Trade Post: Just A Pilgrim, Criminal & Martian Manhunter

just-a-pilgrim-vol-1I’ve been doing some cleaning in the garage and want to whittle down my To Read boxes so I dove in and came out with this batch. Here’s what I thought!

Back when I worked at Wizard, I found a batch of Black Bull trades that were up for grabs. If you’re unfamiliar, that was the short-lived comic company created by the higher ups at Wizard. I haven’t read anything but the two Just A Pilgrim books, so I can’t speak to the overall quality of the line, but I liked these Garth Ennis and Carlos Ezquerra stories! Continue reading Trade Post: Just A Pilgrim, Criminal & Martian Manhunter

Moore, Moore, Moore: Miracleman Book One – A Dream Of Flying

miracleman vol 1 a dream of flying I recently realized that, while I greatly respect Alan Moore as a writer, I haven’t read much of his work. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is one of my favorite things ever and Tom Strong definitely did something cool to my brain, but what about all that other work?

My main source of comic book news and inspiration growing up was Wizard. Say what you will about the publication I would eventually go on to intern and then work for, but in the 90s, in addition to bestowing the virtues of all things Image and awesome, the monthly also told a generation of readers about Alan Moore’s work beyond the ever-present Watchmen, specifically and most memorably Miracleman.

Originally published as Marvelman in England, the character actually goes back to the 1950s, but eventually came under the creative guidance of Moore (and later Neil Gaiman!). Mick Anglo’s creation was your basic 50s hero with a wild, alien-based origin, a stable of sidekicks and even more menaces to face. By the time Moore, Garry Leach and later Alan Davis worked on the character in the pages of Warrior, though, he turned into a dark mirror by which to examine not just the early days of this character, but the entire history of comics. Continue reading Moore, Moore, Moore: Miracleman Book One – A Dream Of Flying

Trade Pile: Tokyo Ghost, Sonic/Mega Man & Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Tokyo Ghost Vol 1So many trades, so little time so let’s jump right in! A friend of mine suggested I check out Tokyo Ghost, which didn’t take too much pushing because I love Sean Murphy’s artwork in books like The Wake, Punk Rock Jesus and Joe the Barbarian and I’ve always thought that Rick Remender’s stories work better in worlds that he fully creates and that’s exactly what you get with Ghost. Continue reading Trade Pile: Tokyo Ghost, Sonic/Mega Man & Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Quick Movie Review: The Lone Ranger (2013)

lone-ranger-banner

I’ve long given up on trying to figure out why certain films kill at the box office and others don’t. Take The Lone Ranger for instance. Much like it’s filmic cousin, Pirates Of The Caribbean, this film stars Johnny Depp as an offbeat character, was directed by Gore Verbinski and features a ton of fun action set pieces. And yet 2011’s POTC: At World’s End made over $1 billion worldwide and Lone Ranger pulled in a mere $206.5 million. At the end of the day, as a viewer, these things don’t matter to me aside from the fact that a poor performance in the real world will kill franchise potential which is too bad because I did like this film.

I was never a Lone Ranger fan. I remember the reruns being on the Disney Channel when I was a kid, but I avoided them (Zorro was more of my jam back then). I did read the first arc or so of Dynamite’s initial comic series which was solid, but that’s about where my experience ends. So, I went into this without many expectations and was pleasantly surprised by what I was presented with which was a big, fun popcorn movie featuring Armie Hammer developing into the Lone Ranger persona with the help of Tonto (Depp) while running afoul of the always-fantastic William Fichtner.

Sure, the film probably could have been a little shorter — it clocks in around the 2.5 hour mark as it is — but I didn’t find it lagging, personally. There’s a solid mix of character as Hammer’s John Reid moves from the law abiding district attorney he is at the beginning of the film to the masked vigilante at the very end. We even learn interesting things about why Tonto’s so crazy and get looks at a lot of interesting character as well as a bevy of train and shoot-out based action scenes that are always fun.

My one complaint about this film is that they went with the origin story. Much like with comic book films, I think that screenwriters, directors and producers fall into this trap when they’re making films based on existing properties and that is this desire to devote the first film to the character’s earliest days learning to be a hero. I’m personally much more in favor of the Die Hard method of action film storytelling in which you just show the lead being awesome and give details about their past as they’re needed. I wonder if a full-on Lone Ranger film would have done better than the story of the guy who becomes the Lone Ranger. Still, I enjoyed the movie, think it got a bad wrap and would suggest spending a lazy Saturday or Sunday giving it a watch.

Trade Post: Ghost Rider By Jason Aaron Omnibus

GhostRiderOmnibusJasonAaron Ghost Rider The Jason Aaron Omnibus (Marvel)
Written by Jason Aaron, drawn by Roland Boschi, Tan Eng Huat & Tony Moore
Collects Ghost Rider #20-35, Ghost Rider: Heaven’s On Fire #1-6

I’m still not quite sure why I decided to buy the Ghost Rider Jason Aaron omnibus a few years back. It was in the heyday of Thwipster and the deal must have been pretty killer. I’d read the first trade of this comic that my pal Jim Gibbons was a super-fan of during our Wizard days together, but wasn’t sold. And yet, I still got the hardcover collection of his entire run along with the icing-on-the-top Heaven’s On Fire miniseries that concluded Aaron’s run. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I did because reading the whole thing, altogether framed it and these characters in my head a lot better.

The key to enjoying this series for me was understanding that it wasn’t just inspired by 70s horror, exploitation, motorcycle and grindhouse fair, but acts as an actual synthesis of those existing pieces of fiction with the comic book format. I think my initial negative reaction to this book came from the fact that I was expecting it to rise above the dirtiness when, instead, the whole point is to dive in with both feet and feel the muck surround you and the characters. A big part of that feel comes from the art by Roland Boschi and Tan Eng Huat (I’ll get to Tony Moore’s stuff in a few graphs). These artists have a style that is exaggerated and maybe a little muddy, the comic book equivalent of screen scratches and over exposed film stock (but clearly done with more intent and skill than using the cheapest film stock you can get your hands on for a three day shoot). Basically, what I’m saying is that Aaron’s Ghost Rider is what I wanted Quentin Tarantino’s disappointing Death Proof to be.

The basic gist is that original Ghost Rider Johnny Blaze has discovered that, as a Spirit of Vengeance, he was actually created by an angel instead of a devil like he’s previously thought. He doesn’t appreciate being lied to and wants revenge for his crummy life, so he’s trying to find his way to heaven in an attempt to kill Zadkiel. In the first arc, Johnny finds a kid who died for a few minutes while being resuscitated and explains that Zadkiel’s waging war on heaven. In the process, Johnny runs afoul of an army of warrior nurses — the angel’s agents on earth — as well as a down-on-his-luck cop and a haunted road.

That general tone continues throughout the rest of the run as Johnny keeps hitting roadblocks on his road to heaven and revenge. One of the biggest happens to be former Ghost Rider Danny Ketch (who’s also Blaze’s brother we’re told). Danny’s lost his marbles as well as his powers and all he wants to do is get them back so he made a deal with Zadkiel. He gets powers as long as he helps kill the other Spirits of Vengeance from around the world.

“OTHER Spirits of Vengeance?” you ask. Why, yes. In a move somewhat similar to the one Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction took with Immortal Iron Fist, Aaron reveals that the world had many Riders, each reflecting the culture they were sworn to protect. Ketch is being played, though as Zadkiel’s using the power let loose by the Riders to fuel his war against heaven. This leads to a huge clash between Johnny, the handful of remaining Spirits of Vengeance and the new Caretaker and an army of evil angels lead by Danny. It’s pretty epic and, at the end of the day, the good guys don’t exactly come out on top.

This leads to a trio of issues that have a different feel than the others. First and foremost, they’re drawn by Tony Moore whose style is a lot cleaner and crisper than Boschi and Huat’s. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t get grimy and gross when it makes sense, just that it’s got a much different feel to it. These three stories also have more of a one-off feel as the leads have individual adventures with more of an EC Comics feel that pits the individuals against a supernatural threat that, in turn, shows them that they need to get back out there fighting the good fight. There’s a bit of a disconnect from these issues, maybe it’s because the previous arc ends with the bad guy winning and then we just see these guys kind of hanging out, not worrying too much about an evil angel talking over heaven and dealing with other threats. Still, it’s so rad to see Moore draw these characters!

The festivities end with the two Ghost Riders and Caretaker teaming up with a group of other supernatural Marvel characters like Daimon Hellstrom and Jaine Cutter to not only keep the antichrist alive (if he dies, Zadkiel disproves the Bible and ensures his place as heaven’s ruler) while also fighting off an army of Ghost Rider villains old and new. It’s another epic show down with a good deal of twists and turns that I won’t spoil, but felt like a very satisfying conclusion to this epic story.

As a whole, Aaron’s run on Ghost Rider reminds me of how good corporate owned comics can be if the right creative team with a unified vision is in place. It seems like Aaron was basically able to do whatever he wanted with these characters and the result is a story that, like Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, fits in perfectly with the existing universe and also  brings new elements to the table. You can tell from reading these issues that this story came about because someone had a great idea and a solid vision instead of a need to fill pages. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the way to go with these comics.

By now you’ve probably figured out that I’m a fan of this book. You can get it either as the full omnibus or in individual trades. Either one is cool. The omnibus has some cool sketch stuff in the back, but it might be pretty expensive at this point. If you’re worried that you need to be a Ghost Rider expert to get into the series, don’t. I’ve read the first five issues of the 90s Danny Ketch series, the Rise Of The Midnight Sons crossover and a few of the earliest appearances thanks to the Ghost Ride GIT DVD I picked up, but other than that, I’m pretty far from a die hard Spirit of Vengeance fan and I was still able to enjoy this book thoroughly. Aaron has a way of explaining things in quick bites that are easy to swallow and digest while you’re also enjoying demons fighting angels and ghosts ripping a cannibal apart. Basically, what I’m saying is get off your butt and read this run or, if you’re like me and already have it, give it another look!

We Want Action: Django Unchained (2012) & Gangster Squad (2013)

django unchained I’m a big fan of Quentin Tarantino’s films. I certainly don’t like all of his movies equally — Jackie Brown and Death Proof don’t really do it for me — but I rank the rest of them in the Awesome category. Reservoir Dogs was my first and still one of my all time favorite films, Pulp Fiction is a classic, Kill Bill is both an amazing homage and also a brilliant bit of bloody goodness and Inglourious Basterds is so wonderful I can still write the title correctly. I’m actually surprised that I haven’t reviewed any of his other movies here on the blog, but I think part of that stems from the idea that a lot of ink has already been spilled on Tarantino’s career and I’ve found that some things are just so close to my heart that I don’t want to write about them. Sometimes you just want to keep something for your self.

I thought about skipping a review for Django Unchained, Tarantino’s first western, but after thinking about it for awhile, I decided to dive in a bit. If you haven’t seen the movie, do it. It bummed me out that I had to wait as long as I did to see this movie, but that’s what happens when you have a kid and no babysitter. The story revolves around bounty hunter King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) buying slave Django (Jamie Foxx) in an effort to track down a particular bounty. Along the way, Schultz trains Django to become a bounty hunter and the pair become friends to the point where Django tells King that he wants to track down his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who was sold to Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) a plantation owner who gets his kicks from watching slaves beat each other to death.

Considering the setting and the director, you probably have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting with this movie and it’s truly not for the faint of heart. Even I was impressed with how much blood was spilled in this film, mostly through old school gunfights and a few fights. And, as you’ve probably heard, the language is very of-the-time which translates into “incredibly racist.”

But the real heart of the story revolves around a man taking advantage of every opportunity to find the love of his life. He’ll act like a slave trader himself, he’ll kill people, he’ll play nice with the man who enslaved his wife. But, when the chips are down and it’s time to pull through, Django does everything he can to achieve his goal. Foxx does a terrific job in his role as does, well, everyone else in the whole movie. As you can expect there’s some touchy areas here, but everyone really commits to their parts and Tarantino directed them deftly. All around, Tarantino once again shows how good he can be at taking a genre he loves, mixing in his own sensibilities and even his own take on history and creating something that’s both emotionally satisfying and also fun to watch.

gangster squad poster Gangster Squad also takes viewers to a time in our country’s past and features a heckuva hero. This time we’re in 1949 LA which has been overrun with gangsters like Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). But there’s still a few good cops around like Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) who’s a heard headed justice seeker unafraid to mix it up with the bad guys in an effort to keep his city safe. The police chief (Nick Nolte) realizes this and offers him a chance to go after Cohen and company, but only off the books. O’Mara puts a team together that includes guys played by Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Giovonni Ribisi, Michael Pena and Robert Patrick who do just that.

The film, directed Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland), is actually based on real life events from the time, but, of course, punched up for more Hollywood goodness. Emma Stone plays both sides of the fence as one of Cohen’s regular lady friends and faling for Gosling’s character (who can blame her). The story bobs and weaves around, actually taking on a lot of the same story beats seen in Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy (a longtime favorite of mine, gotta check out that Blu-ray).

As I noted in this week’s episode of the Pop Poppa Nap Cast, posted over on my dad blog Pop Poppa, I really appreciated the bravery these men exemplified in their attempts to clean up the city. O’Mara’s the kind of classic hero we don’t see much of anymore. He does the right thing because it’s right and good and the only gain he gets out of it is the ability to live in a better world…assuming he doesn’t get killed along the way. All the other guys on the squad have similar motivations, wanting to make the world a better place for their kids, the people in their neighborhood and the like. They’re real, old school heroes who also happen to look and talk slick, shoot well and fight even better. Once again that mix of heart and action really gets me. It also helps that this movie is freaking gorgeous and looks amazing on Blu-ray, as did Django though I didn’t mention above.

Y: The Last Man Deluxe Volume 2 Trade Post

Y The Last Man Deluxe Volume 2 Y: The Last Man Deluxe Volume 2 (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, drawn by Pia Guerra with Paul Chadwick & Goran Parlov
Collects Y: The Last Man #11-23

My original intent when diving back into the wild world of Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man was to focus on all five deluxe collections without jumping around. But, after reading the first volume, and reliving both the intensity of the series and some of Yorick Brown’s more annoying character ticks, I needed to take a break. So, I burned through a few trades that I’ll get around to reviewing soon enough, both to cleanse my palet a bit and also to get some of the books out of my “to read” long box (I’ve set up a lot of Sequential Swaps lately and had a good deal of books coming in).

Even after feeling pretty accomplished knocking a few books off the list, I was drawn right back to Y. This volume was split about 50/50 between stuff I remembered from my first reading of the book and stuff I didn’t remember at all. I remembered all the astronaut stuff pretty much down to the letter, though there were some surprises in who dies and who doesn’t. I also mostly remembered the mostly Yorick-less theater storyline which was a nice little treat. But then you’ve got the stuff with Agent 711 as well as the Sons of Arizona stuff which had completely slipped my mind. Even remembering some of the details, though, it’s all in how BKV tells the story that makes this such a great book to read.

My main complaint about the first volume was that Yorick can be an incredibly annoying character. He’s basically a smartass kid who’s done nothing with his life that loves making cultural references to make himself feel more worldly. When I was younger, I could relate to that a lot more, but now I just want this wiseacre to clam up. Just to clarify, that’s not a complaint about the writing. I think all of that is very purposeful on BKV’s part. Yorick’s whole journey about this series is to become a better, well-rounded human being (plus that whole saving the world thing). The beauty of this volume is that BKV shifts the focus from Yorick a bit before subjecting him to 711’s unique brand of therapy (man, what an intense string of issues!) which then leads into a story that starts showing how Yorick has changed. I’m not sure how these issues are broken up in the normal trades, but I thought it was a really interesting structure for this collection.

While reading through this volume I realized another element that makes this book so accessible to new readers and non-comic book fans and that is that the art is both realistic and cartoony. By realistic I mean that it’s not ultra-stylized and by cartoonish I mean that you could see this kind of art in something like a newspaper comic strip or a greeting card (I’m having trouble thinking of other places where non-comic fans see static art). This idea came to me while looking at a page and thinking something along the lines of, “This isn’t too far off from the kind of art you’d see in an Archie comic.” It’s an interesting thought because on one hand it almost lulls you into lowered expectations of what you’re going to see in the book and then you get some pretty insane stuff shown in that same style which makes it a bit more shocking and a bit more surprising.

Once again, I found myself needing a bit of a break after reading through these 13 issues so I’m probably going to throw up another Trade Post for Friday, but I’m already back into the series with about half of the third volume read just last night. There’s a lot going on and I think I’m about done with all the parts I actually remember from the series so this should be interesting.