Written by Warren Ellis and Drawn by Jason Howard

Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

We have seen stories where aliens arrive and immediately attack (INDEPENDENCE DAY, etc.). We have seen stories where aliens arrive, pretend to be our friends, and then attack (V, etc.). We have seen stories of aliens arriving and becoming part of our society (ALIEN NATION, etc.). All are classic science fiction tropes, and in the hands of the right creative team, lots of fun.


Warren Ellis is not interested in those tropes. Not here. Instead, he is interested in Big Questions, and if Big Questions lead to New Ideas, so much the better. The Big Question in TREES is simply this:

What if aliens arrived and we appeared so primitive to their eyes that they did not recognize humanity as intelligent life? What then happens to human society in the face of a grand mystery that could lead to our extinction?

TREES, which is beautifully drawn by Jason Howard, turns its eye to various parts of the world. All over, the “Trees” stand silent, arcing high above every bit of human civilization. Are they ships? Are they sentient? They emit no sound, but occasionally do exude some waste product. In Brazil, they add to the already crippling poverty. In Manhattan, their presence affects local politics. In China, it changes the nature of cities. And above the Arctic Circle? Well that’s a mystery to be solved another day.

Everything here works; fascinating concept, thoughtful situations, intriguing cast of characters, gorgeous pages. I was completely entertained by TREES, and even though it delivered a nice, full meal, I was ready for more pretty much immediately. This is what I look for in science fiction: something that captures my thoughts and makes me think about what is really happening. My highest recommendation.


X-Men: Days of Future Past

Directed by Brian Singer

Reviewed by Avril Brown

Pardon me for a moment:

OHMYLORD X-Men Days of Future Past ILOVEYOU Brian Singer you fucking ROCK so many awesome mutants BLINK IS BADASS brilliant so well done great action geek girl squeal QUICKSILVER OWNS IT ‘My mom knew a guy who could do that’ hilarious love it Peter Dinklage! Mach I sentinels time travel Mystique being sneaky bone claws HUGH JACKMAN’S ASS thank you jeebus and EN FREAKING SABAH NUR!!!

Now please allow me to more coherently explain my feelings about ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past.’ To sum up: this is a wonderful X-Men comic book movie. It is fabulously fun, chock filled with mutant action and a joy to experience both for comic and movie fans. As the former, I was thrilled with the nuggets thrown in for those of us who are familiar with the printed version of the Marvel Universe. One of the people who was in my viewing party is X-Men ignorant, and while she confessed to being slightly confused as to how the events of this movie tie into the rest of the franchise, she was also thoroughly entertained.

The future is a bleak and barren hell. Mutant hunting robots called Sentinels have all but eliminated not only the mutant race, but all humans with any hint of the X gene in their DNA. The Sentinels have the ability to adapt to any mutant power, making them all but unbeatable. The only way the few ragtag survivors of the X-Men have been able to stay alive is because of Kitty Pryde, a mutant with the ability to phase through solid objects, and now through time. She has figured out how to phase one person’s consciousness back in time a few days, giving that individual plenty of time to scout out incoming Sentinels and warn the rest of the team to clear out before they arrive. Professor X and Magneto have realized the only way to end this war is to prevent it from ever starting, so utilizing Kitty’s power with the Wolverine’s, the only man with a brain capable of surviving a decades long trip through time, the X-Men set about saving the world.

Wolverine certainly has his work cut out for him back in the seventies. Xavier is an emotionally broken man who has given up not only teaching and leading, but also his impressive mutant ability to read and control minds. Erik Lehnsherr is still an angry, powerful, metal-wielding mutant focused solely on the survival and dominance of the mutant species…only his goals are harder to achieve when locked up in the most secure prison on the planet. Somehow Logan has to get the band back together in time to stop Mystique from murdering Bolivar Trask, the man behind the Sentinel program, and to keep her shape-shifting DNA from being utilized in helping create the invincible Sentinels of the future.

One of the most excellent aspects of catching a comic book movie as soon as it debuts in theaters is you are surrounded by hardcore comic book fans. There were X-Men t-shirts left and right, and I myself was sporting my Mystique bracelet, made from Age of Apocalypse X-Calibre comics. Seats filled up quickly as the hour drew nigh, and you could feel the buzz of excitement as the Twentieth Century Fox logo faded on the big screen, with the X on Fox being the last to go. The film hit the ground running in terms of action with amazing special effects, particularly Blink’s, who has localized teleporting abilities. When Wolverine wakes up back in the past, one of the first things we fans get to see is his glorious backside in all its natural glory. Thank you, jeebus.

Peter Maximoff aka Quicksilver received a round of applause from the viewers after his break out scene, which was completely deserved. Those of us in the know were tickled pink when he’s chatting with Magneto and says, “So you can control metal, huh? My mom knew a guy who could do that.” (Not-so-spoiler: Magneto is Quicksilver’s father) There is a deserved expectation of an extra nugget of film after the credits, so there were plenty of groans when those of us (essentially the entire theater) waited until the bitter end and saw nothing…at first. What initially appeared to be a fade to white turned out to be sand. Rolling hills of sand in ancient Egypt with thousands of people chanting ‘En Sabah Nur’ at a cloaked, pale figure standing on high with four mysterious figures on horses in the background. Translation: Apocalypse, the First Mutant, and one of the X-Men’s deadliest foes. I was unabashedly one of those people who punched her fists in the air and yelled, “YES!”

Though admittedly the movie felt a bit slow at times, there is not one moment I would consider expendable. There were plenty of fight scenes and displays of mutant powers, but it is also a slightly complicated plot which needs periodic explanations, particularly since it is essentially one story told in two different time periods with the same/different people. ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ delivered on every conceivable level, and my viewing experience was everything I hoped it would be: huge grin inducing, goosebump raising, pure geeky goodness kind of fun, shared with old friends and new. Thank you Brian Singer, Fox (though I never thought I’d say that) and Marvel, for getting this franchise back on track. To me, my X-Men!


X-Men: No More Humans

Written by Mike Carey and Illustrated by Salvador Larroca

Published by Marvel Comics

By Avril Brown

In Marvel Comics first original graphic novel since ‘God Loves, Man Kills,’ veteran X-Men writer Mike Carey tells what should have been a rather intriguing ‘shoe on the other foot’ type of superhero story, but instead delivers an unfortunately crappy collision of new villains and old plots.


The mutant world has been in turmoil ever since the game-changing ‘House of M’ story arc back in 2005 where unstable mutant-witch Wanda Maximoff declared ‘No more mutants.’ Only recently have the X-gene carrying club begun to bounce back from that devastation, and the wounds are still raw. Hence the potentially fascinating and layered story idea of all the world’s humans suddenly and inexplicably disappearing without a trace. Alas, the story itself is a jumbled mess that feels lacking almost immediately from the first pages.

The introduction is somewhat jazzy, with a great bit of sneaking around in a secret compound by whom is revealed to be Raze, the child of Wolverine and Mystique from the future, recently introduced in the ‘All New X-Men.’ (When his origin was revealed, Logan uttered, “I’m never having sex again.” One of the best lines of the series) Opinions on his outfit notwithstanding (Mystique’s skull belt AND her white loincloth AND white pants? The ‘80s on crack called, they want their costume back), Raze does have a cool power set, not to mention a huge chip on his shoulder, making him a deadly foe. Decent enough intro, but it goes downhill from here.

The students and teachers at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning are going about their business as usual when a 747 is about to crash into their front lawn. There’s a wee dramatic moment when they find the plane is completely devoid of people, and that moment is only slightly extended when several X-Men gather around Cerebro and discover there’s “no interference” aka no humans left on planet Earth. There’s barely a panel for Iceman to scoff before they’re off to (where else?) New York City, and one glance at Times Square is enough confirmation that every human is gone. Cyclops and his team conveniently show up at this exact spot to declare they’ve been to a dozen cities across the planet and yes, the humans are gone. Naturally Cyclops and Wolverine almost fight, ‘cause that’s their jam, but thankfully Magneto and his kids show up (also at this exact spot) and break it up. They reconvene at the Jean Grey school to have a nice chat. Everyone is handling this very well.

There is not nearly enough climactic build up for such a momentous event, and therefore the whole premise is left feeling like nothing but a vehicle for showcasing a mess of mutants, each with their own goals and attitudes, banding together to solve the mystery of what happened to all the humans and why mutants from parallel Earths are suddenly showing up on the Jean Grey school doorstep. There is plenty of grandstanding, a show down or two, some zombie action (which was pretty dark and twisty; added a bit of flavor) and, of course, fights. Though the mechanics of how Raze Houdinied all of the humans at once are never fully explained, it is a non-issue in the end; the Phoenix Force shows up and fixes everything. Ta-da!

As with the third X-Men movie, the core concept was solid and rife with potential, but the end product was a disappointing patchwork of ideas we have seen before one too many times. The Phoenix Force? Seriously? Give it a rest already, at least for more than a few years. Also, if one more writer has Wolverine and Beast giving Cyclops a hard time, something is going to snap. Yes, Cyclops killed Xavier while he was bonded with the Phoenix Force and is in total denial about it, but Wolverine has a body count that could reach to the moon, and the Beast just plucked the original five X-Men out of their timeline and into his, a move which even the Watcher considered abhorrent.

Artist Salvador Larroca knocked it out of the park, and it is once again tragic that his beautiful renditions of these amazing characters are going to waste on a mediocre story. As played out as the Phoenix is, Larroca did a fantastic job of conveying it in all its fiery glory, and the dead man talking was also creepily portrayed. Also there were some epic fight scenes and two-page panels with heroes and villains posing fiercely across from one another (a classic shot). Here’s hoping Larroca, X-Men’s longest running active artist, will once again be paired with a plot worthy of his pencils.

Mike Carey had an amazing run on ‘X-Men: Legacy’ which had some truly unique and gripping tales for Marvel’s extraordinary mutants to experience, but ‘No More Humans’ fell flat. Fingers crossed Marvel’s next original graphic novel has more originality to match the outstanding artwork.


Rogue Element #118: Damn it feels good to be a biker.

By Avril Brown

I’d almost forgotten how amazing it feels to ride a bike. Due to this freakishly long and uncomfortable winter, it has been many moons since I’ve plopped my ass down on a bike seat and propelled myself from point A to point B using only the power of my body and simple engineering. Truth be told, I could’ve ridden in the recent forty to fifty degree weather we’ve been having the last few weeks, but quite frankly I’ve gotten a bit lazy…and addicted to playing Candy Crush and reading comics on my morning CTA commute.

Now the well of excuses has run dry and I am back in the game, feeling the wind in my face and the aching bruise on my pelvic box as I break it back in. I can take the lakefront and revel in the beauty of my city, the sunlight sparkling off the waters of Lake Michigan, or if I’m in a hurry I can take the city streets, constantly alert for the multitude of dangers lurking on every square inch of asphalt. Brushing sweaty elbows with death for a solid twenty minutes is more jarring than a gallon of espresso.

Unfortunately, I am not exaggerating. Just stepping out of your door there are a dozen different ways to die before you get to work, but if you jump on a bike and brave the streets, you best multiply that number by ten. There are the CTA bus drivers whom are either extremely conscientious of the bike lane they must constantly cross in order to do their jobs, or they are blatantly attempting to outrun bikers just to cut them off at a bus stop. Regular drivers are also a factor, particularly those with a huge chip on their shoulder when it comes to bikers. Either they are not paying attention or they have piss-poor peripheral vision. Let’s not forget the reckless bikers who give good bikers a bad name. I’ll admit, I’ve ran a red light/stop sign here and there, but only when I’ve slowed and double checked there is no oncoming traffic. I have seen dumbasses just roll through the Belmont/Clark intersection like they have a right to be there, despite the obvious red light.

Then there is dooring. For those not hip to the lingo, dooring is when someone in a parked car neglects to check their mirrors and opens their door into a biker. Spoiler alert: this is very dangerous. Best case scenario: biker misses door, has a mini heart attack and gets really pissed off. Worst case: biker dies. I had my first dooring last spring and thankfully emerged relatively unscathed. I had enough time to register the fact there was now a door in my rapid bike path and managed to turn my bike just enough to catch it on my right side rather than ride headlong into the steel door. All told I had a bruised knuckle on my right hand, one hell of a bloomer on my right arm and an even prettier one on my left hip where I’m pretty sure I bruised the bone, most of the skin flayed off my left elbow, a swollen left knee and a pattern of bruises up and down my right leg. I was pretty damn lucky. My luck extended to being doored by an actually decent human being, one who was not only apologetic, but also offered to drive me to the ER if need be and pay for the damages to my ride.

There are people every day who are seriously injured and/or receive no such courteous attention, but they soldier on. Bloodied, battered and bruised, but still alive…and a little bit badass. Let’s face it: people love a scrappy survivor. The one who emerges from the battleground suffering from gaping wounds, yet still rallies and takes down the bad guy. A true ‘good vs. evil’ story isn’t the same if the hero remains completely unscathed; the whole point is that war is hard, painful and scary, but one can persevere, and win.

In the ‘Codex Alera’ series by ‘Dresden Files’ author Jim Butcher, a small battalion of soldiers find themselves facing off against a horde of Canim, rather large, vicious and battle-hardened wolf-like beasts. Though the Alerans themselves are no pushovers with their elemental powers and training, the Canim warriors have strength, experience and numbers, making this a dire situation for the Alerans. However, their captain Tavi has a few tricks up his sleeve, one of which being he knows the Canim culture and how to exploit the weakness amongst the ranks. He rides out to face their leader, makes him look like an ass, gets attacked but gives a lot back which includes smacking Sarl, the religious leader, on the muzzle with his standard before escaping. When his advisor offers to at least replace the pole, Tavi refuses, saying Sarl’s blood is on the original, which will do. “Bloodied, dirty and unbroken,” Magnus says. “Just like us,” Tavi agreed. I’ve read it a million times and that scene still makes me cheer.

I know I’ve talked about this scene in ‘Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’ several times before, and that is because it is awesome. In the final climatic battle sequence Frodo has decided to leave the Fellowship due to the corrupting power of the one Ring, and Aragorn tries to buy him some time by taking on the entire oncoming army of Orcs. If that wasn’t hot enough, we’ve got Boromir trying to regain his honor by charging forth and protecting the remaining Hobbits. Alas, he is pierced by big ass arrows from the Uruk-hai leader, not once, not twice, but three times. He kept fighting after the first two, a surge of strength and anger bursting forth to fell his enemies. Thankfully Aragorn arrives before the Uruk-hai can plant a final arrow into Boromir’s skull, and the Ranger from the North, the Leader of Men, shows the overly muscled, growly hybrid that it takes more than strength to fell a worthy foe. Aragorn takes some hard knocks from the beast, but he easily bested him in combat, lobbing off the Uruk-hai’s head directly after he tried to be all ‘I’m so impervious to pain I’m just gonna pull this sword even further into my belly.’ Aragorn showed him.

‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ is oozing with great smack down scenes; Buffy almost always gets a least a little bloodied during her encounters with the undead and various other demons. Occasionally, she dies, but even that’s not enough to keep this Slayer down. In Season Seven she faces off against an ancient, primal vampire who promptly wipes the floor with her, leaving our heroine in a world of hurt. She knows she’s losing the faith and trust of the young Slayer wannabes that are currently squatting in her home, so she deliberately baits this Uber-vamp and takes him out in front of the entire class. Oh she gets beat up quite thoroughly, but in the end it’s Buffy with a garrote for the beheading win. “Here endeth the lesson,” she tells the gobsmacked gals and walks away, with blood on her face and dust on her hands. You go, girl.

While I was lying there dazed and confused in the middle of Franklin Street, there were many things that crossed my mind. Am I alive? Is anything broken? Is my bike ok? Did I break my helmet? Never ONCE did it occur to me to quit biking. Yeah, I was scared. I was hurt, I knew I came within inches of being dangerously injured, but it never occurred to me to give up biking. I thought I might have to CTA my commute for a bit to heal and get my ride in order, but I knew I was getting back on the bike. Riding on the streets was a bit more nerve-wracking after that, but I took that lesson and learned from it. I take the lakefront as often as possible. I seek out routes that have buffered bikes lanes. I’m constantly on the alert, scanning drivers seats for any sign someone is not as aware of me as I am of them. When I first started driving my mother told me: “Drive defensively. Always assume the other person is not paying as much attention as you.” Sound advice, plus some for biking.

It is not the scars you receive that matter (though chicks dig scars), it is how you bounce back from them. Never let a bad experience spoil you from eating the entire barrel of apples. Sometimes you just have to pick yourself up, brush that shoulder off and show the world that you are, in fact, unbreakable.


Rogue Element #117: C2E2 2014: The Panels

By Avril Brown

As always, the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo was host to three days’ worth of a variety of panels. I cherish my time on the con floor so intensely it takes a lot to get me away from the hustle n bustle, but C2E2 has a lot to offer. The following caught my eye and I was drawn in, like a comic nerd on free comic book day.

Fierce Females in Comics
Comic writer and vastly entertaining personality Jimmy Palmiotti moderated this panel spotlighting some of the biggest female names in comics, focusing on their work and what it means to be a woman in the comic book industry. Here is some great news: nothing! That is to say, all the women on this panel, which included Jill Thompson (‘Scary Godmother’ and ‘Beasts of Burden’), Amanda Conner (‘Archie’ and various DC and Marvel titles), Jenny Frisson (coveted cover artist) and more, agreed that it is their work that gets scrutinized, and not their gender. “It’s come down to the talent, and that’s the way it should be.” Amen, miladies. The questions for this vast pool of talent then shifted to the next natural inquiry: how the artists feel about characters like Power Girl, who has a rack so ginormous it’s a wonder she can stand up straight. As Conner put it: “Power Girl has big boobs. Acknowledge it, move on and tell a story.” While Frisson noted she wouldn’t draw any character, male or female, in overly provocative poses, such as with their legs completely spread, the ladies also agreed that this is comics, and some comprise is expected, for both genders. Most men are not as tightly ripped as Hawkeye or Batman, with a broad, muscled chest tapering off into a perfect six pack, just as most women are not as stacked as Power Girl while still sporting a teeny waist. It’s comics, man, and it’s (mostly) supposed to be fun. Conner shared a great story of attempting to draw Vampirella on the toilet with her costume half-off the only way the artist pictured it coming off: awkwardly. She also gave her the interesting tan line such a bizarre strap of fabric would produce. Each woman had her own personal artist influences, most you wouldn’t have guessed (several mentioned Mooka art and Norman Rockwell paintings, and someone mentioned old Disney animation; Thompson sees art in garbage and utilizes the textures she witnesses in her Photoshop projects). All of these women clearly enjoyed sharing their experiences and inspirations, not solely as women in comics, but as people in comics, and that is inspiring indeed.

Knight for a Day: Chicago Swordplay Guild
Returning for their second year of demos, the Chicago Swordplay Guild had twice as much time to offer their intrigued audience. With two hours to showcase their knowledge and talents, senior Guild members and students took to the floor to show C2E2 how people really used to swing a sword back in the fourteenth century. Roughly two hundred souls showed up to witness the Guild in action, and there plenty of it to behold. A basic drill kicked it off, followed with some mild, minimal contact bouts. Then the gloves came off (actually they stayed on; safety reasons and all that). Senior Guild instructor and author of several books on Western martial arts Greg Mele narrated the entire demo, educating the audience on various techniques and the culture during that time period. He also knows how to work a crowd and got them all fired up for the first full contact longsword fight. The room was divided down the middle and instructed to cheer on their champion, and cheer we did. While Team Adam raised their voices in encouragement, Team Jesse ended up with the most hits (a moot point, Mele acknowledged, since Adam landed the first blow and therefore would’ve won the fight had they been battling for real), and the most enthusiastic supporters. There was a kid on Team Jesse’s side who took his duties very seriously, screaming Jesse’s name whilst telling his swordfighter to “Finish him!” Ah, youth. Several more fights followed pitting a variety of weapons against one another, including the sword and buckler and spear. Names were gathered for the raffle prize: a real sharp, shiny sword, and people were encouraged to examine the armor and weapons and stick around to participate in an introductory class. I was not there to witness the occurrence, but word has it that sparks literally flew in the Sunday demo, adding a nice bit of fiery flare to an already fascinating exposition of swords, fighting and medieval history.

Stan ‘The Man’ Lee!
Stan Lee was at my comic con. STAN LEE. The man partially responsible for some of the biggest and best characters in comics. The man who helped revolutionize the comics industry and bring more powerful stories and relatable heroes to the world of animated fiction. The man who has been around for seventy years of comics and cameos. They don’t call him ‘The Man’ for nothing, folks; this nonagenarian has got it going on, and he knows it, in a darling, fake-arrogant way. I’ve never heard anyone make so many references to how awesome they are in such a short period of time, yet still come off as everyone’s favorite goofy great uncle. He’s cheekily full on himself and still so transparently humble. He’s high on life but remarkably grounded. He’s old as dirt and not afraid to call himself on it, but his sense of humor and appreciation for his fans remain rock solid. He’s Stan Lee, and he’s one of kind.

Moderator Elliott Serrano (whom I work with and feel like stabbing more often than usual now) kicked off the panel by informing Mr. Lee that he was more nervous meeting him than he would the pope, making Stan his ‘personal pope.’ “Well I admire your taste,” he replied. Adorable. Stan only needed the slightest of nudges to get him started on a story, of which he has oodles. From turning down a lordship in England ‘cause he had comics to do, to helping change the name of Atlas Comics to Marvel (and ripping on DC’s boring-ass name to boot), Stan is a relative treasure trove of lovable one-liners.

“Everything I say is interesting…to me.”
“If I was a fan, I’d sure as hell want to be a fan of me.”
“I’m sorry I’m not in the audience enjoying this; it looks like so much fun.”

He went onto to (kinda) reveal his cameo in the upcoming ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ movie, which was previously denied by Disney and which almost got Stan lynched by his own agent who kept storming up to the stage every time Stan almost blabbed too much. I doubt he had much to worry about considering this is what he had to say about his appearance: “I did it, but I don’t know what it is or what I’m doing. When you see it, write me a note and explain it to me.” He also talked us through straight up comic lore when he explained the origin of Spider-Man. Thank Galactus for comic readers having better taste than comic publishers, I tell ya.

Everyone in the audience hung on his every joke. Every person was jealous of that kid who got Stan to provide a sound bite for his school PowerPoint presentation. Every Stan Lee superfan chuckled with love in their hearts when he made such a big deal over how amazing the microphones were ‘cause he could hear the latest question, and then promptly forgot the question. Every single individual left that room more in love with Stan Lee than they ever thought possible. Though the techies cut off the microphone as soon as we all gave him a farewell standing ovation, we all heard it when Marvel’s original genius looked out onto the crowd and said, “Excelsior!”

I cannot imagine a better way to wrap up a most excellent nerdy weekend. Thank you C2E2, for Stan, for swords, for proof that talent and passion is stronger than discrimination. Thank you for being there for us all.


CHEW #41
Written by John Layman and Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

The first piece in the latest story arc in CHEW, entitled ‘Chicken Tenders,’ is living up to its title with a rather adorable beginning. While CHEW always evokes a multitude of emotions, this is the first issue since Toni’s death that has been just universally cheery.

Toni’s appearance in the last issue was, as always since her murder at the hands of the Collector, simultaneously bittersweet, bizarre and only vaguely informative. We know Olive Chu is pretty psyched at what her aunt revealed about her own future, but Tony’s dearly departed twin encouraged him to try and be happy for once, and that’s what he’s trying to do…in Vegas, with his cute as a button and wicked smart girlfriend. See where this is going?

Naturally, a case has to pop up before the champagne has lost its fizz, and given Tony’s celebrity status after his accidental (and totally stoned) bust last issue the head of the FDA wants our favorite cibopath on the job. Thankfully Chu is awesome and swiftly bags the baddie, both to his boss’s delight and his personal satisfaction, given the Collector was behind this crime and would’ve come away with a powerful new arsenal. As it turns out, love is in the STD-ridden air (as a multitude of signs littered around Vegas keep reminding us) and the Chus are not the only ones who found themselves celebrating on a vibrating bed.

Layman and Guillory keep reaching new heights of hilarity and pop culture-gasms. Readers are treated to another two page spread of Poyo and his latest larger-than-shrooms-laced-life adversary, and the feels for Vegas, not to mention our star couple(s) are simply everywhere. Every page will have you grinning for one reason or another, and though you cannot help but fear the other shoe will drop at any moment, Tony’s happy right now, and that’ll keep us readers happy for at least four weeks.