Comic Review – Cursed Comics Cavalcade #1

Cursed Comic Cavalcade Cover

Over-sized comics were a treasured rarity back in the good ol’ days of comic books. It was one that DC Comics attempted to make into a regular thing with the publication of the first 80 Page Giant in 1964. Though these specials often reprinted a lot of older material, they still gave kids more than double a standard comic book (32 pages, at the time) for double the price of what you normally paid for a comic – 25 cents vs. 12 cents.

Ah, for the pricing of the good ol’ days!

DC Comics tried to revive the idea with 80 Page Annuals in the late ’90s and early ’00s, but the idea largely fell out of favor after 2003. The company still publishes over-sized anthology specials on occasion and that brings us to Cursed Comics Cavalcade #1, in which the 80 Page Giant and the horror anthology rise from the grave like an undead monstrosity. Just in time for Halloween!

The great thing about anthology books like Cursed Comics Cavalcade #1 is that there is something for nearly everyone and if you don’t like the writing or art on one story, you can just skip it and move on. There are quite a few of DC Comics most popular characters here and a few oddities like Green Lantern Guy Gardner. There are also several characters like Superman and Wonder Woman who you’d never expect to see in a horror anthology that starts with a traditional Swamp Thing story and ends with Zatanna, as she puts a little magic back into the life of a young girl who is scared of Halloween.

That’s the thing about horror, though. It can be found anywhere. And while there’s little surprise in finding a Batman story where The Dark Knight is pitted against a psycho-killer called Gorehound who is replicating the killings of the greatest slasher movies of all time, you wouldn’t expect to see a story about Superman being haunted. Or Wonder Woman fighting an urban legend. Or Guy Gardner fighting zombies.

There’s a wide variety to the stories here and all of them make good logical sense, within the context of their respective universes. The Outsiders story, for instance, has Katana asking Black Lightning for help in stopping a demon who preys on children. He asks why she didn’t get someone like John Constantine. Katana replies that she would never allow John Constantine near an innocent child and that she thought Black Lighting, being a teacher in his secret identity of Jefferson Pierce, would know how to comfort a disturbed child should things get bad.

While there’s plenty of traditional horror for those who like Swamp Thing and The Demon Etrigan, where Cursed Comics Cavalcade #1 truly shines is in the unexpected stories. My favorite was a far more psychological piece centered on Green Arrow, which is all about how a person can be haunted by the ghosts of the past as easily as any literal specter. It was a fascinating examination of PTSD and the only time I’ve ever seen anyone suggest that Oliver Queen, logically, should suffer from it, apart from the first season of Arrow.

Bottom Line: Cursed Comics Cavalcade is the perfect book to get you ready for Halloween, whether your tastes run to traditional horror, psychological thrillers or seeing superheroes confront the supernatural.

8/10

Cursed Comic Cavalcade #1 releases on October 10, 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 – What If? Spider-Man #1

What If Spider-Man 2018 #1 Cover

While never a long-running success, the What If? series of comics has proven to be one of Marvel Comics’ most persistently published properties. From 1977 to 2015, the series has seen 12 different volumes devoted to the idea of exploring the alternate realities spinning out of classic Marvel stories.

Some of them were fairly mundane, such as “What If Spider-Man had successfully convinced The Fantastic Four to recruit him and become The Fantastic Five?” way back in Amazing Spider-Man #1. Some of them were fairly strange, such was “What if Wolverine Traveled Back To The Time of Conan The Barbarian?” (SPOILER – Logan becomes King of Aquilonia and makes Red Sonja his queen. Always with the redheads, that Canucklehead.) Now, the company is reviving the concept again, with a new series devoted exclusively to Spider-Man stories set in divergent timelines.

The first issue goes back to Spider-Man’s origins with a classic concept – What if Flash Thompson had become Spider-Man instead of Puny Peter Parker? The obvious answer is “Spider-Man would have been a total jerk.” It’s accurate, but that basic truism is taken in unexpected directions by writer Gerry Conway, who (if you don’t know the name) has more than a little experience writing Spider-Man.

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Thompson’s Spider-Man is a divisive public figure, but for completely different reasons. Armed with all of Spider-Man’s strength but none of Peter Parker’s compassion, Flash is a brutal bully of a vigilante whose actions scare the public. This is due largely to the pictures that Peter Parker takes of him in action and in spite of J. Jonah Jameson’s editorials about how Spider-Man is just the sort of decisive man-of-action the city needs.

I dare not spoil where the story goes from there, beyond saying that Conway pays tribute to a number of classic moments from the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko era of Spider-Man while showing how those events were drastically changed by Flash Thompson being in the Spider-Man suit. I can note, however, that Ben Parker is alive and well in this reality, since Flash Thompson always saw himself as a hero in the making and didn’t hesitate to stop the runaway thief that would go on to kill Uncle Ben in the main Marvel Universe. It’s fascinating stuff if you’re a Spider-Fan and Conway handles it with style.

The artwork by Diego Olortegui matches the writing in quality. Though a number of classic scenes are reenacted, Olrotegui maintains his own unique style while utilizing the classic layouts and blocking of Steve Ditko. The final effect is memorable, though the inks by Walden Wong seem thin at times and the colors by Chris O’Halloran often lack the boldness this story demands.

It’s hard to gauge a series like What If? which often has a rotating team of creators. This means that the level of quality from issue to issue can vary wildly. As such, I can’t say that every issue of this series will be worth picking up in the future. This one, however, is definitely worth reading if you like classic Spider-Man stories.

7/10

What If? Spider-Man #1 releases on October 3, 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 – Heroes In Crisis #1

Heroes In Crisis 1 Cover

There is no way to discuss Heroes in Crisis in detail without some fairly significant spoilers. So I’m going to break my usual format for my reviews and give you my blunt and unrestrained opinion at the start, before I describe how I formed that opinion. And that opinion can be summed up in a single sentence.

Heroes In Crisis is the single biggest betrayal of the idealism that lies at the core of the DC Comics multiverse since Identity Crisis and the single most flagrant example of false advertising since the Batman/Catwoman wedding issue earlier this year.

It’s a shame the story is so terrible, because the artwork by Clay Mann is beautiful. Yet a pretty face cannot mask an empty heart and this comic has nothing where it counts.

SPOILERS to follow, after the image. You have been warned.

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The early promotional materials for Heroes In Crisis were built around the concept of Sanctuary – a secret trauma center for superheroes that allows them to privately seek mental health treatment for the unique kinds of PTSD that one develops when you’re the last surviving member of an alien race or you develop disassociate identity disorder because of your secret identity. It was reported that writer Tom King – a former CIA operative – got inspired by the stories of the problems encountered by soldiers returning home from overseas and decided to write a story around the concept of Sanctuary as a metaphor for the real issues our real-life heroes cope with.

It’s a noble sentiment, but Heroes in Crisis is not the M*A*S*H*-style examination of medical treatment in war-time we were sold in the early solicitations. Nor is it a murder-mystery centering around the death of a hero in Sanctuary that the later promotions suggested, complete with a list of odds as to just which character would be the one to die in the article in DC Nation magazine.

The shocking twist of Heroes in Crisis is that there is more than one victim. Everyone in Sanctuary is killed and the apparent killer is revealed on the final page. Of course it’s unlikely to be that simple, with eight more issues to go in this series, but I defy anyone to see any reason to care about the ultimate mystery given the cynicism with which the audiences were played by the advertising for this series.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – don’t people die in comics all the time and come back to life eventually? Yes, which makes it all the more offensive that they would try and pull that play in a book that was advertised as a realistic, grounded portrayal of how difficult it is for heroes to heal in the face of tragedy.

I find it particularly vexing given that one of the few identified fallen heroes in this issue is Roy “Arsenal” Harper. This is because Roy is one of my favorite comics characters of all time and I haven’t been happy with the way he’s been written for the better part of a decade. Even before The New 52 revamp back in 2011, everything that made Roy Harper interesting and unique as a character (i.e. White kid raised on a Navajo reservation, single father, etc.) was discarded in The Fall of Arsenal, in favor of turning Roy into a one-note character whose one note was “recovering junkie.” Benjamin Percy finally gave Roy the respect (and backstory) he deserved in the pages of Green Arrow, only for all of that to be junked here, as Roy is once again viewed only in terms of his battles with addiction for one page, before being unceremoniously killed off-panel.

It makes the whole thing feel like a waste of time and effort. Ditto the death of Wally West, whose recent troubles in The Flash (long story short, he lost his wife and children due to reality being rewritten) have touched me more than any other story this year. All that potential wasted again, for the sake of luring in all the Flash fans who were told Wally’s story would continue in this book after he was sent off to Sanctuary in the pages of The Flash.

And there’s the rub of this book – his story will probably continue. Somehow. Given that Booster Gold is involved, the solution as to how to fix all this is immediately apparent. But using time travel to erase the events of a story (as King did with a story involving Booster Gold in Batman recently) just eliminates any sense of drama the murder mystery is meant to evoke.

There’s no sense of King’s stated purpose in this book. No examination of the pain of heroes and the sacrifices those who serve make for the sake of others  No grand mystery to be solved. There is only death for the sake of publicity and making a quick buck. This isn’t a comic book – it’s a superhero snuff film on paper.

4/10. And that’s purely for the artwork.

Heroes In Crisis #1 releases on September 26, 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 – Batman: Damned #1

Batman Damned #1 Cover

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.

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?!

 

Mystery Science Theater 3000 #1 Page 1

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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.