Monday, January 23, 2012

Starman: Omnibus Vol. 1 - Review

KNIGHT TAKES OPAL


The 90’s were a strange time for comic books. On one end of the spectrum you had the hyper-violent books from Image that were pushing the boundaries of just how gritty a superhero could be and on the other end you had the strange storytelling of B-list characters like Starman. In James Robinson’s run on the successor to Ted Knight’s Golden Age legacy as the cosmic caped avenger, Jack Knight quickly transforms from simple reboot concept into a whole different beast entirely.

The great thing about DC Comic’s B-list character is that each of them is just as complex as their A-list characters. With the right artist and writer these background and back up characters can be hurdled into the spotlight and can attain the level of respect they deserve. There are no bad characters when it comes to the right creative team, and Starman is the perfect example of that.

Robinson takes the concept of one of the more, in my opinion, goofy characters of the JSA (Justice Society of America) and makes his newest incarnation a much more complex individual while also adding depth to his father, the original holder of the Starman mantle. Jack has his own style and method of heroism that, even down to his costume, just makes sense. He tries to balance his work life with his new duty as a hero and even takes a much more practical approach to the equipment to get the job done. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t want a Starman leather jacket?

The artwork by Tony Harris is also inspiring. Though many people argue that lots of books from that era were stale and all looked the same, I think that it was just the overall style of the publisher. It’s like how DC now is taking a somewhat more cartooned approach to characters as opposed to the more realistic style they had back in the 90’s. It just changes over time. And Harris was able to use the style at the time to tell an incredible story through Robinson’s scripts. Every panel makes me feel closer to Jack, Ted, The Shade, and The Mist.

If you’re a fan of Animal Man, Swamp Thing, or any superhero books where the character puts his own spin on what it means to take up the good fight, then this is a book for you. I give it 5/5 for introducing me to a character that I might have overlooked if I hadn’t come across this beautifully collected omnibus.

*THIS IS ALSO MY 300th POST! CUE THE PARTY MUSIC!

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Shade #4 - Review

ONE OF HIS TAWDRY TRAVELS


The powerhouse team of James Robinson and Darwyn Cooke team up for this latest issue of The Shade miniseries that finds Shade reminiscing about an adventure of his during World War II. There's espionage, shadow powers, and a whole lot of Nazis in this incredibly fun book from DC Comics. I have to admit that this is my first time reading anything Starman or The Shade related, although I was familiar with the characters, but I can tell you that it won't be my last. Not by a long shot.

The writing is fun, fast-paced, and has a wide range of emotion from action, rage, betrayal, and just plain comic book fun. Robinson presents a character who is known more in the DC Universe as a villain and gives him the gray area to play in that makes characters like this so much fun to read. I keep repeating the word "fun," but that's because it really is the best word to describe it.

The art by Cooke is exactly what you'd expect, and that's ten shades of awesome. Every page would look beautiful hung up on the wall or displayed in a gallery. Someone needs to give Cooke another ongoing series at DC and they need to do it fast. All of the shadow constructs and character designs in this issue were beautiful, and fans of The New Frontier will love the shots of Opal City and the guest appearance by Vigilante.

I know that the average comic book reader stays in the superhero genre, and I can understand the apprehension to move to other types of books. But you're doing yourself a disservice if you're only reading the top hero books and you're not exploring the corners of the DC Universe and it's much richer character base. This issue gets a 5/5.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cosmic Book News

Hey there comic fans!

I just wanted to let everyone know that I'll be writing reviews both here and for Cosmic Book News from now on. I'll post each review I do for Sequential Review here, and every review I do for them I'll link for Twitter.

Cosmic Book News was kind enough to make me part of their writing staff and I couldn't be happier joining the team.

Keep your eyes peeled for reviews both here and there!

-Kenny

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Scarlet Spider #1 - Review

ZERO RESPONSIBILITY


Kaine takes on his own series and personal demons after the events of Spider-Island in this new Scarlet Spider title written by Christopher Yost and drawn by Ryan Stegman. The series already sets up an interesting new premise by putting Marvel's other wall-crawler in Houston, TX, which is a bold creative move considering that most characters are based in New York City. This adds a wider scope to the Spider-Man franchise and gives a grander feel to the Marvel Universe by letting their characters breathe outside of The Big Apple.

The writing by Yost is definitely a more aggressive style than usual Spider-Man titles. Kaine has a very twisted and violent past and it's not something he's going to let go of easily. Yost throws constant moral and physical challenges in Kaine's way so that readers always have to wonder if he's going to snap and take someone out. It was easy for new readers to pick up, with a short history of the character and an intriguing back story, so you don't have to worry about not knowing anything before going in.

Stegman's art is incredibly fun and dynamic. The scenes where Kaine is diving off of buildings and feeling the rush of the wind hitting his face as he web swings in Houston felt authentic and kinetic on the page. We didn't get to see Kaine in the new suit yet, but it definitely plays some interesting roles in the artwork and throughout most of the panels. It gives the reader a feeling that the suit and determination to strike back at the darkness is on its way, but only through the imagery and not in actual words.

Overall this is a great start to a more violent kind of Spider book. Marvel can be pleased that The Amazing Spider-Man, Venom, and now Scarlet Spider are on their roster. This issue gets a strong 4.5/5.

The Strange Talent of Luther Strode #4 - Review

THE BOOK AND THE LIBRARIAN


In this issue of The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, written by Justin Jordan and drawn by Tradd Moore, we get a full origin of the book that transformed Luther's life and a proper introduction to the mysterious man known as The Librarian. It's an issue that builds and expands on the world that Jordan and Moore have been developing, and you can bet there's tons of fun action and violence throughout the story.

The part that was really moving was the confrontation between Luther and his father. I won't give too many details away, but after having been built up for quite some time in the first three issues it definitely takes a turn you're not expecting as a reader. If anything it gives the story even larger platforms to jump off of in terms of character direction and motivation.

The writing in the issue was really solid. It was the classic villain explaining the plot scenario, but Jordan was able to balance dialogue and images so that it never felt forced or drawn out. All of it felt authentic and kept me moving through the story at a brisk pace.

The art by Tradd Moore was just as outstanding as it's been since the first issue. I especially enjoyed the flashback scenes to the Herculean roots of the book that showcased Moore's abilities to draw different time periods and types of stories. The gore in this issue spared no expense, and though it is a very bloody book it never does it to the point of the macabre, it's always the fun sort of action and gore that only comic books can pull off.

So what's the verdict you ask? A solid 4.5/5 for this issue. I hope that after this initial arc that they get to continue the series and expand upon Luther's world and what he plans to do with his new found power.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Deadpool - "Dead" - Killing Comic Book Characters

THE MERC WITH A MOUTH MIGHT BITE THE DUST


I've been getting a ton of emails asking me what I think about the upcoming "Dead" story arc for Marvel Comics' character Deadpool, the merc with a mouth, and I have to say that I'm fine with. Comic book deaths are as common now as women in scantily clad outfits on the page. I also feel the same way about them -- they're overdone. Now I didn't set out to have this be a preaching affair about how comic book deaths are stupid and how women should have a bit more respect in terms of character, so I'm going to do it a little differently. First off, I'm going to drop the women characters argument and leave that for another post, it deserves the attention. Second, I'm going to explain why comic book deaths can be a good thing if done in a certain time frame.

When Captain America died back in the Marvel "Civil War" event it was felt by the comic community and it felt real and unforced. People mourned the death of Steve Rogers and it isn't hard to see why they did. Rogers is a character who represents the best in anyone who once had a very hard life and was given a second chance to make themselves greater than they could ever be. They left him alone for quite some time before bringing him back and putting him in a different role in the Marvel Universe. But there lies the problem -- the time frame. Marvel and DC have been notorious for "killing" a character and then bringing them back within three or four issues. Why even bother?

When Bruce Wayne died, I kind of flipped my shit. It was also crazy that despite being the most popular comic book and movie character in the world that no one realized that he had died in the books. What kind of marketing is that? Everyone should have been just as upset as when Superman died back in the nineties. Maybe they wanted to avoid the negative reaction from people who enjoy the films, I don't really know. But I enjoyed Dick Grayson's run as Batman more than I thought I would and it gave it a brand new life in the hands of writers like Grant Morrison and Peter J. Tomasi. Scott Snyder made an epic run on Detective Comics with the Grayson Batman, and now he's making another epic tale with the new ongoing Batman title featuring the returned Bruce Wayne.

Where am I going with this? Batman and Cap were each gone for a fairly long period of time. Characters like Bucky Barnes and Thor are being killed off left and right and then brought back an issue or two later. Marvel and DC could both take some cues from the Ultimate Marvel Universe and keep their characters dead if they're going to kill them. Although maybe Ultimate Comics is just a way to release that tension so that long time readers will keep buying the same characters over and over.

And now, back to Deadpool. He's a character who wants to die. He's seen too much, he's insane, and he's actually plotting his own death. I would love to see him finally get some rest from all of the killing and carnage. Will they bring him back? Absolutely. In fact, he might not even die in this story arc at all. But if he does I hope that they let the character go for a year or two. When he comes back fans will embrace him with all the goofiness and violence that he embodies. Until then, sleep well crimson prince.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Swamp Thing #5 - Review

ALEC HOLLAND STEPS UP TO BAT


This month's issue of Swamp Thing, written by Scott Snyder and drawn by Yanick Paquette, finds Dr. Alec Holland surrounded by monsters of The Rot and finally reaching out to the power of The Green inside of him. But while he battles the forces of The Rot on American soil, a whole new set of problems arises overseas as someone moves in to destroy the avatars of The Green once and for all.

Snyder and Paquette were the debut team for this series and it was wonderful to see them paired up again in this issue. Synder is building Dr. Holland's transformation into the Swamp Thing in a delightful slow-burn sort of way that is making it all the more satisfying to see the powers of The Green displayed in the fight for survival. And Paquette's art fills each and every page with life-like action, emotion, and powerful imagery.

If you're reading this book alongside Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman's Animal Man then you're probably just as excited as I am for the two books to crossover. It's been hinted at since the beginning and it looks as though we're getting closer and closer to the inevitable meeting between Dr. Holland and Buddy Baker. When these two superhero fused horror titles combine it'll be one of the most anticipated comic book events in this reviewer's history. Never have I cared about two characters from the big two more than Batman or Hal Jordan, and Synder and Lemire are responsible for doing so.

This issue, just like this month's Animal Man, gets a 5/5. It was purely outstanding. Not to mention the awesome scene where . . . Oh hell, just go buy it already!

Animal Man #5 - Review

A DARK VISION OF THE DAUGHTER


This month's issue of Animal Man, written by Jeff Lemire and drawn by Travel Foreman, picks up where the last issue left off with Buddy's family in danger of becoming lunch for one of The Hunters of The Rot. As Buddy and Maxine fight desperately to save their family with their ties to The Red, a small backfire puts them on the run from the dark and hungry forces that seek to devour all life on the planet. Their only hope is an ally far away who has his hands full with another powerful avatar of The Rot.

Can a series be too good? If that's the case I don't care, I'm still going to keep reading Animal Man until they stop printing it. Luckily it doesn't look like they'll quit anytime soon. The popularity of the character under Lemire and Foreman's guidance has shot Buddy Baker officially into the top slots of the comic book charts. It's a story that combines superheroics, horror, and thrills so well that it should be a must for anyone looking to bend the genres of storytelling.

There really isn't too much else I can say about how great this series is. I would stop myself from writing reviews but I feel that if I can convince one person who is on the fence about this title to hop over to the other side with one post a month then I've done my duty. When you pair this book with the work Scott Snyder is doing on Swamp Thing and their intertwining stories you've got a powerhouse of comic book lore and storytelling that most of the big two publishers are devoid of.

This issue gets a 5/5.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Locke and Key: Keys to the Kingdom - Review

THE ENEMY OF KEYHOUSE IS REVEALED


After three previous volumes of Locke and Key the Dark Lady is finally revealed to the Locke children, and all hell breaks loose. The fourth hardcover volume by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez builds the Locke children as key warriors and gives them some of their most dangerous challenges to date. The story and art continue to get better and better, showing that comics, just like TV shows, really can find their groove and expand upon the universe and characters in the narrative.

The thing that makes the "Keys to the Kingdom" arc so powerful is the full-circle nature of the mystery of Dodge and the creature that is possessing him. The Omega Key is the ultimate weapon in the hands of a dark soul, and the Locke kids are about to learn that they'll have to put their petty squabbles aside if they're going to team up and take down the evil that's stalking them.

The inventiveness of the keys and their abilities keeps this series fresh and the characters constantly bathed in a new light in terms of storytelling. Just when you think the plot can't take any more unexpected turns it swoops in like a hawk and goes in a whole new heart-wrenching direction. The cliffhanger of this volume alone makes you wish you had the fifth already in your hands. I guess I'll have to start reading the single issues now to catch up and find out what happens between the forces of good and evil in Keyhouse.

This volume gets a 5/5 for daring storytelling, deep character development, and some powerful visuals. If you've read all of my reviews of the series so far and are still on the fence about it you're absolutely insane. People call this one of the best comic books out there for a reason. It's time for you to find out what everyone is ranting about.

Locke and Key: Crown of Shadows - Review

A BOY AND HIS SHADOWS


The tension in Joe Hill's Locke and Key is pushed even further as Luke accquires more keys to terrorize the Locke family and the children learn more about the mysterious past of their father and Keyhouse. Lives are on the line, magic is behind every corner, and no one is safe from the darkness that looms all around Ty, Kinsey, and Bode. With keys that can open people's minds, take you anywhere you wish, or control the shadows around you, only the most cunning and creative side will win in the battle of light and dark.

I was worried that after reading so much of Locke and Key during the holiday break that I'd eventually get sick of it. I ordered all four of the hardcover collections by IDW and in just a few days of starting to read them I'm already about to crack open the fourth volume. But this is a review of the third volume, so I'll try not to get too ahead of myself. The story in this arc was the kind of action-based turn that the characters needed to start showing their growth in a world that wants to eat them alive. Ty and Kinsey especially showcase this through their adventures against the natural, social, and magical worlds that they're trapped in.

Gabriel Rodriguez depicts shadow creatures in a way that makes me wish there were statues of them. From Peter Pan to giant demonic dogs, all of the obsidian monsters are full of life on each page of the book. There's also a stunning sequence of full page fights between two giant warriors, who I'll leave as a mystery until you pick up this book, because you honestly have to just read it and enjoy it the way it was mean to be -- seen and not heard.

I could sit here and gush on this blog for five more paragraphs, but I'll let you and anyone else who is interested in this series to see it for themselves. This volume gets a 4.5/5 for building up the universe of Locke and Key and never letting go until the very last panel that delivers a huge "oh shit" moment. This series is not to be missed.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Locke and Key: Head Games - Review

A KEY TO THE PAST


In the second volume of Joe Hill's Locke and Key from IDW the Locke family starts to uncover and deal with the magic surrounding them in Keyhouse. The "Head Games" story arc plays well into the mythology of the narrative and gives readers a look into the past where the fallen father of the Locke family had once experienced the same magic his children are experiencing in the present. Not to mention the supernatural, murder, and mystery levels are amped up ten-fold.

Hill's writing in this volume is just as sharp as the last, and it sets it up for some great new plot devices in following issues. The development of the villain and his backstory really adds entirely new layers to the dangers of sharing the power of Keyhouse with people who aren't family, and you start to get the sense that it might be more of a revenge story than originally thought. There's also the promise of even more strange magic afoot in the last panel of the volume, but that's a spoiler I'll leave out for those that want to read it.

Gabriel Rodriguez delivers in the art department again, and I'm warming up to the character designs at this point. The writing is so good and the rest of the art is so strong that it's hard for me to pick on Rodriguez for just drawing people's eyes and faces in a way that I'm not completely keen on. It might just be the way that Luccas is designed, but it isn't a bad thing that the villain puts me off in a visual way. If anything it might just encourage me to root for Ty, Kinsey, and Bode.

This volume of Locke and Key gets another 4/5 for a strong story, great art, and honestly a very attractive presentation in hardcover format. I'm a little sad that I haven't been following this series as much as I should have been, but I like the fact that I can finish the entire arc in one powerful collection after the other until I catch up.

Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft - Review

THE MYSTERIES OF KEYHOUSE


Written by Joe Hill and drawn by Gabriel Rodriguez, Locke and Key is a wonderful mix of magic, murder, and mystery. This first volume collects the six-issue mini-series "Welcome to Lovecraft" where the Locke family moves into Keyhouse after their father is murdered by one of his students. There's more to the house than anyone expects, and that's only starting with magical keys and a person living in a well on the grounds. A new beginning soon turns into a game of survival as the remaining Locke family members fight off attackers both from the world of the living and the realm of the dead.

The writing in Locke and Key is top-notch. It sold me after the first few pages and I read the entire hardcover volume in a single sitting. Hill writes his comics as very character based pieces and it really shows through each individual issue and chapter. Every character is believable, from the guilt-stricken older brother Ty to the adventure seeking Bode and his romps as a ghost.

The art in the book is the only thing I have a slight problem with. In terms of overall tone, location, and genre, the book does wonders. I'm just not a fan of the character deigns, mainly the eyes. That's a nitpicking thing, but it's the only thing I've been able to find that I don't enjoy. Aside from that detail I do enjoy the art as a whole and I think Rodriguez has a knack for panel flow and movement.

The types of readers I'd suggest this book to are people who are big fans of supernatural mysteries. Locke and Key is a bit of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe mixed with a Clive Barker story. It's the kind of book where you're constantly worried about the well-being of the characters not only because of the situations they're in, but also because they feel so real.

This volume from IDW gets a very respectable 4/5 for taking lots of very interesting turns in the narrative and nailing the atmosphere of a supernatural thriller and mystery. I just wish I could get over the way the characters are designed, but luckily it doesn't affect the story for me at all and I still really enjoy the book as a whole.