. While there are a lot of mystery series out there, so many of which seem more formulaic than thrilling, this particular one enthralled me and had me thinking about it well after I set the issue down. My lone complaint so far is it does seem to be a bit heavy on the references, but that too could prove endearing over time. I won't say too much more about that now, but if everything goes to plan you will be hearing more from me about this book before it's second issue (oh a mystery inside a review of mystery comic, how meta.) For now, I really recommend giving it a shot if you enjoy losing your self in a whodunit from time to time and for those who don't, at least flip through it to check out the art.

From a damsel in distress to one causing her own fair share, we go to another Image book with mysteries, Fatale #5; Written by Ed Brubaker, art by Sean Phillips, and colors by Dave Stewart. The first arc of this series comes to a close as Hank, Jo, and Walter are thrown together one last time with not everyone making it out alive. I know I just ragged on mysteries in the last paragraph, but this is another one that really works for me mainly because the mystery seems so secondary to Brubaker's character's and the macabre story he is trying to tell. Complimenting it in perfect harmony is Phillips thick, shadowy art, that refuses to leap off the page but instead lures you into it's murky, occult world. Through five issues this has been one hell of a ride that's left me anxiously waiting for more and pondering just how deep this rabbit hole goes. While I wouldn't say it's a must read for everyone, if a mature and supernatural mystery sounds up your alley, you would be remiss not to give it a chance.

Heading over to Marvel we have your monthly dose of mutants with Uncanny X-Force #25; Written by Rick Remender, art by Mike McKone, color art by Dean White, letters by Cory Petit, with two back up stories written by Rick Remender and art done by Jerome Opena. A new arc begins as two members quit X-Force, leaving the other three in a bit of a pickle when their latest quarry knows they're coming. I knew I would enjoy where ever Remender took the story next as so far he's done no wrong in my eyes on this title, but I was a little apprehensive about how well McKone's artwork would fit in the book. I am thankful to report though, that White's colors more than helped to smooth the transition and present us with some of the best McKone art I've seen since his early Exiles stuff. As for the back-up stories, I'm usually not a huge fan of reprints in the back, especially when they add to the price but don't supplement the story. However, in this case I'm going to allow it, mainly because I can't help but love anything Opena creates. Final verdict: buy it unless you hate good comics! (But seriously, a good jumping on point if you've been waiting.)

Last up, and my favorite comic of the week, is Hell Yeah #3 from Image; Written by Joe Keatinge, illustrated by Andre Szymanowicz, lettered by Douglas E. Sherwood, and colored by Jason Lewis. Ben Day, our misanthropic protagonist, gets all the details on why super-ladies from another earth came looking for him; While back at his now demolished high school another group of universe hoppers comes looking for him with something more sinister in mind. I've been digging the first couple issues of the title, and #3 only makes me love it more as Szymanowicz finally gets to let loose with some great action panels. On the narrative side, Keatinge's story continues to be interesting and well paced, leaving us with another perfect cliff hanger. Seriously, out of all of Image's newest titles, this is easily my favorite! And to make matters even better, this issue starts up a fun, unrelated back up story (yes, I know I just bagged on those but this one doesn't jack up the price.) So please check out this title if you're a fan of mixing your hyper violence with your crazy, superhero worlds or you know, you just want to explore a story where superheroes make other entertainment obsolete in a medium some of the major companies seem to be pushing for that.

That's it for this week, but since it is currently a new Wednesday be sure to grab the new issues of The Secret History of D.B. Cooper, Saucer Country, and Red Hood and the Outlaws. Have any recommendations? Leave'em or tweet'em.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wednesday Pickups 5/2/12

It's that time once again, where I try to get my comic blogging back on track and inevitably fall back to not doing so within a few weeks. I don't expect this time to be any different, especially with nicer weather right around the corner, however with another batch of new titles dropping this week, and a few good usual suspects, I figured I'd give it a shot. So without further lame introing, comics from May 2nd, 2012.

Kicking things off this week we have Venom #17 from Marvel; written by Rick Remender & Cullen Bunn, with pencils by Kev Walker, inks by Terry Pallot, colors by Chris Sotomayor, and letters by Joe Caramanga. A prologue to the upcoming Savage Six story arc; this issue assembles the cast of villains looking to take down Flash Thompson, while he himself once again calls on the Venom suit to rid him of Crime Master's black mail once and for all. A nice, soft-start to "Savage Six" this issue delivers a good taste of what the book has been like so far and where it's going in the near future. Remender continues to write Flash through the ringer, both emotionally and physically, giving him only enough down time to see how far he has fallen. One could choose to view this as depressing, but I find it only makes the character that much more interesting as we see him try to be better (sometimes succeeding and often not.) On the art side, Kev Walker's pencils continue to grow on me. While they aren't quite as visceral as Tony Moore's, they offer a pretty good substitute with a unique sense of action layout. All in all, a pretty good issue and definitely a good jumping on point if you've been wondering what this Venom series is all about.

Also from Marvel this week is Age of Apocalypse #3; written by David Lapham, with art by Roberto De La Torre, colors by Lee Loughridge, and letters by Cory Petit. The X-Terminated continue their fight for humanity by trying to stop Beast from reviving some of this world's deadliest mutants, finding assistance in from some unlikely allies. Still not entirely in love with De La Torre's art but find my self really enjoying Loughridge's color palette, which is spot on for this dystopian world. On the narrative side, I'm digging Lapham's story but do think it could be jarring for those not familiar with the universe. Ultimately, I like the book but would probably recommend most readers wait for a trade collection to get a good taste of it instead of just sampling this title with any given issue.

Next up is a bloody, double feature from Image starting with Pigs #7; story by Nate Cosby & Ben McCool, art by Breno Tamura & Will Sliney, colors by Chris Sotomayor, and lettering & design by Rus Wooton. After their paid hit-man failed last issue, the sleeper cell takes matters into their own hands and breaks into prison to eliminate their target. Another good issue from Cosby, McCool, and crew; furthering the story enough to satiate our blood-lust while still dangling the mystery of what the cell is really up to right in front of us. To be honest I was a little worried momentum wouldn't carry over, as it's been a little while since the last issue was released, but now I'm finding that each issue of this book can really be enjoyed without the context of the others (although that context does make it so much better.) If you're up for a tale of intrigue, assassination, and possibly revenge definitely give Pigs a shot.

Rounding out the Image double feature is a brand new mini-series, Epic Kill #1 of 5. Created, written, and drawn by Raffaele Ienco, Epic Kill follows young Song as she begins begins her quest to find that man that holds all the secrets to her past. I would like to say this comic goes beyond the generic summary I just gave it, but it really doesn't. I don't want judge it too harshly based on this first issue, but Ienco's book looks and feels like a third rate action story that never approaches living up to it's name. Maybe it gets better in the other issues, but for now I would advise staying away from this book.

Going back to Marvel, we have Exiled one-shot (part 1 of 5, so not really a one-shot); Kieron Gillen, Dan Abnett, & Andy Lanning on writing duties, art by Carmine Di Giandomenico, colors by Andy Troy, and letters by Clayton Cowles. Evil creatures from Asgardian past escape hell, and end up on earth forcing a confrontation between the Norse gods and the New Mutants that leaves everyone confused. Not the easy introductory issue I was hoping for, coming from only reading New Mutants, but not exactly terrible either. So far this cross-over seems a lot more like pressure marketing than a compelling tale flowing naturally out of the two books, however it did interest me enough to want to pick up the Journey Into Mystery issues if only to find out what is actually going on. Art-wise it left less of an impression, as it neither wowed or disgusted me, leading me to hope for better in the remaining for parts but won't end up being too dissappoint if there isn't. Final verdict on this one, pass on it till it's collected unless you're already buying one or both of the comics titles it bleeds into this month (Journey Into Mystery and New Mutants.)

Last up and my favorite book this week is the flagship title of DC second wave of 52 books, Earth 2 #1; written by James Robinson, pencils by Nicola Scott, inks by Trevor Scott, colors by Alex Sinclair, and letters by Dezi Sienty. On a earth very much like our own (if our own was that of the regular DC earth) three iconic heroes wage a final battle for humanity's freedom ending in a tragic result, but one that will give birth to a new generation of heroes. To be honest, I wasn't to hot on this book going in and might not have picked it up if my local shop wasn't offering it for a dollar off, but man am I glad they did. While I stand by my thoughts on most of the  DC books (I've read and liked) no needing a reboot to tell their stories, this one absolutely did (sort of picking up the remains of JSA) and they knocked it out of the park! Robinson's sets the stage for what could be a great title with his story and Nicola Scott's art is looking way better than the last time I saw it in the pre-reboot Teen Titans series, probably somewhat due to the talents of Trevor Scott and Alex Sinclair. Definitely grabbing the next few issues of this to see if it keeps it's momentum, but I highly recommend grabbing this first issue and checking it out for yourself.

That's it for this week but next week is shaping up to be just as good with new Uncanny X-Force, Crossed, and Batman so be sure to head out and pick those up today.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wednesday Pickups 3/14/12

The invasion of the #1s continues this week with entries from Avatar Press, Image, and Oni Press; Accompanied by old favorites Unwritten and the X-Men! I will give you a few moments to compose yourself after that shock... ok, long enough.

Kicking things off is X-Men Legacy #263, written by Christos Gage with pencils by David Baldeon. Contradicting the beliefs that lead them to separate from Cyclops group, Rogue and the other staff of the Jean Grey School  must team up with Cyke's young, mutant militia to stop Exodus from killing old one-eye. While it's not my favorite of the mutant titles, I do like how this book has become the most contemplative of them, reflecting it's main character's (Rogue) journey all the better. At first glace Baldeon's art might seem to clash with that idea, but it ends up working quite well as his detailed facial expressions convey just as much conflict as his muscle-bound, action panels. Not a must buy, but definitely a title to check out if "Schism" left you wanting as much as it did for me.

Switching universes, we head over to Ultimate Comics X-Men #9 to see what Nick Spencer and Paco Medina are cooking up. Camp Angel, the government's internment camp for mutants, takes center stage this issue as those who it affects most are finally privy to the truth behind the creation of mutants. While I've been waiting for them to deal with this since the camp was first shown (in issue #1 if I'm not mistaken), I have to say this is the most disappointing issue of the comic so far. Now to quantify that statement, my major problem from the issue is the creative team plugging in the 616 Storm (aka the Storm that readers of regular marvel comics) in place of the unique Storm of this universe for most of the comic. To this reader, who is pretty familiar with both, it just reads as a lazy and cheap way to build the issue's climax. Hoping Spencer and Medina don't have any more like this in their remaining few issues together, or I might end up looking forward to creative team change coming later this year.

Heading over to Vertigo we have The Unwritten #35, the conclusion of "Tommy Taylor and the War of Words." The battle we've been waiting for is finally here, Tommy (with his newly minted magical powers) vs. the man who killed his father, but is either the other's true enemy? Another fantastic issue from Carey and Gross, tilting the world on the reader just as they're sure they've found solid footing in the book. I've read very few comics that have kept this high quality of story-telling and art through out their run, and fewer still that have such an original concept. Not only a must buy issue, but a must buy series every month!

Getting into the #1s, we have the first issue of Crossed: Badlands. Here we are introduced to a new group of survivors, by Garth Ennis (writer) and Jacen Burrows (artist), in the bloodiest of all lands, the U.K. Not a great issue, but an ok/disgusting read if your mind and stomach can handle it. Hopefully Ennis is just shaking off the rust with this first issue, and brings his "A" game in the next few; after all it's been a few years since he played in this universe. The better Crossed debut of the week comes from the internet and is FREE, so get over to and check it out (unless you're at work, in which case wait till later.) Si Spurrier and Javier Barreno (the creative talent on the web comic Crossed: Wish You Were Here) know exactly how to bring a reader in, with an interesting main character and an "interesting" Crossed.

From Image we have the most talked about title of the week and maybe the last few for that matter, Saga #1. Written by Brian K. Vaughan with art by Fiona Staples, Saga follows two new parents as they try to give their newborn baby girl a chance at life, by evading the opposing interplanetary armies that would see her and them dead or imprisoned. Call me a sap, but I loved this first issue. It perfectly presents the characters, the world, and their problems in over-sized issue, all for the (formerly) standard price of $2.99 (or $1.99 if you were lucky enough to shop at one of the Amazing Fantasy Books and Comics shops in South Chicagoland.) Some may find it a bit heavy-handed but I can't help falling for Staples dynamic panels and Vaughan's young narrator. Mixing the best elements of sci-fi and fantasy, this is a title I can definitely get behind and certainly recommend every one gives it a shot.

Narrowly beating out Saga for the top spot this week is The Secret History of D.B. Cooper #1, published by Oni Press. Telling the "true" story behind the mysterious man that is/was D.B. Cooper, this comic ventures into a world of talking stuffed teddy bears and psychological hit-men seamlessly. In what is the first work I've read by him (although he is already established in the industry) Brian Churilla knocks it out of the park, while wearing both the artist and writer's hats! I normally hesitate to call an issue perfect but here I gladly use it, if only to try and express just how much I enjoyed this comic. Even if you're not into historical mysteries (or fictional elements being added to them), this comic has something for everyone including well executed sci-fi elements and strong, defined characters. While I would like you to try most of the comics mentioned here, THIS IS THE ONE YOU MUST TRY!

Ok, that's it for this week and since we're a little later than planned you've probably already pillaged the fresh goods from your local comic shop. If you haven't however, give Smoke & Mirrors #1 (looking forward to it myself), Red Hood and the Outlaws #7 (Screw the haters, probably the funnest book in the DCnU), or John Carter: The Gods of Mars #1 of 5 (I'm waiting for the trade but that art fabulous art by Ramon Perez is sure going to make it a long wait) a shot. Done, now go read comics or make some so I can read them or blog/podcast about them so I read/listen to that.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Wednesday Pickups 3/7/12

Attempt #207 to get my weekly comic reviews back on track, odds of success: 3720 to 1. So you're saying there's a chance?

First up this week chock-full of inaugural issues, 3 of them including this one coming from Image, is Fairest #1. Spinning out of the pages of Fables, this new ongoing seeks to tell the stories of the universe's fairer maidens but opens with the prince of thieves, Ali Baba, getting into some mischief. Featuring stunning artwork (with pencils by Phil Jimenez, inks by Andy Lanning, and colors by Andrew Dalhouse) and witty dialogue (Bill Willingham on writing duties) this issue is a fun read but might be a bit dense for the first of the series. I leave it at might, because while it seems that a lot of this story was previously set up in Fables, that could just Willingham dropping us a little further in and playing catch up somewhere down the line. Honestly, if you're reading Fables, I'm betting you'll be picking this up and you should since it has the makings of being a fun book. On the other hand, if your a little unfamiliar with the universe (such as myself, only having read the first Cinderella trade) I would recommend checking out Fables first or waiting for this to be collected and getting more of the story in one sitting.

Next up, also hailing from Image, is The Manhattan Projects #1. The Brothers Oppenheimers' lives had led them down very different paths, as one is recruited to the secret government think tank the comic gets it's title from the other suffers through a rather unsavory event. Jonathan Hickman writes a spectacular script to the start of this fictional account of the Manhattan Project, imagining it as dealing with anything supper powered or occult in World War II as well as developing nuclear weapons. Complimenting Hickman's all-encompassing plot, Nick Pitarra's detailed art tells just as much about the characters we meet, and Cris Peter's colors give them a life all their own. While I was a little skeptical going into the book, I immensely enjoyed this first issue and can't recommend it enough to fans of sci-fi and historical fiction. At the very least give it a flip through while browsing at your comic shop of choice, I promise you won't be disappointed.

Concluding this trio of Image first issues is Hell Yeah #1. Perpetual slacker Ben Day seemingly lives in a perfect world, where 20 years ago superheroes showed up and started it on the path towards utopia, that is until a group of super-chicks from another dimension come looking for him. While it may sound like a premise that's been done already, writer Joe Keatinge and illustrator Andre Szymanowicz have put their own spin on it that I can best describe as something of a cross between the movies Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Rebel Without A Cause (or if you're looking for more of a comic comparison, it feels a bit like the first issue of The Strange Talent of Luther Strode.) While the book presents you with an antiquated rebellious teen, or so he seems at first glance, it also doesn't mind laughing at him and giving the reader a few laughs as well. The first issue might not have been enough to draw other readers in, but I'm thoroughly intrigued and will be picking up the next few issues to see where it goes.

Taking a break from this #1-a-thon, I decided to check out Avengers Academy #27; partly due to urging from John over at the Burnt Weiners Podcast and partly due to the Runaways making a guest appearance. In this part 1 of "War With The Runaways", Nico and gang show up looking for help in getting back their dino-member Old Lace, but their understandable problems with authority figures set them on a collision course with the Academy faculty. Yes, hero groups meeting to do battle is nothing new (actually, I'm pretty sure the Runaways did this just last year with the Young Avengers, which is neither here nor there) but I will give writer Christos Gage the benefit of the doubt with it as he at least manages to keep the personalities involved interesting. Art-wise though the book gets less leeway though, as more than a few panels just felt out of proportion to me and don't exactly leave me wanting to look at anymore. That said, I'm going to at least finish out this two part arc, and pay the title a bit more attention when looking at previews, especially now that I know it revived Juston Seyfret from the early 2000's Sentinel series.

Back to the first issue trend, but staying with Marvel, we have Age of Apocalypse #1. Humanity's hope of survival is dwindling fast with their only hope being the de-powered Jean Grey, Sabretooth, and The X-Terminated against Weapon Omega's (formerly this world's Wolverine) mutant domination. While I really enjoy this issue, knew I would like David Lapham's writing but ended up liking Roberto De La Torre's art more than I would have thought, I do think it might put up a barrier to new readers and those that might be jumping back in to the AOA since it's original creation so many years ago. The book expects a reader to be just a bit more familiar with what is going on than I would like in a first issue, similar to my complaint with Fairest #1 from earlier in this post. The good news here though, is that Lapham's writing style will be quick to erase that gap within a few issues, as I feel he often gentle adds a little bit of summary to his books as they go on. On the other hand, if you don't want to wait that long Uncanny X-Force #19.1 is a great introduction to this universe (which I reviewed only a handful of post ago, saying it should be called Age of Apocalypse #0 instead) and was only released in January so it should still be on your local shop's shelf. Definitely looking forward to more though, as I love me some Lapham and this universe really grew on me after being featured in Remender's Uncanny X-Force.

Saving the best for last, from DC comics we have Swamp Thing #7. Every thing Alec Holland has been going through in the first six issues comes to a head here as he must make his final decision on whether or not to once again become the Swamp Thing, that is if it isn't already too late. As usual Scott Snyder (writer) and Yanick Paquette knock it out of the park! Synder (as he has already proven with American Vampire and Severed) can balance themes just as well if not better than anyone else in the business, doing so in this book with the all demanding nature and the ever-present horror. As if that wasn't enough, his dialogue manages to take the characters a step beyond the page; shaping them not just by what they say, but how they say it. That right there is enough for a great book, but Paquette's art brings it up to the amazing ranking. His panel structure is so fluid and pencils so detailed that you just want to hang every page of this book on your wall, unless you have little ones it might give them nightmares. Also, just want to get in a quick mention of the job Nathan Fairbairn does with the colors on this issue; the reds. blacks, and greens all fit together so well not just with the art but with the major themes already being examined and coming up soon. Seriously if you're reading any DC books and this isn't one of them, your doing it wrong.

Well, that is it for this week. Basically a bunch of great books that you should be checking out and one of two that may be a little more niche. Looking forward to this coming week, there is another wave of #1s on the horizon as Saga, Crossed: Badlands, and the Secret History of D.B. Cooper all premiere; plus, as usual with me, a bunch of X-Men books drop that I will be sure to grab. Any thoughts/questions/suggestions, go ahead and leave those down below in the comments, and if not see you back here in 7*.

(*Intentionally left off the measurement for that 7 so I could take as long as I want to write next week's post mwhahahahaha! But seriously, it I'll try and keep it to 7 days.)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Stay Classy Barsoom: A review of the film "John Carter"

A classic, fantasy adventure film is something of a dying breed in Hollywood, as every year more and more comic book super-heroes or flashy, speed-ramped combatants dominate the box office. Now I'm not seeking to vilify all of them, as I enjoy more than a few, but the sheer amount can become tiring and repetitious. Thankfully these trends have yet to make it to Mars, (or Barsoom as it is known to the locals) the setting of director Andrew Stanton's first live-action feature, John Carter.

Adapted from the story "A Princess of Mars" by Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter follows the titular character, a former Civil War soldier played by Taylor Kitsch, as he is transported to a strange land not his own and drawn into alien feuds he could never have imagined. A simple concept, by today's standards, but embracing that and reveling in the wonder and awe that can be found in such a tale, is just what makes this film so special.

Stanton, whose previous directing credits come from the much loved Pixar films WALL-E and Finding Nemo, once again utilizes his ability to take a story and make it an enchanting, fun, and visual spectacle for the big screen. Filling the barren, desert landscape with fantastical air ships, swashbuckling sword fights, and interesting creatures of all manner; the film hearkens back to a time when an adventure film sought to immerse you in it's world rather than just bombard you with the latest techniques everyone is copying (although it does have the posted-added 3D effect but I would hazard a guess that addition was Disney's choice.) Of course Stanton's vision isn't the only factor that breathes life in to the film, a great number of contributing factors help this movie to really shine. Good performances by all main actors, a fitting score by Michael Giacchino, and the fine source material provided by Burroughs are all worth mentioning.

The film also has a couple problems, but nothing that really ends one's enjoyment of it. Chief among these errors is the some of the film's dialogue. While there are a few good lines and many just fine ones, there are also quite a few that make a view want to roll their eyes out the back of their head. Terrible dialogue is nothing new to the genre, but it is something a bit more time on the script or at table reads could have weeded out. The other major annoyance I have with the film is it running just a bit too long. By the end one does want the film to keep going, which is a testament to how it plays overall, but there are a number of scenes that drag a bit and cutting them down to bring the film under the two hour mark would only enhance it's enjoyment.

Overall though, I really liked John Carter and give it 4 out of 5 stars. I also recommend you getting out there to see it this weekend if you have the time. Fans of classic, sci-fi/fantasy films and who want more of them in the coming years should be at the front of these lines, as initial reports don't predict this film doing well at the box office. So head out to your local theater now, and go see Andrew Stanton bring something new, but also something time-honored to the big screen.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Wednesday Pickups 1/18/12

Lots of good stuff this week (including Uncanny X-Force and New Mutants which I left off in favor of some new stuff, but they're both still great as usual) so let's get right into it.

First up this week comes from IDW and is a series I haven't written about yet, Memorial #2. We last left Em narrowly escaping an army of statues come to life and things just continue to get stranger in this issue as Schrodinger, her new talking cat companion, fills her in on what's really happening. Written by Chris Roberson, with art by Rich Ellis, this book falls some where between 'Fables' and 'Unwritten' both in it's subject and style. I did like this and the first issue but I wouldn't say it's cemented a spot in my pull list yet, as it is rather slowly developing. However, I am still looking forward to seeing where this book goes as it has a lot of potential.

Moving over to Image, we have the highly anticipated Prophet #21. Reviving a long dead series, this book follows John Prophet as he awakens to a strange, new world that is more organic and definitely less human. While I never read any of the previous incarnation, this twenty-first issue (written by Brandon Graham with art by Simon Roy) is very inviting and new reader friendly. Part sci-fi, part survior tale; Graham's story sets up a general direction but also doesn't seem to be in a rush to get there, content to wonder at the oddities all around this unique terrain. Said oddities look great from the combined efforts of Ray on art and Richard Ballermann on colors, rough but given life through it's natural color spectrum. Don't know that I will be getting every issue, but I am looking forward to picking up a few more to get a better grasp of the book.

The lone mutant title that made it to the blog this week is Uncanny X-Men #5. Tabula Rasa (Archangel's evolutionary testing ground from Uncanny X-Force) needs to be dealt with and Psylocke recruits Team Cyclops for the job without telling them the location's origins. Written by Kieron Gillen, with pencils by Greg Land, this new arc brings to the title one of the main X-Men staples it's being missing, meaningful and fun character moments. Whether your tastes lean towards Magick and Colossus bonding over this strange land's natural beauty or Magneto and Psylocke conspiring to keep shared secrets; Gillen does a good job of flushing out the characters a bit and making the reader care about them. Really enjoying this book, as it takes the powerhouses of the mutant world to task even more so now with good characterization and Land's art (although I realize that art isn't for everyone.)

We have nice double feature of finales from Avatar Press this week, with the first one being Crossed: Psychopath #7 of 7. In an issue that is sure to touch the deepest parts of one's heart, Harold finally reveals his "feelings" for Amanda and every thing he's done so that they could be together. A good issue, but it did leave the story a little more open than I would have liked. Who knows though, this could mean Lapham plans to return to these characters during his time at the wheel on the upcoming Crossed: Badlands series. That minor disappointment aside, Raulo Caceres' art maintains it's horrific excellence, bringing both a tear to one's eye and inducing dry heaving at the same time. While it went out with a whimper, this is my favorite Crossed volume to date and definitley has me anxiously waiting for the ongoing series.

Part two of the Avatar finales this week (both written by David Lapham) is Caligula #6 of 6. Felix and Laurentius plan to save Rome and defeat Caligula is executed, but how does one defeat an immoral immortal? Perhaps a bit anti-climactic for the end of the series, but like the book previously mentioned I still enjoyed it. Certainly not Lapham's greatest work, but one that does keep with his troubling and true examinations of the "human" condition. If your a fan of Lapham's work (or the other stuff Avatar Press puts out) make sure to check it out when it's collected.

Heading over to DC Comics, we have Red Hood and the Outlaws #5. It's Roy vs. Crux and Jason vs. The Untitled this issue, with Kori's life and their own hanging in the balance. Another awesome issue from Scott Lobdell (writer) and Kenneth Rocafort (artist), showcasing a bit more action than the previous ones but still managing to further the story and slip in some character moments. Still the biggest surprise out of the new 52, as I am enjoying this book way more than I ever expected to and dread the monthly wait for the each new one.

Pick of the week goes to Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Batman #5. The citizens, capes, and cops of Gotham worry as Batman is missing in action; while the Court of Owls is busy putting him through the mental, emotional, and physical wringer. Fantastic issue from Synder and Capullo, with the former's story really delving into the mind of The Batman and the latter's art spectacularly illustrating it a mind bending fashion. If you are not picking this book up, you're missing one of the best Batman stories I've read in years!

That's it for this week and look for the following week's books to be posted soon as I try to catch up on my comic reviewing.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Cool Powers Bro!: A Review of the Film "Chronicle"

Chronicle, directed by Josh Trank and written by Max Landis, seeks to wow audiences this weekend by crossing super powered characters in to the increasingly popular realm of the found footage genre (films that want you to believe the characters in it are the ones wielding the camera) but does it end up flying above such a gimmick or merely beat the audience to death with it? Personally, I think more of the latter.

The film chronicles - sorry, had to do it - three high school teens (played by Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, and Michael B. Jordan) who all acquire telekinetic powers (ability to manipulate objects with one's mind) after discovering a strange, alien presence underground. A simple concept in and off itself, but one that is weighed down heavily by trite character backgrounds. Andrew (DeHaan) is school's social outcast who also happens to have a crappy home life, Matt (Russell) is his good-natured cousin but also the smartest guy in the room, and Steve (Jordan) is the popular kid good at every thing. Granted, when they are thrown together through the chance encounter of getting these powers, it makes for a few honest moments of teenage life; like using the powers for practical jokes and lifting girl's skirts. For the most part though, these characters never get past the stereotypes they were written as in the screenplay, despite the best efforts of the actors playing them (especially Michael B. Jordan whose proven talents, showcased in The Wire and Friday Night Lights, are woefully underused.)

Moody Mind SMASH!

Okay, but at the end of the day the film's not really about the story right? After all this is something of a spectacle film, with kids flying around and tossing cars in the air. Putting one's hopes in that to be the saving grace of the movie would be a mistake, as most thing done here we've seen done better already. Also, by the time any real or interesting action happens most viewers will already care to little for it to be enjoyable. While the film only runs just over 80 minutes so much time is wasted on quiet moments, such as Andrew levitating the camera above him just before sleeping on multiple occasions, that one would wish the film closer to 60 minutes.

Now all these problems aside, the film does have a few redeeming qualities. The previously mentioned "honest" character moments are refreshing to a film about high school teens, even when they are practically drowned out by the cliched character-types. Trank's choice not to limit the "found footage" to the protagonist's camera also proves interesting as it opens up the film a bit. The addition of security cameras and cell phone cameras of bystanders, helps to bring a little life back into the film by the third act and help navigate the action scenes for maximum enjoyment. Outside of these though, the film's attempted telekinesis on the viewer's feelings is quite transparent and makes it that much harder enjoy and easier to resist.

Ultimately, I give Chronicle 2 stars out of 5, as it has a few positives but definitely not enough for me to like the film. If your still tempted to check it out, save your cash and wait to rent the film as this theatrical experience certainly doesn't give you any more bang for your buck this time and it is less acceptable to try telekinesis there waiting for the film to pick up.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Wednesday Pickups 1/11/12

Lots of good books this week (so many that I left off of the usuals like Unwritten), so let's get right to it:

First up this week comes from Image and is one of their newer titles, The Last of the Greats #4. The Last - A super alien whose siblings were all killed by humanity - deals with the starling realization from last issue that there is a "daughter" of The Greats and that he is now a father/mother while our protagonist Beaumont suffers for his oh so human choices. It's hard to talk too much about this issue without giving away it's ending, suffice to say it something I really didn't see coming but isn't exactly out of left field either when you think about the book's themes. Joshua Hale Fialkov continues to write a interesting story about power and instincts, while Brent Peeples; Nick Nix; and Eddy Swan (Penciler; Inker; and Colorist, respectively) present gentle artwork that isn't afraid to switch to violent on a moment's notice. Definitely recommend checking this out if you are looking for a book that deviates from the normal super-hero fare.

Moving over to Dark Horse Comics, we have Orchid #4. Lord Wolfe, self designated ruler of civilization, tells the tale of his beast-controlling general who he is about to sic on Simon and Orchid. While I liked the first issue, since then the book has been going down hill and this will be the last one I pick up. The world Tom Morello created for the book is interesting and has potential, but I just think the story he is telling with it is getting shallow and boring. This coupled with Scott Hepburn's art leaves me more disappointed that satisfied after reading it, so probably a book your going to want to pass on.

Going back to Image, we have the debut issue of Joshua Luna's new book, Whispers #1. Sam Webber is a man who spends a bit too much time in his own head, but that is about to change as he's just discovered he can leave his body while sleeping and effect the lives of people he knows. I was a little skeptical about how Joshua's work would be solo - most of his previous work has been collaborations with his brother Jonathan - but I have to say I really liked this first issue. Josh's art has a distinctly rougher feel, that works for the title and his story feels human with just a dash of weirdness to keep it interesting. If you've enjoyed the brothers' previous works - Ultra, The Girls, The Sword - I recommend giving this a shot.

Heading over to Marvel, we have X-Men Legacy #260.1 kicking off an east coast X-Men triple feature. Rouge's group settles into their new role at the Jean Grey School For Higher Learning with a friendly game of football and some unexpected grounds-keeping. Christos Gage and David Baldeon (writer and penciler) turn in a perfect .1 issue, that not only manages to introduce us to the regular cast (both new and old) but tell a self-contained story that establishes the book's tone. If only Marvel would make sure every .1 were held to this standard, I would get behind this initiative. Definitely check this one out, even if your not an X-Men fan it's worth a read.

Venturing off the school grounds, we catch up with Madrox and crew in X-Factor #230. The group continues to mourn for Jamie - who unbeknownst to them is bouncing around alternate dimensions - as Wolverine shows up to help them in more ways that one. Only my second issue back reading X-Factor, but it's already commanding a regular spot on my pull list with Peter David's comedic writing and the cohesive art of Emanuela Lupacchino, Guillermo Ortego, and Matt Milla (penciler, inker, and colorist.)  Looking forward to more great times from this crew, especially with their newly added characters - aka my main reason for returning to the title. A must buy if you want more than a few laughs from you funny books.

Heading back to Westchester County, and surprising even me as pick of the week, is Wolverine and the X-Men #4. The school gets a couple new students, straight over from Uncanny X-Force, and receives a guest lecture from Deathlok. While I stayed away from the book for the first few issues, based on the art and the bad taste the writer's last X-Men tale (Schism) left in my mouth, I decided to give this a shot with the new characters additions, and man am I glad I did. Feeling like a blend between Morrison's New X-Men and Kyle & Yost's New X-Men, Jason Aaron has written something in this book for every one. Mutants both young and old struggling to deal with their powers and the world in general may be the oldest synopsis for any X-Men book but why fix what isn't broken. While it could be viewed as a step backward from the previous years, the book setting it's self up as something so similar to books from almost ten years ago, I now see it more as giving readers an option for their mainstream X-Men consumption. You can follow the heavy hitters and action packed adventures of Team Cyclops in Uncanny X-Men, get back to the roots of young mutants learning to deal with the world in this title, or pick up both if your like me and can never seem to get enough X-Men. So check this one out if your craving that mutant education of yesteryear, as it also makes for a great introductory issue.

That's it for this week and since I "may" already be working on next week's reviews, I'll just leave it at that.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Killing by Numbers: A Review of Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games"

12 colonies; 1 capitol; 24 tributes; 1 survivor; 0 trust; 0 safety; Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games is a simple story that adds up to more enjoyment than one would expect from it's parts. Told from the point of view of tough, young heroine Katniss Everdeen; the book follows her as she becomes the latest sacrifice to the upper echelon of society and is forced to compete in it's dark, deadly battle-royal for teenagers, The Hunger Games.

While one might immediately think these are themes (and maybe even a plot if you've read Battle Royale) I've seen done over and over again; the old, rich and powerful persecuting the young, poor and working class; the real question becomes does Collins' book bring anything new to the table? The answer is not much, but those new elements do make the book quite a compelling read.

The first component that helps to set the book apart is the gender of it's protagonist. Yes while a girl as the lead character isn't exactly new, it is quite under used in  futuristic-adventure reads such as this one. Further more, it's rare for such a character to read as an actual girl not just a bro with boobs, of course that maybe a healthy by-product of the writer's gender. The other aspect that separates this book in the vast field of dystopian futures, is it's effective and deliberate pacing. From the slow, introspective chapters waiting for the games to begin; to the fast, action packed ones in the arena, Collins' has a great command of timing that keeps the reader thoroughly invested. There are many books that will have the reader suffer through long segments or try to condense interesting sequences into minor footnotes, but The Hunger Games manages to navigate those waters successfully and comes out as quite a more enjoyable read for it. Of course, along with these positives the book does has some draw backs.

The worst trait (or perhaps best trait when looking for commercial success) of the book is the plainness of Collins' writing style. When reading I like to find some formative challenge to embrace, whether it has an interesting narrative structure or unique vocabulary choices, but nothing of the sort appears in The Hunger Games. While this is not a horrendous or unforgivable flaw, and some might not see it as one at all, it does leave me wanting something more from a writer. Perhaps the more important problem to most readers, is a one-dimensional cast outside the major players and the world not being fully realized as a result. While this is certainly a headache in a lot of stories, and I do think it at least warrants mentioning, I found it quite easy to dismiss while reading. With the novel all being told from a single character's point of view it is seems a little more feasible for other characters to become one-note asides giving us some knowledge about the world rather main characters in their own stories. Since this is a series though, it's definitely a problem that I hope fades out in future books.

All in all, I found The Hunger Games a gratifying read and definitely recommend giving it a shot if you were intrigued by the trailer for the upcoming film adaptation (like I was) or enjoy a darkened world with young protagonists (like the later Harry Potter books.) Can't wait to see how this series continues, which has propelled the other two books in the trilogy straight to my "to read" pile, and how it performs on the big screen later this year.