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Astro City (2013) #3 [Review]

astrocity003Mistakes

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent Eric Anderson
Cover: Alex Ross
Lettering & Design: John G. Roshell & Jimmy Betancourt of Comicraft
Color Art: Alex Sinclair
Editor: Kristy Quinn
Assistant Editor: Jessica Chen
Executive Editor: Shelly Bond
Published by: Vertigo/DC Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

I’ve always quite enjoyed stories set in a superhero universe that focus on the “regular people” in the world; how they are affected by the mere EXISTENCE of the super-heroes; how their lives are different from ours, for that “reality.” And I’ve found no series more consistent at delivering that than Astro City, whoever’s publishing the title at the time.

While I thought #1 was starting a single ongoing story, it seems that was either a red herring or something to be revisited later, as last issue gave a whole different story, which is picked up again in this issue.

After realizing her mistake and what she seems to have set off–a huge war between Honor Guard and the Skullcrushers–that’s resulted in much collateral damage and loss of life, our heroine first goes home sick, before resolving to take action…self-imposed penance, essentially. She takes it upon herself to use what resources she has access to, to try to assist those negatively impacted by her mistake, though this leads to another unintended result for her…and inadvertently proves her worth to those she most assumes sees none in her.

The art is clear and consistent as usual, the coloring and overall tone maintaining “the look and feel” I associate with Astro CityRoss‘ cover and ANDERSON’S interiors both.

The story feels like a “typical” sort, for this title in whatever its iteration (Wildstorm, Vertigo, etc)…which is to say it doesn’t blow me away in the way that, say, the #1/2 issue did from all those years back, but this is still darned good stuff!

This issue IS the second of a 2-part story, so while there’s plenty of context to “get” what’s going on in this issue, it’s likely far more appreciable if you at least snag #2 as well and read this in context of that…though you do not need to go all the back to #1.

Definitely recommended!

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Astro City (2013) #2 [Review]

Astro City (2013) #2Welcome to HumanoGlobal

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent Eric Anderson
Cover: Alex Ross
Lettering & Design: John G. Roshell & Jimmy Betancourt of Comicraft
Color art: Alex Sinclair
Editor: Kristy Quinn
Assistant Editor: Jessica Chen
Published by: Vertigo/DC Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

$3.99 sucks. I’m really, really very tired of this price point. I think I’m going to keep making sure that’s extremely well-documented in these reviews and other blog posts until I eventually give up on new comics altogether.

That said, if you’re going to pay $3.99 for a single issue of a comic, there are few better series out there than Astro City. Even when you don’t know what the issue will be about or it deviates from the previous issue or whatever…it’s hard not to look back on a given issue without a bit of a smile and some disbelief at how much it was enjoyed and sheds different light on superhero stuff typically taken for granted or outright not often considered.

This issue focuses on a new employee of a hotline–said hotline turns out to be for a call center that weeds out the truly important calls for the Honor Guard, and in other cases outright makes connections allowing Honor Guard to be sent after villains/terrorists before they have a chance to enact plans that would otherwise leave the heroes reactive rather than proactive. We see bits of her training, the sorts of calls she takes, and the excitement with her teammates when they manage to catch a big call and be part of the overall “process” that leads to the saving of so many lives. Though they largely have to keep the true nature of their work secret from family and non-work friends, they find certain perks within their work…but also learn that one mistake can be very costly.

The art is strong as usual for an Astro City issue; everyone who should look familiar does, and those that don’t still look quite good. While the story itself isn’t your usual fare, the sequences with superhero action look as one might expect (if not a bit on the higher end quality-wise) while the normal people look…normal.

Story-wise, this is another great outing, showing that Busiek knows his stuff–and does very well giving us a look at the human side of things, as “normal humans” interact in a world filled with super-powered beings and threats, and how the culture itself is impacted by their very existence.

While I missed this issue on Wednesday and thought “oh well” I quickly realized that no, I actually really wanted to read this, and it became the entire reason of going back to a comic shop Friday rather than simply waiting and picking it up with next week’s books. There really aren’t many series that do that for me.

Provided you have any background at all with Astro City–I’d especially recommend the first TPB Life in the Big City (there’s even a new edition out now)–you’d actually be fine jumping in on this issue without even having read #1…which is another strength of this series: there are a lot of short arcs and done-in-one issues, rather than the “standard” fare from DC and Marvel necessitating 4-6 issues’ investment just for a single story.

I’d largely prefer to hold off for the collected volumes, but for now, this return of Astro City is such a welcome thing, I’m likely to keep going with the single issues for at least a few more months.

Astro City (2013) #1 [Review]

Astro City (2013) #1 [cover]Through Open Doors (Part One)

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent Eric Anderson
Cover: Alex Ross
Lettering & Design: John G. Roshell & Jimmy Betancourt of Comicraft
Color Art: Alex Sinclair
Editor: Kristy Quinn
Assistant Editor: Jessica Chen
Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

I’m pretty sure it’s been a few years since I’ve read Astro City. The last I recall, I left off during the Dark Age saga: as I’m typing this, I don’t even recall why I never finished. Might be I’d grown bored; maybe I was “protesting” a cover price if they were $3.99, whatever.

This new #1 is $3.99, but since it seems EVERYTHING is $3.99…I’d really have to just give up comics entirely, now, to “protest” the price point (and I am a lot quicker to find any “excuse” to outright “drop” a title as a result).

But Astro City! The series is back–after awhile under Image/Homage, then the Wildstorm banner and limbo when Wildstorm was terminated, I’d wondered where we’d see the series pop up. And now it’s under Vertigo, which while I wouldn’t consider this a title exactly fitting with Vertigo (moreso that I wouldn’t limit this series to the older crowd) means it’s still under DC, which is what it is. And as a new #1…I’ll bite for the first issue…particularly given the nostalgia factor and that I’ve generally enjoyed Astro City stuff that I’ve read.

We open with a strange man speaking to us of some looming threat, and we’re introduced to American Chibi, a sort of “overlooked” heroine of Astro City (that when you focus on the big ones, obviously some are going to be missed). We’re re-introduced to some familiar faces as well as new; see the city introduced to some powerful new alien, and a “common citizen” chosen to befriend him and be his guide to understanding the Earth. And finally, against his protestations, we learn a potentially disturbing fact about our narrator that can cast the whole story in a new light.

The creative team behind this issue is quite familiar, lending a continued consistency to the title as it’s been bounced from imprint to imprint: the cover logos may change, but the story, the art, the characters–those remain constants, creatively.

As the art is “standard” Astro City art by Anderson, everyone who should look familiar does, and I had no trouble following along…and there was no weird anatomy to throw me off with anyone (well, no weird anatomy that shouldn’t be there), no weirdly constructed pages/panels to leave me scratching my head. Basically, the visual side was a smooth ride all the way through the issue, with nice detail and all the right “touches” I expect of an Astro City comic.

The story left me a bit hesitant at first, but quickly drew me in. I quickly found myself first thinking of this narrator in terms of Doctor Who, which (to me) was rather amusing in a way, and then another sort of familiarity set in, and just when I felt I was getting to “know” the him, the end of the issue changes things rather dramatically.

Overall, the issue does what I’d want in a first issue, especially one like this where it’s an older, continuing property, but the RETURN of that property after several years’ hiatus. We get new characters and old; and we get the details pertaining to the story, that we need, in the story. Having a “history” with Astro City, I pick up on allusions to other stuff, other characters–but even so, I haven’t read any of those in years myself, so I’m foggy on details. But that in no way hinders this story; if anything it just makes me want to go back and re-read some older Astro City stories.

As far as I’m concerned, this is a great return to the series’ existence. I’d originally thought to just try this first issue, “for old time’s sake,” and let that be that…but I’m pretty likely to actually go ahead and snag the next issue.

House of Mystery #1 [Review]

Quick Rating: Good
Story Title: The First Drink is on the House, The Hollows

A new story is set up as we’re introduced to the present status quo of the House of Mystery…

houseofmystery001Writers: Matthew Sturges, Bill Willingham
Artists: Luca Rossi, Ross Campbell
Colors: Lee Loughridge
Letters: Todd Klein
Cover: Sam Weber
Variant Cover: Bernie Wrightson
Co-Editors: Shelly Bond & Angela Rufino
Publisher: DC Comics

I don’t normally read Vertigo books as single issues, especially for their first arcs, knowing I’ll be able to check them out in a bargain-priced TPB for the first arc, and tend to find the stories much more engaging read as full arcs rather than singles.

What intrigued me with this series was the premise that there would be stories within the story…as well as a vague recollection of the "House of Mystery" having a role in Gaiman‘s Sandman series, which I read a number of years ago.

The issue actually opens with Cain and Abel, in their familiar relationship I recalled from Sandman, which drew me right into the issue. While Cain finds himself in an interesting predicament, the story moves forward a few years, and we find ourselves in the midst of a farewell party for an individual preparing to leave, even as others remain stuck. We also get the beginnings of a look at someone on the run with only drawings of a mysterious house. We’re also treated to a story by one of the patrons of the kitchen–as stories are the only currency of any weight here. This story provides some context to who she is, leading into a rather disturbing revelation that she herself doesn’t even seem to realize…though it seems perfectly fitting for a mysterious house full of people who can’t seem to go anywhere.

The story reminds me of a story from the Sandman, at least as far as characters being brought together in one place and sharing stories of their pasts and where they come from and all that. At the same time, there seems to be a certain "framing" story overall that hints at a larger story at play, even while we meet the characters in this house and are treated to the stories they tell one another. That the art team varies for the stories being told is something I really like, more fully illustrating the difference between the main story we’re witnessing as readers, and the story we’re witnessing as fellow listeners while a story is told within the story.

Overall, the art all around works quite well to me, accentuating the story in a very believable way. In something of a rare moment, I feel like I got both a "full" story in this issue where I don’t feel I have to get the next issue…but there’s also enough of something else that I’m interested in seeing what else is to be found. The final page seems to work as well both as an ending and a beginning…a nice "hook" for the reader.

This is a very solid first issue, and if subsequent issues read much in the way this one did, I think it’ll be a nice treat, without even needing to read a bunch of issues in one sitting just to feel like I’m getting the fuller picture.

If only to try it out, I definitely recommend this issue.

Ratings:

Story: 4/5
Art: 3/5
Overall: 3.5/5

Unwritten #2 [Review]

Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity: Chapter Two

Writer: Mike Carey
Artist: Peter Gross
Colors: Chris Chuckry, Jeanne McGee
Letters: Todd Klein
Editor: Pornsak Pichetshote
Cover: Yuko Shimizu
Publisher: Vertigo / DC Comics

This issue continues to show us Tom Taylor and his quest for the truth–of himself, his dad, and what’s going on around him. He seeks out the woman his father had an affair with while he was a boy to ask her about his real mother. He’s referred to where his father was last seen, and heads there. The present-day story is interspersed with excerpts from the Tommy Taylor books, adding an extra layer to the story.

The art continues to work very well for the story, taking on the appropriate visual style for showing the ‘real world’ or the world within the Tommy Taylor books. No complaints from me there.

The story also continues to impress–there’s definite development of Tom, and forward movement to the story; between the pages showing excerpts from the books as well as “web activity” related to “current events” in the present-day part of the story, there’s a lot going on within these pages that help to make it feel like a longer read than it is–one cannot simply flip through the pages skimming the words as one can with some comics these days.

I’m not as blown away with this issue as I was with the first, having extremely high expectations after enjoying the premiere issue so thoroughly (plus, this issue managed to sneak out two weeks ago and I didn’t even notice it the week it was released).

While certainly not a done-in-one story, I do feel like I’m getting a decent value following this as single issues (for all two issues out so far)–I hope it continues that way, making the collected volume feel like less of a necessity for enjoyment of the story at hand.

If you can find that first issue still, I highly recommend snagging both issues–especially if you’re a fan of Harry Potter or have any interest (even academically) in the nature of the “phenomenon” surrounding the Harry Potter books.

Story: 8.5/10
Art: 8/10
Whole: 8/10

The Unwritten #1 [Review]

Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity

Writer: Mike Carey
Artist: Peter Gross
Colors: Chris Chuckry
Letters: Todd Klein
Editor: Pornsak Pichetshote
Cover: Yuko Shimizu
Publisher: Vertigo / DC Comics

This issue opens with essentially a graphic novel representation of a popular kids’ book, one that I immediately compared to Harry Potter. The scene unfolds in a way that reminded me of the ending of Harry Potter, book 7…and at the conclusion of this scene, we move into a “real life” scene years after the Tommy Taylor book had seen print, and meet Tom Taylor. As the now-adult model for the fictional character, Tom has made a living cashing in on the fame thrust upon him–all the more as his father disappeared years earlier–some suspect murdered, but Tom just knows his father left him. At a TommyCon panel, Tom is asked by an audience member about his true past, revealing documents casting his identity into suspicion. As the suspicion makes the national news, Tom finds himself hated and hounded by the public.

I don’t have much to say about the art on this issue–it very much sets a certain tone, and conveys both a fantasy setting and “real world” settings very well. A number of small details capture the feel of the settings, while never making me feel like I was reading something trying to be anything other than a comic book. As a co-creator of the book, and this being the debut issue, there’s nothing prior to make much of a comparison to, but Gross’ work certainly sets a nice standard for a high level of visual quality on this.

The story, though, is what makes this issue. I found myself drawn in from the first page; familiarity with Harry Potter brought to mind, and curious what would set this apart from that. (Further reflection also has me reminded strongly of Abadazad.) We’re introduced to several in-story fictional characters, and then several characters meant to reflect the “real world” within this series. We’re not given a whole lot on any individual character, but we’re given enough to be interested in Tom and his life–who he really is, where he’s come from…what happened to his father, what inspired the Tommy Taylor stories, and a number of other questions. We have a realistic world built around the character–complete with news excerpts, web news articles, blog/chat excerpts, and even snippets of notes from the “author” of the Tommy Taylor books.

There is a lot at play here–I know just enough about writing that I can tell there’s loads of metatextual stuff to be found–that appeals on a number of levels. Wrap the multiple layers with the engaging story and believable characters that are familiar yet unknown enough to engage the reader.

This is one of the best reads I’ve found in comics in a long time…and certainly one of the best values in contemporary comics. We have an oversized issue with few ads priced at only $1; the story is very much a “pilot episode” of sorts, where there’s a story to be found just in this issue, while setting up plenty for the rest of the series to come. As a Vertigo book, I wouldn’t recommend this for the youngest readers, but with that in mind, I highly recommend this issue!

Story: 9/10
Art: 9/10
Whole: 9/10

Hellblazer #250 [Review]

Happy New F***ing Year, Christmas Cards, All I Goat for Christmas, The Curse of Christmas, Snow Had Fallen

Writers: Dave Gibbons, Brian Azzarello, China Mieville, Jamie Delano, Peter Milligan
Art: Sean Phillips, Rafael Grampa, David Lloyd, Eddie Campbell
Letters: Sean Phillips, Jared K. Fletcher
Colors: Val Staples, Marcus Penna, Jamie Grant, David Lloyd, Dominic Regan
Breakdowns (Snow Had Fallen): Giuseppe Camuncoli
Finishes (Snow Had Fallen): Stefano Landini
Asst. Editor: Brandon Montclare
Editor: Bob Schreck
Cover: Lee Bermejo
Publisher: Vertigo (DC Comics)

If you’re gonna charge me $3.99 for one issue, this is the way to go. 38 pages of actual story content, high-quality creative teams (multiple instances of quality Hellblazer talent), contained in a milestone issue that could be an event and yet isn’t an event. This is the longest-running Vertigo title, this is the milestone 250th issue of the series–an extremely respectable number in a day ‘n age when only a handful of titles in all comics have maintained consistent numbering while reaching such a point. Focusing in on Christmas (“holiday, sure, but there’s a lot of reference by name to Christmas!), we get five shorts showing John Constantine in slices of life, just being himself around Christmas.

I checked out a couple years ago from buying the single issues, finding that I was enjoying this series far more through the collected volumes; I’ve fallen behind on those collected volumes, so am not up to date on recent happenings for this book. That said, I feel like I only missed nuances here. The character, the feel and tone of Constantine is still there. The stories fit the character. And though just picking this up for the “special” nature of the issue, I don’t feel out of it nor lost.

The first story follows Constantine as he pursues someone who has been assembling stuff to invoke immortality for himself–the price of said immortality likely requiring the life of a child. In Christmas Cards, John watches a game of poker he himself is banned from–offering commentary and observations none the less, as well as the nature of a couple of people present. All I Goat for Christmas suggests a ritual that may have broken the curse on a certain sports team seemingly cursed right out of any championships. The Curse of Christmas shows an encounter Constantine has with someone who managed to work an actual curse into an address given by a very public official. Finally, Snow Had Fallen details a fairly magical sort of snowfall that challenges the faith of a man overseeing sick children.

All five stories have that “classic” Constantine feel to them. They’re sorta slice-of-life due to being short and not part of some big event–these are the sorta things John deals with routinely in his world/experiences, specifically around Christmas.

The art varies, giving different visual styles, different visual interpretations of Constantine & Co. The first three–by Phillips, Lloyd, and Grampa respectively–are probably my favorites, as they get across a certain feel of darkness or grittiness that seems particularly appropriate for their stories. The fourth didn’t work very well for me visually–personal preference, probably. The final story’s visuals were not bad, but had something I can’t quite put my finger on–perhaps a bit of brightness–that simply didn’t put it in the top three for me of this issue.

All in all, this works very well as an anniversary-style issue. Rather than hosting a huge event, this serves also as a “holiday special” with the focus of the tales. And the tales are provided by Hellblazer creative teams from throughout the years.

Whether you follow this series regularly are are merely aware of the character’s existence, this seems a great issue to pick up as a one-shot, whether you plan to continue with the next issue or not. Besides….you could do so much worse for $4. I give this issue an extra half point as a whole–the package is greater than any of the individual parts.

Story: 8/10
Art: 8/10
Whole: 8.5/10

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