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Comic Review – Goddess Mode #1

Goddess Mode #1 Cover

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A highly advanced dystopia where the corporations own everything and technology is indistinguishable from magic. A dying Earth where life is cheap and humanity’s best days are behind it, despite the zeitgeist being built around the next big thing. A misfit struggles to get by, wanting to be more than just another cog in the machine, despite society being built around destroying the squeaky wheel.

It cannot be denied that fans of the cyberpunk genre will find themselves in familiar territory upon opening Goddess Mode #1. Comparisons to various Ridley Scott and Denis Villeneuve movies will be inevitable. Doubtless some will describe it as a feminist answer to Ready Player One in a desperate attempt to summarize its plotThe more well-read will reference Bruce Sterling and Neal Stephenson. All of this will ignore Goddess Mode #1 for what it is at its heart – a damn good read.

Cassandra Price is a brilliant young coder whose talents are wasted in the most lowly position possible at Heremeticorp – tech support. While other hackers are crafting brilliant new artificial intelligences that build off the Azoth Network that powers the planet, Cassandra is stuck patching up old code and taking out the trash. It’s not glamorous but it pays for the nanotech that purifies the air and water she ingests so she isn’t killed instantly by the polluted slum she lives in and provides the healthcare that keeps her father in cryogenic suspension until a cure is found for his condition. Then one day, Cassandra’s alterations to her personal network are noticed by her boss, who decides to promote her rather than fire her. This leads to Cassandra being sent to meet with the elites of her society and a stunning truth about the reality of things in a world where nanotechnology alters everyone’s perceptions.

Zoe Quinn’s script leans heavily on the usual cyberpunk tropes yet it does so in a way that will be pleasantly familiar – at least to those who remember the old Shadowrun game fondly. What makes Goddess Mode #1 seem like something brand new despite this is the character of Cassandra Price, who is far from the usual riot grrrl or manic hacker dream girl we usually see starring in this kind of story. Cassandra probably doesn’t even own a pair of leather pants or spiked platform boots.

As for the artwork, it is phenomenal. Spider-Gwen co-creator Robbi Rodriguez creates an image of cyberspace and the dystopian world Cassandra lives in that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. This unique imagery is further enhanced by the colors of  Rico Renzi. The final effect is a neon-filled hellscape that looks uncannily like what I imagined the first time I read William Gibson’s Neuromancer.

In short, Goddess Mode #1 is a brilliant read and a must-have for your subscription if you enjoy vivid artwork, dystopian fiction, magic girl anime and manga or just want something different this week when you pick up your comics.

10/10

Goddess Mode #1 releases on December 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.

The 30th Anniversary of The Sandman

The 30th Anniversary of The Sandman

By Dave Whiteman

On November 29, 1988, the first issue of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman went on sale from DC Comics. Soon to be published under the new DC Vertigo imprint, The Sandman received critical acclaim and was one of the first graphic novels to be featured on the New York Times Best Seller list. Although originally advertised as a horror series, the comic would go on to break boundaries in the dark fantasy genre and would set the standard for mature-themed comics and graphic novels for years to come. Then a relatively unknown writer, Neil Gaiman started out writing articles for many British magazines, but after forming a friendship with comic book writer Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta), Gaiman started writing comics including Miracleman and Black Orchid.

Gaiman had proposed to revive the 1970’s Sandman character by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (after they left Marvel) but he soon created a new treatment for the character that would evolve into the series that we know. With unconventional cover artwork by Dave McKean, the series featured a variety of artists, including as Charles Vess, Sam Keith, Kelley Jones, Mike Dringenberg and Jill Thompson, which allowed for an assortment of styles and talents. The main character was Morpheus, also known as Dream, who was one of the seven Endless that personified certain aspects of existence, including his siblings Destiny, Destruction, Desire, Despair, Delirium, and of course Death. Death herself became equally popular among fans, especially women as she would heavily influence the Goth culture as well.

“We of the Endless are the servants of the living — we are not their masters.
We exist because they know, deep in their hearts, that we exist.” – Dream

The series featured a variety of stories which involved complex, multi-genre stories that even included references to William Shakespeare, one of which became the only comic book ever to win a World Fantasy Award. While The Sandman became a cult success for DC Comics, it also attracted an even larger audience, many who had never read comic books before. It would soon launch Gaiman’s highly-prolific career in both comics, graphic novels, novels, television and film. Although the original series lasted only 75 issues, concluding in 1996, the series would spawn a number of spin-offs, long-running series such as The Dreaming and miniseries, including titles under the newly released The Sandman Universe.

The legacy of The Sandman has surpassed all expectations of the comic medium and has earned many awards and soon would find its way into the mainstream of not just comics, but in the literary world as well. What makes the series stand the test of time and to be revered all over the world, is its uniqueness and its ability to address a diverse range of mature topics and darker subjects that comics had never addressed before. In a world dominated by superheroes, The Sandman became the flagship title for Vertigo Comics that would inspire other writers and artists to experiment with many themes and stories, to which has gone on to today.

 


Dave “Chernobog” Whiteman is a life-long comic book collector, metalhead, part-timer writer, Funatic and a die-hard Star Wars fan!

Comic Review – Books of Magic #1

As part of the relaunch of DC Vertigo’s Sandman Universe, another one of Neil Gaiman’s memorable creations returns to comics with the long awaited “Books of Magic.” First published by DC Comics in 1990 as a mini-series, fan-favorite Tim Hunter began his long journey to becoming the world’s greatest magician, with the help of several mystical DC Comics alumni such as Phantom Stranger, Doctor Occult and John Constantine. The series was ongoing until it was discontinued after the short-lived “Books of Magick: Life During Wartime” in 2005. With this latest relaunch, the story catches us up (whether the reader be a longtime fan or a newcomer) in a fairy tale-like collage retelling of his origin:

Once upon a time…there lived a boy named Timothy Hunter. He seemed like a very usual sort of boy. Except.”

 Then we find Tim Hunter asleep in class, as a seemingly normal student who tries to impress girls with his amateur magic tricks. Getting bullied and of course getting into fights, he is pulled into one of his teacher’s office and we learn that Tim has “lost” his mother. But his teacher Dr. Rose is apparently has a connection to magic and knows that Tim is destined to become the greatest magician. As she gives him a book that appears blank to him at first she advises him to start reading and when he is ready, the magic will be visible to him. Despite his frustrations, Tim is certain he is ready, but as the book soon reveals its first lesson:

“Magic is neither good nor bad. Only its use determines its character. There are always consequences for its use.”

And upon opening his first book, we are given a glimpse of three mysterious cultist figures that are apparently watching him from afar as they decide that steps must be taken…and that some books must not be read.

Written by newcomer Kat Howard, known for her novel “Roses and Rot” and illustrated by Canadian artist Tom Fowlerm with colors by Jordan Boyd, the new “Books of Magic” has a promising start. While sharing the spotlight with other titles in the revived Sandman Universe, such as “The Dreaming” and “House of Whispers,” the new “Books of Magic” hopes to recapture the “magic” of a series that unfortunately fell into obscurity 13 years ago as it soon became marred by its similarities to the popular Harry Potter franchise in which tabloids claimed that Gaiman had made accusations of plagiarism against J.K. Rowling, which he went on the record denying. But hopefully time will tell if fans will return to this series as we see what the fates have in store for Tim Hunter.

 


 

Comic Review – Hex Wives #1

Hex Wives #1 Cover

For generations, a war has been waged for the soul of America. On one side are The Architects – men of good faith (and only men), who have shaped the nation to establish a design they call The Natural Order. The other side has no name, being made up of a coven of witches, continually reborn across the ages of man, who use their blood magic to thwart the designs of The Architects, primarily by empowering other women to stand against their designs.

With their shadow war slowly being lost and their numbers dwindling, The Architects need a solution – one that will not result in the bloodshed that only serves to deplete their numbers and empower the witches. Thankfully, one Architect has a plan. One which will turn the witches’ own magic against them, and bind them and their power according to The Natural Order.

Much like how Vertigo Comics’ new series Border Town might be compared to Stranger Things, so too can Hex Wives be broadly compared to The Stepford Wives. Both stories share a common theme of women being forced into the role of a “domestic goddess” but in this case the impetus is magic rather than science. Ben Blacker’s script runs wild with this idea, where the wildest stereotypes about church-going conservative men and feminist lesbians are cranked up to 11 and every conspiracy theory about “what they really want” is true. In this, the story manages to balance the political aspects so that neither side is “the right one.”

Ignoring the social commentary, Hex Wives also works as a straight-forward horror story, from multiple angles. It is notable for putting a spin on series such as Charmed, presenting a less heroic group of witches who are, from their perspective, trying to save the world from The Patriarchy. The hell of it (pun intended) is they have a point in that The Architects are just as harmful in their manipulations of society as the witches are in their destruction of societal norms.

The artwork is, in a word, gorgeous. The pencils and inks of Mirka Andolfo (most recently seen on DC’s Bombshells, Ms. Marvel and Harley Quinn) prove a perfect complement to Blacker’s script. Andolfo draws beautiful, active women better than most and is skilled enough an artist to accurately depict the different scenes and costumes as we move through time from the first battle between The Architects and The Witches at Salem (of course) to their apparent final battle at the height of the Katrina flooding in 2005. The action sequences are all well-blocked and the colors of Marissa Louise leave a glow upon the page that makes it seem like actual light is pouring from the book during the many scenes that are lit by fire.

While it may not appeal to those who prefer their comics free of heavy subtext, those who enjoy a good supernatural ripping yarn and a bit of dark comedy will find Hex Wives #1 to be the perfect treat this Halloween. Once again, Vertigo Comics knocks it out of the park with one of their new revival series. Here’s hoping the rest of the new line continues along in this vein.

9/10

Hex Wives #1 releases on October 31, 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 – Lucifer #1

Lucifer #1 Cover

NOTICE: The management of The Multiverse would like for it to be stated that we do not support the activities of the being commonly known as Lucifer, Satan and/or The First Of The Fallen. We are not members of his fan club, although he’s apparently responsible for most of the music we like. Regardless, we would remind everyone that the comic which is about to be discussed is a work of fiction and this review is not meant to be an endorsement of any sort of Satanic activity, foreign or domestic, ethereal or substantial. Thank you.

The greatest strength of Lucifer #1 is also its greatest weakness. A new reader who is completely unfamiliar with the rich history of the character from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman can pick this book up and have no trouble understanding its story. This is because, apart from one off-hand reference, none of the character’s history comes into play.

This is the odd paradox of Lucifer #1. Fans of the character who have read The Sandman, Mike Carey’s spin-off series Lucifer, the short-lived Lucifer revival by Holly Black and Richard Kadrey and even viewers of the Fox television series Lucifer (which is VERY loosely based on Neil Gaiman’s Lucifer character) are more likely to be confused than new readers. This is because there’s no apparent relation to the stories we see here and any previous incarnation of Lucifer.

I’ll spare you any spoilers about the earlier series. They’re all well worth reading and tracking down and I won’t rob you of the pleasure of reading them for yourself. (For what my opinion is worth, Seasons of Mist, the fourth Sandman volume in which Lucifer figures prominently, is the best of the series.) But anyone hoping for a true crime police procedural about a charming bar owner/detective who just happens to be a fallen angel should abandon all hope before entering here. There’s nothing of the kind in Lucifer #1.

Instead, we are treated to two stories. One depicts how Lucifer, once the angel Samael, has become imprisoned in some other realm, blinded himself and gone mad trying to escape what seems to be a Hell designed to hold him. The other depicts John Decker, a police detective with a terminally ill wife, who seems to be trapped in an entirely different kind of hell he wishes he could escape.

It’s unclear precisely where writer Dan Watters is going with any of this. While Watters is to be commended for making one of Vertigo Comics’ most complex series easily accessible to newcomers, there is as little here to grip new readers as there is to confuse them. I suspect this series may ultimately read better in trade-paperback format than as a monthly comic.

The artwork by Max and Sebastian Fiumara is more engaging and suits the story perfectly. The style of Lucifer is vividly detailed and melancholy, with an foreboding aura prevalent throughout. Colorist Dave McCaig tints the two stories differently, with washed-out blues depicting the depressing life of John Decker and bright oranges and yellows dominating Lucifer’s story, slowly shifting to red as he becomes more angry.

Established fans of Lucifer may be upset that, so far, the new series bares little resemblance to any that has come before. Taken on its own merits, however, Lucifer #1 has a lot of potential. This issue marks an interesting entry point into the shared universe of Vertigo Comics if nothing else, and the artwork is worth the price of admission alone. This is a series to keep an eye on.

6/10

Lucifer #1 releases on October 17, 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

Border Town #1 Cover

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.”

Border Town #1 Page 2

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.

Border Town #1 Page 1

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.

Comic Review – Sandman Universe #1

Sandman Universe 1 Cover

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.

Sandman Universe 1 Page 1

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…

Sandman Universe 1 Page 6

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 – Deathbed #1

Deathbed #1 Cover

When I first saw the cover of Deathbed #1, I was thrilled. Joshua Williamson is one of my favorite writers right now, and if you haven’t been reading his run on The Flash, you should be. Riley Rossmo, likewise, is an artist whose work I’ve always found enjoyable, particularly on the highly-underrated Constantine, The Hellblazer.

That thrill quickly gave rise to dread as I opened the book and we were given our first look at the book’s protagonist, Valentine Richards. I have a general rule of thumb about how any comic book which features an image of a woman sitting on the toilet in its first issue should probably be put down immediately. This sort of thing seems to be a trope in every independent comic for mature readers that is determined to prove how dangerous and edgy it is going to be. I don’t know why, but this image seems to come up with frightening regularity and only the reputation of the creators kept me going.

Thankfully, Deathbed quickly moves past this image and on to better things. It also, it should be noted, has nothing to do with the infamously cheesy 1977 horror movie about a bed that eats people.

Our focus lies on Valentine Richards – an aspiring novelist turned reporter turned biography ghost-writer, who is sick of telling other people’s stories instead of her own. Unfortunately, with her contract at her current reporting gig up, she’s forced to take a job writing the memoirs of Antonio Luna – a famous adventurer who she’s assured is like Doc Savage, James Bond and Teddy Roosevelt rolled into one. Yet somehow, she’s never heard of him.

Deathbed #1 Gallery Scene

(Click on the above image to see it full-size, in another window.)

Valentine arrives at Luna’s mansion on a dark and stormy night. Taken to the master bedroom, Valentine finds the 90 year old Luna at death’s door and apparently ready to tell the unlikely story of his life. However, Luna has another purpose in seeking out a writer to tell his tale – one that seems likely to give Valentine a story of her own to tell!

This first issue is largely concerned with setting up the series, so there’s not much in the way of action. This is surprising, given Joshua Williamson’s usual scripts are packed full of improbable action sequences but it is early yet. As far as laying the ground-work goes, this issue does a fantastic job of showing us everything we need to know about our characters without telling as much. This is because Williamson is one of an increasingly rare few writers who seem to trust their artist to be as much of a storyteller as them.

Case in point. There is a rather gorgeous two-page spread of Valentine walking past several portraits of Antonio Luna from his glory days. This tells us far more about who Antonio Luna is than any piece of expository dialogue ever could. Likewise, we learn far more about Valentine by the questions she asks and the internal monologue about the deeper meaning behind each question than we do by her conversation with her editor.

Bottom Line: If this first issue is any indication, Deathbed will be one heck of a read.

9/10

Deathbed #1 releases February 21, 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.