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A Feast Of Friday The 13th Frights!

March 20, 2015

abbott and costello meet frankensteinI was looking at the calendar last week and realized that there wouldn’t be another Friday the 13th until November. I celebrated last month’s by watching Funhouse and The Shortcut, but wanted to go all out for this one. So, here are a review I’ve been thinking about for a few weeks along with a few new ones! Read more…

X-Posed: Astonishing, X-Men & All-New

March 18, 2015

astonishing x-men vol 9 exaltedI can’t seem to stop reading X-Men comics these days! I’m on quite a streak thanks to my library system having a huge selection. Not everything has been a hit, but I figured I’d run down my experience with these books outside of the usual Trade Post format.

My buddy Brett White is a huge X-fan, so he was the first person I went to when trying to figure out which of the many books to request. On the top of his list was Marjorie Liu’s run on Astonishing X-Men. I looked into it and saw that Greg Pak did the arc before hers, so I requested that one first. Astonishing X-Men – Volume 9: Exalted collects #44-47 of that book plus part of a Warren Ellis/Adi Granov story called Ghost Boxes that plays into this story of alternate dimensions drawn by the excellent mike McKone. Read more…

Mighty Marvel Trade Post: Thanos Rising, Silver Surfer Vol. 1 & Avengers Vs. X-Men

March 11, 2015

thanos rising Thanos Rising (Marvel)
Written by Jason Aaron, drawn by Simone Bianchi
Collects Thanos Rising #1-5

I’ve been requesting a ridiculous number of trade paperbacks from the library recently. I’ll sign into the system with an idea about one book to put on hold and the next thing I know, I’ve got a dozen or so books in the hold section and am getting a few messages a week from the library telling me my stacks are in. In an effort to put my thoughts down and get these books back into the system, I’m going to do some brief reviews here and move along.

First up we have Thanos Rising, an origin story for one of Marvel’s most powerful villains (and the driving force behind the fantastic Guardians Of The Galaxy) written by Jason Aaron and drawn by Simone Bianchi. I think this is probably the first interior work by Bianchi that I’ve actually read and I think he did a stellar job bringing the intensity and detail seen on his covers to the interiors.

Of course, it also helps that Aaron wove a compelling story about the bad guy who’s in love with death. This story starts with Thanos’ birth and travels with him as he grows into the genocidal maniac we’ve all come to know and love in Marvel’s cosmic adventures. Heck, there were even times when I felt bad for a character who almost killed Captain America. This feels like a great book to pass to someone who’s seen a Marvel movie and might be interested in getting into comics because it’s very much unattached to the more complicated universe.

silver surfer volume 1 new dawn Silver Surfer Vol. 1: New Dawn (Marvel)
Written by Dan Slott, drawn by Mike Allred
Collects Silver Surfer #1-5

When I’m sitting on the computer trying to think of books to look up, I try to remember which runs everyone seems to love. Dan Slott and Mike Allred’s Silver Surfer popped into my head and not long after, I had it in-hand. I’ve only just started reading Slott’s excellent Amazing Spider-Man work, but Allred’s an easy sell for me because I love Madman and his work on iZombie (I reviewed volumes one, two and three and have four waiting for a read).

Silver Sufer is an Allred-illustrated book that felt more like an Allred-penned comic, which was an interesting experience. The Surfer is on a vast vacation world, hanging around with a young quirky girl who could easily be played by Zooey Deschanel and having trippy nightmares about being trapped on Earth again. There’s also an awesome appearance by SS’s Defenders teammates Dr. Strange and Hulk. The story itself wasn’t my cup of tea, but how cool is it seeing Allred draw those characters? The answer is that it’s very cool. Overall, this story didn’t really latch onto me, but I liked the art enough that I’ll probably give the second volume a look just to see where it goes.

avengers vs. x-men Avengers vs. X-Men (Marvel)
Written by Jeph Loeb, Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman & Matt Fraction; drawn by Ed McGuinness, Frank Cho, John Romita Jr., Olivier Coipel & Adam Kubert
Collects Avengers Vs. X-Men #0-12, Point One #1

Back in my days at Wizard I was fully up to date when it came to the big time Marvel and DC events. But, it’s been about five years since I got the axe and a whole lot of craziness has gone on since then. DC implemented a complete reboot and Marvel rolls out an event roughly every year (plus more character or team-based side events). As I’m trying to catch up and dive into some X-books, it seemed pertinent to check out Avengers Vs. X-Men.

And I’ve got to say, I really enjoyed this book. I worried going in that it might feel like Civil War which, no matter how hard any of the writers tried, always seemed very much in favor of Captain America’s side, but in this case both Cap and Cyclops have pertinent points. Better yet, Cyke gets possessed by the Phoenix Force, so you don’t have to worry about his side making sense. More impressively, though, were the little bits and pieces that hit home. The second issue does a great job of framing these events that might seem commonplace and making them seem cool and huge.

I was also impressed with how well these issues flowed considering six different writers and five artists were working on the issues. I’m not always the biggest fan of events because they can easily get bloated and plot-driven, abandoning character along the way, but that wasn’t the case here so it gets a big thumbs up from me. Oh, also, it resulted in more mutants, so that’s cool!

Paul Pope Trade Post: Battling Boy & The Rise Aurora West

February 25, 2015

battling boy Battling Boy (First Second)
Written & drawn by Paul Pope

I’m not nearly as familiar with Paul Pope’s work as I’d like to be. I know I read either 100% or Heavy Liquid while at Wizard, but can’t remember exactly which one. I do know that he blew me away with Batman: Year 100 and loved staring at his Adam Strange installments in Wednesday Comics. So, when I heard that he had a superhero-esque graphic novel coming out and that our library had it in the system, I was very excited to finally give the results a read.

Battling Boy is set in a world where extra-dimensional beings head to other planes of existence to prove themselves when they reach a certain age. The title character is one such kid whose Thor-like dad drops him off in a monster-ridden world with a series of power-infused T-shirts and a cape. It’s good timing because the place’s science hero Haggard West has just been dispatched leaving his daughter Aurora to pick up the slack. I don’t want to get into too many details because that’s all part of the fun, but our hero, while super powerful, does deal with a lot of more common questions like “Should I just have my dad take care of things?” and “Should I tell these people I have no idea what I’m doing?”

This first volume sets up a really interesting world that I’m psyched to return to, especially because Pope’s artwork is just so…Popian? Papal? This guy’s style is so much his and a part of him that I’m down for reading anything he puts out.

Battling Boy Rise of Aurora WestThe Rise of Aurora West (First Second)
Written by Paul Pope & JT Petty, drawn by David Rubin

When I first got The Rise Of The Aurora West from the library, I was surprised for a few reasons. First, I didn’t realize that this wasn’t a pure Pope effort and second, I was unaware it’s a black and white manga-esque offering. After just a few pages, though, I didn’t mind either perceived problem. Rubin’s art is very much in line with Pope’s, so it feels like it’s all part of the same thing even sans color.

This story actually takes place before the events of Battling Boy, chronicling the adventures of Aurora and her attempts to figure out what happened to her deceased mother and what it may or may not have to do with her imaginary friend.

In a lot of ways, this book actually felt a little more focused and on-point than the previous book which had a kind of fever dream quality to it not uncommon in Pope’s work. Part of that might be that I’m just used to what this world is about and part is because this book focuses solely on Earth and not the extra-reality zones Battling Boy is from. I also appreciated that, after being introduced to these characters and this place in the first volume, I got to learn even more about what happened to this world. There are still plenty of more mysteries to be had, which is why I’m excited to keep reading whatever else comes out in this series.

Halloween Scene: The Shortcut (2009)

February 19, 2015

the shortcutLast week had one of my favorite days of the year: a Friday the 13th! As it happened, my mom took the kids over to their place for most of the day which meant that, even though I had a lot of things to get done around the house, I could watch whatever I wanted.

First, I checked out Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse on my computer while getting my work done. I’ve had a copy of this movie for a while, acquired sometime after I watched it for the first time in 2009. I wish I’d read my review from back then because this movie is mostly boring and creepy in ways that don’t make it enjoyable (the brother-sister Psycho homage in the beginning, the truck driver affectionately caressing the boy’s face right in front of his parents who could care less). Unnerving scenes usually help build tension in a film, but since these have nothing to do with the actual threat of the piece, they just feel awkward, pointless and make me want to turn the movie off. I didn’t, but I did basically stop paying attention. That one will not be sticking around.

I had a much better time with a movie called The Shortcut that my buddy Rickey passed me a year or two back. All he told me was that it was directed by Nicholaus Goossen who did the excellent Grandma’s Boy (in fact, those are his only feature credits). Had I paid a little more attention to what I had, I probably would have watched this movie sooner because it stars national treasure Dave Franco, 30 Rock‘s Katrina Bowden and Raising Hope‘s Shannon Woodward, all actors whose work I’ve enjoyed at one time or another.

The plot revolves around Drew Seeley’s character and his investigationin to the weird guy living in the woods who terrorizes anyone who takes a shortcut near the school in a small town. Since he and his family just moved in, they’re not familiar with the rumors about the crazy old man who lives there. Soon enough, a group of high school kids take it upon themselves to investigate what’s really going on in a creepy old farmhouse.

I don’t want to get too much into the actual plot points because I enjoyed going into this movie completely blind and having a pretty good time with it. In addition to a talented cast and a script with just the right amount of twists and turns (or possibly one too many), I really dug this movie because it reminded me of the kinds of creepy stories we’d tell each other as kids. Where I grew up there were two consistent rumors that scared all of us, yet compelled us to tell all our friends. I don’t remember many details, but one was called the CK Killer (or possibly the KC Killer?) the other Dirty Mitch.

The former either supposedly killed or kidnapped a bunch of kids at my grade school and the other was a weirdo who lived near the park across the street from my house. I even remember kids pointing out a particular house on the bus route that he lived in. At one point the two myths collided, making them partners in crime. I just did a few Google searches for both names and nothing came up, so I guess they were complete fiction. Still, those stories — or at least the names and vague recollections of them — have stuck with me to this day and The Shortcut works with a lot of those same feelings in a way I haven’t quite seen before (or at least in a long time).

Okay, so I guess I lied above when I mentioned that I don’t want to talk about plot points too much. This paragraph features heavy end-of-movie SPOILERS, so why don’t you stop here if you don’t want the finale ruined. I can’t tell if I like or hate the end of this movie where it’s revealed that the main kid’s younger brother is also a crazy murderer, like the main villain of the piece. On one hand, it feels way too coincidental that these two pairs of brothers come into contact. On the other, it’s kind of an interesting. Either way, it’ll be interesting to watch the movie again to see if the seeds for this reveal are planted ahead of time or if it comes out of nowhere.

 

X-Men Trade Post: Schism, Uncanny & Wolverine And The X-Men

February 18, 2015

x-men schism X-Men: Schism (Marvel)
Written by Jason Aaron with Kieron Gillen, drawn by Carlos Pacheco, Frank Cho, Daniel Acuna, Alan Davis, Adam Kubert & Billy Tan
Collects X-Men: Schism #1-5, X-Men: Regenesis #1

I’ve gone about reading recent X-Men comics a bit backwards. I actually started off with the first volume of Bendis’ All-New X-Men, but was confused about what was going on. Then I read the first Wolverine & The X-Men by Jason Aaron and Avengers Vs. X-Men but realized I needed to go back even a bit farther. I finally figured out that all roads lead back to Schism, so I got that as well as the first Kieron Gillen volume of Uncanny X-Men.

I actually read the X-Men pretty consistently during the run up to Messiah Complex, but that’s about my experience with these characters in this medium. After MC, the X-Men scored their own island, called it Utopia and seemed to be doing alright. Then Schism went down, shook things up and a bold new direction was kicked off in its wake.

In Schism, Quentin Quire, a teen anarchist mutant from Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men, kicked off some trouble for the X-Men, but the real brains behind the operation are a bunch of evil, super smart kids who take over the Hellfire Club in an effort to make money and stir things up for mutants. In the process Cyclops and Wolverine come to blows over whether the kids on Utopia should be thrust into battle or be allowed to bail. At the end of the ordeal — which involves a lot of Sentinels sold and designed by the Hellfire Club kids — Wolverine decides to restart the school while Cyclops continues to train the children to defend themselves and mutant kind.

As an event, I thought Schism was well put together and presented. Sometimes these events with a clear endpoint (split the X-teams) feel really telegraphed and weak from a storytelling perspective. In this case, though, by making this an issue with valid points on both sides, Aaron and company do what Civil War couldn’t in my mind: make me understand both sides.

I also enjoyed the Who’s Who of X-artists doing their thing on this series. I’m not always a fan of the idea of splitting up a series like this with different artists, especially ones like this that are very distinct, but in this case, I liked it BECAUSE these artists all have such distinct styles. They all came to play and the results are great superhero action.

wolverine & the x-men volume 1Wolverine & the X-Men, Vol. 1 (Marvel)
Written by Jason Aaron, drawn by Chris Bachalo with Duncan Rouleau, Matteo Scalera & Nick Bradshaw
Collects Wolverine & The X-Men #1-4

As I mentioned, I was a bit mixed up and actually read Wolverine & The X-Men after AVX which is not the best order. After his disagreement with Cyclops, Wolverine has gone off to form his own school called The Jean Grey School For Gifted Youngsters. Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Beast and a few other X-folks including a good deal of the younger mutants all came along for the ride as well.

The first volume features an attack by the new Hellfire Club (a bunch of punk kids) and the introduction of a few new members like the new Krakoa, a nerdy Brood and a boy that sure looks an awful lot like Apocalypse (he’s from Uncanny X-Force which Wolverine also starred in at that time). I also really enjoyed the art by Chris Bachalo (who drew much of the Supernovas story that I’m also a big fan of) and Nick Bradshaw who blew me away with his part in Escape From The Negative Zone (dude’s like a cartoonier Art Adams). My only complaint is that the printing on this particular book didn’t seem to do Bachalo’s artwork justice.

I’m glad that Aaron wrapped up the younger Hellfire Club story, at least partially, because I kind of hate the idea of killer kids in general. I appreciate the idea of balancing the physical superiority of heroes against the smaller-of-stature children, but I always have a hard time buying into the idea that children are these awful, murderous creatures. It’s a personal hang-up of mine that doesn’t reflect on the story at all. Anyway, I’ll definitely be back for more of this book because it had a really fun tone, set up a lot of interesting relationships and makes me want to find out what happens to them next.

Uncanny X-Men By Kieron Gillen Vol 1Uncanny X-Men By Kieron Gillen Volume 1 (Marvel)
Written by Kieron Gillen, drawn by Carlos Pacheco, Rodney Buscemi, Brandon Peterson, et al
Collects Uncanny X-Men #1-4

With mutant life hanging in the balance, Cyclops develops a simple plan: make the humans so petrified of his squad that they won’t be jerks to less flashy mutants. This so-called Extinction Team consists of Cyke, Emma Frost, Magneto, Magik, Colossus, Storm, Danger and Hope. In this first outing they go up against Mr. Sinister who has siphoned the power of the Dream Celestial and built a city of his own clones.

The first three issues are pretty tight and do a solid job of both explaining and showing what Cyclops’ mission is. I’ve always had a hard time understanding how the people in the Marvel U can be so bigoted against mutants when they live in a world filled with other people with strange powers, abilities and afflictions, so it was interesting to see Cyke go on the offensive against those people. All in all though, I’m not sure how long I’ll be on board this book. I loved WATX because it was fun and a bit light, but this one, like Cyclops himself, might just be too serious for me at this point. Still, I’ve got the next few volumes of both requested from the library and will let you know how those reading experiences go!

Revisiting Ed Brubaker’s Captain America Part 1

February 12, 2015

captain america winter soldier vol 1Leading into the new year, I was on a big Captain America kick. After organizing my trades in my new office I realized that I had all of the trade’s covering Ed Brubaker’s run up through Reborn and decided it was time to give the whole run a read-through. This won’t be a traditional trade post going volume by volume, but I did want to take a bit of internet real estate out to write down some of my thoughts on this epic undertaking (Brubaker’s, not mine).

This run kicked off in late 2004. At the time of launch, I wasn’t aware of what was going on aside from what I read in Wizard. At the time, I was in my last year of college and not reading too many books, aside from Runaways and New Avengers which I was picking up at a local hobby shop (when I went home for vacations, I’d mainline my regular books). I can’t say for sure, but I probably didn’t even know who Brubaker was at the time. He was working on a run of comics that easily became not just a favorite of mine, but I believe, a definitive one for one of comics’ longest running heroes.

And it all started with a bit of continuity craziness. For as long as I’d read and read about comics, the adage was, “No one stays dead in comics except Uncle Ben and Bucky.” But Brubaker noticed something interesting: Bucky never died on panel. The event was referred to and remembered many times, but readers never actually saw it happen “in real time.” With that in mind, he set out on a series of events to bring Bucky back, first as the villainous Winter Soldier and then as a potentially more interesting man-out-of-time than his partner. Around all that, Brubaker created an espionage-filled tale of intrigue that involved Red Skull, a new villain called General Lukin, the Cosmic Cube, S.H.I.E.L.D., Arnim Zola, Agent Carter, Falcon, World War II adventures, murder, Civil War and falling through time.

death of captain america vol 1By pitting the seminal hero against a variety of villains old and new and also teaming Cap up with the best heroes the Marvel U has to offer, Brubaker shows how great of a person Steve Rogers really is. This is a man who never, ever gives up. He won’t just fight until he can’t fight anymore, but he will also believe in the goodness of his friends, even when they’ve seemingly done terrible, awful things. At the same time, Brubaker gives fantastic treatment to characters like Sharon Carter, Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson that feel equally weighted, and sometimes even more important than what’s going on with Steve.

Of course, as anyone who read this book or paid attention to comics in the past 10 years or so already knows, Steve Rogers was not the star of the book after getting apparently murdered after the events of Civil War. This allowed Bucky to step into the costume and become a new kind of Captain America. This allowed Bru to continue exploring Bucky as a character while also showing how great Steve is in comparison.

Even with Steve out of the picture, though, that doesn’t mean the bad guys aren’t still planning and plotting against anyone wielding Cap’s shield. But, as we learn — and you’ll notice upon a new read through — this particular gang of miscreants has been planning something huge for YEARS. That’s one of the many reason I enjoy going back and doing these larger read-throughs, I pick up on so many of the seeds planted that I wizzed by the first time around. Of course, it helps when you already know where the story is going.

All of this comes to a head with Road To Reborn and Reborn. When I first read these books, I was working at Wizard and we’d snatch the issues up when they were available. That meant I read through them pretty quickly, usually while eating lunch, and getting them back to the stacks so someone else could read them. Actually being able to take my time with these, savor and study them a bit made for a much richer reading experience.

I’ve talked a lot about Brubaker in this post, but I also have to give huge props to regular series artists Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, Luke Ross and Butch Guice who did an amazing job of keeping a consistent tone throughout these issues. Epting’s the hero for me, but all of these artists came together to create a general idea of dark, yet bold superheroics that look just as good in the daylight as they do in the shadows. I also give a lot of credit to series colorist Frank D’Armata who kept things consistent across the board. I think his work on this book was actually the first time I really noticed how important a colorist’s work can be.

captain america reborn

I read these 11 trades in pretty short order, but hit a roadblock because I didn’t have many of the trades after Reborn. I requested a series of books from the library — including these other Brubaker-penned volumes — but went off track in my read-through when I got some extra Christmas money and purchased the Trial Of Captain America Omnibus for about half price. I returned the Cap books I’d gotten from the library and waited for my killer hardcover to come in, but in the mean time, I went a little crazy with the library requests and haven’t cracked the brand new big book.

I’ve calmed down a bit with the requests and hope to get back to Captain America pretty soon. Not only did I have a great time going back through these issues, but we’re getting to a point in the book that I’m not nearly as well-versed in. In fact, I haven’t read a good deal of these issues, so this will be a whole different, reading experience!

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