Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Kick-Ass Trade Paperback Review

Marvel Comics - Icon
$39.99 (2013) Oversized Hardcover
$19.99 (2011) Trade Paperback
$24.99 (2010) Hardcover
ISBN 9780785132615

Contributors: Mark Millar, John Romita Jr., Tom Palmer, Chris Eliopoulos, Dean White and Steve McNiven

Reprints: Kick-Ass #1-8 (of 8)

Synopsis: Dave Lizewski is a high school nerd who likes comic books and is completely ignored by the opposite sex.  His mother died of a brain aneurysm and his dad is depressed all the time.  Dave reads comics as an outlet for his pathetic existence and one day the idea hits him - why not become a superhero?  People want to be just like asinine pop stars, but why not be like Spider-Man (minus the cool spider-powers of course)?
Great opening - sound familiar?

He sews a costume, ogles himself in the mirror in his room, and starts wearing it under his clothes at school.  It's a big rush.  He hits the gym to put on some meager muscle and walks rooftops at night.  The time comes to actually stop a real crime and poor Dave gets his ass kicked (and stabbed and run down by a car).  He spends the next six months in the hospital, but it's not enough to scare him off of the superhero kick.

Back on the street he gets another chance to stop a crime and actually manages to do it (while taking a massive beat-down in the process).  It gets captured on video and posted to YouTube - well, you can guess the rest, right?  Dave becomes an overnight internet sensation and celebrity.  His fame spawns copycats like the Red Mist - another teenage crime fighter, but with a sweet, superhero-themed car.

Is this your typical superhero?
Dave becomes jealous as the spotlight shifts away from him and his fame begins to ebb.  Then he runs into a father/daughter team of what appear to be the real deal - actual crime fighting superheroes.  Bid Daddy and Hit Girl are skilled, deadly, fearsome, and completely unknown to the general public.  Can Dave live up to their expectations when all he usually can do is get the crap kicked out of himself?  The real criminals are getting annoyed by all the costumed idiots and decide to make an example of one to scare them all away.  Will Dave survive when the hardened killers, both superhero and criminal, come calling?

Pros: Good concept/spin by Millar on real-life superheroes in the modern age of technology (using YouTube), art by Romita Jr. is competent, ultra-violent and filled with one-liners, turned into a successful movie, both comic book/movie have sequels, Dave being the gay best friend of the girl he likes is pretty hilarious, Hit Girl is bad ass
The introduction of Hit Girl
Cons: Highly improbable story - Dave would be dead or crippled ten times over with all the physical punishment he takes in the first two issues, Big Daddy's origin and reason for training Hit Girl was terrible - didn't make sense, no chance a ten-year-old girl could do that much damage - the weight and physical force needed is just not there, the proportions on Dave and Hit Girl (two young characters) by Romita Jr. are really inconsistent (i.e. not one of his strengths)

Mike Tells It Straight: Kick-Ass starts out as an amusing answer to "What if someone tried to be a superhero in the real world?".  Well, they would get the living crap kicked out of them and go to the hospital for a very long time.  It then devolves into a recurring over-the-top bloody beatdown massacre.  Highly entertaining, but not high art in any way.
Hit Girl and Kick-Ass...kicking ass
Millar has made quite a name for himself over the last ten years - The Authority, The Ultimates, Ultimate X-Men, Civil War, Superman: Red Son, Wolverine: Old Man Logan and Wanted.  He now has multiple movies based on his works (including Kick-Ass) and is one of the biggest comic book writers in Hollywood.  With fame comes detractors and a lot of people are choosing Grant Morrison in some bizarre comic book pissing contest lately.  I say Millar's success is earned despite being helped by Morrison in the early days - you don't stick around this long without some major talent (and luck).
You may have seen this movie

His work on Kick-Ass is pure fantasy for every fanboy who wanted to become a superhero.  It's a novel concept taken to the absolute graphic limit by Millar.  The story starts out serious enough, but soon jumps the shark into completely ridiculous ultra-violence for pure entertainment.  It's not going to change your outlook on life or make you stop to ponder some intellectual concept, but it's funny and violent as hell.  I'm glad the movie modified the origin for Big Daddy and Hit Girl.  Check it out if you like seeing buckets of blood flying about.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Green Lantern Vol. 3 Wanted: Hal Jordan Trade Paperback Review

Green Lantern Vol. 3 - Wanted: Hal Jordan
DC Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
$14.99 (2009)
$19.99 (2007) Hardcover
ISBN 9781401215903

Contributors: Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Daniel Acuna, Oclair Albert, W. Moose Baumann, Travis Lanham, Rob Leigh, and Ethan Van Sciver

Reprints: Green Lantern #14-20

Synopsis: Two story arcs:

Amon Sur vows revenge!
"Wanted: Hal Jordan" - Hal Jordan's fellow pilot Cowgirl runs a solo mission in Chechnya to try and pay back the terrorist group who captured the three pilots one year ago.  She gets shot down again and captured.  It's up to Hal as Green Lantern to rescue her, but just as he's about to learn her whereabouts the Global Guardians show up to capture him.  It turns out they're being manipulated by an outside party.  What does this have to do with Abin Sur's son, Amon Sur?  Can Hal survive long enough to save Cowgirl?

Meanwhile a hiking couple uncover a pink, glowing sapphire.  On the planet Qward in the Antimatter Universe the Weaponers have been enslaved by Sinestro.  He is slowly amassing a group of his own, but what is his ultimate goal and who will join the Sinestro Corps?

Star Sapphire always gets her man
"Mystery of the Star Sapphire" - The Star Sapphire once possessed Carol Ferris, the girlfriend of Hal Jordan, and turned her into one of his greatest enemies.  Now that Hal has returned the Sapphire is back to finish the job!  It's been a long time since Hal and Carol were an item, she's married (not so happily) and he's interested in fellow pilot Cowgirl.  The Sapphire only cares that it possess the heart's desire of Green Lantern Hal Jordan in order to 'mate' and preserve the entire planet in a crystalline substance.

What is the origin of the Star Sapphire?  Is it unique or one among many like the rings of the Green Lantern Corps?  The origins of both items are more similar than anyone could suspect and Hal must defend himself while trying to avoid harming the two women for which he cares.

Example of Acuna's art
Pros: Reis delivers some quality artwork in the first story arc, interesting stories by Johns, subplot of the Sinestro Corps advances nicely, Star Sapphire is hot with a majorly skimpy outfit, Acuna's art in the second story arc is interesting

Cons: Acuna's art is very cartoony - you'll either love or hate his style, what's up with the pilots getting shot down so much?, the art style shift between the two story arcs (from Reis to Acuna) was jarring, Global Guardians are a joke, Tales of the Sinestro Corps backup stories are not collected here - they're collected in the Green Lantern: Tales of the Sinestro Corps collected edition)

Mike Tells It Straight: The real story from this third collected volume of Geoff Johns' rebooted Green Lantern series is the Sinestro Corps subplot.  We get the conclusion to the One Year Later (OYL) storyline begun in the last volume (Vol. 2 Revenge of the Green Lanterns) which merely serves to tie up some loose ends and then the seeds are fully planted for the Sinestro Corps War.  Amon Sur first appeared as a villain fighting Green Lantern Kyle Rayner (along with Green Arrow), but having him take on Hal Jordan fully realizes Sur's character potential.

The Star Sapphire story gets the most criticism for Acuna's artwork (it's not too bad, but cartoony compared to previous artists on Green Lantern).  Johns has been building up the Sinestro Corps War, but we get the first hints at his grand plot involving the full emotional spectrum which plays out in the Blackest Night crossover.  He gives the origin of the Star Sapphire and builds it into an even larger mythos.  If I wasn't impressed with Johns' writing after Green Lantern: Rebirth then I'm completely impressed with his ability to build up to these big storylines like the Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night.
Guess who is chosen for the Sinestro Corps space
sector 2814 (same as Hal Jordan's) for his
ability to instill fear in others!?

New readers will be lost if they don't read at least the previous volume and preferably Green Lantern: Rebirth and then Green Lantern Vol. 1 No Fear in addition.  Taken alone these two stories are good, but definitely not great.  Put them in perspective with the events before/after and they add to the grander story of Hal Jordan's return as the prime Green Lantern.  John's run is an excellent cosmic superhero story and one of the best in the 2000s.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Clash Mini-Series Review

DC Comics
Prestige Format Mini-Series
48/ea. = 144 pages (1991)
$4.95/ea. = $14.85 

Published: Clash #1-3 (of 3)

Contributors: Tom Veitch, Adam Kubert, David Hornung, and Todd Klein

Synopsis: Joe McLash (or 'Clash' to his friends) works for his dad smuggling precious artifacts out of foreign countries.  Clash is good at what he does and doesn't give a damn about anyone else.  His latest caper in Afghanistan turns awry with Joe's lover, Helen Rojas, paying the price of Joe's dangerous lifestyle with her own life.  Clash is not a man to pause and reminisce as he heads back to his father in New York to collect a fat paycheck.  He's sick of the old man hoarding ancient knick-knacks and plans to sell them off one day to have a big party.  

The artifact Joe brings back from Afghanistan is an ancient mask which looks familiar to his dad.  Forty years ago the old man and his business partner, Roy Tavish, were trekking across Asia when Roy found the most amazing loot.  He mysteriously disappeared the next night with the location of the discovery, but Joe's dad uses the loot to start his business (and feed a growing Joe).  The mask appears to be from the same place and before you know it the McLashes are headed back to Asia on a treasure hunt.  

They camp with the Turkomen in an ancient region once called Panja.  The chief of the tribe wants to sell the artifacts for guns to fight a neighboring warlord called Mustafi, but most of the villagers hate the McLashes.  In the night an assassin comes to kill them and turns out to be a beautiful woman.  She and Joe fall in love as her knife glistens in the dark opposite his machine pistol.  The next day they discover a massive cavern filled with the remnants of a mighty civilization.

On the lowest level of the buried citadel in a hidden chamber is a strange stone apparatus surrounded by hideous statues.  Joe's dad accidentally triggers the apparatus and is jolted with arcane energies.  He suffers massive burns, but survives and is strangely powerful.  Joe uses it and is filled with power!  He is superstrong and can fly - now he's in control of his life and can do anything he wants.  

Joe doesn't care where the power came from, but the Archons are not happy he has stolen their secrets and refuses to do their bidding.  What really happened to old man McLash's business partner Roy Tavish all those years ago?  Is Joe truly free or will the Archons use his newfound power to pull his strings like a puppet?  How will the world react to a real life superman?

Pros: Very early Adam Kubert art shows a lot of promise despite a few rough edges, cool concept by Veitch with the theme of an alternative 'superman' in the real world

Cons: Joe is an unlikable character (so's his dad), dialogue is stiff and sounds campy, Nadja the assassin taking an interest in Joe is pretty unlikely (some assassin she turns out to be)

Mike Tells It Straight: I liked the concept behind Clash and enjoy Adam Kubert's art (not a huge fan of his brother Andy however).  The story was a cross between Indiana Jones and Superman, but with a violent twist.  I felt Veitch's scripting wasn't great and Joe was an annoying punk given god-like powers with no real purpose to his life.  He was a complete schmuck and it was hard to identify with him.

Almost all of the characters were depthless caricatures with no real personality.  Nadja's character made no sense - she's an assassin one minute and Joe's sex puppet the next.  The Archons and the ancient power-giving machine were the only cool parts to the story.  Overall Clash gives us some frustrated male wish-fulfillment and the outline of a good story, but not enough to be quite memorable.  You can probably find it cheap and don't bet on a collected edition anytime in the future.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Sunday, October 14, 2012

100 Bullets Vol. 6 Six Feet Under the Gun Trade Paperback Review

100 Bullets Vol. 6 - Six Feet Under the Gun
DC Comics - Vertigo
Softcover Trade Paperback
144 pages
$14.95 (2003)
$49.99 (2012) Deluxe Edition Hardcover Vol. 3
ISBN 9781563899966

Contributors: Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso, Dave Johnson, Trish Mulvihill, Clem Robins, Digital Chameleon, Zylonol Studios, and introduction by Greg Rucka

Reprints: 100 Bullets #37-42

Synopsis: Six self-contained stories following various main characters:
Graves meets with Shepard

  • On Accidental Purpose - Dizzy goes back to her old neighborhood and meets up with her old friends.  She has lost touch with them and they don't understand her vague explanations about what she has been doing for the past year.  Shepard and Graves meet to discuss their next steps (and chug cocktails)
  • Cole Burns Slow Hand - Cole returns to visit Sasha, his former fiancee, who he walked out on when his memories returned from being a Minuteman.  He wants to patch things up, but it's been over a year  and she's righteously pissed
  • Ambition's Audition - Benito accompanies his father down to Little Havana where Shepard checks in with him.  Benito despises his father and acts out to annoy him, but this time there might be an assassin in the crowd.  A turning point for Benito and his father
  • Night of the Payday - Shepard hooks Lono up with a job and gives him a warning - "You've pissed off some powerful people - time to lay low".  Lono was never one to back down or take orders, but there's no more room for loose cannons in the game
  • A Crash - Graves meets with a small group of dissenting family leaders from the Trust.  They don't agree with the head of the Medici family trying to consolidate power and they want to preserve their positions
  • Point Off the Edge - Wylie gets a visit from Graves and a briefcase filled with an untraceable gun/bullets.  It's Wylie's chance to escape his boring mess of a life where he works at a miserable gas station in the middle of nowhere.  Will he take it?

Shepard meets with Lono

Pros: Great plot and writing by Azzarello, Risso continues to deliver quality art, Johnson's covers are pretty good, good set of stories with some major plot developments, won an Eisner award in 2002 for Best Continuing Series

Cons: Azzarello's dialogue can be a bit thick - "You may play your cards close to the vest...but you wear your heart on your sleeve.  And frankly, it's what's up it that has us concerned.", no nudity, didn't like the ending to Lono's story

Mike Tells It Straight: The sixth (get it, Six Feet Under the Gun?) collection of 100 Bullets gives us six self-contained stories (after the fifth volume was one long story Vol. 5 The Counterfifth Detective).  This installment is a nice combination of character-focused stories laced with generic crime noir (i.e. in the Graves story we get scenes of a young couple finding a crashed car with a dead man clutching the winning lottery ticket) and always continuing the deeper conspiracy plot of Graves vs. The Trust.

Cole surprises Sasha
Art by Risso is consistently excellent and covers by Johnson remain interesting.  Azzarello's writing is really good with plotting and pacing being his main strengths.  Dialogue continues to be a little spotty as the characters break down into cliched speech patterns (Cole's talk with Sasha was a prime example as he laid it on pretty thick).

The usual disclaimer - this is the sixth collection in a series and readers need to have read the previous volumes to fully understand the story.  It's a good collection of stories and actual events happen instead of just keeping the status quo (could have easily been a bunch of backfill stories with no plot development).  Looking forward to the next collection.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Friday, October 12, 2012

Green Lantern: Rebirth Trade Paperback Review

Green Lantern: Rebirth
DC Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
176 pages
$14.99 (2007)
$24.99 (2005) Hardcover
$75.00 (2010) Absolute Edition
$14.99 (2010) New Edition
ISBN 9781401204655

Contributors: Geoff Johns, Ethan Van Sciver, Prentis Rollins, Moose Baumann, and Rob Leigh

Reprints: Green Lantern: Rebirth #1-6 (of 6); Preview from Wizard Magazine (only in Absolute and New editions)

Synopsis: Kyle Rayner, once considered the last Green Lantern, discovers a secret on the outskirts of the universe and begins the long journey back to Earth to deliver the message - "Parallax is coming."  Meanwhile on Earth, Hal Jordan is spiritual host to the Spectre, the powerful spirit of vengeance.  Hal Jordan was the first member of the Green Lantern Corps from Earth and became the greatest hero among the legions of other Green Lanterns.  He fell from grace after his hometown of Coast City and all its inhabitants were annihilated by the alien warlord Mongul.  Losing control after the devastating loss, Hal attempted to resurrect Coast City with the energy from the central power battery on Oa destroying the Green Lantern Corps in the process.  He assumed the new identity Parallax and began searching for a greater power source to bring back Coast City.  Later he opposed the heroes of Earth during Zero Hour, actually killing several members of the Justice Society of America.  He sacrificed his life to restart the sun and save the Earth in a final bid for redemption during the Final Night event.
The Spectre, Hal Jordan, and Parallax wrestle for control

After his death, Hal Jordan's soul was bonded to the Spectre in another attempt at redemption.  The heroic spirit of the greatest Green Lantern working as a counterbalance to the Spectre's unforgiving vengeance wreaked upon the guilty.  The union has been incredibly difficult for both parties as each rails against the other's true nature in an ever-escalating battle of wills.  Something is awry in the bonding and Hal Jordan feels trapped as he watches the Spectre hand out successively more gruesome punishments to the guilty.  The Spectre defeats old Green Lantern villain the Black Hand and disintegrates his hand while Green Arrow helplessly watches.

Carol Ferris visits the old Ferris Airfield where Hal Jordan was a test pilot and she was the owner's daughter.  The two had a steamy relationship which eventually fell apart and Carol is now married.  The airfield is in disrepair and long abandoned.  John Stewart is another Green Lantern from Earth and reminisces with Guy Gardner, former Green Lantern.  Suddenly Guy's Vuldarian shapeshifting powers rage out of control as his body apparently begins rejecting them. John takes him to the Justice League of America watchtower for treatment.  The group is shocked to discover Coast City is slowly regenerating and rebuilding itself.

Meanwhile Carol watches disbelieving as Ferris Airfield returns to perfect condition right before her eyes.  Hal appears, but is he the former hero or a monster in disguise.  Batman suspects Hal has finally succeeded in harnessing the Spectre's power to rebuild Coast City where he failed in the past.  The JLA set out to stop him at all costs as Guy Gardner's body twists itself inside out.  Is Hal behind the resurrections or is there another even more sinister explanation?  What is the true nature of Parallax?
Kyle returns to Earth with a warning and a casket filled with...?
Pros: Johns writes a compelling comeback story for Hal Jordan, Van Sciver's ultra-detailed/realistic art is excellent, guest stars galore - a true universe-spanning epic which touches upon the entire history of Hal Jordan including the various other Green Lanterns, plot was exciting with twist after twist, explains the old "weakness to yellow" (yellow impurity) of the Green Lantern rings, rebirth done right, Absolute and New editions have great extras including Wizard prequel chapter and Johns' notes

Cons: Heavily laden with continuity - not for the uninformed/newbie, explanation of Parallax wiped out (or cast into doubt) some of the best Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories out there (the road trip saga), Batman gets the short end of the stick in this one, Sinestro drawn by Sciver looks pretty lame although he's just using the original character design (Sciver redeems himself by redesigning Sinestro later on in the Sinestro Corps War into an elegantly sinister villain)
Hal contemplates the return of Coast City and gets a shocking revelation
Mike Tells It Straight: Hal Jordan was replaced as Green Lantern in the 1990s by a young man named Kyle Rayner.  Long-time Green Lantern fans were appalled as Hal turned evil and was replaced by a punk kid "just to sell more comic books".  Some fans banded together to appeal the change and bring Hal back to his former glory, but DC editorial wouldn't take back their decision and instead used Hal as a villain in the blockbuster event Zero Hour.  Attempting to appease the stalwart Jordan fans he was given some bit of redemption (albeit at the cost of his life) saving the Earth in the Final Night event.  Another bid for redemption saw him become the host of the Spectre (an attempt to revive interest in that character), but interest waned quickly after the initial pairing.

Kyle Rayner's fan base slowly grew and he was accepted as the new Green Lantern, but sales began to decline in the mid-2000s and a restart was needed.  Along came Geoff Johns, a formidable writer (having proven himself on the title JSA) and diehard Hal Jordan fan, with a tale to reestablish the character's former prominence in the DC pantheon.  The story brings Hal back to his former glory along with the beginnings of a new Green Lantern Corps and revival of Coast City.  It touches upon important aspects of his history including his romance with Carol Ferris, the death of his father, and the destruction of Coast City.
Hal's battle with Parallax kicks into overdrive
Johns' story cleverly used the yellow impurity of the Green Lantern power rings (the impurity was removed when Kyle Rayner became a Green Lantern after Hal Jordan's destruction of the power battery on Oa) to explain Jordan's stint as Parallax and bonding with the Spectre.  It was sheer perfection in comic book story terms and fit like a glove.  It included the Justice League, all the other Green Lanterns from Earth, and the major Hal Jordan villains (Sinestro, Black Hand, and Hector Hammond).

Those Hal Jordan fans who grudgingly accepted Kyle Rayner (or dropped the Green Lantern series completely) rejoiced at the return of their one, true Green Lantern.  Those Kyle fans who never expected Jordan to return were mildly satisfied as Kyle was respectfully moved aside as the primary Green Lantern of Earth, but remained a strong supporting character (equal with John Stewart and Guy Gardner).  The story revitalized the franchise and Johns launched a new hit Green Lantern series afterwards which was very well received (check out my reviews of Green Lantern: No Fear and Green Lantern: Revenge of the Green Lanterns).

Rebirth is an incredibly successful character revival story with a lot of great moments and a rewarding ending.  It's truly one of the modern classics from DC and best stories of Green Lantern.  Both writing and art are top notch.  It's a continuity nightmare for those unfamiliar with Hal Jordan's history, but this holds true for any new fans trying to plug into any number of superhero "universe" (i.e. DC or Marvel) character's story. I knew the controversy of fans' preference for Hal vs. Kyle going into the story and could fully appreciate what Johns accomplished.  Some might say he tried too hard or made the story too complicated (too many characters), but I say he pushed the story to its absolute dramatic limit while still maintaining the plot's integrity for the big pieces (Parallax as yellow impurity).  Job well done, Sir!

TO BUY and Recommendations: