Archive for February, 2012

Skin of my Tiefling

Dungeons & Dragons #15

As seems to be the standard state of affairs, things are not going well for Adric Fell and his band of adventurers. Adric and Bree the halfling rogue are getting chased by a beholder, Tisha the tiefling warlock has fallen down a chasm and found herself surrounded by hordes of monstrous kruthiks, and Khal the dwarven paladin and Varis the elven ranger are fighting off Danni (Khal’s girlfriend) and her shapeshifting homunculi. No spoilers for how they get out of these predicaments — but the solutions include teaming up with the kruthiks, kissing a dwarf, and opening a portal to a realm of Elemental Evil. All in a day’s work for Fell’s Five!

Verdict: Thumbs up. Nothing but awesomeness all the way through. Tons of wonderful moments — Bree offering to stab Adric to help him run faster, Khal and Varis bantering in the midst of battle, the beholder saying “Pardon?” The sole disappointment I have with this issue was realizing that it’s one of the few series that IDW doesn’t promote. I mean, come on, it’s the best fantasy comic on the shelves, and you don’t wave signs about it? That’s crazy, man.

The Unwritten #34

Tom Taylor is done for — the Cabal has captured him and taken away his magic powers by enlisting a roomful of storytellers to read conflicting stories about him. But Lizzie Hexam and Richie Savoy have been listening in, and as soon as they realize he’s in trouble, they use the magic doorknob to take them to the storytellers, where they sow a ton of chaos and disrupt their ability to block his powers. With his powers back, Tom takes care of the Cabal’s inner circle, then summons the spirit of one of its dead members to interrogate it about what the Cabal is. And he learns the answers to everything can be found in the Cabal’s deepest basement by communing with something called the Sibyl. Will he learn the answers he needs?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good story, great action, good dialogue. This all feels like it’s leading up to something big. This series isn’t about to end, is it? It feels like it’s all working up to a conclusion…

Severed #7

Jack Garron has been captured by the salesman, who has engineered his entire journey to this point. He’s killed Jack’s best friend, he’s hidden him from the world, he’s taken one of his arms off, and he plans to eat Jack alive. And then Jack’s adoptive mother shows up on the doorstep, and the salesman decides to take care of her, too. With one arm lopped off, strung up in the basement, does Jack have a chance in hell of stopping an immortal cannibal?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good dialogue, excellent action, some outstanding plot twists. And in the end, perfectly, gloriously bleak horror. If you haven’t read any of this yet, I think you’ll certainly want to pick up the trade paperback when it’s released.

Demon Knights #6

With the army of the Questing Queen and Mordru laying siege to the village of Little Spring, our heroes have their work cut out for them. Exoristos the Amazon takes out some of the enemy’s siege-monsters, the Horsewoman mentally communicates with all the wild horses in the countryside, and Al Jabr’s crossbow-engines slaughter multitudes. But Exoristos is eventually cut down, the Horsewoman gets gravely injured, and the Horde finally breaks through the village’s defenses. Is there any hope to save the village?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Yeah, this story is obviously being stretched out to fill a trade paperback, just like all of DC’s other comics, but at least this one feels appropriately epic in scope. Still, they’re going to have to make it worth sticking around for the eight issues it’s apparently going to take to complete this first storyarc.

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The Expo is Back for More!

Hey, Lubbockites! Remember how much you love the Lubbock Comic Book Expo every year? Well, guess what’s happening again this April?

You can find all the details here, but let’s hit the high points: The fifth annual Lubbock Comic Book Expo is scheduled for Saturday, April 14th from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday, April 15th from noon to 5 p.m. It is again going to be part of the 34th annual Lubbock Arts Festival, and it’ll be in the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center at 1501 Mac Davis Lane in Lubbock.

Admission to the Arts Festival is just $3, or just a dollar for kids under 12. That’s cheaper’n spit, and you’d be pleased to pay that, mister! And admission to the Expo itself is again completely free!

Events? That’s mostly up in the air right now. But we do know that the annual and much celebrated Costume Contest will be held on Saturday at 1 p.m. So everyone get out your best Squirrel Girl costumes and come on out!

Again, that’s the Lubbock Comic Book Expo, April 14-15, at the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center, 1501 Mac Davis Lane. Put it on your calendar right now!

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Fatale Frame

Fatale #1

My local store ran out of these fast, and it took a few weeks to get replacement issues, so we get late reviews of this.

When Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips get together, it usually means they’re working on stylish, noir-influenced crime comics. They’re switching it up a bit this time — this is a stylish, noir-influenced crime/horror comic.

We start out meeting Nicolas Lash, a man attending the funeral of Dominic Raines, his godfather and one of his father’s only friends — Nicolas has been named executor of Raines’ estate, and at the funeral, he meets a beautiful woman named Jo. Later that night, while looking through his godfather’s papers, he realizes that gunmen are coming to kill him — and Jo shows up to save his life. But after that, we take a trip to 1956 San Francisco, a city full of crooked cops, naive reporters, deranged cultists — and Jo, calling herself Josephine, no older and no younger than she’ll be a half-century later…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Beautiful art and gritty neo-noir storytelling. Not a lot yet that’s truly horrific, but I don’t expect the first issue of a new series to drown us in monsters and gore…

Fatale #2

This issue is set entirely in ’56, as Josephine tries to see two different men — one a corrupt, cancer-ridden cop named Walt Booker, the other an idealistic reporter named Hank Raines who is investigating Booker. Raines wants Josephine to leave Booker — neglecting to realize that his pregnant wife is sure to find out about his infidelity. Booker, meanwhile, has contacted supernatural powers to help him get rid of his cancer. And what does the diabolical Bishop want in return? Booker just has to deliver Josephine. But that might be hard to do when his corruption is exposed by Hank’s reporting…

Verdict: Another thumbs up. Again, great art and excellent crime storytelling. And the supernatural elements that finally make their appearance here are excellently creepy.

iZombie #22

Gwen is rescued from captivity by Horatio, who has quit the Fossor Corporation because he realized he loved Gwen, even if she was a zombie. Gavin discovers that Spot’s grandfather is a chimpanzee, while Spot learns that Amon and Ubasti definitely plan to kill him as a sacrifice. The Fossors and the Dead Presidents make a very uneasy truce over the need to stop the end of the world, and Gwen remembers how Amon recently convinced her she had to… kill herself? But how can a zombie kill herself?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Nice to see so many plotlines coming together all at once — even minor ones, like Dixie the waitress being revealed as the model for the old Dixie Mason dolls that Spot collects.

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Mourning Edition

Dark Horse Presents #8

The spotlight story in this issue is the short B.P.R.D. episode where Kate Corrigan of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense discovers for the first time that Hellboy, the Bureau’s most celebrated agent, has died and learns that her own future may lie in England rather than anywhere in America. Besides that, we get a story about the Beasts of Burden meeting up with some unearthly sheep, plus the final chapter of Howard Chaykin’s “Marked Man,” the amazing “The Once and Future Tarzan” by Alan Gordon and Thomas Yeates, Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson’s “The Massive,” Martin Conaghan and Jimmy Broxton’s tribute to mad science “Time to Live,” Rich Johnston and Simon Rohrmuller’s faux-mystery “The Many Murders of Miss Cranbourne,” and the continuing postmortem adventures of “Skulltar” by M.J. Butler and Mark Wheatley.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Only a few stories that aren’t that good, but most of these are really good, really fun comics.

The Amazing Spider-Man #679

When we last left Spider-Man, New York City was just one minute away from being utterly destroyed. But now that minute has passed, and nothing happened? Obviously, the watch that Spidey used to guesstimate when the destruction happened could mean that all the destruction happened another 12 hours in the future, so the Wall-Crawler obviously has a lot more work to do. After enlisting the aid of Silver Sable to foil an attempt by Flag Smasher to nuke the city, Spidey thinks the day is saved, but his coworker Grady tells him the time portal still shows New York destroyed. But with Spidey stopping every crime he can on the off-chance that it might finally save the world, time is still running out. Is there anything that can save the city?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A nice done-in-two-issues story that’s packed with tension, humor, action, and everything else you need for a good Spidey comic.

Justice League International #6

In the aftermath of the JLI’s victory over Peraxxus, the team wraps up a few loose ends, disassembling the giant Signal Men robots and taking down a bunch of terrorists who’ve been attacking the UN with unexpectedly powerful bombs. Can the team persuade the Security Council that they should continue to work together? Or will the UN’s enemies have the last laugh?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Here’s the crazy thing about this comic. I recognize that it’s probably not anywhere near the best comic out there. The dialogue is awkward, the characterization is iffy, the scenarios are clumsy — but I like the main characters, I like the general gist of the stories, and I like the fact that none of the female characters are stuck wearing embarrassingly skimpy or idiotic costumes. Will that be enough to keep me reading the comic in the future? Time will tell…

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Friday Night Fights: Toth! Toth! Toth!

Yes, yes, time again for Friday Night Fights — but can we just jump right into this one? ‘Cause it’s really kinda amazing.

I saw this one online a few weeks back and was pretty blown away by how awesome it looked. It took some more time for me to find a useable digital scan of it, and then I sat down and tried to figure out how I could cut this down to smaller panels — and decided it’d be criminal to post it as anything other than the full splash page.

From April 1972’s Adventure Comics #418 by Denny O’Neil and the legendary Alex Toth, here’s a grand, glorious page dedicated to Black Canary beating the socks off some poor sucker.

No kidding — this page just amazes me every time I look at it. It’s just beautifully well done.

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Swamped Out

Swamp Thing #6

Things have gone worse than normal for Alec Holland. Abby Arkane has been captured and coccooned by the Rot, her corrupted brother William is in full control of millions of twisted zombies, and the Parliament of Trees has been destroyed. Is there any chance for the Swamp Thing to save the day before Alec gets a chainsaw through the chest?

Verdict: Thumbs down. And I’m done with this one. I don’t care if the art is nice. I don’t care if the writing is nice. It’s six months in on this title, and Alec Holland still isn’t the Swamp Thing. Oh, of course we know that on the last page of the next issue, he’ll finally become Swamp Thing, and in the issue after that, he’ll finally get to the conclusion of this story. But honestly, I’m tired of being jerked around by this ultimately dull and dishonest comic.

Avengers Academy #25

It’s now an all-out battle, with half the students and teachers at Avengers Academy vs. Hybrid, half-human, half-Dire Wraith, and his mentally enslaved student minions. Reptil is the only student who manages to throw off the mental domination, and that’s just because he’s been mindswitched with his future self. Meanwhile, in the future, the present version of Reptil, in his own future body, escapes from captivity just in time to learn that he had a child with Finesse and may have a chance to help his teammates in the past. Hybrid shuts down Hank Pym’s powers — but that leaves his scientific mind intact, which means he can figure out a way to stop the monster. But can he do it before it’s too late?

Verdict: Thumbs up. We go from present to future to present, we go from huge fight scenes to intimate family moments and back to fight scenes. All that plus a big plot twist. And it all works just fine. Impressive work from Christos Gage and Tom Grummett.

Static Shock #6

There’s a lot of stuff happening, and I couldn’t really keep track of it all. Hardware and Technique from the classic Milestone Media comics get to make an appearance, there’s a interdimensional portal, or maybe a time-travel portal, I couldn’t really tell. There’s some guy who cloned Static’s sister for some reason and now wants to throw her through the portal for some reason. There’s a second version of Static who shows up to save the day, then disappears between pages. And Static’s cloned sisters, who previously hated each other with absolute burning fury, decide they really love each other because they’re siiiiiisters.

Verdict: Thumbs down. Trying to make sense of the plot here was like sustaining brain damage. I don’t know whether to drop this one because it’s awful, or stick with it because it’s about to get cancelled and I may as well have the complete run.

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Empire Weekend

Finally! A chance to review something other than comics!

Empire State by Adam Christopher

“Empire State” is a sci-fi/fantasy/superhero/noir novel by Adam Christopher that starts out with a couple of super-people in 1930s New York having a fight so big, it ends up creating a pocket universe called the Empire State. It’s a darker, rainier, bleaker, more film-noir version of New York City — and only New York City. There’s no Jersey, no Albany, no Baltimore, no California, no Texas, no England, no Bangladesh, no nothing.

Our main character is Rad Bradley, a booze-swilling private eye on the trail of a missing woman, all while under the watchful eye of an oppressive wartime government, a shadowy religious conspiracy, mysterious bruisers wearing gas masks, a mad scientist, and a superhero called the Skyguard.

There are lots of sci-fi and fantasy touches here — robots, parallel worlds, super-science, mega-sized blimps, time travel, interdimensional mindtrip war — and the entire story is kicked off by a couple of superheroes who hit each other so hard they create a new universe — but the bulk of what you’re getting here is good old-fashioned pulp-flavored film noir. Rad Bradley is an old-school gumshoe. He gets hired by a leggy dame, he hangs out with a cynical newspaper reporter, he’s got a bad relationship with the cops, he’s got a run-down office, he wears a fedora — and he goes out investigating mysteries, just like any good old-school gumshoe.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Characters are pretty good. Action’s good. It’s got a fantastic hook. The book even comes with extras, including an interview with the author, a suggested playlist, and something called “WorldBuilder” that lets others write stories set in the Empire State universe.

If I’ve got a complaint, it’s about the lack of female characters. I think I counted four of them — one is Rad’s ex-wife, one is a murder victim, one is the lover of the murder victim, and the only one with a significant part to play in the story is the Science Pirate (not a spoiler — her identity is revealed very early in the book). But the Science Pirate never does a whole lot — gets captured a couple of times and is otherwise kinda generically villainous. Even worse, everyone talks about what a badass the Science Pirate is — until they find out she’s a woman, and then everyone starts disregarding her — “Oh, she’s just a woman, she’s no threat.”

Now that might be something you could excuse for historical accuracy — back in the ’30s, a woman might not be taken seriously by a lot of people. Two problems with that — first, Rad Bradley, the hero, is a black man, and no one ever suggests that he’s not a capable private eye, which definitely wouldn’t happen in the ’30s; and second, if the reader can accept a world with pulp mysteries, robots, superheroes, and all kinds of amazing science-fictional stuff that never happened in the 1930s, you can bet that the reader can also accept capable, non-background female characters.

And that’s a couple big fat paragraphs of negativity — when, really, I definitely enjoyed the book. It runs at a good, brisk pace, and it kept me reading as fast as I could all the way through. The mystery has even more twists and turns than you’d expect from a good pulp detective yarn, and the identity of the villain was a solid surprise for me, even if I could see, looking back, where he was being telegraphed to the reader. It’s a fun book, and other than that point about the female characters, it was a very enthusiastic thumbs up. Go hunt it down and read it, kids.

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