Graphic Novel Review – Secret Wars

Collecting: Secret Wars # 1-12

Original Release Date: 1984-1985

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Character(s): The Avengers, X-Men, Spider-Man, Galactus, Dr. Doom

Writer: Jim Shooter (The AvengersHarbingerSecret Wars II)

Art: Mike Zeck (The PunisherMaster of Kung-Fu) and Bob Layton (Iron ManThe Amazing Spider-Man)

SCORECARD (each category ranked on a 10-point scale):

Storyline – 6
Art – 6
Captivity and Length – 6
Identity – 8
Use of Medium – 8
Depth – 7
Fluidity – 7
Intrigue/Originality – 9
The Little Things – 6
Overall awesomeness – 7

hush_rating_70

secret wars 1

Going into both the classic and current Secret Wars series, I had no idea what to expect other than the normal rather cheesy and campy Marvel crossover we see so often these days; special events in comics have become when a comic from the big two can go five issues without a tie-in to a major event going on at the time. Crossovers although mean well, usually never come out the way anyone wanted them too, and even though Secret Wars has been remembered as one of the top Marvel Events in history, it did happen all because Marvel wanted to sell a new action figure line from Mattel featuring all their heroes. This was so obvious that there are variant covers to current Secret Wars titles, featuring what the original action figure boxes looked like with characters not included within the original story line i.e. Deadpool and Star-Lord.

secret wars 2

The actual graphic novel is a collection of issues 1-12 – the original run of Secret Wars. And let me tell you, it is quite the beast of a book to get through. With the age of these books, we can assume the style and writing is very different to current books and, man, can I attest to that.

The writing from Jim Shooter here is great, and we are given a very original and well thought out idea. But it also suffers from being very wordy at times and often sounds a little like a kid wrote a two-page paper and found out it needed to be three pages, so he quickly threw in filler comments and words to make it longer but not any better. I think most of the writing problem came up because this sort of thing had not been done at all. Mixing two teams together, The Avengers and The X-Men,  seems like an incredibly easy task when you figure this current Secret Wars encompasses all of Marvel as well as a second universe with the same heroes.

I feel for the time this book was released, Jim Shooter was likely doing really well by Marvel and Mattel, and the writing had not been nearly as wordy back then, so as far as writing goes, time was not too kind on it, but the overall idea and plot definitely shine through to make this a special event.

secret wars 3

As far as the actual story, it jumps around a lot at what is exactly going on; basically, you have the Avengers and the X-Men, who are allies but very separate teams all against a main foe. During the 12 issues, it jumps from an actual group of villains to Doctor Doom to the Beyonder, back to Doctor Doom, with random sampling of Magneto and Galactus thrown in there. They never last long and then usually the fight ends up being stupid and they stop. All and all, though, it is about everyone fighting each other while also trying to figure out how in the name of Uatu they will get off this planet. The story melds well, and overall flows much better than the current run of Secret Wars, but this original reminds me a little too much of the stupid stories I would make while playing with all my toys on my desk as a child, just with much larger words. That’s not to say the story isn’t enjoyable; it did bring us some pretty iconic images and changes to the Marvel universe including a new Spider-Woman, the debut of Spider-Man’s black suit and a major change in the Fantastic Four.

Secret wars 4

Secret Wars didn’t just bring us a 12 issue epic and toys that inspired the whole thing, but it gave us the black suit Spider-Man, which brought us a major change and one of the if not the most popular arc in Spider-Man with him dealing with the symbiote and it eventually becoming Venom. Initially, it seemed like a cheap ploy, especially when we are introduced to the black-suited Spider-Woman not that far ahead of this costume change – Spider-Man even jokes about it on the novel. But with the new additions to spidey alone, we knew somethings would have to change and with that within the last few pages, we learn that Ben Grimm is going to stay in Battleworld, as it has given him the power to change back and forth from The Thing by choice. Consequentially, Ben recruits She-Hulk to replace him in the Fantastic Four for awhile and this was a change a bit hard for me to take as a massive Thing fan. It is fortunate I also happen to be a huge She-Hulk fan, so it works out.

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The art of this series is really what sold it for me, and if you read the updated digital versions for the TPB and hardcover collections of this, they look fantastic. Mike Zeck and Bob Layton did a fantastic job of making sure the series stay fluid as far as art went and although overlapping in which they work with Mike taking issues #1-3 & #6-12 and Bob only doing issues #4 & #5. But the switch is seamless which, although it takes drawing a character in their style away from them, for major events like this, it was nice to have the art not drastically change each issue. With this series, we get a one of the last good looks at how Marvel was before the major shift in the 90’s which brought about a ton of new costumes, teams, characters and changes to the ones we love. Much like Secret Wars seems a good place as any to travel to for a major relaunch involving everything popular from Marvel since the original Secret Wars, So far, I would say the original was planned out better and more fluid despite also never really finding it’s place. Ultimately, Secret Wars Vol. 1 is an enjoyable read and can give you small hints of what is happening or why in the current Secret Wars, but, like so many other Marvel events, it falls flat and lacks any real substance; any danger is easily brushed off and forgotten which made for way to many conflicts with not much results. Secret Wars is a great piece of historical literature, but Marvel has offered many more and much better stories through the years that should get as much recognition as this.

All media credited to Marvel Comics

Graphic Novel Review – Old Man Logan

Original Release Date: 2008-2009
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Characters: Wolverine, Hawkeye, Hulk, Red Skull
Writer: Mark Millar (Kick-Ass, Civil War, Ultimate Fantastic Four, Marvel Knights: Spider-Man)
Art: Steve McNiven (Death of Wolverine, Civil War, Meridan)

Scorecard (Each category ranked on a 10-point scale)

Storyline – 9
Art – 9
Captivity and Length – 8
Identity – 8
Use of Medium – 9
Depth – 8
Fluidity – 9
Intrigue/Originality – 10
The Little Things – 9
Overall Awesomeness – 9

1

With the multitude of Marvel and DC events that happen each year, I have found it is actually quite rare that a story comes along like Old Man Logan that completely encompasses nearly everything I love about superhero comics. This series was just one short story among the long-running Wolverine Volume 3 comics, but it was by far the most iconic arc of its run – so much so, it got a second volume for the recent Secret Wars event. Both volumes have very iconic writers helming the stories, with the original volume being written by Mark Millar of Kick-Ass fame. This story follows an old Wolverine who seemingly has not SNIKT’ed his claws in over 50 years, and now lives on a farm with a wife and kids. Lucky for us, the story does not follow a domesticated Logan. Despite Wolverine vowing to not fight for most of the novel, the action within is intense; it’s one of the more violent Marvel stories in recent years. It also happens to be one of my favorite graphic novels of all time – and definitely my favorite Wolverine story ever.

2

Mark Millar’s story for Old Man Logan is a very heavy undertaking; it’s dark, violent, and extremely original with an outstanding identity that shines above a lot of Wolverine’s past, present, future – even his death, which we saw not long ago, was illustrated by the same artist as this series, Steve McNiven. This may have been why I enjoyed Death of Wolverine much more than most readers. For most of the book, McNiven’s art is easy on the eye and has such intense detail, it feels more like a film than a comic. So with the story and the art both being outstanding, the only thing to dislike about this series is how horrible the villains are in it, and there are a lot.

3

This series sees Logan and Hawkeye traversing the United States with a mystery package and along the way they encounter almost every villain who has gained control of the United States. This is all thanks to one night where every villain teamed up and wiped out almost every hero, leaving the world hopeless and free for the taking, leading to villains killing villains for control. It’s not a future anyone wants to be in, let alone Logan, who has let his Wolverine lay dead in the past. Along this journey, we see Logan continually struggle with whether fighting is good or not, ultimately leading him to the realization of who he is and, despite being the best at something not very nice, it is needed and the world is a much better place with Wolverine around.

4

When you learn exactly why Logan has not SNIKT’ed his claws in over fifty years, your hearts drops and gives you a very empty feeling inside. There’s a certain two-page spread that’s enough to make any Wolverine or X-Men fan have nightmares for years. This bombshell was one that instantly made you realize what was making Logan hesitate to pop those claws again, and why Logan seemingly killed off his Wolverine persona.

5

When you learn this, you almost don’t want to see Logan be the Wolverine again and hope they can avoid conflict at all costs, but along the way, you learn that Hawkeye’s daughter has been kidnapped by Kingpin. They take a detour from their trip to Washington D.C. to save his daughter, who has taken up the mantel of Spider-Girl. Logan reached a point where he must enter the fight during this interaction as when they arrive, and break in to save Spider-Girl.

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After a very long trip, Some Moloids, a Venom T-Rex (Seriously, it is terrifying!), and a chance encounter with Emma Frost who has married Doctor Doom in an attempt to preserve some mutants. Hawkeye and Logan seem to reach their destination with their cargo. This cargo, which we are led to believe is drugs this whole time, is actually vials of super soldier serum. Things don’t go according to plan and Logan ends up being riddled with bullets.

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The bodies are then delivered to the president who happen to be Red Skull, and before anyone with a brain realizes Logan can heal he shoots up out of his body bag and takes out the guards and is left there with Red Skull in his trophy room of hero relics. Logan get punched a couple times until he gets knocked into the trophy case and right by Captain America’s old shield. The battle doesn’t last very long, but Logan’s escape from the facility is amazing. With no exit in sight, he dons parts of Iron Man’s armor blows the place to shit, grabs a suitcase of money and swiftly flies home to deliver the rent to the hulks, only to find the Hulks got there first and killed his whole family… SNIKT!

7

Now we get to the grand bloody affair, and as Wolverine heads to confront his old frenemy, he takes out just about everything green along the way. After some quick montages of Hulks losing limbs and lives, Wolverine finally reaches the Hulk and as old curmudgeonly Bruce Banner comes out, he smacks Wolverine in the face. Wolverine returns that with a stab to the gut, but sadly Hulk shows up thanks to the stab and actually grabs and eats Wolverine in a couple huge bites. With Wolverine seemingly dead, the last remaining Hulk family member shows up just in time to make Hulk realize what everyone seems to forget in this series – Wolverine has a healing factor! This leads to Hulk having his spine explode and just as fast as Bullwinkle can pull a rabbit out of a hat, Wolverine shows up. After this Wolverine realizes there is a baby and the last thing one of the Hulk’s see is Logan grabbing this baby and taking off to burry his own family and raise this hulk as his own.

8

This mini-series reached into some dark places I never wanted to know about but am so glad I did;  it can make even the most die-hard Hulk fan kind of hate the green guy. The story is mind-blowing on every page and further cements Mark Millar’s validity in the comic book world. This novel is a must-read for everybody who calls themselves a comic book reader. The only downside I saw in the story is that reading it in collected form made the jumps in time from issue to issue seem much more noticeable than reading them in single-issue format. I am glad I got to also experience this series month to month off a fluke of buying a cheap comic at a gas station on a road trip. Thanks to that stop, I experienced one of the best stories Marvel has delivered in recent years and one that seems to be a major factor in the future of Marvel with recent reveals of the future and Old Man Logan #2 coming out this Wednesday. So dust off your walkers, color you hair if you don’t like the gray, and sharpen your claws and dig into this novel so you can make sure and be in the loop for events now and post Secret Wars.

DC’s Convergence: So What the Hell Was That About?

“I must not continuity. Continuity is the mind-killer. Continuity is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face continuity. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the continuity has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – Legit Inuit proverb

Continuity is kind of like the ill-gotten heroin of your neighborhood junky. It’s the thing comics inject into themselves to bolster the appearance of importance and illusion of real meaning. I realize that for people who have poured their heart and soul into superhero comics, this is an unpopular opinion to have. It’s an opinion I developed, however, out of having poured my heart and soul into anything with an “X” on the cover during the 90’s. In fact, it was harsh realizations following attempted assimilation by the Phalanx, universe destroying by Xavier’s son, universe destroying at the hands of Onslaught, yet another sentinel extinction program at the hands of Bastion, and whatever crap Magneto was always up to that caused me to realize events were totally meaningless. It didn’t matter if it was Nightcrawler or Angel or Psylocke who died this time, the next event found a way to reset the clock every time. In an effort to imbue the stories with meaning, continuity had the opposite effect: by necessity, continuity must undo itself the sad truth of continuity is that it grinds everything to dust. The continuity of our lives – of M.A.S.H., of Mad Men, of Battlestar Galactica – is that true continuity has to have an end in sight, or at least a true end of something. This flies in the face of the ever-recursive nature of comics, however, that, for good or ill (probably more good than ill I’d say) there must be more X-Men comics; there must be more Superman; by god, there must be more of the goddamn Batman or we’ll all die of existential ennui.

That means the nature of comics continuity must be cyclical, like Hindu time. Which is fine, in theory: if we could all jointly agree that continuity serves a purpose (and that purpose is making the game go on for as long as it can), then it’s fine. However, that’s not the way the big two, especially DC, treats continuity. Especially with the ouroboros of Marvel movies and DC TV (I would totally watch a station called DC TV. But it can only be live feeds of Washington DC at all times) continuities. Continuity for DC is like a dangerous drug. Which Hawkman origin is the right one? Do we keep pretending red and blue Superman(s/en) wasn’t totally ridiculous? To what extent do we acknowledge it? What’s Brainiac’s true nature? Inconsistencies are the reason why DC started creating Crises in the first place. Dan Didio talks about it here. And it’s a shame; with their highly structured multiverse, it’s a perfect system for justifying or explaining any incongruences in the narratives. But the problem is which continuity do we care about? Sure there are fitty two of them, but anything beyond one Batman (maybe one Beyond flavor), a couple Robins, a dash of Nightwing and Red Hood for seasoning, and we stop caring.

This joke will never get old.
This joke will never get old.

Anyways – Convergence is DC saying, “We give up. You want your universes and your Blue Beetles and your Charlestons and your Fawcetts? Then go ahead.” It’s DC, in DiDio’s words, saying, “Y’know what guys? Ain’t give no f*cks about continuity,” but the fact that they do it with a continuity altering/establishing event makes it feel like their donking with us. “You know how we’ll prove to you that continuity doesn’t matter? By making it part of the continuity!” It’s either god-level trolling, or the least aware guy in the room talking about how he’d know it if he was oblivious. O rly, sir, do go on.

The rough outline for Convergence is that, like, Brainiac? (Or some guy named Telos? But that’s not his name?) kidnaps ALL OF THE MULTIVERSE and puts them in bubble containing their cities of choice. So there’s a bubble for the pre-Watchmen’d Charleston character’s version of New York; Mike Mignola’s steampunk style Gotham; pre-Crisis Metropolis… and every other iteration I didn’t mention and can’t possibly think of. All our heroes, all our bubbles because of reasons. Telos, er Brainiac, wants the heroes to fight so that he can have all the winners form the basis of a single continuous city. That bit seems almost like an unaware metaphor for this entire event.

And this is where DC events don’t hook me the same way Marvel events do. This is apparently an event piggy-backing on two other events: a continuous trickle of once-a-week comics-52-countdown style. So maybe (and I use italics because it’s doubtful) if you’d been following all of that, you’d care about the alternate JLA featured in Convergence.

The heroes are alternate versions of JLA regulars: we have Flash with some nice headgear, African-American Superman, Green Lantern that seems more like Swamp Thing, and a few others. I found it hard to care about them and understand why they should be the center of this book instead of the New 52 crowd that have been around for a few years. In general, I found parallel reality versions hard to care about unless they have very specific hooks to them, i.e. Morrison’s BuzzBat Lightyear from Multiversity, or the children of Batman and Superman. I never figured out if there was a reason to care about these specific versions of these characters, or why they were necessary. Again, maybe if I’d been reading the previous two or three events it’d all make sense, but I doubt it. In contrast, Final Crisis is fantastic whether or not you’d been loyally reading Superman.

They find Deimos – don’t worry if you don’t recognize that name, he’s had maybe three appearances in comics since his creation in the 70s – who they all instantly care about and, more baffling, whose name they know. I don’t know how. Or why.

convergence superman
Here he is about to make out with Superman.

 

Then, in the least necessary and most difficult to grasp double-cross in comic’s history, he stabs the team in the back and takes over the planet seductively teasing at the true identity of Telos.

Replace "lizard men" with "anything" and you have the slogan for this event. I don't know Thor ripoff, why would the anything now?
Replace “lizard men” with “anything” and you have the slogan for this event. I don’t know Thor ripoff, why would the anything now?

Finally, with two issues left, the New 52 JLA shows up, and then there are events and then the book ends with the two best/worst panels of ever:

convergence first crisis

The first one is Telos telling us, the reader, and the heroes that, quite literally, everything that just happened is meaningless because it’s about to disappear. I understand this is the end of the story and they need a way to resolve it, but this gets right to the core of what I hate about event books: they end and nothing changes. This goes one step further by lining out that none of this mattered. At least with a Marvel event, you have three months of thinking Wolverine’s dead before there are 35 of him running around.

aw yiss
aw yiss

The second picture is a thumbs up granny. I know right now your brain is prolapsing on itself trying to comprehend that sentence in the context of a comic, but save yourself the herniated gray matter and let me just show you:

I hope at least someone stays up at night thinking, "Oh god, why?"
I hope at least someone stays up at night thinking, “Oh god, why?”

There’s at least 3 baffling things about this picture. 1. Who’s she giving this sign too? 2. Why is she looking at us while she’s doing it? 3. Is she having a stroke? Who’s supposed to be watching Grandma??

Overall, the core Convergence story was very disappointing. I know one of the biggest draws of event books are all the peripheral tie-in titles, and most fans (especially DC fans, it seems) prefer the peripheral titles to the central story, but this is probably the most lazily-conceived event book I have ever read. The art wasn’t bad, but at no point did it really stand out, the whole story felt muted, and generally it was hard to care about anything. I think maybe, and I mean *maybe*, if a person had been reading all the Earth 2 and Futures End lead up, this would have been a satisfying conclusion, but I’ve yet to talk to anyone who thought so.

Convergence seems like the absolute worst thing that can happen when continuity is put on such a pedestal. In the attempt to reconcile such irreconcilable difference, the entire universe becomes just a little uninteresting and rushed. The root of the problem, as is the root of almost all problems in the world (including strained relations with China, and whatever the hell it is ISIS is doing), is DC trying to be Marvel. Marvel’s lucky: they can do the unified continuity because they made all the continuity in house in the real world. DC is a patchwork quilt of failed comic companies and licensed characters, most of whom live in cities that aren’t even real. Marvel has purchased very few companies and licenses, and the ones they buy tend to stay relegated to their own universes or eventually get completely dissolved. DC acknowledging that for them to be successful, continuity must be a bit player would be a breath of mountain air, but the fact that the current comics climate mandates you make continuity mean less by making it a part of continuity feels self-defeating.

Oh, and DC? Have a recap page. Jesus. Just do it.

Graphic Novel Review – Hit-Girl

Collecting: Hit Girl #1-5 (Interlude between Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass 2)

Original Release Date: 2012-2013

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Character: Mindy McCready (Hit-Girl), Dave Lizewski (Kick-Ass), Chris D’Amico (Red Mist), Marcus Williams, Ralph D’Amico

Writer: Mark Millar (Kick-AssThe Secret ServiceStarlight, WantedCivil War)

Art: John Romita Jr. (Kick-AssWho is the Black PantherAmazing Spider-ManWorld War Hulk)

SCORECARD (each category ranked on a 10-point scale):

Storyline – 7
Art – 8
Captivity and Length – 8
Identity – 10
Use of Medium – 7
Depth – 8
Fluidity – 8
Intrigue/Originality – 9
The Little Things – 10
Overall awesomeness – 9

 

hit girl review 4

Not all superheroes come in hulking bodies, a limitless supply of cash or come from a mysterious foreign planet. In the case of Hit Girl and Kick-Ass, they come in the form of regular people. This revolutionary series by two of the industries heaviest hitters redefines what fans think of superheroes, and it does it without ever being unaware of what it is. It is satirical of the comic book industry, while still paying homage to the near century of comic book lore that has preceded it.

hit girl review 3

Fans of the movie Kick-Ass 2 (our review here) will be familiar with the vague outline of the story in Hit-Girl, as the events of the story were kind of covered by the film’s plot. After the events of the first Kick-Ass, Mindy has thrown up the mantle of Hit-Girl (yeah, right!) and Dave is back in the streets cracking heads over loose change. When Mindy’s high aspirations of taking down the new Boss in Staten Island demand a sidekick, Dave becomes the most suitable candidate. Meanwhile, Mindy finds that she is having trouble fitting in with her classmates in junior high. I suppose a decade of one on one training with a crime-fighting dad will do that to you. It’s an enjoyable story that does the franchise justice, and I enjoyed reading it the whole way through, even if I was rolling my eyes at how over-the-top it has all become.

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What makes this Kick-Ass interlude kick so much ass is Mindy McCready, herself. The young crime-fighter is barely old enough to like boys, yet she is one of the deadliest characters in comic books today. Although she cares for Dave as a friend and *snicker* sidekick, there is a business decision struck between the two. Being raised on nothing but hardcore vigilante justice has left Mindy’s soft skills lacking, and she has recruited Dave to help her blend in with the rest of the mean girls in her junior high. It becomes apparent that punches and a sweet collection of fatalities isn’t going to solve this problem. The book is full of hyberbolic situations that young women Mindy’s age go through, and while it’s a little unrealistic to think that handling your problems like Hit-Girl does is a plausible solution to any adolescent troubles, they are all problems that tweeners go through.

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In addition, Millar gives us some superb origin telling with Hit-Girl and her Big Daddy, which makes you sad that she misses him, but not quite sad that he is gone. While it was adorable to see her lure rapists into a car and then shoot them in the eye through her teddy bear, it really started to cross the line from over-the-top to gratuitous. The story was also very basic. It got the job done, and it set up the events of Kick-Ass 2 nicely in a fashion that could only constitute a Mark Millar-John Romita Jr. collaboration. The social commentary and excessive violence is what you come to expect with this franchise. Whether it’s discussing the lack of new superheroes in the industry or how to correctly deliver a punch line to catch your enemies by surprise, Hit-Girl is a mirror reflecting society’s highly romanticized view on the superhero world.

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At the end of the day, you will know whether or not you like Hit-Girl before you open the front cover. It’s hilarious that tweener like Mindy whoops everybody’s ass, but it’s not a joke. Her size is one of her biggest assets, and her reputation takes a hit when she tries to play the mean girl game on their level instead of just being herself. Female superheroes do not need to be boob windows or short skirts to be heralded. There is a message to be had, but it might be hard to make out from the copious amount of blood, gore and obscenities. Damian Wayne, eat your heart out.

All media credited to Marvel Comics

Graphic Novel Review – Fatale: Death Chases Me

Collecting: Fatale #1-#5

Original Release Date: 2012

Publisher: Image Comics

Characters: Josephine “Jo”, Dominic, Nicholas

Writer: Ed Brubaker (Captain America: Winter SoldierCatwomanBatman: The Man Who LaughsX-Men: The Messiah Complex, Gotham Central, and Velvet)

Art: Sean Phillips (HellblazerWildC.A.T.S., Sleeper, Criminal)

SCORECARD (each category ranked on a 10-point scale):

Storyline – 10
Art – 9
Captivity and Length – 10
Identity – 8
Use of Medium – 7
Depth – 9
Fluidity – 10
Intrigue/Originality – 10
The Little Things – 7
Overall Awesomeness – 10

 hush_rating_90

Fatale: Death Chases Me is not an easy book to sum up in a nutshell version of itself, and it jumps straight into the action and ever twisting storyline so please forgive me if I seem to struggle in hashing it out for you. This is a continuing storyline, but it begins in modern day with a man, Nicholas, who is pivotal to the endearing story, but you won’t see much of him throughout Death Chases Me. He meets Jo at the funeral of a “miserable old man” named Dominic whom was his father’s only friend. She claims he is there because Dominic and her grandmother were in love once. He was a writer and his estate has been left in Nicholas’ hands. When he goes to look around the old house he discovers an unpublished manuscript, one that predates anything Dominic had published. Just as he is about to open it, some men show up outside and out of nowhere Jo appears to shoot down one of the men and tears Nicholas away in the “nick” of time (you see what I did there? I’m so punny). A car chase ensues just as Nicholas is beginning to question the what, how, and why of Jo and it ends in an explosion that leaves Nicholas down one leg and very confused in the hospital, clutching onto only the memory of Jo making sure he had Dominic’s unpublished manuscript. At this point the story travels back in time, to a young woman named Josephine and the eager young reporter, Dominic or “Hank” she is meeting at a bar. From here, the story develops into so many different layers involving mystery, betrayal, adultery, mobsters, and Lovecraft-ian demons, monsters and occultists.

Fatale Volume 1 Death Chases Me

Full disclosure: I was blown away by this book. It was not at all what I expected, and I didn’t lose interest for a single moment. I read it as a graphic novel (obviously) but the single issues were perfectly seamed together. It read much more like a novel than a comic for me, even though I was turning pages a lot more and going from panel to panel, the fluidity was flawless. I’m a big Lovecraft fan myself; I really attached to his ideas about what horrors could exist within other dimensions and what frail specimens we humans would be if those boundaries ever came down. Therefore, anything that plays with his ideas is always intriguing to me but Fatale: Death Chases Me is one of the best I’ve seen.

Fatale Volume 1 Death Chases Me

The story is intricate and mysterious, and Ed Brubaker took special care to reveal only enough details to keep the reader from being frustrated but to still keep you guessing the whole time. I’ve finished the first book and I still don’t know what or who Jo is, I just know that I’m utterly fascinated with her. She can manipulate and control people’s minds as she needs, and my god does that ability jump right off the page because I was enthralled with her. She’s beautiful, she dangerous, and she’s vulnerable – what more could you want!?

Fatale Volume 1 Death Chases Me

The story does have it downsides, but those are really just horrifying things happening to a devastated pregnant woman and her 8 month fetus. This element does not bring the story down, but it was a little hard to read. And believe me, coming from me that is saying something. It wasn’t graphic by any means, just really, really dark. But that truly is one of Fatale’s selling points; the world is a dark and twisted place and most people are oblivious to it. Jo unfortunately knows all of these evils, and inevitably she has to use some people to escape them and others – the one’s she loves – become targets of it.

The whole thing reads like a really well done horror noir, which is tough to pull off. When it’s scary there’s no cheese factor, and the dialogue is extremely believable and strong – especially considering its noir format and how easily that can go awry.

Fatale Volume 1 Death Chases Me

I honestly feel like I’m struggling to do this book proper justice because the truth is it left me kind of speechless. But not completely speechless, like I want to tell anyone within earshot that they should totally check this book out because it was so amazing, but then if they ask me why I’m at a loss for words. Because… I don’t know! Because it was freaking awesome! It was creepy! And kind of addicting, and when I got to the last page I was kind of pissed I had to stop. Read it because that’s why!

All images belong to Image Comics.

Graphic Novel Review – March: Book Two

ALL BLACK EVERYTHING

Graphic Novel Review: MARCH: Book One

Collecting: March: Book Two (original graphic novel)

Original Release Date: 2015

Publisher: Top Shelf Productions

Characters: John Lewis, Dr. Martin Luthor King, Jr., Stokely Carmichael, SNCC

Writer: John Lewis, Andrew Aydin

Artist: Nate Powell

SCORECARD (each category ranked on a 10-point scale):

Storyline – 8
Art – 8
Captivity and Length – 7
Identity – 10
Use of Medium – 9
Depth – 8
Fluidity – 8
Intrigue/Originality – 8
The Little Things – 8
Overall awesomeness – 8

Inspired by the use of comic books to send across messages that couldn’t be transcribed in the written or oral form of communication, John Lewis, with the help of Top Shelf Productions, created March: Book One, an autobiography and first-person perspective of other Civil Rights stories. After laying down much of the framework of who John Lewis was, where he came from and what he believed in, we are thrown right into the deep end as this volume takes us through the evolution of the Movement, and journeys through the history of the Freedom Riders.

march book 2 national movement

Book Two is a noticeable improvement over the first book, where all three creators really got their feet yet. Whether it has to do with Lewis’ personal growth or the nature of the Civil Rights Movement at the time of the events, there is a much more adult tone taken in Book Two. It wasn’t just the increasingly violent reactions from policemen and citizens towards the Freedom Riders, well-meaning white citizens who came to their defense, and dozens of black children.  No, there was a constant looming threat of defamation, imprisonment and often times death that each of them had to be constantly aware for. It was a movement so formidable that even Dr. Martin Luthor King, Jr. was hesitant to go on it – or so the book implies. These accounts are directly from John Lewis’ memory of first-hands, and I’ll be damned if I’m the one to tell him that he got it wrong.

march book 2 dr king

Where the books excels is that it isn’t just a collection of stories from Senator John Lewis’ mouth. No, this is a calculated story with purpose. Scenes from the book are not only pieced together to form another successful chapter in his life, and that of the Civil Rights Movement. They are done so with not just the rationalization of a fiery young man, but the clarity of a wise man reflecting on his years as a freedom fighter. It’s refreshing to arrive at the conclusion that even though the courage that it took to actually follow through as a Freedom Rider was monumental, the entire movement was sparked by the simple yet fierce desire to make the situation better.

march book 2 clothes

Technically-speaking, there are several improvements to this volume over the first installment. While the art was satisfactory in Book One, Nate Powell’s pencils are eye-catching and often shockingly-vivid. There were several scenes that convey the brutality and injustice that Lewis saw first-hand. There were other improvements, too, notably how well Powell and co-writer Aydin took advantage of the freedom granted in creating a graphic novel, really using unique ways to display onomatopoeic words and show the tone of a phrase by lettering it in a specific way. It’s a quite interesting way to communicate with readers – one I hope will catch on with other creators.

march book 2 punch

March: Book Two expertly brings the book to a close by chronicling Lewis’ attendance at Barack Obama’s inauguration in DC, the same city at which Lewis (and several other keynotes, like MLK) marched on Washington DC to give some of the most memorable speeches of the whole Movement. This scene illustrates that while progress towards equality and civil liberty has been astronomical, there is still plenty of work to do. That is why the Denver Freedom Riders have formed. The merging of goals between the generations is something that John Lewis speaks specifically about when describing his time working with senior activists. The capabilities of social media have made us all activists, but nothing really gets done unless the movement starts at the ground floor. I spoke with Hush writer Jumoke about the movement that’s gaining momentum in the Mile High City.

march book 2 stay together

 

The legacy that connects our generations is a simple one; a group of people of diverse background looked up at something going in the nation and decided that it wasn’t enough for them to simply stay at home. Some of us went as individuals (Anthony [Grimes] and myself), many of us went in later groups, but most of the core group went down to Ferguson during the height of the unrest. As we came back, we realized that there was some work that needed to be done and continued right here from Denver.

“We believe in the inherent dignity of human life. We believe no one is more aware of that inherent worth than those that society has attempted to dehumanize, marginalize and oppress.”

Those two sentences, the first two in the Denver Freedom Rider’s mission statement, could be included in almost every social justice movement creed of the last 100 years. The same fights for human dignity are being waged – only the actors and battlefields have changed. For some, that may be disheartening, but, for me, that actually gives me strength and courage. Although it seems there will always be injustice, oppression, and battles to fight, I take heart in the fact that there will also always be those who ride for freedom. 

– Jumoke Emery, community organizer and Denver Freedom Rider

For those looking to get involved in the community through the Denver Freedom Riders, here is a link to their Facebook page with more details.

I hope you enjoyed the review. I’d just like to point out that none of the pictures in this work are mine, and should all be credited to the good folks at Top Shelf Productions. You can find March: Book Two on their website, here.

Written by Sherif Elkhatib

Graphic Novel Review – Gotham Central: In the Line of Duty

Collecting: Gotham Central #1-10 (Gotham Central Volume 1 collects three inter-connected stories)

Original Release Date: 2002-2003

Publisher: DC Comics

Character: Marcus Driver, Renee Montoya, Crispus Allen, Mr. Freeze, Two-Face, Batman

Writer: Ed Brubaker (Captain America: Winter SoldierCatwomanBatman: The Man Who LaughsX-Men: The Messiah Complex, Fatale Velvet)

Art: Michael Lark (DaredevilBatman: Nine LivesThe Best of Ray Bradbury: Graphic Novel Edition)

SCORECARD (each category ranked on a 10-point scale):

Storyline – 7
Art – 8
Captivity and Length – 8
Identity – 10
Use of Medium – 6
Depth – 7
Fluidity – 7
Intrigue/Originality – 8
The Little Things – 9
Overall awesomeness – 8

 

With all the attention that The Dark Knight receives in Gotham, you would swear that he’s the only character worth mentioning. Much like Superman has his cohorts at The Daily Planet, Batman has a small team of detectives that he trusts in the GCPD. Through the generations of progression in Batman lore, Batman’s relationship with Gotham City’s finest has been instrumental to his growth as a hero and ability to be plugged into the city. He and newcomer James Gordon forged a relationship that has been the focal point of multiple story arcs, movies, and especially in Batman: The Animated Series, and that relationship is extended to more than just the would-be commissioner.



the board

Ed Brubaker’s Gotham Central takes place after a time where James Gordon has stepped down as Police Commissioner. The GCPD has been cleaned up for the most part, and the city is no longer owned by the corrupt and the mob – although, that does not mean it is not still a point of concern. Just over a ten years ago, there were over a dozen titles that were about Batman or his constituents, so when writer Ed Brubaker pitched a title centered around the police that practically play second fiddle to a masked vigilante who wears his undies over his pants, you can imagine the concern.

The fear that a series of this nature would get tangled up too much with Batman – that it was essentially impossible to separate the Bat, and his infamous cast of villains, from making a good cop story. While Batman is an undeniable presence throughout the book, it is truly the boys (and ladies) in blue that make this series what it is, which, when you get to the bare bones of it, is a great cop drama with a Batman theme to it. From the lingo the cops use to the casual dialogue in the Bullpen, there is a very noir detective air about Gotham Central. Even the art by Michael Lark is loudly reminiscent of the old-timey Detective Comics that the publisher took their name from. This isn’t Lark’s first go-around with noir-style Batman; check out Batman: Nine Lives for a very pulp detective story.

gotham central denial

While Gotham Central didn’t impress sales-wise, it was critically lauded as a breath of fresh air in a Bat-heavy time period. Success of sales in trade paperback convinced the publishers at DC enough to give the series the green light for 40 issues – and I’m sure winning an Eisner Award in 2004 for Best Serialized Story didn’t hurt, either. The book is laid out a lot like an episode of Law & Order, but with a Batman twist. The cops find the crime scene, and while it ends up being the deed of one of Gotham’s freaks, there is still a lot of police legwork in order to catch the perp. In addition to the entertaining detective work, Gotham Central gives its readers plenty of insight into not only how life in the police department works, but how the lives of these officers are affected by the life they lead in Gotham. We get a good hard look at what it’s like to live in the shadow of The Bat, and what drives them; it’s a refreshing take on an entire group of people we had only known as a single entity.

That being said, aside from a few good apples (namely Marcus Driver, Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen), the detective work at GCPD. There are so many poor decisions made on the detectives’ part. For years, I thought it was just bad writing to make them inept in order to make Batman look good, but Brubaker’s decision to make them that green makes this series flow so much better. The good part of it is at least the GCPD cares, and trying is half the battle. They are making desperate efforts to try to prove to themselves, and Batman, that they can protect the city without his help. While the detective work is a major aspect of the stories’ development, it’s the focus on social issues like police corruption, and more noticeably, how sexual orientation is treated in a male-dominated workforce.

trying to work over here

Over a decade ago, before acceptance became the topic of conversation for mainstream media across the country, Detective Renee Montoya was very much still in the closet. Prior to Montoya, openly gay characters in DC’s staple were not viewed positively (their first openly gay character, Extraño, means “Strange” in Spanish), and even since, portrayal of a gay character in comic books has not been done with as much class and accuracy as here in Gotham Central. Montoya struggles with keeping herself an honest cop, keep her girlfriend and that life closeted, as well as balance the strict Catholic lifestyle that her family abides by. Montoya’s struggle is very real, and her double life – hence the name of the mini-arc, Half a Life – parallels the relationship, however creepy and awkward, that Two-Face has with her. Montoya instantly becomes the best character in the book due to her raw honesty about the situation.

Montoya speech

The story got a bit convoluted with several different storylines converging on each other, but for the most part, Gotham Central did a great job at stepping back from the capes and putting the Detective back in Detective Comics… Comics. Volume One may get a little off-track, or corny, but it’s unlike any Batman book you’ve read before. As a reader, you are thrown right in the thick of things, and while that may be overwhelming for somebody not keen on the GCPD history, it is quite enveloping in the way that you get the complete “cop working in Batman’s city” experience.

All media credited to DC Comics