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Aliens: Defiance #1 [Review]

aliensdefiance0001Episode One: Derelict

Script: Brian Wood
Art: Tristan Jones
Colors: Dan Jackson
Lettering: Nate Piekos of Blambot
Cover: Massimon Carnevale
Publisher: Mike Richardson
Editor: Spencer Cushing
Designer: Cindy Calcerez-Sprague
Digital Art Technitian: Conley Smith
Published by: Dark Horse Comics
Cover Date: April 2016
Cover Price: $3.99

My earliest exposure to Aliens was the final battle with the Queen at the end of the 1986 film, that I saw accidentally, wandering out one time to where Dad had fallen asleep watching it or whatever preceded it. Several years later, I came across and read the novelization of Alien3, which led to me seeing that film (my first-ever R-rated film sought out!), and in turn led to “backtracking” to the others. I also recall at some point realizing I had read the novelization of the first film at some point without ever realizing when I read it that it had anything to do with any movie. I also came across the novels that expanded the Aliens universe, and which I eventually came to learn were themselves based on comics. It would be a few more years before I ever got around to getting to read those original comics–particularly the first ‘trilogy’. While I’ve “lapsed” over the years, the last few years I have been quite interested to learn of any Aliens comic series, and occasionally lament that it’s not a truly ongoing property (while realizing that it works better with finite stories). As a gamer, I’m pretty lax, and have not played the recent game with Ripley’s daughter, though I’ve been told a fair bit of the story (sadly, not consciously retained). But hey…comics, right?

So here I am…brand new long-form Aliens story kicking off, its cover putting me a bit in mind of a/the video game, and intrigued at what I BELIEVE to be at least a 12-issue saga–perhaps the longest single Aliens story I’ve been a part of as a fan (not getting into the comics until about a decade ago). I know Brian Wood‘s name from some prior stuff I’ve read/sampled–Northlanders, DMZ, The Massive–and been aware of his name on stuff like Star Wars more recently…so that’s a welcome factor for a new Aliens series. Icing on the cake is art by Tristan Jones, who I became aware of with his work on the Tales of the TMNT title from original TMNT publisher Mirage a few years back, and have loved seeing his work on various other projects since…and whose visual style seems a perfect fit to me for the Aliens property.

This issue is a first issue, giving us basically a brief paragraph of context/setup before we’re launched into the thick of things. We meet Zula Hendricks, a private involved in a mission to a derelict spacecraft. She and her fellow marines encounter Xenomorphs, and the situation does not go well. She and a synthetic survive, though she quickly learns that the synthetic is acting against programming, and her own world is changing as a result.

The story is good, for what it is. Which is not meant to be a negative statement…but this is only the first chapter of a multi-issue arc, that I believe is a year-long, so this is hardly going to be a full story in and of itself, nor is it giving everything away. And a single issue isn’t really enough space to re-introduce readers to a property, introduce new characters and detail their history, recent past, and present while also showing the scope of the property and of space and the horrors of the Xenomorphs. But we do get a fair bit packed into this, with Zula’s introduction and some flashbacks, a cameo of Amanda Ripley (which I believe thusly situates this time-wise somewhere between the first and second films), the synthetic Davis, some context for Zula and her place in things, and the final-page reveal of what seems to be the “mission” of this particular series…piquing my interest such that I almost wish this was a weekly series, because waiting another month for the next tidbit seems far too long. It’s not a cliffhanger in and of itself, but more a concept that promises a lot of great stuff, and I want to see it developed and played out, and be along for the ride.

Jones’ visuals are a great fit for this story, providing a great overall feel for this issue. His style is–as said above–very well suited for this property, and gives a gritty, dark, creepy look to the Xenomorphs and their brand of violence. The humans/humanoids come across as I would expect, while exuding whatever it is that just FEELS like they’re in an Aliens story. The linework and layouts are impressive, giving a sort of cinematic flow to the issue…and I’m pleased at the lack of full or double-page spreads, which often feel like cheats and wastes of space when they’re the bulk of an issue. Only one page is a single/full-page image, and that’s the ending of the issue, where after all those pages crammed full of panels, it provides a stark contrast, and really drives home the importance of the “moment” that it conveys.

The cover is also a fantastic piece of art, and for me quite iconic and recognizeable. It’s also all the more impressive to me as it’s the only cover image I’ve seen for this, allowing it to stand as itself and not be just one in a sea of variant covers diluting the thing. While there may be a variant or two out there specific to someone, I don’t believe there are any alternate covers from Dark Horse in and of itself as a push.

Plenty of questions are opened up here, and the apparent premise of this series now holds a great deal of potential. I look forward to learning more of Zula as well as Davis, and seeing what sort of interactions the two have. I’m interested in how their ‘mission’ will play out, and play into the larger scope of the Aliens universe. While we get the cameo of Amanda Ripley, I believe her story is told in the videogame, and more of an “Easter egg” tossed in for fans as well as being an indicator of the time this is set in. I look forward to seeing and learning more about the Aliens, and seeing these characters grow in their own knowledge and understanding of same.

It will be interesting to see how this is paced, overall as a series…but I almost wish this was already a completed work. As a first issue, this works well overall. I don’t know that this is something that in and of itself right now as a singular issue will pull anyone “new” into Aliens or be necessarily the greatest introduction to the property…but whether long-time fan of the Aliens comics or just now checking them out being familiar with the films and/or video game, I think this is a great start into the comics side of things.

I’m not particularly enamored with the cover price, but will suck it up, given this is Aliens . I’m definitely on board for this series, and definitely recommend checking it out if you’ve any interest already in the property.

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Captain Midnight #0 [Review]

captainmidnight000frontWritten by: Joshua Williamson
Art by: Victor Ibanez and Pere Perez
Colors by: Ego
Letters by: Nate Piekos of Blambot
Cover by: Raymond Swanland
Back Cover by: Steve Rude
Designer: David Nestelle
Editor: Jim Gibbons
Published by: Dark Horse Comics
Cover Price: $2.99

Captain Midnight #0 has a lot of things going for it.

First (and primarily, for me) it is only $2.99, but it’s a “full size” issue. Looks like a full issue, feels like a full issue, reads like a full issue.

Secondly, it has a really nice-looking cover that grabbed my attention in spite of myself. Often, the cover is not going to grab me–I’m solely looking for the TITLEs (which is how I often wind up with an UNwanted variant edition: I simply see a title logo and issue number, and it’s not til I’m home about to read that I realize it’s NOT the image I wanted.) Additionally, there’s ANOTHER full-cover image on the BACK of the issue: instead of being a whole separate EDITION to have too purchase to have, this cool image is included with the “standard” cover, but I still get to look at it, in-print, ON the issue I bought!

Thirdly, this is a #0, but not proclaimed on the cover to be “of ____” and so it more effectively stands alone–it’s not specifically saying that it’s the first issue of a mini-series. It may be a prologue, a foundation-stone, a beginning that sets up a mini-series or ongoing series, but in and of itself it’s just a single, one-shot stand-alone issue.

And this is all without even getting to the contents of the issue itself.

captainmidnight000backThis issue made it to the bottom of my (admittedly small 4-issue stack) of new issues for the week. Yet–much as I enjoy TMNT stuff from IDW these days–this wound up being my favorite issue of the week. I’d bought it on a whim–see paragraphs above–but had found myself with second thoughts, ready to write it off as a stupid extra purchase in an otherwise “small week.”

We open with a World War II-ear plane suddenly appearing…and present-day military is not at all thrilled at this out-of-the-blue Bermuda Triangle invader. They’re even less thrilled when the pilot does more than parachute out of the plane–he’s dressed in a unique uniform–with “wings”–allowing him extreme maneuverability beyond any expectation.

Complicating things further, their new “guest” refuses to give up information about what he is doing–his mission–claiming that to be “top secret” information. He is recognized as looking like a hero who disappeared during WWII, but most of those involved can’t believe him to be the same man, the “legend” or “fairy tale” they’ve heard about for years. A past associate of the man is brought into things, which opens the door to other revelations.

I’m not familiar with the artist for this issue–not consciously, anyway–and truthfully, I hardly even NOTICED the art as I read…which in this case means it did its job extremely well. It simply gets the story across, I’m not left wondering what’s going on or wasting extra time trying to piece together the action from what I see in any given panel. The art IS the visual of the story, it flows smoothly, and I have no problems with it whatsoever.

The story itself is engaging, well beyond any best-expectations I had for the issue. Though I mentioned earlier this made it to the bottom of my stack, that was words unread, visuals unseen but for the cover. When I started reading the issue, I immediately “assumed” this was going to be yet another WWII-era story somehow, and one way or the other resigned myself to something I wouldn’t particularly enjoy. Yet, I quickly found myself, page after page, hoping the next page was not a cliffhanger, not the end of the issue. And when I did reach the end of the issue, little as I even now know of the characters, even cliché as the situation is (think: Captain America via different ‘delivery’ to the Present), I’m interested.

Though this is largely prologue-type material, quasi-origin-issue and such, and doesn’t answer a whole lot or really have a particular ending (keeping it from being a fully self-contained issue), it’s well worth checking out; if it’s going to hook you, it will…else, it’s still something “new” “tried” for one issue at 25% less on the cover price of the umpteen double-shipping Marvel books.

Combined with the relative “bargain” pricing of $2.99 and being such an enjoying read without me feeling suckered, I have every intention of picking up #1 next month, regardless of whether Captain Midnight is “only” a mini-series or an actual ongoing series.

Dr. Horrible #1 [Review]

Quick Rating: Good
Story Title: Dr. Horrible

When Captain Hammer foils Dr. Horrible’s plan to blow up parking meters, Horrible must find a way to balance things out to take on his noisy new nemesis.

drhorrible001 Story by: Zack Whedon
Art by: Joelle Jones
Colors by: Dan Jackson
Letters by: Nate Piekos
Cover art by: Kristian Donaldson
Published by: Dark Horse Comics

I’ve been a fan of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog since the first time I saw it with a friend last year. It came across as a great "origin story" of sorts, introducing a number of characters, their relationships, and motivations…especially for Billy himself–what it was that changed him from a fairly cheesy wannabe-villain into a much darker figure able to run with the most evil group of villains known–the Evil League of Evil.

I’d read a really brief "short story" that was done for some online project (MySpace Comics?) featuring the good Doctor and his nemesis, Captain Hammer; it seemed like more of a tease than anything else, and it seemed such a shame that there wasn’t a "real" comic for the character.

Several months ago, I was quite pleased to learn that as part of a series of one-shots Dark Horse was putting out, there would be a Dr. Horrible issue, written by Zack Whedon, that would show some of Billy’s backstory, and things that led to the story we got in the musical.

So of course, there’s all this expectation driving the standard quite high, even before ever holding the issue in my hands. Normally this can be pretty disastrous for a comic, as expectation almost always outweighs actuality by a large margin.

However, this issue measured up quite well. We begin with a scene from Billy’s youth, as he’s bullied by a kid who doesn’t "get" that Billy is smarter than him. The young Billy also sees the fall of a hero to the genius of a scientific mind, and learns from that man’s failings (though he defeated the Hero, he was unable to unite people to his Cause). 20 years later, Billy is feeding explosives into the city’s parking meters–the destruction of which will disrupt funding and bring the government to its knees. This leads to the first meeting between Billy and Captain Hammer, and a cameo of Bad Horse (and the "terrible, death whinny"). There’s a brief interlude as Billy does his laundry, and "meets" Penny, the girl of his dreams who he has yet to connect with. Meanwhile–knowing he can’t match Hammer’s brawn on his own, Billy creates a potion to give him matching strength…but the potion has unintended side-effects…and from here we see the beginnings of the Freeze Ray.

Everything’s here, really…the personalities of Billy and Captain Hammer shine through nicely, the "minor" characters carry their own presence, and the general situations feel like they’d fit well into what we already know in the musical. The primary drawback of this comic is that it lacks audio.

Particularly as this is specifically a one-shot, and a "prequel" of sorts, this is a great piece for fans of Dr. Horrible. The story elements are a particular draw, getting what ought to be "canon" regarding the characters.

At the same time, the art plays a huge role, and Joelle Jones manages to bring a look to the characters that is both its own thing–they look and feel like comic characters–and yet captures a look that evokes the appearance of the actors that played the live-action versions.

All in all, I definitely would recommend this to any fans of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. It may be of some enjoyment to those unfamiliar with the original property, but much of the charm and "in-knowledge" that informs this issue would likely be lost. Then again, if one reads this and goes to the source material, it may make for a much different viewing experience.

Ratings:

Story: 4.5/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

What If..? Age of Apocalypse #1 [Review]

classicreviewlogowhite

Quick Rating: Above Average
Story Title: What If…Legion had Killed Xavier and Magneto?

Summary: Here we’re shown what might have happened had neither Xavier nor Magneto lived to oppose the rise of an age in which the evil mutant Apocalypse rose to rule the world…

whatifageofapocalypse001 Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Dave Wilkins
Colorist: Anthony Washington
Letterer: Nate Piekos
Production: Brad Johansen
Asst. Editor: Nathan Cosby
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Editor-In-Chief: Joe Quesada
Cover Art: Marko Djurdievic
Publisher: Marvel Comics

This holds a lot of potential–the original Age of Apocalypse remains one of my absolute favorite X-sagas, period. And seeing that world played with could be quite cool, taking the concept and pushing in another direction while remaining in the spirit of the original.

Unfortunately, while ripe with potential, this issue lacks the space to truly execute a high-level story re-doing that saga in the space of a single regular-sized comic.

We open with the Watcher informing us that in this reality that we are shown, both Xavier AND Magneto were killed by Legion (the original story saw only Xavier killed, with Magneto’s X-men opposing Apocalypse). The absence of both characters ushers in a different age of Apocalypse; we get a re-imagining of re-imagined characters. When the story kicks off, we see a band of mutants AND other heroes (Captain America, Thing, the "current" Dr. Strange, and so on) mount a final attack to preserve their haven–though one of them has ambition to go beyond merely surviving and seeks to change the whole of reality, despite warnings against messing with such business.

The story’s heart is in the right place, showing this alternate version of an alternate universe. It’s jam-packed with a lot of characters that, for lack of space to truly flesh them out, seem rather contrived and present for the "coolness factor" of showing them; there’s no room to really flesh them out and show where they came from, what brought them to this point.

The art seems rather sketchy, and at points characters seem to be out-of-proportion…This is no standard, clean-lined interpretation of the characters. While this would normally be a complaint with me, something about the context makes it work. The story takes place in a mucked-up world with little to BE bright, sun-shiny/happy about, and the characters can’t afford to be clean-cut "super-heroes" or such, and the visual style lends a certain edge that just works for the tone, allowing a bit of abstractness to get things across.

As with the Onslaught Reborn issue, the quantity of ads managed to annoy me and take me out of the story, and makes me wish all the more that I’d simply waited for the inevitable TPB of all this year’s What If..? issues to read without ads.

Given that this particular story delves back to the core of the Age of Apocalypse, it seems almost out-of-place amidst the others in this batch, taking on stories from the last 3 or so years. In and of itself, it’s an enjoyable enough read, though it feels like a pilot missing a series: I think something like this would have made for an interesting mini-series, giving more detail to the changes brought into the concept and setting things up; all the moreso for the "twist" ending.

You could certainly do better than this issue…but there’s a lot you could find that’s worse. If you’ve followed most of the stories this batch of What Ifs spring from, you might enjoy a collected version more than the singles.

Ratings:

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

Dr. Horrible #1 [Review]

Full review posted to comixtreme.com.

Story: 4.5/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

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