Monday, April 8, 2013

Abe Sapien #1, Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the B.P.R.D.

Abe Sapien #1
Dark and Terrible (1 of 3)
Writers: Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
Artist: Sebastian Fiumara
Colors: Dave Stewart

Abe Sapien #1 is the first Hellboy/B.P.R.D. comic I've bought since the original Lobster Johnson miniseries came out years ago.  Actually, I didn't even buy this.  Courtney was interested and, despite my observance that I never buy Mignolaverse books because I feel like I'm constantly in the middle of a story, she bought it anyway.  Well, this issue proved my concern about the accessibility of the Hellboy/B.P.R.D. comics to be true, but at the same time, it's just so well drawn and compelling that I don't really care.

This issue certainly takes place within the context of the greater B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth storyline, of which I'm only vaguely familiar.  It does very little to try and bring new readers up to speed other than lay out the very basics of the story: big demon crab-spiders called the Ogdru Hem seem to be crawling out of the earth and laying eggs all over the United States, and Abe Sapien has gone awol for reasons unknown.  The mystery of why Abe has left the B.P.R.D. to go on his own adventure is so far unexplained, but I'm sure it will be revealed as Mike Mignola and Scott Allie's story unfolds.

As someone who only has a passing knowledge of the current run on B.P.R.D. and Abe Sapien's backstory, I found myself lost in the middle of the bigger picture, but intrigued by the small story presented here.  In a sense, this is really how the story unfolds itself, as a group of hobos on a train swap stories about the Ogdru Hem, the devastation they've seen across American, and their theories about how the federal government is or is not responding to this demonic threat.  The bigger picture is lost on these homeless men, and as a new reader I identified with their fundamental lack of context or understanding.

If I'm being honest, I'd say that anyone who considers picking this up and isn't following B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth should probably start there, as it will provide a lot of the context for the story presented here, but readers who are curious about diving into the expanded Hellboy universe could do a lot worse than starting off with this new ongoing series starring one of Mignola's most memorable characters.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Abe Sapien and Fables Vol. 8

I did pick up Miss Fury while at the comic book shop today.  And then put it down again.  Quickly.  No one's boobs look like that.  Seriously.

So I picked up Abe Sapien #1 instead, which I found quite enjoyable.  The nod to Justin Bieber in the devil-conjuring scene totally hooked me.  Of course the girl wearing a Justin Bieber turtleneck gets sacrificed.  Of course.

I was definitely left with more questions than answers after this issue.  Christian tells me that can be a hazard of Hellboy comics.  I'm ok with the questions I have--so far, they are the sign that I want to keep reading.  There does seem to be an awful lot of yelling in this issue.  I was starting to wonder if this is a trademark of the writer because there are at least three separate instances of serious yelling.  The issue even ends with yelling.  And, of course, the yelling leads to questions that aren't answered.

The art is dark and creepy at all the right moments.  Whatever happened to that hobo's arm is totally cringe-inducing.  It also pays attention to the right details--when Devon's head drops after she is questioned on Abe Sapien's well-being, we know she's hurting.  Her body language in that entire sequence is spot on.

At this point, we know very little about what is going on with Abe Sapien himself.  He's in hiding, obviously, but why?  I have no idea.  I'll be waiting for the next issue to answer that.

On to Fables, Volume 8.  It's been months since I read Volume 7 and I finally picked up Volume 8 today.  I'm going to be honest.  I cried.  Happy tears though.  Bigby Wolf and Snow White get married!!  This is probably my favorite volume out of all of them so far.  I'm planning to read this again.  Mostly for the obvious reasons--Christian and I getting married in three months, for one.  Christian totally looking like Bigby Wolf, for another.

When Snow White and Bigby reunite, they begin to walk off and Snow exclaims, "Hold on, I need to go back and get my cane."  Bigby replies, "No, you won't need it.  You can lean on me from now on."

I couldn't see the panels until three pages later, I was so teary-eyed.  I'm such a softy.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Preview: H.A.R.D. Corps to Return in Harbinger Wars

The upcoming Harbinger Wars mini-series is already my most-anticipated comics event of the summer, but my enthusiasm has just reached a fever pitch with Valiant's announcement today that the H.A.R.D. Corps will be debuting in the new Valiant Universe in Harbinger Wars #3.

I was just reading the original, chromium cover H.A.R.D. Corps #1 this weekend, and was reminded just how great of a concept this series had, and how well it could do in the present Valiant Universe if executed properly by the right creative team.

The Harbinger Active Resistance Division (or H.A.R.D. Corps) are a mercenary outfit employed by Omen Industries, a corporation with an opposing interest to those of Toyo Harada and the Harbinger Foundation.  The H.A.R.D. Corps themselves are comprised of ex-military vets who have been awakened from comatose states, and given the option to live again and work for the H.A.R.D. Corps.  They're granted Harbinger powers from a computer network named Softcore, and can use any number of powers, one at a time.  The catch is that each member of the H.A.R.D. Corps is implanted with a kill switch, that will cause their heads to explode if they are caught or go rogue.

With the war between Project Rising Spirit and the Harbinger Foundation bringing the corporate espionage of the Valiant Universe to the forefront in this crossover, it'll be very interesting to see how the H.A.R.D. Corps are going to affect this dynamic, or what role they will play.

In short, F.U.C.K. Yes, H.A.R.D. Corps!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valiant reviews: Shadowman #4 and Archer and Armstrong #7

It's been a while since I've done a review of any Valiant Comics, but since their marketing department is nice enough to keep sending me preview copies and I'm still buying 3 out of the 5 monthly titles they're publishing, I figured I would review the last two Valiant issues I've read and give my thoughts on them.

Shadowman #4
Story by Justin Jordan and Patrick Zircher
Art by Patrick Zircher

This concludes the first story arc of the newest incarnation Shadowman by Patrick Zircher and Justin Jordan, and by newest incarnation, I mean a pretty even mix of the original Shadowman from the early 90s and the Garth Ennis reboot from the late 90s. This doesn't really mean anything to you if you're new to the character or Valiant Comics, but it makes for an interesting, if somewhat conflicted reading experience for people who are familiar  with the character's history and the various ways he's been portrayed over the years.

The biggest difference is this: the original Shadowman had no powers, was a jazz musician, and was possessed by a voodoo spirit to go out into the night and fight evil.  The reboot featured a much darker version of the character, and introduced many more supernatural elements into the story, including a parallel universe called Deadside, which is exactly what it sounds like: a voodoo-inspired land of the dead.  It was a good reboot, but short lived and too different from the original for some people's tastes.

This new series mixes elements from both the original series and the reboot, but leans much more heavily on the supernatural side, and is much more rooted in the traditions of the superhero genre.  Shadowman has a healing factor, a symbiotic costume, and a retractable scythe and to be honest: I'm not quite sure how I feel about that.  Shadowman has everything going for him, but he seems to lack depth beyond his slick presentation and coolness factor.

Patrick Zircher is a very solid artist.  His pages look polished and professional, but they haven't looked as good as the original preview pages that accompanied the teaser for the very first issue.  There hasn't been a substantial drop in quality over the past four issues, but the art seems to lack personality.  It reminds me very much of the kind of art you'd find in Marvel Comics a few years ago, or DC before the New 52.  Not that this is a bad thing, but compared to some of the other books Valiant is publishing, this looks the most like a standard superhero comic, which it really isn't.  Or shouldn't be.

Shadowman is a horror-adventure series starring a superhero.  In a sense, this is what DC tried to do with the relaunch of Animal Man and Swamp Thing, but not nearly as successfully as Zircher and Jordan have with Shadowman.  This is a really good comic book, and easily worth your time and your four dollars, but compared to the other Valiant titles I would rate it only above Bloodshot, which I quit reading a couple months back.

This arc ended much better than it began, and wrapped up very well.  I'd say this is pretty much how all introductory arcs should be written these days.  In four issues: the character is introduced, we get a glimpse of his power, the key villain is established, a crisis is averted, and plotlines for future story arcs are carefully seeded among the minor details.  In a Marvel book, this arc would have gone on for at least six issues.  At DC:  maybe seven?  Even though I would rank this series below my current favorites in the Valiant stable, and I'm not sure it's better than the original, it has my attention and will continue to take my money.  Go to  your local comic shop, pick up Shadowman, and let them take yours.

Archer & Armstrong #7
Written by Fred Van Lente
Art by Emanuela Lupacchino

I'm not going to talk as much about this as I did about Shadowman, but I will say a few things about Archer and Armstrong:

  • It's my second favorite Valiant title; right behind Harbinger.  
  • There's nothing else on the stands like A &A.  It brings together a lot of familiar elements with its emphasis on action, conspiracy theories, and buddy comedy, but it comes off as completely fresh and original. 
  • I'm starting to warm up to this new version of the Eternal Warrior.  Yeah he's still a little too much of a "superhero" compared to the bad-ass original, but the dude's got style.  I submit the machine-gunning while driving scene in this issue as evidence.
  • The banter between A&A continues to be hilarious, and I'm glad that Van Lente seems to have toned down Archer's "aw gee willickers Mr. Armstrong, I'm a dumb Christian" tone from the first couple of issues. 
  • Emanuela Lupacchino has a name that is really hard to spell but its worth writing down because his/her (I'm honestly not sure) art is great, and doesn't make me miss Clayton Henry, whose art was cleaner and a little stiffer than this.  I don't know if Clayton is coming back to draw this series, but I wouldn't mind one bit if they decided to trade off arcs. 
  • Kay McHenry is one of my new favorite ladies in the Valiant Universe, and maybe one of the only women in comics you'll see this month wearing pants and a shirt that looks more like LuLuLemon than a porn outfit.
  • I always thought the Geomancers were stupid.  This issue proves that they are actually very cool.  Like Neo in The Matrix cool. 
  • Mother Nature as a monkey in a dress: more comedy like this please.
  • The Null are a very cool organization to pit against A&A.  One of the more interesting evil organizations I've seen in comics lately.  
  • I can't wait to see The Immortal Enemy next issue!

Batgirl #17: Wait, What?

Batgirl #17
Writer: Ray Fawkes
Penciller: Daniel Sampere
Inker: Vicente Cifuentes

Writer Ray Fawkes?? Where's Gail Simone!?  Oh wait, she'll be back in two issues.  Call off the internet search party.

Ok, so you got me, I went into this issue with skepticism and came out with a "decent face" (that face you make when you're pleasantly surprised by something/someone--see the latest Judge Dredd movie for plenty of examples).

First off, props to Fawkes for writing this issue from her brother's perspective.  Ballsy move.  Readers are used to hearing Batgirl's inner thoughts but....

You know, I just thought of something.  I always associate Simone with Batgirl herself.  Her run on the series is characterized by Batgirl's inner narration.  I can't help but hear Simone's voice through Batgirl.  And I don't think I'm alone in that.  Her fandom freaked out when she was unceremoniously fired and re-hired on Batgirl.  Her voice was reestablished as Batgirl's and now we have a new writer for two issues.  I don't think it's a coincidence that Fawkes has chosen to take on her brother's voice.  At one point, her brother says, "I know her so well."  The statement struck me at the time because I didn't yet know that the narrator was her brother--I was still hearing Fawkes' voice.  All of Batgirl's readers are out there, knowing that a new writer is on Batgirl, and we're all thinking, "You don't know Batgirl.  What makes you think you can write Batgirl?"  Admit it, you thought it too.

I revise my previous statement.  I'm not going to finish with a "decent face."  Fawkes just blew my mind.  I'll be reading the next issue with relish.

Oh, also, I love this first page.  Love it!

Katana #1: On the Fence

Katana #1
Writer: Ann Nocenti
Artist: Alex Sanchez
DC Comics
February 13, 2013

I picked up Katana because it's written by a female author I haven't read.  I read Gail Simone religiously and I've read some of DeConnick's Captain Marvel but I haven't read anything by Nocenti yet.  I have to admit, the writing is good but, so far, very safe.  It's subtle, rather than beating you over the head with action and a ton of unanswered questions.  There's a nice balance, which can be refreshing.  But I hope the momentum kicks up in future issues.

I like the character of Katana a lot more than I thought I would.  I'm a newbie, so forgive me if I'm stating the obvious, but her belief that her dead husband lives in the sword (now her sword) that killed him really drew me in.  She's alone, she's grieving, but she's also a fighter.

The art is particularly good during the action sequences but lags a bit otherwise.  Don't be fooled by the cover--the art inside is quite different.  The pastel colors seem like an odd choice but they become much more vivid towards the end of the issue.

I'm still on the fence about this one but I'll probably give it a few more issues to show me what it's got.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

So many comics, so little time.

As Courtney mentioned last week, we haven't quit reading comics (you'd have to pry them from my cold dead  hands!) but between getting sick with the flu for a week, writing our theses, and starting a new full-time job, we have very little free time to update this blog.  We're not about to give up blogging, but you can expect our posts to be more infrequent until things quiet down.

I've also been cutting a lot of the fat from my pull list, as DC continues to bore me with what I've felt are a lot of really mediocre comic books.  Clearly there is a lot of restructuring going on  there, what with people being let go and then rehired, and then books being announced only to be cancelled before they are published. Something is clearly rotten in the state of Denmark, but in my opinion you could tell that from the low quality titles they've been publishing for the last few months. Once the Rotworld  story arc ends in Animal Man and Swamp Thing, I'll be dropping both of those titles, I doubt Dial H has much of a future, considering how quickly DC is cancelling low-selling titles these days.  If I'm really honest, the only book I'm really enjoying from DC right now is Wonder Woman.

Marvel Now, on the other hand, has been a huge surprise. There are a lot of comics I'd like to read but won't for budgetary reasons, but a lot of titles I've taken a chance on (FF, Avengers Arena, Deadpool, All New X-Men) have been routinely entertaining.  All New X-Men is my most-anticipated book every month, which is something I never thought I'd say.

My enthusiasm for Valiant comics has been cooling off over the past few months. X-O Manowar and Bloodshot just were not meeting my expectations, and neither has Shadowman, so I've dropped each of them from my pull list.  Harbinger has been getting better with every issue, and from a story perspective, is one of the best mainstream comics being published today. My only issue with Harbinger is the art often looks rushed and inconsistent. Warren Simons, get a regular artist on this book now! Archer and Armstrong was the title I was looking forward to the least when it was first announced, but it's actually a lot of fun, and is maybe the most consistently good book Valiant is putting out each month.

Last year everyone was raging about  Image Comics and creator-owned books, and while I am all for more independent creators, not many of the books Image is publishing these days appeal to me. Of course I'm still reading Saga, Prophet, and The Manhattan Projects, but beyond that? I would love to read more Image Comics, but honestly, they're just not publishing a lot of books that appeal to me lately.

So what am I most enthusiastic about lately? Well, that would be my growing stack of hardcovers and trade paperbacks.  I went a little overboard during the holiday season, and now have a ton of books that I still have to read. I rediscovered my love for Alejandro Jodorowsky's comics last year when a friend of mine gave me a copy of Screaming Planet as a Secret Santa gift, not knowing that years ago I was completely gaga for all the Humanoids stuff back when they still had a distribution deal with DC. Now, Humanoids Inc. has retrieved all the publishing rights to their stuff, and have been re-releasing their comics in ultra-rare, premium oversized hardcovers.  Just in the past month alone I've purchased The Incal, Before the Incal, Megalex, The Technopriests: Supreme Collection, The Metabarons: Ulimate Collection, and The Metabarons: Supreme Collection, all in their hardcover glory.  Of those, I've only had time to re-read The Metabarons, and about half of The Technopriests.

I could go on and on forever about the greatness of Jodorowsky and his sci-fi epics, but needless to say, if you've never read The Metabarons or any of the comics I've just mentioned, go buy them before their disappear again. It could be years before they become available again in English, and they are some of the greatest sci-fi epics ever written in the medium.

As if all that wasn't enough, I've started going back to the Judge Dredd Complete Case Files that I bought last summer, and have been rediscovering my love of Dredd. I think I went about reading those graphic novels the wrong way last summer. As much as I appreciate having been able to read some of Dredd's earliest adventures in The Complete Case Files Vol. 1, I would really recommend that new readers not start with that first volume, but instead, start with one of the mega-arcs like The Cursed Earth, The Day the Law Died, The Apocalypse War, or Judge Death.  Speaking of Dredd, lately I've been discovering a lot of the 2000AD stuff that, being a Canadian, I've never really had the opportunity to read. In particular, I've really been enjoying what I've read of Pat Mills' work on ABC Warriors and Nemesis the Warlock. Unfortunately, it looks like a lot of the ABC Warriors stuff is very hard to find, and very expensive.

Oh yeah, and I've got Matt Wagner's Grendel Omnibus, Volume 2: Devil's Legacy to read as well.

So what am I doing wasting my time writing here, I've got comics to read!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What We've Been Reading: January, 2013

Alright, I'm going to make this quick to get all caught up to what we're reading now.  Christian and I were ridiculously sick over the holidays so we've been catching up on our lives ever since then.  But that doesn't mean we stopped reading comics!  What have we been reading?  Well, let's start with Colder, because I am still so freaking blown away by the last issue that I can't stop thinking about it.  Remember that issue I picked up on a whim back in November with the creepy cover?  Yea, this one:

Creepy, right?  Well, Christian and I are IN LOVE with this comic.  It's incredibly well-written--total page-turner.  I'm not even going to describe the plot for you because you should just go read it; it's THAT good.  We just read the third issue and it's only a four-issue run, so you need to get your hands on it before it's over.

What else have I been reading...let's see.  Well, I tried out Brian Wood's Mara but it was pretty lame, to be honest.  I picked it up because I played power in high school volleyball and I thought there would be some good old volleyball talk.  He missed out on all the good lines he could have used! Volleyball players like to get low and hit balls, for example.  Boy, was I ever disappointed.  I don't think this guy has ever watched a volleyball game before and neither had the artist, for that matter.  Everyone was very stiff and posed--the volleyball matches were skimmed over, although still managing to screw up the entire concept of volleyball.  What position does Mara even play?  They're playing indoor volleyball, not beach volleyball, so there is no way there would be ONE star player who gets to call all the shots and hit the balls.  You know who really calls the shots in indoor volleyball?  The setter.  Yep, that's right, the one who DOESN'T get to hit the ball.  Anyway, I'm getting all worked up again.  Oh, but the kicker was that she uses her new-found superpowers to CHEAT at volleyball.  So frustrating!

Batgirl, Batgirl, Batgirl...what to say about Batgirl?  Well, Gail Simone is still around.  THANK GOD!  So, I am back on the bandwagon.  And it's still awesome.  That is all. Oh but wait, what is under that bloody platter lid that the Joker is holding?  And what is going on with her brother??  Is her mother dead???  Did the Joker cut something off of Batgirl????  The next two issues will be written by someone else, which is sad-making.  But then Simone will be back.  And it will be good.

We've also been reading All-New X-Men (the younger X-Men time travel to confront their older selves) and Avengers Academy (Hunger Games with superheroes)--both good, both recommended, but I'll leave those for another day.  Right now, I'm going to read issue 7 of Fables, because I'm supposed to be doing thesis work.  A graphic novel about fairy tales totally counts, right?