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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

captain marvelcarol danvers,comic book reviewscomic bookscomicsmarvel comics,miss marvelms. marvel,women in comicswomens history monthyou nerd like a girl

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Graphic Novel Review – Justice League Volume One: Origin (New 52)

Graphic Novel Review: Justice League Volume One: Origins

CollectingJustice League (New 52) #1-6

Original Release Date: 2011-2012

Publisher: DC Comics

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Characters: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman, Darkseid

Writer: Geoff Johns (Blackest NightBrightest DayFlashpoint)

Artist: Jim Lee (Batman: HushX-Men: Mutant Genesis, Superman: For Tomorrow)

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

Storyline – 8

Art – 10

Captivity and Length – 9

Identity – 7

Use of Medium – 9

Depth – 7

Fluidity – 9

Intrigue/Originality – 8

The Little Things – 9

Overall awesomeness – 8

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With the way that DC Comics is rolling out exciting stories with strong, developed characters, it’s easy to forget that less than three years ago, DC relaunched its entire catalog in a brazen attempt to gain more readers. The New 52 term was named after the fifty-two (no, seriously) new series that were launched in September of 2011. The first released and most heavily promoted book in the relaunch was Justice League, and it had a creative team comprised of the two biggest ballers in the entire corporation: Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and Co-Publisher Jim Lee. DC really rolled out the red carpet for our flagship characters in this first volume, Origins.

Have they got a name? Of course they do, you can call them the SUPER SEVEN!!! This is still very early in the Justice League’s career, so early in fact, that only Flash and Green Lantern have actually met before and people actually believe Batman is still a myth. While the story starts off with a bang, it is very mild compared to the type of major events one would think would have to take place to bring seven of the DC Universe’s greatest heroes together. That is actually a point of contention with me because I would have really liked to see Green Arrow in the league to begin with. While he was at least mentioned by the very end along with Zatanna, one of the most important intial members is completely left out of the picture. Martian Manhunter is nowhere to be seen or heard from in these first six issues, although he does make his debut in Justice League of America as a weaponized response to Superman. I get that they try to have one of each hero archetype involved from the start is more than enough, ignoring an original is a bit ridiculous, especially considering they included Shazam! in the animated adaptation.

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Where the book does get it right, however, is in the way they slowly yet awesomely introduce characters one at a time. Each character feels like they were treated fairly with equal time which is no small task considering how few issues they had to work with and the ambitiousness of this particular story. The art by Jim Lee – which really needs no further explanation, but just in case you didn’t already know – is absolutely stunning in every detail. Every page is drawn and colored beautifully; many pages left me staring well after I had read the dialogue. The attention to detail is that immaculate. My only complaint about the art is that Aquaman seems to be the only character that doesn’t match his New 52 reboot design. If people wonder why Aquaman is always getting made fun of, they only need to look at the costume he was given here. It is very hard to take him serious when he has mutton chops and a pearl necklace (like Gangstalicious said, “it’s all about pearl necklaces”) with his trident chained to him with a ridiculously long chain. He basically looks like a frat-boy looking for an S&M party at Red Lobster.

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Its not only the art that got this kind of detail either, there are little nods throughout that make it something special for longtime fans of these characters. A little girl calling them the Super Friends or the ever so slight nod towards the Legion of Doom, along with the humor that almost comes effortlessly between the characters. Even though they are meeting for the first time in this book, it feels like they have been fighting evil together for a lifetime.

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All this isn’t to say that the book didn’t have its faults, though. While there was an overall cohesiveness that worked really well for the story, it felt at times like there was almost too much going on at once. Since this story was self-contained and didn’t bleed over into any of the main characters solo storys, it felt like a missed opportunity to further explore pieces of the story that were otherwise left out. My main gripe with the story was how we as readers were just thrown directly into the middle of a story with the first panel and never really given much explanation other than Darkseid was coming. Leading up to and even after his arrival, more time is spent on introducing the characters and making sure they get their just due, when it would have been nice to extend the story a few more books and give a more fleshed out story to the reader. The end makes it seem like this is something that may be revisited, but not anytime soon.

Outside of the initial reveals for the characters, there wasn’t very much in the way of character progression. This can be forgiven in this particular instance because it goes along with the major reboot of all the series (which is where most of the character development should go), it just felt like the writers could have used the opportunity as more of a bonding experience then they actually did. I expect from this point forward for the series to build these relationships further and make them a more cohesive unit (We already know Wonder Woman and Supes get busy 😉 ). One of the biggest changes in the characters’ personality is Superman’s disregard for authority. Blue Boy Scout no more, Superman has readily embodied the ethos of the current generation, and a nice touch that has defined his character in the New 52.

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Overall, this is an experience that can’t be missed. Even with the minor story and character hiccups, the potential this book has going forward is amazing. With the hint at the Legion of Doom being on the horizon there is the potential to have all sorts of encounters, because not only is this a fresh start for the Justice League, it is also a reboot of their greatest foes. There is also a great opportunity to cultivate relationships that can also be worked into the characters main books as well (Superman/Wonder Woman and Batman/Superman being prime examples but let’s branch out!!). Going forward, I would suggest grabbing Volume Two: The Villain’s Journey, if not for the story, at least for the amazing Jim Lee art. Any fan, casual or long-time will be able to appreciate Origin.

General Reception: It may not have been the reinvention that the Justice League merited, but fans definitely bought into it. While the Geoff Johns/Jim Lee arcs only spanned two volumes, it gave readers like us a whole new universe to go off of. Jim Lee’s art and Alex Sinclair’s coloring are top notch, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody who didn’t have nice things to say about this book. It’s a great representation of what the relaunch was supposed to be.

Related Books: Flashpoint offers the same familiar feelings with a new origin twist, albeit much more drastic alterations are made. The new Justice League series is still going strong, as well. The current Forever Evil storyline shows the Justice League putting up with the Crime Syndicate. Final Crisis, also written by Geoff Johns, is a great DC epic with Darkseid as the main villain.

More by the writer: Geoff Johns has had quite the run in the past ten years. Notably, his work on Green Lantern books, everything from The Sinestro Wars leading up to Blackest Night and going all the way to Trinity War, Johns has had the rare pleasure of creating a saga. Before the New 52 reboot, Johns also wrote The Flash’s Rebirth (the return of Barry Allen) and Flashpoint. Recently, he had just left the New 52 Aquaman series after building up some credibility for the character. He is also still writing Justice League as it enters the thick of the Forever Evil arc.

More by the artist: Wanna know more about Jim Lee? Check out our new “Respect My Craft!” article, spotlighting the iconic artist, debuting tomorrow!

*Screenshots taken directly from comic book using Comixology app. Credit to DC Comics for the images.

Written by Robert Michael

Graphic Novel Review – Fables Volume One: Legends in Exile

Graphic Novel Review: Fables: Legends in Exile

CollectingFables #1-5

Original Release Date: 2002-2003

Publisher: Vertigo (an imprint of DC Comics that has published works such as Sandman100 Bullets and V for Vendetta)

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Characters: Bigby Wolf, Snow White, Prince Charming, Beauty & the Beast, lots more!

Writer: Bill Willingham (Fables #1-present, Angel: After the Fall, Legenderry: A Steampunk Adventure)

Artist: Lan Medina (Silver Surfer, District XVenom)

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

Storyline – 8

Art – 8

Captivity and Length – 8

Identity – 9

Use of Medium – 7

Depth – 7

Fluidity – 8

Intrigue/Originality – 10

The Little Things – 7

Overall awesomeness – 9

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It’s been awhile since I’ve read Fables. Looking at my home library I’ve noticed I was missing my first volume along with others I’ve seem to have lost over the years. It was fun to pick it up after all this time. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed it. In many ways, it’s what I wish Once Upon a Time would be. All the characters are familiar, as they’ve existed in fairy-tales, children’s books and Disney movies over and over again. The concept of using characters that are now public domain (no copyright claims can be made on them) with an original story and a modern twist is something that had never been done before in the comic book world.

Fables follows the stories of characters from fairy tales and fables who have been exiled to the “mundane” realm of New York City. They were pushed out from their many lands by a villain only referred to as the “advisory” and must now coexist in secret from the “mundy” humans of New York City. Characters who cannot pass as human live on a farm on the outskirts of New York. If you think this story sounds a bit familiar, you would be correct. Writer Bill Willingham has blatantly expressed that his story, while not politically directed, is social commentary on the current Israeli-Palestinian state of affairs.

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What’s fun about Fables is that it plays with several different genres. In this volume, we observe a murder/mystery. We are first introduced to Snow, the Deputy Mayor of Fabletown, who’s having to deal with marital problems between Beauty and the Beast. Her course reverts when the two experience martial conflict. After all, it’s hard to maintain the magic of a marriage when you’ve been married for the past thousand years.

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At the same time Jack, rushes in to tell Snow that her her sister, Red, has had something horrible happen to her. He found her apartment in disarray and her blood soaking everything. Bigby (the big bad wolf) runs around New York trying to piece together the mystery while at the same time introducing the readers to the world of Fabletown and the characters who inhabit it. I find the way Willingham constructs the story both interesting and clever, and left me with quite a few chuckles. Even the panels have a few eggs that if you pay attention closely can make you laugh. Who doesn’t love a hairy man in a banana hammock?

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While enjoyed Legends in Exiles, I also found the dialogue to be a bit strained and hard to believe. I also felt Snow’s reaction were a bit all over the place (OUAT much) and the cheese were at times grating. As for the art, I felt it was well drawn comic for the most part, but, for a murder mystery, I thought it lacked the visual clues necessary for the reader to try and puzzle it together. I actually took me until the reveal of the plot, which carries on for an entire issue, that I was supposed to be playing detective along with Bigby, as a reader. Had I known the ride I was in for, I may have been more perceptive to the subtleties instead of just laughing along with the punch-lines. As a reader, you can now be prepared to be prepared with your pipe and monocles for a fantastical, quasi-interactive murder/mystery.

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Overall, I highly recommend reading Fables for anyone Jonesing for a spot of fantasy and who loves a good twist on their fairy tales.

General Reception: Fables is a highly acclaimed book, both critically and among casual readers. There has been an rise in stock for the series, as the series has been awarded fourteen (and counting) Eisner Awards. Talks of a television show have all but died (and then reincarnated in the spirit of Once Upon A Time), but a movie adaptation is currently in the works! Fans love Fables so much that Rochester, Minnesota held the first ever FablesCon in March 2013. In addition, a videogame has been developed by TellTale Games, the same geniuses behind the story-driven The Walking Dead series, and is called The Wolf Among Us, which I will buy as soon as this article is published!

Related Books: If you somehow manage to catch up to the 136th issue that hit shelves on New Year’s Eve, then you still have a plethora of spin-offs and side-stories to explore. And as an added bonus for those willing to purchase the collected versions (graphic novels) of Fables, there are almost always bonus short stories (with words!) explaining a bit of the Fables mythos to hungry readers. Legends in Exile included “Wolf in the Fold” which is of the Wolf’s time when he was fighting the Advisory. I enjoyed the short story and it adds nice origin story for Fabletown.

More by the writer: Bill Willingham is an interesting man. Most of his catalog consists of Fables, as he has impressively written the entirety of the Fables stories (minus a couple here and there). He has just recently came out with a series, published by Dynamite Entertainment, called Legenderry: A Steampunk Adventure, which I can only assume is as hilarious and fantastical as his work on Fables. He’s also done an adult fantasy (image LARPing naked) book called Ironwood, as well as work on the earlier Angel comics for IDW. He’s nerdy in the best ways.

More by the artist: Rolando “Lan” Medina has been a quiet presence in the comic book industry, making his mark on everything from Cable & Deadpool to Punisher: MAX to Storm, the last of which Medina won a Glyph Comic Award in 2007 for, along with his Eisner Award for Best Serialized Story for Legends in Exile in 2003. His style is simplistic, but portrays the story well enough without distracting from it. Starting in April, you can find his art in DC’s new series, Aquaman & the Others.

*Screenshots taken directly from comic book using Comixology app. Credit to Vertigo Comics for the images.

Written by Jené Conrad

Graphic Novel Review – Locke and Key Volume One: Welcome to Lovecraft

Graphic Novel Review: Locke & Key, Volume One: Welcome to Lovecraft

CollectingLocke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft #1-6

Original Release Date: 2008

Publisher: IDW Comics

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Characters: The Lockes (Tyler, Kinsey, Bode, Nina), Sam Lesser

Writer: Joe Hill

Artist: Gabriel Rodriguez

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

Storyline – 8

Art – 8

Captivity and Length – 9

Identity – 10

Use of Medium – 8

Depth – 10

Fluidity – 7

Intrigue/Originality –10

The Little Things – 9

Overall awesomeness – 8

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In the wake of Halloween, I found it only fitting to review one of the best Horror/Mystery comics of all time, Locke & Key. Having read it for the first time before reviewing it, there was a lot of hype for these books to live up to, as it has garnered quite the cult following amongst avid readers – yet, at the same time, not many comic book readers I know read the series. What I will try to give you is my opinion from the point of view of a person that just loves good stories, whether they have pictures or not. If being connected to previous comics or superheroes is a must for you, then I can already tell you that this will not be the book for you. Sometimes, you need to let go of all you came into reading with and just experience something new.

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Welcome to Lovecraft introduces us to a family recovering from tragedy. The Lockes have just moved across the country to Keyhouse, a large manor that they used as a summer home in Lovecraft, Massechutesetts. This is all fallout from when the father in the family, Rendell, was shot in the face by one of his students, also a classmate of Tyler’s, Sam Lesser. At first, it seems like just another crazy murder, but as we find out, Keyhouse is more than it appears to be. Bode, the youngest of the family, finds out that you can turn into a ghost by walking through a certain door. No joke, he dies and becomes a spirit – at will.

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The story can be a bit difficult to follow at first, especially since most of the first issue shoots back between flashbacks and the present day, but it becomes easier once the backstory has been built. While it is innately a horror book, there is plenty of humor to keep the mood light when people aren’t being murdered. Bode’s time as a ghost crosses the genre from horror to fantasy, as he experiences the spirit state with child-like naivety, and is one of the best parts of the book. We also get a good chance to bond with the new characters, a nod to some great writing of internal monologue from a family that has just had their father murdered. But, like in any great horror story, something that starts out cute and innocent turns out to be the doom of them all. Bode’s innocent friend Echo ends up having a mystical connection with Sam, Rendell Locke’s murderer. And he is coming back for more.

echo
I frequently found myself wondering what the hell was going on, not because of bad writing or story-telling, but simply because I had never experienced anything like this before. The writing made me love the good guys and hate the bad guys, although at one point you can’t help but have sympathy for the pawn, Sam Lesser. The art in Locke & Key is very straight-forward and portrays the people in the story with proportional figures and adequately gross horror scenes. Gabriel Rodriguez hasn’t won any awards yet, but he does a fantastic job of portraying what the story is trying to narrate.
mary on the rag
At the end of the day, I challenge you to find a better horror graphic novel out there. The depth of fantasy and story-telling elements help to balance the violence and terror in the story, engaging readers but never making them too afraid to connect to the reverie of what is happening. There are keys that let you go through different doors all over the world, a plot point that I couldn’t wait to be explored in future chapters. Locke & Key is proof that not all great comics need capes and cowls, but rather just a great story and the right artist to paint the picture.
keys

General Reception: Locke & Key has found quite the cult following among readers. It’s a fun ride, and legitimately frightening in the art and story-telling aspects. Take your chances on the critically acclaimed series that has an Eisner Award for Best Writing attached to it. They’ve even tried making a television series of the book; a trailer can be found below. FOX axed the series (no surprises there) in 2011, but Locke & Key has since been revived by Universal and a full-length film is in development.

Related Books: After finishing Welcome to Lovecraft, I would recommend jumping right into the second book, Head Games. Other good horror comics on the market right now are: The Wake by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy, The Walking Dead (although I don’t consider this a horror series anymore) by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard,  American Vampire by Scott Synder and the Dark Tower series by Stephen King.

More by the writer: It helps when your writer is actually a novelist. And it helps when that novelist is the son of the King of Horror, Stephen King. Joe Hill has written several award winning horror books and short stories, among them: 20th Century GhostsHeart-Shaped Box, and his best-selling novel that was just published in April 2013, NOS4A2 (Nosferatu, get it?). While he has written a couple of other one-shot comics, he has been almost exclusively dedicated to Locke & Key since its inception in 2008.

More by the artist: Like Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez really hasn’t done much else in terms of big projects, although he has drawn a number of other IDW comics, including: Transformers and CSI. His style actually reminded me a little bit of Chris Burnham’s Batman: Incorporated, a style that I feel did not work as well for Batman as it did here.

*Screenshots taken directly from comic book using Comixology app. Credit to IDW Comics for the images.

Written by Sherif Elkhatib

Graphic Novel Review – Saga: Volume One

Graphic Novel Review: Saga: Volume One 

Collecting: Saga #1-6

Original Release Date: 2012

Publisher: Image Comics

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Characters:  Alana, Marko, Hazel, Prince Robot IV, The Will, Izabel, The Stalk

Writer: Brian K. Vaughn

Artist: Fiona Staples

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

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

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 Imagine if The Hobbit, Firefly and Star Wars had monkey sex and left a wet spot in the form of a comic. Saga is one of those rare gems that comes once a generation. Writer extraordinaire Brian Vaughn, of TV’s Lost, and comics, Y: The Last Man is paired with Fiona Staples, total hottie and penciler of books like North 40 and Jonah Hex. The result is a space opera like none you have seen before. If you can envision what all of your 5th grade, overly sexualized pictures would look like if they had space ships and laser pistols, you’d have Saga.

Volume one is the trade version of issues 1-6, originally published in 2012. Once again, Image Comics pushes the boundaries, almost as often as they push back release dates, and gives us a comic worthy of fan-boy argument and minimum orders at your local comic shop.
The story follows two lovebirds born on opposite sides of a galactic war. Take away the horns and wings and Marko and Alana are Kirk Cobain and Courtney Love, or a less violent hipster version of Mickey and Mallory.
Plot Alert!
Our heroine, Alana is from a planet called Landfall and Marko is from a planet called
Wreath. The two planets have been at war longer than anyone can remember. They fell in love and had a mixed species baby. This baby is the reason why they are being hunted by both species.
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Our interstellar lovers begin their adventure with the birth of their daughter and our narrator, Hazel.  Its probably the most kick-ass birth ever in a comic. Immediately, they are confronted by an army of angry elk dudes and another group of guys that look like the cops from Demolition Man with wings.
If I sound a little gushy, it’s probably because Fiona Staples single handedly kept my faith in comics alive last year with this title.  Hell, she damn near created a whole new religion, fully equipped with sister-wives, Kool-aid flavored arsenic, and snake charming. So pardon me if I sound a little fanboy while reading my signed copy. This comic doesn’t answer the question, did Greedo shoot first? But it does stir a pot of middle school giddiness once you read a page or two.
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There is a post war, atomic era feel to Staples work. Saga is reminiscent of Dan Stevens Rocketeer epic. Vaughn’s humor compliments her sarcastic facial expressions and the book reads like a still frame sitcom.
Magic is a common weapon and spells are often cast to thwart enemies in this universe. But there is also a healthy dose of light-saber’esk swordplay.
The Will, a freelance bounty hunter hired to find our couple, looks like what Han Solo would have if he’d been played by Bruce Willis.
Our thrift-shop, Gluten-free heroes find themselves in more trouble than they can handle and end up befriending the half torso ghost of a dead emmo-girl named Izabel. Zoinks!
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I can only empathize with Mr. and Mrs. Staples having to explain to little Fiona why her art wasn’t suitable for the fridge. The opening scene in chapter four with Will walking through Sextillion is disturbing, but you won’t stop smiling all while trying not to feel guilty about it. There are plenty enough dicks and tits to make you feel like your comic should have come sealed in a plastic bag and sold behind a black curtain.
Overall the story is simple, but the humor is hard to deny. This book is vulgar, sardonic and voguish and I bet George Carlin would have loved it. Volume one has more than enough to keep the reader interested and in anticipation of more Superbad inspired notebook doodles of dicks and spaceships. Bravo for Saga.
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      Related Books: Saga Volume Two, and all comic Issues #1-13 

      More by the writer: Brian Vaughn is an official Bad-Ass. He has written for everything you like. The list is too long to do justice. It includes Captain America, X-Men and Spider-Man.  He has even crossed universes and written for the guy with the cape and cowl and the other dude with the green bling. Not to mention Y: The Last Man is one of the best titles of this decade and has won numerous awards. Oh, and then there is ABC’s Lost.

More by the artist: Fiona Staples is pretty much the best thing in comics right now. She has worked her way through the industry and is co-creator of one of the most popular titles on the market, Saga. She has done a ton of cover art for multiple titles, including, The Walking Dead, Red Sonja and Superman/Batman. Watch out comic-book heads! This inkstress is already making a big impact on the industry, and this is only the beginning!  Cue spooky villain sound track.

Written by John Soweto