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

Graphic Novel Review – Deadpool: Merc With A Mouth

Graphic Novel Review: Deadpool: Merc With A Mouth

CollectingDeadpool: Merc With A Mouth #1-13

Original Release Date: 2009-2010

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Deadpool: Merc With A Mouth

Characters: Deadpool, Headpool

Writer: Victor Gischler (Gun Monkeys)

Artist: Bong Dazo

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

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

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For one second, let’s forget that X:Men Origins ever existed. Let’s pretend you have no idea who Deadpool is. He doesn’t have saber-arms like Baraka from Mortal Kombat, he doesn’t shoot frickin’ lasers out of his face. And above all, his mouth is definitely not sewn shut. Deadpool the comic book character is something very different. He’s an immature adrenaline junkie that hires out his mercenary services out to the highest bidder and talks a lot in the process. This can be an endearing quality, but it can also come off as juvenile and annoying. For better or worse, though, Merc With A Mouth is a Deadpool book the whole way through.

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Merc With A Mouth starts off with Deadpool taking a mercenary job to bring back a package to A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics), which Wolverine has described as “an organized group of international science-terrorists. You know, like one of those Japanese techno-apocalypse cults? They recruit the kinda brilliant geeks and brainy outsiders who want revenge for not getting any booty (New X-Men #143).” Deadpool heads off to the prehistoric Savage Land to retrieve the package, discovering along the way that the package is (don’t laugh) his own zombified head from an alternate universe. It’s a story that makes absolutely no sense, and it doesn’t have to. Deadpool has garnered a cult following and it’s not because of his cerebral storylines. He’s a loyal and simple fellow who loves random junk food (Fresca is choice in this book), but can still kick butt when needed. Deadpool is also a big fan of the ladies and violence, stealing the hearts of the inner sixteen-year olds in men and the women that find sixteen year-olds attractive in a horny dog kind of way

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Spanning thirteen issues, Merc With A Mouth is a high-octane ride full of violence and wiener jokes at the surface. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find lots of boob jokes. Dig even deeper though, and you will find clever writing that uses pop culture references to carry the bulk of its transitions and comebacks. It’s these little nuances that really break up the story. The satirical approach to everything from The Walking Dead to Star Wars makes it seem like Deadpool has a genuinely good time throughout the story, which is refreshing after reading so many books about internal struggle and the torment of having powers. In fact, each issue’s cover in the arc is parodied from an iconic film poster and references are made throughout the book. Still today, Deadpool pokes fun at iconic ideas and pop culture references by showing up on random Marvel Comics’ variant covers. Really, Deadpool is just around to have a good time. Along those lines, one should align expectations with that concept when reading the book.

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In terms of continuity, you’re kinda just gonna have to pick this stuff up as it goes. Unlike flagstaff characters in Marvel and DC, Deadpool’s continuity is all over the place. Basically, when reading Merc With A Mouth, if you feel like you missed something, it’s probably just because you did. The series that ties the closest into Merc With A Mouth is Marvel Zombies, but you don’t need it to understand the concept of this book, but rather to accept the ludicrous notion that somehow, Deadpool’s severed head is out there running amok. Notably, Merc With A Mouth also introduces some of the more memorable alternate universe Deadpools, Headpool and Lady Deadpool, as well as the Deadpool Kid (not to be confused with the kid Deadpool, Kidpool) and Major Wilson. One of my favorite things that Merc With A Mouth does with its presentation is that, on each issue, there is a one-page recap that is both informative and hilarious, helping readers kind of get an idea of what just happened in previous issues.

The main thing to take away from Merc With A Mouth is that not every comic book needs ground-breaking art or, hell, even a cohesive story. Sometimes all you need is an infallible character and a heap of charisma to make a story work. It’s a fun, thrilling ride of fourth-wall-breaking goodness. While the banter between himself (and the voices in his head) and the other characters can feel repetitive and forced, the book relies on its story’s frequent change of scenery and need to make fun of itself to really carry the story. You won’t be blown away by it’s storyline or art, but you will be thoroughly amused and entertained.

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General Reception: Merc With A Mouth is generally considered a good place to start for fans who would like to get to know more about Deadpool as a comic book character. While the Marvel: NOW! reboot is kinda of floating around with no real direction, this book has a definitive storyline that at least holds up true to the Deadpool character. However, a seasoned comic book fan can still pick up on the subtle references that newbies may not understand. I would recommend this book to anybody who would like to get into Deadpool or anybody who can read a comic book casually without the expectations of our  anything too great.

Related Books: Right after Merc With A Mouth ends, the Deadpool Corps storyline begins, comprised up of multiple Deadpools to save the word from Skrulls and other ridiculous baddies.

More by the writer: Victor Gischler returns to write the first two Deadpool Corps’ collected editions. He also writes the first 26 issues of the 2010 X-Men series.

More by the artist: There’s not too much out there by Bong Dazo, but his two favorite subjects to draw are Star Wars and Deadpool,

*Screenshots taken directly from comic book using Comixology app.

Written by Sherif Elkhatib

Kick-Ass 2 Review

Kick-Ass 2
Genre – Comic Book/Action
Director – Jeff Wadlow
Cast – Aaron Taylor-Johnson & Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass), Christopher Mints-Plasse (Superbad), Jim Carrey, Donald Faison (Scrubs, Clueless), John Leguizamo (Ice Age)
Alluring element – A sequel to the 2010 movie about home-grown superheroes based off the original Kick Ass comics
Check it out if you liked – Kick-Ass, Watchmen, violent action movies, comic book movies
Plot – 8
Acting – 9
Representation of Genre – 10  
Cinematography – 8
Effects/Environment – 9
Captivity – 10
Logical consistency – 9
Originality/Creativity – 7 
Soundtrack/Music – 8
Overall awesomeness – 9

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In a world saturated in comic book movies already, the Kick-Ass franchise well-represents the minority of the lesser-known stories. Unlike the hoards of comic book inspired films before it, Kick-Ass didn’t have fifty plus years of lore to pull from. All it had was one eight-issue run to create a fully-enveloped universe. There was no Batsuit to fit into, no Lois Lane to save and no Avenger to come save the day. Instead, Kick-Ass uses frequent fanboy references to characters of all nerd mythos. Come to think of it, I don’t know any other instance that the words “Batman” and “Stan Lee” are used together in the same movie. In doing so, Kick-Ass really makes viewers feel they are getting an entirely new experience. I also felt that the struggles of our main characters were much more relatable than those of the blockbusters hits. Struggling with superpowers is cool I guess, but what about just getting the crap kicked out of you for trying to stand up for what’s just? My childhood was much closer to the latter. Another great trait of the film is it’s ability to play as a comic book, full of Comic Sans panel transitions and bulging out character introductions.

The transition from comic book to film might have been done so well that few people have any idea it was based off a comic book to begin with – which, to me, is a big nod to the creator, Mark Millar, and the film’s director, Jeff Wadlow. Millar’s story is so well-crafted, with just as many witty comebacks and touchy feelings as there are gruesome violence and adult (like, SUPER-adult) language. There is a vast cast of characters that complement each other and the dialogue alone has enough momentum to carry the film to the end, which should be noted is very different from the book’s plot. All star talent like Jim Carrey and Donald Faison are great additions to the crew as Colonel Stars & Stripes and Dr. Gravity, respectively. Carrey serves almost as a father-figure to new “superheroes”, mirroring the same relationship that Hit Girl had with Big Daddy. However, as hard at Nicolas Cage tried, and believe me he tried, he’s just too corny to pull off being a badass superhero, especially one that was a cheesy rip-off of Batman to begin with. The charisma of Colonel Stars & Stripes reverberates throughout the film and he’s genuinely likable as an actor for the first time since Fun With Dick and Jane.

I can't tell who is the more convincing psycho.
I can’t tell which is the more convincing psycho.

Colonel Stars & Stripes’ merry band of misfits, Justice Forever, is comprised of various inspired citizens with tragic “origin stories,” especially a suspiciously familiar Battle Guy whose parents were shot in an alley behind the opera house. Or maybe that was Batman’s origin, whatever. Another is a slender gay man that battles against bullies and discrimination while refusing to wear a mask because “it reminds him too much of being in the closet.” My favorite, though, has to be the middle-aged married couple in Knicks-colored jumpsuits, trying to avenge their son’s death. On the other side of the spectrum is the Motherfucker and his Toxic Mega-Cunts (Sidenote: in case you were wondering if this was going to be a family flick, I can tell you now that it is not. You’re probably better off taking the kids to see American Pie.) Formally the Red Mist, The MF’er is bent on the destruction of Kick-Ass and all that he holds dear after Kick-Ass blew his dad up with a bazooka. I mean, vowing revenge is one thing, but dressing up in your mother’s BDSM (oh God, I wonder how many searches for BDSM will bring views here. How disappointing!) outfit and calling yourself a supervillain might be taking it too far. It’s a  archetypical approach that often feels heavy-handed through the film from Christopher Mints-Plasse. McLovin has managed to typecast himself after just one film (Superbad) and has really lost his charm by trying too hard to be a douchebag supervillain. I haven’t figured out if I dislike the acting or the character, but I just really can’t stand that Motherfucker.

Oh, how the times change.
Oh, how the times change.

The same dark and violent humor from the original returns in Kick-Ass 2, bringing back the same formula, but turning up the intensity – more death, more brutality and more foul language (most of which is handed out by Hit-Girl). Contrary to the popular belief that this is pointless and gratuitous, I feel that the tone of the movie and the book are both very dark and violent, in the same way that Sin City and Watchmen portray a bleak and dangerous outlook on their worlds. In fact, the movie actually pulled a few punches instead of unleashing its graphic content on us to prevent some bloodshed and sexual violence making it on screen and avoiding those scenes with awkward humor. That’s not to say Kick-Ass 2 is full of warm fuzzies. After the Sandy Hook massacre, supporting actor Jim Carrey came on the record of saying that after such a tragic act, there’s no way he could support that level of violence. I see when he is coming from, but I do not agree. After the Aurora theater shooting last year during The Dark Knight Rises, nobody rushed to condemn Batman and his use of violence. The truth is, Kick-Ass 2 is one of the most violent comic book movies you can watch, but it is also keen on showing the consequences of that violence and goes far to make clear that it is not something to be glorified. Dressing up and playing superhero isn’t a game. The most violent urge I had after watching the movie was to find a DARPA “sick stick” and use it in line at the DMV.

Another dynamic to the movie is that Hit-Girl is actually the main character. Although Kick-Ass is the title character, Chloe Grace Moretz has just as much screen time and character development as her male counter-part. She actually refers to herself as the Batman to Kick-Ass’ Robin throughout the film and is constantly saving Kick-Ass’… ass, training him and teaching him to be a better hero. It’s funny, because even though this is a Marvel book, there are deeper comparisons to DC Comics’ Batman and Robin – beyond the one that’s mentioned in the trailers. When Big Daddy dies at the end of the first Kick-Ass, hit girl is left grieving in a way that begs asking the question “what would happen if Damian Wayne survived Batman at 15 years old?” Both Damian Wayne and Mindy Macready are callous, trained killers that have a stubborn issue with authority. In this analogy, Kick-Ass plays Nightwing, an older more stable family-figure that brings Robin/Hit-Girl back from the darkness to find deeper meaning and guide them back on the right path. It’s an interesting angle that makes me appreciate the writing a little more.

Kick-Ass 2 has a lot to say, but the message can get muddled amongst the Tarantino-level violence and harsh language, but overall it is a great follow-up to an original idea. In a lot of ways, the sequel actually surpasses the original in terms of supporting cast and character development. The action scenes are on a larger scale and the comedy keeps you from crying from the tragedy. Its great writing leaves it open for a third installment to play out in a way that the comic book (ongoing) has a noticeably different direction than the movies.The Kick-Ass franchise is not just creating its own universe, but reflects a very real part of society in which people try to go out and make a difference doing the very thing that Justice Forever does in the movie. One thing that is transparent is that these real life superheroes aren’t gimmicks, well at least all of them. If you want to dress up and fight crime, you need to go out and do it. Or just watch this movie. All the reviews I’ve seen on it have been quite polar, but I recommend going out and seeing it for yourself to decide how much ass it really kicks.

Thanks guys! We'll see you in the third one.
Artist John Romita, Jr. and Writer Mark Millar getting super-photobombed by Dr. Gravity

Easter Eggs

Even past the above-mentioned connections, Kick-Ass 2 pays homage to comic book mythology in a number of ways. During the scene where Justice Forever christens their new hideout, all the heroes line up and take a picture very reminiscent of the photo that the Watchmen take when they form the team. Kick-Ass also wears an ironic “I Hate Reboots” Star Wars shirt to bed. Also, you can find references to other Marvel and Mark Millar work throughout the film, all found in Kick Ass’ room. Colonel Stars & Stripes is actually two different characters in the comics, Colonel Stars and Lieutenant Stripes, with Stripes being the other founding member of Justice Forever with Colonel Stars.

Written by Sherif Elkhatib

Deadpool Videogame Review

Genre – Run and Gun, Action/Adventure
Publisher/Developer – Activision/High Moon Studios (Transformers Cybertron series)
Voice Actors/Writers – Nolan North (Desmond Miles in Assassin’s Creed, Cole McGrath in inFamous, Nathan Drake in Uncharted, the list goes on…), Daniel Way (Deadpool, Wolverine Origins)
Alluring element – A hack and slash videogame featuring Deadpool in his true form
Check it out if you liked – Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Wolverine: X-Men Origins (the game)
**NOT FOR CHILDREN**

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

Storyline – 7
Gameplay –7
Animation – 8
Replay Value – 6
Entertainment Value – 10
Captivity – 9
Variety – 8
Originality/Creativity – 7
Soundtrack/Music – 8
Overall awesomeness – 7

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When the Deadpool videogame was announced last year at San Diego Comic-Con, I could hardly contain myself. My expectations weren’t too high. This is clearly an example of style of substance, and I was okay with that. Often himself being style over substance, The Merc With A Mouth originated in the early 90’s as a parody of DC’s Deathstroke, an assassin for hire that is. on many occasion, too badass for his own good. Deadpool’s known for breaking the fourth wall in the comics, which means that he blatantly speaks to the reader, or in this case the player. He’s also known to be bat-s*** crazy. Casual fans who really only know him from Wolverine: X-Men Origins will find this portrayal to be completely new, and hopefully lovable.

Deadpool crashes the SDCC 2012 Marvel Videogames panel to promote his own game. Typical.
Deadpool crashes the SDCC 2012 Marvel Videogames panel to promote his own game. Typical.

The premise of Deadpool is one that doesn’t quite make sense. Not only does he know that he’s a comic book character, but he also knows he’s a videogame character. After threatening a big-shot producer into approving his pitch for a videogame, they send him a script which he quickly throws out the window – a process that I can’t imagine was too different from the process they used in real life. They establish a “big bad” and the reason why they go from level to level, but that’s about as fleshed out as it gets. The first time through, I had no idea what was going on or where I was supposed to be headed for much of the game. I “just enjoyed the senseless slaughter.” To be fair, Deadpool rarely has any meaningful arcs in the comics and, excepting for X-Force titles, stories are really just centered around comic relief and violence. If you’re a fan who needs a deep, thoughtful storyline to enjoy the game, this is definitely not for you. However, in between all the plot-heavy games like The Last of Us, Metal Gear Solid, and The Walking Dead, it was really nice to just laugh at immature jokes and shoot things in the head.

Deadpool‘s gameplay is, by and large, the most disappointing part of the game; normally this is a deal-breaker, but there are still redeeming qualities about it. I will say that I am quite a bit more critical than warranted because I thought it would be a good idea to play Deadpool on the hardest difficulty level the first time through, making the errors much more apparent. The control scheme is laid out like a bastardization of your typical third-person shooter game and a Batman: Arkham game. I think the goal was to create a game you could melee with close-range weapons, but switch up on the fly to use guns when a fire-fight happens. High Moon actually does a fairly good job at this, as you can chain combos and switch weapons almost seamlessly. Combat would be a lot of fun if it weren’t for that damn camera. In a game that is a constant all-out brawl from all sides with all types of enemies, having a reliable in-game camera has become a staple of successful games. If you’ve played Metal Gear Rising, then you know an example of how a camera angle that won’t let you see further than three feet out can hinder a gaming experience. That being said, there were minimal glitches and loading times and the character models looked gorgeous. Deadpool’s first full videogame rendering looked just as good playing as he did in the non-gameplay videos.

The gaming experience is very linear. You spend most of your time going from Point A to Point B while eliminating a set amount of enemies. Even on the hardest difficulty, the story didn’t take that long and can take an afternoon to complete when on an easier difficulty level. Once the game is beaten, there are Challenge levels unlocked that you can play. Sadly, these levels are the same exact ones you play in the game. The only upside to these missions are the hilarious costumes that are unlocked (see below). Besides the generic weapons and character upgrades (almost all of which you can get by the end of your first play-through), there are no collectibles, no unlockables, nothing to make the game fun after you beat the story mode.

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I have a soft spot for French Maid Deadpool

What Deadpool lacks in depth, it makes up in personality with Nolan North. North has quite a long list of accolades in action game heroes, and portrays Deadpool with flare and enthusiasm. The developers spend a lot of time cramming Deadpool with as many sound bytes from North as possible. Deadpool just doesn’t shut up and I LOVE it. It’s dick and fart jokes combined with gratuitous violence, but it’s done with crass and originality.  It’s something that’s simply not done in gaming anymore. There were also mini-game segments strewn throughout the game that forces you to stop and smell the roses. I never knew how much fun repeatedly bitch-slapping Wolverine would be until I did it for five minutes straight. Okay, maybe not the best example, but there are tons of fun segments in Deadpool to keep you interested. The bread and butter of Deadpool is that it is, through and through, a Deadpool game. The story is forgettable and the gameplay is generic. Whether you will enjoy it or not really comes down to whether or not you like Deadpool as a character. With his resurgence warranting a cult following in pop culture, this was an admirable attempt to push him into the forefront in pure, unadulterated fashion. Deadpool plays more like an interactive movie than a fully enveloped game, and with low enough expectations, can be a gut-busting experience.


Wrap it up already! This is a review, not a biography, sheesh.
Wrap it up already! This is a review, not a memoir.

Written by Sherif Elkhatib