Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Programme Vol. 2 Trade Paperback Review

The Programme Vol. 2
DC Comics - Wildstorm
Softcover Trade Paperback
144 pages
$17.99 (2008)
ISBN 9781401219987

Contributors: Peter Milligan, CP Smith, and Pat Brosseau

Reprints: The Programme #7-12 (of 12)

Synopsis: A group of Soviet superhumans awaken in the modern day to wreak havoc upon the world.  They were derived from failed US experiments thirty years earlier.  The CIA attempts to coerce their sleeper superman into fighting the Cold War monsters, but a rogue scientist altered his programming toward liberal tendencies and he mistrusts the government.

Your Soviet superheroes
The Soviet super killers descend upon Las Vegas, the bastion of capitalism, like locusts and destroy everything in sight.  Growing more desperate the government reawakens Senator Joe, a black superhuman brainwashed to believe he is Senator Joe McCarthy, the extreme anti-communist.

Somehow he is able to convince Max to fight against the Soviets, but they are overwhelmed in battle due to a lack of conviction.  Meanwhile a race war is brewing in the southern US as unease over the Talibstan events back at home spiral out of control.  Senator Joe is roughly awakened from his programming and defects.

 Now Max is the only hope of the US against the resurrected Cold War superhumans.  He lacks sufficient belief in his cause to be truly effective and the CIA attempts a last ditch ploy to revert his programming back to unquestioning loyalty.  Can they repress his morality and force him to do their bidding?  Failure means the death of capitalism and society as we know it.  What about the corrupt CIA operatives angling for a coup to seize control of the US in the wake of destruction?

Pros: Complex plot with many twists and turns, mature/interesting superhuman concept, dark storyline, decent ending

Cons: The race war seemed forced and a bit implausible, art is too murky and dark

Mike Tells It Straight: Milligan finishes his deconstructed superhero epic The Programme.  The finale was suitably grand with a fair amount of plot twists and comeuppances.  Race war section felt forced and art (now with CP Smith doing colors too) became even less coherent/murky - detracted from the experience.  Maybe if Smith were inked by someone else it would have worked better.  

I felt the story was  entertaining, but lacked any true addition to the core concepts.  Milligan just polishes and puts his own spin on them.  Good if you like conspiracy theories and slightly more realistic superhuman battles. Okay effort and a lukewarm recommendation.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

The Programme Vol. 1 Trade Paperback Review

The Programme Vol. 1
DC Comics - Wildstorm
Softcover Trade Paperback
144 pages
$17.99 (2008)
ISBN 9781401218157

Contributors: Peter Milligan, CP Smith, Jonny Rench, Pat Brosseau, and variant cover to #1 by Ethan Van Sciver

Reprints: The Programme #1-6 (of 12)

Synopsis: American soldiers acquire several German scientists at the end of World War II along with an embryonic, prototype superbeing.  They covertly develop a superhuman program during the Cold War, but something goes wrong.  One of the young scientists on the project rebels and alters the right wing mental conditioning being artificially induced upon the superman.  He writes in broader liberal thought patterns and ruins the project.

The "Talibstan Terror" wreaks havoc
on US military forces
Thirty years later a monstrously powerful superbeing begins wreaking havoc in Talibstan.  Nothing the US military throws at the creature can stop it.  The being wears a soldier outfit from the former USSR.  It is revealed the Soviets managed to steal information on the superhuman project from the US and built their own arsenal of monsters.  The creatures have awakened, but the world has changed.  They seek out their creator in a Siberian prison camp.

Now the US has no alternative except bringing their failed superman back online.  Max is an over-the-hill bar owner who only cares about tending bar and screwing his girlfriend.  One day some government spooks show up and bring him in for questioning.  They tell him he's got powers and is the only one who can stop the monster in Talibstan.  Yeah, right.  He's not buying it and doesn't want anything to do with the lying government.

In order to bring Max around the government unleashes their other failed superhuman - a black man who thinks he's Senator Joe McCarthy, the fanatical anti-communist!  The Soviet superhumans make a splash in the US - right on the strip in Las Vegas and start destroying everything in sight.  Will Senator Joe knock some sense into Max in time to save the day?  Don't bet on it.

Pros: Dark storyline, mature/interesting superhuman concept, lots of twists and turns

Cons: Art is hard to decipher - too dark and shaded, Max is kind of a loser superman

Mike Tells It Straight: I'm a sucker for a good deconstructed superhuman story and The Programme seemed like the perfect way to satisfy that hunger.  The setup was pretty standard with Nazi scientists taken in by the US military to perfect their superhuman experiments.  We have a group of Soviet superhumans released and running amok in today's political climate (although I don't know why Milligan didn't just use Afghanistan instead of fabricating Talibstan).

Seemed like a good setup, but the art is too murky and the plot doesn't seem fresh.  Milligan is a great writer and he does a very good job with this book - polishing up the standard liberalism ruining the fascist superhuman  plot.  I hope the second and final volume gives us a worthwhile ending.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Saturday, May 19, 2012

100 Bullets Vol. 3 Hang Up on the Hang Low Trade Paperback Review

100 Bullets Vol. 3 - Hang Up on the Hang Low
DC Comics - Vertigo
Softcover Trade Paperback
128 pages
$14.99 (2001)
ISBN 9781563898556

Contributors: Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso, Clem Robins, Trish Mulvihill, Digital Chameleon, and covers by Dave Johnson

Reprints: 100 Bullets #15-19

Synopsis: Loop is a wannabe gangsta always getting into trouble.  His father skipped out on his mom when he was a baby and Loop never knew him.  One night Agent Graves shows up and gives Loop a briefcase containing one untraceable gun, 100 untraceable bullets, information on his father, and the guarantee he will not be prosecuted by the law.  

Naturally Loop looks up his deadbeat dad and puts the gun in his face.  Well, Curtis Hughes ain't no pushover.  He's a mob enforcer with a mysterious past connected to Graves.  That can't be good for Loop who gets his ass handed to him by his old man.

The two strike up a tentative relationship as Curtis brings Loop along on his jobs to teach him how to make it as a gangster.  Loop is a hot-blooded youngster quick to draw his gun and his old man teaches him to even his temper. 

Just as the pair are finally beginning to reconcile events take a nasty turn.  A routine job goes sideways leaving Curtis to choose between his newly established bond with his son and the loyalty for his mob boss.  Will he choose blood or self-preservation?  You just know there won't be a happy ending. 

Pros: One single storyline in this volume, Risso's art continues to be top notch - feels kinetic and urban, Azzarello's plot and writing are near perfect - the gangsta talk actually sounds okay, Johnson's covers continue to be solid, this story won an Eisner award in 2001 for Best Serialized Story - now that's impressive!

Cons: Somewhat unrealistic in several parts (but reminded me of a good pulp action flick), readers need to be familiar with previous volumes to understand the full story (although somewhat standalone)

Mike Tells It Straight: This series keeps getting better with each successive collection.  It really helped to have one single coherent story in this volume and an Eisner award winner to boot.  Azzarello and Risso craft a gut-wrenching crime noir tale within the conspiracy theory of Agent Graves' briefcase test.

This book can almost be read standalone, but new readers will only get about 90% of the story - continuing readers with the first two volumes under their belts will be treated to a nice layering of converging sub-plots.  A lot of skill went into this story by both creators.

The characters are basically urban crime caricatures (this is comics after all and caricatures are essential in a visual medium), but you can instantly identify with them and Azzarello builds from there.  I really disliked Loop's character at first, but by the end of the book he made a complete turnaround (kind of like Dizzy Cordova from the first volume).  If you read the first two volumes and were on the fence then this storyline will pull you back in.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Secret History of the Authority: Hawksmoor Trade Paperback Review

Secret History of the Authority: Hawksmoor
DC Comics - Wildstorm
Softcover Trade Paperback
144 pages
$19.99 (2009)
ISBN 9781401222079

Contributors: Mike Costa, Fiona Staples, Rob Leigh, and covers by Cully Hamner

Reprints: Secret History of the Authority: Hawksmoor #1-6 (of 6)

Synopsis: Jack Hawksmoor was human once.  It was before he was abducted into the future and had his insides rebuilt in order to commune with the cities.  See, in the future, Earth is one big city from horizon to horizon and the cities have a life of their own.  The future people who altered Jack knew one of their cities would go rogue one day and try to destroy the past.  They wanted to stop it and created an ultimate weapon - a being who draws strength from the cities, could absorb nourishment from pollution, no longer needed to sleep, could shape the cities' very surfaces to their will, and was so connected to the cities that they would die outside of urban environments.

Jack in the City by the Bay
Jack Hawksmoor was human once, but now he serves the cities - as protector, as savior.  Jack hates San Francisco.  His life was forever altered in the Bay Area, but Jack is drawn back to the scene of tragedy again and again.  He searches for some sign to make sense of his hurt past.  It never comes, but he always returns.

On this trip he stops a giant robot from Sliding Albion from destroying the Golden Gate bridge.  Easy enough for a god of the cities.  Then a strange thing happens - he encounters a dead space inside the city where a murder happened.  Investigating further he encounters a beautiful woman who washed out of Stormwatch.

They investigate the murder and run into strange men with the power to stop Jack from communing with the city.  The men know of his past and have a clandestine mission.  They are from the future!  Jack must solve the mystery of his origin while courting love or disaster.

Pros: Decent art by Staples, okay covers by Hamner, we get Hawksmoor's origin

Cons: Dialogue is atrocious - people from the future should speak differently than us, plot is weak, art is so-so
Costa gives us awesome dialogue like this

Mike Tells It Straight: Gone are the glory days of The Authority when Warren Ellis introduced us to the next generation of comics in ultra-violent, widescreen format.  Long since the time of Ellis and his successor Mark Millar (who authored Jenny Sparks: Secret History of the Authority) we are left with an unknown (at least to me) writer's attempt at Jack Hawksmoor's origin.

It's a meager effort and the plot doesn't mesh in a coherent manner.  The future people who altered Jack to become a god of the cities are revealed to be complete idiots.  I had high expectations for this story after being a Stormwatch and Authority fan while those two books were in their prime.

This book is a far cry from Jenny Sparks' origin and leaves a lot to be desired.  If you're an Authority completist then pick up the book, otherwise it doesn't add much to Hawksmoor's or the team's history.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Friday, May 11, 2012

Booster Gold Vol. 2 Blue and Gold Hardcover Review

Booster Gold Vol. 2 - Blue and Gold
DC Comics
160 pages
$24.99 (2008)
$14.99 (2009) TPB
ISBN 9781401219567

Contributors: Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund, Hi-Fi, and Randy Gentile

Reprints: Booster Gold #0, 7-10, and #1,000,000

Synopsis: Booster Gold was a self-centered superhero in the 21st century who originally time-traveled from the 25th century with future-tech to gain fame and fortune after being a loser in his own time.  After the events of 52 he became the greatest hero you've never heard of!  He now protects the timestream with Rip Hunter, Time Master!

OMAC plays with it's food
Booster has abused his time-travelling privileges in order to save his best friend, Ted Kord aka the Blue Beetle, from death at the hands of Maxwell Lord prior to the happenings of Infinite Crisis.  Rip Hunter tried to teach Booster the impossibility of changing the past, but the bond of friendship mixed with tragedy proved too strong to resist.

Time goes haywire and events shift with Blue Beetle's escape from oblivion - Maxwell Lord is not stopped by Wonder Woman before unleashing his O.M.A.C. (Observational Metahuman Activity Construct) army against all metahumans in the world.  Heroes and villains alike are killed, the Justice League falls, and it's up to the old team of Blue and Gold to save the day!

We get a retelling of Booster's origin before the two adventurers attempt to stop Maxwell Lord.  Things don't go as planned as Max has enslaved Superman with his psychic powers.  How can they possibly stop Big Blue?  Maxwell Lord is just the tip of the iceberg as the true villains show themselves - the Time Stealers!

They include Booster's estranged father - Supernova!?  What terrible secret does he hold (in his ear) and can Ted Kord possibly live with himself at the price of so many other heroes?

Pros: Rapmund's finished art over Jurgens is decent, great colors (probably the best thing about this book are the bright colors), nostalgia for Justice League International days, lively plot, great use of past storylines like Zero Hour and DC One Million, their friendship is touching (yet very ambiguously gay duo)

Okay, so it's not Maxwell Lord
Cons: Jurgens art remains blocky and weak, story continues to jump around (hey, it's time travel), Dan Katz, dialogue is bland/hokey

Mike Tells It Straight:  I'm a sucker for any dystopian superhero alternate reality story (Age of Apocalypse, Kingdom Come, Earth X, JLA: Rock of Ages to name a few).  Johns and Katz attempt their own version while pulling in hypertime from Zero Hour and the far-flung future with DC One Million tie-ins.  I absolutely love the fact they used these old storylines with specially numbered issues.

Great (but highly unlikely) reunion of the JLI and Jurgens' drawings under Rapmund's finishes are mildly palatable.  The colors really save the book and are very bright.  I liked this second volume better than the first - more happened and it had a lot of explanations.  Good continuation to the 52 storyline, but I'm really curious to see how long this book will last (as of this review I think it has ended) since Booster is a relatively unknown character.

If you liked 52 then you will continue to dig the exploits of Booster Gold in these pages.  This second volume is better than the first due to lots of non-stop action without a pause (for the reader to question what the heck is going on).  High energy, mainstream superhero fare.  Incredibly shallow, but potentially addicting and a solid mid-range book.  

TO BUY and Recommendations: