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God of Comics: X-O Manowar #2

God Of Comics, Reviews

April 25, 2017

X-O Manowar #2 (Valiant Comics)

Soldiers rarely know why they’re fighting.

The idea of peasants and serfs dying in a rich man’s war is one we can follow throughout history. Someone wealthy decides they want something and decides that other people are going to die so that he can have it. This is the act of aggression, but part of getting people to die for the cause is convincing those soldiers that they’re in the right. This often involves some for of mythology, some narrative that convinces people that they’re in the right regardless of what the facts are.

One of the many problems that arises from this is that soldiers may be fighting on the wrong side of a conflict, but will then turn around and double down on the lies they’ve been fed – despite whatever evidence might exist to the contrary. Worse, war always has unintended consequences: go to war with an oil-rich nation and depose the leader and throw the entire region into chaos, resulting in a bogeyman that haunts and destabilizes the region. The people you went into free hate you, and the reputation you think you have does not measure up when meeting the people you’ve hurt.

It doesn’t matter, though, not to the rich men that start the war.

And this is where we find Aric of Dacia, now Aric of Urth.

He saved his world and two peoples and vanished; he was tired, he needed to escape, and he’s armed with the most powerful weapon in his universe: a living suit of plant-based armor that gives him the power of a god and possesses it’s own intelligence. He waged war and then found a home for himself, a place to settle down because he knows the truth all soldiers know and all that glorify war run from – war is literal hell, and once you’ve fought in one the war never ever ends.

Aric went across the galaxy to escape it. He left behind his wife, hid the armor, took up farming, but war has found him and is forcing him to fight. He doesn’t know why and doesn’t care. All he wants is to be left alone, but they keep forcing him to fight and he’s better at it than any of the people at his back or the people he’s killing realize. The danger here for Aric isn’t mortality, but discovery. He could win this war single-handedly, but doing so would reveal who he is to people he wants nothing to do with.

The armor Aric wears knows that he can’t escape it, that running from the conflict that others bring to his doorstep will only make things worse. He’s married to war now, married to the violence, and the shape-changing armor he wears has scaled itself down to a wedding ring. The armor knows Aric down to the very core of his soul and has already accepted that which Aric struggles with: the war has found him and he can never go home again.

Matt Kindt is following up Robert Venditti’s legendary run on this title with a violent meditation on conflict and aftermath, on jealousy and ambition and the causes that lie behind every rich man’s war that results in innocent people dying. He’s given Aric a team of people to lead that increases the risk of discovery, and the tragedy of it is that if Aric unleashes himself on his enemies he will lose the refuge he has tried to build.

It’s a tale that demands a talented artist, and Valiant has found one in the form of Tomas Giorello and thrown in the detailed colors of Diego Rodriguez. It remains to be seen if this run on X-O Manowar will live up to what came before it, but it’s off to a damn good start.

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God of Comics: Night Owl Society #1

God Of Comics, Reviews

April 25, 2017

Night Owl Society #1 (IDW Publishing)

IDW Publishing has made a name for themselves by taking older properties and building upon them: Ghostbusters, TMNT, GI Joe, MASK, Transformers, Jem and the Holograms, all their like. The truth is that all of them are good – all of them take every iteration of this properties and mash them up and take out the best bits and add new ones and make them better, but it’s rare for IDW to come up with something new.

By which I mean that IDW had very few in-house properties, but when they do decide to do something it tends to fucking rock. Locke & Key comes immediately to mind. This is something new, something unique, and it sounds like it’s going to be interesting.

David is one of those lonely kids, a misfit who doesn’t fit in – not at home and definitely not at school. He’s got very few people he legitimately cares about, so when one of them is killed by the local mob, David takes it personally. Now, in a better world, the police would deal with it… but the police are corrupt. Look at those cops arresting the people that showed up to talk to their politicians in Flint, or any of the murderers that kill unarmed citizens every few days for no real reason.

No, the police are not a problem for the wealthy, and crime pays when you’re running things. David’s friend was killed by an actual mob boss, the sort of person who pays politicians and sits on corporate boards and isn’t going to be given any hassle by the police. There’s no justice, and David is old enough to understand that and young enough to be angry about it, young enough to do something about it, young enough to take matters into his own hands.

The thing about marginalized peoples is that they find one another and form bonds stronger than anything outside of those groups could possibly understand. Their ties aren’t based on faux-oppression or similar likes but by a simple need to not die, and when one of them does die the others tend to react badly.

In David’s case, that means organizing his friends, figuring out what skills they have, and going after the mob on their own. The police won’t do it and the politicians are actual criminals themselves, so someone has to make good. Why not David? Why not his friends? All they have to do is make the world a better place and avoid getting killed… or grounded.

Hey, the kids are alright. JamesVenhaus is on writing duties and this is a weird one: he’s a playwright whose done some awesome stuff, most notably Ugly People (about running an electoral campaign) and Weird Sisters (which is Macbeth set in a modern high school where the students are studying the Scottish Play). His work is quirky dark comedy with soul, the sort of thing I keep hoping one of the local theater troupes will do (hint, hint). He’s a treasure, is what I’m saying, and if this comic brings more attention to his work that can only be for the best.

Pius Bak is on art duties and I feel that should sell the comic all by itself. This is the comic I’m most looking forward to this week.

Do not miss it.

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God of Comics: Jem and The Misfits #4

God Of Comics, Reviews

April 25, 2017

Jem and The Misfits #4 (IDW Publishing)

When Kelly Thompson started writing series it felt like one of her goals was inclusivity. She set up a reason why Jerrica needed Jem, set up complex relationships between the various members of the Holograms and the Misfits, both with themselves and one another. It’s made this comic one of the best on the market today, and the most outrageous thing about it is how it isn’t getting the attention it deserves.

And I know it’s got a massive fanbase and is one of IDW Publishing’s top-selling comics, but it deserves more. It took some rather ridiculous source material and made it intriguing while still staying true to its roots, modernizing it making it better in every way, really digging into the core of what makes these characters interesting and exploring why the core concept still rings true decades after the cartoon faded away.

The comic is so good, in fact, that it warranted a spin-off: the Misfits (whose songs are better) have gotten their own comic, rampaging out of control after trampling through the early issues of Jem. Pizzazz and her crew have been investigated, their characters and obsessions and cruelties laid bare. We feel for them even as they were the primary antagonists of the Holograms and especially when it looked like they were going to lose everything.

Pizzazz is not going to let her dream die, though. For her the music is everything and earlier issues of this comic have shown us how hard she’s worked and how much she’s sacrificed to get where she is, how she bound a group of young musicians together and conquered her world. Yes, things got out of hand, and yes, her label dropped her and no other label would touch her, but that isn’t the end in this strange modern world.

There’s a company that is willing to touch them, but it comes with a cost: they’re now being filmed 24/7, the lives of a troubled band of highly competitive musicians turned into a reality show. Pizzazz hates it. They all do. It’s the only way they can see to save themselves, though, so they’re doing it.

Kelly Thompson has taken the opportunity to look at the flaws of these characters, the shortcomings that society says should be ruinous – Pizzazz’s ambition, Stormer’s weight. The Misfits are loud and extroverted characters mostly, but the comic has done a good job digging into their souls and speaking to its readers, shedding light on very real and personal problems through fiction.

That’s what art is.

This month, Kelly is turning her eyes to Roxanne Pelligrini – you might know her as Roxy, the drummer. Roxy is guarding a crippling secret: she’s functionally illiterate. Some of her band-mates know but they also know she’s kind of ashamed of the whole thing, so they’ve held her trust. The media will not be so kind, Roxy fears, and the moment they know she’s going to be outed and mocked into destruction.

Anyone that thinks words can’t hurt anyone hasn’t been paying attention.

It’s nerve-wracking, the sort of danger that could destroy her ability to do anything in society. Roxy is driven by shame: she left high school to get away from words, has problems with Jetta due to her own insecurities, lets jealousy get the best of her because of her intrinsic sense of worthlessness. Her presence in the Misfits is the core of her identity, her success as a musician the thing she’s built the entirety of herself on, but even that might not protect her from the truth.

Every nerve and line of anxiety-wrought tension is captured perfectly by artist Jenn St. Onge, her talent with expressions, body language, and motion bringing to life a breakdown caused by the casual cruelty of a society that has become based around tearing people down and the fight of Pizzazz to make something better. The vibrancy of M. Victoria Robado’s colors just makes this that much better.

We might not agree with all the things Pizzazz does, but her end goals – the protection of her adopted family, her dedication to her craft, and an end to the entropy that is killing the world around her – are noble.

Sounds complex for a kid’s comic, doesn’t it? That’s because this is what maturity looks like.

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God of Comics: Britannia – We Who Are About to Die #1

God Of Comics, Reviews

April 25, 2017

Britannia: We Who Are About to Die #1 (Valiant Comics)

Last year, Valiant did a special little series that ended up being one of the best horror comics this side of Coffin Hill or the Clean Room – a mystery set among the borders and in the heart of ancient Rome, a story that dealt with the corruption and grandeur of the falling empire.

This year, they’re returning to that world to tell a whole new story, one that should be just as terrifying:

We who are about to die salute you. That’s what the gladiators used to say before entering the Coliseum, where fifty thousand Romans would drink and cheer and sate their bloodlust by watching slaves fight to the death. It’s what they were told to say, and not saying it – not paying heed to the whims of the mad Emperors and the greedy Patricians – could get one tortured, maimed and worse.

Gladiators could win their freedom by fighting, you see. It was important to stay healthy, to keep fit. The Romans also had a thing about female Gladiators, pitting them against impossible odds and impossible numbers in an effort to prove male superiority. The Romans were pretty high on the idea of misogyny, and watching women fail was a special treat for them.

Writer Peter Milligan knows all this and is thus introducing us to Achillia, a female Gladiator that is going to shake things up. The Romans pit her against five men and are shocked when she kills them all – her victory sends tremors throughout Rome, causing women to question their dependence. The men have noticed. The men are going to have to do something to defend their freedom to be terrible by being terrible… the question is if any of them are strong enough to stand against Achillia.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Rome, people are going mad. They claim to see a blood-soaked Apollo wandering the streets of Palatine Hill. The madness is spreading like a fever, unchecked and horrible. Emperor Nero takes aside the Vestal Virgin Rubria and demands that she petition the gods and find out what the hell is going on and get the insanity to stop – and if she can’t he’s going to have her executed.

The last time Nero threatened Rubria she called on Antonius Axia, Rome’s only detective, for aid. It worked out for her last time and she’s going to do it again, her visions of the divine offering him only a single clue: Achillia.

Peter Milligan’s take on Rome is some of the best historical fiction you’ll read, mixing historical records and data with Roman myth and bloodsoaked madness. It’s the sort of story that’ll stay with you and leave you wondering why western history ignores the many crimes of Rome, and why western society is so fond of repeating the same mistakes. Joining him are artist Juan José Ryp and colorist Frankie D’Armata, whose works speaks for themselves.

We who are about to read salute you both.

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God of Comics: Batman / The Shadow #1

God Of Comics, Reviews

April 25, 2017

Batman / The Shadow #1 (DC Comics / Dynamite Comics)

The Shadow beat Batman.

Got your attention? Good. The Shadow was a radio play serial that debuted in July of 1930 and followed that up with print in April of 1931. Batman, of course, debuted in Detective Comics in March of 1939. It’s safe to say that Bruce took some things from his forbear, though he upped the theatricality and lost the faux East Asian mysticism. Both characters did originally use guns and outright murder evil-doers, though Batman gave that up shortly after his origin was firmly established, but Bruce still follows a lot of rules the Shadow started.

The Shadow only hunts after dark. So does Bruce. The Shadow has sidekicks and supervillains and a secret lair. So does Bruce. The Shadow has a multi-millionaire alter ego whose life was touched by tragedy. So does Bruce. The animated series even paid homage to the Shadow and his influence on Batman with the Grey Ghost character.

Here’s the set-up: there’s been some spectacular murders happens in Gotham, which is very much the sort of thing that attracts Bruce’s attention. Trick of it is, all the evidence points to Lamont Cranston as being the culprit – but Lamont has been dead for more than fifty years, and is the alter-ego of the original Shadow~!

This is very much the sort of mystery that Bruce loves and can’t let go of, so he’s going to dig deep and peel back the layers until he gets to the truth at the core of Lamont’s life… but the Shadow is out there, trying to stop him, and the Shadow knows exactly the sort of evil that lurks in the heart of every man.

Also, the writing team on this is Scott Snyder and Steve Orlando, the former of which has a reputation as one of the best Batman writers of our era and the latter of which has been doing amazing things all over post-Rebirth DC, so that has a lot of promise. Both of them are also fans of the Shadow and they’ve promised that this is going to be a classic mystery, a meeting of the minds as much as anything else.

As if that wasn’t enough, Riley Motherfucking Rossmo is handling the art on this. You might recognize his gorgeous stylings from Rasputin, Constantine, Hellblazer… the man is unspeakably good at creating mood with a sketchy style that is utterly unlike anyone else working today. His artwork is perfect for a story like this, where nothing is certain and everything is always in danger of falling apart, a world where truth is a vague ephemera, more promise than reality.

Yeah, this sounds like exactly the comic we need right now. Bring it on.

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257

God of Comics: Wildstorm #3

God Of Comics, Reviews

April 19, 2017

Wild Storm #3 (DC Comics)

What, no Valiant this week? Tune in next Wednesday for Valiant. They’ve got something special brewing. This week we’re ending the whole God of Comics thing with the writing deity that mortal souls call Warren Ellis as DC Comics allows him to completely rework the whole of the Wildstorm Universe.

Born in the nineties, the Wildstorm imprint was the brainchild of Jim Lee and was the best of what nineties comics offered while also playing into every cliche the nineties propagated: pouches everywhere, overlarge guns and weaponry, sprawling mythologies and stories that played out over years… and as the Wildstorm Universe wound down it became self-aware enough for self-mockery and introspection, resulting in some of the best comics ever written (Sleeper, I’m looking directly at you).

Wildstorm was a big part of what informed the nu52, as the whole of their mythology merged with DC Comics and was a big part of why the nu52 didn’t work. DC Comics are typically about justice tempered by understanding, protection informed by tragedy, and truth becoming mercy. There’s no place for such things in the dark conspiracies of Wildstorm, but no means for them to exist, either. The likes of Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman make the Wildstorm universe an impossibility just by existing.

And so much of Wildstorm was left by the wayside during DC Rebirth. This was a good thing. It was a good decision. But this does not mean that the Wildstorm Universe has no place or value in the modern world, and there is no one living today that can see that worth or value expanded and explained like Warren Ellis can.

He’s building a modern world where centuries of shadow wars have bubbled just below the surface and are only now coming to light, slowly introducing new takes on familiar faces that feel true to what was while adding new depth. It’s a remarkable achievement from a writer who is known for remarkable achievements, ranging from Nextwave to Transmetropolitan to Injection, and he brings all his brilliance and wit and everything he is to a mythology that is worthy of him.

The artwork provided by Jon-Davis Hunt perfectly captures every leaking bit of emotion from what could be a high-concept intellectual pursuit, infecting each character with visual quirks and a style that harkens to what was and informs what is.

If you liked the old Wildstorm at all, you need to read this. If you like superheroes at all but wish they were, well, more (and haven’t discovered / don’t have time for the wealth of Valiant) you need to read this. If you appreciate good writing and excellent art you need to read this.

Really, you just need to read this. Do so.

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267

God of Comics: Shaolin Cowboy – Who’ll Stop the Reign? #1

God Of Comics, Reviews

April 19, 2017

Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop the Reign? #1 (Dark Horse Comics)

Many many moons ago, I walked into Big Pete’s Comics and Collectibles and found a Smiling Big Pete. Pete is big, usually, the sort of tall that makes you think that maybe he’s smuggling back mushrooms from a certain kingdom or maybe he did, in fact, defeat the King of the Koopas. And he often does smile. He is an affable fellow.

The smile on this day, though, was different. It was a special smile. A smile rooted in the discovery of something no one was ever supposed to know about. A smile that spoke of those maddening gifts that sometimes one is lucky enough to find, and – if one is paying attention – lucky enough to acknowledge.

Such treasures need to be shared.

Have you ever heard,” Pete asked, speaking in the tone of one who has discovered a great truth, “of Shaolin Cowboy?”

The comic he placed in my hands was madness – starting with a wordless splash page fight scene that lasted an entire issue, where an unassuming old man in frumpy clothes fought an army armed with a stick that had two chainsaws attached to it. There was pathos here, somehow, an implied ethos and uncertain logos that left one stripped of order and adrift in chaos.

It was gory, ridiculous, and beautiful.

Geof Darrow is the mad prophet that brings us this vision of greatness, this salivating and glorious insanity. In the latest chapter of Samurai Cowboy the frumpy old man battles beachfront property and some of its associated horrors. Those horrors are looking for revenge for things maybe in a comic that has won and lost Eisner awards. Do not look away. Stare into the void. Read the comic. Look in the mirror.

Your smile will shock you, but only then will you Understand.

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226

God of Comics: Plastic #1

God Of Comics, Reviews

April 19, 2017

Plastic #1 (Image Comics)

With Nailbiter done, we’re in need of a new serial killer comic to keep our urges in check… and Image Comics is happy to give us the thing we crave.

Check this out: a serial killer named Edwyn Stoffgruppen gives up killing for the girl he met online, a lovely little thing named Virginia. When I say thing I’m not using a euphemism: Virginia is a sex doll that Edwyn purchased from somewhere on the internet, and the doll soothes whatever it is that makes him need to kill. The two of them are driving through America, enjoying the backroads and one another, and everything seems to be as okay as they’re going to get.

Or, rather, they seem to be okay until a billionaire kidnaps (steals?) Virginia and holds her (it?) hostage in an effort to get Edwyn to kill in exchange for her (its?) safe return.

Robert Kirkman, writer of the Walking Dead, describes this comic as “The weirdest shit I’ve ever read.”

No foolin.’

There’s something amazing in the idea of a billionaire taking the one thing that keeps a killer in check for his own personal amusement, and thinking that somehow this won’t backfire and make things worse for (a) everyone around him and (b) himself. I know billionaires suffering from affluenza tend to think the things that affect/kill the people around them won’t touch them, but Edwyn is very much a serial killer and he took away the one thing that makes him not a serial killer.

Couldn’t he just poison a water supply of an entire state in the name of profits? That works for most. Or imprison an entire group of people for bullshit reasons and funnel them into a for-profit prison? There’re politicians that will help with that. Taking the stop gap away from a serial killer, however, is probably the worst idea – no one profits from that, man, except maybe eventually anyone not in the 1%.

Worried by me bringing politics into it? Don’t be. Writer Doug Wagner is going to do that – this is the man who did Immigrant and Customs Enforcement and Average Joes over at 12 Gauge Comics, and if you haven’t read those, well, read this. You’ll understand. The weirdness is being brought to line and color by Laura Martin, who you might and should know from her work on Planetary and Daniel Hillyard, who has been with Doug from the beginning and knows his way around the printed page.

No lie, April 19th is my birthday and I’m considering this my present from Image Comics.

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God of Comics: Monstress #11

God Of Comics, Reviews

April 19, 2017

Monstress #11 (Image Comics)

It amazes me how many people have gotten into comics to read this title. It’s high-concept, story and art wise, the sort of thing that you wouldn’t expect people to go for, but the perfect mingling of every aspect of this book makes it more than the sum of its parts.

Let me explain.

Marjorie Liu is one of those talented writers that flies underneath far too many people’s radar. She’s got a subtle knack for world building and characterization that brushes every page; this is a writer who loves language and you get a sense of that in every sentence. She wrote the best version of Laura McKinney (in NYX and X-23), a character you might know as the girl Wolverine from Logan.

She also wrote some of the most heartfelt X-Men comics Marvel has ever published, concentrating on individual characters and finding the heart in each. Those of us that have read her novels (the Dirk and Steele and Hunter Kiss stories) know exactly how good she is at making you care about her characters and the worlds that they live in, and Monstress is one of her most powerful works in that regard.

Set in a fantastic matriarchal society with heavy Asian influence, Monstress tells the tale of semi-magical creatures that can sometimes pass as human and the humans that use them to fuel their magic. This usage sometimes kills and often hurts those being used, and as a result, the magical ones are dehumanized, degraded, broken and discarded – and so our protagonist is one of their number investigating the death of her mother at the hands of wizards.

It’s a tale of faith, of friendship, a fable that digs deep into the guts of institutional racism and the evils of both war and slavery. It’s incredible meaty stuff and every panel is lovingly rendered by artist Sana Takeda. Seriously, every panel in this comic is a portrait – it’s one of the most beautiful comics on the shelves today, and it’d be worth picking up just for the artwork even if the story wasn’t so good.

But by the powers of Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda combined, well, Image Comics is publishing something magical. Whatever else you might grab this week, do not miss this.

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God of Comics: The Forever War #3

God Of Comics, Reviews

April 19, 2017

Forever War #3 (Titan Books)

The Forever War is one of those seminal science fiction books that everyone should read and I’m kinda glad it’s being turned into a comic – the more places this story is told, the better.

Written back in 1974, the story is about a marine sent into deep space to fight a war he doesn’t really understand against aliens he might never see. Most of the first few chapters deal with military culture and the idea of taking planets that are utterly inhospitable to human life. When our hero finally sees action things go wrong and when he’s served his term the military offers to extend his contract, but all he wants to do is go home.

The problem is a simple one: you can never go home again. Anyone who’s traveled knows that things change in your absence and that the place you left is never the place that you return to. This is further complicated by dwindling resources and evolving societal trends, so the world our hero comes back to is more alien to him than the aliens he was fighting. He eventually re-enlists, because while war is hell it is, at least, familiar.

It’s all the more interesting in that author Joe Haldeman is a Vietnam veteran, one of those war heroes that conservatives like in concept but rarely in practice. The story hits that line, with many classic space opera tropes turned on their heads: the war is a meaningless one, the inciting moment an accident that those with more greed than sense used to line their own pockets.

The book is one of those quietly influential stories, a Nebula-award winning tale that really should be taught in schools. As recently as March 2017, the book was referenced in the New York Times by writer Brian Castner, who said “The longest conflict in American history – from Afghanistan to Iraq, to high-value target missions throughout Africa and the Middle East – has been nicknamed the Forever War. Our country has created a self-selected and battle-hardened cohort of frequent fliers, one that is almost entirely separate from mainstream civilian culture, because service in the Forever War, as many of us call it, isn’t so much about going as returning.”

It should be noted that this comic has seen light before: Joe Haldeman did script out a comic that was illustrated by Marvano and published by NBM Publishing almost thirty years ago, but this is the first time we’ve gotten fresh prints of the tale in English since that time (there was a collected edition back in 2002, but it was only in French).

For those of us that are interested in the world we live in and the truth of what combat looks like and the difficulties of coming home, this is the cautionary tale we need. This story is an important one, a stark and honest report written by a veteran of a horrific war fought for reasons no one really understands except those that profited from it – the inciting incident of the greed-inspired wars that America is fighting today and reaping the consequences of.

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