Friday, August 23, 2013

100 Bullets Vol. 10 Decayed Trade Paperback Review

100 Bullets Vol. 10 - Decayed
DC Comics - Vertigo
192 pages
$14.99 (2007) Trade Paperback
$49.99 (2013) Deluxe Edition Hardcover Vol. 4
ISBN 9781401209988

Contributors: Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso, Patricia Mulvihill, Clem Robins, and covers by Dave Johnson

Reprints: 100 Bullets #68-75

Synopsis: A secret group called The Trust has ruled from the shadows for centuries and is made up of thirteen powerful families.  They employed a special team called the Minutemen to maintain order among the families and swiftly punish any members who got out of line.  Then The Trust betrayed the Minutemen and tried to have them destroyed, but instead they disappeared along with their leader Agent Graves.  Now Graves is back and recalling the Minutemen in order to exact revenge on The Trust.  Graves is known for testing people by giving them a briefcase containing one hundred untraceable bullets, an untraceable handgun, evidence of the person who has ruined the briefcase recipient's life, and a guarantee no investigation will happen.  The rest is up to them.
Augustus Medici comforts Megan Dietrich
after her near-fatal shooting

Sleep, Walker - Jack continues to street brawl in Atlantic City, but he's won too many bouts and no one wants to fight a sure thing.  A new fighter shows up and it could prove to be the fight he's been waiting for to stop him cold. The fighter?  Lono.  Meanwhile we get to see Agent Graves' rise to power as head of the Minutemen.  Augustus Medici gets closer to Megan Dietrich, who is nursing a scar after a failed assassination attempt.

A Wake - The house of Nagel has just lost its head and two heirs remain, but they're fraternal twins and a single successor must be chosen.  The Trust demands an answer.  Will Augustus Medici's plan to unify The Trust under one house be put into jeopardy or will he send his new warlord, Lono, to intercede?

Ronnie Rome is an enforcer for Mimo Pallidino and runs a tight ship.  His brother, Remi, is another story and is always trying to get some action on the side.  He causes all sorts of trouble and Ronnie is constantly defusing the situations.  The problem is Ronnie has a case with one hundred untraceable bullets and an untraceable gun.  Is he a former Minuteman that Graves is trying to awaken?

Amorality Play - Lono visits San Francisco where he remains one step behind Agent Graves.  This time Graves has given a briefcase to a young Chinese man who grapples with the choice to use it.

Pros: Azzarello's writing is solid and he delivers an interesting story, Risso's art remains excellent and he's a great visual storyteller, covers by Johnson are good (awesome trade cover BTW), the overall plot continues with some good side stories and a little history
The twins consider their potential future
as head of a house in The Trust - too
bad there can be only one

Cons: Not new-reader friendly, last story with the guy considering shooting someone was not my favorite

Mike Tells It Straight: Azzarello's crime noir masterpiece 100 Bullets reaches its tenth volume and the plot continues to thicken.  Lono is The Trust's new Warlord as appointed by Augustus Medici.  Graves continues to operate in the shadows, but what is his true purpose?  Writing and art are excellent in this volume.  It was a surprise to see Megan Dietrich after what happened in the last volume.  I'm not sure whose side anyone is on anymore and it's very exciting.

The usual disclaimer applies - this is the tenth volume of a series and readers should have some knowledge of the previous stories/characters in order to fully comprehend events.  A lot of old characters show up and interact with each other, but new readers will totally miss the significance.  The plot continues to progress with a few new characters and 'awakening' of others who have been around for a long time.  One of the best crime noir series out there and I'm looking forward to the closing chapters coming up (it lasted one hundred issues after all).  This particular volume was a worthy entry and the plot twists kept me interested.  Onward to the next chapter!

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Sleeper Omnibus Hardcover Review

DC Comics - Wildstorm
Oversized Hardcover
$75.00 (2013) Omnibus
$24.99 (2009) Season Two
$24.99 (2009) Season One
$14.99 (2005) Vol. 4 The Long Way Home
$17.99 (2005) Vol. 3 A Crooked Line
$12.95 (2004) Coup D'Etat Trade Paperback
$17.95 (2004) Vol. 2 All False Moves
$17.95 (2004) Vol. 1 Out in the Cold
$14.95 (2003) Point Blank prequel
ISBN 9781401238032

Contributors: Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Colin Wilson, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Alex Sinclair, Tony Avina, Randy Mayor, and Bill Oakley

Reprints: Point Blank #1-5 (of 5), Sleeper #1-12 (of 12), Sleeper Season Two #1-12 (of 12), Coup D'Etat: Sleeper, and Coup D'Etat: Afterword

Synopsis: Holden Carver is between a rock and a hard place.  He was a promising agent for the covert government organization International Operations (I/O) and ran a black ops team.  On his team's last mission they recovered an artifact which fell out of The Bleed, an extra-dimensional space between realities.  This artifact grafted itself to his nervous system and essentially turned him into a walking pain-battery.  The trauma from the initial bonding was so intense it killed his entire team, but left him alive.  Holden recovered in a secret I/O bunker and was welcomed to consciousness by his mentor, John Lynch.
Holden is trapped on the wrong side of the tracks
When Lynch led a government black ops unit called Team 7, they were exposed to an experimental genetic enhancement compound which gave them varying psionic abilities.  He eventually went on to usurp the corrupt head of I/O and ran the organization at the time of Holden's incident.  Lynch, the master manipulator, could not pass up the opportunity of Holden's situation to place him as a sleeper agent in the criminal organization headed by Tao (short for Tactically-Augmented-Organism).  Tao is Lynch's arch-nemesis and a genetically bred super-human with uncharted intellectual capacity.

Tao is the only one who has ever played Lynch for a fool and gotten away with it.  Now Lynch has placed Holden in Tao's organization by creating the cover story of Holden killing his team and going rogue.  Lynch needs every trick he can muster in order to face the diabolical intellect of Tao, but will Holden be enough?  He has sacrificed his life including a public career, loving fiancee, and even the reputation of his deceased father (another spook for I/O) to become Lynch's cat's paw against a monster born of science.

Holden's powers are far more of a curse than a blessing.  The alien artifact bonded to his nervous system filters out all sensation from his life - pain, anxiety, shock, and pleasure.  It gives him uncharted recuperative abilities and makes him able to sustain an unlimited amount of damage.  He feels no pain and heals impossibly fast, but the artifact stores the pain he suffers and unleashes it on the next organism unlucky enough to touch his bare skin.  He can often store up enough pain to kill with a touch making him a formidable and untraceable assassin.  Holden is a powerful post-human operative and highly sought after asset by Tao.

Lynch meets Holden in the field to get an
updated report and give a cheerful pep talk
The organization Tao runs is peppered with superhumans of varying powers and motivations.  Holden's past and betrayal of Lynch make him especially attractive as an asset by Tao.  His own powers are subtle, but deadly.  He can use words as effectively as a sharpened knife and is the greatest tactician on the planet.  Tao has remained five steps ahead of Lynch at every turn, but Holden may be the key to finally taking Tao down.  Unless he knows.

Cole Cash, also known as The Grifter, served under Lynch in Team 7 and was exposed to the Gen-Factor compound.  He gained incredible reflexes and durability along with other subtle psionic abilities.  Cole found himself odd-man-out as a superhero on the Wildcats team, but he's had enough capes for a lifetime.  Now he's just down on his luck and trying to find answers at the bottom of a bottle.  Lynch trusts only a handful of people on the entire planet and Cole is one of them.  He gets reluctantly pulled into one of Lynch's schemes, but never really finds out what is happening until it's too late and Lynch gets shot in the head.  Now he's in a coma with no expectation for recovery.

Where does this leave Holden?  Out in the cold with no way to come back in.  The only man who knows he's a sleeper agent is out of the picture and the authorities want him dead for heinous crimes committed under the orders of Tao.  The problem is Holden has been deep cover for so long he doesn't know if this is his natural state as a cold-blooded killer.  He's made friends on the other side - the tough-talking, no nonsense Demolition Jones and skittish part-timer Triple-X Ray.  Holden has even got a lover, Miss Misery, who can only live by doing wrong (seriously, she gets physically ill if she's nice).
Holden falls for the beautifully evil Miss Misery despite himself
Will Lynch every recover from his coma or is Holden trapped in his own tangled web of deceit?  Has he 'gone native' and found a sense of comfort as a bad guy?  Lynch plans for every contingency, but does he have a backup plan for this one?  Will Tao discover Holden's double-agent status and eliminate him?  What happens when Holden encounters his ex-fiancee, Veronica St. James, who is heading up the manhunt to bring him to justice?  Holden is a pawn trapped between two master strategists and has willingly killed for both.  How can he possibly escape these two devils with his own life and sense of self intact?

Pros: Achingly cynical, supremely violent, charged with Miss Misery's sexuality, incredible writing by Brubaker who redefines the superhero spy fiction genre, quality art and iconic covers by Phillips, great spin on Wildstorm characters, nice plot twists, actually made Grifter cool, a worthy ending

Cons: Characters can sometimes behave predictably, uses typical crime noir tropes (although with a superhero bent)

Mike Tells It Straight: Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips redefine superhero spy fiction with their critically acclaimed series Sleeper.  The omnibus edition collects the entire series (including prequel Point Blank and chapter of Coup D'Etat).  I found this series to be an intense page-turner and I absolutely devoured the book.  Holden Carver's plight as a sleeper agent among the villains and his descent into acceptable evil was an exciting tale.  Better yet, it's an R-rated tale with lots of sex, lies, and violence.  No silly costumes or moral codes of not killing - both the guilty and innocent die horribly in the crossfire.  It's a bloodbath where you feel more strongly about the bad guys than the good guys.  An absolute classic.
A glimpse into why Holden falls for Miss Misery (besides
and because of her constant beating of pan-handlers)
I loved how Brubaker took established Wildstorm characters and spun them into mature-readers versions.  He took Lynch, the former director of I/O, whose largest role was mentor to a group of teenage rejects called Gen13, and turned him into a master manipulator sacrificing legions of cannon fodder to accomplish his supposedly 'righteous' goals.  Tao was introduced by Alan Moore in Wildcats as a hero who turned out to be a villain with his own aims.  Brubaker perfectly expanded on Tao's motivations and exploits.  Marc Slayton, known as the superhero Backlash and formerly of Stormwatch, shows up as a soulless spook for I/O.

The master stroke for me was how Brubaker finally nailed the ultimate version of Cole Cash, The Grifter.  He's a total drunk burnout who manages to survive every confrontation through his enhanced powers and uncanny luck (maybe luck is one of his powers).  Possessing no ambition and an continuously being used as an utter tool by the two expert strategists, Tao and Lynch.  Grifter is a clueless force-of-nature in Brubaker's hands - the perfect dues ex machina.
Tao is a major badass and impossible to catch
The story is thick, noir, and full-on pulp fiction with appropriately murky art by Sean Phillips.  I've read it several times and it's still fun.  This omnibus edition is the ultimate collection with the entire story in one place.  The only other option is to collect (as you may have already) the individual series' trade paperbacks, the Point Blank prequel, and the Coup D'Etat segway story between the two seasons of the series.  I traded up to this edition and am very happy.  Brubaker and Phillips continued their winning partnership with many subsequent yet unrelated works - Criminal, Incognito, and Fatale to name a few.  I hope they continue working together for a long time!

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 2 Absolute Edition Review

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 2 Absolute Edition
DC Comics - America's Best Comics
Oversized Hardcover w/Slipcase
448 pages
$49.99 (2011) Omnibus w/Vol. 1
$75.00 (2005) Absolute Edition
$14.95 (2004) Trade Paperback
$24.95 (2003) Hardcover
ISBN 9781401206116

Contributors: Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill, Ben Dimagnaliw, and Bill Oakley

Reprints: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 2 #1-6 (of 6)

Synopsis: Brought together in the time of England's greatest crisis they are a group of extraordinary and notorious figures.  This unlikely team managed to save the country from an evil group trying to harness a new element called Cavorite, and ferreted out a traitor to the Crown in their first adventure. Now they return for another deadly mission which threatens the entire world!

The group includes:
  • Ms. Mina Murray (Bram Stoker) - She was once married to one John Harker, but then Count Dracula entered her life.  She survived the encounter, but was divorced by her husband and hides the scars on her neck with a red scarf.  She has proven to be very brave and cool-headed during a crisis. 
  • Allan Quartermain (H. Rider Haggard) - He was once a grand adventurer who discovered King Solomon's mines and was a big game hunter.  Rescued from an opium den and an obscure death to join this group.  He is quite smitten with Ms. Murray.
  • Captain Nemo (Jules Verne) - An unknown Sikh mariner and science-pirate he captains the first submersible warship, the Nautilus.  Despises the British for their attempts to subjugate the world (and his people in particular) with their imperial society.  
  • Dr. Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson) - Jekyll was a troubled scientist who attempted to purge himself of all inappropriate impulses, but managed to summon forth an unconscionable monster calling itself Hyde. Both depraved morally and utterly ferocious, Hyde can be both blessing and curse for the group. He has an unhealthy fascination with Ms. Murray.
  • Hawley Griffin (H.G. Wells) - Scientifically discovered the secret to imbuing invisibility in himself and organic subjects, dubbed "The Invisible Man".  He has immense misanthropic tendencies and despises humanity.  
From left: Captain Nemo, Allan Quatermain, Mina Murray,
Edward Hyde, and Hawley Griffin
These five extraordinary individuals continue their work for the Crown and are called to investigate a strange cylinder which fell from the sky onto the Horsell common.  The group witnesses the cylinder open and a horrific alien creature appear then disappear.  Soon thereafter a terrible heat ray burns every living soul to ashes on the common.  A true nightmare unfolds.

What are the disgusting creatures and where do they come from?  The technology they wield is like nothing ever seen before by man.  How can our group possibly prevail against these bizarre invaders?  Allan Quatermain and Mina Murray are sent to rally help from a secret government agent.  Can Nemo's formidable Nautilus stand up to the unholy alien heat ray?  What of Griffin's invisibility and Hyde's inhuman rage?  Faced with otherworldly adversaries will our extraordinary group prevail?

A truly horrific conversation with Mr. Hyde
Pros: Great concept/writing by Moore, quirky/interesting art by O'Neill, story is inspired by the best/greatest classic fiction writers of the Victorian era, awesome follow up starring the same group of quasi-heroes from the first mini-series, tons of extra material and New Traveller's Almanac is a special treat, Hyde is truly monstrous, nice touch adding Gulliver and John Carter of Mars at the beginning

Cons: Expensive book for a mere six-issue mini-series, wading through the extras can be a bit of a chore, some of the animal-men hybrids of Doctor Moreau were kinda silly looking as drawn by O'Neill, I felt the Invisible Man angle was too unbelievable (I know he's a misanthrope, but really?)

Now that is one brave coach-driver to talk back to Edward Hyde
Mike Tells It Straight: Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neil follow up on their first The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (LOEG) mini-series with this thrilling sequel.  The first series was as much a story about forming this unlikely group of extraordinary individuals as their first caper together to stop an evil menace.  It was a great reinvention of these Victorian fictional characters with a few nice twists by Moore.  This next story perfectly follows the first with our group continuing on with another difficult adventure.  The story is more about developing the characters while playing them opposite a nasty alien invasion.

I loved the flourishes Moore added to the story like the whole Martian landscape introduction with Gulliver and John Carter.  Truly brilliant storytelling.  Among the great character themes explored are Quatermain and Mina Murray's subtle likening to each other, Griffin's misanthropic nature, and the unlikely extremes of Hyde's fractured personality.  Later issues added Dr. Moreau to the mix, but were a little less polished although captivating nonetheless.  Moore has got this Victorian revival thing down to a science!

O'Neil's art was quirky and appropriate.  Gone were the massive statuesque edifices from the first volume which I felt made the setting feel like a London from an alternate dimension.  This one felt like our familiar world in the grip of a terrifying alien invasion.  Great and fun Victorian steampunk adventure.  The Absolute edition is a beautiful format for the series, but I still think it's a little pricey and only for the true aficionado.  The trade paperback or hardcover is plenty adequate.  I really enjoyed the extra material however and especially The Traveller's Almanac featuring a long essay of strange locations around the world.  It served as a kind of background and future telling of the LOEG.  Highly recommended!

TO BUY and Recommendations: