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Comic Review – Batman: Damned #1

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The Joker is dead and Batman killed him. That’s the story the local news is running with but Commissioner Gordon doesn’t believe it. Partly because the one witness is a crazed homeless man who is either off his medication or too heavily medicated. But mostly because he believes in Batman.

Batman, for his part, isn’t sure what to believe. It’s all a blur before he woke up in an ambulance as an EMT was trying to pull off his cowl. He was wounded. He was delirious. He was wanted. And just when the night couldn’t possibly get any worse, John Constantine showed up.

There’s more to this murder than meets the eye, and like it or not, The Dark Knight Detective needs help. But can he afford the rather questionable assistance that comes from dealing with The Laughing Magician? And even if he can’t, does he have any other choice?

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When it was announced that DC Comics would be starting a new imprint – Black Label – exclusively for superhero stories set outside of the main continuity that could deal with more mature themes, I was a little bit skeptical. For every work like Watchmen or The Sandman that has pushed the boundaries of the comic book medium and proven that “Comics aren’t just for kids anymore!”, there have been roughly 100 graphic novels published by creators for whom “mature content” means “blood, cursing and naked people.”

Brian Azzarello is one these creators, but that is not why I find most of his work distasteful. Azzarello is also one of those writers who bends established characters to fit the stories be wants to tell rather than writing stories to suit the characters. And while a writer could potentially tell some interesting stories by subverting expectations, Azzarello only seems to do it for shock value. Like a stage-magician, Azzarello uses distraction to keep your attention where he wants it. In this case, sudden curse words, surprise cameos and the shadowy outline of Bat-wang serve to distract you from the stunning secret of Batman: Damned #1 – nothing really happens in this book.

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Oh. events occur, but there’s nothing that happens which seems to have anything to do with the plot as described on DC Comics’ website. Weird things happen, but there’s no indication what any of it has to do with anything, especially John Constantine’s rambling narration. The whole thing comes off like a rejected script from Azzarello’s run on Hellblazer, which centered on John Constantine wandering the United States as weird things happened and John just observed them happening, when he wasn’t using magic to troll the Muggles.

This ran completely counter to John’s previous portrayals, where what power he had was used sparingly and he was much more inclined to use his wits than a spell to get out of a jam. Come to think of it, I recall that Azzarello’s Batman stories were far more interested in the villains than The Dark Knight, with Batman coming off as something of an empty suit. I mention this because Batman: Damned has a scene where a naked Bruce Wayne literally fights an empty Bat-suit.

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The damnable thing (see what I did there?) is that the artwork of this comic is as fantastic as the story is non-existent. Lee Bermejo is rightly regarded as one of the greatest Batman artists ever and he also did a great two-issue story for Hellblazer when Mike Carey was writing it. Unfortunately, his most famous works are his collaborations with Azzarello.

It is a rare thing for me, as a writer, to recommend a comic but say you should only look at the pictures. Yet that is how I suggest you handle Batman: Damned. Beremejo’s gift for storytelling is such that you can follow along with all the plot relevant portions of the story without reading the dialogue. Even the random bits seem to make a good deal more sense if you ignore the text. I’d also suggest tracking down a graphic novel called Batman: Noel – a Christmas special which Lee Bermejo wrote and painted, which is far better on every level than this Damned book.

5/10

Batman: Damned #1 releases on September 19, 2018!


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.

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Comic Review – Mystery Science Theater 3000 #1

Mystery Science Theater 3000 #1 Cover

In 1988, comedian Joel Hodgson was approached about creating an original local television show for station KTMA in Minneapolis. The result was a unique twist on the classic “horror host” movie program, where the host mocked the movie while it was playing rather than just presenting skits before and after the commercial breaks. The show was dubbed Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the next decade would see it picked up for cable distribution by three networks and syndicated.

MST3K (as it is called for short) has one of the most prestigious reputations of any cult television show in history.  It won a Peabody Award in 1993 and inspired a feature-length film in 1996. More recently, Hodgson attempted to crowdfund a new season of the show on Kickstarter, going on to shatter the record for money raised for a television series. This prompted Netflix to pick up the distribution rights to the new series, introducing MST3K to a new generation.

The show has a surprisingly extensive mythology involving generations of mad scientists attempting to take over the world by abducting hapless working-class schlubs and forcing them to watch bad movies. All of this is just window-dressing for the basic concept of the show – three funny people (some of whom happen to be robots) watching the worst movies ever made and making fun of them. The new MST3K series on Netflix has revised the concept somewhat, with mad scientist Kinga Forrester and her assistant Max (played by geek royalty Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt) now more concerned with becoming Internet Famous than achieving World Domination, but the core idea is still the same.

So what the heck does that have to do with comic books?

Just in time for the 30th anniversary of the show, MST3K has now been adapted into a graphic novel format by Joel Hodgson himself and a team of writers and artists. How this is accomplished is more easily explained with pictures than words. Luckily, Dark Horse Comics, in their wisdom, has made these preview pages explaining the concept available for us to share with you. Aren’t you lucky?!

 

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TL;DR? Jonah Heston (the current human host of the show) and his robot friends are put into a public domain comic book and are soon sarcastically working their way through the plot of Johnny Jason: Teen Detective #2, with Tom Servo (everyone’s favorite robot who looks like a gumball machine) placed in the role of Johnny Jason. It’s all annoyingly wholesome, or would be if the robots didn’t keep putting words in the mouth of various supporting characters, such as a cop randomly noting, “This is off-topic, but I just gave my gun to a hobo.”

The writing perfectly captures the anarchic spirit of the show and Teen Titans artist Todd Nauck does a great job capturing the cast in the opening “host segement.” Likewise, Mike Manly masterfully alters the original Johnny Jason comic art to work the MST3K characters into the story. How well all this works will depend upon how much you like referential humor and parody. In other words, if you’re a fan of the original show, you’ll probably enjoy this comic after adjusting you brain to how to read it. If you aren’t… well you definitely won’t.

If you’re a comic fan who isn’t sure if you might be a fan of this sort of thing… well, much as I like the comic, I’d definitely encourage you to check the show out first, just as a point of reference. (You can watch several episodes for free on MST3K.com – I personally recommend The Killer Shrews). That being said, while this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, the high-concept and execution make it worth checking out, even if you aren’t already a fan of the show.

8/10

Mystery Science Theater 3000 #1 releases on September 12, 2018!


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.

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Comic Review – Border Town #1

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In 1993, DC Comics transitioned a number of their titles aimed at mature readers into a new line called Vertigo Comics. The brainchild of editor Karen Berger, the core idea behind Vertigo was to take those comics that were already being used to tell more complex stories and expand them outside of the strictures of the Comics Code Authority. The end result was a number of legendary series (Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man and Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan, to name a few) which blended genre fiction with social commentary to create something never before seen in American comics.

Recently, Vertigo Comics decided to get back to basics just in time for their 25th anniversary. In addition to their revamping The Sandman with four new series spinning out of The Sandman Universe #1, they announced seven new on-going series cut from the same cloth as the original Vertigo line.

Hither comes Border Town – the first of these seven titles. Set in the town of Devil’s Fork, Arizona, the plot centers around Frank Dominguez, who – much like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – was forced to move across the country after one little fight and his mom getting scared. Yet Devil’s Fork contains dangers more menacing than over a dozen species of native lethally-venomous reptiles and skinhead gang-members.

The boundaries between this world and the next are weakening and creatures that take the form of your worst fears are now roaming the desert. It will fall to Frank and his fellow teenage outsiders to solve the mystery of what is really behind a series of violent deaths and deal with a problem the local authorities are quick to write off as being the work of “God-dang illegals.”

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Border Town inspired controversy as soon as it was announced, due to a concept that was based around addressing issues of racism in the Southwestern United States through the lens of Aztec mythology. This prompted death threats against writer Eric M. Esquivel and talks of boycotting the new line, Vertigo Comics, DC Comics and everything Warner Bros. makes. All over a book that has no agenda beyond saying “racism exists and is a bad thing” while using literal boogeymen as a metaphor for how foolish people are when they let irrational fears control them.

I mention all this because, as a critic, it’s my job to consider the context of these things going into a work. Personally, I love analyzing and discussing this sort of thing and how the writer’s life influences the work, though it hardly takes a great scholar to guess that Esquivel (a half-Mexican, half-Irish native of Tuscon, Arizona) probably put a fair bit of himself into the character of Frank. I appreciate, however, that many would just like to get down to brass tacks, ignore the controversy and simply be told if this book is worth reading.

Holy Mother of All Things Good N’ Plenty And All Her Wacky Nephews, YES, this book is worth reading!

While Esquivel’s plot is hardly original (seriously – think about how much children’s fiction and horror is built around kids and teenagers fighting monsters their parents don’t believe in), the execution is flawless and the setting puts a wholly unique spin on a classic concept. While one can draw comparisons between Border Town and Stephen King’s IT, it would be lazy to write it off as a Southwestern Stranger Things. If anything, I’d compare Border Town to Garth Ennis’ Preacher, which also explored issues of racism and politics in a Southwestern setting with twisted humor. Both series also share a willingness to go over the top for a joke, as when we see the various forms the fear monster takes on its rampage through town.

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Artist Ramon Villalobos does a fantastic job bringing the world of Border Town to life. Sporting a highly-detailed style that invites favorable comparison to Frank Quitely, Villalobos’ work is intricate in its line work without feeling cluttered and thinly-inked so we get to appreciate every little touch. The colors by Tamra Bonvillain are equally impressive, with gradient effects in several scenes that perfectly capture the aura of an Arizona sunset. Letterer Deron Bennett keeps the text visually interesting, with distinctive fonts for narrator captions and word balloons.

Ignoring all the controversial elements (which really are much ado about nothing, in this critic’s opinion), Border Town #1 is a solid start for a series that upholds the finest traditions of Vertigo Comics on every level. If the rest of the revival is this strong, I predict we’ll see a new congregation of Vertigo enthusiasts heading into 2019.

10/10

Border Town #1 releases on September 5, 2018!


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.

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Comic Review – Venom: First Host #1

Venom First Host 1 CoverEvery Spider-Fan knows how Venom was created when the alien symbiote Peter Parker rejected bonded with Eddie Brock – a disgraced reporter, who blamed his fallen fortunes on Spider-Man, whose capture of the serial killer known as The Sin Eater revealed that Brock’s article identifying the Sin Eater as someone else was a sham.

The devout fans will recall how the symbiote later found discharged soldier Flash Thompson and allowed him to enter the action once again as Agent Venom.

The truly devout fans will tell you that Deadpool encountered the symbiote before it bonded with Spider-Man and that’s probably what drove it crazy in the first place.

Yet in all of these stories, nobody has ever explored the history of the symbiote between the time it was taken from its homeworld and when it was discovered in Secret Wars. Until now…

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Meet Tel-Kar – soldier, spy and the titular First Host of the symbiote that would become one-half of  Venom. The first half of this issue details how Tel-Kar worked deep-cover during The Kree-Skrull War, with his symbiote “partner” enabling him to replicate the natural shape-shifting powers of The Skrulls. This is a brilliant conceit on the part of writer Mike Costa and one can easily see them doing an entire series based around the idea of a Kree spy playing a dangerous game working among his people’s sworn enemies while struggling to maintain control of himself and his other half in the name of the greater good.

Unfortunately, after this promising start, the second half of the book is largely devoted to the same-old Venom shenanigans and establishing a status quo that is remarkably similar to the plot of the upcoming Venom movie. We see Venom stop a convenience store robbery in his usual gory fashion and discover how Eddie Brock is paying the bills by allowing a bio-tech company to study his symbiote’s latest “baby” to develop new miracle drugs. This section of the book isn’t bad, but we’ve seen this sort of thing done before in earlier Venom comics and it’s something of a step-down after the introduction gives us something new and original using the symbiote in an outer-space setting – another odd rarity given its alien origins.

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That being said, whatever issues this book’s story may have, the artwork is fantastic. This is no surprise, given that it’s by Mark Bagley, who I’m fairly sure has drawn more Spider-Man comic books than any other artist in history at this point. Certainly he’s done a lot of them, even apart from his work on Ultimate Spider-Man. The book’s layouts are fantastic, but the inks by Mark Hennessy are a little thick at points and obscure the original line-work.

All in all, Venom: First Host is a solid work that does what it set out to accomplish. For those who are new to the character, it tells you everything major you need to know about Eddie Brock and his better half. For long-time fans and Marvel history buffs, it shows us something we’ve never seen before and establishes a fascinating new character in the form of Tel-Kar. And it will prove an interesting first comic for anyone who comes to the comic shop for the first time wanting more after Venom arrives in theaters in five weeks.

7/10

Venom: First Host #1 releases on August 29, 2018!


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 – Catwoman/Tweety & Sylvester Special #1

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It seems obvious that the recent rush of Hanna-Barbera and Looney Tunes crossover books was motivated more by marketing than good sense. One can picture some junior executive in the Warner Brothers offices trying to sell his bosses on the idea… ‘We own the cartoon characters!  We own the superheroes!  We put them together! It’s gold!’ Or it would be if the average kid today read comic books or remembered the Looney Tunes characters.

Despite this and the general comic reading audience’s refusal to take this sort of thing seriously, some writers managed to pan gold out of the premise. Batman/Elmer Fudd was a neat Film Noir thriller that turned everyone’s favorite hunter into a hired gun in Gotham City. The Snagglepuss Chronicles used Hanna Barbera’s animal characters to spin a complex tale of repression in the age of McCarthyism. And someone has got to be buying Scooby Apocalypse for it to have lasted over two years.

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This brings us to Catwoman/Tweety & Sylvester Special #1 – a book which opens with a witches convention and a wager between Witch Hazel and The Kindly Ones as to what is the more witchy animal – birds or cats. This leads to Sylvester and Tweety being sent into the DC Universe and having one night to seek out a champion as they settle the matter once and for all, with the stakes being “reality as they know it!” And the lives of every bird or cat in the universe, along with any superhero and super-villain with a bird or cat theme.

‘No prethure’, as Sylvester would thay.

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Whoever had the idea for this story, I know the title had to have been conceived by one of the aforementioned marketing weasels because they buried the lead. Yes, Catwoman is in this story. So are Tweety and Sylvester. But none of the promotional material for this book mentioned one very important fact: Black Canary is in it.

Oh, I’m well aware that the general public knows who Catwoman is far better than they know who Black Canary is and that she has more star power as it were. But if you wanted to make some serious clams selling this book to people who buy comics, all you need to say is that Gail Simone is writing Black Canary again and watch the Birds of Prey fans come running.

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Certainly DC Comics fans will get the most value out of this book, if only for the fun of spotting all the references artist Inaki Miranda snuck into the background. Those who don’t enjoy this sort of game will have to content themselves with the well-written story and gorgeous artwork that somehow finds a way to translate a Tweety and Sylvester brawl into a more realistic art style. Not to mention the amazing colors of Eva De La Cruz!

So even if you’re not the sort of person who likes “funny animal” books, Catwoman/Tweety & Sylvester Special #1 is well worth checking out.  And if you are the sort of person who likes “funny animal” books, you’ll love the back-up story, told in a traditional Looney Tunes animation style, where Tweety has to defend Granny’s home from Catwoman.

10/10

Catwoman/Tweety & Sylvester #1 releases on August 29, 2018!


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.

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Comic Review – West Coast Avengers #1

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It had seemed like such a simple plan at first – Move out to California to get away from the craziness of New York, set up shop as a private investigator and build a new life away from the insanity of saving the world by shooting things with pointy sticks. Unfortunately, craziness has a way of finding you when you’re a recovering superhero. Particularly when you’re trying to build a normal life with a new boyfriend on the other side of the country. Hence why Kate “Hawkeye” Bishop found herself as the only person able to do something about a stampede of land sharks in Santa Monica.

The incident drove home one thing to Kate – the greater Los Angeles area is woefully unprotected when it comes to the sort of craziness that happens multiple times a week in The Big Apple. Somebody needed to build a team that could protect the west coast. And that someone, apparently, was her!

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Luckily, Kate’s mentor Clint Barton (a.k.a. Hawk Guy, a.k.a. The Other Hawkeye, a.k.a. “Wait, how come I’m The Other Hawkeye When I’m The Original?”) is ready to lend his support, as are her boyfriend (newbie superhero Fuse) and her friend America Chavez. Unluckily, the best recruit Kate could attract for the new team after a day of auditions was Gwenpool – a superhero (sort-of) who has powers (kind-of) who is crazy (totally) and only showed up because she wanted to take Kate out for tacos. Then there’s the question of how she’s going to pay for the whole thing…

Enter Quentin Quire (a.k.a. Kid Omega) – telepath, telekinetic, super-genius and insufferable jerk. Like every third person in Los Angeles, Quentin had gotten his own reality show, which was in danger of cancellation since Quentin had kinda lied about still being part of the X-Men when he pitched the idea of a new kind of superhero reality show. Bringing him in would solve all Kate’s financial problems. Unfortunately, it also meant having to deal with Quentin Quire on a daily basis and having every aspect of her life filmed for the amusement of the masses.

Still, Kate has a team. It’s a team made up of newbies, narcissists and heavily armed lunatics. But still, technically a team that is largely committed to saving lives in a way that is totally non-lethal and worthy of the Avengers name! We hope.

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I love comedy superhero books and that alone would be reason enough for me to recommend West Coast Avengers #1. The fact that this book is hilarious, however, is secondary to the fact that there’s a great dynamic to this book, which continues the stories of several great characters who were in danger of vanishing into Comic Book Limbo. And Quentin Quire. (Seriously – does anyone like this guy?)

Writer Kelly Thompson is on familiar territory here, having written the Hawkeye solo series and America Chavez’s book America. Those of you who enjoyed her work there will find more of the same blend of high-octane action and character-based comedy here. And those fans of Gwenpool still grieving that series’ cancellation will be glad to know that Gwen is back and as wacky as ever.

All of this is ably illustrated by Marvel mainstay Stefano Caselli (Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, Civil War: Young Avengers/Runaways). Caselli proves equally capable of depicting any action sequence, no matter how insane, and instilling a sense of life and motion into the static scenes of the characters talking. He also shows a fantastic gift for expression, somehow making even the masked Gwenpool expressive despite half of her face being concealed.

Bottom Line: if you’re in the market for a fun and funny comic book that isn’t afraid to get dangerous and ridiculous in equal measure, you should give West Coast Avengers a try.

10/10

West Coast Avengers #1 releases on August 22, 2018!


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.

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Comic Review – Pearl #1

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People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.”

That line and variants of it have been credited to many people over the years. Yogi Berra. Mark Twain. George Bernard Shaw. Even Honest Abe Lincoln! And as is usually the case with this sort of line, none of them can be credited as the original source.

The line was originally written by a man named Artemus Ward, who I was surprised to find out was a 19th century humorist and not the lead character of an urban fantasy series about a wizard detective. Sadly, it’s probably the most famous funny thing he ever said, but nobody today ever quotes him on it.

I mention this bit of trivia because that quote was the first thing that came to mind after I finished reading Pearl #1, as I wondered who the target audience for this book was and who might enjoy it.

Pearl #1 is the first new title produced for Brian Michael Bendis’ Jinxworld imprint, since he set up shop at DC Comics. It is also his first collaboration with artist Michael Gaydos since the two of them worked on a little series for Marvel Comics called Alias, which introduced the character of Jessica Jones. You might have heard of her from a show on Netflix that was rather popular and well-received.

So what is Pearl about? Beyond “a girl named Pearl” that’s a bit hard to say after just one issue. All we get are a simple series of factoids – she’s a tattoo artist, she’s an albino, she’s part of a Yakuza family in San Francisco and she’s uncommonly good with a gun. As is typical with Bendis’ writing, he’s taking his sweet time letting the main character’s backstory unfold and there’s no internal monologue. This places a greater burden on Bendis’ partner to make the characters’ reactions clear through their facial expressions, but usually leads to some amazing artwork.

Unfortunately, this is a burden that Gaydos is ill-equipped to handle. Gaydos sports a fine, photo-realistic style but he’s never been very good at drawing expressive faces. Most of his characters look bored or stoned, even in the middle of a gun fight! A larger problem with the artwork is the color tints Gaydos lays over each page, which make it unclear that Pearl is an albino until another character outright tells us she is one.

In fact, most of the story of this issue is unclear unless you’ve read the interview where Bendis explains the ideas behind Pearl, which basically come down to him wanting to do a Yakuza story that avoided the usual cliches and how nobody ever makes albino characters the protagonists in popular fiction. Unfortunately, Bendis has yet to give Pearl much of a character beyond being an albino and there’s nothing much to the Yakuza elements of the story so far beyond the usual cliches.

Personally, I didn’t enjoy Pearl much, but I was also equally unimpressed by Alias when it first came out. That’s fine. Some people enjoy Bendis’ and Gaydos’ work. I am not one of them. That is my right and if you think they’re awesome, more power to you.

Which brings us back to that quote – “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.”  If you’re the sort of person who likes Bendis’ and Gaydos’ work, you’ll almost certainly like Pearl. If, like me, you’re not a fan of decompressed storytelling and the Bendis/Gaydos ouvere, this probably won’t change your mind.

One other note of trivia: this issue also contains a reprint of a story called Citizen Wayne, which has the distinction of being the only thing Brian Michael Bendis wrote for DC Comics before being signed to an exclusive contract with Marvel Comics for the better part of two decades. Coincidentally, Michael Gaydos was also the artist on this piece, which is basically the movie Citizen Kane only with Bruce Wayne reworked into the Charles Foster Kane role and Clark Kent as the reporter trying to figure out why Bruce Wayne’s last words were “Rosebud.” Bat-fans may be tempted to pick up this issue for that reason, given that the original issue has become something of a pricey  collectors’ item.

5/10

Pearl #1 releases on August 15, 2018!


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.

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Comic Review – Fantastic Four #1

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It’s been a rough couple of years for the Fantastic Four. Both in the real world and in the Marvel Universe. The on-going battle between Marvel Studios and Fox over the film rights to the franchise saw Marvel Comics stop publishing a monthly Fantastic Four comic in a bid to deny any sort of cross-promotion to the 2015 Fantastic Four movie. Given how infamously awful that film turned out to be, they needn’t have bothered, but that’s another story.

Regardless, the past few years have seen Reed and Susan Richards lost in space, Ben Grimm joining the Guardians of the Galaxy and Johnny Storm living with The Inhumans. They also saw Doctor Doom reinventing himself as a new Iron Man during the time when Tony Stark was presumed dead.

Thankfully, with Fox recently sold to Disney, the time has come for Marvel Comics’ First Family and their greatest enemy to return!

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It spoils little to say that we don’t actually get to see the glorious return of the Fantastic Four promised by the cover in this issue. The first steps are taken, however, to see The Invisible Woman and Mr. Fantastic reunited with The Human Torch and The Thing. That’s not really what this issue is about, however. What this comic is about is reminding us of who these characters are and what made The Fantastic Four so revolutionary.

While Stan Lee and Jack Kirby would go on to refine the formula more strongly with later creations, Fantastic Four was the first superhero book to challenge the usual character cliches of the genre and develop its main characters into more distinct personalities. Reed Richards, for instance, looked like the usual stock scientist character common to Atomic Age science-fiction but was also a pompous jerk. The hot-tempered and impatient Johnny Storm seemed like a more realistic teenager than the clean-cut, golly-gee Robin and Bucky. The Thing was a noble monster – Frankenstein’s creation in orange rock. And Invisible Woman… well, eventually she became a more proactive heroine. (Sorry, Stan! Gotta be honest!)

Dan Slott’s love for these characters is apparent and he does a fantastic job of handling both The Thing and The Human Torch, who are the focus of most of the first story. The artwork by Sara Pichelli, with colors by Marte Gracia, is vibrant and animated. The story and the artwork feed each other perfectly, balanced yet piercing, like a finely made sword.

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Where this issue truly excels, however, is in its back-up story. It is here that Slott and artist Simone Bianchi begin to restore Victor Von Doom to his proper place as the greatest hero in the Marvel Universe. Hero? Yes, you read that right, True Believers! Because nowhere did Lee and Kirby more masterly subvert the order of superhero comics than with their creation of Doctor Doom – a villain who was, in many ways, more heroic than the “heroes” he routinely fought against.

The story here is a prime example of this, focusing on a Latverian peasant who dares to enter into the long-vacated Castle Doomstadt, after spying a light inside of it. It is here that she finds Doom, wounded in body and spirit, lamenting as only the truly great can after a fall from grace. Yet Doom puts his cares aside, after the woman informs him that the forces that have taken over Latveria in his absence now threaten to destroy his people with Doom’s own technology.

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Slott writes Doom in a Shakespearean fashion, with all the gravitas that the character demands. Bianchi’s artwork proves a perfect match for this dialogue, possessing a similar dark complexity. Even those who dismiss Doom as a mere villain will find it hard to reconcile that portrait, forged by lesser writers, when they consider his actions here.

Fantastic Four #1 may not bring about the return of Marvel Comics’ first superhero team. It does, however, take a solid step in that direction. It’s also a darn good read and well worth picking up.

9/10

Fantastic Four #1 releases on August 8, 2018!


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 – Sandman Universe #1

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The only real flaw with Sandman Universe #1 is a presumption that the reader is already familiar with the universe of The Sandman. This is a fairly safe assumption, however, as the original Sandman series by Neil Gaiman and a host of fantastic artists is one of the few undisputed classics of the graphic novel medium. Thankfully, what little information the book itself doesn’t give you is easily looked up on-line. But in the interest of speed and keeping you reading, I will explain…

There are seven beings called The Endless. They are personifications of forces we believe need to have an intelligence behind them, like death or destiny. So there is a Death and a Destiny. And there is a Dream, who is known by many names, including The Sandman. Dream is the personification of creation and imagination. He is the Prince of Stories and his realm, The Dreaming, is the place where gods are born, ideas are forged and anything is possible.

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The Dreaming is also home to many strange beings who came from elsewhere to become a part of its stories. There are the brothers Cain and Able (yes, THAT Cain and Able), who safeguard Mysteries and Secrets and the houses that hold them. There is Eve the raven woman, who guards her own sinister house when it is not a sinister cave. At the center of it all, in the ghostly castle at the center of The Dreaming, lies the Library of Dreams where every story ever written and never written can be found. And at the center of that may be found Lucien – the Librarian of Dreams and the servant Dream leaves in charge of his realm when he goes off to do business in The Waking World.

As the issue opens, Lucien is informed that a crack has appeared in the sky of The Dreaming and the people are fearful that history may be about to repeat itself, as The Dreaming was all but destroyed in a similar manner once after Dream was bound and held captive for several decades. With Dream not responding to Lucien’s summons, Matthew The Raven – the messenger of Dream – goes forth to find his master by following the magical bond that connects them. This leads Matthew into The Waking World and through a number of scenes that suggest whatever forces are changing The Dreaming are also altering the rest of reality as well…

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What follows sets up the various spin-off series that will make up the new shared reality of the revamped Vertigo Comics universe. Matthew and Lucien will continue to try and solve the mystery of Dream’s disappearance in The Dreaming. The adventures of newbie magician Tim Hunter (another of Gaiman’s creations) will continue in a new Books of Magic series. A new house, overseen by the Vodou deity Erzulie, will be introduced to The Dreaming in House of Whispers. Finally Lucifer, the fallen angel and one-time ruler of Hell, will once again headline his own series that will have nothing to do with the recent Fox television series that was VERY loosely based on the original Lucifer series that spun out of The Sandman.

Of the four stories we see here, it is the one setting up The Dreaming that attracts the most attention, largely because it promises to directly continue the story introduced here. It is Lucifer that is the hardest to get a read on, being so alien in reference even to those who read the most recent Lucifer series by Holly Black and Richard Kadrey. Strangely enough, House of Whispers looks the most intriguing despite barely tying into the narrative of this issue, thanks to some eye-catching artwork. Even the weak link – the section with Tim Hunter – is not bad and it suffers only because of how short it is and how disconnected it is from the main story, with Matthew The Raven basically saying “This looks interesting, but I can’t stop to help this kid.”

So what’s the verdict? If you’re a fan of The Sandman and Neil Gaiman, Sandman Universe #1 will prove a welcome return to form and an exciting promise of what dreams may come. Based on what we see here, this will be one of those rare anniversary events that will live up to the legend of what inspired it. If this is your first time venturing into the Vertigo Universe, you should be fine, but you may want to treat yourself to the original Sandman books that lay the foundation for what we see here anyway.

8/10

Sandman Universe #1 releases on August 8, 2018!


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 – Infinity Wars #1

Infinity Wars #1 Cover

I must confess that I’m not a big fan of the the cosmic side of Marvel Comics’ universe. No disrespect intended to Jim Starlin and everyone who enjoys his grandiose space operas but it just isn’t my cup of nutrimatically replicated dried leaves infused with boiling water. And Infinity Wars is a prime example of why that is so.

First of all, if you haven’t been reading the many Infinity series that Marvel Comics has been publishing this year to build off of the hype of Avengers: Infinity War, you may find yourself largely lost. Despite being largely promoted as the perfect entry point into the ongoing saga of The Infinity Stones, there’s a lot of backstory to unpack and a lot of characters who will be totally unknown to casual readers, much less those seeking an entry point into the comics having only seen the movies. The only concession made to new readers is a cast list and chart showing who currently holds the six Infinity Stones.

Infinity Wars Cast Page

Even this guide offers more questions than it answers. While fans of Marvel’s Netflix series will know who Turk Barrett is (i.e. the unluckiest crook in New York), most of his crew is made up of villains who haven’t appeared in the movies or TV shows, such as The Spot and Tombstone. Even this amounts to little, as they’re mostly background fodder for when the inevitable fighting begins.

Ignoring that, there’s some drastic changes from the movies that may confuse new readers. As the issue opens, The Guardians of the Galaxy have broken up and their membership has largely separated. Also, Groot is either now speaking with an extensive vocabulary or the comic is just automatically translating everything he says. It isn’t really clear and that’s the biggest problem with this book as an entry-point — there’s too many differences from the movies to be comfortable to newbies and too many things it is assumed that the reader already knows.

Ironically, those who have been keeping up with the on-going Infinity saga of the past year are likely to find this book largely repetitive. Until the very end, there’s no real new information introduced. Most of the comic’s story is concerned with running down who currently holds the Infinity Stones and their gathering at Doctor Strange’s request to discuss spreading the stones out so there aren’t as many on Earth if Thanos comes looking for them.

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The book’s one saving grace is its artwork, which is uniformly fantastic. Mike Deodato Jr. and Frank Martin’s work here invites comparison to Alex Ross’ art in Kingdom Come, being full of detail and rendering everything in an epic scope. Unfortunately, while the story flows well between panels, most readers may find themselves having to stop and Google certain character names or look up a synopsis of an earlier storyline.

Is Infinity Wars #1 worth picking up? Certainly, if you enjoy the cosmic side of Marvel Comics or are highly invested in learning how The Infinity Stones will be forever changed. Casual readers and newcomers will have a harder time without investing some time in studying Recent Marvel History 101. If you don’t mind a little homework, this is a rewarding book with fantastic artwork, but it’s hardly the marvelous entry point to the Marvel Universe it’s been promoted as.

5/10

Infinity Wars #1 releases on August 1, 2018!


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.