I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Savage Wolverine #1

Savage Wolverine is savage because he's in the Savage Land. You could say that he was sent to save Shanna the She-Devil and some SHIELD agents, but there are a whole lot of incidents of falling from the sky so it is unclear whether or not there was any sending or intention involved. The book is also savage because Wolverine kills and maims without good reason, because that's what Americans apparently want after the savage killings in the Northeast.

Wolverine's monologues are annoying to read. Much of the disgust previously pointed toward the writing in Detective Comics can now be directed toward Savage Wolverine. There are cheesy lines where he explains that he disarmed his foes while cutting off their arms and then cut a little off the top while cutting off their heads. That kind of cheesy. While we're on the topic, Wolverine is the headmaster of a school that values all kinds of different forms of life - the Brood, the Shi'Ar, sentient landmasses, Bamfs - and yet when he enters the Savage Land apparently all life is only good enough to become shish kabobs on Wolverine's claws. Moreover, as far as I can see, this carnage is the main selling point for the book.

There is one other selling point. Savage Wolverine features Shanna the She-Devil, an X-Men and SHIELD ally who remains skimpily-clad at all times, whether she is in the tropical Savage Land, on a climate-controlled (one would assume) SHIELD vessel, or anywhere else in the world. This strong and vicious woman is reduced to little more than a damsel in distress housewife who only wants to return to her beloved Kazar and Zabu and who is dressed in a shredded bikini.

Despite having no desire to read any more issues in this series unless major creative team changes are made, I am left wondering whether Savage Wolverine will take place in the Savage Land for the entire run. If not, what sorts of things will happen to maintain Wolverine as "savage"? Perhaps the better question is: "Does Marvel expect Savage Wolverine to get cancelled immediately?"

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Last Stand

The Last Stand is the first movie that features Arnold Schwarzenegger in a lead role since his time in politics. As such, I was incredibly excited for this movie. It ushers in an era of post-Schwarzenegger Schwarzenegger films that will undoubtedly consist of sequels - I'm still holding out for a King Conan film - and movies that are referential to his previous works.

The Last Stand is about a small town on the border with Mexico and its police chief Ray Owens. I almost didn't recognize Owens as Schwarzenegger, but that was mostly because the character wasn't named John like most of Arnold's characters. (John Matrix is a personal favorite of mine.) The town is populated by a lot of B- and C-list actors that many will recognize like Luiz Guzman, Jaimie Alexander (Lady Sif in Thor), Johnny Knoxville, and Rodrigo Santoro (Paolo on LOST).

Beyond the delightful cast, I have nothing particularly good to say about this movie. It was filled with awkward moment after awkward moment, and not the kind championed by the Office or It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It was the kind of awkwardness that comes from shoddy writing, directing and acting. The pace of the film was all kinds of bad. The first half of the film did not even feel like it was building toward anything. It just felt like some stuff was happening, and while you knew it would be connected, it was really insignificant. In the second half of the film, there is just action. There is no sense of importance, and again, no build - just action and then later conclusion. The characters are one-dimensional and expendable, especially the woman hostage who was somehow important to the plans of both the villains and the authority in pursuit.

In a post-Schwarzenegger Schwarzenegger world, you expect Schwarzenegger movies to be filled with cheesy lines and improbably/impossible action sequences. Unfortunately, there weren't enough ridiculous puns or camp to make up for this film's lack of substance. One also expects some sort of hidden science fiction reference, like cloning or a rail gun. Instead, The Last Stand delivers a really really fast car and hopes that it is enough to keep you interested.

The Last Stand was a horrible letdown, both for viewers who like good movies and viewers who simply like movies because Arnold is in them. With a little bit of art it could have been either good or bad enough that it was funny and enjoyable. As for me, I actually had a good time watching this movie, but my enjoyment relied on one thing that no other movie will supply me with this year: the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger is back.

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

New Avengers #2

New Avengers #2 continues to follow Black Panther in his struggle to save the Earth(s) from complete and utter destruction while working with the Illuminati, a group of puppet-masters whose decisions the Panther does not agree with. In this issue we find out just how serious the problem introduced in issue one is, a chain reaction of planetary destruction that not only threatens our planet - it threatens our universe and every other universe.

When I read the first issues I was incredibly happy that this story is being told from Black Panther's standpoint. My fear for the second issue was that we would see things from the standpoint of one of the other Illuminati, perhaps Mister Fantastic. Luckily, the book is still a Black Panther story with the Illuminati as his backup band. I'd be happier to find that Marvel was changing the title of the book to Black Panther, that they have no fear that a black lead character will hurt sales, and that they want to make this change retroactive for the first two issues, but I'm not holding my breath. I'll settle for Marvel telling an important Black Panther story from beginning to end.

While this is certainly a book centered around Black Panther, I was happy to see that Jonathan Hickman was able to incorporate his homeboy Mister Fantastic into a really interesting explanation of the planetary collapse theory that the Illuminati are now facing. It was exactly what Hickman does best - explaining comic book science in a way that is accessible and not heavy handed. This is not the author explaining the plot. It is Reed Richards being Reed Richards, borrowing the spotlight from Black Panther only momentarily in order to get the Illuminati (and the readers) on the same page.

Hickman gives his Illuminati a couple of quests for the next couple of issues, but more interesting is a theme that was introduced in this issue. In response to the first issue, many readers were wondering why Black Panther was able to work with Namor despite the destruction of Wakanda at his hands during Avengers vs. X-Men and the current war between Wakanda and Atlantis. In the second issue, this issue is addressed and not lightly. When this is all over, Black Panther wants to kill Namor. Plain and simple.

New Avengers is extremely accessible for a heady story that references a long history of conflict in the Marvel Universe. Slowly, Hickman is bringing the new reader up to date with explanations of who the Illuminati are, what they have done, and what their continuing motives are. If there is anything negative I have to say, it is that I wish Hickman's sister title Avengers were nearly as good as New Avengers. Here's to hoping that the quality of Avengers catches up to New Avengers, because if they're going to have consistent crossovers like Fantastic Four and FF, I don't want to be annoyed.

Buy this book. Do it because it's a great story. Also, buy it in order to invest in Marvel's black comic book characters. They need help that the editors, writers and artists won't give on their own. They need the help that only money can buy.

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

The High Ways #1

One of my biggest disappointments came this week when I realized that The High Ways by John Byrne is a four-issue miniseries rather than a full-blown series. In a month where Superior Spider-man #1 had not been released, I believe The High Ways would have been my most acclaimed comic of the month.

The High Ways is a continuation of the relationship between John Byrne and IDW Comics that brought you Trio a few months earlier. The High Ways follows the story of a young man named Eddie Wallace as he dives into a new job opportunity, one which is hidden from both the reader and Wallace by quirky co-workers. While IDW occasionally gets a good series handed to them - Angel: After the Fall and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles come to mind - they're in dire need of some good well-written stories to put them on the map of Indie comics which is currently dominated by Image and Dark Horse. Even more than stories, they need a web site that makes a lick of sense and actually displays organized information about their books, but I digress.

Byrne's old-school art style is immediately pleasing. It makes me wish that he were penciling just about every good comic book that I'm reading right now. And the story is fantastic as well. The reader sees everything from Wallace's perspective, and to tell the truth Wallace doesn't seem to know much about what's going on until it happens. He just dives in, meeting a woman who serves as his tour guide, a wild and unpredictable boss who charts their journey for unknown territory, and an intriguing situation on a moon base. The reader knows nothing about the characters, the world, the time, about anything, but information simply unravels. Byrne keeps you wondering and then effortlessly gives you just enough information to keep fresh questions in your head. Before you know it, you care for the characters without any overt attempts to humanize them. They are simply human, and Byrne seems like he is more than.

The only down side is that there will only be four issues. I could imagine this book going on endlessly and without a goal for the story to work towards. As long as Wallace is still alive and stories unravel around him, I want to read it. On the other hand, I trust Byrne's vision because he hasn't lead me astray as far as the first issue.

If you thought The High Ways was going to be Cheech and Chong in space, you will be disappointed. But once you crack issue one, your disappointment will evaporate. It will be replaced by happiness.

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Thorcraft Cobra - Count It In

Thorcraft Cobra is a two-piece band out of Los Angeles comprised of Canadian Billy Zimmer and Californian Tammy Glover. The band is named after an old Canadian tube amp that is no longer in circulation, and that was enough to pique my interest. While references to Scandinavian gods and serpents might suggest that you are about to listen to a terrible metal album, Thorcraft Cobra is in fact a fun-time radio-friendly rock and roll band which is clearly influenced by classic rock and '90s alternative rock.

The debut album Count It In sounds like what the Foo Fighters might have released in the early '00s in an alternate universe where the Foo Fighters evolved their sound and added complexity with age. Unfortunately, vocalist Billy Zimmer sounds like your drunk friend talk-shout-singing a Foo Fighters song at a dive on karaoke night. While songs like "Count Me Out" and "Party Clock" are catchy, I found myself wishing I could rid myself of these songs.

Hidden behind uninspired, classic rock mimicry and the occasional moody song with a '90s vibe and soft, whiskey-lipped singing, there is some decent guitar playing. The best guitar sounds can be heard on a track titled "I'm Not Sorry." Aside from that, I like this album for the same reason I liked the movie Across the Universe: it makes me think of better music while suffering through the bad music. "Black Swan" reminds me of a Tom Petty song circa the release of Wildflowers, "Party Clock" occasionally feels like some of the flashback Brit Pop that Blur was pumping out in the '90s, and "Bemused, Bored and Dangerous" steals its epic guitar ending from the Who.

Ultimately, I think that the two-piece band might benefit from holding auditions. If they are to keep making music, they will need a better singer. There is just no other way around it. As for Zimmer and Glover, I think they need to work on figuring out what they want their sound to be, because alternating between fun party tunes and moody introspective tunes is not working for them. With some more edge to the guitar work, a better singer, and a sense of direction, Thorcraft Cobra could have a great sophomore album. As for their freshman attempt, I congratulate them for breaking into a difficult music scene, but they're going to have to try harder if they want to get good reviews.

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Threshold #1

Threshold appears to be a collection of stories from the far reaches of space, certainly not, as the title might suggest, from the entryway to your house or apartment. The main story at this point is called The Hunted, which follows a series of space characters who were introduced in Green Lantern: New Guardians Annual #1. The first set of backup stories features Orange Lantern Larfleeze.

Threshold is what I call a magazine-style comic book. It follows different stories, or at least, different back-stories, rather than one central driving story. In my experience with such titles as Men of War, Detective Comics, and All-Star Western, these books are often less than stellar. The only stand-out title that I can think of is Action Comics, and that's because the great and wonderful Grant Morrison writes it. Of course, even that title feels like Morrison crammed five years of story into less than two years of comic books, leaving readers like me yearning for more early social justice Superman stories. Considering the fact that Threshold is written by Keith Giffen and not some rockstar like Morrison, I can safely say it is already my favorite magazine-style comic from the new 52.

The Hunted really has everything going for it. Jediah Caul is a deep-space, abandoned and disgraced, deep-cover Green Lantern who is hunted on a televised reality TV show on the Glimmernet. Already, I can say he's one of the best new characters that DC invented since 2011, probably only behind The Shepherd and the talking cat from Animal Man. There's some depth to this guy, and I'm excited to explore who he is. Caul is one of 27 current fugitives in a Running Man-style battle for survival. I found this interesting because for the sake of safety, one would think that only one "criminal" would be hunted by the public, but one needs only to look to the myriad CSIs and NCISs and Laws and Orders to see why there might be a ratings benefit to having more. Of course, several of the hunted threaten to unite all of the current fugitives in hopes of taking down this corrupt system of "justice," and while this kind of story has been played out through the years I find myself drawn to it.

The writing is top-notch, especially considering that there are no big characters like Superman or Batman to draw readers. The language of the characters, which I would describe as space-British, is comparable to the innovative drawls of many of Joss Whedon's characters in his various television programs, movies and comics. Meanwhile, the story is highly kinetic, every conversation taking place during a chase or a fight. The result: this book is stunning, and highly unexpected.

As for the Larfleeze backup story, it suffices to say that the world's greatest horder gets robbed. I can't imagine anyone who has read Green Lantern in the last few years who wouldn't be interested in seeing what happens when the king of "stuff" loses his.

Threshold #1 is definitely worth reading. If it weren't released the same week as IDW's High Ways, it would have been the best new comic of the week. But don't let that get in the way of your enjoyment. Pick up Threshold today.

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

The NFL: A Bad Lip Reading

Insurgent #1

Designed to root out domestic terrorists, sleeper super soldiers are awakening in America and they're going nuts. When American soil is threatened by the government's mistakes, there's only one man you can turn to: bounty hunter John Ravane. Insurgent is an '80s Arnold Schwarzenegger action film without the Arnold Schwarzenegger and without the film.

Insurgent fits into two genres that DC comics is trying to incorporate into their main line comics: military and edgy anti-heroes. While some have had commercial success, the only good story written for either of these genres of DC comics was Peter J. Tomasi's story about the Haunted Tank in GI Combat right before it was canceled. If I can say anything about Insurgent, it is that it avoids many of the pitfalls of the military and edgy books. It is possible to distinguish one character from another because they don't look, act and talk the same. Rather than simply adopting a simple hawk or dove perspective about war, there appears to be some semblance of a story. Finally, there are more to the characters than killing, dark pasts, and first-person monologues about falling.

Unfortunately, too much information is packed into the first issue. The world is presented bluntly and quickly in hope that quantity of content might trump quality of content and keep you reading. As a result, characters who may have been interesting and stories that may have brought us to cool places feel empty. While the premise is directly from an '80s action film, Insurgent actually reads like a '90s political thriller much of the time. I wondered if the dialogue might have felt more important if there were an over-dramatic soundtrack alerting me to how dire the situation was. Alas, there was not.

Reading Insurgent #1 was like a dream. If I hadn't taken notes about it immediately afterwards, I would have forgotten it altogether. It is a better attempt than most, but ultimately not worth reading. You might be happier reading anything else that came out this week.

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Banshee S01E01: "Pilot"

The two best things that the new Cinemax original series have going for it are the fact that Alan Ball is involved in the project and the fact that Cinemax is cable television and thus is immune from the "if it is good, it will be canceled" disease. If you want to read a positive review of Banshee, this paragraph will have to suffice. Consult that friend of yours who likes everything and ask him/her what he/she thought.

While Alan Ball is certainly credited as an Executive Producer, very little of his vision can be seen in Banshee. The people who are really in charge are Jonathan Tropper and David Schickler. If you are expecting Six Feet Under television programming, you will be disappointed. I wouldn't even expect True Blood quality television, although this show could certainly benefit from the campy sense of humor that the supernatural romance program offers. This is not Alan Ball, and it is not the series that is going to put Cinemax up there with Showtime and HBO as the home to great drama.

The pilot of Banshee does exactly what every cable television program does in its first episode. It establishes quickly that you are going to be able to see naked people, women especially. Shortly thereafter, it introduces you to one or two characters that you are likely to want to see naked in the future. This is the hook for most mindless viewers, and nearly every successful cable program has had these, but the really good ones complement the hook with character development and a good story. Banshee throws in some violence, bad language, and teenagers making bad decisions and calls it a day.

As for the story, it is a typical small-town Yojimbo set-up. A dishonorable hero enters town. In this instance, it is ex-convict Lucas Hood (who looks nearly identical to his antagonist in the opening sequence - at least in Anime they change hair color or clothing in order to distinguish clones). Hood is inevitably going to have a show-down with the bad men and women who run this town. He's inevitably going to lose a lot. But he's inevitably going to win and look really cool in the process. He will probably spit blood often.

I can't say that the actors are unskilled at acting. I can say that they didn't get much of a chance to do so. There seems to be very little character development written into this script, and where it is present it is carried out in stereotypical ways: a bar conversation here, a lingering shot on a disturbed woman there. You know the drill. Sometimes it feels like the dialogue is approaching clever. There was a lawyer in the beginning who said, "Is that a judge in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?" If this line were brought up and buttressed by other smart and funny dialogue, I might think we were dealing with something interesting. But it was alone, and it honestly felt like a fluke.

Banshee is a bust. It doesn't leave me wanting to watch the next episode. It leaves me hoping that other television programs premiering this month like The Following and The Americans have the strength to fill the gap in good new programming.

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

Superior Spider-man #1

Following the events of Amazing Spider-man #700, Superior Spider-man tells the story of Otto Octavius in the body of Peter Parker/Spider-man, a villain whose evil tendencies are curbed by the presence of Peter Parker's memories. Because Octavius is an egotist second only to Doctor Doom, he believes that he is better both at being Peter Parker and Spider-man than his predecessor, hence the title Superior Spider-man. This first issue shows Otto's disgust at the formation of a new Sinister Six, a bush league hodgepodge of b-villains who have the nerve of disgracing a team that Doctor Octopus was once a part of.

If you have read the events leading up to this event, you know that Dan Slott has been planning this transformation for quite some time. As a matter of fact, Peter Parker's switch from photographer to scientist was the perfect predecessor for Otto Octavius's switch from Doctor Octopus to Spider-man. If you've read Amazing Spider-man then you will not be surprised at how great the writing is in this issue. The Sinister Six story-line creates a perfect frame to show how Otto operates as Spider-man, as Peter Parker the scientist, and as Peter Parker the current boyfriend of Mary Jane Watson.

But the best part about having Dan Slott at the writing helm is the dialogue. When Otto attacks the "archaic" Living Brain, the robot mixes emotion with logic by screaming, "Query: Why was unit programmed with pain receptors? Whyyyy?" Subsequently, Grady Scraps refers to the Living Brain as, "the Super Nintendo of robots." And finally, how can you beat the fact that Octavius's laundry list of the pros of being Peter Parker ends with a drawing of Mary Jane in a sexy dress from the neck down and the line, "Yes. Peter Parker's life will suit me just fine. And the best part about it? The view."

I actually met the artist Ryan Stegman at the Cherry Capital Con in Traverse City, Michigan in May of 2012. At the time he had just announced that he would be drawing for Fantastic Four soon, a project that we all soon realized would be short-lived because Hickman was giving Fantastic Four and FF over to a new creative team shortly after Avengers vs. X-Men concluded. I got Stegman to autograph a comic for me and we got into a conversation about comic book art. I told him that if I were an artist I'd be one of those big muscle, big boobs kind of artists. His response: "I guess you could say that's my style." In a panel, he said that he has always loved drawing Spider-man, so I wasn't surprised to see him on this book. His art is fantastic, and I hope they keep him on for a while.

There was a certain Jedi ghost appearance at the end of this issue that has people very unhappy. I am riding the fence on this issue. Without spoiling too much, I will say that I knew something like this was going to happen, especially because a certain octobot wasn't destroyed. But the way it has come about seems a little weird, and I'm not sure I like the depiction of the aforementioned Jedi ghost.

Superior Spider-man is well on its way to being the best new comic of 2013, and the best comic book of 2013. When you start adding adjectives to the titles of your super hero, you write a check that will some day need to be cashed. This comic is already living up to the name Superior. May it continue to do so.

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Secret History of the Foot Clan #1

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Secret History of the Foot Clan #1 tells the story behind the ninja army lead by the Shredder through historical lecture and Master Splinter's recollection of his prior life with simple literary flashback filling in the gaps that neither could have possibly known. These truths are revealed because the turtles and their allies wish to gain any possible knowledge about their adversary and also because the Shredder wishes to restore an incredibly mystical power to his followers.

I went into this book skeptical of how it would turn out. I have been really impressed by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ongoing series and the various mini-series installations to date. The only thing I found hard to digest was the annual, which read like a Legion of Super-Heroes of thugs, spending every panel and every page introducing a new villain. What I've been impressed with the most is how the mini-series tend walk the tight rope between giving you too little useful information (seemingly unimportant and disconnected from the main story) and giving you too much useful information (making it so you need to read the mini-series in order to understand the main story). These books are written incredibly well. Normally, I'd be skeptical that the writers can continue walking that tight rope with the bomb that is dropped at the end of this first issue which will definitely affect the main story in many ways, but after the flawless delivery of the Fugitoid story among others I trust that these guys know what they're doing.

Mateus Santolouco's art is really impressive. For a ninja-based back-story, the Manga-style drawing works fantastically. My only problem is that the turtles themselves do not look as good. But the people look great, especially in the flashbacks.

It is very difficult to read this issue and not reveal the ending. I just want to talk about it. What I can say is that this issue teases a great source of power that a shape-shifting ninja delivers to the foot soldiers in the distant past. At the very end of the issue, in what felt almost like a really good episode of LOST, the source of that power is revealed. I think the repercussions of this one panel are likely to define where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics proceed from this moment forward. It will add excitement to this year, but also to the entire run.

The book wasn't flawless, but it was awfully close. Give it a read.

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Star Wars #1

Star Wars #1 is the story of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Leia Organa/Skywalker, and Darth Vader following the events of the George Lucas film A New Hope. As Luke and Leia seek out a new home for the Rebellion they are ambushed by Imperial forces, forcing Leia to become an undercover "spykiller." Meanwhile, the Empire rebounds from the devastating loss of the Death Star (which interestingly is put entirely on the shoulders of Grand Moff Tarkin).

The first thing I noticed about this book is that I really like the art. One of the challenges of telling new stories of characters from film or television is deciding whether to make the characters look exactly like the actors who play them or to use your own style to draw the character as you see them. Carlos D'Anda succeeds at the latter in much the same way that other great comic book continuations like Buffy the Vampire Slayer have before this.

The writing on the other hand is somewhat lacking. Brian Wood is much like George Lucas. He is pretty good at laying down a general story that will be compelling, but he has some difficulty when it comes to dialogue. With many of the speech bubbles, I found myself thinking, "I can't imagine Luke saying anything like that." Wood has some talent, but right now the only reason I can find to read this book is the promise that is brought to it by the already established characters.

There are a couple of things that are worthy of note in Star Wars #1. I thoroughly enjoyed that the predominant perspective of the first issues was that of Princess Leia. It drove home the gravity of Leia's position. She is the princess of a recently destroyed planet and leader of the Rebels who wish to take down the Empire, not to mention a pilot and a fighter. If we weren't so mystified by the force in the original trilogy and Luke's hero quest, it would be obvious to us that Leia is the most important character in this universe, save for maybe her old man. In this book, Leia shows a lot of the qualities that her mother Queen Amidala showed in the prequel trilogy (which I think was better at portraying an empowered woman than Lucas's original second act). In this issue, we begin to understand the pressure on Leia.

The best moment, however, was when Darth Vader reflected momentarily on the meaning of his defeat at the hands of one named Luke Skywalker. Wood's subtlety leaves the reader wondering if this is the seed that will ultimately bear fruit in Return of the Jedi when the Emperor's dog turns on his Master. It feels like Anakin Skywalker can feel his blood again, can remember that he is the last remaining member of the Jedi council.

Ultimately, I am left wondering why this volume was published and why it was released now. For the last few years, Dark Horse has been releasing plenty of Star Wars mini-series with subtitle after subtitle after subtitle, and I've found myself unable to connect to many of the characters who weren't depicted on the big screen. But now Disney has made a plan to release more Star Wars films and Dark Horse is starting to fill in some of the blanks. Is this book a set-up for these movies or will the movies contradict what is contained within? A book like Star Wars feels like it is canon, but strict canonists understand only the movies, the two cartoons, one video game and one book to be canon. (Am I missing something?)

The main reason I am going to keep reading this book is because it is about characters I love. The secondary reason is because I'm intrigued to see how some of the issues that begin in this issue will turn out. The next couple issues will decide whether this comic is really worth all the hype. I'm hopeful.

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Texas Chainsaw 3D

In Texas Chainsaw 3D, we revisit Leatherface and his family directly after his would-be-victim escapes at the conclusion of the original 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The film deals with the modern repercussions of the bloody shoot-out that happened that day between the Sawyer family and the gun-toting Newt mob.

Normally I don't like to watch movies this early in the year. If a movie is released between January and March it is almost always terrible. On the other hand, I missed the big screen 3D release of the movie Piranha in 2010 and I've been kicking myself for it ever since.

The movie was mostly bad. The main characters were Heather's (Alexandra Daddario) breasts and Nikki's (Tania Raymonde) butt. Heather is so top-heavy that she falls down a flight of steps, trips over a low cemetery fence (that even an old, overweight murderer carrying a running chainsaw and with the face-skin of a victim obscuring his vision could clear), and to complete the hat-trick gets hit by a car. Her clothing choice is so impractical that a police officer trips and accidentally bares her chest. As for Nikki, the only reason to mourn the harlot's death is because the 3D camera begins to follow the flat butt of an old policeman instead of being trained on hers.

Once you get past the fact that all of Heather's friends are completely expendable - her boyfriend is both black and wearing a red shirt when he decides to follow Heather to Texas - and they're all good and properly murdered, the movie gets interesting. We see a return to the battle of old between the Sawyers and the people of Newt, and you might just find yourself siding with someone unexpected by the end. Of course, the entertainment value of the latter half of the movie may rely on your ability to justify a police officer who never arrests murderers. Also, the twist might not seem all that original if you've seen Rob Zombie's Devil's Rejects.

Ultimately, Texas Chainsaw 3D is like most movies released in the first quarter of the year, completely skippable.

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Punisher: Nightmare #1

Punisher: Nightmare is a Punisher story. If you've read enough Punisher, seen a movie or two, or remember the Punisher episode of the Spider-man animated series in the '90s, then you know what that means. Punisher is a brute who murders bad guys and he does so because his family was murdered by bad guys.

There have been a lot of fantastic issues of Punisher. In fact, I've grown to love Punisher, especially after Greg Rucka's Punisher and Punisher: War Zone comics. It may be because of amazing depictions of Punisher such as these that I did not enjoy Punisher: Nightmare. Reading Punisher comics can sometimes be like being in the movie Groundhog Day - you keep experiencing the same thing over and over again. Frank Castle is more obsessed with his tragic origin story than Batman, and we've all heard Batman comics being reamed because the writers focus on the murder of Batman's parents instead of developing different areas of the Hamlet-esque complicated hero. Punisher: Nightmare merely uses the same method of Rucka's Punisher - with Frank Castle witnessing another individual who is like him both in character and extreme circumstances - except writer Scott Gimple does so with less finesse.

The writing in this volume is actually quite good. It may even be interesting if you have never read a Punisher comic in your life. But it starts with material that has been beaten to death and moves into a weird and gimmicky way of incorporating blogging into comic books. Gimple has talent, but in Punisher: Nightmare it just feels like he doesn't have direction.

I wouldn't waste my time with Punisher: Nightmare #1, and that is not a general reflection on Marvel Comics, Punisher or Scott Gimple in general. If you have a yearning for good Punisher, read Rucka's recent volume and wait for his Punisher: War Zone to conclude. But save your money and save your time and steer clear of Gimple's Punisher Nightmare.

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

New Avengers #1

New Avengers promises to deal with the repercussions of the Illuminati, a group consisting of Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Black Bolt, Mister Fantastic, and Namor, among others, and brought together in order to control world events. One issue into Hickman's 2013 volume, we see the world from the perspective of Black Panther, who was invited to join the New Avengers but had moral issues with their existence. Black Panther is no longer the king of Wakanda. He is now the creepy king of the Wakandan crypts, and he encounters a team of universe-hopping beings who are interested in a particular relic of power.

Already, New Avengers is stronger than Hickman's sister title Avengers, which deals with Iron Man/Tony Stark's plans to create a response team in order to defend the universe from the greatest evils. Much of this has to do with the fact that Black Panther appears to be at the center of this book and we have a chance to deal with some of the interesting twists the character has experienced since the events of Hickman's Fantastic Four/FF and the summer Avengers vs. X-Men crossover event.

Hickman is an amazing story-teller. Some of his books can be difficult to access, as it seems that he does not think in the same linear way that you or I usually do, but New Avengers has already begun to stand out in that sense. New Avengers, with Brian Michael Bendis's All-New X-Men, has a chance of being one of the most interesting titles of the new wave of comic books called Marvel Now.

The one thing that is problematic about New Avengers is a chronic problem in the Marvel Universe. (And trust me, the DC Universe is no better.) Black characters can be on teams, and they can even lead teams, but neither of the big two publishers trust black characters to have their own title. In much the same way that Captain America is a title that features characters like Falcon and Dum Dum Dugan, New Avengers could easily be titled Black Panther and feature stories connecting to Iron Man, Doctor Strange and the others. I am really bothered by the fact that black characters must either be buried in a team or used as sidekicks, but you'll probably also notice that I rated this first issue at four stars, which means that outside of my moral concerns it is a really good book.

I'd recommend this comic for purchase. I'd recommend that you add it to your pull list. It doesn't look like this book is going to go the way of Aquaman, Action Comics, and the like, comics that lose their amazing creative teams before they even hit issue #20. It looks like Hickman is here to stay and you'd be well-served by having these issues in that box in your closet with all your other favorites.

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

Morbius the Living Vampire #1

Doctor Michael Morbius is one of the more interesting characters to come out of the various Spider-man series over the years. He is not exactly a vampire in the sense that we understand, not like Jubilee or half of Blade. Morbius is, like many of his fellow villains, a science experiment gone wrong. But he's also one of the most beautiful and complicated minds in the Marvel Universe. It is easy to agree with the assertion that Michael Morbius always intends to do good but for some reason, be it his blood thirst or something else - and if this series is to develop into anything really important I believe it will have to explore the "something else" category - he fails, and does enough bad to be remembered as a member of Spider-man's rogue's gallery.

The 2013 ongoing series Morbius the Living Vampire is promising. In issue one, Keatinge quickly (and surprisingly thoroughly) catches us up with exactly who Michael Morbius is from the days of his crippling illness in Greece to his current state as a super-villain who has just escaped from The Raft in the aftermath of the fantastic final arc of Amazing Spider-man. If you picked up this volume knowing nothing about Michael Morbius, you would put it back down feeling fairly certain of who this person is. You might not have that personal understanding that a comic reader gets from reading about a character for years and watching the character progress, but you could probably wow all of your friends if any of your friends care about comic books.

While Keatinge is good at letting you know who Michael Morbius is, his methodology smells strongly of the introductory scenes of the 2009 film Zombieland where Jesse Eisenberg's character Columbus outlines how one is to deal with zombies. In fact, there is a decent amount of Morbius the Living Vampire that stinks of other stories. The premise feels a lot like that of the Hawkeye ongoing series which amazed many comic readers in 2012: a well-known character sets out on his own and deals with non-traditional superhero issues like everyday life, gangs, etc. Furthermore, it is hard not to feel like this series only exists because Marvel is trying to capitalize on the vampire and zombie pop culture revolutions, both of which are past their peak of excitement. (Witches are going to be the next big thing. Mark my word.)

Keatinge's writing is surprisingly good. The fact that Morbius's origin/catch-up story is framed by an event in which he is, for all intents and purposes, murdered doesn't sound particularly original or interesting, but it is delivered with enough craft that I want to keep reading. On the flip side, Morbius feels like a brand new character, which feels disrespectful to a character with over forty years of history. Keatinge's Morbius is really cool, really fresh. He is part of the badass trend in recent comic books that was championed by Mark Millar's Kick-Ass. But the real Michael Morbius is a sensitive genius whose Greek origin gives him a strangely antique older-than-his-years quality. It's clear that someone like Dan Slott or Jason Aaron (one of the few writers who remembers that Illyana Rasputin is Russian and not just blonde and evil) would be able to deliver this complexity and balance it with humor. It is not clear yet, however, that Keatinge has a grasp of this idea.

Time will tell. I know that I'm interested enough to pick up the second issue of Morbius the Living Vampire, but I'm not committed enough to follow the entire run. I'd suggest getting a cheap digital copy of this issue or borrowing your friend's copy.

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there , or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.