Wednesday, 28 August 2013

PokéJournal: Update 015

Jynx is pretty much synonymous
with Ice Path. One of the worst
Pokémon designs.
-I pick up where I left of many weeks ago. I’m on my way to Blackthorn. I'm taking my time, training and catching Pokémon. Before I go in the mountain I'm making sure to explore around it and find all the items and trainers.

-I stocked up on items before heading out. I had made some money fighting Team Rocket. Finding the Amulet Coin helped a lot, too. I bought everything I thought I needed and I still have money left. I'm pretty sure my money problems are over. About freaking time.

-Ralph just called me. He's on route 32 and wants to battle. Oh yeah, time to fly, Pidgeotto.

-It's impressive; Ralph has a level 40 Seaking! Awesome. I wasn't expecting a good battle but this is nice.

-Every once in a while I like to take a look at my party and see if there's some way I can improve on it. I really like Heracross right now. She's well balanced. She's got some fighting type moves that pack a nice punch. Horn Attack and Wing Attack round out the learn set. The wing attack makes it useful when fighting bug and grass types, which is handy to have in my party since my starter is weak to grass. It's nice to know there are Growlithe and Heracross that can back up Feraligatr when he needs the help.

-I've taken the time to level up Sandslash. Why, I'm not entirely sure. He's just my mule but he's got decent stats. More importantly he's got immunity to Electric type which is something I can most likely put to good use. It’s also a good idea to keep him up to a level that is close to the ones of the other Pokémon in the party. 
I love this little guy. His evolved
forms are also pretty great.
-The two Pokémon that disappoint me at the moment are Growlithe and Pidgeotto. Growlithe's HP and Defence are less than impressive. I'm hoping that evolving it would take care of that. The problem is that I need a Fire Stone and there's not one in sight. Pidgeotto, well, he's just disappointing all around. The only good thing about him is that he can use HM Fly. His learn set is pretty bad. Heracross learnt Aerial Ace before Pidgeotto! That's ridiculous! According to my research Pidgeotto will never learn it by levelling up because he sucks. I'm thinking I might have him share the role of mule with Sandslash. I looked into it and it’s not going to work. Sandslash knows Headbutt, Cut, Strength and Rock Smash. Pidgeotto can't learn any of those. Useless! I might want to switch for a different flying type. Maybe Fearow or someone. Having him share the mule load with Sandslash, it liberates his learn set for some ground type moves. I'll have to do a bit of research before making the decision. If I choose to switch another Pokémon, I'll have to train it quite a bit. It's a big decision.

-Possible replacements: Skarmory (Rock Smash), Delibird, Farfetch'd (Cut), Togekiss (Rock Smash),

-I think I’ll settle for Skarmory. I will be teaching it Fly, Rock Smash, Roost and Brave Bird. Now I’ve got to keep my eyes open for one. I have no idea where I can find them in the wild or if they’re even available in Heart Gold. I’ll have to check on Bulbapedia.

-Ice Path, weeeeee! Ice without skates! Weeeeeee -- Wam! Hit a wall. I always enjoyed the ice Surface puzzles. The Ice Path has tons of puzzles. It takes time and you occasionally have to move boulders but you get some nice items. The more time you spend on the puzzles the more Pokémon you encounter and fight for experience points. It's also nice to get a chance to boost up the Pokédex.
Why are you so sad Weepinbell?
Is it because Grass Pokémon suck?
-Yup, that figures. As soon as I mention I like the Ice Path puzzles I get stuck. I can’t solve it and I’m losing patience. I guess now is as good a time as any to stop. Next time: I slip and slide in the Ice Path! Will I find a way out? Yes? No? Doesn’t really matter, I’m pretty sure I have an escape rope.

Pokémon caught: Weepinbell, Jynx and Swinub.
Pokémon traded: None.
Gym Leader defeated: None. I’m stuck in a freakin’ cave!
Fights with Craphat (Rival): None.
Evolutions: None.
Pokémon in party: Same as always.
Highest level in party: Feraligatr at 40.
Lowest level in party: Pidgeotto at 30
Pokédex: 98.
Time played: It’s been so long since my last  Pokéjournal Update I forget I even had to write this down.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

The Score by Richard Stark review

I can't help but think that Richard Stark wrote this particular Parker novel for himself. I've mentioned before that books in the Parker series follow a pretty tight formula. Stark's writing packs a pretty mean punch and I imagine he could have written dozens of Parker books by repeating the formula ad nauseum without ever trying to test the boundaries he setup and still have a successful yet predictable series. Lucky for us, Stark has been pushing the boundaries with every Parker book he wrote after The Hunter. With The Score however, he manages to find a story that provides a great challenge for Parker, a challenge for Stark as a writer while also engaging the reader which.

It's a challenge for Parker because if all the angles he and eleven other men have to keep track of before and during the heist. It's also a challenge for Stark for the same reasons. The Score is about robbing an entire mining town called Copper Canyon in North Dakota. Twelve men are planning to rob an entire town in one short night. A big part of the novel is planning the job and it must have been an equally big part of writing the book. It’s important to get all those details just right because so far the Parker novels have such a strong sense of verisimilitude. You get a sense that what happens in a Parker novel could really happen or may already have happened. For all we know, Parker is a real person and that Stark knows him or, better yet, maybe Stark himself is a real life criminal (what do you mean his real name is Donald Westlake?). There’s not Hollywood logic going on here and that’s why robbing a whole town is an incredible heist. That’s also why Parker and his associates have to work out all the angles.

It’s an interesting story because of all the planning involved. It’s also interesting to regular Parker readers because we know that he more complicated a job the more potential there is for things to go wrong. That’s exactly what readers of crime fiction are looking for. If nothing goes wrong it’s just an academic lesson in how to steal things.

Because the job in this novel is so big, Stark takes the opportunity to grow his community of processional thieves. He previously did this in The Outfit which was a complicated enough book to introduce new faces in, that’s pretty much all he did within that novel because we didn’t spend too many pages with those characters. With The Score, we stick with a small group of new characters for nearly the entire book. That gives the reader time to get to know them. And I do want to know more about them. I want to read more about Salsa, Wycza and Grofield.

I think it’s great that we get to see how different people think and operate during a job. How you act before and during a job will have an effect on your work. Grofield is probably the standout new character in the novel. He's a delight and he's also good at what he does. An occasional theatre actor, Grofield likes to goof around but he knows when it times to get serious and get to work and that contributes to his likeability. Since the story provides many opportunities for these characters to interact with each other, Stark gives us just that.

The Score was also published
under the title "Killtown".
I rather enjoyed little scenes in which the thieves argued their differences or just learnt something they didn't know about another person. One example is when Grofield discovers Littlefield and Parker pay income tax. It's a funny scenes but it also tells you something about all three characters. Parker and Littlefield think you can live and work outside of the system but you still have to acknowledge that the system exists and pay your respects in order to help you remain invisible. Parker gets this. Littlefield learn his lesson when he spent some jail time and was caught for tax evasion but Grofield doesn't get it, he thinks it's silly.

The third part of the story which according to the formula is always from the point of view of one or more characters other than Parker was very good. Because of all the planning in the first two parts, the third part being the heist itself needed a little twist to keep it interesting and not simply be a repeat of the planning. Stark keeps its fresh by giving us the point of view of a different character each chapter. We get an insider perspective to all of their thoughts during the job, what makes them nervous? How do they cope with their part of the heist and the difficulties that come with it? It’s a great section of the book.

Where the book disappoints a bit is that not a whole lot goes wrong. Of course not everything goes smoothly either but you never get the sense that Parker is in over his head. He merely seems annoyed by the whole thing. At the end of the day though, The Score still impresses because Stark finds a way to keep the formula feeling fresh while introducing several new characters mixing it together with some a few familiar characters. The Score also introduces Alan Grofield and that’s noteworthy because he’s so endearing. If I wasn’t already convinced to read the solo Grofield novels, I am now. I think I’ll read a few more Parker novels before then though. Next up, The Jugger

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Conan Saga #2 review

Conan Saga #2 published in June 1987
Reprinting Conan the Barbarian issues #4-6 published in 1971

The first story, "The Tower of the Elephant" is based on one of the more well regarded Conan stories by Robert E. Howard. The cover of Conan Saga #2 is of Conan climbing the tower. It's pretty good but not as good as the first Conan Saga cover. The colours of the tower along with the jewel look don’t work for me. I like the idea, but it doesn’t really work visually. In this story Conan is in a city of thieves and he is surprised to know that nobody has ever succeeded in trying to steal the Elephant's Heart jewel from the famed Tower of the Elephant. The jewel and the tower belong to a powerful wizard named Yara and the jewel is rumoured to have granted him immortality. Obviously, Conan attempts to enter the tower and steal all that he can. He is aided by Taurus of Nemedia, the prince of thieves. 

This is a great story and what makes it so good is not the thieving, it’s the mystery of the tower and what Conan finds there. Sure, the thieving is good too. There are ferocious lions and a giant venom spewing giant spider various other death traps and it’s all very exiting but what Conan finds at the heart of the tower gives the story all its power. Barry Windsor-Smith’s art very dynamic here and he does a very good job capturing the strange aura of the Tower of the Elephant.

The second story, "Zukala's Daughter" is inspired by the poem "Zukala's Hour" written by Robert E. Howard. Conan is passing through a small village in Zamoria and encounters some trouble. Conan is hired by the village to free them of the tyranny of the wizard Zukala. Some good ol' sword and sorcery action happens. 

The third and final story is titled "Devil-Wings Over Shadizar". Conan arrives at the city of Shadizar. He joins a fight between two thieves and ends up with their stolen goods (this is a fun little cameo of Fritz Leiber’s sword and sorcery duo Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser). He goes to a nearby tavern and flirts with a barmaid and before he knows it he's mixed up with fanatics of the local cult: the cult of the Night-God. It’s a pretty good story even though there are no mysteries, no real twists and turns. You know where the story is going for the most part but Thomas's old styled dialogue and narration accompanied by Windsor-Smith and Sal Buscema's art makes it an entertaining ride. The Night-God is superbly drawn. It’s just a giant bat but Windsor-Smith knocks it out of the park. The simple black and white somehow makes it seem much more frightening than it should be. I’m not sure Conan the Barbarian was originally published in colour, but if it was I have a feeling the bat would have been coloured in brown muddy colours which I believe would have ruin the effect. Look at that image, it’s fantastic! Something so normal but increased innumerably in size ends up as a terrifying monster for Conan to defeat.

There was an interesting evolution to Conan the Barbarian from issues #1-6. The first two issues have a more cartoony style. The lines are thicker and the backgrounds aren't as detailed. There were also fewer panels in the first two issues; the panels averaging out to about five panels per page. Issues #3, 4 and 5 are adapted from specific stories by Howard and maybe because Thomas and Windsor-Smith were adapting they had to squeeze in more panels. Issue #6 seems to follow in the footsteps of the adapted stories and the artists use narrower lines to convey more realistic figures and backgrounds while Thomas fills the panels with words. It’s unfortunate that Thomas seems to want to adapt one Robert E. Howard story per issue. Some of these stories could benefit from having more room to breathe. It’s even more unfortunate because Thomas has a habit of being wordy and the caption boxes and speech bubbles occasionally overcrowd the art. While Thomas still seems to be adjusting to an authorial style on Conan the Barbarian, Barry Windsor-Smith and Sal Buscema (his most frequent inker) has settled into a nice artistic style that suit Conan and his world rather well. I look forward to reading more of these issues, if only to find more art by Windsor-Smith. 

Sunday, 18 August 2013

A Princess of Mars review

The cover of my edition of the book. I'm
sad it wasn't a traditional painting like other
great covers from previous editions. I have
to say i'm not a fan of digital painting.

A Princess of Mars isn’t as much about a princess from, uh, Mars, as it is about John Carter of Earth. A Civil War veteran, John Carter is one day accidentally transported to Mars where he encounters several different races of Martians living on the red planet they call Barsoom. There he has adventures, unites two races of Martians, saves a Red Martian city, rescues Dejah Thoris (the titular princess) and he even rescues all the residents of the planet from asphyxiation. Carter also makes a few friends, falls in love, and makes many an enemies. He encounters not only strange beings but their equally strange cultures and way of life. A Princess of Mars was a thrilling read despite it being nearly 100 years since its original publication. There are a lot of old books that are good but for a book that was published in 1917, it’s a page turner. I had a very difficult time putting this book down.

Written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, most famous for being the creator of Tarzan of the Apes, A Princess of Mars is a fine example of a pulp novel. It’s a thrilling planetary adventure novel that feels grand. It’s become very influential over the years. Without taking the time to map out the specific works A Princess of Mars influences in various genres (I’ll leave that to English majors or even entertainment historians) it’s obvious to any reader born after the publication of the book that Edgar Rice Burroughs is a hugely influential writer. His main influence can be felt in the space opera genre, movies and books in the tradition of Star Wars. It’s much more science fantasy than science fiction but not quite enough for me to include it in my The Blog Fantastic series. When you read the novel you get far more sword fights than you get radium gun fights or even flying space machine fights. Heck, the whole thing takes place either on the surface of Mars or Earth.

The book has one of the best framing sequences I can remember off the top of my head. The entire book, except for the framing sequence, is told as a first person narrative. I really like stories told in the first person in which something entirely fascinating and bizarre happens to the narrator and A Princess of Mars is an excellent example of this type of story. Sure, parts of the narration are a frustrating to read (Carter is so full of himself) but I still enjoyed the heck out of the narrative voice. Early twentieth century books really know how to use the first person to its full capabilities.

Edgar Rice Burroughs also manages to include himself in the story and it’s very neat little trick. Burroughs doesn’t have short blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo, he’s a full blown character in the framing sequence. He appears as the favourite nephew of “Uncle Jack” and bookends the story of John Carter’s first trip to Mars and his first two encounters with death. The idea that Carter is immortal is very well executed and it’s very surprising that it was mentioned in the very first chapter. I didn’t quite catch it the first time. I reread that page about three times because it was so damn good. One page into the first chapter and already I knew this was going to be a crazy book.

As a character, John Carter is kind of a dick. I say this not based on his actions but on his narrative voice. The novel is presented as being Carter’s journal of his adventure on Mars and is therefore told in the first-person. He’s arrogant and overly sure of himself but it’s not entirely noticeable in his action. Contrary to his high self-esteem, Carter seeks to protect the weak and defend those who need to be defended. He seems himself a simply doing what he feels is right. He’s actually a likeable character because we could see ourselves either doing those very same things or, at the very least, thinking that someone should be protecting the innocent. It’s when he contrasts his morals to those of the green Martians with unnecessary nonchalance that he gives off negative vibes. In short, John Carter’s a dick because he thinks he’s superior to others.

You can push this further when considering race and gender in A Princess of Mars. Dejah Thoris isn’t quite a damsel in distress but she’s always getting into trouble and is rescued. She’s also put on a pedestal. She’s practically a prize for Carter. That’s how I read it when looking exclusively at what happens. When I look at the how I start to think differently. Dejah is a princess and she demands respect if not obedience but she’s also just a strong woman. She doesn’t let herself get pushed around. Yes, she gets rescued by Carter a couple of times but you get the sense she’s giving him the opportunity to rescue her.

When it comes to race, many have interpreted in rather negative ways but I wouldn’t agree with those interpretations of race relations in the book. There are several different races of Martians and Carter views them in similar ways. He’s capable of love for Dejah, princess of the Red Martians, mostly because they resemble humans of Earth except that their skin is red. In the context of the story that makes sense. Other Martians, such as the Green reproduce in very different ways than man and the Red Martians. I’ll spare you the details but eggs and incubation centres are involved. It’s pretty natural for Carter to not be attracted to any of the other races of Martians other than the Red.  If anything, that right there shows you that Burroughs doesn’t seem to have a racial agenda with A Princess of Mars because Carter still partakes in trans-species relations. I know I’m not very good at writing about race in fiction; it’s not something I’m generally bothered with unless an author is being intentionally racist. I don’t believe there are explicit racist elements in A Princess of Mars. If anything, there is a message praising racial diversity and harmony.

For some reason I find it difficult to write decent reviews of books or comics I really enjoyed. This particular review falls into that category because I unabashedly loved A Prince of Mars and after rereading the above post, it’s nothing great. Don’t let that change your mind though, there is plenty to enjoy, to analyse and to study in this great pulp novel. If only out of historical curiosity for the influences it had on the next 100 years of writers and people working in the entertainment industry. Burroughs is clearly an intelligent author but he strikes a good balance between big ideas, intelligent writing and entertaining story.

Note: To all other who have read this book, was it just me or is John Carter mostly naked during his entire time on Barsoom? Did I read that right? Tarzan, the other famous Burroughs character, is also mostly naked in his stories. I’m not quite sure what to make of that other than Burroughs like to have his male characters go around mostly naked. The only thing Carter and the Martians seemed to wear was armour and even that was limited to shin guards, arm bracelets and gauntlets.  

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Wolverine and the X-men vol. 3 & 4 review

One of the big problems with modern superhero comics is that titles are often interrupted, almost on an annual basis, with the latest crossover event. For the uninitiated, crossovers are the summer blockbusters of comic books. The stories are often the product of a company’s top writer, top artists, top colourist, top everything else and it’s usually a pretty addition to any of the contributor’s body of work. Crossovers often involve a company’s most famous and beloved characters fighting one other and to be quite honest, few of them even work as a sustained narrative and even less of those are any good. One exemplary exception to this is Final Crisis but that’s a blog post for another time. The biggest problem I have with crossovers is that they take far too much space for what they’re worth. For stories that are one dimensional, they sure find a way to seep into every other comic on the stands making those comics, even the very good ones, nothing but a dreary mess.

This is relevant to Jason Aaron’s tenure on Wolverine and the X-men because after the first 8 issues that introduced us to the school and the casts, Marvel editors deemed it necessary to give us ten tie-in issues to their Avengers vs. X-men crossover. That’s ridiculous! It’s even more ridiculous when you consider that the crossover itself is only twelve issues long. I’ve read Avengers vs. X-men and I can’t say it’s a comic I’d like to read more of if I didn’t have to so when it’s invading the very same comic that brought me so much joy, I start to worry.

Who's fighting who and for what
reason? Find out in another comic!
As expected the third and fourth volumes of Wolverine and the X-men wasn’t as good as the first two. Not only did I have to suffer somebody else’s story invading the great little comic Aaron’s given us, but it’s not even given to me in a coherent way. The crossover is mostly just one on one fights between a member of the Avengers and someone of the X-men. Most of the AVX pages in Wolverine and the X-men are composed of static images of different fight scenes. There’s nearly no narrative element other than the caption boxes Aaron inserts to try and give it some weight and meaning. What saves these issues is that Aaron keeps the story rolling by intercutting these mandatory AVX scenes with what’s happening at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning. The momentum is cut by half but things are still happening. The fact remains that in order to fully understand and enjoy the AVX portions (if that’s even possible), you would have to read both titles concurrently or, at the very least, read AVX first.

Aaron and his team of artists actually make some worthwhile comics. The art is good all around but it’s not as great a quality as it was in the earlier volumes. Bachalo’s art looks rushed in some parts of volume 3 and Bradshaw doesn’t contribute any issues to volume 4. Jorge Molina steps in on art duties and he gets the job done. Hi style is nowhere as detailed or energetic as Bachalo or Bradshaw but the characters are all recognizable. I’m not a big fan of his style though and his characters often look stiff. It was nice to have at least one issue drawn by one of the regular artists on the title. Issue #17 is drawn by Mike Allred and that’s always a treat especially because the issue featured Doop, a character he co-created with Peter Milligan in the pages of X-force.

A very fun issue. Doop is such a stud. 
Despite the fact that Avengers vs. X-men got in the way, volumes 3 and 4 of Wolverine and the X-men are good comics. Some long time questions are answered (what does Doop do, exactly?) and Aaron gives us a good look at the challenges of being a teacher a school for mutants (quasi mental breakdowns and all). We also get some nice character development for the villains he introduced in X-men: Schism, the new Hellfire Club. Warbird, an alien bodyguard from the Shi’ar Empire, also gets to have a spotlight issue amidst the superhero fights scenes of AVX. I have to admit, the fact that Aaron is able to juggle his shared universe responsibilities by featuring bits of the storyline from AVX as well as continuing to write the most entertaining superhero books on the stand is an impressive feat. It’s too bad he had to write about AVX at all. Here’s hoping the next volume tightens up the focus on the Jean Grey school and captures the magic of the first eight issues. 

Random Thoughts on Wolverine and the X-men

W&Xm #1
-Hey, it’s Doop!
-Toad as the janitor, nice.
-The Brood Child from one of the post-Ellis Astonishing storylines; also nice.
-The Danger Room was incorporated in the whole school? That’s foreboding.
-“I’m a political prisoner!” Oh Quentin!
-Gladiator has a son?! He sent his son to attend Jean Grey Academy?! Oh Jason Aaron!!
-What’s with all the mini-Nightcrawlers?
-Giant teeth? Is that Krakoa?
-Man, this is a dense first issue (which is a darn good thing; first issues should always be oversized and packed). Yeah there some spreads but there is also at least one 12 panel page. Good job making it all look damn pretty, Bachalo.

W&Xm #2
-Nobody draws Iceman quite like Bachalo. He’s a mad genius. Random thought: Paul Pope should do an X-men book.
-Kilgore is the descendent of Frankenstein? Neat!
-Hank: “Oh dear, I do hope this wasn’t my doing. Did I leave a pot of Frankensteins on the stove?”
-Love and first sight for Idie and Broo? Yes. Jason Aaron! Jason Aaron! Jason Aaron!
-Who the hell calls Iceman a joke? The dude is an omega level mutant!
-Nooooo! No! No, I disprove of Iceman kissing Kitty! Nuh-uh!
-The girl in the new Hellfire Club is hilarious.
-A-ha! It totally is Krakoa. Well, Krakoa’s grandson.
-I like that Quentin has buttons on his jacket. I also like how it seems his t-shirt will have a new message on it every issue (or regularly).

W&Xm #3
-According to the credits (and the art) it seems Bachalo is having a difficult time keeping up to the schedule. No wonder considering the shit Aaron has him draw. I’m curious as to Bradshaw’s art next issue.
-Ha! “Professor Snikt”.
-Oh that two page spread is a keeper.
-I’m really enjoying the key use of red by Bachalo. Very Laura Martin yet more restrained and more effective.
-Poor Toad has to clean it all up.
-Lawsuit? Nice. You can’t forget that Wolverine is very old, which makes him wise and classy. Legal Lawsuit kind of classy.
-“Send more Sentinels”, haha.

W&Xm #4
-I don’t like Bradshaw’s Beast or his Kitty.
-Doop raking the lawn is awesome.
-The briefing scene demonstrates that Aaron is more than capable of writing the constantly-overstressed-and-underappreciated group of x-men.
-Bradshaw makes Wolverine to nice and cute looking. Make him gruff, unkempt, squat and king of ugly!
-“Wake me when the humans are DEAD”. Heart Quentin Quire.
-Genesis is totally the young apocalypse boy from Uncanny X-Force (recommended reading).
-Broo is charming.
-Sweet, Deathlok from Aaron’s Wolverine run (it’s a particular Dealthlok unit).
-Ouch. Aaron is giving us a future where Idie and Quentin are dating. Poor Broo, you never stood a chance, buddy.
-Why do I get the feeling Kitty is pregnant with a Brood baby?

W&Xm #5
-HA! Quentin Quire drawing and writing on whoever’s insides is hilarious.
-Bradshaw draws a very good Broo.
-Also, no wonder they’re burning through their funds. I don’t think shrinking a whole class of mutants is cheap.
-Why does Bradshaw draw Idie’s hair all straight? And the colorist is also doing a poor job. She looks Eurasian or something as opposed to a black teen.
-Ew, the stomach! Are they inside Toad? Poor guy.
-Bahahahaha, the kids are deciphering Doop’s dialogue.
-Haha, one of the Bamfs is running around with Wolverine’s mask on.
-People keep referencing Gambit yet we never see him. That’s fine by me!
-Doop is the security monitor! Of course! Translation: Hey, no Bamps allowed.
-Who’s the big grey guy?

W&Xm #6
-“Bah! Running is for horses and Homo Sapiens.”
-Lurg the Living Casino. Jason Aaron is crazy!
-I’m disappointed Bachalo isn’t on art duties for this one. I imagine he would draw some pretty darn cool aliens.
-I’m liking Kid Gladiator more and more each issue. “Kid Gladiator is lord of the heart!”
-Sweet defence system. Way to go Krakoa.
-Kid Gladiator brood? Oh no!
-If Kitty’s belly is huge and pregnant-like, shouldn’t the brood inside her be concentrated in one area and not all over the freakin’ place? Unless there is something special reserved in her belly that Aaron’s saving for a future issue? Just a little weird I think.

W&Xm #7
-Bradshaw has been doing good covers but I’m sad Bachalo does not do the covers for the interior art Bradshaw issues.
-Extreme Zoologist? Strange concept but I think I like it.
-To answer my question from last issue: the Egg Sack; gross.
-Oh wow, I didn’t even notice the Bamfs weren’t present last issue. Nice.
-“Anyone not willing to murder for the sake of science is no scientist at all.” Whoa, radical!
-Not Bamfs, eh? It was a masterstroke by Aaron for introducing these little buggers into the comic.
-Kid Gladiator’s body guard hitting on Bobby? Nice.
-I love that Aaron keeps Broo’s Broodness. He’s from a vicious race therefore he’s a vicious little bastard.
-Gniah! What the hell is going on in Kitty’s head?
-Gross Wolverine!

W&Xm #8
-Bachalo back on art! And because nobody draws him better, Sabertooth is also back!
-Man, Aaron is writing some pretty dense issues. It’s a good thing.
-Sabertooth attacking SWORD? He’s one mean bastard!
-Oh goodie, Idie’s hair is normal again.
-Where is Elixir? Is he on Utopia with Scott? Because he could probably heal Wolverine’s legs. Oh well, even if he is there’s the same problem as with Magneto.
-There are going to be repercussions for attacking the Living Casino.
-Aw Hank, you’re the sweetest.

W&Xm #9
-I hope Avengers VS X-men doesn’t ruin the momentum this series has been building.
-Taking bets on which planet the Phoenix is going to destroy is just one of those cool ideas. It’s difficult to have cool ideas about the Phoenix because it’s such a bad, bad storytelling device.
-I wish Wolverine’s legs had been messed up for longer. I’ve got a feeling AvX had something to do with that.
-Pretty cool that the school has a jungle room. I want a jungle room.
-Captain America gets his grade: B minus! :O
-Toad and Husk? I’m down for that X-couple.
-Oh hey, Rogue and Gambit are actually seen in this issue.
-The little to and fro between Beast and Wolverine clearly demonstrates they’re old chums.
-Sweet, Gladiator will be showing up in future issues.

W&Xm #10
-Avengers VS X-men tie-in. Snore. I know that Jason Aaron in pretty darn involved in the whole thing but it stinks of Marvel Architects by which I mean it stinks of Bendis. He’s the only architect I don’t like. Fraction and Hickman have both done better work elsewhere and Aaron is a superstar. Bendis? A big ol’ stinker!
-Doop has a choir? Nice.
-Why would Quentin cheat in his studies? He’s an effing genius. He doesn’t have to cheat.
-I like the character moments with Genesis and Warren. I also like that Iceman is so worried about Warren. It makes sense. They were both part of the original five and they’re the only two of the five at Jean Grey academy.
-Krakoa is all over the place man. I like how he’s got an eye ball popping up in the rock garden.
"No Bamfs allowed."
-Summers is a big jerk even if he’s an optimistic jerk. Well, optimistic about the phoenix force anyway.
-It bothers me quite a bit that he’s arguing that Wolverine can and should primarily be and “x-man”. It’s frustrating that he’s arguing that people as a whole, but Wolverine specifically in this context, should or do have one main “identity factor”. Wolverine can be many things all at the same time: avenger, x-man, friend, father, without them being prioritize in any way other that what Wolverine himself dictates. Do you get what I’m trying to say? I don’t think I’ve explained it very well.
-Kitty Pryde saying how she wants to carve off earrings from Emma is funny.
-Quentin is so smooth with the ladies.
-That’s the difference between Scott and Logan. Scott is a bit of a bully and Logan accepts the decision of this teaching staff, and friends, to help Scott out. He understands that sometimes you’ve got to do what feels right.
-Idie asking Wolverine not to kill Hope hits hard. He’s probably going to have to do just that. Incidentally, if you haven’t read Kieron Gillen’s Generation Hope issues you should go do that. They’re pretty good.
-I love that the Death Commandos arrive (they were sent out last issues). It’s logical that something like the Phoenix entity would catch the attention of more than just the people of Earth. It always seemed weird to me that the Phoenix was at the base of the AvsX crossover. What else could it have been though? The last time they were in conflict was with Wanda during the whole Disassembled and House of M stuff. Whatever, Aaron’s issues will most likely be enjoyable.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Wolverine and the X-men vol. 1 & 2 review

Bachalo and Bradshaw draw some pretty
great covers for the first few issues.

Wolverine and the X-men is a great example of superhero comics done right. More importantly (to me anyway), it’s a great example of an X-men comic done right. There have been many, many different takes on the X-men and there have been quite a handful of very positively reviewed and fondly remembered creative runs on various x-titles. For every New X-men or Astonishing X-men, there has been an X-men Forever or Uncanny X-men by Chuck Austen. What makes Jason Aaron’s first eight issues of Wolverine and the X-men so good is the quantity of story and the surprising depth for what seems to be a humour and action comic on the surface.

Two of the things that make these issues memorable are two of the now often ignored elements of X-men comics: 1) A school for mutants, 2) being a mutant means something and 3) uses the x-men’s expansive history to his advantage but also contributes embellishments to it. Mutants are often confused by writers and fans as being a type of superhero. Although that is often the case, mutants are forever separated from the Avengers, Spider-man and the Fantastic Four because being a mutant makes them different. For Aaron, a mutant is an allegorical device for the awkward years of teenagers. By writing a comic about mutants, Aaron is actually writing a comic about learning to get to know yourself and others. Many of these characters are put in situations where they have to reflect on the type of person they are be it Broo who discovers his dark and violent self or Kitty Pryde who realizes she’s afraid of growing up or maybe even Wolverine who leads a not so secret double life as Headmaster by day and mutant assassin by night or, yet another example of Genesis having to (eventually) deal with the past of the mutant he was cloned from.

There's so much going on inside this
issue, Bradshaw haw to draw a
split screen cover! How great is that?
Aaron also has a healthy respect and admiration for some of the better X-men comics of yesteryear. He regularly references or alludes to past stories and characters arcs but he does so without copying them. Sure, he creates a new school for mutants but his story is contextualized within the x-universe and the characters are as aware of the forthcoming destruction of the school grounds as the readers are. Aaron also finds a way to capture the frenetic day to day life of a school for teenaged mutants run by mutant superheroes. It’s craaaazy! Interdimentional demons teleporting all over and creating mayhem, supervillains attacking the school, young mutants taking out their angst and frustrations on the world by using their powers, and so much more.

I’m having a difficult time focusing my thoughts on this comic because there’s just so much about it that I think is great! Like the art. I’m a fan of Chris Bachalo’s art on X-men titles in general. He brings a nice chaotic beauty to x-characters and it suits X-men comics more than quite a few other artists. His art on the three opening issues match the writing so well it’s nearly impossible to think of a better collaboration between artist and writer. Then comes issues #4 to 6 where Nick Bradshaw takes over on pencils. His style is radically different from Bachalo’s but he brings a detail heavy quality that somehow contributes to the frenetic tone established in the first three issues. His lines are clearly defined and there’s cleanliness to it all that’s absent from Bachalo’s art but it works. I found myself liking one artist over the other with each issue I read until I realized, it doesn’t matter. They’re both good and they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. For example, Bachalo exchanges clarity for energy but that doesn’t mean his action scenes are unreadable. It’s all there for us to see but compared to Bradshaw, things do look a little messy in Bachalo’s issues.

I’m not sure how to conclude my review. I just feel like gushing. There’s so much about Wolverine and the X-men volume 1 and 2 that I liked and quite a bit that I loved. I got so excited while reading the comic. It’s just great superhero comics. It’s so fun, it has plenty of action and it’s also very, very funny. Aaron demonstrated he can right funny comics during the several years he wrote solo Wolverine series and mini-series but he takes it to a new level in Wolverine and the X-men. More important than anything else, this comic has heart. Aaron and the rest of the creative team pack a lot of story, character development and more into these 20 pages issues. It’s a comic that I liked while reading but it’s also a comic that I could think about and enjoy after the fact. My one complaint is that the writer and artists don’t give the comic a lot of room to breathe. Ah, who am I kidding, I’ll take a breath once I’m done rereading these issues.

Krakoa, Kid Gladiator, Warbird, Iceman, Kitty Pryde, Husk, Quentin Quire, Idie, Broo, Rachel, Beast, Doop, Wolverine and Toad. What a great cast! Notice how many of these characters were introduced by Aaron in the first three issues. 

Monday, 5 August 2013

Winterworld review

Winterworld collects the three issue mini-series written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Jorge Zaffino as well as the never before published sequel by the same creative team, Wintersea. Both stories are very similar in plot and in execution. One of them, Wintersea, is much better than the other and it's because of that second story that this book is ultimately a good read.

Comics Should Be Good's Brian Cronin once described Winterworld as Water World in comic form but, you know, in winter. It's a pretty accurate description. Chuck Dixon gives us a vaguely defined post-apocalyptic world where winter is never ending. Polar bears roam the Caribbean and cities are half engulfed in snow and ice. Many types of animals are now extinct, restaurant and retail franchises that are still standing are misunderstood as people no longer remember what they were for. Pizza Hut is either a mythological folk hero or a place where pizza is eaten. The latter of those two options is what our hero, Scully, thinks but he has no idea what kind I animal pizza could be.

Both stories involve a search for or the discovery of a warm safe haven from the harsh world of continuous winter. Scully either escapes or is cast away from those places and returns to rescue Wynn and generally destroying those special places in the process.

Both stories work as adventure stories. There are evil men, explosions, etc but in the first story Dixon's writing is unsure. Oddly enough, it’s also characterized by the confidence of a young creator. His writing improves for the second story and that’s matched by a more interesting narrative as well, even though it closely resembles the three issues of Winterworld.  Zaffino’s art is very good in Winterworld but he doesn't have too many exciting things to draw other than mean looking men snow and explosions. Dixon gives him more interesting things to draw in the sequel. Dixon asks Zaffino to draw us large ships carried atop the backs of tanks rolling around on the frozen sea heading towards a utopian city located on a volcanic island. Zaffino’s art overall seems to be better in the second story and Dixon's writing is confident, too. It's a better marriage of big creator talent which results in a more entertaining comic.

IDW's Winterworld collection is a good comic. At heart it's a post-apocalyptic adventure comic with lots of action, a bit of darkness and wonderful visual spectacles. It's a Hollywood summer movie as a comic and it doesn’t try to be anything else which contributed to my enjoyment of it. It also had a cameo of Chuck and Jorge in the second last page of Wintersea and I always enjoying seeing creator cameos in comics.