Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Walking Dead Review Extravaganza

Due to some health issues I had earlier in the year, I have read twice the number of books that I have reviewed.  Here are my reviews of trade paperbacks volumes 17 through 22.

The Walking Dead
Writer:  Robert Kirkman
Art:  Charles Adlard
Publisher:  Image Comics
Graphic Novel Challenge #s 14-19

Volume 17:   Something to Fear (issues 97-102)

Rick and his group forge an alliance with the Hilltop Colony.  The alliance leads Rick into a conflict with the colony’s enemies-the Saviors.  Based on the way Rick has handled other groups in the recent past, he takes them on thinking they are a small, unorganized group.  It proves to be a devastating error in judgment.  Rick finds himself outmaneuvered at every turn by Negan (the leader of the Saviors).

Negan is a classic opponent for Rick.  He is drawn somewhat cartoony but his language and actions are far from laughable.  Rick’s overconfidence leads to some tragic losses for his team.  Negan and the Saviors are better organized for a battle than Rick.  The sense of dread builds as Negan counters every one of Rick’s plans.

Although some critics became disappointed with this series, I think it has continued to be one of the best books on the market.  And sales are supporting my opinion.  It continues to be one of the top sellers month in/month out.

Highly recommended.

Volume 18:  What Comes After (issues 103-108)

Living under Negan’s rules is leading to a slow death for the Alexandria colony led by Rick.  Rick’s ally from the previous arc, Jesus, leads him to another group called the Kingdom.  The Kingdom is led by a man named Ezekiel who has a pet tiger.  Ezekiel is not what he appears to be and that will lead to problems in the future.

The main theme this time is Rick trying to learn who he can trust when he is going up against someone, Negan, who has anticipated his every move.  Rick has to give the appearance of being humbled while making his plans.  The unfortunate part is that some of his people, including his son Carl, are starting to lose faith.  This collection is similar to a slowly cooking stew.  At some point it will reach the boiling point but the reader is not sure when it will happen.

Highly recommended.

Volume 19:  March to War (issues 109-114)

Rick’s alliances are solidified with Jesus and Ezekiel.  Final plans are formulated for the battle to take out Negan and the Saviors.  Things seem to be working smoothly until Negan shows up at the Alexandria colony for his tribute.  To say things go bad at this point is an understatement.

I was afraid that after the Governor, Kirkman would struggle to find a suitable opponent for Rick.  Negan is a perfect counterpoint to Rick.  He is physically stronger and seems to be even more devious than Rick.

The wildcard in this story is Dwight.  He appears to be working undercover for Rick in Negan’s camp but enough hints are dropped to make you unsure as to his true intentions.  Kirkman does an excellent job of keeping the reader doubtful of Dwight’s true allegiance.  And the way Negan has out smarted Rick adds to that suspense.

Highly recommended.

Volume 20:  All Out War (Part One) (issues 115-120)

Rick leads his army( consisting of the Hilltop,the Kingdom, and the Alexandria colony) in an attack on Sanctuary (Negan’s base).  Staying true to form for Kirkman, Rick experiences success at the beginning.  Then Negan counter-attacks and things go from bad to worse. 

The creative team deserves kudos for their work on the “All-Out War” arc.  It appeared bi-weekly.  The only way the artist was able to keep up was with the addition of an inker.  The inker made the art look even better.

Kirkman has a gift of convincing the reader that events are going smoothly for Rick and then pulling the rug out from under him.  The ebb and flow of the battle gave the feel that this is a real war.

Highly recommended.

Volume 21:  All Out War (Part Two) (issues 121-126)

Negan’s counter-attack destroys Alexandria’s defenses and Rick is forced to confront him face to face.  I do not want to reveal more because the events need to be experienced as you read the book.

I was sure what was going to happen in the confrontation and Kirkman managed to surprise me.  Some critics have complained about the ending but I thought it was an excellent twist.  “All-Out War”, like most of the arcs in this series, left me emotionally drained.

Rush out, buy this series, and read it.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Volume 22:  A New Beginning (issues 127-132)

Kirkman skips the story ahead two years.  The society is being rebuilt after the damage done during the war.  A new group of survivors arrives in Alexandria.

I want to keep this spoiler free so I will not use names.  One of the characters is going down a dark path that could lead to disaster.  Another is like a ticking time bomb.  I cannot praise Kirkman enough for his character development.

The new group is very reminiscent of Rick’s group from earlier in the series.  They are very suspicious and are sure that the Alexandria colony is too good to be true.  This is a great twist that allows us to see how Rick’s group from the past would react to the new status quo.  It is a good way to give readers the best of both worlds.

And the discover by the new group is something that could potentially destroy all the progress the survivors of the war have made.

Highly recommended.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Rocket Girl Vol. 1: Times Squared

Writer:  Brandon Montclare

Artist:  Amy Reeder

Publisher:  Image Comics

First Publication:  July, 2014

Source:  Net Galley

Graphic Novel Challenge #13

Amy Reeder has been a favorite artist of mine since one of my friends raved about her work.  He directed me to read “Madame Xanadu” , which I will be finishing and reviewing later, and I loved it.  Reeder’s art here is a continuation of her maturation as an artist.  The smooth lines, the retro yet modern designs and her storytelling combine to make a beautiful package.  

Rocket Girl is a person out of time story with her traveling to the past.  I have to say that I was won over as soon as I saw she was wearing a jet pack.  Jet packs have been a favorite of mine since the first time I saw Adam Strange and later on when Dave Steven’s unleashed the Rocketeer.  You can’t go wrong with a jet pack.

The storyline is easy to follow as we see our protagonist try to adapt to a society that is backwards to her.  The characters are fleshed out to give the reader the feeling that they already know the people in the story.  In some respects I would love to see a movie version of this story but I am afraid it would not live up to the comic.

Highly recommended.

Liquid City Vol. 3

Writers/Artists:  Various

Publisher:  Image Comics

First Publication:  June, 2014

Source:  Net Galley

Graphic Novel Challenge #12

Anthologies have been part of the comics scene for most of its history.  EC Comics produced many anthology titles that featured some classic creators such as Wally Wood.  DC Comics published numerous science fiction (Strange Adventures (I enjoyed the Adam Strange stories), etc.) and horror (House of Mystery, etc.) anthologies.  Later Marvel published the glossy Epic magazine with work by Jim Starlin, John Bolton, and too many others to list.  “Marvel Comics Presents” featured one shot stories and continuing serials.  One of my favorites from this series was the Doug Moench “Master of Kung Fu” serial.  Anthologies are hit or miss.  I enjoyed some more than others.

The cover was interesting and caught my eye.  This is a collection of short stories from Southeast Asia.  I missed the first two volumes but will not be searching them out.  This is a well done anthology but does not appeal to me.  The stories are too short and do not give the creators enough space to develop the characters.  Some people have found this to be more to their tastes.  I recognize that not ever thing will click with every reader.  The work showcased here is quality writing, art, etc.  I think this would be something that fans of the Kitchen Sink publications would enjoy.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Infinity Gauntlet

Author:  Jim Starlin

Artists:  George Perez, Ron Lim

Publisher:  Marvel Comics

First Publication:  Sept., 2011

Source:  Kindle store

Graphic Novel Challenge Book #11

I remember picking up the early work of Jim Starlin off the spinner rack of a small local grocery store.  It was his famous “Captain Marvel/Warlock/Thanos” epic.  Starlin showed how Thanos used the Cosmic Cube to gain god-like powers.  It was a life and death, fate of the universe in the balance story that was amazing.  Starlin revisited Thanos in “The Infinity Gauntlet”.  

I am a big fan of his art and was disappointed to see that he did not do the art for this mini-series.  George Perez, one of my all-time favorites, started on the art and Ron Lim finished as the penciller.  Both do an excellent job.  

It was a fun chance to revisit characters we had not seen in a while.  The story was good but did not have the pathos of Starlin’s earlier work.  The Watcher appears which is interesting since his death is the driving force behind Marvel’s latest crossover, “Original Sin”.  The plot goes back and forth with Thanos gaining the upper hand only to lose it.  The later issues deal with a surprise move by Nebula.  Adam Warlock is guiding the heroes even though they do not know what he has planned.  

Highly recommended as a fun summer blockbuster type crossover.

Daredevil Vol. 3

Authors:  Mark Waid & Greg Rucka

Artists:  Marco Checchetto, Chris Samnee, Khoi Pham

Publisher:  Marvel Comics

First Publication:  April, 2013

Source:  Comixology

Collects Daredevil #s 11-15, Avenging Spider-Man #6, Punisher #10

Graphic Novel Challenge Book #10

This review will be a trip down memory lane.  Most of this collection revolves around the Omega Drive.  It is a disk that contains detailed information about the top five crime organizations in the Marvel Universe.  The disk was made out of a scrap from one of the Fantastic Four’s uniforms.  Their uniforms are made of unstable molecules so the disk will self-repair the firewall that keeps the information encoded.  Daredevil has the disk and sets up a meeting with all of the groups.  As his back ups he recruits Spider-Man, the Punisher, and a woman who seems to be a female version of the Punisher.  The first three chapters are all out action as the heroes try to keep the disk from the villains.  This reminded me of one of my favorite Spider-Man stories near the end of Stan Lee’s time on the title.  In Stan’s story, stone tablets were found that contain the formula for the Fountain of Youth.  The crime boss Silvermane tries to get it so he can restore his youth.  Kingpin is trying to get it for future use.  And Spidey was caught in the middle.  It also featured the debut of the hitman called Man Mountain Marko.  Stan had to like giving characters names that had the same initials (Peter Parker, Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Matt Murdock, J. Jonah Jameson, etc.).  Waid and Rucka capture the excitement of that classic tale.  And it does not hurt that the art of Marco Checchetto is very good.  

Waid follows this up with a few issues showing the repercussions of the first story.  The final chapters deal with Daredevil captured and experimented on in a foreign country.  He is trying to escape as his powers are fading rapidly.  Waid channels another favorite from my youth in this story.  In an old “Worlds Finest” two part story, Clark Kent goes to another country to do an expose on the dictator in charge.  The plan falls apart and he changes into Superman to escape.  Suddenly he loses his powers, is captured, and thrown in a concentration camp.  Batman goes to rescue him.  Although Waid’s story is original, it captures the feel of that classic story.  And that is part of the appeal of Waid’s “Daredevil” run.  He is giving the reader the fun and excitement of the classic comics.  I will definitely be on board for more of this.

The First X-Men

Authors:  Neal Adams & Christos Gage

Artist:  Neal Adams

Publisher:  Marvel Comics

First Publication:  February, 2013

Source:  Comixology

Collects The First X-Men #s 1-5

Graphic Novel Challenge Book #9

Neal Adams was one of my favorite artists when I was growing up.  I remember the excitement of seeing an Adams cover on the spinner rack.  I have many fond memories of picking up an issue of “Batman” or “Brave and the Bold” with his art.  And the pleasant surprise of seeing an Adams’ page in the original run of “Justice League of America”.  One of my favorite series back then was the Roy Thomas/Neal Adams/Tom Palmer “X-Men”.  The stories were good and the visuals were stunning.  

Although Adams art is not the same as it was then, I still like to look at his work.  For this trip down memory lane, Adams is teaming with writer Christos Gage (one of the most underrated writers of recent times).  Is this a perfect comic?  No, but it is fun.  This takes place before Professor Xavier recruits the original team as we saw them in “X-Men #1”.  If you are looking for an enjoyable, fun adventure I would recommend this series. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Alex + Ada Volume 1

Authors:  Jonathan Luna & Sarah Vaughn

Artist:  Jonathan Luna

Publisher:  Image Comics

First Publication:  July 2014

Source:  Net Galley

Graphic Novel Challenge Book #8

I found this comic to be a mixed bag.  The artist renditions of the characters were pretty good.  What I did not care for was the amount of empty space in some of the panels.  I prefer art with that has more detail in the backgrounds.  Many of the panels had blank backgrounds.  I rank the art as average due to the mixed reactions. 

The story is interesting but lacks a narrative drive.  The characterization was very good.  I feel like I have known people similar to Alex and his friends.  The part that was missing was the main theme was week.  Alex comments at the end of this storyline that he is not sure why he is trying to free Ada from her programming. 

The background technology is very good.  I like the way appliances are run by voice command.

This review sounds very negative but I did enjoy the story and some of the details when I was reading it.  Recommended for fans of human interest, laid back stories.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Gate-Way Vol. 1: A New World

Author:  Joe Halpin Sr.

Artist:  Juanfrancisco Moyano

Publisher:  IDW

Source:  Net Galley

Graphic Novel Challenge #7

Ex-cop Jake Ryan wakes up in another world/dimension.  All he knows for sure is that he has died.  Others who have died and been reborn into this realm go to a city called Hopetown for protection from the terrifying Dark Souls.  Things are not what they seem in this town so Jake leaves and ends up in a different town controlled by gang members.  It turns out he is on a mission as we find out in the course of the story.

In some respects this bears similarities to the latest television series on Syfy, "Dominion".  Both have a corrupt town that offers "protection" from a fearsome enemy.  Unfortunately they both suffer from seeming derivative of other stories.

Moyano's style is similar to the early work of Thomas Derenick.  Once he gets more experience and lets the art flow it will be much better.  At this point in his career his art is too stiff.

I would not recommend this book.