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The ’90s Revisited: The Phoenix Resurrection – Genesis

90s_revisited

phoenix_resurrection_genesisGenesis

Writrs: Ian Edginton, Dan Abnett
Pencillers: Darick Robertson, Mark Pacella, Greg Luzniak, Rob Haynes
Inkers: Tom Wegrzyn, Art Thibert, Larry Stucker, Bob Wiacek, Philip Moy
Letterer: Vickie Williams
Color Design: Robert Alvord
Interior Color: Malibu Color
Asst. Editor: Scott Bernstein
Editor: Hank Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: December 1995
Cover Price: $3.95

As Marvel publishes Phoenix Resurrection in the present, 22 years ago it published The Phoenix Resurrection through Malibu ComicsUltraverse line. Malibu Comics, which Marvel had purchased in order to keep DC Comics from buying the smaller publisher. And with the smaller publisher in-hand…looking back through this issue at least, it seems Marvel had no idea what to do or have done with the small superhero universe it now had in addition to its own.

This Genesis issue was preceded by a month-long promotion in which each of the 7 then-current Ultraverse titles had a 3-page flipbook segment showing the characters encountering some kinda reference to a phoenix, though taken as a whole that made for a disjointed mess. The seven chapters were reprinted/collected into a single issue in The Phoenix Resurrection: Red Shift.

Getting into the main/actual story of the "event" now with this issue, we get a prologue of the Phoenix Force being discovered by some probe from another universe. Before long, through machinations of the Gateway character, a squad of X-Men find themselves once more in a parallel universe that they’ve become increasingly familiar with (a footnote reference to the Mutants vs. Ultras special issue, itself collecting several previously-exclusive American Entertainment editions such as Prime vs. Hulk, Wolverine vs. Night Man, and All New Exiles vs. X-Men).

While bystanders and news media are focused on something coming from the sun, Ultra hero Prime engages the X-Men in combat, because of course they’ve gotta fight. The source of the aforementioned probe–a mother ship that’s buried in the ocean–reunites with a counterpart in the sun, and brings the Phoenix Force to this Earth, and then tries to drain its energy–its life–causing the Phoenix entity to be driven insane with pain. The entity bonds with Prime as a host body, and continues to fight the X-Men, as other Ultras are brought to the scene. (It should be mentioned that apparently the mutants’ powers are severely dampened in this reality…but that’s a crutch that doesn’t much matter for discussion of this particular issue). Eventually, the Phoenix and Prime are separated, and the Phoenix takes a new host, as the issue ends (to be continued in Phoenix Resurrection: Revelations).

Maybe it’s that I look back on the likes of Prime, Mantra, and Rune with memory of more complex, authentic-sounding stories and characters, as well as the same from the X-Men books from the early/mid-’90s (particularly stuff like Fatal Attractions or the Age of Apocalypse and immediate aftermaths) but this just does not feel like it has much depth, nor is there–even in an extra-sized issue like this–much characterization. It’s like the characters were chosen for the book by "popularity" and "mainstream-ness" (plus, of course, being characters appearing in books that survived into the pared-down 7-book line of Black September-onward), and not really for much else. We have a squad of X-Men and some major Ultraverse characters thrown together, but I get no real sense of depth, development, or motivation. The probe and mother ship have a far-too-convenient means of getting the Phoenix to Earth, Gateway seems nothing but "convenience" personified, and we’re told rather than shown that the mutants’ powers are lessened here. Prime comes off as nothing but some petulant kid–while he IS a kid, he’s lacking a depth I feel like I remember from his own original title. Bishop seems to be present for appearance’s sake, and with the mutants not even really trying to use their powers, there’s no particular point to any specific character’s presence…they’re interchangeable.

With the art, I recognize Darick Robertson and Art Thibert as names if not an actual art style here; but having numerous artists on this single issue doesn’t particularly do it any favors…at least for me reading it in a fair bit of isolation here–perhaps they’re the artists on the main books, in which case I’d welcome that (in idea at least), but just jumping into this issue after the Red Shift collection of 3-page shorts, I’m not thrilled with the visuals. I recognize the various characters–there seems to be an attempt to have them all look a certain way, perhaps using a "house style" or such–but virtually nothing stands out to me. Everyone is for the most part a generic iteration of iconic appearance (for lack of better phrasing). The only real stand-out bit for me was the large image of the Phoenix-possessed Prime (though zero mention or visual reference from the Ultraverse side OR X-Men side of the Prime body being healed/repaired after an obvious significant slash from Wolverine’s claws and Jubilee’s reaction to the green goop).

Ultimately, offhand, I didn’t so much "not enjoy" this as I "didn’t ENJOY" it. It’s cool–at least conceptually–to see the mix of characters thrown together and all. But after 17+ years of having "decompressed stories" that are clearly serialized graphic novels, I definitely am expecting much more depth of character and stuff from two sides like this to be brought out.

This is a definite novelty, one certainly worth 25 cents or so as a bargain-bin purchase, if only for the time it takes to read making it more worthwhile than most anything of its size published in present-day. You can definitely dive into this issue withOUT reading anything before it…the "crossover" stuff from the Red Shift 3-page segments are little but token reference-points thus far, making this a better "starting point" if only for having a big chunk of a single story that’s not jumping to a new setting/character every 3 pages. You could do worse than this issue…but much as I’m down on modern Marvel, if you’re looking for "return of Phoenix" stuff, you’d be better served with the contemporary Return of Jean Grey story in the 2017/2018 Phoenix Resurrection, or in 2012’s AvX event series.

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The ’90s Revisited: The Phoenix Resurrection: Red Shift #0

90s_revisited

phoenix_resurrection_redshiftRed Shift

Writers: I. Edginton, J. Smith
Pencillers: J. Royle, P. Peletier, C. Wojtkiewicz, R. Green, B. Murray, R. Haynes
Inkers: P. Moy, S. Moncuse, M. Farmer, T. Austin, G. Martin
Letterers: P. Owsley, V. Williams
Color Design: R. Alvord
Interior Color: Malibu
Asst. Editor: S. Bernstein
Editor: H. Kanalz
Published by: Malibu Comics
Cover Date: December 1995
Cover Price: n/a (American Entertainment Edition)

I remember the Black September ‘event’ back in 1995. Perhaps for its timing–Black September, this new era for the Ultraverse, this reboot/relaunch/renumbering–coincided with my entering high school, so for me my own life was starting a brand new direction and all that. I also remember stuff about this particular trail through the Ultraverse titles post-Godwheel heading into the event, though I missed out on the Ultraforce/Avengers issues, and so dropped in "cold" on the black-cover "Infinity" issues that September (with #1s in October). At the #2s in November, each book had a 3-page "flip book" chapter of this Phoenix Resurrection thing, in much the way Rune had premiered a couple years earlier. Then there were the larger issues Phoenix Resurrection: Genesis and Revelations, and Aftermath…and they led into some other title, Foxfire.

But I don’t recall if I ever got around to actually reading them all, or particularly caring about them all–this was late 1995, and rapidly heading toward one of my "off periods" with comics where I barely kept up with anything for about a year. So reading this now is like reading a whole new thing for me–I was aware of its existence, but have no conscious memory of actually reading the thing. And this Red Shift issue is something I don’t recall being aware of at the time in 1995–I discovered it some years after.

Red Shift is actually a collected edition of sorts: it collects the seven 3-page segments, making up a 21-page single-issue comic. The indicia shows it to be an American Entertainment edition–and its lack of cover price indicates this to be a special issue that would have been available through the mail-order comics company. This issue turns a ten-comic "event" into a 4-issue thing…making for a line-wide event of only 4 issues…something virtually unheard of in present-day, particularly from Marvel!

Marvel had bought Malibu by this point, and though the Malibu Comics logo remained on the covers, there were a number of Marvel characters that had crossed over into the Ultraverse, perhaps most notably Avengers character Black Knight, and X-Men villain Juggernaut. There were a number of other specific-story crossovers, where characters would cross for the story but not as a status quo.

Red Shift feels like what it is, as a collection of 3-page snippets, with numerous visual styles, and nowhere near enough room for any true story to develop, as they’re basically short little vignettes contextualizing each title’s "recent" prior experience heading into the main event story. Had I bought all seven issues specifically for the flip-book/backup, I’d have been sorely disappointed. Though I know the characters from my own prior experience reading Ultraverse stuff, as a standalone issue, this felt like a real mess trying to read it, and I really had to rely on memory of status quo from 22 years ago to have any slight idea what was going on.

The differing art styles seem–especially looking back–to be absolutely very "’90s" in style…with some generic and gratuitous posing, quasi- or wannabe "iconic" images, and so on…nothing overly dynamic or bad, exactly, but nothing great, either. Most of the creative team are names I don’t recognize (though I recognize several, as this would be early work by them before going to higher profile stuff). That leaves things to the characters, who are mostly recognizable, albeit as their relaunched looks, which were less distinctive and striking than their 1993/1994 debut appearances.

Story-wise, again, these were way too short and disjointed to really have any significance or development. Had they been simply 3 pages apiece within a main issue, worked into 3-page-longer-than-usual issues, they might have had more significance, serving as a universe-wide subplot, rather than being isolated out of whatever story was beginning in the respective titles.

All in all, I’m far from impressed by this issue, outside of the novelty of having these disparate segments brought together in a single issue like Rune #0. The art isn’t horrible but isn’t anything wonderful, and the story doesn’t do anything for me and doesn’t really do anything for the characters except provide a slight reference point. If you’re not already into these characters, I’d avoid this issue; there’s almost certainly more to be had in the "main" Phoenix Resurrection issues.

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Phoenix Resurrection (2017) #1 [Review]

phoenixresurrection2017_0001Chapter One: Frustrate the Sun

Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Penciler: Leinil Francis Yu
Inker: Gerry Alanguilan
Color Artist: Rachelle Rosenberg
Letterer: VC’s Travis Lanham
Main Cover: Leinil Francis Yu & Sunny Gho
Graphic Designers: Jay Bowen & Anthony Gambino
Assistant Editors: Christina Harrington & Chris Robinson
Associate Editor: Darren Shan
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: February 2018
Cover Price: $4.99

I read the first couple issues of Morrison‘s NEW X MEN run, along with the first issue or two of that "new era" of Uncanny X-Men as well (and I think same for X-Force and/or X-Statix and Soldier X) before trailing off for awhile. I got back in toward the latter part of the run, having obtained the first two "deluxe oversized hardcovers" and not wanting to wait (then) for another. I remember making a special trip to the Toledo comic shop while visiting a friend for her graduation in December 2003, largely to get #150…and reading it left me with quite a surprise. Jean…dead? Well, SURELY, being Marvel, she’d be back pretty darned quick. A year, maybe two? Endsong kinda let me down, and I’m not sure if I ever actually read Warsong.

Move through time–2004, 2008, 2012…the Jean from the past was brought to the present (how long would THAT last? A year or two? The premise of the "original five" coming to the present sucked me into All-New X-Men for a bit!). 20012 to 2016, still the "original five." Into 2017…now the very tail-end of 2017, and we have this issue. Phoenix Resurrection #1 (never mind that 1995 gave us a Phoenix Resurrection in the Ultraverse books!).

Unlike the anecdotal "disaster" of the ordering requirements for the main wave of Legacy Lenticulars (LL, anyone?), this one’s "main cover" is *A* lenticular…but this one is actually done "right." Gone is the blurred mess of two static images blended together to approximate a real-life "gif," here we have an image of several of our mutants reacting to the flaming appearance of Dark Phoenix–Jean Grey–in the Red Costume…and we get that 3D/slight movement effect that DC has used to great effect and that had put to shame Marvel‘s versions. My main complaint with the cover is that it is at best symbolic, or some sort of prelim for use with an eventual collected edition…as has become the "norm" for modern comics, the cover does not necessarily depict what’s contained within the issue itself.

Visually, this is a pretty book, and I enjoyed the art itself throughout. As I’m no longer closely familiar with much of the X-verse, and am aware of plenty of recent changes and such, nothing much stood out in a negative way for me, and I marked inconsistencies up to my unfamiliarity; nothing seemed horrendous or off-putting to me.

Where I have problems with the visuals is layouts: the issue has 30 pages of story, 32 content pages if you count the "cinematic" double-page splash with the series’ logo and credits for the issue (in place of an opening/frontispiece to be simply omitted in collected format). While I applaud the relatively "strict" panels/gutters–a "classic" sort of page layout rather than EVERYTHING being full-bleed quasi-panels and such, I was not thrilled at so few panels per page–many pages having a mere 3-4 panels, a number of them having only 2, with very few words to a page. One page has a whopping THREE WORDS: "Elsewhere," "Well," and "fudge." (18 letters, not 18 words!). Yeah, the art is an integral part of telling (selling?) the story, but given this IS a comic book and not actually cinematic video, I’m rarely keen on "wasted space" trying to imitate another medium.

Story-wise, I did not feel that this issue remotely lived up to the hype or expectation–at least not the hype and expectation that I personally laid at its feet. Phoenix Resurrection. The Return of Jean Grey. Dark Phoenix (not Phoenix) depicted on the cover. Shiny cover. Surely Jean would appear in this issue, with plenty of questions as to her authenticity, what brought her back, why she’s back, what it means for "Young Jean," how it’ll affect other characters, if it has anything to do with "Regular Real Not-Old-Man Logan/Wolverine" being back, etc. Appear in this issue, set up questions and four more issues to dig into the details, the effects, push this story itself forward, etc.

While I can guess that the Jean we see toward the end of the issue is supposed to be "our" Jean (though whether it implies she’s been alive awhile–long enough to have a job and home and life with no overt recollection of life as one of the X-Men, or is some sort of dream-sequence or illusion or some sort of alternate life in her mind as her body heals/comes back/whatever) is not clear to me as of this single issue, on a typical single-read-through that I give whatever (new) issue(s) I read. I don’t see THAT she’s back (or not). I don’t see if there’s actually another force behind her return (the Phoenix Force) or if this is some sort of self-resurrection from her having BEEN one with the Phoenix Force in the past. Is there likely some other Big Bad waiting in the wings? Other than Jean maybe showing up/being back and having to figure out for herself what it means to her as herself, what’s the driving conflict of this title? What makes it justify five weekly issues (and I think a tie-in for a sixth issue) vs. Jean just showing up again/being a subplot in some sort of main title?

I’m curious about stuff–especially given I was there when she died back in 2003’s New X Men #150, and expected her return at least a decade ago–so will get the next issue, at least. And I would not be surprised if this was a good opening chapter to the eventual "graphic novel" when this series is collected into hardback, deluxe oversized hardback, and/or TPB. But as a single-issue, as a first issue of a mini-series, I’m not impressed with this, and would not recommend it if you’re looking just to do a toe-dip on stuff…especially at $4.99 instead of $3.99. As an art piece, the cover wouldn’t be bad to hang on a wall or such. Unless you’re eager to read/follow along in "real time" as issues are released (and given the title/subtitle, it’s not like there’s really any mystery as to whether or not it’s actually Jean, if she’ll actually be back, etc.) you’re probably better off waiting a couple months for the inevitable collected edition, if anything.

Otherwise, if you’re willing to invest in a 6 issue story within about 5 weeks, and you’re a fan of Jean herself, I’d say this is worth getting, as an opening chapter, that is by no means a stand-alone issue/story.

Doomsday Clock #1 [Review]

doomsday_clock_0001_supermanThat Annihilated Place

Writer: Geoff Johns
Illustrator: Gary Frank
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover: Gary Frank & Brad Anderson (Lenticular based on existing art by Dave Gibbons)
Associate Editor: Amedeo Turturro
Editor: Brian Cunningham
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: January 2018
Cover Price: $4.99 ($5.99 Lenticular variant)

It’s been a long time, offhand, since I read a comic quite so dense as Doomsday Clock #1. And I use the word dense as a good thing overall–in this age of $4.99 comics that hardly take any longer to read than a $3.99 or $2.99 comic, where everything is written to flow seamlessly as a 4 or 5 or 6-issue "graphic novel," it’s great to have a comic that just wants to be a single issue.

I was rather frustrated to learn that the image I’ve seen MOST USED in association with this issue (the Gary Frank Superman cover pictured above) is actually a VARIANT and not the "main" cover. The main cover seems to be a generic "The End is Here" cover (that leads into the issue itself as the classic Watchmen covers did!). In keeping with my usual, though, wanting the cover I’ve most seen advertised and such with an issue, I managed to get the Superman cover. Of course, then I saw a lenticular variant, one I had probably heard of/read about, but not paid attention to (again: VARIANT)…but it being lenticular, and "cover price" (albeit $1 more than the standard issue to account for the lenticular-ness) and me really getting a kick outta the design–Rorschach’s face goes from just the blobs to the symbols of "the trinity" (Superman/Batman/Woder Woman), I went ahead and got that one as well. It’s certainly no worse than having bought a Marvel lenticular, where the lenticulars were entirely different images from their "regular" covers.

I don’t know what I expected from this issue. Being that it’s an obvious follow-up to Watchmen, and apparently integrating those characters into DCU canon (if not continuity, then perhaps affecting continuity from the outside), and seems to have been "timed" to release at the 25th anniversary of Superman’s death (real-world, that is–November 17-20ish 1992), and stuff previewed or "leaked" online indicated an in-issue reference to that date…I had extremely high expectations for this issue. It’s honestly been a long time since I feel like I actually was taken in by "the hype," usually seeing the hype entirely for what it is and maybe "choosing" to "give in," say, on actually getting a variant cover, or actually getting an issue of something I don’t normally get, or diving into an event I’d intended to stay away from. Here, it’s more of an emotional hype…one that left me feeling rather let down.

As said above–this is a dense story–one that would take a long time to really summarize, and for my own reading experience, get well beyond the initial reading I tend to do for reviews. Essentially, we meet a new Rorschach, who is piecing stuff together, much as the original did, starting out the original series. We get glimpses of this current world–late 1992, about seven years after the original’s 1985 setting, as we meet various characters and are re-exposed to older/originals. We also learn that Ozymandias has a sort of countdown clock of his own going this time, but in a much different way than before. Finally, the last several pages give us a glimpse into a non-Watchmen DCU, and an extremely familiar-looking take on the Kents…which makes sense, given Frank was the artist on Superman: Secret Origin, that laid out a particular vision for the characters.

While this has a lot as a single issue, and certainly many layers with stuff that’d be picked up after a second or third or FIFTH reading, still more to be picked up on STUDYING the art beyond the words, and even more on top of that to be noticed after subsequent issues come out and shed more light on stuff…on my single-read-through I hit the end and thought "Wait…that’s IT?" and was starkly reminded of similar disappointment with Grant Morrison‘s Final Crisis.

This is not a "casual" issue, apparently. Picking it up and reading it "cold," even if you’ve read Watchmen, there doesn’t seem to be all that much to it. It’s a first issue, and world-building or re-world-building. It’s surely a strong foundation on which the rest of the issues will draw. But for me, in just picking it up, after all the months of hype, I just did not enjoy it or get much out of it. And I’m steeped in comics history, especially DC, and even more specifically Superman.

Visually, it’s a very good issue–I’m quite a fan of Gary Frank. I felt like there was a lot that was recognizable and familiar here, despite Frank not being Gibbons, and outside of not seeing a Superman costume or a Batman costume or a Wonder Woman costume–really, it felt like there was virtually nothing actually DC in this issue–I felt like this was set in the world I recalled from reading the original Watchmen all those years ago. There’s also a LOT crammed into this issue: it seems to me that the lowest panel-count on any given story-page was five…which is a far cry from the all-too-often-used "cheats" of full or DOUBLE-page splashes with barely a word to go with the art. I welcome the "grid" layouts of the pages, the actual panels and "traditional" gutters–both for squeezing in more content as well as mimicking the style of the original.

Basically, this seems like a really slow start to something, and that it was vastly overhyped, as well as being quite "confusing" as far as the covers go–once again, a major problem with doing variants AT ALL. The $4.99 cover price is rather steep, even with 30 pages of story (if a 20-page issue is $2.99, another 50% would be only $4.50!) but I suppose it’s a bit offset by some of DC‘s issues being $3.99 (the 1-per-month books) so this actually fits that rate.

I wanted more–I wanted something brighter and splashier out the gate than what I got here–but I’m still looking forward to the next issue, looking forward to see how things build, though I suspect this will be a far more impressive story in larger chunks or as a whole rather than as a single-issue-at-a-time monthly (or less-frequent) journey.

doomsday_clock_0001_blogtrailer

Detective Comics #965 [Review]

detective_comics_0965A Lonely Place of Living Chapter 1

Writer: James Tynion IV
Pencils: Eddy Barrows
Inks: Eber Ferreira
Colors: Adriano Lucas
Letters: Sal Cipriano
Covr: Barrows, Ferreira, Lucas
Assistant Editor: Andrew Marino
Editor: Chris Conroy
With Gratitude to: Marv Wolfman, George Perez, and Jim Aparo
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: November 2017
Cover Price: $2.99

I’ve gotten woefully behind in actually reading Detective Comics, though it seems it should be one of my favorite titles. But I was a bit put off by the supposed ‘death’ of Tim Drake early in the new run last year, and wasn’t in a big hurry to follow anything "long-term" with that for a number of reasons. And time passed.

Recently, I was quite excited by a familiar-looking image, in an ad for the then-upcoming (now here) Detective Comics story A Lonely Place of Living. For the cover alone, standard or variant (in an extremely rare bit of sentiment) I was going to get the issue ASAP: it’s a callback to my own earliest days "in comics." My first-ever issue of Batman was #439–the closing chapter of Year Three; my second issue was #440…the opening chapter of A Lonely Place of Dying, which is where this story gets its title (sorta like the recent The Lazarus Contract‘s title playing off the classic The Judas Contract).

So for nostalgia alone I was gonna get this issue. But given continuity things of the last six years, I didn’t know exactly what the story itself would yield, outside of the story title and the cover playing off the classic.

We open on a flashback–Tim confronting Dick as he visits the circus he grew up with, showing him photos of Batman going off the deep end and explaining that he knows Batman is Bruce Wayne and that he–Dick–is Nightwing, formerly Robin. In the present, we find Tim being questioned by Mr. Oz–recently revealed to be (a?) Jor-El, father of Kal-El (Superman). We’re treated to brief flashbacks to the events of A Lonely Place of Dying, and then the beginning of the original Robin mini-series as Tim dons the duds and officially becomes Robin. Jor-El reveals his "truth" to Tim even as Tim exerts some control of the situation. He soon finds himself in contact with Batman…only it’s not the Batman he expects…rather, it’s a Batman he swore would never exist. Before much can come of that, the two find themselves facing possibly the most dangerous creature Oz had captured, which leaves us waiting for the next issue.

I would have to actually go back to the original issues or one of the collected editions on my shelves to confirm, but the dialogue in the flashbacks hit pretty darned CLOSE to my memory of the exchanges between the characters, and honestly gave me a slight chill at the way the flashbacked-scenes brought up memories for me.

As of reading this issue, I already knew the "big reveal" of Oz’s identity (though I’m still not sure if or how I’ll accept it–I’m still waiting for some other swerve and imagine it’ll be quite a long time before I’d accept it as the canon it’s being presented as and not just another plot point on the way to something else). I definitely dug Tim’s ingenuity, seeing that despite his time as a prisoner, he’s continued working on a way to escape (and after another earlier escape that we saw in Superman Reborn).

I was not prepared for/expecting the older Bat-Tim to show up or be any part of this at all…I honestly initially saw him as "just another character" of no significance; some swerve to this story or some trap for Tim or some such; it was seeing someone’s comment about the Titans of Tomorrow story that jogged my memory and contextualized the character…making this all the more cool as a story.

I’m not particularly familiar with Tim’s story or origins from 2011-onward; really since before 2009 as I’d lapsed as a reader early in the Red Robin run, and got right back out of the New 52 iteration of Teen Titans that I’d tried at the start. But at least for this opening chapter of A Lonely Place of Living, I feel like I’ve got "my" Robin back, "my" Tim Drake.

Which is a rather personal thing for me as the character debuted AS I got into comics…

Story, art…all in all, this is an excellent issue, certainly for playing on my nostalgia. The story is strongly rooted in continuity, in history…and the art just looks good, with nothing taking me out of the story. This issue just is.

If you’re a fan of Robin, or Tim Drake, or the current run of Detective Comics, I highly recommend this. Really, even if you aren’t a fan of them…this feels like something big, and all the moreso to me personally. Only this first chapter in and I already know I am absolutely looking forward to the inevitable double-dipping of getting the collected volume, and wondering what form that might take–as well as whether or not we’ll get any new version of a collected volume of the original A Lonely Place of Dying story!

tec965_batman441

TMNT/Usagi Yojimbo (2017) One-Shot [Review]

tmnt_usagiyojimbo_oneshot_2017Story, Art, and Letters by: Stan Sakai
Colors by: Tom Luth
Collection Design by: Shawn Lee
Edited by: Bobby Curnow, Philip R. Simon, Megan Walker
Published by: IDW/Dark Horse
Cover Date: July 2017
Cover Price: $7.99

I’ve looked forward to this since it was announced, whenever that was–a couple or a few months ago, perhaps. "Knowing" this was going to be a more expensive issue, I just naturally "assumed" it would be a "prestige format" book–squarebound and such–like the two annuals or the big 50th issue! Instead, for the steep $7.99 price point, we get a slightly-thicker-than-usual standard-feeling issue, staples and all. So that was an immediate bit of disappointment format-wise, and a bit of a shock.

Another initial, pre-story immediate complaint I have is one that’s usual for me: there are TOO MANY DARNED COVERS! Instead of having UMPTEEN different covers, all for the same single one-shot single-issue, why not have a "gallery" included in the issue as a true, actual, real BONUS to those buying the comic, with extra pages by whatever artist(s) showing the characters involved? Instead, we have a number of variants and "exclusives" that are REALLY getting very "old" and extremely off-putting to me as a guy who just wants the entire content-story and iconic, singular covers, not generic incentive chase covers all the darned time!

The story of the issue is fairly basic: increased earthquake activity rocks the land, and we come to find out that everything could be destroyed if a piece of rock isn’t replaced from where it was broken off. Because of the rock’s brokenness, a giant catfish named Namazu is no longer properly held, and HIS movement underground will tear the land apart. Usagi meets Kakera-Sensei and knows what must be done. He gathers four turtles at the river, and Kakera-Sensei works his magic, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are summoned–into or replacing or in place of the four regular turtles. Usagi immediately recognizes them all…but they fail to recognize him. The group sets off, with Kakera-Sensei explaining the situation as they go. Despite a terrible battle with Jei and the forces he’s rounded up, they all manage to save the day. The Ninja Turtles are sent home and the regular turtles returned, and Usagi and Kakera-Sensei go their own ways.

The most noticeable thing for me about this issue–beyond the price and umpteen covers–is the art. This is Stan Sakai working on both his own long-running character (introduced roughly the same time as the TMNT themselves, back in 1984!) and the TMNT for the first time in quite a number of years. At first, the visual style was a little bit off-putting for being different–notably the turtles’ teeth–from what I’m used to of late on the main/ongoing TMNT comic. But after just a few pages, I settled right in and enjoyed the art. I loved some of the "symbolic"-ness of art, showing where someone’s killed on-panel, but it’s far from gratuitous violence and such, and more fact-of-the-matter without being graphically so or gory, etc.

Story-wise, though I had expected this was to be more a story with Sakai‘s Miyamoto Usagi being brought to the Turtles’ world, it was the other way around with the turtles brought to Usagi’s. As I realized this, the art grew on me even more, for being that much more "authentic," given Sakai‘s continued involvement on the main Usagi Yojimbo title. That this felt like what I expect such a story would feel like with just that title, the inclusion of the turtles is like a bonus. The story is rather timeless–at least as far as the turtles–and though it can be pretty safely "assumed" that these are "our" turtles, the current IDW turtles–there’s no particular reference or anchoring point to the current TMNT continuity to bind this to any particular point. There also did not seem to be anything overtly binding this to any fixed point for the Usagi Yojimbo title, either. As such, this would seem like a prime sort of special for fans of either property without needing any particular familiarity with the other…and also one that fans of either could get in on without having to worry about being "up" on any of the other comics of the last few years.

The main hurdle, perhaps, would be that pesky, premium price point. For me, personally, I ultimately will give TMNT stuff a "pass," of sorts that I won’t any other series/property, carried over from the Mirage days, and this would be little exception. That the crossing-over of TMNT and Usagi Yojimbo has been essentially a "tradition" dating back to the earliest days of the properties, of which this is (hopefully) "just" the latest iteration makes this issue that much more of a special thing, worthy in its way of the higher price point.

In the end, if you can get past the price point and the variant covers, I’d highly recommend this to fans of Usagi Yojimbo, fans of the TMNT, fans of both properties/series, and even to "lapsed" fans of either. I’d also recommend it to anyone with any interest in either property, looking for a truly one-shot experience. There’s no "continued FROM" for this, there’s no "To Be Continued," this is just truly a done-in-one, singular stand-alone issue…and a mighty fine one at that.

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All New Fathom #1 [Review]

all_new_fathom_0001All New Fathom Part 1 of 8

Writer: Blake Northcott
Pencils: Marco Renna
Digital Inks: Mark Roslan
Colors: John Starr
Letters: Zen
Editors: Vince Hernandez, Gabe Carrasco
Design & Production: Mark Roslan, Peter Steigerwald, Gabe Carrasco
Cover: Marco Renna, John Starr
Cover Date: February 2017
Cover Price: $3.99

I don’t usually go for comics like this. I’m not a fan of these scantily-clad female leads, running around in bathing suits and–from the outside looking in–seeming to be more flash than substance. But, having followed the writer on social media for a number of years, I’d decided when it was announced that she’d be writing a new iteration of the series, I’d at least check it out…all the more as a female such character in this case being written BY a female, and not just another book to be lumped together, written by a guy about some visual/eye candy.

I then managed to forget the thing was due out this week, until–via social media–I saw her post about it being out, which brought it back to my attention…and I was ok with paying out $3.99 for the issue, as it’s at least NOT DC or Marvel and all that.

So what did I wind up with, for that $3.99?

For one thing, I felt like this was a lengthy read. I did not feel like I just turned a couple pages and was at some to-be-continued or like the issue was too short.

I had no idea what to expect, really…having never (That I can recall) read an entire issue of Fathom or Soulfire or such. The opening page puts us right into the heart of the action, as our heroine–Aspen–is mega-uppercut-punched out of the ocean into the coastal city and does battle with the guy doing the punching. While she fights him–and his mysterious weapon, trying to keep any civilians from being killed–we learn that the narration is from AFTER the battle (so she won), telling her friend about the fight. Finally, she reveals what she’s learned about the mysterious weapon that had been used against her, and how that plays into stuff going forward.

I wasn’t overly impressed with the cover, as I’m not really familiar with even the title character, let alone any supporting cast (new OR long-since-established). The main cover’s not bad, but seems rather generic to me (as opposed to indicating the battle that took place in the issue).

Visually, the issue felt like what I would expect from "an Aspen book" even if I can’t quite quantify what that is, exactly…except that I suppose this looks like it belongs with or fits right in with prior books from the publisher, and so does not look like an oddball or out of place piece that happens to be published by Aspen. The characters all look quite believable, and as much as is possible for a woman basically in a bathing suit, I felt like the issue avoided unnecessary or overly-gratuitous imagery…I didn’t feel "dirty" paging through the issue! I was also reminded a bit of Witchblade, and will be interested to see how coincidental (or not, or far off) that works out to be in coming issues.

Story-wise, I enjoyed how down-to-earth this felt. I figured as a #1 issue, new series and new story, this would feel like just some opening chapter, and just throw a bunch of introductory stuff at me and leave me not really knowing what the heck was going on. However, I found that I got a complete story, really, even as stuff is thrown wide open for subsequent issues! We’re introduced to the title character, her situation, others involved with her, a bit about her background/where she comes from, while seeing the character in action and interacting with her friend. There’s a healthy dose of real-world commentary…particularly in "seeing" how the character is reacted to across various media.

Ultimately, I just enjoyed this issue, and I’m quite glad that I bought it. I checked it out solely based on the writer, and I’m left with an honest interest in getting the next issue to see how things play out.

While it by no means gets into over a decade of "history" with the title character and such, this is still an excellent jumping on point, and one of the stronger, most complete and worthwhile first issues I’ve read in quite awhile.

If you’re a fan of Blake Northcott‘s writing, or Aspen (the character), or the publisher or such, I suspect this will be a fitting bit of enjoyment as well. I’m looking forward to the next issue, and seeing how stuff advances and continues to play out!

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