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Review: Instant Theatre – Shakespeare After Dark! The Anniversary Show

Comedy, Culture, Events, Improv, Performance, Reviews, Showcase

June 19, 2017

With uproarious laughter and perfect comic timing, the audience was transfixed by what they saw. We had an audience with “The Bard” himself, Bartitsu and rapier fighting by Affair of Honor, an Elizabethan complements contest, an insult battle with pirate ships and pickle juice as the main insult components and Matheson the best drunk thespian they could summon.  Shakespeare After Dark is very close to being sorcery on its own, but they pull some serious magic Saturday night.  We can’t say this enough but this is absolutely some of the best improv you can see in the city.

Good and gentle bards soothed us with classic chamber music throughout the evening. Photo Credit Peter Joseph for Living Myth Magazine

Producer Chelsey Stuyt welcomes the audience and introduces us to the players. Photo Credit Peter Joseph for Living Myth Magazine

Joel Cottingham as William Shakespeare was our host! “I might call him / A thing divine, for nothing natural / I ever saw so noble.” – The Tempest Photo Credit Peter Joseph for Living Myth Magazine

A packed house! Full of merry gentles! Photo Credit Peter Joseph for Living Myth Magazine

Affair of Honor showing us stunningly choreographed Bartitsu Photo Credit Peter Joseph for Living Myth Magazine

A fair maiden receiving compliments Photo Credit By Peter Joseph for Living Myth Magazine

They were wooing her real good Photo Credit By Peter Joseph for Living Myth Magazine

Pirates vs. Pickle Juice might foes in insults Photo Credit By Peter Joseph for Living Myth Magazine

Affair of Honor and their endless rapier duel Photo Credit By Peter Joseph for Living Myth Magazine

It would be Shakespeare After Dark without a drunk actor. Matheson was our man of the evening. Photo Credit By Peter Joseph for Living Myth Magazine

“I’M A DRAGON” Photo Credit By Peter Joseph for Living Myth Magazine

A man armed with mead is as dangerous as a man armed with sword Photo Credit By Peter Joseph for Living Myth Magazine

Like all good Shakespearean tragedies… There is a lot of death. Photo Credit By Peter Joseph for Living Myth Magazine

Like … a lot of death… Photo Credit By Peter Joseph for Living Myth Magazine

Did we mention there was death? Because there was. Photo Credit By Peter Joseph for Living Myth Magazine

Standing Ovation! Photo Credit By Peter Joseph for Living Myth Magazine

Chelsey bidding us a gentle night and merry revelry. Photo Credit By Peter Joseph for Living Myth Magazine

Our contest winners enjoying alcohol and snacks!

Congratulations Instant Theatre on a successful and hilarious Shakespeare After Dark!  If you want to catch their next show it will be at The Havana on July 22nd.

 

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423

Alien: Covenant

Culture, film, Reviews

May 19, 2017

The Alien series shifts genre in a strange parallel to the xenomorph upon which it was based and as commentary on the era in which it was made. The first movie was about horror and suspense as took us from the seventies to the eighties, where the suspense we felt moving from one decade to the next gave way to the horrors of corruption and disease that we’re still feeling to this day. The second movie was all about action and consequence and how the greed of a few might kill the rest of us, about how our society will blindly follow the people that are profiting off our work into war and not heed the warnings of those with the most experience. Sounds like Iran-Contra, the AIDS epidemic, the Iraqi War… all those messes that we barely survived.

Alien3 was a thing that happened; we had settled in nihilism by that point, and David Fincher captured the entropy that had taken root in the human soul, the disappointment of his movie caused by forces far beyond his control but still being forged into something better than it had any business being. The fourth movie was a music video written by Joss Whedon, a high action disaster that started strong and ended weak… and that was okay. We weren’t expecting anything more than a close to the series and that was it.

It should be noted that Neill Blomkamp’s Alien movie is apparently dead, but it was supposed to be the Alien3 movie we had been promised thirty years ago. Instead of that, we got Prometheus, a wildly ambitious high-concept sci-fi adventure movie that would have been stronger without a connection to this franchise. Honestly, most of the problems people have with that movie is that it ties into the others, acting as a direct prequel to the very first movie. This movie acts as a direct sequel to that movie, which makes it the second chronological movie in the six-movie-long series, with a third part to begin shooting in fourteen months, which will make this a seven-movie long franchise if you don’t count the two AvP movies.

Confused yet? Don’t be. One of our staffers didn’t see Prometheus and went with me when I saw this, and he seemed to have a good time. I had a good time, and you will, too. Just try to relax your brain a little because this is, like Prometheus, not what you’re expecting from an Alien movie.

“We’re all still going to die. Morituri nolumus mori.”

Whatever that may be. C’mon, guys, given how loose the continuity is and how much these movies change from one installment to the next, you just kinda sit back and accept the movie for what it is. Have some popcorn.

Covenant very much aims to equal the ambition of Prometheus while also taking into account fan backlash – there’s a lot of concessions made that directly address problems that fans had with Prometheus, and some of those are for the better. To illustrate those points, though, we need to talk spoilers. You have been warned. The whole movie is summarized below, so highlight at your own discretion or skip past it to where we talk about the movie without spoiling it:

We cold open in a white room where Peter Weyland is waking up David, an android played by Michael Fassbender and one of the big reasons so many things went wrong in the story of Prometheus – that movie is basically about David being creepy and touching things and here we get to know the beginnings of his dissatisfaction with humanity, as his creator is kind of a tool. Thankfully, they both got ripped apart in Prometheus, so we cut to

A crew of colonists in deep stasis, heading towards a planet that has been researched for them. They are being cared for by a robot named Walter who doesn’t do creepy things but is still played by Michael Fassbender. They’re doing a recharge of the electrical systems when there’s a solar flare that causes that system to be damaged and wakes up some of the crew while also burning one of them to death in his pod as his girlfriend looks on.

The person that died was supposed to be the captain, which puts Oram in charge. He’s not good with people and thinks people don’t like him because he’s religious, which he brings up a few times and doesn’t play into his character arc at all but does play into the themes of the movie, so we’ll let that one go. The crew is full of couples (including a gay couple, which is a nice touch), and dead captain’s surviving partner is Katherine Waterston’s Daniels. She leads a funeral that Oram isn’t onboard with, but he lets it go without comment because he’s not an asshole.

As they’re fixing things they pick up a distant distress signal from… somewhere. They use long-range scanners and find a planet that is much closer than the one they’re supposed to go to that is suitable for human habitation – they could get to this one in a week, and the one they’re supposed to go to is decades away and requires more sleeping in cryo-pods like the one the captain burned to death in, so off they go explore the new world. Daniels objects, but not loudly given that her lover was just turned into BBQ.

Oram and Daniels lead an away team down to the planet and find it full of plants and, strangely, wheat, but no animals. They test for toxins in the atmosphere and find none, so they head out and discover the crashed ship that Shaw and David stole in Prometheus, along with Shaw’s dog tags. There’s no sign of Shaw or David, though. Everything is okay until two people are infected by microscopic spores and hatch white not-xenomorphs that blow up the ship they came down on and nearly kill them all until they are rescued by David.

David leads them to a necropolis that is clearly an alien city (actually one built by and for the Engineers) and David tells them a story about how the Engineers and Shaw both died and it was sad and he is sad. David and Walter have some conversations that are the core and most interesting part of the film that infers questions about the act of creation and what is owed between creator and creation. It’s some interesting stuff that hints at the horrors to come.

David watches as a human gets killed by one of the white not-xenomorphs and tries to communicate with it, but then Oram blows it up and tells David that he is the devil. So David offers to show him something and Oram, instead of shooting him, follows him down into a pit where there are xenomorph eggs and David reveals that he created them. Oram gets face-huggered and out bursts a mini-xenomorph. Oram is dead, a xenomorph is on the loose, and Danny McBride is in charge of the mothership and brings it down for a rescue.

We get Daniels fighting the Xenomorph on a flying ship while David and Walter have a conversation and one of them dies and the winner goes on the ship. Daniels beats the xenomorph but there is another and that one ends up on the ship and kills the whole crew except for Daniels and Danny, who jettison it from an airlock in a tense battle because that is how the first, second, and fourth movies ended and it worked for them.

Daniels and Danny go into their pods and go to sleep, the android on board is revealed to be David, and that’s where the movie ends.

So, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the movie.

First off, this movie is gorgeous. Ridley Scott has some flaws as a director but set design and cinematography have never been among them, and this movie lives up to the high expectations he sets for himself. The ship looks good and practical, the necropolis is fascinating, the ruined Engineer ship is as haunting as you might remember if you saw Prometheus. The score is gorgeous and perfectly sets the mood and compliments the visuals and the direction is spot on.

The writing is also stronger here than it was in Prometheus. Aside from a couple of character moments that are never followed up on – like the replacement captain being a man of faith and that being why he wasn’t fit to be the actual captain – we get the sense that these are people that know and trust one another and that they are professionals. Their deaths are the result of circumstance and panic rather than idiocy, and they feel like experts who have hit a situation they’re not prepared for. It makes the movie more enjoyable when we want the characters to live, and we do here; even Danny McBride brings surprising nuance to his performance, and it makes the movie stronger.

Fassbender is transcendent, playing two understated characters with very different experiences and goals. There are subtleties to each of them that set them apart from one another, small tics in body language that speak about the intelligences that they are. His David is heartbreaking and terrifying, his Walter aloof but sympathetic. The dichotomy of these two characters are what makes this film as good as it is, and their conversations are what allows us to see two very different ways of accepting the role of created and the drive to create.

Likewise, Katherine Waterson is also incredible. Fassbender’s characterization wouldn’t work without her, and if he is the backbone of the movie than she is the movie’s heart. This is entire tale is very much hers to tell, and her sense of loss is palpable throughout, her acceptance of Walter as a surrogate for her lost love heartbreaking in its conclusion. She is smart, agile, and courageous in the way we demand that protagonists in this franchise be. She is a worthy successor to Shaw, but perhaps not to Ripley and it’s painful to type that – this movie, like Prometheus before it, would be a much stronger film without being attached to the Alien franchise.

She is great.

The central question of the film is a good one and justifies the religious subtext and populates the undertones of the movie: where Prometheus was about stealing answers, Covenant is about building relationships with what is created. This trilogy is about David but is told through the eyes of heroines who do not live through their meeting with him; they are the main characters of the chapters they are in with David as the clear antagonist of their story, while he remains the protagonist of the trilogy as a whole. It’s an interesting means of framing a tale about an immortal creation plaguing his creators, all while creating something as monstrous as he perceives his creators to be.

Make no mistake: David’s reliance on human poetry and art to express himself is as defining as his sociopathic outlook on the human race as a whole, and it makes him both pitiable and more monstrous. He is alien in his mindset and outlook simply because he was alienated, and it remains to be seen what final revelation awaits him.

Which is not to say that the movie is perfect: it isn’t.

Like Prometheus before it, Covenant is a highly ambitious but flawed masterpiece.

The promise of the last film was that Shaw was going to find and confront the Engineers that we might learn more about them. David has killed them all sometime between the end of Prometheus and the beginning of this movie, so we learn nothing more about them. The humans that discover this have no time to seek answers to any questions they might have because they are trying to survive the white not-xenomorphs, the actual xenomorphs, and David (two out of three ain’t bad~!). It’s frustrating but understandable – the Engineers were a framing device in the first movie but are of no importance here – but that lack of resolution is irritating.

And, again, David’s creation of the xenomorphs adds nothing to the franchise as a whole and detracts from the mystery of the creatures somewhat. The xenomorphs aren’t scary anymore – we know all about them, what they do and what they’re about, and it’s hard to be afraid of them when we know so much about them. Because of this, the xenomorphs are denigrated from terrifying presence to a simple obstacle to be overcome.

Worse, we know them but the characters don’t, and that drives a wedge between us and the people we should be rooting for. If the characters were informed – if they had a chance to even glance at David’s notes – they might have been able to put up an informed fight and that would make the monsters scary again by showing their intelligence and versatility. The monster that shows an ability to learn is much more terrifying than the one that doesn’t, but they are not the antagonist here: David is. David does learn, David does show his intelligence, and David is terrifying.

Terrifying.

The xenomorphs are nothing more than a tool being used by the true villain in a movie that they are named for.

Aliens: Covenant is not a scary film. It has a couple of jump scares and it flirts with horror, but much less so than even Prometheus did. It will not give you nightmares and I don’t think it was designed to. This is a movie that is about the journey and the questions more than the destination or the answers, a complex exploration of a god’s responsibility disguised as a science fiction film.

It’s likely to be as divisive among Aliens fans as Prometheus was. It adheres to some tropes from the franchise it’s nominally a part of to its detriment, clearly a response to the backlash the first suffered, but that reining in of that ambition gains the film nothing and hobbles the scope of the potential trilogy as a whole. If this had been a new property I get that sense that people – including fans of the franchise – would love it, but as an Aliens movie, it confuses itself as it stumbles along.

All that said? It’s a fun movie and a good way to spend a couple of hours, and the conversations it inspires will be worth the price of admission. Fassbender and Waterson turn in incredible performances and the artbook is going to be a must-have for people that go in for that sort of thing (I am very much one of those people). Definitely worth seeing.

All photo credits are Mark Rogers.

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560

Instant Theatre – The Actor’s Nightmare

Comedy, Events, Improv, Reviews

April 21, 2017

At the Havana Restaurant on Commercial Drive there lies a small black box style theatre space hidden at the back. This is where you will find players from Instant Theatre strutting their stuff. On the third Saturday of every month is when Instant improvisers and five guest actors bring you The Actor’s Nightmare – Scripted Theatre and Improv Collide!

As the title suggests, an actor’s nightmare is not knowing their lines, or worst, not knowing what play they are even in. This is exactly what happens in Actor’s Nightmare. Each improviser is paired up with a guest actor who will act out their memorized scripted lines. The improviser then must react to the scripted lines and make a cohesive-ish act. The result is a series of unexpectedly hilarious one act plays.

 

Allie Entwistle doing audience warm ups

 

The night began with host Allie Entwistle introducing the show with an explanation of what to expect and some fairly standard improv audience warm ups. The first actor-improviser pair, Abbey St. Brendan and Janet Davidson were then invited onto the stage. Janet started with asking for audience suggestion of an object: a whisk. The scene began with Janet whisking a bowl of something (a cake!) and Abbey’s Mary Aldin burst in exclaiming something about a murder in the house. The ensuing entertaining chaos of trying to find out who was murdered, who was the murderer, and how Janet’s character became an inadvertent accomplice had the audience in endless laughter. After the act was over, Abbey revealed that her scripted part was from Agatha Christie’s Toward Zero.

 

Abbey and Janet discussing a murder and cake!

 

 

Next was an original piece by Bennett Taylor and improviser Trang Nguyen. Trang’s 12 year old farm girl entered the scene with bucket of milk from their old cow, Betsy, and presented it to her father (Bennett) while contemplated whether the boy from next farm over would take her to the dance. We come to learn that Father worked as a cashier at a restaurant, Bob’s Big Ol’ Steaks. Unfortunately, Betsy succumbed to some sort of ailment involving a ball which resulted in a field full of cow blood.

 

Bennet and Trang investigating Betsy’s illness

 

Third set of the evening was a dramatic observation of bird behaviour by Vuk Prodanovic and Maddy Rafter as Captain and Miss Pennywise. This short half-improvised act started on a submarine, with the Captain’s overreaction to Pa, his seagull friend’s antics, but later was revealed that Captain and Miss Pennywise were criminals on the run. Criminals with a heart, having a heart to heart. There was also a giant heart in the sky, or possibly crows…? Vuk’s scripted part was from Urinetown: The Musical.

 

The second to last pair was Ella Berger as Niki (Curtains) and Mark Sears. The scene took place during intermission of a high school play, Macbeth: The Musical. Mark’s character, a drama teacher named Frank Gower was texting when Niki, whom Mr. Gower embarrassingly misnamed Amber multiple times, barged onto the scene. Niki was reluctant to replace the lead actress who fell off the stage and injured herself as Lady Macbeth. Revelations of death threats and forbidden romances followed, as Mr. Gower was trying to get someone to carry the injured girl off the front rows.

 

Ella and Mark having a crisis during “intermission”

 

Lastly, Julie Casselman and our erstwhile host herself, Allie Entwistle. Allie was given the audience suggestion of “a rack of watermelons”, and thus, Jacob the Watermelon Merchant was born. As the scene progressed, we learn that Mary Snow (Julie), a kumquat seller, and Jacob were once engaged, but Mary promised herself to Jerome since Jacob ran away a year ago. Apparently Jerome was quite the mansplainer and told Mary all kinds of things, such as all the pretty names of the moon’s mountains and valleys, and that bald men are very potent. Yes, potent. There was also a dog ghost. The act ended with Mary sliding her engagement ring off and making suggestive eyebrow movements at Jacob. Julie’s excerpt is from Salt-Water Moon by David French.

 

Julie and Allie at the watermelon rack

 

All in all, The Actor’s Nightmare – Scripted Theatre and Improv Collide! was very entertaining and kept the audience in stitches, which is par of course for Instant Theatre improv shows. The scenes held up surprisingly well though it is not without a dash of chaos, but what’s improv without a healthy dose of entropy. I would highly recommend The Actor’s Nightmare if you are in the mood for some comedy on Saturday night.

The next showing of The Actor’s Nightmare – Scripted Theatre and Improv Collide! will be on May 20th at 10:30 PM, tickets available here.

 


Eva Mak is a local producer, artist and lady about town. You can tweet at her @originalevamak 

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1393

God of Comics – Top 5 for 2015-12-16

Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

December 17, 2015

Clean Room #3

Clean Room #3

This isn’t a comic. A comic is a collection of colors and words that are passive – they sit on the page and allow you to look upon them at your leisure. This? This is a work of magic, some fell ritual that will devour your attention right from the start, suck you in and keep you there. This is Gail Simone revealing herself as a warlock of some sort, her wordsmithery tying all who look upon this work into the arcane heartbeat of the universal unconscious, where the really real reality dwells, unseen except by those of us with true grit. In tome – in the trap that has been put in your hands – a self-help guru has made a machine that allows her to view the perspectives of others as realities, touching and changing them as serves her needs. She knows what lays out there, in the spaces that man cannot see, and she stares at them without fear no matter the form they take. I would warn you, but there is no warning adequate. I would prepare you, but nothing can prepare you. Stare into the Clean Room, and know that it stares into you.

 

Hacktivist vol.2 #6

Hacktivist Vol2 #6

Some of us know: there is a war being fought for the soul of the internet. Many of us have learned that the internet is the greatest tool yet devised by man, a means by which information can be shared and reality itself can be shaped, for good or ill. The entrenched powers see nothing but ill, a challenge to the status quo that they have controlled and are losing control over. They roar and rampage attempting to legislate silence, to turn the first gasping breaths of dialogue into a monologue once more. Those that have spoken know the truth, however; the cat is out of the bag, neither alive or dead, and the world has changed. I can tell you that every single issue of this series, both volumes one and two, have made it into our top five comics list. There’s a reason for this, and those with the eyes to see will read this and understand what it is; record, logos, manifesto. A call to arms, to the celebration of intelligence and creativity. A battlecry against the old evils grasping for the loss of power as their paradigm dies. This explains so much.

 

Imperium #11

Imperium #11

I was at a friend’s house earlier, and my friend recommended Y: the Last Man to a friend of his. Quoth he, “Just lend me the whole series. It’s just comics. How complex can it be?” There are some people that do that, confuse the medium with the message, looking down on a whole means of sharing information from base misunderstanding or a false expectation. Comics are for kids, right? This title is a refutation of that idea. This is a superhero comic, yes, but it is very much a superhero comic for mature audiences – not the simpering gropery of adolescent power fantasies, the boobs and explosions that so many think make a mature book, but the measured understanding of real politick and the consequences that comes with power. Like Hacktivist, this series looks at various entrenched powers of a dying paradigm and challenges them, only to find consequences that make sense. Joshua Dysart is writing one of the most important and thought-provoking comics you’re ever going to read, and you should be reading it.

 

Ms. Marvel #2

Ms. Marvel #2

Modern fears are so much different than the fears of the past. Any of us can be taken at any moment, the flickering fiction of a single image broadcast anywhere, copyrighted, and used in ways that it was never intended. There are few secrets, little privacy, and the old and aging powers feast on the young – demanding free labor and growing angry when that labor demands to be paid, when that labor can’t afford things, when so many things go wrong. Ms. Marvel is a hero because she stands for essential decency, for the nobility of the human spirit in a world that sometimes equates the worth of an individual with their bank account. Material value is fun, sure, but trying to help others find happiness, based on their definitions of that word, without hurting other people? That’s the better option. Abandoning fear, reaching out to those that need it, helping those that can’t stand to stand for themselves. And that’s what this comic is about – finding a place in the world based on nobility, dignity, and strength. We need more like it.

 

Wayward #12

Wayward #12

We call ourselves Living Myth. There’s a reason for that – we believe that myths are living writhing things that never truly go away, the building blocks upon which we both our selfs and our stories. We are all mythic to someone, all of us living mythic lives that are tied to other concepts both ancient and new. That’s the core of this book, which is about Japanese kids becoming the gods that culture imagines. Cat girls and psychics and fate walkers, oh my, people that can tap into the internet and become machine gods, all mingled with the old legends of yesteryear – the kappa and the kitsune, the monks and spiders of folklore, and mangled together into something that is so much more than the sum of its parts. The explanations of history and context are worth the cover price alone, but it’s the characters that will hold you, trap you, keep you reading and wanting to know more. And you will want to know more. You’ll curse this comic for ending, especially given everything we learn in these pages. Buy the book. Buy it. Buy it and love it forever.

 

Didn’t quite make the Top Five. Still worth your time.

 

Axcend #3Axcend #3

Actions have consequence, usually larger ones than we can readily see – and actions that cause harm often cause greater harm down the line. When a person learns to live with pain it sometimes breaks them, but other times forces them to excel, or – worst of all – makes them worse than what was harming them in the first place. The victim becomes a monster, and those that caused that pain wonder why they’re now in pain. This is why.

 

 

Batgirl #46Batgirl #46

Fallout from the gang war in Catwoman brings Spoiler to Burnside, where she gets to hang out with Babs. This is great, because it puts two characters that compliment one another back together again, and adds the drama of someone else getting in on the action, a character action that adds to the story, and Barbara learns that sometimes her actions have unexpected consequences. There seems to be an on-going story in several comics about society smothering youth.

 

 

Dragon Age - Magekiller #1Dragon Age: Mage Slayer #1

Greg Rucka is writing this. I had no idea; I’m on my third playthrough in Inquisition and picked this up on a lark, started flipping through it and thought wow, this is good. I flipped back and saw it was Rucka and smiled because, hey, it’s Rucka – and there is are few finer writers in the world, and the Dragon Age mythology is a perfect fit for someone who likes details this much. Captures the look and feel of Thedas perfectly.

 

 

Huck #2Huck #2

Power does not come from nowhere – it is always fostered, grown, cultivated. It comes from adversity, from hardship or madness, because happy and content people change slowly, if at all. The powerful may not know their origins, but sometimes they know their power and sometimes they seek to do right, no matter the cost. There’s an essential sweetness here, a dignity that speaks to both the best and worst in humanity. I hope Mark Millar doesn’t go for an easy out.

 

 

Jem and The Holograms Holiday SpecialJem and The Holograms Holiday Special

There are tales of soldiers putting their guns down on Christmas and playing soccer with one another for a day. Just a friendly game before going back to murder the next day, because sometimes people are enemies for very stupid reasons. The bits between the various Misfits and Holograms are lovely, and the reasons how they got one another as Secret Santa’s were perfect, but it’s the interaction between Pizzazz and Jem that makes this comic. Barely missed the top five.

 

 

The Mighty Thor #2The Mighty Thor #2

Loki returns. There was some interest in seeing how Loki – the God of Stories – was going to play post-Secret Wars. The Al Ewing run was some of the funniest, cleverest, and most heart breaking comics of the modern era, and firmly established a new and fantastic direction for the characters – all truths that can be applied to what Jason Aaron has done with Thor. Loki and Jane have a history together, very little of it is good, and this sets the terms of engagement.

 

 

Lucifer #1Lucifer #1

Mike Carey wrote an incredible series of comics back in the day, using the Devil as established by Neil Gaiman, and bringing an end to both God and Satan. It’s a fascinating read. This comic acknowledges that one and the time that passed between them, re-establishing a Devil who is still very much himself and yet different. It also features the broken Gabriel last seen in the pages of Hellblazer, and forces the two of them together. Interesting. Very interesting.

 

 

Spire #5Spire #5

This comic does something that very few others manage to accomplish – because of the lettering, who can read the accents, the volume, the voices of the characters in this world. And it is a mass world, a mess of flesh and emotive chaos barely holding itself together in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. It’s beautiful and strange and full of anger, resentment, and beauty, all building towards a not-so-distant end. What is the Spire? We’re finding out. Oh, yes.

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555

God of Comics – Top 5 for 2015-12-09

Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

December 10, 2015

Batman #47

Batman 047

See, the strength of this comic is something that comes from having a continuity. Everything in this comic builds upon years and years of mythology. Yes, you have Jim Gordon running around in a Bubblegum Crisis Hardsuit and having to put the thing down in order to stop Mr. Bloom, and, sure, Bloom is scary. You get the introduction of Bullock’s Gotham Style Poker, which just become a new favorite variation in our offices. But you also have the We Are Robin movement getting sick of Bruce being on the sidelines, and calling him out. After months and months of hinting you get Bruce being forced to confront his own mind, followed by the potential consequence of him remembering. The writing here is a thing of beauty, and the art accentuates every twist and turn, making those last few pages absolutely chilling. This is how you build to a climax, this is how you tell a story, this is the slow burn that’s been simmering for almost a year coming to fruition, and it is a majestic thing to witness. Well done, DC Comics. Well done.

 

Birthright #12

Birthright 012

For those of you that don’t know, Samael is the actual angelic name of Lucifer. The other named mages – Mastema and Enoch – are mythic figures of importance, and given how long it’s hinted they’ve been here and how time moves, the implications are staggering. We’re literally getting Mikey fighting the devil of Christic mythology, and the build to that battle is sinister enough even without the reader knowing what the name refers to. If you do, though… Lucifer is known as the Prince of Lies, but his real weapon is twisting the truth – and it’s the secrets between Mikey and his family that are destroying them. Aaron is behind bars by an FBI agent that seems to have a personal hatred for him, and the reveal is something that makes perfect sense, all things considered, and is one I refuse to spoil. Wendy is finally trying to heal the rift in her family, helped along by the angel that is about to make her a grandmother. This comic is incredible and cool and twisted, and if you’re not reading it that needs to change.

 

Spider Gwen #3

Spider-Gwen 003

It should be pretty clear by now that we’re fans of character and stories that make sense. So, Gwen putzing off to get some insight on her life? That’s interesting. Going to where her counterpart died, and meditating on that and what it means and questioning the power she has? That’s interesting. Sending her back home and having an Osborn enter her life, finding out that Harry went to the military and trained up to avenge Peter’s death? That’s tragic. The pacing is a little off here, which tends to be true of this title in general, but the depth of the characters and the world they inhabit more than make up for the pacing issues. The way the cops are investigating Spider-Gwen, the importance given to Captain Stacy and showing us what he could have done if still alive, the sheer sinister glee that Matt Murdock has every time he prances into panel, all of it adds up to something that feels utterly different from anything else. The art is also stellar, conveying weight, emotion, and momentum, and the character bios are a thing of beauty.

 

Star Wars Annual #1

Star Wars Annual 001

Casual Star Wars fans might wonder how bad the Emperor is, really. Nothing in the Phantom Menace made any sense at all, for example, so what exactly did the dude, you know, do? Was he really so terrible? That’s the question this book seeks to answer, and it does so in a roundabout way that works. This tale is told from the perspective of a deep cover agent, someone that we see is good at his jobs and has to do questionable things to maintain his cover and struggles with the monster he believes himself to be. And he does think of himself as a monster right up until the Emperor makes a mockery of him, out-thinking him and out-maneuvering him, killing hundreds of people for the sake of a favorable soundbite and to demonize the Rebellion. It’s thrilling, amazing, and utterly horrific – and I’m hoping that the character introduced in this comic makes it into at least some of the other comics, if not the upcoming movies. A James Bond character running around in Star Wars? That’s a license to print money.

 

Tomboy #2

Tomboy 002

My favorite anime is Revolutionary Girl Utena. It’s a brightly colored fairy tale with shiny primary colors that deals with abusive relationships, incest, twincest, thwarted expectation, identity value, and more… in the first four episodes. It just gets weirder from there, eventually becoming a subversive critique of the magical girl trope and fairy stories in general. This comics reminds me of that in the best possible way. The girl in question is a magical girl – we know that now, and we know that there are other people that are aware of her existence somehow. And we also know that the world she inhabits, like our own world, is full of official corruption that sees the worst criminals in the world exonerated, set free, or even idolized for their crimes. If that horror was visited upon your doorstep and you were aware of how bad things had gotten, if you had the power to fight for justice – real, actual justice – would you? How would you know what that looked like, or what it would cost? This comic delves into those topics. It’s tremendous.

 

Didn’t quite make the Top Five. Still worth your time.

 

Batman-Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 001Batman / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1

I’m not sure what more I could ask from this comic other than maybe some better art. The style here is weird, but everything else is spot on – the characters, the way they act and behave, even hints at motivation. The Foot and the TMNT are stranded on Gotham and DC Comics is not their world, so both parties are looking for a way home. Batman gets involved because it’s Gotham, and nothing happens in Gotham that the Bat doesn’t involve himself in. Awesome.

 

 

Monstress 002Monstress #2

Oh, gods, the art. The pretty, gorgeous, unreal art. The sense of history here is glorious, too, playing with politics and propaganda, some people being in on things to know just how badly they’re screwed and others being utterly ignorant of the monsters in their midst. Of course we’re going to like that, and the build towards the confrontation at the end, and the revelation that happens through that, is nice. Needs to explain a bit more, I think, but there’s so much here.

 

 

Scarlet Witch 001Scarlet Witch #1

Wanda is one of those characters who gets by despite no one really knowing what her powers are, and the idea of actually addressing that is nice. I’m wondering about the logistics of showing up in costume (and it’s a nice redesign, by the by) at a crime scene, but her probability based powers can actually be used to explain quite a lot, and hand wave even more. Art style is a little messy, and the magic feels banal compared to, say, Strange.

 

 

Ultimates 002Ultimates #2

The art is a little cleaner this month, which is nice. The story does a bunch of interesting things, tackling a bunch of philosophical issues dealing with everything from creation to the ethics and realities of translocation to the idea of things man was not meant to know. This is heady fucking writing, is what we’re saying, and a direct challenge to the idea that superheroes can’t handle hard questions within their own universes and have everyone win. Fantastic.

 

 

Unity 025Unity #25

Okay, if you’ve never read a Valiant book, this will give you some idea of what the company has on offer. If you are a Valiant reader, however, this book is chalk full of in-jokes, character moments, and references that feel like a giant thank you to long time readers. This is Valiant poking fun at itself and the absurdity of comics in general, and the GI Joe-style Unity PSAs are worth the price of admission alone. This was a lot of fun.

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934

God of Comics – Top 5 for 2015-12-02

Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

December 3, 2015

Doctor Strange #3

Doctor Strange #3

Doc Strange wakes up naked and without magic in Central Park and needs to figure out how and why. It’s a strange tale, which fits this comic and character perfectly while subscribing to a mythic rationality that only a handful of writers could pull of successfully. Thankfully, Jason Aaron is one of those writers. This gives us further insight into the Doctor and his world while also showing how he problem solves and giving us some nice character moments amid the madness and one-liners. This also gives us a glimpse of the consequences to the world when people muck about with magic, or try to get rid of mysticism entirely: the dull, colorless, and violent villains are given a hint of culture here, and the stakes of a conflict they very clearly do not understand. And if there was ever a story that was going to push Chris Bachalo to the limit while playing to all of his strengths, this is it. His use of color and insane style weaves into this story in a way that accentuates the magic. It’s unreal. This is already awesome and it’s just going to get better.

 

 

Harley’s Little Black Book #1

Harley's Little Black Book #1

I love being proven wrong when I naysay something. I mentioned that I didn’t think Harley would ever crack the top five, but Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palimoti and Stephanie Hans and everyone else on this book proved me wrong: this is about as good and fun as pure superhero comics get. The set-up for this series has Harley teaming up with the best and brightest in the DCYou – whether they like it or not – and right from the get go that concept is played with perfectly. Harley learns that there’s an assassination plot to bag Wonder Woman, and it turns out Harley is a closet Wonder Woman fan, so she decides that she’s the only one that can save her hero. She does this by knocking her unconscious and pretending to be her, only to get rescued by her. Then they team up and stomp the bad guys. It’s the little touches in this that make it, though, from kid Harley dealing with bullies to the bad guys being ridiculous to the pub crawl that happens afterwards. Everything about this is perfect. If you like fun you will like this.

 

 

Star Wars #13

Star Wars #13

The Jason Aaron hit train continues here. We’ve gotten to see what everyone’s been doing between Episodes IV and V, and we were lulled into a false sense of security by how these tales were being written… and then this happened. Someone let Kieron Gillen and Jason Aaron talk and the result is that Vader Down is happening right now. Vader’s crew – Dr. Aphra and her droids – go toe to toe with Han, R2, and Chewie over the unconscious Luke and no one wins. Meanwhile, Leia heads out to join the fight against Vader. There’s a whole planet full of soldiers that have been trained to take down Vader specifically, and Vader cuts through them like a hot knife through air. These fighters, the Alliance’s best warriors, armed with tanks and drones and everything they could possibly want, go army-on-one with Vader and lose, and Leia arrives just as Vader is walking out of the wreckage. Wow. The art on this book is unreal, capturing the look and feel of Star Wars, the dialogue is spot on, and you could see this as a part of the movies.

 

Tomboy #1

Tomboy #1

Finally managed to track down a copy of this (thanks, Pete!), and it was very much worth it. Detailed manga style artwork with a bloody heartbreaking story? Yes, please. We get the end first, setting up the utter rampage that is to follow. And let us be clear: this is going to be a rampage, a rage fueled roar against corporate greed and police brutality and corporate corruption, even if those things are a backdrop to the bloodbath of someone that (a) doesn’t know, and (b) doesn’t care about either. She knows that her best friend and his family died for nothing but someone’s bottom line, a few scraps of information that would make already wealthy people wealthier still. Writer and artist Mia Goodwin gives us an unblinking look at what happens when a freaking magical girl runs across actual real world corruption, and it is outstanding. I need more of this comic, and you might, too – cute, ruthless, adorable, and utterly without mercy. This is an emotional gut-punch that picks its moments before it breaks your heart.

 

The Woods #18

The Woods #18

And then there’s the Woods. This comic focuses on two brothers whose lives were changed forever when their parents died, and the unwitting words of a police officer that bound one and poisoned the other. Brother the younger has been catching the blame for the older’s crimes, and the older has been doing his level best to be the absolute worst person. The situation of the Woods has given the elder free reign to do what he wants, and he’s politically devastated everyone and is probably going to get them all killed just to sate his own ego. This comic gives us the reasons for his actions while putting his plans into actions, and the price of his arrogance and avarice is the blood of others, including people that brother the younger cares deeply for. No one gets off easy in this world, and how could they? This is Lord of the Flies for the modern world, a place where humanity falls apart because of the worst of us killing the best, and the rest believing in comforting lies and soundbites and dogma. There’s few stories as powerful as this one, regardless of medium.

Didn’t quite make the Top Five. Still worth your time.

 

All-New X-Men #1All-New X-Men #1

This is nice. Extraordinary is sort… not good… but this title continues to be interesting. The time-displaced X-Men that Beast brought to the present to piss of Cyclops are out on their own, and they’ve picked up Kid Apocalypse because why not? Wolverine and Angel are adorable and Young Scott finds a bunch of people that’re calling themselves the Ghosts of Cyclops and gets to deal with unexpexcted racism. This is everything an X-book should be.

 

Invincible Iron Man #4Invincible Iron Man #4

It’s nice to see a Tony Stark that isn’t written like an insufferable prick. Seriously, Marvel, your fans were complaining that Tony was being written like a villain – that doesn’t mean we wanted him to be one. That was about as fan-deaf as the WWE is when booking their main roster. This, though? This is awesome. MCU Tony having fun, tracking down a terrifying Madame Masque, teaming with DOOM, visiting sick kids, and bumping into MJ. Also, ninja beach party.

 

Prez #6Prez #6

The sad part about this comic is that it’s supposed to be satire, but the current Republican candidates are so over-the-top cartoon evil that this comic is hard-pressed to out do them. Still, it tries. If you want to see what the world will look like if the corporate corruption of politics continues, this is it… mind you, it’s not taking into account the environmental damage those short-sighted buffoons would love to cause for a few pennies more. Still, this comic should be taught in schools.

 

The Sheriff of Babylon #1Sheriff of Babylon #1

I wasn’t even going to read this. I told myself that I didn’t care, that it probably wasn’t going to be any good, but then I read a preview for it and had to. I sat down, opened the book, was immersed in it, and now I need to make sure you don’t make the same mistake I almost did. Go out and buy this comic right now. Read it and understand the mess that was made so hopefully we don’t do it again.

 

 

Unfollow #2Unfollow #2

There’s a lot of scary things in this world. One of the scariest is the idea of oligarchy – rule by an entrenched aristocracy of a wealthy few that are so far beyond rule that consequences simply do not apply. Their ideas of entertainment can be devastating to anyone and everyone else, and that’s what we’re beginning to see here. This is one of those comics that has a slow build, and even the slow build is amazing. Get in now and strap yourself in. Buy the ticket, take the ride.

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606

God of Comics – Top 5 for 2015-11-25

Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

November 26, 2015

Archie #4

Archie #4

One of the things that crosses people is expectation versus reality. We believe in things that we’re told to believe in, and doubt our own experiences in favor of expectations that may or may not have any reality to them. I’ve seen this destroy friendships, relationships, marriages… and I’ve rarely seen this conflict so well illustrated as it is here. We finally delve into the very heart of the lipstick incident, the moment that crushed Archie and Betty and drove them apart, and it’s entirely tied into preconceived notions of gender, identity, and popularity. Archie overhears some girls making fun of Betty and tries to come to her aid; the girls respond by trying to remake Betty into someone she isn’t, but it’s fun to experiment and kind of necessary to do so. We learn who we are as much by figuring out why we aren’t. The girls make changes to Betty and Betty goes along with it because it’s fun, it’s a game of make believe, but it’s Archie’s reactions to the change that hurt her and drive them apart. Excellent tragedy that resonates because it’s real.

 

Black Magick #2

Black Magick #2

Combing the writering of Greg Rucka with the art of Nicola Scott isn’t fair to the other comics. You’re pretty much guaranteed to come up with something that will be, at the very least, exceptional. Rucka has a talent for sifting out some really interesting history and crafting lore with it whenever he delves into fantasy, and Black Magick is no exception. A cop who happens to be an actual witch is nearly set on fire by a group of people that hunt witches because they use magic, but the hunters are now using magic themselves. There’s a lot of politicking and double-speak going on here and there has to be; the witches are trying to live among the rest of humanity, and very few really believe in magic any more. Humans, that is. Animals know better. So does the thing lurking behind you right now. Nicola Scott’s art, as always, is the perfect sort of haunting for this tale, all soft shades with few edges. The sum is a comic that reads like a gentle dream, one of those strange overlays where everything feels real. This is beautiful stuff.

 

Darth Vader #13

Darth Vader #13

And this is about as far from the previous two comics as you’re likely to get while still keeping the same level of quality. Vader got sick of the Rebel Alliance being a thing and decided to take them out on his own, which is an unfair fight. Vader proves this quickly, even after Luke crashes into Vader’s ship. If the Alliance was smart, they’d destroy everything, pack up, and leave – instead, they try to fight Vader en masse and then they die en masse. There’s some clever moments around Vader as the people he’s cultivated from the beginning of this comic quickly find themselves in a bind and go to his rescue, even going so far as to capture Luke so that Vader will hopefully not obliterate them. There is nothing – nothing – that has given Vader back the dread and dignity he had before the prequel movies like these comics. This Vader is a force of nature, and everything around him reflects that, from the facial expressions and body language of everyone around him. This is the best of the Star Wars comics, and you need to be reading this.

 

Moongirl and Devil Dinosaur #1

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #1

I’m not sure when intelligence became vilified in popular culture, or why. Perhaps it’s an idea of enslaving those gifted with a high intellect, to keep them subservient to the status quo. Regardless of the origin, there is an ideological war going on in our modern world, where conservatism goes out of its way to punish intelligence, curiosity, and passion. Witness the blatant lies, the blind adherence to staid dogma over question and seeking. And, yes, there’s a matter of representation: there are some intelligent heroes that are allowed to be, but they’re usually white and male. There’s exceptions, but this is the first time we’ve seen someone whose superpower is intelligence and curiosity who is also a young black girl, and that’s fucking awesome. Her world reacts poorly in its groping stupidity, but she’s made friends with a giant red Tyrannosaurus Rex, so I think she’s going to be okay. This comic is a puzzle of time travel, of the joy in discovery and the escape from a gray mundanity that sucks all life from the world. As great and important as Ms. Marvel, and for the same reasons.

 

X-O Manowar #42

X-O Manowar #42

Oh, look, X-O Manowar makes the Top Five again. It’s not like this isn’t earned; Valiant goes out of it’s way to make certain that this comic is one of their best, and the strain of quality this forces on all other comics is tremendous. Aric of Dacia has come a long way spiritually from the violent maniac he once was, having learned that all of his actions have consequences and that the god-like power that he now wields comes with a price. Aric is a warrior who has seen and become disillusioned with war while still acknowledging the occasional necessity of it. Here, he drives a hard peace among the factions he has sworn himself to while recognizing that there are other powers at play that are manipulating them all. There’s complexity here, philosophy and meditations on faith, violence, and real-politick all set against a sci-fi superhero backdrop that is unique for the sheer weight of everything that happens. We have called this the best of all comics time and again, and Valiant continues to prove us right. Thanks, guys. Please keep this up.

 

Didn’t quite make the Top Five. Still worth your time.

 

Angela - Queen of Hel #2Angela: Queen of Hel #2

Right from the start, this book is gorgeous. We described Black Magick, above, as having very soft shades with few edges, but this is very much the opposite: hard lines, stark colors, this book resembles a stone relief that is trapped somewhere between a church wall and a viking campfire. The story follows suite, standing firmly on an epic playing field, and starts building towards the means by which Angela will be able to overthrow Hel.

 

 

Switch #2Switch #2

Stjepan Sejic’s art is in a class by itself. There is no one who is better able to convey emotion through facial expression and body language like he can, and it makes anything he works on incredibly distinct. His writing style is also very much different than anything else you’re going to find on the stands. English is very much his second language, and there’s a weird flow to his narrative because of it. Oddly charming, like all his works. Definitely worth checking out.

 

 

Venom - Space Knight #1Venom: Space Knight #1

It’s weird how all the Guardians of the Galaxy – except Gamorra, and now the Thing – have gotten their own series, and each series has been stronger than the book they all share. Groot, Rocket, Drax, and Star-Lord have all ended up being fantastic reads, but I had my doubts when it came to this. I really shouldn’t have: this is both weird and excellent, with Venom becoming something like a Jedi by way of symbiote. Weird and excellent.

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2452

God of Comics – Top 5 for 2015-11-18

Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

November 19, 2015

Clean Room #2

Clean Room #2

Reality is questionable. We’re all stuck within our heads, our realities defined on an individual level by electrical impulses. You assume that other people are autonomous, because solipsism is a little too self-involved and there’s easy proofs that reality is not entirely self-contained. We use science to explain reality, agreeing on a few ground concepts and going off from there to build paradigms, and we then apply those paradigms to the species reality as a whole. What this comic deals with is what happens when one person can enter and manipulate the personal paradigms of those around them through technology, and the power that allows them to wield. It’s heady stuff, in other words, which is very much the sort of story that we enjoy, and the art team does the narrative an exceptional favor in filling those objectively real moments with hints of awe. There’s majesty here, a sense of grandeur that works well with dread, and it defines this book. If you like Lovecraftian horror – the real stuff – then you need to be reading this comic.

 

Hacktivist Vol. 2 #5

Hacktivist #5

I don’t just read these comics. I study them. There’s thing thing about taking this job too seriously, but the truth of things is that I write and I walk into every story to pick it apart. I want to know why things work, or fail to work. So I study and I read a lot of these books with a sense of awe, and every now and again I pick something up and I think this fucking wins. It’s an involuntary reaction; it’s 1:30 am as I’m writing this and the only other person in the office is a dog and I just said this fucking wins aloud. And why? This is one of those comics that manages to retroactively add depth to every character and motivation we’ve seen from the beginning, while revealing a big bad whose motivations are understandable, sympathetic, and terrifying. The pacing and art combine to make this a taut thriller that takes the high ambition of the first volume and makes it look childish by comparison, then ends on a cliffhanger that looks so epic and deceptively sensical that one cannot help but sit in wonder. Go buy the first volume and catch up. This is brilliant.

 

Jem and the Holograms #9

Jem and The Holograms #9

Continuing on the idea of studying comics as much as reading them, this comic continually leaves me in awe. The raw skill needed to juggle an ensemble cast is staggering at the best of times, but what sets this book apart is the way it gives eleven different characters full on stories, beats, and plot points every single issue. Something as simple as an open-house slumber party becomes a means by which everyone gets a chance to move their stories forward and evolve as a whole, while still doing a cool call out to eighties movies and showing the consequences of a foul temperament. The artwork is as fluid as ever, showcasing the grace of the individual members of the cast while adding an incredible sense of motion to still images. This is strangely immersive and has been from the beginning, digging into your attention with the bright day-glo colors, interesting lyrics, and strong characterization that focuses on everyone moving, growing, and becoming. That last line is absolutely chilling in what it could be leading to. I love this comic.

 

The Mighty Thor #1

The Mighty Thor #1

We all know cancer is bad. We don’t need to say it, right? Cancer is bad. Jason Aaron, though, gives us the full deal on the radiation therapy we use to combat cancer, and how utterly devastating it is. Jason uses that to set the stage and highlight the differences between the frailty of a dying human woman and the utter power that is Thor. It’s a powerful juxtaposition set against a back-drop of rampant corporate greed and political corruption, aping the failings of the first Star Wars movies and improving upon the plot holes there dramatically. The art is, of course, gorgeous: Thor has been one of Marvel’s prettiest books for a long while, and Secret Wars hasn’t changed that in the least. It’s amazing how much scope we’re given in this single issue, though, with political and character intrigue, the threat of revolution, and a true scope of power, sacrifice, and tragedy besides. My only concern is that Loki might be a mere villain again, and I definitely preferred the God of Stories. Still, Jason Aaron has earned my trust. I can’t wait to see where this goes.

 

Star Wars: Vader Down #2

Star Wars Vader Down #1

And I kind of get the feeling that working on the Star Wars comics has made Jason Aaron want to do his own version. Thor feels somewhat like the prequel trilogy, but over in the actual Star Wars comics he’s taking over for Kieron Gillen, building on the foundation laid by one of the most brilliant myth-writers of our time. Jason spends no time moving Vader into an epic tale, where he flies into a trap, destroys a squadron of fighters single-handed, is beaten through a kamikaze action and lands without a scratch, and the proceeds to destroy another group of fighters with nothing more than the force. Vader is a force of nature here, stranded alone on a planet where the Rebels have been training people specifically to kill him, and he’s cutting through them with casual disdain because Vader. It’s awesome. The artwork perfectly captures Vader’s terrible majesty, which is a neat trick given the apparent expressionlessness of the character. It’s all in stance, body language, and choice. This is going to be incredible, so get in now.

 

Didn’t quite make the Top Five. Still worth your time.

 

Bloodshot Reborn #8Bloodshot: Reborn # 8

We thought the final collection of nanites was going to be in that crazy old farmer, but we were wrong. Everyone was wrong – Bloodshot, the FBI agents chasing him, everyone – and the final revelation of what’s happened here takes what little comedy there was in this series and makes it terrifying. This comic is all about inserting horror into the action genre, and has ended up becoming something wholly unique along the way.

 

 

Jughead #2Jughead #2

There are people that think that tough love is the answer for everything, that breaking people down is the right way to raise them. There are people – teachers – that think it’s okay for kids to be attacked in schools and to have their human rights violated, as if they being students makes them somehow less than human. Riverdale is suffering from an influx of these idiots, and Jughead is having to punch up to protect himself, his identity, and his friends.

 

 

Ms. Marvel #1Ms. Marvel #1

I hated Secret Wars. I hated the idea that a bunch of incredible stories were interrupted to fix the mistakes of another writer on another series that had nothing to do with this one, and I was worried that this title might have suffered from whatever came out. I needn’t have worried; the creative team does a fantastic job of establishing what the new status quo is while working off of what came before. This character is going to be Marvel’s most popular in about five years.

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515

God of Comics – Top 5 for 2015-11-11

Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

November 12, 2015

Catwoman #46

Catwoman #46

A highly controversial run comes to an end with both a bang and a whimper. Selina saw Bruce’s utter failure in Batman Eternal, and got involved with one of Gotham’s most dangerous crime families with the goal of unifying the Gotham Underworld under her control. It was a heist story where the prize was the Gotham Underworld, writ against Roman Sionis and the Yakuza, and people suffered for Selina’s ambition as she suffered with her own desire for the immediate as opposed to the long term machinations this heist demanded of her. Here, she wins and loses everything at the same time; her plan comes to fruition but not with a cost she can stand, and so she does what she does best: cuts and runs. There’s a beauty here, an elegance in the narrative that Genevieve Valentine wove together, and it’s a shame to see it end. The art was always a little too loose and dark to fully mesh with this story, which needed tighter lines and shades, but this story granted Selina a greater degree of depth than we’ve seen from her before, and planted seeds for the future. Well done.

 

Darth Vader #12

Darth Vader #12

Vader continues to be an absolute force of nature here, manipulating everyone around him as he seeks to covertly pursue his own goals, which now very much includes challenging the Emperor. This means undercutting the various other powers that Palpatine has put into play, while also making use of the commander that has been assigned command over Vader himself and the small group of agents that Vader has collected in secret. This book is ruthless, with everyone involved being terribly good at what they do – every victory feels earned, and every loss is based in heartbreak. This is a story worthy of Vader, a mythic story of gods waging war in the ultimate science fantasy series, and it is a perfect playground for writer Kieron Gillen. The art and colors of Salvador Larroca and Edgar Delgado only make the whole more powerful, the lush starkness of their work. This is a must read for any Star Wars fan.

 

The Goddamned #1

The Goddamned #1

Several of the people in our offices study religion, mythology, and history for fun. It’s just one of the things we do, and it’s one of the reasons that we appreciate the writers we do. We get the power of myth, and it’s one of the reasons we all love Jason Aaron. If this were an age of Vikings, Jason would be one of the most sought bards, the sort of storyteller than would breath life into the old stories, and he very much does that here. This is a tale of what happened after Eve and Adam were booted from Eden but before the Flood, and it’s hard to imagine a more horrible land of Nod than what we get here. This works primarily because of how wet the whole feels, the lines and colors bleeding along with the words and taking hold of the mind. It’s a trick Jason has mastered, working to the strengths of everyone he works with, and the final revelations of this book have us craving the next part of this tale. This sets the stage for something powerful and potent, and it should be interesting to see how this contrasts with Noah.

 

Imperium #10

Imperium #10

We’ve described Toyo Harada as a man so powerful that he might as well be a god in the past. This single issue illustrates that point in full, as an inter-galactic species that has colonized Earth goes to war with him and he barely notices, effectively stomping them flat in the past. In the present, they’re thinking they might have a chance to get to him when he’s sleeping, as he’s taken their doomsday weapon and made it his own, sort of. Said weapon is alive and wants to kill him, but knows doing so might be impossible – this man fought their god to a stand still back in the early days of Unity – but it’s interesting to see the fractures within the Vine, how they function given the losses they’ve suffered. Combined with this is a tale of psychological analysis, as Harada’s closest adviser seeks to understand the thoughts of an actual alien and an artificial intelligence. This is, politically and conceptually speaking, one of the most complex comics on the shelves, and an absolute masterpiece. If you’ve never read this book, change that now.

 

The Wicked + the Divine #16

The Wicked + The Divine #16

We mentioned up above how good Kieron Gillen is at working with myth. He’s got a talent for it that can only be compared to people like Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore, and doing this column has given us an incredible appreciation for what he’s capable of. From Three to Young Avengers, everything we’ve read that he’s written has resonated with us in some way. The Wicked and the Divine is about gods, yes, but it’s also about the myth of gods and what happens when people ascend to godhood with an absolute limit. More and more, we’re finding out what cost comes with power. For the Morrigan it was loneliness and separation, two concepts she was very much tied to before she came to power. This comic deals with finding reasons to live without hope, of dancing on the edge of entropy and finding a way to live there; goth culture as a medium for the human spirit. It’s beautiful, and guest artist Leila Del Duca instills every page with a thrashing gravity. It’s an interesting choice that highlights the emotional beats of the story. Hunt this down.

 

Didn’t quite make the Top Five. Still worth your time.

Batman and Robin Eternal #6Batman and Robin #6

Continues to drive home how lost the Robins are without Bruce while also forcing them to grow up. We finally get a taste of what sort of evil they’re fighting, and what that villain might look like and it’s horrifying. The existence of Mother is something that would have horrified Bruce, and feels as close to City of Crime as we’re ever going to get.

 

 

 

Birthright #11Birthright #11

This comic is going to crack the top five at some point. It’s too good not to; the art and story line up perfectly, and the concept behind it is too brilliant for it not to be recognized as genius. We get to see Mikey as the bad ass hero here, finally striking out on his own back in the fantasy world, and we see the trauma that will eventually destroy him. Awesome stuff.

 

 

 

Illuminati #1Illuminati #1

Would have been better without the idiot ending. Seriously, talking about how badly people suffer after paying their debt and applying that to the super villain community? That’s a lot more interesting than someone being set up for failure by one of their own. This would have been a much better comic without the twist at the end. It’s still fun.

 

 

 

The Ultimates #1Ultimates #1

There was an inter-office argument between this and The Wicked and the Divine getting a top five spot, and it finally came down to art. The writing is good, the set up interesting – heroes trying to defeat problems with more than punching, dealing with symptoms instead of causes – but the art feels more street than cosmic. It’s a little jarring, but still good.

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2390

Hemlock Grove – Season 3 [Review]

Fail, Reviews

November 2, 2015

We liked Hemlock Grove. We really did.

The first season was a meandering hot mess of a story, this weird and protracted journey. It was about nihilism and loneliness, alienation and supernatural realism, and we loved it. The story sprawled out like an uncomfortable lover, discomfort set against some truly inspired directorial choices and striking performances from everyone involved. It had some problems, but made those problems work with it. It was a difficult narrative that gave you as much as you were willing to put into it, and it ended on a terrible sense of nothingness. It was awesome.

We weren’t looking for the second season. The second season crept up on us; we were wandering through Netflix and, lo and behold, there were new episodes on offer. We watched those, too, and we adored them – everything from the first season was tightened and improved upon. The directing was tighter, the characterization intriguing, and the story truly daring. If the first season was about ennui, the second dwelt on cruelty, on the idea that nothing is ever truly alright. We loved it more, and went back and watched the first season again.

Doing so gave us a deeper appreciation for both of these stories, the ongoing mythology and the tightness of that mythology. We got the book and read that, comparing the close-knit narrative between the printed page and the flickering fiction of that first season, then watched the second again. We were fans. We want to make this clear, right from the start.

Because the third season is a – and is about – disappointment.

And no amount of crying is going to make it okay.

And no amount of crying is going to make it okay.

Spoilers lurk ahead. I find it difficult to care about spoiling a season I’m urging you not to watch.

A quick recap: Hemlock Grove is a small mining town where the mining died, and the family that started and ran the town changed over to cutting-edge pharmaceuticals. The town is very New England in decor, but New England in decay; the town is cracking and showing it’s age, strangled by a pervasive and hidden evil. The only building untouched by that entropy is the White Tower, a sparkling edifice to scientific nihilism and innovation, both in equal measure.

Sounds cool, right? It gets better. The family that owns the White Tower are the Godfreys. The patriarch of the family committed suicide, leaving his brother, niece, wife, son, and sister behind. The brother is a psychiatrist who is sleeping with his dead brother’s wife, a secret that his wife tries not to let on that she knows. The wife in question is Olivia, as white and pale as the tower, raven haired, aloof, and ruthless. Her children are Roman and Shelley, one a teenage boy set apart by his wealth, the other set apart by her monstrous appearance. Their cousin Letha is pregnant and claims the father is an angel. Roman and Letha are strangely attracted to one another, and Roman is going through some things.

See, Olivia is a vampire.

Or upire, as they run with in Hemlock Grove. We get some insight through her into what the upire are like, and we see how powerful and horrifying they can be. Olivia is a powerful figure, untouchable and so many steps ahead of everyone else that no one can even hope to play on her level. She has plans for everyone, and escaping them is not an option.

Into this rich tapestry comes Peter, a gypsy who recently inherited a trailer on the edge of town. He and his mother move in just as a series of animal attacks start up, which is troubling because Peter is a werewolf. He knows he’s not at fault, so there has to be someone else out there, and he and Roman form a friendship and end up going to confront evil.

They’re able to connect because they are set apart, and their bonds go deeper than mere friendship. There’s romantic tension between the two of them, which is complicated when Peter sleeps with Letha and Roman finds out the horrible truth about the father of Letha’s child. The two of them still manage to work out their differences and maintain their tie, confronting the evil that lies at the heart of the attacks, but after that Peter is forced to leave town for reasons of gypsy.

Roman is devastated. Things go wrong, and we’re left with a terrible sense of finality.

That’s a brief overview. There’s secret societies, historical tragedies, gypsy magic… Hemlock Grove is beautiful and terrible in its scope, and relentless in the hurricane of festering decay that ruins everything in the town. It’s awesome. We highly recommend it.

Season two starts a few months after the first one ended. Peter’s mother is arrested at a funeral and dragged back to Hemlock Grove. Peter, the dutiful son, follows her back to try and get her free – first legally, and then through jailbreak. It isn’t long before he’s swept up in the town’s entropic field again, crossing paths with Roman.

And we're not even touching on how awesome Shelley is.

And we’re not even touching on how awesome Shelley is.

Roman himself has moved out of his mother’s home. He’s stolen her power and her wealth, though he’s unsure what to do with either. He’s been left with a baby that he will defend at all costs, but there is clearly something off about the child. He’s been hurt by Peter’s leaving and lashes out when the two of them see one another again, a lashing that hurts them both.

A girl has a car accident outside Roman’s new home, and Peter’s gotten a job working at a towing company. The girl, Miranda ends up sleeping with one, then the other, and finally both. She sleeps with both of them. At once. We get the first healthy threesome relationship outside of Savages, a slap in the face of monogamy, with all three of them made better and healthier people by the connection they share.

Everything comes together, the stories, characters, and mythologies of the first season grown and improved upon. the secret society of the first season comes back in force, and appears to have a civil war in its ranks. A wounded Olivia plays with redemption. The cutting edge medicines of the White Tower betray an incredible sense of both innovation and science run amuck. The baby has three loving and doting adults who love it completely.

Hemlock Grove being what it is, none of those positives can last. Things go wrong everywhere – the secret society has a civil war in its ranks. Olivia does something unspeakable and returns to power in grand fashion. Sixteen years of ambition is thwarted via a terrible atrocity. The child appears to be a literal Antichrist. Miranda and the baby are stolen by a dragon.

Miranda and the baby are stolen by a dragon.

The freaking season ends with Miranda being stolen by a motherfucking dragon.

So where does season three begin? With a bunch of gypsies robbing a truck using Peter’s lycanthropy. It’s a misstep that carries over everywhere else. The dragon – the motherfucking dragon that kidnapped Miranda and the Antichrist – barely gets more than a passing mention as everyone acts out of character and nothing makes a goddamn bit of sense.

You would be better off avoiding the one episode you're in, Miranda.

You would be better off avoiding the one episode you’re in, Miranda.

Olivia is a frustrating case study of the whole season. The dominant powerhouse of the first season is gone, and even the wounded survivor of the second is absent in favor of a whimpering shadow of what was. The promise of a the first season’s strength is dashed in favor of a short-sighted unreliable narrator that doesn’t fit anything we know about who this person is. The actress does a fantastic job, giving a powerful performance that belongs to a character that isn’t Olivia.

She’s not the only person to suffer in this way. Roman and Peter and the whole cast appears to have been guzzling stupid pills by the bottle. See, a good chunk of the surviving cast saw the dragon, and none of them seem even mildly interested. It’s idiotic. Let me save you ten hours:

Miranda dies off camera. One gypsy betrays the rest and is killed by the mob, resulting in a bunch of other nonsense deaths that end with Peter ripping out Roman’s heart. The dragon is killed right after they remember the dragon is there; it takes about a minute. All the myth-building about upire society is abandoned; they’re just people that sometimes need to drink blood, the horror and majesty stripped from them so that we can get an idiot zombie thing. The baby being the Antichrist is completely forgotten about, as is the secret society.

Nothing makes any sense at all, except Shelley. Shelley has a coming-of-age story that’s equally sweet and powerful, coming into her own and claiming her own power. She eventually abandons Hemlock Grove and we get a neat parallel of the end of the first season, the only time the third season feels anything like the first or second. Of course, she’s also running away with a much older homeless man who is also a wanted felon, and is carting along the Antichrist. Your happy endings may vary.

The third season also lacks the sweeping directive ambition that the first season excelled at and the second echoed. It’s flat. It’s boring, taking the fertile ground tended to so carefully in the first and second and salting that earth until there’s nothing worth watching. Nothing. Everyone dies for reasons that makes no fundamental sense other than to give the series a sense of finality.

Hell, just look at Roman. The writers forget that Roman can control people with his gaze. They forget that Shelley is important to him. They forget that Miranda is important to him. They forget that not killing anyone is important to him. They forget that trying to keep his humanity is important to him. They forget everything we know about the Upir. Nothing he does in this season makes any sense at all, right up until the point his best friend murders him by ripping out his heart, thereby trapping himself in wolf form forever.

Hemlock Grove

Roman needs a stiff drink of hemlock after watching the third season. We feel you, buddy.

What fucking idiocy is this?

I want to make this clear: it is possible to kill off a cast and do it well. It could and should have worked well for this show, where entropy lies at the heart of every last person. There are some fantastic stories where everyone does – King Lear comes to mind, as does American Mary. What made the massive death scenes in Lear and Mary work was the strength of the characters involved, but Hemlock Grove spends the whole of season three ripping those characters apart. If you can’t care about the characters one way or the other, their deaths have no meaning.

There are two main characters on this show, which is about their relationship. We spend little time with them, and even less with them together. Peter is in a shitty heist movie for a bit, then an equally shitty crime thriller. Roman has no purpose whatsoever. Two strong characters – Olivia and Destiny – are stripped of any agency or power they might have had for no reason whatsoever. A new character is introduced and then does nothing, and isn’t even a character that makes sense.

Yes, I’m talking about Annie. Annie ends up being the lost long daughter of Olivia, and the half-sister of Roman and Shelley. See, way back when Olivia was seduced by a gypsy, but we were told in season one that the child wasn’t an upire, and it was strongly hinted that child grew up to be Peter’s ancestor. So, no, she doesn’t make any sense, which means it fits in great with how nothing else in this season makes any sense.

May as well go on a little bit… remember how Pryce is super strong? The writers don’t. Pryce is the genius behind the science in Hemlock Grove, a intellectual powerhouse that is able to match wits with the likes of Olivia while playing secret societies against one another. That’s forgotten here. We get an abuse story instead that would actually have been really powerful if it had been built to, or, better still, had been given to a character that could have made it work. His storyline and eventual death – you guessed it – make no goddamn sense.

What an absolute waste. What a disappointment. The characters don’t get what they want, the viewers don’t get what they want, and no one is happy. We would have been better off lingering with the cliffhanger than dealing with this steaming pile of shit.

In short...

The Good: The cast. The performances are terrific, even though the script doesn’t warrant it. The main characters all bring their a-game, and it almost makes this bearable.

The Bad: The bland direction and sound design. The terrible script. No one acting in character. The dangling plot threads. The abandoned plot threads. The killing of everyone for the sake of killing everyone. The lack of decent werewolf transformations. Vampire zombies that only target vampires. Olivia’s character arc. Roman’s character arc. Peter’s character arc. Pedophilia and incest. Oh, and there’s a horde of dragons that the series doesn’t bother to touch on ever again. What the shit.

The Ugly: The way the scripts of the third season cast aside all the carefully constructed mythology and characters of the first two seasons for nothing.

The Verdict: Avoid this. It’s an interesting case study if you’re looking to watch how to utterly destroy a series. There’s some solid performances that are, outside of context, quite enjoyable.

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