Purple Reign

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The Wicked + the Divine #6

A few months have passed since Lucifer died, and Laura’s life is settling into post-celebrity teen angst. She’s never managed to recreate Luci’s powers and is having trouble reconnecting with her parents — but she’s just gotten a phone call from another member of the pantheon, and he wants to meet her. Inanna is a Sumerian love goddess born into the body of a male teenager, and his clothing is so purple, you’ll need to dig out all your old Prince CDs while you’re reading this. (That’s not a bad idea anyway.) And it turns out Inanna is actually a Laura fanboy — he met her briefly before his ascension to godhood.

Verdict: Thumbs up. As always, fantastic art and storytelling. Love the infographic on Laura’s room, as well as her unspoken speech to her mom, which both do a great job of getting us deeper into our protagonist’s head. Other things worth loving are Laura’s smackdown of the middle-aged pantheon fanboy at the convention who doesn’t think the current generation is worthy, mostly because they’re not his generation — pretty much every over-the-hill rock critic who idolizes the music he grew up with. And the awesome Princeness of Inanna’s outfits are really just glorious.

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Wytches #3

Sailor Rooks has gone missing after stealing a school bus after a rough day at school. And no one knows it yet, but her uncle is missing, too. Her parents are upset, and the local police are trying to calm them down enough to get them to aid them in the search. Charlie is also upset because of the mysterious woman who attacked him earlier in the day — no one is quite sure she was real, and even Charlie has some doubts. But someone is trying to send the Rooks family a message — in the strangest way possible…

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a wonderfully creepy story – and I gotta say, one of my favorite bits is actually after the story is over, when colorist Matt Hollingsworth shows us how he adds the colors, as well as the incredibly cool paint spatter, that gives the comic such a unique look.

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Manifest Destiny #12

The expedition continues west, encountering a few monsters — and some Indians. Sacagawea is able to talk to them a bit, even though they’re from different tribes, and while they consult, we learn how Lewis and Clark came to lead the expedition — Lewis was a walking scandal until President Jefferson revealed that there were monsters in the Louisiana Purchase and strongarmed him into taking the journey, while Clark was retired, drunk, upset, and bored — he joined just to have some discipline back in his life. Meanwhile, does Sacagawea have more secrets she’s keeping from the crew? Oh, that seems quite likely.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A nice breather story, with lots of interesting info about how the expedition came about.

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Friday Night Fights: There Are No Strings (of Lights) on Him

We’re less than a week away from Christmas, and that means we need to give our usual Friday Night Fights a bit more of a holiday flavor. Tonight’s battle comes to us from 2005’s Marvel Holiday Special, in a story by Jeff Parker, Reilly Brown, and Pat Davidson, as the Avengers tangle with a less-than-jolly old elf…

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I hope you’ve finished all your holiday shopping — but just in case, I’ll have a bit more Holiday Gift Bag recommendations next week, so be sure and check back in.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Sentinels of the Multiverse

Still more time for some great holiday gift recommendations! Today, we’re heading over to the gaming side of the store so we can look at Sentinels of the Multiverse!

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This is a cooperative card game by Greater Than Games, where a team of superheroes battles a supervillain, usually in a wildly chaotic setting. Each player has their own small deck of cards controlling a single superhero, while the villain and the setting itself also have their own decks, but no one plays them — their cards are automatically flipped during each turn. The villain usually has a ton of hit points — way more than any of the heroes — so you’ve got to whittle them down while preserving your heroes and trying to prevent the bad guys from getting to their own victory points.

You’re not playing generic heroes either — you get comic-style art on every card and usually some little bit of flavor text that helps create a real personality for the character. And each of them have their own special roles they bring to the fight. You’ve got the Superman-esque Legacy, who specializes in absorbing damage. You’ve got the battlesuit-wearing Bunker, who lays down the firepower. You’ve got the Wraith, a jill-of-all-trades vigilante who can damage enemies and support allies. You’ve got the technokinetic Unity, who creates robot minions. And you’ve got a heck of a lot more than that, too.

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Now, they’re not in every version of the game. The main game features 10 heroes, four villains, and four different environments, ranging from the big city to a Mars base to a dinosaur-filled jungle. There are several other expansion sets — Rook City, Infernal Relics, Shattered Timelines, and Vengeance — all with new heroes, villains, and environments to play in. You can set up a pretty vast variety of super-battles with every combination of good guys vs. bad guys.

Verdict: Thumbs up. There are a slowly growing number of superhero board and card games out there, but this is the one that originally led the pack, and nothing yet has managed to top it.

It’s really great how varied every game can be. Sometimes you’re dealing with a villain who can drop untold mini-minions on you, sometimes with a straight-up brute, sometimes with someone with a special victory condition that means you have to avoid attacking them directly.

The variety of abilities that your heroes get are also very impressive — some healers, some gadgeteers, some bricks, some blasters. And even when one hero gets knocked out, they’re still able to contribute. They may not be able to play cards and powers, but even defeated, the heroes have special abilities that provide small benefits to their allies. It lets everyone contribute, even if only in small ways, so they’re not sitting around bored watching their friends play.

It’s also very cool how strong the comic-book flavor comes across in this game. A lot of it is the art, the quotes, and the flavor text on the cards. These aren’t just cards, with attacks and debuffs and heals — they’re heroes with great one-liners, victories and defeats, and even their own (fictional) comic series. The game publisher has even created a few promotional comics starring the characters — and it would be pretty keen if there was a regular series about the heroes, too.

About the roughest thing about the game is that it can get a bit predictable after a while. Sometimes, you’ll recognize certain attacks by the villains, and everyone playing will immediately know what to do to counter the danger. Once this happens a few times too many, a lot of the suspense starts to leave the game. I’ve found that it sometimes helps to assign the heroes randomly, so everyone sometimes has to deal with a powerset they’re not accustomed to. Of course, this can sometimes stick you with a bunch of healers instead of damage-dealers, which is also a bit less than ideal.

Long story short: It’s a really fun game for anyone who loves superheroes. And you can buy the game for a friend — and then you can play it, too! A true win-win situation! Go pick it up!

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Marvels Everywhere!

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The Multiversity: Thunderworld Adventures #1

Welcome to Earth-5, home of Captain Marvel and the rest of the Marvel Family! But it might be the end of everything — Dr. Sivana has a terrible new scheme involving building himself a new Rock of Eternity and using the amazing element Suspendium, harvested from other multiverses from dozens of alternate Sivanas, to create a new day where he can rule everything — Sivanaday! After capturing the wizard Shazam, Sivana empowers his own children with Marvelesque powers. Luckily, Cap isn’t on his own — Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. soon make an appearance — but the Sivanas have also released the Monster Society of Evil. The Lieutenant Marvels, Uncle Marvel, and Talky Tawny show up to lend a hand, but Cap needs to get to the Rock of Eternity to see if he can help the Wizard. But when Dr. Sivana turns himself into the all-powerful Black Sivana, is there any chance for good to triumph over evil?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Thumbs way, way, way up. I haven’t enjoyed a comic this much in a long, long time. It’s really, really wonderful to see a DC comic starring the classic Captain Marvel — and not that brooding, hooded non-entity “Shazam.” (Do you think DiDio, Lee, and Johns ever sit up late pondering how badly they screwed that character up? Or do you think they just congratulate themselves for helping make comics more mundane and quasi-edgy?) Even the new spins we get on the classics, like Sivana’s superpowered kids, the dizzyingly wide variety of alternate-universe Sivanas, and the Lieutenant Marvels flying around with jetpacks and rayguns, just make everything even more fun. And it’s all topped off with Cameron Stewart’s outstanding artwork. If you love Captain Marvel and if you love fantastic superhero comics, you owe it to yourself to get this one.

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Captain Marvel #10

Captain Marvel gets a letter from home, sent from her best friends on Earth — her young fangirl Kit, Spider-Woman, James Rhodes, and her girl friday Wendy. The villainous Grace Valentine escaped from jail, then released an army of mind-controlled rats on the city, all of them aiming at the Statue of Liberty! Once Kit and Spider-Woman stop that threat, War Machine heads after Grace, but gets suckered with a bomb strapped to his back. Can he escape death? Can they bring Grace to justice?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A great, wide-ranging story, with fun art provided by a team of artists, including David Lopez, Marcio Takara, and Laura Braga. Carol Danvers only appears in the framing episodes, but it’s great how the letters from her friends still spotlight her as a important part of these battles, even while she’s nowhere near Earth.

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Ms. Marvel #10

The Inventor is powering his machines with local teenagers who he’s brainwashed into believing they’re so worthless that their only real use for society is to be used as batteries. After Kamala has Lockjaw teleport the Inventor’s minions away, she gives the kids a pep talk to convince them they’re all worthy and awesome on their own. But the Inventor captures Lockjaw, and Kamala may not be able to take down the villain on her own…

Verdict: Thumbs up. We get some great superhero moments, some excellent characterization moments (both when Kamala is giving her pep talk, and artistically, as each of the kids gets a great, unique, and interesting look), and some wonderful villainous moments — the Inventor’s schemes are entirely diabolical, and I also love his first giant robot, which wears a jaunty and hilarious derby hat.

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Put the Hammer Down

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The Goon: Occasion of Revenge #4

The Kid has killed one of the Goon’s underworld allies — all thanks to the malign influence of the Goon’s girlfriend herself! WHen the Goon finds out, he kills the Kid, and when he confronts Ramona, he learns that she’s one of the shapeshifting harpies working for the Zombie Priests. And after that, her life ain’t worth spit. But how does this play into the Arab’s larger scheme?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a pitch-black, blood-soaked tragedy. Bad news for the Goon, but good news for readers who love great storytelling and fantastic art.

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Afterlife with Archie #7

Archie and the few survivors of Riverdale are on the run from the zombies following them. Betty is trying to recreate her lost diary so she won’t forget what life was like before the undead rose. Everyone’s having nightmares about Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Mr. Lodge decides everyone needs a day of rest for a Thanksgiving dinner. Veronica is overcome with jealousy over Betty’s and Archie’s deepening relationship. And Cheryl Blossom crosses a line no one expected her to cross.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Beautifully illustrated and beautifully scripted post-apocalypse horror. The cliffhanger at the end with Cheryl gets most of the attention, and I get the impression it’s a sample of what the rest of the series will be — I think it won’t be long before there’s almost no resemblance between who the characters become and where they began in Riverdale.

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The Old and the Young

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Astro City #18

It’s the beginning of a new storyarc focusing on Crackerjack and Quarrel. The occasion of the retirement of the Black Rapier just reminds everyone that a lot of the classic Astro City characters are getting up there in years. Quarrel and Crackerjack still go out there to fight crime, but a near-disaster against the new Chessmen leaves both of them exhausted, sore, and in dire need of downtime. And we also get the backstory of Quarrel — her childhood in rural Kentucky, looking up to her father, and never suspecting he was actually a supervillain — but eventually taking up his weapons and learning to use them to fight crime…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Not really the kind of story we expect to see in superhero comics, but if anyone would end up doing it well, it’d be Kurt Busiek and Astro City. It’s weird to think of characters like Quarrel, Crackerjack, and the Black Rapier as getting old enough to retire — but just because Samaritan and Winged Victory don’t seem to get old, that doesn’t mean that the more human heroes can’t feel the weight of the years. And if anything’s really distressing, it’s got to be that fans of the series remember when they were in their prime — and that means we’re all getting old, too. Please insert the sadface emoticon here.

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Batgirl #37

Before we get too far into this issue, may we all take a quick moment to gasp in joy at this issue’s alternate cover by Darwyn Cooke?

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Holy cheese, that’s an awesome cover!

Someone out there is impersonating Batgirl, running around in a sequined costume, helping high-fashion crooks, and simultaneously pushing Batgirl to greater heights of popularity and ruining her reputation as a crimefighter. Babs learns that she’s the focus of an art show by an artist named Dagger Type and pays it a visit with Black Canary and some of her college friends, and this leads to even more confrontations with the Batgirl imposter — and soon to the revelation of her true identity: Dagger Type himself!

Verdict: Good grief, it’s so not very good. I mean, there’s the jaw-dropping stupidity of the reveal — after Gail Simone’s famously trans-positive run on this title, to have the new creative team head almost immediately for an embarrassingly ham-fisted portrayal of an over-the-top nutcase cross-dressing villain — it just doesn’t make anyone look very smart. The creative team has already apologized, but it’s a serious mis-step. On top of that, the rest of the story just feels shallow. It’s Batgirl worried about someone stealing her act, then attending two different art shows, whining about her image, and capping the whole thing off by triumphantly… putting her selfie on Instagram. I’m all for making sure our characters exist in a recognizably modern world, but this all comes across like the celebrity-obsessed superheroes in Grant Morrison’s recent “Multiversity: The Just” issue — and that’s not a good thing.

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Friday Night Fights: Mama Smack!

Well, here we are, another cold and unpleasant pre-Christmas weekend, nothing to do but fight the crowds at WalMart in a sad effort to get a few more gifts marked off the list, all wasting precious weekend time before Monday comes back and starts the deeply awful week all over again. But as long as we’re here, we may as well try to wring some minor pleasures out of life while we can, so, you know, here’s… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes to us from May 2013’s Superman Family Adventures #11 by Art Baltazar and Franco. Ma Kent takes some of the kids to Metropolis for a day trip…

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Mmmm, Supergirl in librarian glasses…

But all is not happy in Metropolis. None other than Doomsday shows up, and Superman’s not around to get punched around by him. That leaves it all up to Earth’s Greatest Hero.

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Comics should have crazy stuff like this more often.

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Which Planet?

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Bitch Planet #1

Basically, it’s a women-in-prison comic — set in spaaaaace, and written by Kelly Sue DeConnick. It’s the horrible future, and there’s a whole planet where Earth sends women who are criminals or unpleasant or unattractive or inconvenient or no longer desired. Escape is questionable, survival is unlikely, and mercy is almost entirely impossible.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s still way too early — we don’t meet many characters — or at least we don’t meet them as anything other than stereotypes. But what we’re getting here is heavy focus on the setting and themes. We’ve got many issues to get to know the women here better, and if we know DeConnick, she’ll have lots of great surprises in store for us as to these people’s personalities.

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Shutter #7

Kate Kristopher, her newly-discovered brother Chris, and her trusty robot cat pal are being attacked by a freakin’ gigantic dragon. But luckily, they don’t end up destroyed — they just get dragged off to Cambodia to meet up with another newly-discovered sibling — one with a particularly impolite method of greeting her long-lost sister.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Lots of outstanding action and weirdness. Holy shmokes, the dragon is all kinds of freaky, and Kate’s sister is pretty dang weird, too.

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Southern Bastards #6

More of the rotten childhood of Coach Boss, back when he was just a scrawny kid from the wrong side of the tracks who wanted desperately to play football. The coach didn’t want him, the other players didn’t want him, his dad didn’t want him. The only person willing to give him any help at all is Coach Big, an old blind black man who knows football better than anyone in Craw County. But even as he improves enough to let him play on the team, there may still be something serious that’ll keep him off the field.

Verdict: Thumbs up. More grungy Southern noir, with more emphasis on football and race in the South. And so very much more crime, seen close-up from Euless Boss’s point of view. It’s interesting to see the unloveable Coach Boss back when he still had a chance to be something other than a crime kingpin…

Today’s Cool Links:

  • Merry Christmas from the Avengers!
  • For your holiday sippin’, here’s Ike’s Eggnog.
  • This article about the ongoing D&D revival isn’t all bad, but it has a lot of the stuff that concerns me about the whole phenomenon. Ultimately, it’s not about much more than nostalgia, plus there’s a lot of weird anti-tech, anti-modernity, anti-younger generation bulldada wrapped up in this stuff. Playing in-person pen-and-paper RPGs won’t save the world, and the Internet won’t doom the world either. Anyone who thinks the younger generation is less imaginative because they grew up with computers instead of D&D is just playing the bash-the-youngsters game, and that’s one of the worst games out there.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Strong Female Protagonist

Alright, folks, it’s time for us to dive back into our Holiday Gift Bag for some great gift recommendations for the comics fan in your life. Today, it’s time to review Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag.

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Strong Female Protagonist” got its start as a webcomic before recently being published in book form, partly thanks to a very successful Kickstarter campaign and partly due to a publishing deal with Top Shelf Comics. Our lead character here is Alison Green, a college student and former superhero with breathtaking superstrength, invulnerability, and, as the webcomic puts it, “a crippling sense of social injustice.”

As Mega Girl, Alison was a member of the Guardians, fighting supervillains and giant robots, but when her mind-reading arch-nemesis, Menace, presents her with evidence that other superhumans — who had powers that would let them drastically improve the world — had been murdered by governments and corporations because they’d upset too many rich and powerful people, Alison ends up quitting the superhero gig to try to learn something in school that’d let her really help people around the world.

That doesn’t leave her out of the superhero business entirely. She’s going to class, helping out with one of the local fire departments, trying to live a normal human life — but she still runs into the members of the Guardians, especially the shrinking super-scientist Pintsize, she socializes with Menace, and she tangles with a couple of supervillains, particularly the monstrously powerful Cleaver. She meets a fellow superhero named Feral, whose powers involve animal-like fighting skills and a beyond-Wolverine healing factor, and who has an unusual plan for saving the world by herself. And she also has her college friends, her professors, and her family back home, who help keep her grounded, and who sometimes help contribute to her superhuman sense of guilt that she can’t keep everyone safe…

Verdict: Thumbs up. This is a really fun series, and it’s really cool to have it all collected in a nice thick book.

I love Ostertag’s art, which is pretty wonderfully humanizing while still embracing some of the cool and sometimes bloody weirdness of the superhero world. And Mulligan’s writing is great, too, with lots of fun dialogue and plotlines that combine with Ostertag’s art to make some really grand storytelling.

The characters are probably the most fun part of the entire book. Alison is fantastically fun to read about, earnestly trying to be both a normal person and a hero — all while frequently showing off strength and sometimes furious rants that make her absolutely terrifying to everyone around her. Also great are awkwardly geeky Pintsize and the sometimes villainous, sometimes romantic Menace, whose mind-reading abilities are convincing, weird, and often fairly funny. Feral is an absolutely amazing character, rough-hewn and animalistic, but still probably the most purely heroic character in the entire book. Even Cleaver, who seems to be only a one-note brute, gets his moments of sympathy within his storylines.

Why should you get the book instead of reading it all for free online? Well, it’s got fantastic art and storytelling, and these days, we all need more fantastic art and storytelling. It’s a great way to support a couple awesome comic creators. And it’s easier to read in book form than it is online. And it’s a heck of a lot easier to give as a gift. You do want to give this as a gift, don’t you?

If you’re looking for a great gift for a superhero fan, this is going to make a great present. This may also make a great gift for teen readers — there’s some rude language and blood, but no nudity — and Alison is definitely the type of hero almost anyone can look up to. Go pick it up.

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Game of Secrets

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Secret Six #1

Gail Simone is back writing a new “Secret Six” series, this time with Ken Lashley providing the art. The only character we recognize from the classic Secret Six is Catman, now much more bisexual than he was and also more unstable, with a severe dislike of confinement and captivity of any kind.

When Thomas Blake is abducted by an unknown organization, he finds himself in the company of five other people — Shauna Belzer, the new telekinetic Ventriloquist from Simone’s Batgirl comics; Porcelain, who can make things brittle; Damon Wells, a private eye called Big Shot who can make himself grow larger; Strix, a silent assassin; and Black Alice, with her vast stolen magical powers. The organization holding them demands to know the answer to the question “What is the secret?” and if they can’t provide an answer, they’re going to start killing people.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s nice to see Catman and Black Alice again, and some of the other characters look like they could be interesting. The art, however, is extremely uneven — sometimes really cool, and other times just slapped onto the page. We’ll need to see some improvement there quick…

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Gotham Academy #3

Things continue to be incredibly weird around Olive Silverlock, including ghosts, secret conspiracies of teachers, secret conspiracies of students, stakeouts on the roof of the school, and heart-to-heart talks with her ex-boyfriend. When Olive and Maps see mysterious glowing eyes looking out from the closed North Hall of the school, they decide to break in and search the place, with the aid of a couple — well, not friends, really, but people who aren’t entirely hostile. What definitely is hostile, however, is the thing hiding underneath the floor in the North Wing…

Verdict: Thumbs up. The art and storytelling are both super-cool. And I love the way there’s so much weird stuff going on all around them. Will some of this stuff ever be explained? Seriously, I kinda hope not — I love the idea that there are some things that are just bizarre for no reason, and no one will ever think to mention them again…

Today’s Cool Links:

  • One of my friends did a TED Talk about her experiences with synaesthesia.
  • Soldiers in actual war zones are less aggressive than cops in American cities — and that means cops are just making things worse for themselves.
  • If you’re getting me anything for Christmas, I’d really love an Aztec Death Whistle.
  • A century ago, Thanksgiving was a lot more like Halloween.

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