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.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wednesday Pickups 1/4/12

New year, new comics, new posting schedule (as in a little more often then every four months); so without further ado let's get right into the first batch of comics from 2012!

First up, Team Cyclops is making the world love and fear them in Uncanny X-Men #4. In a one-off tale, spinning out of Mr. Sinister's return, The Phalanx are back and still having problems "making friends." Not a ground breaking comic by any means, but it is always nice to get a one'n'done in sea of trade formatted titles.   Keiron Gillen weaves an interesting and humanizing story of a solitary phalanx (phalani?), which accompanied by Brandon Perterson's art and Justin Ponsor's thematic colors makes for an enjoyable read. I would love to see more of this kind of thing from the book, but the arc starting next issue doesn't sound too bad either as it is spinning out of the previous events from the next title here.

We once again head to the Age of Apocalypse with Uncanny X-Force #19.1. Phoenix and Sabretooth return to their home-world after helping out X-Force, and are immediately thrown back into the fire. Another solid writing effort from Remender, who has been knocking it out of the park lately, this time paired up with Billy Tan's softer and more dramatic art making for a compelling read. My only real complaint with this one is that it should have been Age of Apocalypse #0, as it leads directly into #1 of that series and offers no introduction to the current X-Force (the original goal of these .1 issues.) Still, I'm looking forward to more of this story and these characters when their title starts in March.

From the horrors of a post-apocalyptic world, we head to the horrors (and whores) of the werewolf world in Ferals #1. It seems strange beasts have descended upon the small Minnesota town of Cypress and they aren't too fond of it's human inhabitants. In true Avatar Press (and writer David Lapham) fashion, this book features blood and guts galore but also harbors some psychological under-currents that will keep readers coming back. Maybe not their best first issue, when compared to the likes of the Crossed minis and Caligula, but still definitely worth a look, if only to check out the various ways Gabriel Andrade decides to layout corpses in his art.

We continue this horror spree over into DC with Animal Man #5. Buddy Baker confronts the third hunter to save his family, but he might have just put them into more danger. Another fantastic issue from Jeff Lemire (writer) and Travel Foreman (primary artist) that not only raises the stakes in the series but sticks some beautifully grotesque art in ones mind that won't soon be forgotten. Definitely looking forward to more from this creative team in the coming months, especially when it starts officially crossing over with the next book here.

Concluding DC's horror, double feature for the week is Swamp Thing #5. Alec and Abby continue chasing her half brother, the soon to be avatar of The Rot, with disastrous results. As the similarities between this and Animal Man continue to grow, so does the quality in each of them. Scott Snyder is quickly becoming the top man in horror comics and Yanick Paquette's art (especially the fluid panel layering) makes almost every page worthy of a wall frame.  Hard to deny this the top spot of the week, but a well know noir team has snatched it out from under them.

My favorite comic of the week is Fatale #1 from Image Comics. The famous Criminal team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips reunite to tell the tale of the fictional novel 'The Losing Side of Eternity' and the trouble it brings it's new owner. Interestingly enough, this is my foray into the teamed efforts of Brubaker and Phillips and I really enjoyed it. The former's knack for interesting yet mysterious dialogue and the latter's expressive and shadowy artwork work well in tandem, creating a murky world of beautiful women and troubled men. Looking forward to more as the first issue only gave the reader barest taste of the mythology, murder, and magic it advertises but sometimes a little goes along way.

That's all folks! Next week looks to be shaping up nicely with lots of Image titles and X-books to get to, so make sure you swing by your local comic shop and grab a few.