Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Casey Jones

I have a soft spot for the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. I watch it at least once a year and I think it still holds up. The movie has its share of memorable moments, and many of those moments involve Casey Jones.

The goalie mask-wearing, baseball-bate wielding vigilante is one of my favorite characters from the Turtles universe. Created as a parody of other ultra-violent vigilante characters, i.e. The Punisher, Casey has appeared in almost every incarnation of the Turtles since his debut in 1985.

Apparently I'm not the only one who can't get enough Casey Jones. It appears an independent filmmaker has put together a 35-minute fan film  addressing Casey's origin. I haven't watched the whole film yet, but the trailer looked really good. You can tell that a lot of time, money and energy was spent on this and I can't wait to see it in full. Head over to their website and check it out for yourself.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

DC's New 52: Week 2

I have to admit I'm a little confused about what DC is trying to accomplish with this reboot. My understanding was that the company wanted to shake things up in an effort to draw in new readers. Knowing that new readers may be put off by decades of dense, and at times impenetrable, continuity, DC opted for a fresh start. They chose to relaunch their entire line with 52 new #1 issues.

New characters would be introduced and old characters would re-imagined. The timeline was condensed, so everyone was younger and new to superheroics. This was all well and good. I was actually excited for a new start. But as more of these new issues come out, the more things seem to be the same. This applies more to the characters and titles that existed before the reboot. For example, Batman and Green Lantern appear not to have changed at all. With the exception of a few minor adjustments (i.e. age, costume) the pre-reboot storylines seem to be intact. It's in the new books (Demon Knights, Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E., etc) where the reboot is truly felt.

I went in to week two of the relaunch with some reservations. There were a few books that I really enjoyed in week one, however there were many others that didn't offer much in terms of excitement and freshness. Here's my thoughts on the new #1's I picked up this past Wednesday.

Batman & Robin #1
Writer: Peter Tomasi
Artist: Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray

This book is a perfect example of what confuses me about this reboot. Batman & Robin #1 is not new-reader friendly. Period. Let me provide an example. My wife decided to read this book the day it came out. When she finished, she turned to me and said, "Batman has a son? Who's his mother? When did this happen?" I found myself having to explain who Damian Wayne is, when he first appeared in the comics, that he's been Robin for some time now, and the list goes on. For those of us who read Morrison's run on Batman, we know that Damian is a great character and I can understand why DC wants to hold on to him. But if you're coming on to the book for the first time you are going to be extremely confused about the status quo. In addition to keeping Damian in the Robin costume, it seems as though Dick Grayson was Batman for a period in this new timeline as well. Is that going to be explained or does DC expect that new readers are familiar with Batman's "death," the battle for the cowl, Dick's tenure as Batman and Bruce's return? Seems a bit much for new readers to handle.

A lot of you may feel that I'm focusing too much on the reboot aspect and not as much on the story. It's true that DC did state before the launch that certain titles wouldn't be undergoing drastic changes, however it's difficult to read these books and ignore the whole reason they exist. The more of the past DC holds on to the more confusing and problematic these books will be for new readers. In addition to that, it creates a whole batch of other problems. For example, according to DC Batman has existed for about 5 or 6 years in this new timeline. So in that time he had a 10-year-old son, trained 3 other Robins (all of whom have grown up and taken on their own identities), passed the mantle to Dick Grayson and then returned to take it back. It's all a bit much.

As for the issue itself, the story and art were fine. It was a standard Batman and Robin tale. Bruce's characterization rang a bit false, but I was able to put it aside for now. I won't be sticking with this title going forward and it's not because of the reboot issue. It's just more of the same. I can't buy every book that comes out so I need something different, something interesting to keep me hanging around. This book didn't provide that.

Demon Knights #1
Writer: Paul Cornell
Artist: Diogenes Neves

This is the kind of book I expect to see when a company relaunches their line and dares to be different. When you think of DC Comics, or even Marvel for that matter, you think superheros. What you don't think about is a Dungeons & Dragons-esque fantasy romp set in the Dark Ages. But that's what we get with Demon Knights and I couldn't be more excited. The book features characters that are familiar to many, but are introduced in such a way that it's not off-putting for people with little to no prior experience with them.

The first issue focuses on two malevolent forces, the Questing Queen and her wizard, who are marching across the land in search of something yet to be revealed. By issues end, the Queen's horde of soldiers comes upon the town of Little Springs. Intent on laying to siege to this town as they have every other, the army enters a local pub with a message: This town is ours. Your supplies are ours. Unfortunately for them this bar has Madame Xanadu, Jason O'Th' Blood & Etrigan, the Shining Knight and Vandal Savage for patrons. Needless to say they don't take too kindly to having their happy hour disturbed.

Although not fully formed just yet, this is going to be a team book. A very different type of team book than we are used to. Something akin to a medieval Justice League if you will. The book was fun. It was different. It was exciting. Neves' art was beautiful. I'm sticking with this one for sure.

Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Alberto Poticelli 

Let me start by saying this was my favorite book from week 2. DC once again steps out of its comfort zone and offers up a good old-fashioned monster book. Typically stories like this are reserved for the Vertigo imprint so it's nice to see these types of characters spill over to the main DC Universe.

The book finds Frankenstein, yes that Frankenstein, working for a secret government agency known as S.H.A.D.E. (Super Human Advanced Defense Executive), a branch of the military that handles paranormal and superhuman events. A horde of flesh-eating monsters has devastated a small town in Washington and S.H.A.D.E. is called in to contain the situation. Once at the attack site, Frankenstein meets his new field team, the Creature Commandos (needless to say my inner 8-year-old went bananas when this team was revealed). The group is comprised of S.H.A.D.E. agents who were crossbred with various creatures of myth. It's now up to the team to contain the threat and determine its origin.

This book was tons of fun, but it may seem a bit derivative to readers of Hellboy and B.P.R.D. In all honesty, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.  is simply DC's version of these two Dark Horse staples. But I think this book stands on its own and has the chance to make its own unique mark. Poticelli's artwork fits perfectly with this story. It's a little scratchy and looks like the kind of art you'd expect from a Vertigo title which happens to be something I enjoy. I'm really looking forward to the second issue.

Grifter #1
Writer: Nathan Edmonson
Artist: CAFU

I never read a book with Grifter in it. He existed in a line of books published by Wildstorm that I was never familiar with. Created by Jim Lee in the early 1990's, Grifter debuted at a time when I stepped away from comics. When I did return I found myself not at all interested in the Wildstorm universe, a fact I've come to regret. But I always loved Grifter's costume. I'm a little ashamed to admit that's the reason I bought this issue. I love that costume and I wanted to see what I was missing with this character.

The good news is this book works perfectly for new readers. It introduces you to Grifter before he's Grifter, giving readers the chance to see the process of how he gets from point A to point B in his life. When the book opens we meet Cole Cash, a con man. He swindles businessmen out of money. Lots of it. After successfully pulling off one job Cole gets mixed up in the paranormal. He's kidnapped by an alien race intent on using his body has a host. Cole escapes, but in the process learns that he is somehow linked up with their telepathic frequency. He now hears everything they plan on doing. As if being abducted by aliens and hearing voices wasn't enough, Cole is being tracked by his brother, a military operative charged with arresting him for crimes he is not guilty of.

This was decent. Nothing terribly exciting. There's enough mystery here to make it worth picking up the second issue but this one is on shaky ground.

Suicide Squad #1
Writer: Adam Glass
Artist:  Federico Dallocchio

Harley Quinn is a favorite in our household. She's the sole reason I stuck with Gotham City Sirens for its entire run. She's also the reason I picked up Suicide Squad.

The Suicide Squad, or Task Force X as it is commonly referred to, is a government-sponsored team of incarcerated villains who are charged with taking on high-risk black ops missions in exchange for their release from prison or significantly reduced sentences. The current rosters looks to include: Harley Quinn, Deadshot, King Shark, El Diablo, Voltaic and Black Spider.

The issues opens with each member of the team being tortured by an unknown group. We meet each character individually and see a brief flashback giving us an idea of who they are and how they came to be incarcerated. Needless to say the team "escapes" through a plot twist that I'll admit I did not see coming. They are then given their next mission: To kill 60,000 people in the Metrodome.

This issue reads better the second time around, but it lacks any team dynamic. We meet the members, but unfortunately we don't get a real sense of how they interact as a unit. I look forward to seeing how a group mad up of such volatile personalities functions. My only real complaint, and it's one that is getting a lot of attention online, is with Harley Quinn's new costume. It's probably the only costume redesign that I feel did harm to the character. She basically wears a corset and a pair of hot pants. It doesn't work for her. That's not who Harley is. When written well she's funny, intelligent, fierce, and at times down right frightening. They didn't need to sex her up. I'm hoping this costume changes. Fast.

I'm on for the second issue, but like Grifter I'm ready to pull the plug at any moment.

Green Lantern #1
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Doug Mahnke

There was a time when Green Lantern was my favorite superhero comic. This surprised even me. Geoff Johns took over as the writer and catapulted a second string character into DC's third most popular behind Batman and Superman. He also gave us the best "event book" I ever read with the Sinestro Corps War. Johns' run culminated in one of DC's most highly anticipated events, Blackest Night. Green Lantern was everywhere. I couldn't get enough. Until I did.

My interest in Blackest Night fizzled out quickly. The seven-issue mini-series seemed to drag on and I got bored. I think part of the problem was the year-long build-up. It was difficult to keep the momentum going for that long. I just wanted it over with already. Once that series finished the main Lantern titles started to go downhill in quality and I finally dropped the books about eight or nine months ago. When the relaunch was announced, DC stated that the Green Lantern universe would be one of the areas undergoing the least amount of change. Admittedly that killed my interest in the first issue. But once I saw Sinestro on the cover back in the green uniform I decided to pick it up.

While not necessarily new reader friendly, this issue was an enjoyable read for me. We find out that Hal Jordan is no longer a Green Lantern and the ring has once again chosen Sinestro. Putting Sinestro back in the costume, with all the baggage he brings with him, is a recipe for drama and this issue teases it enough to make me come back next month. In addition to Sinestro we get to see Hal Jordan at a different place in his life. No longer a Green Lantern, Hal returns to find his life in shambles. He's been off planet so much over the past year that he's way behind on hall of his bills and he's seconds away from being evicted. He has no money and no real prospects that make him happy. That's until he's approached by Sinestro who offers to help him get the ring back.

This was a really good issue. Although it references past events (ones that I've chosen to forget) it quickly sets up a new status quo that will carry this book for the foreseeable future. Mahnke is still in top form. I loved his work on Green Lantern pre-reboot but the writing wasn't quite there so I stopped picking it up. I'm sticking with it for now but after the dip in quality the book took post Blackest Night I'm ready to hop off at the first sign of trouble.

I was supposed to review Batwoman #1 but I won't have that issue until the end of the month.

Next week I'll be back with review of: Batman #1, Birds of Prey #1, Catwoman #1, Nightwing #1 and Wonder Woman #1

Monday, September 19, 2011

New Comics for Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Week 3 of DC's "New 52" is upon us. That means another batch of #1 issues to check out. So far the first half of this reboot has been a mixed bag for me. Let's see if things end strong. Here's what I'm picking up. The full shipping list can be found here

Batman #1
Birds of Prey #1
Catwoman #1
Nightwing #1
Red Hood and the Outlaws #1
Wonder Woman #1
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #2
Witch Doctor #3
Captain America #3
Daredevil #4 (Didn't issue 3 come out last week?!?)
X-Men Schism #4

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fall TV is Back: My Top 5 Series

Summer is officially over. It sucks. I know it and you know it. Many people are returning to the classroom, the weather is getting colder, it's  getting darker earlier, and before you know it many of us will have piles of snow to contend with. But there is one bright spot in all this.......the start of the fall TV schedule!

I don't watch a lot of television to be honest. It takes a lot for me to sit down and devote my time to a series. But there are a few shows that interest me enough to watch week to week. Here's a breakdown of my top 5 series premiering this fall.

Sons of Anarchy


Now on its fourth season, Sons of Anarchy centers around an outlaw motorcycle club in Northern California. The show follows key members of the club as they deal with family, local law enforcement, rival gangs and local townspeople. It's The Sopranos meets the Hell's Angels.

While at its core Sons is an ensemble piece, the story focuses primarily on Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam). He's our protagonist. Jax is the Vice President of the club and the son of one of its founding members. At one time deeply committed to the club and his brothers-in-arms, Jax is beginning to question the direction the Sons are taking under the leadership of his step-father Clay, played by Ron Perlman. As the MC's activities become more illegal and violent in nature, Jax wonders if the club has lost sight of its original purpose. Now the father of two small children, Jax is struggling with his loyalty to the club his father built and his desire to raise his family in a safe environment away from the blood and and death that seems to follow the club wherever it goes.

When this show was originally announced, the creators had characterized it as a modern-day Hamlet. Anyone who knows me will be quick to point out that if you want to interest me in a television show or movie just compare it Hamlet. Although not a strict adaption of Shakespeare's work, the comparison is not without its merits. After Jax's father died, his mother, played brilliantly by Katey Sagal, went and married his old man's best friend. Now the new "king and queen" of the MC are starting to destroy what his father built. Couple that with suspicion that Jax's father's death may not have been an accident and you've got drama that would make Shakespeare proud.

The first two seasons were perfect, however Season 3 disappointed me a bit as I felt the show moved away from the tone that made it so successful. Two episodes in to Season 4 and I'm happy to report that all is well with the Sons once again. When it's all said and done I think this will be one of the best series FX has ever produced and will make a nice addition to any DVD collection.

The Vampire Diaries


I know what you're thinking. Vampires, really? Prior to this series airing I was done with vampires as a genre. Between Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight and True Blood, not to mention the dozens of other movies and television series on the subject, I felt that we said everything we needed to say about these creatures of the night. But somehow Vampire Diaries grabbed my attention and I've been watching it since episode one.

Based on the book series by L.J. Smith, the series, now in its third season, focuses on a love triangle between Elena Gilbert and two vampire brothers, Stefan and Damon Salvatore. It sounds simple enough, but the show has far more going on under the surface. In fact, I would argue that the love triangle quickly took a backseat to far more intriguing storylines.

The show is set in Mystic Falls, Virginia. It's a small town with a lot of history. It's one of those towns that has been populated by the same families for generations. For instance, the governing body is comprised of descendants of the town's Founding Families. Everyone knows each other, you can keep your doors unlocked, oh and it's also plagued by supernatural beings. That's probably important to mention. From vampires to werewolves to witches. Mystic Falls has it all.

As with any series, Vampire Diaries succeeds because of its cast, the vampire brothers more specifically. Stefan and Damon (played by Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder) are brothers but you wouldn't know it by the way they act. Stefan is almost ashamed that he is a vampire. He's goodhearted and amiable. He hasn't fed on human blood in hundreds of years. Damon on the other hand is viscous and blood-thirsty. He has embraced his vampire side. They are opposites, and their motivations and personalities put them at odds quite a bit. As the series progressed, Stefan made it his goal to reform Damon. To reach the "human" still inside him. Due to his brother's efforts, and his increasing attraction to Elena (Stefan's girlfriend), Damon has become something of an anti-hero. Season 3 begins with a bit of a role reversal, as we see Damon and Elena dealing with an almost feral Stefan, a turn he took at the end of season 2. This is shaping up to be one of the best storylines the show has had.

If there is one thing that Vampire Diaries does better than any show on the air it's the cliffhanger. Each episode ends with a gut punch. The next one always worse than the one that preceded it. You'd imagine this would be difficult to keep up but this show has done it consistently for two seasons. One episode ends and you find yourself anticipating the next one with fervor. If you are a fan of True Blood or Twilight you should be watching this. It is without question a superior series.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia


Sometimes you just want to laugh. It's that simple. It's nice to have a break from the overly emotional or cerebral. FX's Always Sunny goes a long way in providing that much needed laugh at the end of a long week.

Premiering in 2005, the show follows four friends who run a less than successful bar in Philadelphia. That's really all you need to know. The show lacks any real continuity, with each episode existing on its own. New viewers can just as easily begin watching with season 7 as they could with season 1. Every episode finds "The Gang" faced with a dilemma (usually a ludicrous one) and we get to sit back and see how they handle it. Spoiler Alert: It's usually handled in the most immature and vulgar way possible. With episodes titled: "Charlie Wants an Abortion," "The Gang Finds a Dead Guy," and "Charlie Goes America All Over Everybody's Ass" you probably get my point.

Is it vulgar at times? Yes. Is it low brow? Yes. Is it funny as hell? Absolutely. If you like to laugh and want to try something other than the standard half-hour network comedies, give Always Sunny a shot. You won't be disappointed.


I absolutely loved HBO's Deadwood. I consider it to be the greatest television series I ever watched. I was flabbergasted when it was cancelled and I have always hoped that it would return, either as a new series or as a movie. Every time I see one of the actors appear on another series, and they all have, I get a little sentimental. I wish that series was still on. But it's not. Thankfully Justified is.

Justified stars Timothy Olyphant as Deputy U.S. Marshall Ralan Givens. Many of you will remember Olyphant from his portrayal of Seth Bullock on Deadwood. Olyphant's Givens is a man-out-of-time. He works as a present day U.S. Marshall but he dresses, talks and acts like you plucked him out of the Dakota Territory circa 1870. He enforces an almost archaic brand of justice, often times utilizing less than legal methods to hunt and punish fugitives.

When the series begins, we find Raylan working for the Marshall Service down in Miami. After pulling the trigger on a fugitive in a controversial shooting, Givens is transferred back to his hometown in Kentucky. Raylan had a childhood he'd like to forget. The Marshall service was a way out. Coming back was never really an option for him. Being "home" puts him face-to-face with friends and enemies he wished to forget. However after a few days back in town it's obvious to everyone except Raylan that this is exactly where he belongs.

The entire cast is exceptional but the series lives and dies with Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins. You may remember Goggins from The Shield, where he played Detective Shane Vendrell. Here Goggins plays Boyd Crowder, a childhood friend of Raylan's turned bank robber. When Raylan first comes to town, Boyd is his primary headache. As the series progressed, Boyd's character transformed into something of an ally to Raylan. A relationship neither expected and Raylan isn't entirely comfortable with. Watching these two on screen together is electric and reason enough to watch this show. Thankfully it is also exceptionally written and produced. I expect this series to continue on a lot longer than Deadwood and I'll be along for the whole ride.

The Big Bang Theory

What kind of nerd would I be if this show wasn't on my list?

Premiering back in 2007, The Big Bang Theory focuses on the relationship between four geniuses and their aspiring-actress roommate from across the hall. The shows quartet of nerds (Leonard, Sheldon, Howard and Raj) meet all the requisite stereotypes: They are extremely intelligent, socially awkward, well versed in all things sci-fi and frequent their local comic shop every Wednesday. Their neighbor Penny on the other hand is the kind of woman that frightens them to the core. What she lacks in intelligence she more than makes up for with her social skills, knowledge of pop culture and intoxicating personality. They compliment each other well, having the skills that the others lack.

The show's laughs come primarily from Penny's response to the guy's out of control nerdiness and high levels of intelligence. Everyone in the cast brings something unique and humorous to the table, but the show would be nothing without Jim Parson's Dr. Sheldon Cooper. Sheldon makes the other three guys look like the poster children for normalcy and social grace. He is extremely intelligent, often times portrayed as head and shoulders about his colleagues. While never labeled as such on the show, Sheldon exhibits all the traits of someone with Asperger syndrome mixed with a little OCD. He is a slave to routine and lacks anything resembling social skills. A majority of the scenes revolve around the group attempting to deal with Sheldon's bizarre behavior.

Parsons has created a character that will go down in the annals of television history as one of the greatest characters of all time. The show is funny. There's no doubt about it. But the series is carried by Parsons's Sheldon and Kaley Cuoco's Penny. It's at its best when these two are on screen together. Their interplay, their chemistry, and their command of their characters are what drives this series. With very high ratings and a few shelves of awards to its credit, The Big Bang Theory has delivered across the board. Admittedly last season, the show's fourth, was not its best. Not by a long shot. But the series has proven capable of delivering a quality product for three solid seasons. This is a show I'm going to stick with until the end. What kind of nerd would I be if I didn't?


With a new crop of shows hitting the air this fall I'm looking forward to seeing if any make the list next time around. What are you watching?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How Top Gun Should Have Ended

If you've never checked out HISHEdotcom's YouTube Channel, you are really missing out. They produce a series of animated alternative endings to various movies, many in the superhero variety. But as a huge fan of "Top Gun," this one really made me laugh.

New Comics for Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The full shipping list can be found here. My pull list is DC-heavy again with another batch of first issues hitting the stands. What are you picking up?

Batman & Robin #1
Batwoman #1
Demon Knights #1
Frankenstein Agent of Shade #1
Green Lantern #1
Grifter #1
Suicide Squad #1
Severed #2
Daredevil #3
Criminal: Last of the Innocent #4

Monday, September 12, 2011

DC's New 52: Week 1

This past Wednesday witnessed the release of DC's first batch of new titles. As September drew closer I found myself getting more and more excited for this whole reboot to start. The more I read about all the new titles coming out the more I added new ones to my pull list. I figured it didn't hurt to give some of these books, many that centered around characters I've had no experience with, a shot. But the question was whether or not I would stick with them on a monthly basis. So for the rest of the month I'm going to do a quick review of the new books I picked up and then let you know which ones I'm going to continue picking up.

Detective Comics #1
Writer: Tony Daniel
Artist: Tony Daniel

This was the book I was most worried about going in to the reboot. Once DC announced that all of their titles were going to start over at issue one you started to see a considerable drop in quality in the existing books. It was clear that many of the books were turned over to second-tier talent and DC just wanted to ship them and wrap up any outstanding storylines before the big relaunch in September. This seemed to apply to everything except Detective Comics where Scott Snyder, Francesco Francavilla and Jock were crafting one of the best Batman runs of all time. With the book restarting, and a new creative team coming on, was the high quality going to continue?

The book wasn't terrible, but it didn't grab my attention the way Snyder's run had. Tony Daniel has been writing Batman for a while now and his plot is serviceable, as is his art. He isn't pulling any punches with this book and has decided to start things off with the Joker as the series first villain. Regardless, I wasn't all that impressed and it's likely I'm going to pass on Detective next month.

Batgirl #1
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: Adrian Syaf
With Barbara Gordon returning to the cape and cowl this title had the most question marks surrounding it. I mean, she was paralyzed from the waist down last time we saw her. Was this going to be referenced? If so, how were they going to explain the fact that not only is she walking but she's leaping off of buildings and beating the crap out of Gotham's criminal element? Writer Gail Simone does makes reference to the fact that Babs was shot by the Joker and found herself wheelchair bound for about 3 years in this rebooted timeline. How she was able to recover and get back in the game has yet to be fully revealed.

Unlike Tony Daniel in Detective, Simone is starting things off with a brand new villain, The Mirror. The story was interesting enough and the art was decent. Again though, I wasn't blown away and I feel like I should be. The whole purpose for this reboot is to attract new readers. That said, a first issue should leave you wanting more. As it stands, I'm probably not sticking with this one. If I do it's only because I love Barbara Gordon as a character and Gail Simone usually doesn't disappoint with her writing.

Action Comics #1
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Rags Morales

From what I've gathered, there are two books that are starting in the past of this updated timeline: Justice League and Action Comics With Action, Grant Morrison gives us a much younger Superman, barely in full costume. This Superman's motivations harken back to Siegel and Shuster's original depiction of a man fighting social injustice. Superman is a social activist. Plain and simple. He fights against corporate greed and corrupt politicians. This is not the Superman most of us are used to and it is a bit jarring. It's not bad. Just different. In addition to fighting society's evils, Supes is being tracked by the military with the support of a contractor, one Lex Luthor.

I didn't love this book and I didn't hate it. I think it's going to take a few issues to get used to this "new" approach to Superman. Again, the art was serviceable and I do enjoy the less is more costume. It does look like something a young kid would throw together on a whim when motivated to go out and fight evil in the community. I'm going to stick with this one just to see where it goes.

Swamp Thing
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Yanick Paquette

Scott Snyder has been on a tear lately. He's got the Midas Touch and is easily one of comics', not just DC's, rising stars. Admittedly, he is the reason I picked this book up. That and the positive pre-release buzz surrounding it. I came into this book with almost zero experience with Swamp Thing. In fact, anything I know about Swamp Thing I learned from the movie. You can tell Snyder did his homework on this book. The book focuses on Alec Holland, a scientist whose research focuses on plant life. Throughout the issue Holland's dialogue and inner monologues are full of facts related to plants and their behavior in nature. The dialogue is smooth. You start to forget it's being written by someone with no prior knowledge of botany.

The art is in this one is gorgeous. My only familiarity with Paquette's art was the little I saw in Batman Inc., and now I wish I paid more attention to it. We only get a quick glimpse of his Swamp Thing in the final panel but I love the way he draws Superman. I'm hoping he gets to draw more of him in the future. The villain in this one was, let's say, creepy as hell. I'm not sure what it is or what it wants but I'm on board to find out. I'm sticking with this one for sure. This books succeeded where the others failed. Again, I know nothing about Swamp Thing as a character but I was engrossed. The story was interesting with a nice cliffhanger and a great final panel. Great writing, great art, what else needs to be said. Pick this one up.

Animal Man
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Travel Foreman

If your only familiarity with Jeff Lemire's work comes from Essex County, this book may not be what you expect, but I can assure you that it is equally outstanding. This book surprised the hell out of me. I'm not even sure what made me pick it up to be honest. Maybe it was the cover. I love Lemire's work but Animal Man is not a character I've ever been interested in. If fact, the only experience I had with this character came from his involvement in DC's weekly series 52 a few years back.

Animal Man follows the life of Buddy Baker. He's a busy man who wears many hats: Animal rights activist; costumed superhero, actor and family man. The first issue gives you some insight on how Buddy juggles his many responsibilities and you get the impression that, unlike his contemporaries, the super heroics take a back seat to his role as husband and father. This makes Buddy a character that is very easy to relate to. Although Buddy wears a costume and fights crime this not a superhero book, it's a straight-up horror comic. I was pleasantly surprised by that fact and it will be a welcome addition to the DC Universe.

I don't recall ever seeing Travel Foreman's art in the past, and I can tell that it won't be for everybody. I rather enjoyed it and I think it fits the tone of this book. I'm happy to say I'm sticking with this book going forward. Do yourself a favor and pick it up too.


Overall I was disappointed with the books I grabbed during the first week of the "The New 52." Detective and Batgirl failed to deliver in any meaningful way. They ended up feeling like more of the same. Action was different, and in that way it was intriguing enough to pick up next month, but failed to produce any "Oh sh*t" moments that I come to expect in a first issue designed to grab new readers. But where the carry-over titles disappointed the new additions of Swamp Thing and Animal Man more than made up for it. I was pleasantly surprised when I finished my stack and realized that these were the two books I enjoyed the most. But the recipe is simple: Great writing + great art + an intriguing cliffhanger = I'll be back next month.

I'm still excited about this reboot as a whole and I'm looking forward to grabbing the next batch of books this coming Wednesday. I'll be picking up: Batman and Robin, Batwoman, Green Lantern, Grifter and the Suicide Squad.

I'll be back next week with my mini-reviews.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Review: Blankets

While attending the Baltimore Comic Con I stopped by Top Shelf's booth because I wanted to take a look at Kagan McLeod's Infinite Kung Fu. After reading about this graphic novel online I had to see it for myself. It's an independent book about kung fu, mythology and zombies all written and drawn by one guy. And did I mention that it clocks in at a hefty 464 pages?!?!But I'm not here to talk about McLeod's magnum opus. I'm here to talk about something completely different.

While flipping through the various books on their table I was approached by one Top Shelf's salesmen who asked if I had read any books from their library. I told him that I just wrapped up Jeff Lemire's Essex County and I absolutely loved it. We chatted for a few minutes and he mentioned that if I enjoyed Lemire's work I should really pick up Craig Thompson's Blankets. Blankets was one of those books I would hear about from time to time and it was always being praised. It even made Time magazine's list of the greatest graphic novels of all time. I heard and read so many good things about this book that I was hesitant to pick it up. When a book is almost universally adored I worry that it will never live up to my heightened expectations. It is difficult to sit down and read a work like that without any preconceived notions. It's like you are expecting to be blown away by every page and if you're not then you assume the book was terrible. It's not fair but often times unavoidable.

If there is one thing I can say about Top Shelf it's that they put out some wonderful hardcover treatments, and the latest offering of Blankets was no exception. Seeing this book in hardcover made me feel a little less guilty about not picking it up when it was originally released in paperback. So with the book in hand, and a little push from the salesman, I finally decided to pick it up. But the question still remained: Does Blankets live up to the expectations? In a word........Absolutely.

The book is autobiographical. I feel this is important to point out because this is what makes the book so outstanding. I don't think this work would have packed the same emotional punch for me if it had been just another work of fiction. The book focuses primarily on Thompson's early adolescence, with occasional flashbacks to his childhood. We see how he handles growing up in an evangelical Christian household, his joy and subsequent heartbreak from falling in love for the first time, and his transition into adulthood. Usually books like this don't appeal to me. They tend to fall victim to the "woe is me" trap where the author uses the book to say, "Hey, look at me and how bad my childhood was." Every page is an attempt to one-up the one prior with some gut-wrenching story of abuse or neglect. Thankfully Thompson avoids this trap, and although the book addresses some heavy issues it does so with grace. For example, there is a section of the book where Thompson alludes to the fact that when they were young, he and his younger brother Phil were sexually abused by their babysitter. Thompson addresses it, but never dwells on it. It was just another part of his life that had a profound affect on the man he grew up to be. It's never mentioned again for the rest of the book.

The majority of the book focuses on two themes: Thompson's struggle with Christianity and the pursuit of his first love, Raina. It's the latter that I found the most affecting. This should come as no surprise since at one time Thompson was credited with saying that the novel came about from his desire to describe how it feels to sleep next to someone for the first time. When Craig and Raina first meet he feels like an outcast. He's having difficulty fitting in at school and he even finds himself rejected by other "Christians" he meets at bible camp. It is here that he meets Raina. They connect instantaneously and begin a friendship, and even though they live far apart, they continue to grow close through phone calls once they leave camp. They miss each other and the comfort and acceptance that the other provides. This longing to be together causes Craig to ask his parents if he can visit Raina at her home for two weeks during the winter. This is where the book really took off for me. The pages that follow capture the wonder of first love better than any other work of art I've seen. The knowing glances, the gentle touches, the first kiss, the first night in the same bed together, it is all done masterfully. This section is a love letter. Not only to Raina, or the girl who Raina was modeled after, but to that sense of innocence. An experience that comes once in a lifetime.

Craig and Raina love each other. That can not be denied. But Raina's life is complex. She is saddled with responsibilities that no teenager should have to assume. Her parents are in the midst of a divorce. She has three siblings, two of which are adopted and mentally disabled. The third sibling is her biological sister. A woman who married young and had a baby that she ignores. With her family in shambles, Raina attempts to pick up the pieces and feels the responsibility to care for her adopted siblings and her infant niece. Craig offers her peace. When they are alone she is able to put aside the weight of her life and just live. But really it's not that simple. It's always there in the back of her mind. After the two weeks pass, Craig returns home uncertain of what their future will hold but still hopeful. Until he gets the call. Raina can't handle another person in her life. What she calls "another responsibility." Craig wants a future with her, but she knows she can't give that to him right now and breaks up with him. Craig understands and they remain best friends. But he is devastated. So much so he burns everything Raina every gave him. Everything except a blanket she made for him. That's something he can't part with. He stores it away in his parents house with some of his other possessions that he no longer cares to deal with. He then calls Raina and lets her go forever.

I'll admit I'm not entirely sure why he did that. Why Craig felt the need to sever their relationship completely. The reader is given the impression that Thompson understands how much Raina has to handle and fully comprehends why she can't handle a relationship. But he had to know that he was important to her. That she loved him even though she couldn't give herself to him completely. Maybe hearing her voice just hurt him too much. Either way, this scene, this phone call, hit me the hardest. It's a testament to Thompson's writing and illustrations that I was able to feel something for these characters I've never met.

I guess this is a good time to mention the art. For the most part Blankets is drawn in a "realistic" style. But there are moments where Thompson utilizes abstract and symbolic imagery to convey emotions and ideas that words can not properly express. This happens a lot when Thompson flashes back to his childhood and you see he and his brother playing in bed together. The room transforms to an ocean while the bed acts as their ship. Sharks circle, the wind howls, and the brothers have to float their ship to safety. It's a great way to show the inner workings of a child's mind. Or there are times where Craig looks at Raina and she's drawn as an almost god-like being with angels carrying her at each side. An example of how perfect she is to him. Thompson's storytelling ability is near perfect. He is able to tell so much of the story with the character's face alone. They are so expressive that certain pages do not even require dialogue. This is where his art really shines.

After Craig says goodbye to Raina the book provides a quick overview of what happened next. Craig moved out shortly thereafter and started a new life in the city. He returns home for his brother's wedding and again a few years later for Christmas. The book concludes with Craig returning home in his early twenties a new man. He knows who he is and he has come to terms with what his faith means to him. He has reconnected with his family and they are closer than they have ever been. He's content. So much so he's able to dig through his old belongings and pull out the quilt Raina made for him years prior. It is now comforting where it was once heartbreaking. He is at peace. 

I can't say enough good things about Blankets. If you have ever loved, felt like an outsider, or questioned your place in the world,  you should read this book. In a genre dominated by superheroes, a book like this shouldn't even exist, much less have been such a success. But thankfully it does exist and the comic book world is a better place because of it.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

New Comics for Wednesday, September 7, 2011

With the DC reboot in full swing my stack is going to take a beating for the rest of the month. I plan on trying out as many new titles as possible. Let's see how many of them stick. Here's what I'm picking up this week. Not too bad. The full shipping list can be found here.

Action Comics #1
Animal Man #1
Batgirl #1
Detective Comics #1
Punisher #3
Grimm Fairy Tales #64