Thursday, January 19, 2012

Comic Book Reviews: Uncanny X-Force 20 and Wolverine and the X-Men 4

Humble apologies for my long silence- or if you'd enjoyed that silence, no apologies for me breaking it. My long sojourn offline involved a great deal of real world travel. Seeing the the US from the Columbia to the Chattahoochee over the past few weeks gave me abundant time to read, but few opportunities to actually visit a comic book store and no chances to write and post reviews.

Uncanny X-Force 20 defied a lot of odds stacked against it. I found the interior art rather inconsistent, running the gamut from beautiful and dreamy, to suitably dynamic, to just a bit too loose. I caught a couple of little nits that perhaps the art director or an editor should have picked. Nightcrawler's pupils, for instance, became uncharacteristically visible in one panel. And I don't think there is any "Captain Whales" in the Captain Britain Corps.

Remender wrote AOA Nightcrawler as arrogant, self-centered, vengeance-driven, foolish malcontent that made me wish some good person would knock some sense into him- and yet I rather liked that. It shows that Remender knows this "Not-crawler," as some fans call him, is not the Kurt Wagner fans have loved since 1975, and he makes no attempt to pass him off as any kind of substitute. Nonetheless, this longtime fan of the Fuzzy Elf felt a bit sad.

Still, I'd long anticipated seeing Fantomex being held to account for his crime, and I love how Otherworld is being written, drawn, and in this battle for it, completely turned inside-out. It made for a rather fun issue, especially for UXF.

Wolverine and the X-Men 4, on the other hand, did not strike me as quite as much fun as the previous three issues. Sure, there were moments chock full of hilarity, like the faculty meeting, reactions to Deathlok's lecture, and little details like a picture of Cyclops on a dartboard. Unfortunately, the ramifications of Fantomex's misdeeds in Uncanny X-Force have spilled some excessive gloom over into this book. I had been hoping that the events in X-Force would, as Kitty Pryde put it, "never be allowed to affect what happens at the school." Of course they had, and now not only do I fear for a number of young characters that have grown on me lately, but I'm a bit worried that this book might take a darker direction.

I can only hope that Jason Aaron leaves the darker plot threads for Rick Remender to tie up in UXF, and keeps WATX the fun break from all the doom and gloom that it has been so far.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

From the Bully Pulpit: Confronting the Truth

By now this video has been all over the world and back again. The raw hurt shown here is hard to watch. It can make people uncomfortable. In fact, it's made a few people so uncomfortable, they've manufactured a controversy over the veracity of this video.

I'm uncomfortable with the volumes that speaks about them.

While some may have honestly mistaken this video as an admission to lying... is obvious that this video was made much later after the outpouring of support and concern the former video rightfully elicited.

These videos elicited much worse responses from a few particularly poisonous personalities, though. Particularly noticeable among the usual homophobic bile was the use of a common tactic bullies employ when bothered by the facts: smear victims further by attacking their credibility.

There are a number of ways bullies go about this.

Downplaying the pain bullying inflicts is not an outright denial of responsibility, but accusing the victim of overreacting is a ploy to shift blame away from the bully. Attacking the victim's overall personality is even more common. A person branded a crybaby or drama queen will have a hard time feeling like he or she can be taken seriously.

Questioning a victim's mental health and how it affects credibility is even worse, from kids simply calling each other crazy to adults arming themselves with a cursory knowledge of psychology and publically sharing their "diagnoses" of their victims. If the victim has a known mental health history, bullies will stoop to playing up old stereotypes and stigmas associated with mental illness in order to make it look like the victim simply imagined he or she was bullied.

Last but not least is outright accusing the victim of lying. I won't deny that false accusations do fly- usually from bullies trying to hide or justify their own behavior. 

But the young man in this video didn't name anyone, didn't name his school, didn't even leave any hints as to who exactly was bullying him, which makes me wonder why some of the people who've responded so harshly got so defensive. There is also nothing in it for anyone to lie about being bullied. It's not fun for victims to even tell the truth, fearing as we do exposing our vulnerabilities to others and opening ourselves up to more bullying.

And given how many people have died because of bullying, the stakes are too high for us to not take it all seriously.

That's why I never doubted Jonah Mowry.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Comics for Causes: Superior

As cliche as it may sound this particular time of year, my thoughts often turn to how grateful I am for my children and their health. Like most parents who have a "NICU graduate" or who have ever whisked a sick child off to the hospital, I learned early on just how precious every single breath of theirs is. So it was with that in mind that I eagerly picked up Superior, a benefit comic book for Yorkhill Children's Foundation.

Other claims about this comic book were just icing on the cake as far as I was concerned. That it broke the record for the most contributors to a comic book can be disputed unless we exclude anthologies. I won't dwell on that, though, because to convince sixty or so artists from all over the world to work for free and get their work in on time to break the record for the fastest produced comic book is nothing short of amazing.

And that says nothing of the comic itself. While there are a few rough patches in the art, the book looks pretty good for having been put together by so many creators in less than twelve hours. It also is a very sweet, heartwarming story that I would recommend for anyone, especially this time of year, full of heroics to inspire both awe and "awwww."

At a lean $2.99, the book also makes an excellent and affordable gift for all comic book fans on your list. But I would recommend this book because even a modest contribution to help our littlest people can do immeasurable good.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wolverine and the X-Men 2: Review and Spoilers

I can't quite recall how long it's been since a comic book made me laugh with the very first panel. "Two weeks ago..," and already in nostalgic grayscale! It's a record!

The book was not completely flawless. There was a moment when reading the captions, which started off in first person and from Iceman's perspective, I noticed the perspective change, and I wasn't quite sure who had taken over narrating the story. While it built up to a nice reveal at the end, that moment of wondering detracted...

... but only a little, as I was too busy laughing most of the time. Never have I found the idea of a school fending off mortal peril so entertaining. Furthermore, I've done something I don't often do with my comic books- I've let the kids read it.

My daughter thought the exchange between Broo and Idie was particularly cute. My son liked everything to do with the Frankenstein monsters and commented that Iceman was "cool" before catching his own bad pun.They both said the book was very good and that they wouldn't mind me getting it for them, which is a very good thing because I plan on continuing to get it... for me!

Put this one on my pull list!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Kickstart This Comic: Dr. Goyle

I'll be the first to admit that most of the comics I've reviewed here are not appropriate for younger readers, and to be perfectly frank, I have mixed feelings about that. See, on one hand, I really love the meatier, heavier themes that comics geared toward older readers can address- and can sometimes do quite well. On the other hand, I often regret that I can't share such comics with my kids.

On another hand, comics that are geared toward kids tend to be quite a bit of fun and, when done right, can also be intelligent enough to keep older readers engaged. But on yet another hand, such comics, once in the mainstream, are not as available and are not marketed to the extent that the sex and violence in the current mainstream is.

This four-armed thorny behemoth of a problem is just one of the many monsters Dr. Goyle aspires to tackle. Creators Mark Stegbauer and Mike Norton have, as they put it, mashed together Hellboy, the Tick, and Sherlock Holmes with the campiness of the Batman TV show in a six issue series that promises to entertain readers aged six through, oh, at least a hundred and six.

Making this project even worthier of support, each issue will feature pinups by previously unpublished artists, giving up-and-coming talent a much-needed leg-up in the industry. The Kickstarter project also offers creative incentives to supporters like a chance to appear in the books as well as to acquire art, posters, and books up to the complete series that can make terrific gifts for your kids or yourself.

So check this out, and prepare to enjoy!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

TPB Thursday - Worst Case Scenario: Outbreak

Stephen Lindsay, in the foreword to FUBAR: European Theater of the Damnedacerbically described zombie fiction as a "dead genre that continues to sell more and more books." And movies, video games, television programs, what have you. Quite unlike too much of popular culture, the forgettable flashes in the pan made popular by marketing and manufactured appeal instead of by quality and genuine cultural resonance, the zombie genre appropriately doesn't die easily and keeps coming back- and for good reason. Zombies represent, as Mr. Lindsay also says, "everything we as a society fear." There also seems to be little limit to what creative talent can do with the zombies that shamble from the imagination onto the page. They serve as vehicles of gore and terror, true. They also stand not just as threats to our stories' heroes but as ruthless, unflinching, slavering reflections of our own less than heroic qualities,  bringing with them meaty social commentary and sometimes biting comedy. Finally, as Mr. Lindsay said, they bring out the best in writers and artists.

I think the same can be said about Guild Works Publishing's recent contribution to the perhaps saturated but definitely insatiable market for zombie comics. Worst Case Scenario: Outbreak contains thirteen tales so fast-paced and jam packed with excitement, I could devour all 120 pages in one sitting, but with all the satisfaction of a much longer, richer read. Even better, rereading hasn't gotten repetitive yet. The stories constantly offers morsels of sweet romance here, bitter despair there, zingy humor, tangy irony, tough questions, cold vindication, and fiery notes of bright inspiration.

And right now this probably reads too much like the review of a synesthesiac oenophile restaurant critic, so I'll make this simple.

Chris Buchner, Carlos Granda, Alex Rivera, and Johnny Lowe start the book off with "A Space Oddity," which is quite simply the origin story of this anthology's zombie apocalypse. Rather than pin it on supernatural villainy or something as scarily mundane as a virus, this brings to mind Slither or Night of the Living Dead, with their strange somethings from outer space. However, this also combines elements of inevitable natural phenomena with a little bit of human ineptitude to set its own stage for a perfect sci-fi/horror disaster. An accident aboard the space station sends some biological matter of extraterrestrial origin dispersing through the earth's atmosphere. The only thing that could have made it better was perhaps if we got some on-panel reaction or post-outbreak follow-up with the astronauts and ground control to better complement the characters that drive the rest of the stories.

I found the second story, by Dino Caruso and Paul Houston, rather sweet. "Rained Out" follows a young couple's attempt to escape a baseball game that gets uglier by the second. Interspersed throughout are newspaper-like blurbs and captions that link Ellie and Leonard's plight to events taking place around the world. The captions read, "While global panic escalates and economic costs from the rampant destruction rise, it is important to not lose sight of individual hardship and suffering." It's also important to not let desperation blind one to every last, precious opportunity to make another person's day- even if it is their last.

"Poisoning the Well" is the first of a few breaks from comic book storytelling. Written in prose by Melvin Eudy and interspersed with illustrations by Roger "Chainsaw" Harris and Keith Murphey, the story is a pure beach side bloodbath. Imagine Jaws 3D, except there isn't just one shark swimming rampant through the aquatic theme park and munching on the patrons. My suspension of disbelief lapsed a little with the birth of a baby zombie dolphin. A few issues with writing mechanics also caught my insufferable editor's eye, and I did not feel the story was as cohesive as most of the book's other offerings, but if you're just along for a terrifying ride, you may not even notice.

"Misfortune," by Steve Kanaras, Matt Ryan, and Steve Kuster, is the only story in which supernatural elements put in a major appearance. A fortune-teller who's made her living tantalizing desperate people with vague hints of good things to come makes her first real prediction, but the cards can't help her avoid what is to come. The dilemma she faces between telling the truth and causing panic or lying to make someone happy and the tension it causes the characters comes across beautifully, as does the ultimate futility of it all. The more I read it, the more I see Greek tragedy in it.

"Learning to Walk Again," by Jeff Prezenkowski, Carlos Weiser, Keith Murphey, and Mindy Lopkin also puts situational irony to good use. Most of the story is told from the perspective of a hard-partying extreme snowboarder who's lost the use of his legs to a spine injury. Thinking he'd give anything to walk again, he's lost interest in everything else. An attack by a zombi-fied girlfriend ends the pity party and restores him to his senses. As he makes a bold escape from the hospital, he considers signing a new lease on life. But just when we think he'll triumph, the last page blows it all apart- and transforms the story into a lesson on being careful what we wish for as well as appreciating the life we have while we have the time.

"How I Lost My Cherry," by Keith Murphey, Jet Amago, and Matt Mundorf chronicles the misadventures of a couple of army buddies who hope to escape their workaday troubles at a strip club only to find out things only get much worse. The story could have benefited from more thorough editing, and I personally didn't find the characters quite likeable enough for me to comfortably say I enjoyed the story. But then, comfort doesn't seem to be the point, as the last page raises a very thorny and unforgetable question that will haunt you long after you've finished reading.

"One Way Street," by Alex DeGruchy, Michael Kennedy, and George E. Warner is just a simple tale of how quickly things go from bad to worst for a couple of crooks making a desperate getaway. It also contains some of the funniest lines in the book, like "This is not how I thought today would go."

"Hearts and Minds" is the second prose story in this book, written by Liam Webb with illustrations by Lonnie DiNello. It details the adventures of a middle-aged cardiac patient who, as he hears increasing news of this "flu" spreading through the hospital and the surrounding community, determines that he will not receive his scheduled bypass surgery and resolves to get home and spend his last moments, however many or few they may be, with his wife. I found it very sweet, though not without its scares, its moral quandaries, and a generous dose of socio-political comic relief to balance out what could, in less capable hands, be a pretty depressing story.

"And He Always Seemed Like Such a Nice Man," by Alex DeGruchy, Mike Kennedy, and Mindy Lopkin starts off like any other tale of someone who isn't as ordinary as he seems. But just like the main character, Jeff, the story turns out to be much more than it first seems. I found it very well paced and tightly, skillfully plotted right up to an ending that ultimately made perfect sense.

"Bleeding Out," by Keith Goodeson, C. Granada, Hector Rodriguez, and Mindy Lopkin, puts solid black panels to interesting use to depict the blindness of one character and the death of another. The dialogue and sound effects are so skillfully written and lettered, it's easy to deduce what's going on in the darkness without any literary or visual exposition.

"No Place Like Home," by Andre Saunders, Albert Luciano, and Alex Rivera, with Mindy Lopkin taking one more turn lettering, and "A Girl and Her Dog" by Valerie Finnigan with illustrations by Matt Ryan may both feature child protagonists, but they could not be more opposite. The two stories illustrate by contrast with their back-to-back placement in this book of just how teaching and upbringing can make the difference between life and death and the remarkable tendency of kids to fulfill whatever expectations they have of themselves.

In "No Place Like Home," Ty needs liberation from and vindication for the abuse he takes from his murderous, criminal uncle. The "killer rain" provides Ty with an opportunity for vengeance, but it comes at a terrible price. He becomes exactly what he's always felt like.

In "A Girl and Her Dog," JoJo is well-loved and supported by family and friends. She has hopes and dreams, and though she has doubts as her world falls apart around her in this grim coming-of-age story, she strives to overcome them.

And that brings us to "The Beast" by Niall Presnall-Kelleher and Steven Yarbrough. That a firefighter would stick a baby in a butcher's display case to protect her seems very disturbing, but the point of the story is a very nice one on which to end the book.

A promise and a little someone depending on you to keep it can be reason enough to keep up the good fight.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Comics for Causes- Code Word: Geronimo

The American Veterans' Center was initially established to educate young people about the legacy of the World War II generation, particularly of World War II veterans, their motto being "From the Greatest Generation to the Latest Generation." Recently, though, they decided to live up to that motto in even more ways, eventually broadening their mission "to preserve and promote the stories, experiences, and lessons of our military men and women of every generation."

IDW got behind that with Code Word: Geronimo, which chronicles the raid against Osama bin Laden. Weighing in at a hefty seventy-four pages worth of fast-paced graphic novel storytelling and a dozen or so more pages of timelines and other informative tidbits in hardcover, but with a relatively lean pricetag, this book is already an excellent value for the money. That part of the proceeds are going to the American Veterans' Center makes this an even more valuable investment in preserving the well-being of our veterans and especially the lessons they can impart.

Given my support for similar projects such as Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan, I would have felt remiss if I did not pick this up the second I saw this at my local comic book store. I did not regret it in the least. Not only is it a substantial read, but the writing by Capt. Dale Dye and Julia Dye flowed seamlessly and in most places unobtrusively, though not without plenty of helpful footnotes to explain some of the tougher military jargon. Though obviously the sensitivity of the subject required some changes, it did not detract from the flow of the story or the portrayal of all involved, even those whose true identities we will not know, as well-developed characters.

I found the artistic team- Gerry Kissell, Amin Amat, David Enebral, and Rubin Cubiles with lettering by Robbie Robbins and additional colors by Marc Rueda, Alex Towers, Miquel Diaz, Lucrecia Fraile, Ego, and Nieves Fernandez- larger than usual for a graphic novel. That could have posed a challenge, but it looked to me like they all worked very well together, accommodating and blending their different styles with the grace that comes with the best teamwork. They all worked so well with the story and the writers that they could convey not just each person's actions, but emotions and motivations clearly enough that often no written words needed to appear on panel to guide the readers.

The afterword by John Del Vecchio is just as worth reading. In only a dozen pages or so, it provides a few insights into military history, a timeline of Osama bin Laden's life and atrocities, a history of the Navy SEALs and particularly SEAL Team 6, and even a biography of the Apache warrior whose name would go on to be used to inspire courage or, such as in this case, to signify the success of a dangerous raid- Geronimo.