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

 

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.



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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Graphic Novel Review – X-Men: Days of Future Past

Collecting: X-Men #141, The Uncanny X-Men #142 (Background story Uncanny X-Men #138-143) Original Release Date: 1981 Publisher: Marvel Comics Character: Kitty Pryde, Wolverine, Rachel Summers, Senator Robert Kelly Writer: Chris Claremont (A 16-year run on The Uncanny X-Men, X-Men with Jim Lee ) Art: John Byrne (X-MenFantastic FourSuperman) SCORECARD (each category ranked on a 10-point scale):

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

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With the evolution of comic book art and the working formula of six-issue story arcs, as well as the familiarization that fans have had with staple characters, it’s rare to see books from the Bronze Age and beyond hold up to books today in general interest or revenue. “Arcs” were rare, and when they did exist, it was typically in a collection of two or three monstrously-sized issues. As is the case with X-Men: Days of Future Past, which oddly enough is a collection of two entirely different X-books.

Written over thirty years ago, and taking place in the apocalyptic future of… last year (2013), DOFP is a love letter as much as it is ground-breaking. This is not your ordinary X-Men book, either, as the two godfathers of X-Men, Claremont and Byrne, drop bombs on readers – introducing a few long-standing characters and revealing some Maury-worthy drama along the way. For those unfamiliar with Claremont’s (and Byrne, to an extent) style, he is an extremely descriptive writer, detailing each character’s internal thought process when making moves or strategizing. This is especially helpful to new fans of the series, but can be excruciatingly repetitive for seasoned readers.

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You’re reading this review, which means you have definitely seen an advertisement for this weekend’s release of X-Men: Days of Future Past. As bastardized as the movie is from the source material, the premise remains the same. The Mutant Brotherhood’s attack on an anti-mutant senator leads to a string of events that culminate in the release of Sentinels, secret government bots programmed to eliminate the mutant threat. Things get out of control and, somewhere along the line, everybody dies.

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This is where our new heroes come in. Rachel Summers, the daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey (but not the regular storyline Jean Grey; she’s still dead), joins the dwindling group of mutants still left: Wolverine, Storm, Franklin Richards (son of Mr. Fantastic), Colossus and Kitty Pryde, the latter of whom is a grown woman – which she makes perfectly clear when she insists on going by “Kate.” The whole gameplan is to have Rachel switch Kate’s body with that of her counterpart in 1981 and warn everybody of the impending doom. Kitty Pryde is the most important character in the story, and the mantle of head X-Man has been passed to Storm, who is even able to order Logan around at a certain point.

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The story feels quite long, despite taking up just around sixty pages. This can be attributed to the insane amount of panels in the book. The dialog drives a lot of the story, aside from some pretty powerful death scenes, which isn’t a bad thing outright; I love the diction and the way internal monologue turns into conversation and action, but there’s just too much reliance on witty puns and dialog to let the story flow naturally. Furthermore, the newly assembled Mutant Brotherhood is menacing in that way only Bronze Age books can be. Resembling more of the silly Scooby Doo-type villains than the bringers of death they are. That being said, the whimsical X-Men of today provide a sharp contrast to the desperate and fearful of 2013. When in the future, I found myself constantly anxious and paranoid.

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To me, this is a story that has so much potential, and it’s been adapted in several animated shows like Ultimate Spider-Man and Wolverine and the X-Men, but most notably in the 1990’s X-Men cartoon, where the role of Kitty Pryde was played by Bishop – which admittedly makes a lot more sense. It’s been proven that alternate timelines where everybody dies are money makers and represent an easy way to liven things up without consequence. There have been several comic book call-backs to this book, from a sequel (Days of Future Present) to a prequel (Wolverine: Days of Future Past). I’m still pissed that they let Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine (I’m tired of seeing this guy’s face) take the place of the Kitty Pryde’s character in the book for the movie, but the upcoming film should be a much-deserved modern adaptation of a great concept.

  All media credited to Marvel Comics Written by Sherif Elkhatib

Graphic Novel Review-Spider-Man: Torment

Spider-Man: Torment

Collecting: Spider-Man #1-5

Original Release Date: 1990 (collected edition released 2011)

Publisher: Marvel

Pages: 144

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Characters: Spider-Man, Mary Jane Watson, Calypso, The Lizard, Kraven The Hunter

Writer/Artist: Todd McFarlane

StoryLine – 6
Art – 10
Captivity and Length – 7
Identity – 7
Use of Medium – 10
Depth – 8
Fluidity – 6
Intrigue/Originality – 9
The Little Things – 8
Overall awesomeness – 9
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On the eve of the early premier to Columbia Pictures sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man, I ventured out to my garage to uncover my collection of Spider-Man arcs from over the years. Sidebar; It is important to recognize for the sake of this review that Spider-Man was my first nerdy obsession. I came to comics in purist tradition. There was no multi-billion dollar studio backing a franchise of movies or chain of retail stores carpet bagging 80’s cartoon T-shirts for the neo-nerds to wear as ironic or trendy. There were no celebrities gushing over their love of all things Marvel in hopes of landing the next big role. Web-heads like me had NBC’s Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends on Saturday mornings, and that’s about it.

Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man saved my life. 1988 was a hard year for my family. My mother decided to move from New York City half way around the country to Denver to be closer to my grandparents. Nothing could have been more crushing to me at the time. All I knew was New York; other cities didn’t even exist to me. There are only two truths that keep me half-way sane: the Yankees are the greatest sports team ever assembled and Spider-Man is the best super hero in all of comics.

Parker is a New Yorker without both of his parents. He is nerdy and unsure of himself. Spider-Man reminded me of home. Without Spider-Man, I may not have fallen in love with comic books.

When McFarlane announced that he was leaving The Amazing Spider-Man, my heart sunk. The man who gave us spaghetti-webbing was leaving; who could possibly replace him? It was soon released that McFarlane would launch a new Spidey book simply titled Spider-Man. Not only would Todd pencil the book, but he would write its stories too. This was a dream come true! The man who gave us Venom would be responsible for creating new villains and plots in the Marvel universe! His first attempt launched in 1990 was the five part mini-series, Torment.

The first issue gave us an iconic cover. The Wall-Crawler, hunched over, over-exaggerated eyes, twisted arm, nestled safely in his web was here! Spider-Man sold 2.5 million copies initially. It’s variant covers helped push the title into uncharted territory in sales.

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And to top it off, in the top right hand corner of the issue, McFarlane dubbed the series, The Legend of The ArachKnight. This was an obvious dig at DC Comics and the tidal-wave success of Tim Burton’s blockbuster film, Batman. There were more subtle jabs towards the Bat in the first few pages and web-heads went nuts! The success of Batman was overwhelming, there seemed to be no stopping the media blitz and little if no space was left for any other heroes. Quite frankly, it was hard to identify with a billionaire playboy who played cops and robbers in some fictitious town, but Peter Parker was from Queens, and he could never quite get over the hump. His character was much more relatable to me.

Despite Torment‘s initial popularity, McFarlane faced wide-spread criticism from fan-boys, peers and even his last Marvel editor Danny Fingeroth. His initial editor, Jim Salicrup, offered Todd the shot to author and pencil his own title. The book was a huge cash cow for Marvel but Todd seemed to face opposition at every turn. He had already weathered the storm of critics who claimed that he couldn’t draw anatomically correct figures. Instead of changing his style and falling victim to self doubt, he drew even crazier. He twisted bodies in ways they shouldn’t have been able to, he gave us MORE spaghetti-webbing and made Spider-Man his way. He would, “Rise above it all.” With that being said, Torment isn’t Shakespeare, and it didn’t have to be. McFarlane used the Torment series to push HIS brand of art. And even though the company tried to tame his style, they encouraged their next generation of artists, including Amazing Spider-Man successor, Erik Larsen, to draw Spidey the same way because that’s what sold comics.

“The City. New York. Littered with towering concrete giants that seem to swallow up the sky.” Torment is simple – the Lizard is out of control in New York. He is under the control of the dark voodoo priestess Calypso, and on a vicious killing spree. The sensually drawn Calypso has revenge in her dark soul. Her wish? To kill Spider-Man and resurrect Kraven The Hunter. Spidey nearly loses his life in this bloody battle. Any true McFarlane fan will tell you that you don’t need much more than that.

Critics argued that McFarlane never learned how to establish tone in his writing, but if the artwork does it for you, imagination should take care of the rest. The panels are elegantly illustrated. The backdrop of New York is gritty and terrifying. The flow of the first five books may seem a bit sloppy, but the Spider-Man he depicted was a stretch from our friendly neighborhood hero. He is placed in a mysterious plot for no reason – other than torment – and we, the reader, get to enjoy a fresh perspective from one of the most successful comic book artists of all time.

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Graphic Novel Review – Batman and Son

Collecting: Batman (vol 1) #655-658, follow-up on #663-666

Original Release Date: 2006

Publisher: DC Comics

Character: Batman, Talia al Ghul, Damian Wayne, Robin (Tim Drake)

Writer: Grant Morrison (All-Star Superman, Final CrisisArkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth)

Art: Andy Kubert (Flashpoint, Origin, Marvel 1602)

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

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

Note: Be on the look-out for our film review of Son of Batman, which is loosely based off this book, soon.

Since the first issue of Batman in 1940, the Dark Knight has always had a Boy Wonder. Of course, the flamboyancy with which the character of Robin has been portrayed over seventy years ago has no place in the current era of comic books – especially in a Batman book. The Batman that we see in Batman and Son has lost one Robin to another team (Nightwing to the New Teen Titans) and buried another (Jason Todd), only to see him return from the dead (check our Batman: Hush review to catch up) as the sociopath Red Hood. So, suffice to say that even though he has let in a new ward, Tim Drake, into Bat-family, he’s had a fair amount of hesitation when allowing another child into the fold. What if he didn’t have a choice? What if this next recruit was his son – and not just any son, but the grandson of the Demon’s Head, Ra’s al Ghul? Enter Damian Wayne, son of Talia al Ghul.

talia kiss

Many avid readers know who Damian Wayne is. He’s the smart-ass, strategic and combative genius, groomed from his birth as a test tube baby to rule the world. Oddly enough, the character of Batman’s son was first brought up in an Elseworld (non-canon) title, Son of the Demon, in 1987. Here, though, he makes his first appearance in DC Universe canon. For those of us that followed his entire character development, up to and including his death in Batman Incorporated (which also came at the hand of the Cruel Grant Morrison), Batman and Son is a loud, annoying reminder is just what a little shit Damian can be. He is spoiled and disrespectful, and unfortunately has the skills to back up a lot of his bravado.

batman's son

 

The fact that he’s a pain in the ass isn’t all his fault. He has been bred to believe that he is the perfect genetic specimen and heir to taking over the world, so I guess a little precociousness is in order. Talia more or less dumps her own son in the lap of Batman because she can’t control him. In the most fiendish plot yet, she drops this little WMD in Wayne Manor to distract Batman while she causes all sorts of havoc on the side. It’s a pretty clever plot twist that really has no consequence on her end. A bulk of the focus is on Damian’s assimilation to the Bat-family. Spoiler – he does a very poor job at fitting in. Being trained by the League of Assassins doesn’t exactly prepare you for life with a benevolent father and pseudo family that Gotham offers Damian. Damian immediately spits on everything that Bruce stands for as a defender of the night. As endless as the Wayne’s wealth is, it is still nothing compared to being heir to the Demon Head.

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Batman and Son is only four issues long, and its length really shows. We get to see the reason that the League has Man-Bats at their disposal, a legion that they still use. Yeah, Man-Bat ninjas are a little far-fetched, but these are Man-Bats we’re talking about in the first place. The set-up to the big reveal that Batman is the father was taken at face value; no DNA test, no genetics scanning, not even an episode of Maury was thought of to determine the truth. I find that hard to believe from the world’s greatest detective. By the time Damian and Batman are introduced to each other, we are half-way through the story. I also thought a lot of the internal monolog and the quips by Batman felt totally out-of-character, like lines that were supposed to go to Dick Grayson. Maybe the familiarity Batman has with Talia gives him loose lips, but it feels wrong throughout the book.

man bat ninjas

 

Damian’s character often give off mixed symbols throughout the story. He obviously wants his father’s approval, he rags on how lame everything about his father is. Kicking Tim Drake’s ass and taking up the mantle of Robin is a sweet yet super creepy way to try to gain Batman’s affection. When Damian takes the law into his own hands to thwart an enemy, he definitely goes too far. I know that Bats has to play by a different set of rules when dealing with the League of Assassins, but everybody seems to handle Damian’s extreme measures with much more grace than I expected. The ending seems like the typical cop-out ending where we experience the ambiguous deaths of the bad guys. This is far from the end of Damian, but this arc didn’t leave us wanting more of him (again, hindsight is 20/20).

he quit

At the crux of it, Batman and Son has a lot more shock value if you don’t know who Damian Wayne is, but for the majority of us that have watched him grow as a Robin and a person (my personal recommendation for Damian’s character growth is the New 52 story Batman & Robin Vol 1: Born to Kill arc), Batman and Son is a painful reminder of what an insufferable d-bag Damian started out as. After reading this, I often wonder if Dan Slott used Damian’s character as inspiration for the pompous Otto Octavius Spidey in Superior Spider-Man. Even with the great panels that Andy Kubert has crafted, Batman and Son can be summed up in a few pages. The fact that Batman has a biological son after all the decades of questionable relationships with young men is enough to warrant picking this up, but don’t expect to be blown away by Prince Wayne’s debut.

All media credited to DC Comics

Written by Sherif Elkhatib

 

Graphic Novel Review – Captain America: Winter Soldier

Graphic Novel Review – Captain America: Winter Soldier

Collecting: Captain America (vol 5) #1-9, 11-14

Original Release Date: 2005

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Character: Captain America, Nick Fury, Bucky Barnes, Black Widow, Agent 13 and Red Skull

Writer: Ed Brubaker (The Man Who LaughsFataleVelvet)

Art: Steve Epting (CruxVelvet)

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

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

When the second Captain America movie (check out our review of the movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier here) came out, you didn’t think we’d let you watch the film without getting an in-depth look at the graphic novel, too. The story of the Winter Soldier is a relatively new one, coming out just under a decade ago, but it’s one of Cap’s most iconic stories. The actual Winter Soldier story arc spans issues #8-14 (minus issue #10, which is a tie-in to House of M), but there is a lot of necessary back-story in the first volume that build up the suspense to Winter Soldier. Also, while the concept of the movie is the same, the meat of the book is far different from the film, so don’t come in with any preconceptions of what will happen – just enjoy the ride!

they call him bucky

By now I’m sure you all know that Bucky, who was Cap’s kid sidekick until his apparent death (in Avengers #56, but like all Marvel characters, Bucky has been ret-2conned multiple times), is the Winter Soldier. This soldier was a tool for the Soviet Union, and was literally “put on ice” to complete special assignments. This might be old hat to us, but ten years ago, this was jaw-dropping. The shock factor of a cheerful kid sidekick becoming the deadliest weapon in the world was unprecedented. Winter Soldier does a solid job of alluding to the shock factor; there are numerous flashbacks and dead drops to buildup what is, in essence, a stand-off between Captain America and the Winter Soldier.

bucky nooo

Like the movie portrays, this is not the same Captain America you recognize from the war days. He is no longer a gimmick, or war propaganda; he is a super-soldier with the feeling that he is being played with. It’s a demon that Cap struggles with throughout the book, and  What makes Brubaker’s writing so great is he is fully ready to let Cap fall into one of his darkest places (not too dark, but really dark for Steve Rogers). The theory that Bucky was chosen as a symbol to inspire young men to join the war effort was just a cover-up. Bucky was actually the most ruthless weapon the Allies had; he did the gruesome deeds that Cap couldn’t. It’s a brilliant rewriting of a character to fit not just the story, but the times that the story is released in. This fact also sheds new light on just who Captain America is – not just the guy who punched Hitler in the face, but the one who sanctioned the actions that a Bucky, a child, could take in the name of freedom.

bucky secret

The issues are so well-paced. We begin with what looks to be the typical villain arc when Red Skull creeps around and secures a Cosmic Cube (an item capable of turning wish into reality – similar to Loki’s scepter, hmm…  However, we’re quickly in the middle of a murder/mystery and forced to play catch-up like the dunces we are. I mean, if Nick Fury can figure out the riddle, I know I can’t. Speaking of Fury, his role in Winter Soldier is significant. While Cap is definitely the one taking the lead during the mission, none of it would have been possible without Fury’s keen eye (pun intended) and S.H.I.E.L.D. resources. That being said, Steve Rogers isn’t inept in any way; he puts the hurt on everybody in his way – often. The characteristic way the shied bounces off of and into foes very enjoyable to look at on paper.

cap fly

Ed Brubaker’s Captain America: Winter Soldier is one of the best written books about Cap out there, and it’s almost ironic that a story that deviates from what was considered canon has the most identity with Steve Rogers. The ending fell a bit flat, but we do get some closure to the arc, and the aftermath of what happens here echoes through the series for years to come. The mirror image of Captain America and the Winter Soldier also creates dialogue among fans and casual readers alike (Note: Winter Soldier mentions and includes other figures like Falcon and the Invaders. If you want to dive deeper, those are good places to start). Any comic book fan should pick this up and read it – it’s simply the American thing to do.

All media credited to Marvel Comics

Written by Sherif Elkhatib

 

Graphic Novel Review – Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds

Graphic Novel Review – Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds

younerdlikeagirl

Collecting: Bids of Prey #56-61

Original Release Date: 2003

Publisher: DC Comics

Character: Black Canary, Oracle (formerly Batgirl), Huntress

Writer: Gail Simone

Art: Ed Benes

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

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

hush_rating_77

Think about your favorite team of heroes: Justice League (and their dozens of iterations), Avengers (and their hundred different iterations), Green Lantern Corps, X-Men… Now think about the gender representation among the group. Aside from the X-Men, women have been heavily underrepresented among the best in the universe for each team, let alone left in a position of power. Those female characters that are represented are typically typecast with revealing outfits and often find themselves “In A Refrigerator.” Well, in the mid-1990’s, Jordan Gorfinkel and DC Comics decided that readers wanted a team that they could relate to. The Birds of Prey were formed in 1996, consisting of Black Canary and Oracle. Through the years, DC’s elite women (sans Wonder Woman) have joined the Birds of Prey at some time or another. Characters like Hawkgirl, Vixen and Katana came under the spotlight of the Charlie’s Angels-esque team of strong women.

Chuck Dixon laid the groundwork for what would eventually turn into a DC Comics fan favorite. When Gail Simone took the reigns in 2003, we were already fifty-six issues in. Fortunately for readers, this was an opportune place to jump on, as Simone crafts Of Like Minds not only as an introduction to her writing, but the series, as well. Jumping into a series over fifty issues in is never an easy transition, but the dynamics of Birds of Prey is well established from the first page in. After suffering a paralyzing gunshot wound at the hands of the Joker in The Killing Joke, Barbara Gordon has become Oracle – tech extraordinaire and human calculator. Although confined to a wheelchair, Babs is the clear leader of the group and, to be honest, the most integral member of the Birds of Prey. Meanwhile, Black Canary (Dinah Lance) and Huntress (Helena Bertinelli) make the moves. Like messenger birds sent out by Oracle, they complete missions while Oracle feeds them intel.

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Of Like Minds gives up a lot of ground in story-telling establish an identity. Simone does an excellent job of portraying three distinct personalities among the group. While Oracle has the notable Batman influence – prepared to do whatever is needed to get the job done – Dinah is inspired by Green Arrow’s more “Robin Hood” view of how to be a superhero. Add a fired up and borderline violent Huntress to the mix, and you get an amazing chemistry that could carry its own series whether they were fighting crime or playing Cranium. Where the arc seems to falter, though, in with the characters surrounding them. The antagonist in Of Like Minds, Savant, has just enough juice to pique my interest, but not enough to be worthy of commandeering the book. That being said, there were far worse ways to introduce a villain like Savant, and his purpose seems to be solely make the Birds of Prey look good.

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Something that really impressed me about Of Like Minds was the amount of research Simone must have done to show just how legit our crew is. Take Barbara Gordon, for example. She’s no longer Batman’s sidekick, but rather one of the best most vital tools in the DC Universe for intel (really the only one until Cyborg’s rise to mainstream popularity a few years later). In fact, during Batman: No Man’s Land, which begins soon after the continuity of this book, she is crucial in Batman’s plight to take back Gotham. Throughout the pages, Babs: speaks multiple languages, quotes Benjamin Franklin and multiplies numbers together really quickly. She may be confined to a wheelchair, but Barbara Gordon uses her mind to thwart crime when her partner’s brawny methods come back fruitless.

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Keeping an open mind that this book was published over a decade ago, the idea of strong, capable characters is completely cut down by the way the characters are constantly being objectified. Ranging from blatant (Black Canary being bound and cuffed while Savant makes sexual banter) to subtle (putting the characters’ sexy parts conveniently next to word bubbles, and the awkwardly positioned poses to show off just enough butt to make it annoying), there’s no denying that DC was using sex appeal to sell Birds of Prey. With new-age super heroine books in the mainstream now like Wonder Woman, Batgirl, and Captain Marvel, it’s hard to imagine just how skewed the industry’s opinion of women was at the turn of the century.

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While the first arc of a Simone-written Birds of Prey shows its age in terms of the portrayal of women, the identity that Gail Simone – a woman writing a comic book about women – creates is worth the sticker price (or download price, as Of Like Minds is out of print and hard to find at a reasonable price). The pages are filled with Simone’s unique take on the Birds of Prey (a woman writer portraying a female led book – crazy, I know) was unprecedented at the time, especially ones smarter and mightier than their male counterparts. I was unimpressed with the story overall, but this is a case where style over substance is more over an investment. Gail Simone shows signs of becoming a tremendously talented writer, which really shines through in her recent work on Batgirl, one of my favorite series of the New 52.

All media credited to DC Comics

Written by Sherif Elkhatib

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Graphc Novel Review – March: Book One

ALL BLACK EVERYTHING

Graphic Novel Review: MARCH: Book One

Collecting: March: Book One (original graphic novel)

Original Release Date: 2013

Publisher: Top Shelf Productions

march book one title

Characters: John Lewis, Dr. Martin Luthor King, Jr.

Writer: John Lewis, Andrew Aydin

Artist: Nate Powell

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

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

hush_rating_77

A lot of people may not recognize it, but the graphic novel medium, when used correctly, can become a form of literature more descriptive than a novel or moving than the art. In March: Book One, the first of a trilogy leading up the March on Washington in 1963, we are fortunate enough to get that experience. What impressed me so much about March is that it was written by comic book novices. And who would have thought that one of the most powerful comic books (graphic novel, technically, but you get the jist) in 2013 was written by a United Stated Congressman?

Of course, John Lewis may be a comic book novice, but he’s no stranger to the Civil Rights Movement. Making up one of the “Big Six” in the Movement (a list that consisted of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and four others that each contributed to the Movement), John Lewis is the only one living. He is the Democratic Representative of Georgia and has quite the colorful tale to tell in this black and white autobiography.

So where do we start on our march to freedom? Well, we start at the chicken farm. Lewis begins his story of non-violence and racial tension by explaining his love for chickens. It came off as odd and unexpected, but ultimately won me over as an honest sentiment that foreshadows his love for all livings things – as well as offering some very adorable panels. The way he wanted to save all the chickens, make sure they all got fair treatment, named them and even tried to baptize them was a true ode to childish innocence and naivety.

march chickens

March reads more like a memoir, taking breaks to revisit the current time to move the story along. It’s a method that works for the first few chapters, but ultimately becomes a little too much like a cliché television special for my taste. However, the way the story is presented, you can’t help but get sucked into the time. One of my favorite anecdotes in March is when he snuck off in the morning to run and catch the bus to go to school. The way he deliberately disobeys his father to go to school instead of help at home was a choice made with a gravity that a lot of younger readers can’t really grasp. Lewis’ trip up North with his uncle Otis was also eye-opening to just how different the two regions were in the 1950s.

march read

Much of the visualization can be credited to the fine art of Nate Powell who captures the essence of the moment fittingly for each scene. The shading is perfect, and there is incredible detail when warranted. Even the way that onomatopoetic words are displayed and lettered add to the ambience of the moment.

The story really starts to kick into high gear when Lewis goes to college, and joins a Non-Violence group preparing themselves for marches and sit-ins by testing each others’ tolerance levels. It’s an amazing part of the Movement that I had never even considered previous to reading MarchIf you’ve studied African-American History, you know that sit-ins were an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement – but these people, most of which were courageous young adults, literally took turns berating and humiliating each other to see if their resolve for non-violence was strong enough. It’s unreal to imagine college kids banding together to do something like that today, and makes me appreciate every liberty I have.

Overall, March bridges a gap in perspective of the Civil Rights Movement that has formed between writing and film, with great recounts from Lewis that is complemented by the beautiful simplicity of Powell’s art. It falls a bit short in the sense that it doesn’t exactly have a clear direction, and the partitioning can seem a bit choppy with a lack of transitions. Luckily, Lewis’ story is so captivating and earnest that it pretty much writes itself. In the grand scheme of the book, those shortcomings are more like rough edges around an otherwise great read. It’s the best (albeit maybe the only) graphic novel portraying Black History I’ve read, and would recommend it to anybody who would like a different perspective of the Movement.

we shall overcome

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.

Written by Sherif Elkhatib