FOUR IMAGES

FOUR IMAGES

Written and Drawn by Various

Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Posting one final review here in 2014. It was an interesting year for comics, and a solid chunk of the really good ones continued to flow out of the Image offices. Let’s talk about four more you should think about buying.

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I adored the simple setup of PENNY DORA AND THE WISHING BOX #1-2. A young girl, living alone with her mom, opens the front door one day to find a package on the stoop. Inside is an old box and no indication of where it came from. Later, when she inadvertently knocks the box open and a dim light emerges, along with a creepy voice that asks “What do you wish for?” Needless to say, if you make a wish upon the box, it will come true… even if you are the family cat.

Writer Michael Stock does a nice job of balancing the various aspects of the story. It’s about a lonely girl and her adolescent struggles, but there is also the underlying element of horror in the mixture. Penny comes across as a fully developed character, one we can empathize with and care about, and her dialogue is natural and easy. Stock is also helped enormously by Sina Grace’s art. This is another interesting stylistic turn from Grace. This work looks wildly different than his stuff in LDB and BURN THE ORPHANGE – he’s proving to be a wonderfully adaptable talent. Everything about PENNY is charming and entertaining, and it is fun for all ages. Recommended.

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The best way I can describe THE HUMANS #1-2 by writer Keenan Marshall Keller and artist Tom Neely is “Sons of Anarchy taking place on the Planet of the Apes.” And honestly, if that description doesn’t make you want to read the book, then nothing will. The Humans are a motorcycle gang on this simian-based world, with rival gangs, friends lost to foreign wars, you name it. All the trouble you’d expect here on Earth. Honestly, story-wise, nothing came across as a grand surprise or in revelatory fashion, but I enjoyed the book for what it is. Neely’s art looks like 70s Paul Gulacy work, the colors are glorious, and… well, it’s a motorcycle gang of apes. That was cool enough for me.

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THEY’RE NOT LIKE US #1 packs a metric ton of exposition into its pages, yet it never feels forced or heavy-handed. We open on a young woman about to jump off of a building and commit suicide, and from there writer Eric Stephenson stands on the gas, driving us straight into pure setup. Without spoiling, I’ll just say that the girl has an extranormal power, and she turns out to not be the only one. Which is good. But there are complications as she learns about her place in the new world being offered to her, and those complications could be very, very bad. Artist Simon Gane does a fantastic job of illustrating this rather complex bit of world-building, but at the end, you’re left with a deep sense of intrigue and a taste for more. A well-executed piece of work.

BitchPlanet_01-1

The anticipation for BITCH PLANET #1 has been huge ever since it was announced, and writer Kelly Sue DeConnick absolutely delivers with a story that sucks you in and entertains at maximum level. On the surface, the book would seem to be a fresh entry in the lurid “women in chains” genre, and sure – we’re playing in that milieu here. But DeConnick is also satirizing modern patriarchal culture, using the book to make a massive feminist statement with her characters and their refusal to conform to what is required of them by their incarceration (they get labeled “non-compliant” which is a fantastic statement in and of itself). Throw in elements of our worship of reality television and you get a bold vision that absolutely is not afraid to get in your face. Gorgeously drawn by Valentine De Landro, who makes the nudity unexceptional and the violence terrifying, this book is likely one that will be a contender at awards time next year. This is smart comics.







DJANGO ZORRO

DJANGO/ZORRO #1-2
Written by Quentin Tarantino & Matt Wagner
Drawn by Esteve Polls
Published by Vertigo/Dynamite Entertainment

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Unquestionably the highest profile release from Dynamite in 2014, this (on the surface) seemingly unlikely team-up turns out to be a real gem in the execution.

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As the story begins, we find ourselves at two very different junctions in the characters’ lives. Django is in his bounty-hunting prime, taking on entire gangs of gunmen at one time and putting them down with ease. But Zorro is nearing the end of his ride. His hair is gray and he is a bit more genteel than we remember him from his most heroic years. Yet both men have little taste for injustice, and when Zorro hires Django to work with him on his latest quest, it is clear that the two can co-exist within one story with total ease.

It helps that the two men writing the story are the ones best known for writing these characters as of late. Of course, Tarantino’s DJANGO film was an enormous success in theatres, introducing the character to a new generation of fans and giving him a place in the zeitgeist. On the other side, Matt Wagner has surely written the truly definitive Zorro, his multiple volumes of work over the last few years even outdistancing Isabel Allende’s fine work. And Wagner is a hall of fame level comics creator beyond that, a distinguished career with no real misses to his credit, meaning that it isn’t just the characters who are a team-up of titans.

Issue one does a terrific job of establishing who these two men are and what the nature of their characters happens to be. But it’s issue two where you realize that something incredibly special is happening in this book. For the first 21 pages, we see neither of the men. Instead, we get a richly detailed look at the background of their foe, a man named in issue one as the Archduke of Arizona. Rather than leave someone with that title as an enigma or a cipher, the comic engages in a perfect Tarantino tangent, diving into who he is, how he came to have that title, and why it is so important to him. Along the way, we glean exactly what makes him dangerous and why he is formidable enough to need both of our titular heroes to take him on. It is a staggering exercise in character building, one you don’t normally get in a comic, and truly tells you that you’re reading something next level.

Artist Esteve Polls turns in some of the finest work of his career here, knowing that an incredible number of eyes will be focused on the book. He has been a solid go-to guy for Dynamite in other Western books before, but here he finds another gear, his storytelling stronger and his use of shadow stronger than we’ve seen previously.

After issue two, I honestly have no idea where the story will take us next, but I have absolute confidence that it will be somewhere interesting and surprising. This may not have been the most obvious of team-ups, but it turns out to be a damned good one.





OMNIUM GATHERUM 78

Omnium Gatherum #78: Visiting Old Friends, Studying Old Masters, Part I

By Vince Moore

Howdy, folks, and welcome once again to the Omnium Gatherum.

As I have mentioned in my last couple of columns, I have gone back to school. To finish what I started a long, long time ago, seemingly in a galaxy far, far away. To add to my skills in terms of writing and other areas which I will discuss at a later date as they come into play. And to keep my aging brain fresh and flexible (yeah, yeah, I may not be that old but I am closer to the half century mark than I am to the quarter century one).

School is not the only place to learn, however.

One can do a lot of independent study using a library or the internets.

Or one can study the masters.

I found a way to do that and to visit with old friends in the process.

Some time back, I bought copies of the three New Teen Titans omnibuses as well as the Legion of Super-Heroes Great Darkness Saga hardcover. I pulled the first New Teen Titans and the Legion volumes out of the Omnium Gatherum Ashram library a couple weeks ago as the Fall semester began to wind down. Mostly to give my brain a break from the more serious reading I was doing. I wanted to go back and visit with these old friends, the comics of my teen years, the heroes of my youth. Along the way, I have found that not only has it been a joy to revisit the old haunts of 1980s New York, Olympus, Paradise Island, and the late 30th Century, it has been instructional and inspirational.

It is early but I am already noticing the vast differences in writing styles. Marv Wolfman and Paul Levitz are not just masters of the comics writing form, but their respective work on the New Teen Titans and the Legion would end up being considered high points for both franchises. Those comics of my youth are filled with energy and action, snappy dialogue and individual characterization. It is difficult to compare them to today’s superhero comics, where sitting around and talking, talking, talking, then throwing the odd punch or two before the fight scene continues off camera is the norm.

I am finding rereading these old comics, especially the Legion of Super-Heroes, to be fatiguing. Not that they are incomprehensible but that they are so filled with action and happenings (even the dull moments move with an energy quite different from today’s superhero comics) that each issue is taking longer to read than any of today’s comics. Longer and more satisfying. But tiring too.

I want to learn how to be that satisfying.

I need to learn how to be that satisfying.

So I am doing more than just reading these old stories. I am studying them. In the case of the Great Darkness Saga, there is an issue plot outline from Mr. Levitz that I can study directly, to see how he planned a typical issue. In the New Teen Titans volume, Mr. Wolfman’s introduction provides insight into his planning process for the team’s dynamic that is worth borrowing as it resonates with similar ideas from other sources. More than that I am working up my own reverse engineered plots and scripts, to get some idea of the process of these masters into my hands and head. To see what and how they saw. If memory serves me, Paul Levitz used a similar method to learn how to plot for comics himself based on the work of Roy Thomas. Even the masters once learned from the masters before them.

And even though Mr. Levitz says in his introduction that his Legion stories leading up to the Great Darkness Saga were never meant to be collected, I am finding each issue is adding to the larger story. That his handling of storylines across an undefined length of time may be superior the modern discrete story arc approach many superhero comics use. The characters seem to develop more. The whole comes across as being more satisfying. Again, something I want and need to learn for my own work.

My study is in the very early stages at this writing, my friends. In the weeks to come, I will share with you some of my insights.

In the meantime, I have some old friends to catch up with, old neighborhoods to visit.

Deep down inside, I have realized I have missed them and their adventures. And their spirit of adventure and heroism, of doing what is right is the best lesson for me to relearn.

**********

In my last column, I mentioned watching my own marathon of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase I to celebrate finishing my first semester. When I planned it, I had no idea how long it would take to watch all of those movies.

It took three days. Mostly because I do have a life, you know; I pay a moderate price for it. I can’t sit in front of a television all day. Well, I can but that’s neither here nor there. I am here to talk about the movies and this fits the theme of visiting old friends quite nicely.

I had mentioned how the troubling part of the marathon was placing both Hulk films in the mix. Surprisingly, the two Hulk movies fit quite nicely into the super story arc of the Avengers Assembled. Even though Marvel had the minimum to do with Ang Lee’s film and were involved more in The Incredible Hulk. Even though the sequel mentions slightly the first movie in terms of the time frame between them, there was at least some attempt at continuity between the two Hulk films.

And it isn’t like inconsistencies do not exist in the Marvel movies themselves.

In Iron Man, Tony Stark mentions to a reporter that his father worked on the Manhattan Project. That bit of dialogue works if one assumes Tony would know not to mention the Super Soldier project as that project and its one success Captain America were not public knowledge. At the end of Iron Man, when Tony meets Nick Fury the first time, Nick’s pet project is called the Avenger Initiative; I guess the ’s’ finds its way into the mix by the end of Iron Man 2. Just in time for Tony to be told he wasn’t eligible for the Avenger Initiative but Iron Man was. I still have no clue how that was supposed to work out.

And how was putting together a team, as Tony mentions to a drunk Thunderbolt Ross at the end of The Incredible Hulk, going to have anything to do with capturing the Hulk or helping out Ross’ predicament? We never did find out the answer to that. Didn’t matter, I suppose, as the Hulk did a wonderful job standing tall with the rest of the heroes in The Avengers.

And what about what looked like a prototype of Cap’s shield that Tony used to balance a linear accelerator in his garage? Which looked nothing like the one off shield Cap does receive.

Why does it matter?

It doesn’t!

All in all, I had fun watching The Avengers coming together on film.

I am more than ready to see Avengers Age of Ultron next spring!

Until next time.

Namaste, y’all!

OMNIUM GATHERUM 77

Omnium Gatherum #77: Back To School, Going On Vacation, and Other Seasonal Changes

By Vince Moore

Howdy, folks, and welcome once again to the Omnium Gatherum.

By the time this goes live on Comics Waiting Room, yours truly will have finished his first semester back at school in over 20 years. Going back to school was part of my plans when my former place of semi-employment Comics Ink and its owner Steve LeClaire was closing down and retiring, respectively. Part of my plans but not my only plan. I hope to make some announcements here in the weeks to come, more than likely after the New Year.

In the meantime (I’m an oldster in comics now; I get to use those tired old phrases without shame), I wanted to wish you folks out there in the Internets Happy Holidays!

Of course, I tell you folks I am going back to school just as I am finishing with finals and going on vacation. Never timely, that’s me!

But I will not be resting really.

Well, after my finals I do plan on a special movie marathon.

I will be doing a Marvel Phase 1 marathon in a particular sequence and with an interesting addition.

On Wednesday, when lots of folks are out buying new comics, I will be watching in this order: Captain America the First Avenger, Hulk, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and The Avengers. To me, this sequence makes the most sense.

Here’s why.

CA works as the first movie because of the way the internal story logic and history fits it into Phase 1. The First Avenger sets up the quest for the Cosmic Cube, I mean the Tesseract, teases the idea of Asgard and the Norse gods, introduces Howard Stark who is just as dashing and brilliant as his son Tony, and sets up why Bruce Banner became the Hulk. Even the after credits sequence only establishes Cap in the modern day. That serves as much better teaser for The Avengers by coming so early in the sequence.

Ang Lee’s Hulk is one of those topics that can divide a room of superhero fans quickly. Many do not like this movie. I am one of those who loved it when it came out and love it more years later. I thought and think is it a nearly perfect adaptation of its chosen subject onto film. Which is part of why so many dislike this movie. Hulk as a film predates the rest of Marvel Phase 1 by five years. Yet Hulk in many ways is true to the spirit of early Marvel comics. Lee not only found ways to adapt and use comics style paneling when making editing and storytelling choices with Hulk, he also placed some of the film in the American Southwest. This setting was where most of the Hulk comics of the 60s and 70s took place. That, along with Sam Elliot’s perfect capturing of the relentless loathing of both Banner and the Hulk that drove Thunderbolt Ross to the lengths that he went, make watching Hulk a joy. My inner and outer fanboy enjoys Hulk. And since this is my party, I get to play Hulk after Captain America the First Avenger.

Iron Man. This is where Marvel Phase 1 really begins. What more can be said about this movie. It is perfect. Entertaining, larger than life, another excellent translation of superhero comics onto film. Robert Downey Jr. chews up the landscape mightily in this film. It is here the Avengers as an idea gets introduced to both Iron Man and to audiences. Even though it is called the Avengers Initiative, it makes no difference. Once that genie was let out of the bottle, fans of Marvel Comics all over the world knew what was coming. The only real questions were how would we get there and how much fun would we have along the way.

The Incredible Hulk might have tried to answer this question if it were truly a Marvel movie. Produced by Universal Studios, just as Hulk had been, Marvel Studios was able to shape this film to match what was going on with their films. This is another slightly flawed movie that tried to move away from what Ang Lee did while trying to be a sequel. A difficult task. The Incredible Hulk is both a larger and smaller movie than Hulk was. Larger in the sense of moving from place to place, from Brazil to Latin America to college town America to New York. Smaller in terms of how the Hulk was visualized and in how this film tried to reflect ideas more familiar to audiences of the late 70s, early 80s TV series. Even use of the “Lonely Man” musical theme at one moment was meant invoke the fondness for that show audiences might have had. Just as its predecessor had, The Incredible Hulk has its problems. The movie feels rushed and perfunctory. It also feels formulaic. Iron Man had set a kind of template. One Incredible Hulk tries to fulfill. Even for its flaws, especially its boss battle out of a video game climax, The Incredible Hulk manages to entertain and add its own piece to Marvel Phase 1, moving the Avengers subplot forward.

Iron Man 2. If Iron Man had set the template, this one tried to follow it in spades. But at least it gave us more RDJ and introduced the Black Widow into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Avengers subplot seems to suffer its first complication here, adding some tension.

Thor. Not only does this fully introduce the Norse gods into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it introduced Hawkeye and sets the stage for The Avengers storywise by introducing Loki and providing the rationale for a subplot in the Avengers movie proper. Thor also introduces a sense of wonder and largeness to the Marvel Cinematic Universe that is currently coming into play with films Guardians of the Galaxy and the villain introduced at the end of…

The Avengers. The capstone. The jewel in the crown. Again, what can be said that hasn’t already? This blockbuster movie does what many said couldn’t be done: it brought together a number of separate franchise characters under one roof and told an epic story where these heroes interacted and played well with each other. Although it is fair to say that Iron Man comes across as the big hero in this story, given he has just a bit more development than the rest of the cast. This doesn’t take anything away from the movie or the rest of the cast but it is my observation based on watching the movie many, many times.

Of which, Wednesday will be one more viewing.

I may even sneak in Iron Man 3. Who knows?

I will say this much more about including Hulk in my marathon. What is fascinating to me is how the origin of the Hulk as a character is slightly changed with each cinematic appearance. Not just his look (again, I love Ang Lee’s ginormous Hulk the best), but how the story moves from creating nanotech to heal soldiers in the battlefield to making humans immune to gamma radiation (and working in the radiation chair from the TV series) to trying to recreate Cap’s Super Soldier Serum directly. Differences that somehow still resonate together.

So this is what I will doing on the first day on my school holiday break. As to what I will be doing on the second, the sky is the limit.

Until next time.

Namaste, y’all!

CHEW 45

CHEW #45

Written by John Layman and Illustrated by Rob Guillory

Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

The shocking conclusion to CHEW’s latest story arc hit the shelves this week, and readers are bound to be…saddened. And confused. Perhaps a little pissed as well. The ‘Chicken Tenders’ story arc has been by far the goriest, most tragic and tear/anger inducing collection of issues, and now that Layman and company have gone there one shudders to think where they’re going next.

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The book opens with a different type of pain than we were left with last issue: a heartbreaking, emotional kind of pain. Paneer, the grieving former fiancée to Antoinelle Chu, is doing his darndest to honor her last wishes and befriend the Chu brothers. His olive branches, however, are repeatedly rebuffed. Rudely. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on the angle, he finds a way to help the entire Chu family.

Last we saw of the ragtag group of FDA agents, they were having their asses (and arms, and innards) handed to them by the Collector. Readers were left hanging over how the bloody confrontation ended, and in this issue we see it was Paneer and NASA to the rescue. Jet packs! Laser guns! Death from above! Paneer was quite the hero of the day, and though the Collector escaped NASA ensured all of the survivors made it to the hospital, where their lives continue to hang in the balance.

Speaking of, the cat’s out of the bag now, and Tony is not handling Colby’s partnership with Savoy very well. Between his longtime partner and friend working with his sworn enemy behind his back, and his daughter on the operating table missing half her face, well, Chu has had it, and so, apparently, has Colby. The last page of this issue is so completely WTF I can scarcely wrap my traumatized lobes around it.

There were plenty of awesome background nuggets once more, as if Layman and Guillory were apologizing for this issue the only way they know how. I get there’s a larger picture going on here, and I’m riding this wacky train all the way to the end, but quite frankly I’m a little scared. The storytelling and the art on CHEW have been consistently bang on, therefore I will continue to trust in this creative team to see us through, no matter how many more WTF bumps in the road there are sure to be.