TP Review – Happy

Happy TP Cover
Once upon a time, Nick Sax was an idealistic cop with a pretty young wife and a great future ahead of him.  That was before the realities of the job, a corrupt department and an affair with his partner cost him everything.

Now, Nick is a hitman and an alcoholic. He suffers from eczema and doesn’t suffer fools. He’s also very good at his job, but being good will only get you so far.

When Nick’s latest assignment goes wrong, he winds up strapped to a gurney in the back of an ambulance with a bullet in his side and the cops and the mob on his tail. Plenty of trouble to worry about without Nick starting to hallucinate due to the pain and his current bender. Unfortunately, that is when Nick sees the little blue pony…

This Christmas Eve, Nick Sax will become a hero again, however reluctantly. Because a deranged child-killer who dresses as Santa Claus is out there. A little girl named Hailey is in danger. The only one who knows how to find Hailey is her imaginary friend, Happy The Horse. And Nick Sax is the only other person who can see Happy…

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Most readers will come to Happy due to its recent adaptation into a television series for the Syfy network by Crank writer/director Brian Taylor. Others may come as fans of geek icon Patton Oswalt, who voices Happy The Horse in the new series. Still others will be drawn to the promise of dark humor in a holiday-themed setting.

Comic fans need no such excuses. They already know that Happy will be good because of the talent involved. The series was written by Grant Morrison – one of the most prolific and eclectic writers in Western graphic literature. The artwork is by the equally legendary Darick Robertson, best known for his work on the The Boys and Transmetropolitan – two other mature readers’ titles that, to borrow a tagline from the commercials for Happy the TV show, put the “graphic” in “graphic novel”.

The artwork in Happy is nothing if not graphic. There’s no outright nudity though there are a few mostly bare bottoms. There’s a lot of violence and Robertson lovingly depicts it in every gory bit of detail. He also does a fantastic job of capturing the Noir aesthetic of Morrison’s script. He also draws a mighty fine cute cartoon horsey.

To state the obvious, Happy is not appropriate reading for children. To be brutally honest, Happy is probably not appropriate reading for adults. While this is far from the oddest thing Grant Morrison has ever written, it is perhaps his darkest and least hopeful work to date.

The odd thing is how lifeless the script for Happy seems in spite of that. Morrison has written some great comics but there’s little evidence of the spark that usually infuses Morrison’s dialogue here. Wit is replaced with expletives and one almost feels like Morrison was purposely trying to write like frequent Robertson collaborator Garth Ennis. Whatever his intentions, Morrison’s dialogue here comes off as a half-hearted parody of Frank Miller’s work on Sin City.

Happy is a good read but fans of Morrison’s earlier works may find it disappointing outside of its concept. There’s little of the sense of wacky fun promised by the base idea and Morrison’s earlier work. Still, Darick Robertson’s artwork is as fantastic as ever and that alone should be reason enough to get Happy.

6/10.


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Witchblade (2017) #1

Alex Underwood had always wanted to make a difference – first as a reporter and then as a social worker. Merely wanting to make the world a better place is not enough, alas, and Alex Underwood died. She was gunned down by the husband of one of her clients while in the midst of searching for the hotel maid who could collaborate her client’s stories of abuse.

That should have been the end of Alex Underwood… but something brought her back.

Alex Underwood has become the latest host of The Witchblade – an ancient artifact which grants the women it bonds to amazing mystic powers. Unfortunately, Alex is convinced that the voice in her head speaking to her of the amazing power she now commands and warning her of the demons that now seek her destruction is only the latest in a series of PTSD-fueled delusions that plagued her for years following her being taken hostage.

Hallucination or not, Alex is not the sort of person who gives up without a fight. And with or without mystic powers, she still has a client who needs protection from a dangerous man. Unfortunately, as Alex hunts her client and the abusive husband who is trying to kill her, so too are the demonic enemies of The Witchblade hunting her while she is still weak and forming her bond with the weapon.

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Born of the “bad-girl” boom of the mid-1990s in the midst of what became known as The Dark Age of Comics, Witchblade was not originally friendly to female readers. The most famous “power” of The Witchblade was ripping off whatever clothes its host was wearing whenever it activated in order to sprout metal bikini armor that left little to the imagination and offered little protection! This “feature” was dropped in recent years but a Google image search for Witchblade still brings up pages upon pages of cheesecake-driven cover art.

Thankfully, such blatant fan-service is absent from the new Witchblade series. The artwork by Roberta Ingranata is free of gratuitous posing and idealized body types. The aesthetic is all about action, with even the static scenes of people in an office talking having a continual sense of motion as the point-of-view jumps from panel to panel. The colors by Bryan Valenza establish a cool, muted feeling which well-fits the winter setting and the idea of Alex returning from the dead.

In terms of writing, the focus in this first issue is on character, not concept. While a brief overview is given of The Witchblade’s history, Caitlin Kittredge’s script is primarily concerned with defining Alex Underwood as the sort of person who would live a hero’s life even without a magical bracelet. Giving Alex anxiety issues and a history of PTSD puts an interesting wrinkle on the classic hero’s journey, as Alex isn’t entirely sure that she can believe what is going on around her. It also makes her seem all the stronger as a character that she carries on doing the right thing despite her uncertainty.

If you haven’t read Witchblade before, you can jump into this issue without worry. If you have read Witchblade before, you’ll find this to be a welcome new spin on the classic concept. The only readers likely to walk away from this book unsatisfied are those who only read the original series for the pictures.

8/10.

Witchblade #1 releases on December 6, 2017.


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – The God Complex #1

Behold the futuristic city of Delphi. A marvel of technology, Delphi is controlled by The Rulers – an upper-class of those gifted with the power to navigate The Stream.

The Stream is the collective hive-mind of humanity, containing all the currents of human thought, imagination and information. Through The Stream, The Rulers control every aspect of the lives of their followers like the gods of old. Indeed, The Rulers – who hide their true faces behind ornate masks – take their names from the ancient gods.

Enter Seneca – a young digital forensics investigator in the Delphi Police Force. Raised in the traditions of The Trinity Church, Seneca left them after the death of his mother. Now nominally sworn to serve The Rulers of Delphi, Seneca doesn’t quite trust the Olympian-themed Rulers either.

Thankfully Seneca’s boss – The Ruler Hermes – doesn’t take offense at Seneca’s cynicism. Hermes is the sort to prefer honest criticism to faint praise hiding fear. He also enjoys Seneca’s tendency to question everything and not settle for easy answers.

Seneca’s dark nature hides a darker secret – one he hides from even his girlfriend, Jess. Occasionally he hears a voice. Not voices – just a singular voice. Seneca’s secret may be tied to his latest case – the mysterious murder of three Trinity clerics, their tongues count out in a ritualistic manner. But what is the connection? And why has Seneca attracted the attention of The Ruler known as Apollo?

 

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Born of the same cyberpunk roots that inspired the Blade Runner films and the Deus Ex video game series, God Complex #1 offers a disturbing view of a future not too far removed from our own. Self-made, digitally-savvy gods manipulate our perceptions from a virtual reality beyond our conception. This fact doesn’t bother most people, however, with the teeming masses content to move from moment to moment, throwing their energies into worship of their icons or unthinking hedonism.

Our protagonist, Seneca, is different. Cut from the same mold as Rick Deckard and Henry Case, Seneca is the classic cyberpunk anti-hero. He feels an uneasy emptiness inside but cannot give voice as to why. He sees himself as standing apart from the common clay, yet seeks connection with others. He sees the futility of his bleak existence but longs to lose that awareness rather than change his circumstances.

Writer Paul Jenkins (HellblazerWolverine: Origin,The Sentry) does a fantastic job of bringing Bryan Lie’s concept to life. While there’s not much in this first chapter’s story beyond the standard cyberpunk tropes, the concept of The Rulers is novel enough to encourage hope in this series’ future. Jenkins also has a great ear for dialogue and Seneca’s internal monologues perfectly suit the future noir aesthetic of the story.

The artwork by Hendry Prasetya and Jessica Kholinne proves equally inspiring, establishing a world that is full of bright lights and visible noise yet seems shrouded in darkness and decay. Their visualization of The Stream bears mentioning, seemingly inspired by William Gibson’s Neuromancer and the concept of ICE, with The Stream appearing as motes of light flowing through the air, forming a second world lain over the real one.

8/10


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Angelic #1

Angelic #1 Cover

Science-fiction frequently acts as a parable for real-world problems, examining big issues through the lens of a familiar yet different world. Logan’s Run explored the perils of ageism and the worship of youth in a society. Soylent Green built itself around the problem of overpopulation. Even Planet Of The Apes was truly about racism, government corruption and class warfare.

Angelic – a new comic by Simon Spurrier and Casper Wijngaard – is the latest work to join this pantheon of science-fiction masterpieces. What appears to be a simple “talking-animal” comic book at first glance hides a story as complex as any Margaret Atwood novel. The fact that it involves flying monkeys and cyborg dolphins with British accents proves completely incidental.

 

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It is sometime after the fall of Man. The animals of Earth live on, though altered by the science and technology of those who came before. Quantum cats prowl for prey in the wild, demanding attention and love. “Dolts” hunt other animals for the sheer sport of it, flying through them at supersonic speeds. The closest thing to the civilization as it once was lies among the winged monkeys and gibbons.

Our window into this world is Qora – a young “girlmonk” whose questions are a constant source of annoyance to those around her. She questions why only “boymonks” are allowed to be warriors when she is just as fast or smart as any of them. She questions the need to perform the holy rites to “the holy strings… the divine lights… and the sainted glowbox” – artifacts from The Makers that no one understands or even tries to understand. She questions much of The Lore that informs their society.

Such questioning cannot be allowed to stand, particularly when repeated punishment and extra “response-abilities” prove insufficient to stop Qora from saying the elders’ least favorite word – Why? For this reason, the chief warrior selects Qora as a “lowwife” – a girlmonk assigned to the duty of breeding, whose wings are ritually broken so they cannot fly. The highwife speaks of this being a great honor but Qora sees it as the worst punishment ever.

Blasphemous as it may be to call Angelic a fusion of The Wizard of Oz and The Handmaid’s Tale, the comparison to both books is apt. Simon Spurrier’s script brilliantly tackles the conflict between progress and tradition and the conflict between generations among other issues. Indeed, this may be the first story in any medium to address the controversy of female genital mutilation using talking animals.

Casper Wijngaard’s artwork for this first issue looks fantastic throughout. The characters are all illustrated with expressive faces and body language that speaks to their personalities as much as their dialogue. The few action sequences are well-choreographed and the story flows easily from panel to panel.

Skillful an artist as Wijngaard is, the cuteness of his characters is often at odds with the darkness of the script’s subject matter. This may be an intentional choice, as the horrific scenes are all the more shocking given the general bright and cheerful appearance of the book. It remains to be seen how effective that choice will be in the long run, but Angelic #1 is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

8/10


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – The Realm #1

It has been fifteen years since magic found its way back into the world and, in doing so, destroyed it. Orcs, trolls, dragons and all manner of beast mankind did not have names for stepped out of the mists of legend and into reality, laying waste to civilization.

Now, what remains of humanity struggles for survival in a world they no longer control. While many have descended into barbarism and built small fiefdoms based on strength of arms and banditry, some people still work to maintain some semblance of the old ways.

Will Nolan is such a person. A soldier before the end of the world, Will has turned his gifts for scouting and survival into a lucrative career as a problem solver. Need someone to rescue your kid from the slavers or escort you to the next big city?  Will is your man.

Unbeknownst to Will, his latest assignment will prove to be more than a simple guide gig. The people who have hired Will seek a means of saving their world from the evils that threaten it and Will Nolan may find himself thrust into the most unlikely of roles – hero.

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Modify your Fallout 4 game with monsters from Skyrim, and you might have something very much like the world of The Realm. Of course the idea of a magically-facilitated apocalypse is hardly original. S.M. Stirling explored similar ideas in his Emberverse series. And who could forget the movie Reign of Fire, in which the return of dragons heralds the end of humanity’s dominance of The Earth?

Thankfully, The Realm #1 suggests a far bigger world than is apparent at a casual glance. Writer Seth M. Peck does a masterful job of defining and expanding the setting by showing it to us rather than having the characters tell each other things about the world around them that they logically should already know. Indeed, the dialogue is smooth and natural, with even the so-called kings of the wasteland sounding like real people rather than characters in a story.

What truly makes The Realm stand out among other dystopian fantasy stories, however, is its protagonist. Will Nolan is a man of war and a pragmatist, but he hasn’t allowed Armageddon to dull his sense of what is right. There is something about Will that grabs the reader’s attention immediately, making him into a likeable and sympathetic figure.

The artwork by Jeremy Haun matches Seth M. Peck’s script in complexity and fluidity. There is a remarkable paradox at play in Haun’s work, which portrays the grittiness of the end of the world with a unique sense of clarity. The line work is clean, yet subtly suggests the decay and dinginess of the setting. The color art by Nick Filardi helps to complete the illusion.

The Realm #1 might not be the most unique idea for a fantasy or post-apocalyptic comic ever but it is certainly one of the most well-executed books to grace the genre. Seth M. Peck, Jeremy Haun and Nick Fildari have created something truly magical and a wise reader will hire on with Will Nolan to take this journey now.

10/10


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Elswhere #2

Amelia Earhart is having the mother of all bad days.

It started when she and her navigator, Fred, started having engine trouble over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to fly around the world. Forced to use their parachutes, Amelia had Fred jump first only to see him being drawn into some strange flash of light! Amelia barely had time to bail out of the plane herself, before she too was pulled into the portal.

Strung up in her cord lines from a tree, Amelia was saved by two men, Cort and Tavel. It was obvious to look at them that they weren’t exactly human, let alone American! They, in turn, were confused about her insistence that they were speaking English when it was perfectly clear she was speaking their language or her ignorance regarding Lord Kragen – the tyrant whose dungeons Cort and Tavel had just escaped!

As the three traded information, two interesting facts emerged. Just before they liberated themselves, Cort and Tavel had heard mention of one of the “planes” that Amelia spoke of flying like a dragon. Apparently Lord Kargen’s forces had captured a plane as well as a man with skin like Amelia’s.

The two rebels proved surprisingly agreeable to helping Amelia break back into the dungeon to rescue her friend. The bad news is “the man like you” turned out not to be Fred, but a man named D.B. Cooper. The worse news is that Cooper claimed to be from 1971 and that as far as the world knew, Amelia Earhart was lost at sea back in the 1930s…

Elsewhere #2 continues to weave the spell-binding fantasy epic promised by its first issue. This chapter begins to move beyond the base premise of the series – Imagine Amelia Earhart as John Carter – and starts to develop itself into something with a little more depth than a one sentence synopsis. The pulp influence remains strong throughout and fans of classic action/adventure tales will find a lot to enjoy in this series.

The highlight of this issue is the interplay between Amelia and her new companion, D.B. Cooper. There is an immediate tension between the two, with D.B. questioning Amelia’s priorities in the wake of everything that has happened. Amelia doesn’t get a chance to question D.B. about his past (not that he’d give a straight answer) but those who know their aviation history can see that pairing these two together cannot end well.

The artwork by Sumeyye Kesgin and Ron Riley proves as astonishing as in the first issue. Kesgin has established the world of Elsewhere as being truly unworldly, with people that look vaguely humanoid and animals that are oddly familiar. It is the similarities that are as jarring as the differences and truly make it seem like we are looking upon an alien world with a unique aesthetic. Ron Riley further adds life to this world with his vivid colors.

The only real weakness to this issue is the sedate pace. Writer Jay Faerber takes his time in establishing the world and the protagonists so there’s relatively little in the way of action apart from the sequence where D.B. and Amelia escape from the dungeon. Thankfully, the cliff-hanger conclusion promises action aplenty when Elsewhere #3 opens.

9/10


 Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight. Read his review of Elsewhere #1 here.