Comic Review – Trees #1

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of his favourite one, with potential minor spoilers.

This week I read Trees #1 by Warren Ellis, with art by Jason Howard and letters from Fonografiks, published by Image Comics. This was another case of not hearing about a new series, seeing a nice shiny number one issue on the rack with a well known writer’s name on the front, judging whether or not the stack of comics in my hand is already too much (it probably was) and picking it up anyway*. I must admit I haven’t read as much Warren Ellis as I would have liked, his Transmetropolitan seemingly a permanent fixture on my ‘to buy’ list of collections.

Trees takes place ten years after first alien contact with Earth, in the form of huge monolithic ‘trees’ that suddenly landed across the globe, devastating communities in the cities they struck. Even years later, mankind seems to have accepted the presence of the trees despite knowing almost nothing about them. No beings have emerged, no communication has come through, they just sit there. And they very occasionally “dump waste” which appears to mean “crap acid over everyone, melting people and buildings”, which apparently has happened six times now. Why anyone would live anywhere near one if there is the slightest potential of that happening is beyond insane, but then again I’ve visited Naples in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius where we were cheerfully told that it could erupt at any time, and there definitely wouldn’t be enough time to evacuate the whole city. So aside from the horror of this, the alien interlopers are a total mystery. We are introduced to an array of different and seemingly unconnected characters – a man running for New York mayor, a young aspiring artist moving as close as he can to the trees, and some scientists studying one in Norway. None of them immediately jump out as the lead, but all are compelling for different reasons.

The writing is strong, with perhaps only the dialogue between the mayoral hopeful Vince and his friend/advisor Del feeling a touch exposition-heavy. It reads well enough, it could be passed off as rhetoric from Vince to explain why he wants to run for mayor, and we need this information somehow, it just feels a bit stark. The prologue got me invested enough in the story, and the bleakness of an enemy that doesn’t seem to know or even care that we are here, with some very brief narration over the action. I think I would have preferred some of the details of the original landing to unfurl more organically over a couple of issues. That really is nit-picking though, and it wasn’t really a problem at all. The pacing of the issue itself is really where the story shines, giving very little away but showing the scope of the world as it is now. This scope is illustrated very effectively by Jason Howard (as ‘artist’ I assume he did colours and all), showcasing each locale with a different colour palate to contrast them perfectly. My favourite panel was probably the iconic vista of Rio de Janeiro marred by trees dumping their waste into the city at the start.

This was another great first issue of a new creator-owned series, and again I will definitely be keeping up with it as the characters are fleshed out and Ellis explores the mystery of the trees and why they are here, largely dormant and uncommunicative, and what they are going to do. I fully recommend picking this one up from your local comic book shop or online retailer with your tablet/smart phone/internet-linked cyberbrain.

Score: 8.5 Weird Robot Police Dogs out of 10

 

* The delay of Batman #31 over here in the UK to next week (due to a printing error or something I equally don’t understand) helped reduce my costs this week, but I wasn’t overly happy about that.

Comic Review – Forever Evil #7

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of his favourite one, with potential minor spoilers. 

Probably more than ‘minor’ this week, including spoilers for the whole event and the end of Trinity War.

This was a fairly expensive trip to the comics shop! This week I’ve decided to review the finale of the DC event comic Forever Evil (the first time I’ve reviewed an issue that wasn’t a #1), not because it was necessarily my favourite or the best but because it was worth talking about, I think anyway. Forever Evil #7 was written by Geoff Johns, with pencils by David Finch, inks by Richard Friend, colours from Sonia Oback and letters by Rob Leigh. Forever Evil started back in September last year during the Villain’s Month, and was due to finish two months ago in March. I had mistakenly (and unfairly) assumed that this was due to art delays and wanting to maintain consistency rather than rushing out the ending with a replacement, but it turns out Johns realised he wanted the end to be longer so we ended up getting a 40-page, slightly more expensive, finale. Quite why this meant the delay was two months I’m not sure, but we’ve got it now.

For those who don’t know, Forever Evil followed hot on the heels of the previous DC event ‘Trinity War’, which saw the Crime Syndicate (basically evil alternate universe versions of the Justice League) turn up in the main DC universe having escaped their own crumbling reality. Forever Evil starts with them having totally defeated the League, all of whom are presumed dead, and the Syndicate organising the villains of the DCU to take over and basically destroy the world. This doesn’t sit well with a few of the bad guys, who decide to band together to fight back against these extra-dimensional intruders. Lex Luthor joins up with with Bizzaro, Captain Cold, Black Adam, Black Manta, Sinestro, and a few others including Batman (who survived when all his super-powered friends were “killed” by the Syndicate, because he is Batman) to give us a nice villains Vs. villains tale, which is a good change of pace from the usual heroes Vs. heroes we have been used to of late in superhero comics.

The finale, which is pretty action-packed, starts with Luthor saving Nightwing. Spoiler I guess, but DC already started previewing their new ‘Grayson’ comic weeks before this issue came out. It was fairly obvious from the set up that this is how it would go down anyway. Batman hugs Nightwing, Luthor notices in some foreshadowing for something that comes later. Bizzarro then hugs Lex, which is definitely my favourite moment of the book. A large part of the rest of the issue is various villains fighting the remaining Crime Syndicate members Ultraman and Superwoman, and everyone fighting the alternate universe Alexander Luthor, who is a sort of reverse Shazam that steals the powers from people he kills. He has killed a lot of people apparently, because he is crazy powerful. I must admit I didn’t see the end of the fight coming, but I’m glad it went down like it did. It felt like it was earned, and even though the Justice League were pretty much simultaneously freed from their predicament by Batman and Cyborg, it was the villains that won the day and saved the planet. Basically, if none of that made any sense, it was all pretty awesome.

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I really like Johns’ writing, and never more so than when he is writing villains. He continues to do a great job here, the only complaint I have is really more an issue I’ve found a lot recently in the new 52, being hinting at events that have occurred in the 5 year time span of the continuity that we haven’t seen and may not ever see. It makes things feel unearned. The main instance I mean involved Batman and the lasso of truth. The only other problem I’ve had with the event was the inclusion of Sinestro in the story, which I am conflicted over anyway because he has been excellent in it. I really enjoyed how Sinestro ended up at the end of Johns’ Green Lantern run, and didn’t want him back so soon as it lessened the impact. But I have no idea whose call it was to bring him in. The art team do a good job here too, dynamic fights in great looking surroundings with colours really suiting the tone of a big thunderous finale.

This was a damn good piece of superhero comics, involving very few actual superheroes. It sets up a really interesting new status quo, with Lex Luthor actually seemingly reflecting on events and improving himself (though not as clear cut as a full redemption, and he is clearly going to use some new information to his advantage soon), and the reveal of who chased the Crime Syndicate out of their own reality (and may be coming to the main DCU next). If you haven’t been reading this event, I wouldn’t recommend the finale as a jumping on point but definitely check out the collection when DC releases it. If you have been reading it, you dropped off the series because you weren’t into it or lost interest due to the delays, I would recommend jumping back on as it is a satisfying conclusion to what I found to be one of the best event books I have read in a while. Check it out at your local comic book shop, or digitally online if you have one of those new fangled tablet thingys.

Score: 7.5 MAZAHS! out of 10

 

* Definitely check out Saga #19 and American Vampire: Second Cycle #3 this week. They were both fantastic.

Comic Review – The United States of Murder Inc. #1

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of his favourite one, with potential minor spoilers.

Of the limited number of comics I did read this week*, the book I enjoyed the most was The United State of Murder Inc. #1 from Brian Michael Bendis and art by Michael Avon Oeming, with colours from Taki Soma and letters by Chris Eliopoulos, published by the Icon imprint from Marvel comics. I have read very little of Bendis’s work so far, mainly because everything I see him writing is Marvel. I briefly tried getting into Marvel, but I was already invested in the DC universe fairly heavily and was trying to buy more independent stuff too, so couldn’t afford to keep it up. I am a PhD student living in London after all, and I don’t think “I can’t afford rent because I bought too many comics” will go down well as a good excuse for why I have started sleeping at my desk and using the emergency shower in the lab every day. I dropped nearly all the Marvel books I was picking up, choosing to wait for trades that looked really good instead, along with a fair few DC books so I could still grab new creator-owned series that caught my eye. That said, I did read about 7 issues of Uncanny X-Men last year from Bendis, and I enjoyed it. That is a series that I’m planning to keep up with in trades.

Anyway, The United States of Murder Inc. takes place in an alternate USA where the Mob continued to be a dominant force rather than dying out in the early 20th century, to the extent that they actually own the East Coast (“the territories”). Our protagonist is Valentine Gallo, and we meet him just as he becomes a made man and is inducted into one of the major crime families. He is soon sent on his first job, out of the territories to Washington DC. On the way he is joined by a veteran member of the crime family, Jagger Rose, a sultry redhead sent to guide him (or emasculate him, whatever). I really enjoyed the back-and-forth dialogue between the pair on the train, it felt genuine and I didn’t find it to be over the top despite it feeling very much like a noir film. Things take an unexpected turn during the job, leading Valentine to confront more senior members of the family towards the end of the issue. This builds to what should be a particularly interesting plot as we go forward with the series.

At this point I must confess I made a pretty stupid error. I was going to give the book a lower score than I have, because I felt that the ending felt rushed. I felt that it should have been the end of the second issue, and the first issue should entirely be concerned with establishing this interesting alternate world. I think it probably ends up to the credit of the writing because I must have been so engrossed in the story that I did not notice that this was an oversized first issue, so what transpires in the last pages essentially is the end of a normal issue #2. So I retracted that complaint before I even made it. What I’m saying is I liked the story, and I liked the writing.

The art is really interesting, and I mean that to be a compliment. It is fairly cartoony, but in a very dark way.  Lots of thick, bold lines, with a toned down almost unimportant use of background to really emphasise the characters as being the most distinct aspect of each shot. The colours really back this up, with a different but basic shades flooding the background of each scene. Most of the characters tend to be a stark black and white against this background, except Jagger who really stands out with red hair and clothes in every scene (blood and fire incidentally also stand out). As usual, I am a total sucker for double page splashes. Give me two in a row, first of an explosion and then the same explosion reflected in someone’s sunglasses? I’m in.

I enjoyed this comic a great deal, and I seem to be paying so little attention of late that I didn’t even realise it was coming out. I just saw it on the rack at the comic book shop and thought “I’d like to read more Bendis, and this doesn’t require loads of pre existing knowledge of what came before it!”. I’m glad I did (see kids, acting on impulse works out sometimes), I found a really different looking book from anything else I’m reading, and in a setting that I did not know I wanted a comic about. It turns out I did. Check it out at your local comic book shop, or digitally online if you have one of those new fangled tablet thingys.

Score: 8 Coronation Pins out of 10

 

* This week I actually mostly bought DC comics, only to find out that a lot of it is now taking place post-Forever Evil, the finale of which was delayed for about a month and doesn’t come out until next week. So I didn’t read most of what I bought as I am still pointlessly trying to avoid any form of spoilers, even though I have heard snippets of what does happen (and I did read Futures End #2, in which a throw away line did also indicate other things that obviously happen in Forever Evil #7 that I didn’t know). I would of course rather the book was completed properly with delays than get in fill-in artists or whatever to get it out on schedule, and I also get that it’s not like DC can postpone a huge number of comics for a month that have already been solicited, but this still feels a bit ridiculous. Frustrating, but there we go.

Comic Review – The Woods #1

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of his favourite one, with potential minor spoilers.

I’ve been gradually trying to pick up more creator-owned titles as they tend to have more original and interesting stories than the usual superhero comics I pick up (which doesn’t mean I’m getting sick of superheroes, it just means I’m cutting down on food to afford more comics). The Woods wasn’t really on my radar until I saw Scott Snyder tweet about it (odd considering I’ve chosen it over his latest issue of The Wake as my favourite comic this week). It is a new creator-owned title written by James Tynion IV, with art by Michael Dialynas, colours from Josan Gonzalez and letters by Ed Dukeshire, published by Boom! Studios.

The Woods takes place in a seemingly innocuous American high school in Milwaukee, allowing us a brief but effective introduction to our key players in the story in the form of tiny captions that tells us all we really need to know about them. Suddenly a flash of light transports the entire school to a world drenched in an oppressive darkness, surrounded by a thick wooded area and populated by various frightening beasts that begin to terrorise the unsuspecting students and staff. Everyone panics, most try to hole up inside the school, but a rag tag group decide that the only way to survive their predicament is to head into the woods to look for answers as to what happened to them and why they are there.

All I’ve read from James Tynion IV so far has been his work on Talon, the backups in the main Batman series and recently the new weekly series Batman Eternal, all of which I enjoyed. The writing here is really engaging. It is easy to care for all of these characters fairly rapidly, as the gravity of the situation sets in and the more headstrong try to deal with it as best they can. The art team does a great job creating a dark and terrifying environment too, and the fear is palpable. The double page splash in the middle in particular is gorgeous.

I’m really interested to see how this series develops and what lies ahead for Karen, Adrian, Isaac, Ben and Calder as they venture into The Woods. I especially liked how the mysterious first page takes on an intriguing meaning as we approach the end of the issue. I’ll definitely be keeping up with this series, and I suggest you do too. Check it out at your local comic book shop or digitally.

Score: 9 Hockey Sticks out of 10

 

*It was a tough call to review this or the equally excellent ‘The Wake’ issue 8 from Scott Snyder, Sean Murphy , Matt Hollingsworth and Jared K. Fletcher (which you should also definitely buy). I ended up choosing The Woods because it is new, and I’m almost certainly going to do a full review of the whole of The Wake when it comes out in trade paperback.

3 Awesome Fictional Swords

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I don’t think this needs an introduction. Josh, tell us about swords!

Swords seem to appear in many of my major interests; reading, television, movies, and games. Often taking quite a pivotal role in the epic tale where the hero draws upon the power of a mighty sword to slay a mythical dragon. So I’m going to take this chance to list a few of the most awesome and badass blades. They aren’t all conventional and probably won’t appear in many people’s list. Also about that hero I mentioned, they also probably weren’t wielded by him. Read on to find out more.

Image Sourced from: http://mugen.wikia.com

Image Sourced from: http://mugen.wikia.com

Frostmourne –Video Game – Warcraft 3 and World of Warcraft
“Whomsoever takes up this blade shall wield power eternal. Just as the blade rends flesh, so must power scar the spirit.”

Frostmourne is the cursed blade wielded by the Lich King. It’s power of corruption are beyond measure. Upon taking hold of the forsaken blade you forfeit your soul to the Lich King, in trade for his immense power and command of the undead scourge. Not a bad trade really if you want to go on a bloody crusade slaying thousands. Humans, orcs, elves and even demons fear this blade as many of their kin have been laid to rest, before being reanimated, and commanded by its wielder. Not a bad trade indeed.

Image Sourced From: http://forum.malazanempire.com/ (username: caladanbrood)

Image Sourced From: http://forum.malazanempire.com/ (username: caladanbrood)

Dragnipur – Book – Steven Erikson “Malazan Book of the Fallen”

This sword is my personal favorite on the list. Its badassary knows no bounds. From the outside the sword doesn’t seem too special, it is a silver hilted bastard sword, with an inky black blade that absorbs light. Now I know you’re saying that’s really not that badass. What makes the sword really cool is that everyone slain by the blade gets trapped in a magical realm. These souls are chained and forced to pull an immense cart pursued by the forces of chaos. But as the souls within the sword fall from lack of strength they add to the weight of the cart making it heavier, meaning Dragnipur’s thirst for souls can never be quenched. What makes it even more awesome is that the guy that carries it can turn into a dragon and took the sword from an elder god before trapping him for eternity to drag the cart.

Image Sourced from:  http://www.comicvine.com/ (username: Archaon)

Image Sourced from: http://www.comicvine.com/ (username: Archaon)

The Slayer of Kings – Game – Warhammer

The Slayer of Kings is the blade wielded by Archaon, Lord of the End Times. Yes, I know what you are thinking, anyone with a name like that you don’t want to be on the wrong side of. What makes him scarier is his sword, not only does it have a demon imprisoned in it, but a demon driven insane with rage and fury. Got to say that’s a pretty awesome sword. Once the demon imprisoned in the sword is unleashed it’s anger is all consuming meaning that it may even turn on the wielder. Really, to be using a sword of this incredible power you got to be a badass who feels he can hold his own against one pissed off demon.

So that ends my list of 3 awesome swords, I know there are a lot out there that didn’t get a mention, but these are swords that I think are amazing. I would love to hear if any of these swords would make your list or what sword would.

Josh

So do you have a favorite fictional blade?

Seven Seas Of R’lyeh

I walked down the aisle, as casual as a person being watched could. How long had it been? 3 maybe 4 aisles. His eyes burning into the back of my head. I reached for the tome. I’d spent my last few pounds buying an intolerable hog dog from a portable vendor, trying to hide the urgency of my mission from my pursuer. It hadn’t worked. I swiftly placed the book in my jacket and began exiting. Had I done it? Was the stalker just a physical manifestation of my paranoia? I could see the door. I had done it. That’s what I thought until a strong, authoritative hand grabbed my shoulder and asked me to come to the security office. Well, I thought to myself, that’s the last time I try to steal a book from Waterstones.

I arrived late to the Cthulhu mythos party, and hadn’t even brought a bottle of wine! But I haven’t looked back since. I love everything from the 1920s setting to the themes of mind-shattering paranoia. H.P. Lovecraft had been sold to me by a different medium – board games! I love Eldritch Horror and Elder Sign and that’s why I decided I must read some Lovecraft immediately.

After a small amount of research I found the best item to start with was “The Call Of Cthulhu”, a short story with only 32 pages. Now I love short stories and this has become one of my favourites. It’s based on the diary of an ill-fated professor and his grand nephew, who’s the narrator of the tale. He finds out as much as he can about the ancient one Cthulhu and the place he slumbers, the corpse city of R’lyeh. I won’t spoil anything but it’s a great nighttime read!

Second up was “The Dunwich Horror”. I purchased the Penguin publication edition, which had a collection of other Lovecraft stories included. This tale is of the long forgotten hamlet of Dunwich and its rather backwards inhabitants. There are many old families based in this region, with even older secrets. It introduces another of the ancient ones with their own macabre way of forcing their will upon Dunwich. This story is amazing but the other stories included match up to it incredibly well.

Classic horror fans should really give these books a go! The language is challenging at times but it’s worth persevering with. I highly recommend both.

If you’re a fan of Cthulhu already, what stories would you recommend to our readers?

Don’t Bother Mate

Batman is hands down my favourite superhero, possibly my favourite character in fiction, and I’m fairly sure I’m not alone in thinking that. Most people that have met me know that. I once drunkenly gave my very patient girlfriend what can only be described as a 45 minute lecture on why Batman is so brilliant. Lucky girl.

It all started when I was very young, watching Batman the Animated Series (I still hear Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill when reading the comics). I was so taken with the show, that for a piece of early classwork that I recently dug out from around age 7 I basically state that I prefer the Dark Knight to my parents. Priorities. Then for a while I must have become more interested in something else, being a fickle child (I think it was Power Rangers), until about 10 years ago when I started getting into the comics and films in a big way.

I remember soon after Batman Begins came out, making the character credible in the cinema again, standing in line to see one of my favourite bands. The lead singer was hanging around outside chatting to people he knew behind us, including us along too, and he had just bought a book with a photo of Bale’s Batman on the front. He pointed out that Batman doesn’t really need to do anything because he looks so badass, then held up the photo in front of his own face and said “Don’t bother mate.”

I think the main appeal of the character comes from the distinction between Bats and his superhero counterparts, in that Bruce Wayne is ostensibly just a man, and yet he fights crime and often super-powered villains just as well as any big blue boy scout, Amazonian princess or power ring wielding arsehole. This is captured well in one of my favourite moments in Grant Morrison’s huge run in the comics following the events of ‘Batman R.I.P.’. He gets a priority call from the Justice League (leading up to the series ‘Final Crisis’), despite having just been buried alive, nearly drowned and forced to rely on a back-up personality he prepared in advance just in case he was mentally compromised. Just before heading out to an even worse fate, he tells the readers that ‘I’ve worked so hard to gain their respect, they sometimes forget I’m flesh and blood’.

That’s the crux of it, being mortal somehow makes being Batman an attainable thing, even though it absolutely isn’t. People (yes, I am people) like to think that if they had preposterous wealth, took a gap year or two to train to be a ninja, replaced sleep with working out and read a f**kload of Sherlock Holmes that they could be Batman. The same can’t be said about Superman, even though the characters are equally fictitious. This is of course ridiculous, but it does make the character more appealing. You would also have to be a lunatic to dress like a bat and want to be a vigilante every night and day.

DC comics have clearly realised that Batman is their main money maker. The Nolan films were hugely successful (even if the third one was a bit of a mess), and they certainly seem keen to get a new iteration on the big screen as soon as possible. It certainly helps that the main Batman title from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo is f*****g great every month, and tends to outsell most other titles on the stands. There seems to be a lot more going on this year too, being the 75th anniversary of the character’s first appearance in Detective Comics #27 way back in 1939 (just a year after Superman). That’s a hell of a long legacy for any character.

So there are some reasons why I love Batman. To the extent that I got a tattoo of the symbol 2 years ago, and have yet to regret that decision at all. Maybe someday I will stop enjoying the comics so much, and I’ll look at it and think ‘what a moron’. But I hope not, because that would be boring.

Also, the animated series completely holds up on rewatching. It is f*****g brilliant.

Adam