Review: dark deeds, secrets and lies lurk beneath the masks of Secret Identities #1

secretidentitiesStory by: Jay Faerber & Brian Joines

Art by: Ilias Kyriazis

Colors by: Charlie Kirchoff

Letters by: Ed Dukeshire

Publisher: Image Comics

Secret Identities #1 wastes no time in establishing it’s universe. On the opening pages we’re thrown into a two page splash of super heroics familiar to even the casual comic reader. A team of eight archetypal heroes, known as the Front Line, converge in battle over downtown Toronto. They include a beautiful and deadly alien woman, a rock-bodied hulk , and a silver-suited man of super-human speed. A portal has been opened over the Canadian city, spewing wave after wave of nasty hell-creatures crashing over our heroes.

But before you can say excelsior, differences that root the team more in the genre of titles like Planetary and The Authority begin to emerge. The being who opened the portal? A failed televangelist turned satanic messiah. The muscle-bound hero Punchline, who swoops in like Superman to save the bacon of the power-girlish teammate Luminary is a woman: her secret identity is a failed, depressed comedian. And Luminary herself? She doesn’t hide her identity as the willful daughter of the President of the United States; creating a political quagmire by refusing to use her team to expand her father’s presidential powers.

Jay Faerber, a veteran of titles like Teen Titans, Generation X and New Warriors splits writing duties with Brian Joines, who previously worked on Faerber’s Noble Causes and spin-off Dynamo 5. Clearly it’s a fruitful pairing; the story crackles along at breakneck speed, peeling back the heroic images to reveal the strange secret identities beneath. There’s a palpable, intriguing darkness hiding behind the familiar costumes and super-team set-up. Do the heroes really know each other, or even themselves? There’s tension, twists, intrigue: what more could you ask from a debut issue? How about beautiful art from Ilias Kyriazis that manages to be fresh and dynamic, while also honoring the look and feel of the mainstream super hero tropes that form the story engine of Secret Identities. Kyriazis crams a lot of action and detail into his panels, but they never look overstuffed or confused. As the issue draws to a close, the team is ensconced at HQ: the mutilated body of a giant cyborg whose defeat marked the first victory for Front Line. If issue two continues or improves on the formula set out in issue one, Secret Identities could prove a sleeper hit for Image.

 

Review: Agent Carter explodes with action and sacrifice

AgentCartersnafuAs I was drying my tears following the dramatic conclusion of this week’s episode of Agent Carter, ‘Snafu’, all I could think about was that I wanted more. More Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, whose range and presence eats up every frame of this small-screen show that plays like a big-screen adventure. More of the fabulous, smart dialogue and fantastic supporting cast; more of the beautiful costumes and period lighting — just more! More than just next week’s season finale. If you haven’t been watching Agent Carter yet, in the name of good comic-based television I implore you: read the recaps at ABC.com, binge watch episodes 3-7 and set your DVR to ABC next Tuesday at 9pm/8c.

When we last left Agent Carter she was handcuffed to a desk at SSR, on the receiving end of what was sure to be an impassioned interrogation at the hands of Agent Sousa (Enver Gjokaj). So it was a surprise when ‘Snafu’ opened instead on the show’s second flashback to Russia. While the last flashback showed us a young Dottie (Bridget Regan) snapping necks in 1937, this one takes place in 1943 and concerns the whereabouts of that other Russian mole: Dr. Ivchenko (Ralph Brown). It seems during WWII, Ivchenko was already in full command of the Professor X-like mind control powers he used to push Agent Yauch to commit suicide in last week’s episode. Here he uses them as mental anesthesia on wounded soldier undergoing an amputation.It’s an odd bit of exposition that serves only to define the mechanism of Ivchenko’s powers, which are pretty clearly articulated in later scenes.

Thankfully, the episode quickly plugs us back into the Carter vs. the SSR interrogation scene we’ve all been waiting for and it does not disappoint. Agent Sousa seeks to pin nearly all of the SSR’s unsolved mysteries on Carter’s double-agent machinations: the Raymond/Brannis/Krzeminski murders, theft of the Nitramene bombs and connection to Stark’s weapons cache.

Chief Dooley (Shea Wigham) looks on from behind a one-way mirror with Ivchenko by his side, pulling Dooley’s strings with every twist of his gold hypno-ring. Agent Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) comments on Dooley’s “unorthodox” choice to allow the Doctor to view the proceedings; thank goodness someone is looking on with a critical eye. Sousa, blinded by his heartbreak over Carter’s perceived betrayal, lays into Carter in the most brutal way possible: crediting her defection from SSR to Howard Stark’s ability to “get in deep” with her.

Incredibly, the temperature is turned up still higher on the proceedings as the interrogation drags on. There’s some smart direction in cross-cutting the scenes of Sousa, Thompson and Dooley all taking their turns grilling Carter. It builds the tension so that when Carter unleashes her thus-far concealed opinions on their opinions of her it feels like a revelation. Rather than take umbrage at being seen as a “stray kitten” left at Dooley’s doorstep, a “secretary turned damsel-in-distress” to Thompson or Sousa’s “girl on a pedestal transformed into some daft whore,” Carter remains calm and stands firm. “You’re behaving like children,” she tells them, “what’s worse, what’s far worse, is that this is just shoddy police work!”

And this is the appeal of Agent Carter in a nutshell: using the rampant sexism of the 1940s as a cloak of invisibility for women who serve as double agents on both sides of the emerging Cold War conflict. This being a Captain America spin-off, Agent Carter is clearly the white hat: empowered by the integration of women into the war effort, now struggling to maintain her position. Dottie shows us the other side of the same coin: empowered by integration as a child into a super-spy program, she relishes in her amoral, powerful position post-war.

Jarvis (James D’Arcy) arrives with a half-baked plan to spring Carter from her interrogation with a faked Stark-confession, but only succeeds in throwing suspicion off of Carter long enough to buy them some time to try and figure out Leviathan’s endgame. Ivchenko continues his campaign of brainwashing the Chief. By acting as a mental marriage counselor to Dooley, whose marriage seems to have suffered from to his devotion to SSR, he hopes to gain his trust — and access to Stark’s weapons store. Carter soon realizes the only way out is through, and finally divulges the truth of her double-life to the SSR team. Sousa and Thompson both believe her confession, and that’s enough for Dooley to send the boys off on Dottie’s trail.

What follows is one of the best action sequences to date. Dottie smiles as each SSR Agent underestimates her: hesitating to attack as she disarms or kills them, one after the other. Her prowess leaves even Sousa speechless: as she escapes he watches her execute a controlled fall through the center of a ten-story staircase as effortlessly as if it were a jungle-gym. Meanwhile, Dooley clears the SSR lab of it’s staff with Ivchenko by his side, shopping for Stark technology. Ivchenko makes off with “Item 17″ in just in time for Dottie to appear driving the getaway car. But before they can truly get away, says Ivchenko, they must test item 17 to ensure it “still works.”

Unfortunately, before he left, the bad doctor talked the Chief into strapping on a glowing prototype vest of Stark design. Jarvis, apparently the wikipedia of bad baby technologies, explains it was intended as a heat source for troops in cold conditions. Like nearly all of the Stark bad babies, though, there’s a dangerous flaw: the self-sustaining battery invariably overheats when activated, eventually becoming an explosive device. Warning the team that Ivchenko got inside his head, the vest nears it’s boiling point and Dooley says goodbye to SSR. Wigham, Murray and Atwell play the scene for all it’s worth: wringing every bit of heartbreak from Dooley’s parting lines to both Thompson; “Tell my wife I’m sorry I missed dinner” and Carter: “Promise me you’ll get the son of a bitch that did this!” It’s a nice touch that he leaves the avenging in the hands of Carter, who knows a thing or two about Avengers. Dooley spares Carter a parting: “atta-girl!” before bravely taking a swan-dive through the office windows just in time, exploding in mid-air.

The remaining SSR team mourns the loss of Dooley before discovering that Ivchenko stole item 17 — one of the few bad babies Jarvis can’t identify. Dottie, however, knows exactly what item 17 can do as she wheels it into a movie theater concealed in a baby carriage. A twist of the knob and the device begins to emit gas. She abandons the carriage and locks the theater doors behind her as the gas begins to take effect on the unsuspecting theatergoers. They cough, then get angry and begin to fighting each other like wild animals. They scream and tear at each other, sparing no one and leaving behind a pile of bloody corpses. It seems we finally have our answer to the mystery of Finow! Ernst Mueller (Jack Conley) may have been a creepy Nazi but he wasn’t lying when he claimed the Russian soldiers had “already been torn apart” before he and his soldiers arrived on the scene. Whatever item 17 contains, it made those unlucky Russians and movie patrons tear each other apart.

More favorite moments (there were so many!):

  • I won’t pat myself on the back too hard that my earlier suspicions of the Doctor proved correct; he was so shady I rewound episode 5 to make sure I hadn’t missed him hypnotizing Carter into bringing him back to the US.
  • Funny that the episode opened on Ivchenko playing mental chess with a wounded soldier; wonder how he’d fair against Magneto
  • “Howard Stark has never scrambled my mind or any other part of me!” Oh Peggy, you slay me!
  • Bravo to Bridget Regan, who can even make buying a baby carriage effectively sinister
  • All the switchboard ladies of the SSR telephone center giving a collective “ooh” at Jarvis’ claim to have a signed confession from Stark
  • Hayley Atwell breaking my heart with: “just wanted a second chance at keeping him safe.”
  • The moral of the story is: always look for street parking!

Review: Princeless: The Pirate Princess #1 packs a punch

Screen shot 2015-02-14 at 5.14.20 PMWriter: Jeremy Whitley

Artists: Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt

Publisher: Action Lab

This installment in the ongoing Princeless series is everything you could want from a title like Princeless: The Pirate Princess #1. The title boasts a tough, self-assured lead whose father trained her from childhood to be a quiet, efficient warrior of the high-seas as opposed to a princess waiting in a tower for rescue. So it’s a surprise that the latter situation is exactly where Raven Xingtao, the pirate princess, finds herself in the opening pages of the book. But before you can say prince charming, two other princesses arrive on a large pink dragon to break into Raven’s tower. Adrienne is clearly not “wearing her husbands armor” as a Knight loitering beneath the tower discovers to his peril, and Bedelia formidably wields a large Harley-Quinn style mallet. Raven easily falls in with the trio leading to several action packed scenes.

Admittedly, this is was my first brush with the Princeless series, but the story was easy enough to follow. I would have liked to learn just a little bit more about Raven and her brothers before the issue ended, though. We’re fed some tantalizing bits–such as the fact that her brothers put her in the very tower she escaped from, apparently with the blessing of Raven’s pirate king father. This is quite a reversal from the flashback scene that opened the issue, which found the King grooming a young Raven to follow in her great-grandmother Ming’s fierce, legendary pirate-of-the-Rim-Sea footsteps.

Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt are a lovely art team on this book, giving the story and action the look and feel of an animated series that would have fit right into the Disney afternoon programming block. Sadly, in those days princesses didn’t often get to save themselves. Writer Jeremy Whitley seems more than aware of this fact, and the whole package makes Princeless: The Pirate Princess #1 incredibly appealing to anyone who wants a little less damsel-in-distress and a little more Kick-Ass in their fairy tales.

 

Review: Getting Hit By Stray Bullets Has Never Felt This Good

STRAY BULLETS : SUNSHINE AND ROSES #1

StrayBulletsSAR01_Review

 

 

Story & Art: David Lapham

Publisher: Image Comics/El Capitan

 

 

 

 

It’s no secret that Stray Bullets is one of the best comics being published today, possibly ever. David Lapham’s latest Sunshine and Roses remedies the missing gratuitous violence of Killers at the cost of diverting from that arc’s engaging plot. However, this is the most brutal and meaty the Stray Bullets series has been in awhile, and that speaks volumes for what you’ll find in these pages.

Linear storytelling has never been Lapham’s aim for the series. It’s allowed him to take chances and experiment with the world he’s created. David Lapham has done some traumatic breaking of characters, jumped time periods on a whim, and killed his cast in ways that haven’t even been invented yet. Stray Bullets Sunshine and Roses #1 follows the story of Kretchmeyer, a suave would be gangster trying to get in the game. He begins a romance with a feisty east coast woman named Beth. Unknowingly, the secrets of their lives begin to intertwine and unravel in a crime/love story that hasn’t been told this well since True Romance.

Black and white comics might not be for everyone but if they’re done right you hardly notice the lack of color. Laphan does it right. His art has a way of simplifying the complexity of the narrative down to raw emotion. It’s a treat to ride this tense roller coaster of lust and violence because each page is more striking than the one before it.

If you’ve never read Stray Bullets, the beauty of the series is its never closed nature. Almost every issue is a self contained story. Whether you start with the original number one or this latest Sunshine and Roses arc you’ll never feel as though you’re in a story that’s already years in unfolding. For long time Stray Bullets fans… rejoice! It’s back and it’s just as good as ever!


 

Dave currently playing :Grimm Fandango, currently eating: cereal, currently complaining about: fat free milk @bouncingsoul217

Review: Once Upon A Hard Time Is A Good Time For The Goon

By Davey Nieves

The Goon: Once Upon A Hard Time #1 

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Story & Art : Eric Powell

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

 

 

 

If there’s a textbook that exist on making comics, then Eric Powell probably wrote about half of it. The five time Eisner Award winner consistently crafts quality stories with every book he produces. His latest, The Goon: Once Upon A Hard Time is yet another example of how great a work of art comic books can be.

After the events of Occasion of Revenge, the witch coven that demolished Goon’s life is closer to their goal of total control of the unnamed town. Powell shows how a character like The Goon can only be bent but never truly broken. The series opening picks up in the middle of his vengeful rampage against the Magpies who played him for a fool and shattered his world. It wouldn’t be a Goon story if it wasn’t coming at him from all sides as he’ll also have to deal with an angry Don Rigatti who’s seeking payback of his own for Rory’s death in the perevious series. For anyone looking for the humor of the older stories, there’s none to be found here. This story is an unrelenting tale of a man pushed too far.

Books like this are rare. Once Upon A Hard Time uses emotion to justify its sheer gorgeous brutatlity. There’s anger, grief, and fervor bursting from the panels drawn by Eric Powell. Each nuance shows just how much the characters have become part of him. There’s only a handful of panels where Goon isn’t holding a bottle or a weapon, or a bottle to use as a weapon. After all these years of creating Goon stories, Powell doesn’t relent on any of the most minuscule details when it comes to character.

The previous Occasion of Revenge story marked a turning point for the character in more ways than one. Powell’s inking experiments on his own work refined his detailed touch and added more power to the emotions already expressed on the page. All this helped the shock value of seeing those bright colors on the final pages. Once upon a Hard Time continues the affair with color splash but Powell’s evolution in rendering emotion is what sets it apart. Every ghoul, monster, and human like face expresses feeling in a way that few horror books can. You’ll see just how far he takes it in the panels with spider.

Perhaps the most unique thing about Dark Horse’s 50th issue of The Goon is how new reader friendly it is. That’s odd because it really isn’t suppose to be. If you’re already a fan of The Goon you won’t be able to understand the direction of this issue unless you’ve read Occasion of Revenge. Those that have never read Goon, who can accept the premise at face value will find themselves in such a violent and gorgeous world that can’t help but go back and read them all.


Goon or Goonies Dave rants about it on twitter @bouncingsoul217

 

Review: Effigy #1 Burns Bright

By Davey Nieves

EFFIGY #1

Effigy (2015-) 001-000

 

Story: Tim Seeley

Art: Marley Zarcone

Colors: Ryan Hill

Letters: Jared K. Fletcher

Publisher: Vertigo

 

 

Gloomy, hard-hitting, make no apologies stories have been the status quo for fans who pick up any Vertigo book. After all this is the line that gave us The Sandman, Y: The Last Man, and The Wake.  Effigy by Tim Seeley (Hack/Slash)and Marley Zarcone may only get two out of the three, but this book is a rare occurrence where that’s actually what makes it a must read.

Writer Tim Seeley crafts a story about unhealthy obsessions that feels like it could only be told in this day in age given how many cautionary tales childhood actors have turned into. Effigy follows Chondra Jackson, a once bubbly star of a futuristic kids-as-cops series called Star Cops who after a downward spiral of typecasting and an ill-advised sex tape bottoms out into the life of a far less glamorous small-town cop. The night-and-day portrayal of Chondra captures her disconnect prom prominence exquisitely. This first issue doesn’t read so much as a behind the music type story, but more of a caution as to what the world around you can become when live most of your life in the clouds then have to deal with crashing towards reality. As she goes from being a glorified meter maid to a true detective we’ll see the high price of fame take it’s toll on those close to her and complete strangers who probably want to love her to death… literally.

Marley Zarcone’s art starts strong with so much energy in telling the back story of Star Cops. Then by design it settles into a more rural style. While not quite as energetic, it plays into creating a dichotomy of Chondra’s two lives. At first glance Ryan Hill’s colors seem like such a basic job, but when you see the panels containing more visual effects; it actually works in better highlighting these moments. The art does more than just add to Chondra’s already engaging story, it buttresses the –child-star to messed up adult– dark tunnel the audience is going to be taken through.

In a week where you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a good comic, Effigy carves out a noticeable place for itself and on your pull list. Issue one sets up a world of glamour, ritual murder, and mystery that could lead to this series being one of Vertigo’s best 2015 books.


Dave has never been a child star but had a childhood crush on Winnie Cooper and Stephanie Tanner here more about it @bouncingsoul217

Review: Quantum & Woody Must Die But Not Just Yet

By Davey Nieves

Quantum & Woody Must Die #1
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Story : James Asmus (Gambit, Thief of Thieves)

Art: Steve Lieber (Hawkman, Whiteout)

Color: Dave McCaig

Letters: Dave Lanphear

Publisher: Valiant

 

 

 

 

Full disclosure, while I’ve read and enjoyed many of the relaunched Valiant titles like Bloodshot and Harbinger, however I never got around to reading the first Quantum and Woody series. Now curiosity has won me over and I decided to dive right in starting with Quantum and Woody Must Die #1. After belly flopping in the pool I can say Peter Venkman put it best in this classic line “ I’ve worked with better, but not many.”

Quantum and Woody is a weird book but then again that’s what you get when you have two brothers who don’t resemble each other in the least, whose father was downloaded into a goat. The duo also each has a power that complements the other. Woody shoots energy blast from his fingertips while Quantum has the ability to generate force fields. As if this story didn’t need any more stipulations, bracelets they must clang together once every 24hrs or they’ll die also bind them to each other. What truly makes them unique is the under the surface stuff a writer like James Asmus brings out in these characters.

In the opening of the series, readers are eased into their world as the pair seemingly puts a halt to an armored car heist by a team of rough-and-tumble females. This is really the beginning of something bigger as a sinister power-harvesting plot is revealed. Much to the apropos of the characters, they stumble upon the corporation carrying out this plan and destruction ensues.

The best parts of the book have very little to do with the action or the overall plot. Quantum and Woody’s strength is in exposing their faults, which Asmus does by letting us see the pair in a therapy session. Even a visit to a veterinarian becomes this funny segment like something out of morning radio. Maybe I’m just a sucker for the N.W.A references and racial humor in the book but I’m willing to bet I won’t be the only one. A big plus for Q&W newbies like myself or if you’re looking for something new to read; this first issue is very accessible to their world. Even the banter between the brothers never feels like too much of an inside joke.

Steve Lieber’s art seems right for a book like this but sort of feels as though it misses the mark a bit. Just flipping through the pages you can see the Allred like influence on the style, but the necessary blend of zany and lucid never balances enough. This series is meant to be strange and should take more chances with that license going forward and I fully expect that to happen with a Kubert school guy like Lieber on art duties. I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention something that really stuck out in the issue. Dave Lanphear’s lettering is standout in the book. Title cards, onomatopoeia, and presentation all function in carrying the narrative along smoothly. While lettering is vital to every comic book, it doesn’t always stand out like in Q&W.

Even with the hiccups, there’s more to enjoy than hate here. Quantum and Woody Must Die #1 is best described as an odd couple written by Arthur Conan Doyle on speed and it has me strongly considering adding it to my own pull list.


 

Follow Dave on twitter @bouncingsoul217 as he spouts random ideas for new businesses.  

Review: Gotham Academy #4 Just Schooled You Son

By Davey Nieves

Gotham Academy #4

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Story: Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan

Art: Karl Kerschl

Color: Msassyk, Serge LaPointe

Letters: Steve Wands

Publisher: DC Comics

 

Written by Becky Cloonan(DEMO, Killjoys) and Brenden Fletcher(Batgirl, Assassin’s Creed), Gotham Academy #4 continues its mystery as young Olive Silverlock uncovers the ghost of the north hall. The academy itself is much like Gotham City, written with an atmosphere that makes it feel living but never outshines the characters. Along the way Olive’s relationship with her ex-boyfriend Kyle continues to reach a breaking point as a possible new interest literally catches her. It’s not just her love life that’s bending. Like any young girl, Olive finds fitting in has challenges of its own. In this issue her self-esteem will be tested as she stumbles upon gossip she might not be ready to deal with.  Readers are enticed with more details as to Silverlock’s forgotten summer and the burning question of what happened to her mother.  These pages flow so well together that once you hit the end of the book it feels like a crime not to dive right in to the next issue. One of the very few minuscule problems I’ve had with the series is the way issues leave readers on a cliffhanger but subsequently pick up moments after it in the next chapter. Hopefully with the major punch this issue ends on that won’t be the case for issue five.

While the book is a rich ensemble full of unique voices from Olive’s sister figure the spunky young Maps all the way through to Headmaster; issue four is more Olive’s book as you really see her three sides. Who she is among friends, who she is to herself, and the part of her she doesn’t know. Moments in the book like her confrontation with the “ghost” of Jane Cobblepot illustrate it best.

Gotham Academy is consistently a pretty book. It plays with a Manga influence that in most other American titles would be a deterrent. Karl Kerschl’s (Majestic, Teen Titans) line work is the first part of this recipe. Where a lot of Manga-style books stumble is in the framing of their shots. Kerschl’s work doesn’t suffer from that one bit as everything feels like a natural camera position. When you add the colors of MSASSYK and Serge LaPointe it makes the page vibrant in a way few books are. The end result feels like a hybrid of Anime, cinema, and emotional Disney animation.

The series isn’t without imperfections of its own, since the first issue there’s a stumble that merely tugs on you in the way a fly tugs on an elephant. It probably only knows it’s there but doesn’t really ruin their day.  Gotham Academy has so many moving parts that some thing feels as though it falls by the waste side when I’ve seen it. Bruce Wayne’s brief appearances; they almost feel shoehorned in. Granted the book is only in the orbit of the Batman universe by association, but that means the series should get to a point where it only needs Bat appearances when absolutely necessary. It’s a minor complaint that does little to hinder the enjoyment overall, but you know… internets.

Growing up in the 90’s, for me it was all about: Batman: The Animated SeriesPepsi, and the band Rancid. Perhaps what stood out to me most about TAS was how much I cared about the players who weren’t Batman. Two-Face, Leslie Thompkins, one and done Charlie Collins, even Gotham City itself were all stories I invested in. As of late, Bat group editor Mark Doyle has added books to the bat-ecosystem that have captured a similar type of magic previously only on Fox Kids programing. Gotham Academy has been an underrated prime example of it. Issue four continues its unfolding of the institution’s connection to Gotham’s lore through the lens of adolescence.

Ultimately, Gotham Academy is a niche audience book that outstretches its boundaries by being energetic and refreshing. While its Young Adult nature might not appeal to the hardcore superhero crowd; there’s a good story about a troubled girl trying to find herself, which in a way makes her relatable to millions of people out there. If the Gotham Academy team is a band, then issue number four is their Let’s Go. What’s scary and exciting about that is the possibility that issue five could be their And Out Come The Wolves. For the non-punk rock fans out there, what that boils down to is Gotham Academy #4 figures out the strengths of the series. Issue five could be where everything fires on all cylinders and I have no doubts that it will be a book I can enjoy being a 72yr old man and then pass on to my adolescent niece. In short the definition of all age storytelling.


If words like Gretzky, Clutch, Zayn, and Archie are in your vocabulary then feel free to follow and unburden your anger at Dave on twitter @bouncingsoul217

 

Review: Burning Fields Burns This Mother Down

By Davey Nieves

BURNING FIELDS #1

 

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Story: Michael Moreci, Tim Daniel

Art: Colin Lorimer, Joana Lafuente

Publisher: Boom!

 

In 2014, Curse did something I didn’t think possible. It told a werewolf story that didn’t suck. The 21st century has been all about glamourizing horror to some extent. It was awesome that a book like Curse could come along and craft a raw story about one of the monsters that’s never really received their due, the Werewolf. Now in 2015 the team of Michael Moreci, Tim Daniel, and Colin Lorimer are back to work through more of their demons while sending a chill up your spine.

Their new book, Burning Fields is an analog combination of old school horror like The Thing in combination with the geopolitical drama of a Zero Dark Thirty. Where it plants its feet and sets itself apart is in the perpetual insecurity these pages bring and that is far from a bad thing.

Burning Fields is the story of Dana Atkinson, a dishonorably discharged army investigator, who’s pulled back to the Middle East when a group of American oil technicians disappear under bizarre circumstances. Dana is a true badass with the inner demons to match. In the first few pages we see her razor wit in arguing with her former commander and later her toughness as she dispatches would be assassins. The first issue also touches on the unstable political nature of the Middle East as we see both the American Military and Iraqi people’s side of the conflict. Indeed this entire opening issue leans heavy on tensions of various kinds from interpersonal to political and still manages to let the characters build through this tense fog.

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Colin Lorimer’s illustrations are perfect for a dramatic horror story like this one. He’s no stranger to emotional drama having done books like X-Files, Harvest, and of course Curse. What sets Burning Fields apart from his previous works is how he masterfully brings out the necessary emotion on a page and seamlessly shifts it to a different mood without jarring the audience. On one page he can capture the turmoil in Dana’s eyes to evoke distress while on the very next page call forth the restlessness of local Iraqis in a marketplace standoff. To go along with this exquisite line work are Joana Lafuente’s colors. She uses tones similar to what Patricia Mulvihill used towards the end of 100 Bullets and gets the same moodiness on the pages in a very horror friendly way.

If there’s any flaw with the book it’s that it may not feel necessary to have eight issues by the end of the story. My only minor gripe about issue one was that I’d like to have known more about the supernatural evil Dana uncovers in the oil field which could have cut it down to seven issues. Being fully on for all eight issues I hope they allow all the volatile elements in the story to be breathe enough.

Boom Studios isn’t known for the number of original books but the quality of them. Burning Fields has the potential to not only join Irredeemable, Incorruptible, 2 Guns, and Curse but also surpass them.

 

 

 

 


Talk to Davey on Twitter about Comics, cats, and relationships. He prefers it be about cats. 

 

Review: Holy F*#k It’s Rambo Jesus!

By Davey Nieves

Holy F*ck #1

 

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Story: Nick Narino

Art: Daniel Arruda Massa

Publisher : Action Labs Entertainment

 

 

Action Lab Entertainment might not be a familiar name to you but they’ve got great books like Molly Danger and Nutmeg under their belt. The studio continues to further sharpen already edgy ideas with their newest book Holy F*ck.

After twice reading the opening issue, I’m still trying to wrap my head around what I just read. So the premise of Holy F*ck is this: From the shadows Zeus, Isis, and the rest of earth’s deities have come together to concoct a nefarious plan to unleash an Armageddon level of war on humanity. Our only hope of avoiding this cataclysm is Catholicism in the form of a nun named Maria, a basement D&D nerd Lucifer, and sex crazed Rambo-like Jesus.

Written by Nick Narino, the opening issue introduces us to most of the major players involved and sets up the stakes very punctually. By the middle of the first issue we know how Maria & Jesus come together, and how Zeus’s cabal intend to unleash their plan. We also see that the villainous gods are motivated by a need to be seen and worshiped much like the advertising mascots in that Halloween Simpson’s episode. For a book that exists to poke fun of religion in all its forms it’s an entertaining read. However, Holy F*ck is like a cup of tea; it’s just not for everybody. In fact anyone who holds their spirituality close to the chest will most likely be offended by all the ways the book plays with religious figures. Though the book suffers more from a lack of snap in the dialogue than any offense that could be taken by people. Granted the dialogue in a story like this is meant to be cheesy but here it unbalances the characters a bit.

Daniel Arruda Massa’s art feels right for the levity intended within the pages. The illustration feels at home in its Scott Pilgrim vibe, which makes the cover art a little deceiving. The cartoony nature of the interiors doesn’t always go well with intense action but a more realistic art style would have probably put this in another genre of comic while making some of the jokes less digestible. Visually, it just feels right.

When I first read Garth Ennis classic Preacher, I felt like I had done something wrong. While today I’m not religious in any sense of the word, I did grow up in the bonds of church going Catholicism. So reading a book like that made a tiny part of me feel I’d be struck down or unclean. Later I’d come to realize that it’s part of the magic of Preacher and remains one of my favorite stories ever. Holy F*ck had a similar effect on me just not nearly as intense because it’s a neat idea that’s not quite fleshed out.


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Review: Jupiter Adds To The Legacy Of Millar & Quitely

By Davey Nieves

JUPITER’S LEGACY #5

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Story: Mark Millar, Frank Quitely

Art: Frank Quitely, Peter Doherty

Publisher: Image Comics

Full disclosure, I never pick up Mark Millar books when they first hit the stands. It isn’t because I don’t like the man’s work, because I think he’s tremendously talented and few writers’ craft dialogue as well as he does. I don’t know maybe it’s because Robin Williams always said it’s hard to understand Scotsmen. Who knows? Well it’s been over 10 months since the last issue of Jupiter’s Legacy and about 10 years since I’ve read a Millar comic book that wasn’t in trade form. So we’re all in for a bumpy ride.

 

Based on my read though of Jupiter’s Legacy #5, I can safely say I’ve missed out on one hell of tale by Millar and one of the best comic artist of this generation Frank Quitely. Issue five is the conclusion to the first book of hopefully many more to come. The dapper, matter- altering, superhuman hunting, villain Barnabas Wolfe tracks down a young boy named Jason who happens to have a lineage of superheroes in his blood. Jason and his super powered parents Chloe and Brandon battle Wolfe and his government army to keep from being thrown in this world’s version of the Guantanamo Bay.

Jupiter's Legacy 005-014Millar crafts another superb villain in Barnabas. He gets quick to the enticement of the character as he opens with Wolfe using his cunning to deceive a secretary into revealing herself to be an illegal superhuman. Throughout this issue the entire cast manages to have earned moments in these pages from Chloe demonstrating her overprotective mothering nature by chewing out her son on the moon to Jason who’s just trying to follow the footsteps of his family and rally the remaining superhumans. I haven’t read the first four issues but it appears as though this comic rounds out this first volume’s call to arms theme nicely and leaves readers in a place where they will definitely want more.Jupiter's Legacy 005-013

For all the words purveyed in this issue, it wouldn’t feel whole without what Frank Quitely brings to the table. Jupiter’s Legacy is yet another example of why Quitely is one of the best visual storytellers in comics. His use of body language and posture make the pages come to life. The visual design of these characters is what he excels at; simplicity that catches the eye. Peter Doherty’s color work is a subtle compliment to the artist’s masterful line work and blends cool and warm tones very smoothly.

The 10-month gap between issues might be a deterrent for anyone who’s been following this series since issue one. However there’s enough in issue five to justify the wait. If we scored books this one would come in damn near perfect. Jupiter’s Legacy mixes influences such as Watchmen, The Incredibles, and V for Vendetta to craft Millar’s best superhero project since Civil War.

Anyone else for casting Christoph Waltz as Barnabas Wolfe?

 

 

 

 


 

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Review: X “I’m Coming Over… Mostly To Kill”

By Davey Nieves

X #21

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Writer: Duane Swierczynski

Art: Eric Nguyen, Michelle Madsen

Letters: Richard Starkings

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

 

There’s X-Men, Xzibit, the band X (if you get the reference I’ll buy you a soft pretzel if you’re onsite at SDCC), and there’s Dark Horse Comics vigilante simply known as X. Since the characters reboot under writer Duane Swierczynski and artist Eric Nguyen the series continues to be a rollercoaster of highs and lows. X #21 marks a good jumping on point for new readers but needs a little polish to keep them.

Issue 21 kicks off the “Marked For Death” storyline and like any good Steven Segal plot our anti-hero finds himself in the middle of a fight he has to kill a lot of people to get out of. We pick up on the continuation of X’s battle with the underworld crime armies of Arcadia as he tries to take out a major weapons cache. However, the hunter finds himself the hunted by the end of the issue when he comes face to face with The Archon; a being of superhuman strength that’s already beaten X within an inch of his life. His saving grace this time is another super-being known as The Mark, whom Archon believed X to be at first due to their horrible choices in eye covering fashion.

The issue’s furious pace is kept up like a rocket car that doesn’t run out of fuel. It’s so fast; it almost nullifies X’s internal monologue as he’s killing all those bad guys. No man could have that many thoughts over instincts when slicing that many vocal chords like someone had thrown cucumbers in the air. Action sequences are crisp, but there’s very little backing it up to make me care about the character or his predicament. He spends the issue setting himself up as the ultimate badass and by the end seems to change his tune. Ultra-violent brooding vigilante characters (Punisher, Judge Dredd) typically work best when they don’t bend, but instead let all the emotion work through the supporting cast. Which could be fixed as the story carries along.

Nguyen’s art feels like an anime game cut scene. (Google search: Gungrave) The brutality of the action is on point with explosions and sword slashing which has that freeze-frame feel at just the right moment. It’s in the sequentials that move the story along where the art suffers a bit. For example, characters feel like they lack expression during dialogue sequences causing hiccups when reading panel-to-panel. One thing I’d really like to see going forward is more risks with panel layouts. Experimenting a bit more in that area could polish Nguyen’s style.

Upon first glance, it’s easy to write off a character like X as a Punisher clone but this character has quirks that make him very unique. His one mark warning, second mark death rule plays well at times showing a code that lacks in other vigilante characters. “Marked For Death” is probably best taken as a whole as opposed to monthly chapters. If you’ve been reading the series then keeping issue twenty-one in your pull is definitely a reward. If you’re looking for a new series to read; I can’t really recommend X #21 because it just doesn’t do enough to get me interested in #22. Although as the arc continues it could warrant a trade pickup since there’s definitely a spark to it that has the potential to turn ablaze if some daring chances are taken.


 

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Review: time, tide and Agent Carter wait for no man

by Edie Nugent

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If Marvel was hoping Agent Carter would improve on its ratings from last week’s 2-episode season premiere, they must be somewhat disappointed this morning. While Agent Carter still snagged second place behind NBC’s Parks and Recreation, it’s ratings are still down 21 percent from last week.  Marvel should be interested in more than just ratings, however, as the show has received considerable critical acclaim.

Agent Carter opens with a summary of last week’s events and the show’s premise: Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell)  lost “the love of her life” when Captain America’s plane went down in the Arctic. Also mentioned: how Carter fought side by side with Cap during WWII only to be demoted to answering phones when the war ended. It’s a nice callback to the displacement many women who joined the workforce during WWII suffered in postwar America.

“Time and Tide” builds off of last weeks’ two part premiere and finds Agent Carter confronting the beau of her neighbor Molly (Laura Coover) as he attempts to pull a Montague by climbing to her windowsill. He finds the end of Carter’s gun instead, and shakily apologizes for choosing the wrong window. These antics get Molly kicked out of the women-only Griffith housing block the following day, making way for Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan) who Carter ignores but seems as if she may come to be important to the series.

The attempted break-in reminds Carter of another, more successful break-in: the heist that saw Howard Stark’s “bad babies” taken from his vault. Here this episode subverted my expectations: I assumed the pursuit of Stark’s dangerous inventions would lead to a bad baby of-the-week style plot. It was a pleasant surprise when Carter doubled back to Stark mansion to do some good old detective work, exploring how the tech was stolen in hopes of revealing more about who took it and why.

Before she can fully explore the sewers beneath the vault, however, the SSR’s Agent Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) appears at the door & questions Jarvis (James D’Arcy) about the license plate found at the implosion site of the Roxxon plant that has been traced to Stark’s car. Carter hides herself while Jarvis claims the car was stolen and that he filed a police report. Thompson drags Jarvis to SSR headquarters for questioning where he threatens to reveal Jarvis’ dishonorable discharge for treason. Now back at SSR, Carter plays dumb: telling Thompson she’s found the police report the SSR pretended to “lose” on Stark’s “stolen” car within earshot of Jarvis – forcing them to release him. This serves to confirm the SSR’s suspicions of her incompetence, and she receives a public dressing-down from Chief Dooley (Shea Wigham).

It was a nice touch to see Carter shaken by this experience, which reflects well on her character: SSR may be basically a cover job that condescends to her regularly, but it’s still something she takes pride in. It doesn’t slow her down, though, and on her return to Stark mansion she deduces that the sewer floodgates beneath it’s vault provided the smuggler’s route. Sure enough they discover a tug boat moored right outside of the sewer floodgate flying a flag bearing the symbol we saw scrawled in the dirt by Leet Brannis (James Frain) before he died last week. Also revelaed by SSR Agents is the fact that Brannis was a Soviet soldier who, according to records, died two years ago.

Upon inspection of the boat, they discover a large cache of Stark’s bad babies. While Jarvis calls it in to SSR, Carter is set upon by a thug presumably guarding the boat and engages in a fabulous fight scene where she takes as many punches as she throws before Jarvis hits the thug in the arm with a muscle-contracting invention of Stark’s. Sirens wail in the background and Carter and Jarvis flee the scene. The SSR team arrive and Agent Krezminski (Kyle Bornheimer) is tasked to bring the thug back to headquarters. On that drive, the thug reveals to Krezminski that an “English broad” is responsible for his beating. This seems to seal the Agent’s fate; only moments later an unidentified hitman kills both the thug and the Agent.

A somber workplace greets Carter the following day, with the SSR now pledged to pin both the Roxxon destruction and the killing of Kresminski on Howard Stark. “Time and Tide” is a tightly written and compelling episode of Agent Carter. A great deal of the show’s appeal is how it continues to function on three levels. You have the hardboiled cop-style narrative of the SSR Agents, contrasted with the spy-thriller of Carter and Jarvis’ adventures, set against the lives of Peggy and her roommate Angie: women empowered during WWII searching for their place post-war. I find myself wishing we had more than just 5 episodes left. We can only hope that Marvel and ABC see Agent Carter’s value in more than Nielsen’s ratings and grant it a second season.

Favorite moments:

  • “Mr. Stark would trust a shark not to bite him if it was wearing a short enough skirt”
  • Jarvis’ house husband by-day, Agent by-night routine is a lovely play against gender expectations
  • The back-story on Jarvis’ treason to save his Jewish wife following the war was lovely

What do you think of this week’s Agent Carter? Let us know in the comments!

Review: It Looks Like Mortal Kombat, It Walks Like Mortal Kombat, But…

By Davey Nieves

MORTAL KOMBAT X #1

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Story: Shawn Kittlesen

Art: Dexter Soy, Veronica Gandini

Letters: Saida Temofonte

Cover: Ivan Reis, Alex Sinclair

Publisher: DC Comics

There used to be a time where people gathered at laundry mats, donut shops, and yes arcades in order to pop quarters into a fighting game. At least that’s how long I’ve been playing them for. One thing that’s remained true about them all these years is you don’t really play them expecting a nuanced story. Especially when it comes to the heavy-handed Kung-Fu clichés that drive Mortal Kombat’s –to the death– fights. Don’t get the wrong idea, like many of you I enjoyed ripping out people’s spines with Sub-Zero or watching Liu Kang uppercut his opponent’s head clean off. MK has always delivered an enjoyable level of cheesy bombastic action that’s good for a laugh. With developer Netherrealm Studios set to release the highly anticipated next chapter of the game later this year, DC Comics is continuing to capitalize on Warner Bros acquisition of the property with a prequel comic book series. Releasing first digitally, Mortal Kombat X will bridge the gap between the game released in 2011 and its follow up (also titled MKX) this year.

Written by Shawn Kittelsen, the book opens with a blind swordsman named Kenshi on the run with his son from members of a mercenary clan known as the Red Dragon. These events set up for one of the franchise’s most popular characters to intervene and begin the road of training for Kenshi’s son. The story (at least the first arc) follows a similar blueprint to Kill Bill or the Van Damme classic Bloodsport; just with none of the emotional hooks either film had. It caters to die hard fans of the Mortal Kombat franchise but at the cost of alienating new readers. From the moment you take in the first few pages; the readers are dropped in a story that feels like it’s years along in unfolding. Which wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the execution had been on point. While the action is as brutal as a Mortal Kombat story should be, there’s hardly any tension on the pages. It should be easy to play on familiar rivalries in this universe and set up the stakes, but by the end of the first chapter it’s all just absent.

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One of the few things the book does land well is the art. Drawn by Dexter Soy, the action is as gory and barbaric as one would expect. The artist even draws x-ray panels of bones shattering just as in the video game. It helps to familiarize the material to its source but such connections are too rare within this first chapter. Another fix for the series going forward would be to play with the camera angles a bit more. The game is known for capturing extreme violence through lenses you wouldn’t have thought to use. Mortal Kombat X the comic could play with the same identity.

In order to understand, or even pick up, this comic you have to be already vested in the mythology behind it. Even doing so, there’s nothing going on here to rekindle your interest in it. Going forward the book can’t parallel the game’s mindless appetite for blood. Hopefully the creative team quickly realizes that the series can’t be gory because it has to be, but instead earn its moments like any of quality narrative. Wait for the series to become readable by letting it work out the kinks and jump on later.


Follow Davey on Twitter to talk comics, cats, and punk rock as he repost his instagram feed and makes the occasional complaint between naps. 

 

Review: Red Sonja and Conan Together Again For The First Time

By Davey Nieves

CONAN RED SONJA #1

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Story: Gail Simone, Jim Zub

Art: Dan Panosian, Dave Stewart

Lettering: Comicraft

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics & Dynamite

There’s an entire generation of readers who weren’t even born the last time Conan The Barbarian and Red Sonja teamed up for battle in comics or film. Both characters have had a bit of a renaissance as of late with such great books as People of the Black Circle and Dynamite’s own Red Sonja ongoing series. Was it time for the barbarian and the warrior to meet again? Dark Horse Comics and Dynamite think so, and they’ve certainly assembled the best team to do it as they deliver a subtle yet prolific opening to their new 4-part mini series.

What you’ll notice from the outset of the issue is a risk the writing team of superstars Gail Simone (Batgirl, Secret Six) and Jim Zub (Samurai Jack) take by not just immediately dropping Red Sonja and Conan into mega-fight scenes. The opening of this series is really a heist story as the two are unknowingly both hired by an insidious figure known as Manus –Drath to steal a valuable treasure from the royals of Koth. Our conquerors get a bit more than they bargained for as they’re set up to be the only standing between us and Bloodroot covered dead Earth. By the time you reach the first issue’s end the twist feels a little predictable but doesn’t diminish the enjoyment.

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Fans who expect a certain level of savagery from characters whose battle skills are almost mythological won’t be disappointed. As with any team-up, readers will get all the slashing and hard-hitting melee you’d expect. Including a fight between the characters that can best be described as sensual. It’s just that the violence feels like a character reward for the story more than just being shoehorned in. More books could do well in following Simone and Zub’s lead in this manner.

A pair of high caliber writers need an artist who can bring the primal nature of these characters out in a way makes them feel anything but simple. Joining Simone and Zub is the urban barbarian himself Dan Panosian (X-Men, Thor). Upon first glance there’s such a unique neanderthal surface to his work in these pages. As you keep reading you’ll notice all the emotion underneath the savagery. Eyes, expression, and body gesture all click together as accents in his panel work. Colorist, Dave Stewart’s work is just as vital in the book. The warm pallet he uses makes the pop stand out in the battle scenes it needs to and unifies the flow of art with story making it one of the smoothest reads of the week if not the year.

This book is awesome! Simone, Zub, and Panosaian put peanut butter and jelly together then served it alongside a big juicy porterhouse steak. Fans of both characters will find plenty to enjoy in this limited series. A big plus for both publishers and retailers is just how inviting the book is for new readers. You need not know anything about the lore of either character or Arnold Schwarzenegger to understand what’s going on here. Conan/ Red Sonja #1 kicks the series off with the right balance of intrigue and good ol’ beat ‘em up action.


Follow Davey on Twitter to talk comics, cats, and punk rock as he repost his instagram feed and makes the occasional complaint between naps. 

Review: The 100 Spider War Continues

Too Many Spiders

By David Nieves

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Amazing Spider-Man #12

Written by Dan Slott   Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, and Justin Ponsor 

(NO ASM 12 SPOILERS)

We all know the cliché about too much of a good thing. Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott probably hasn’t heard it, which is far from a bad thing. The latest chapter of the ongoing spider-vent Spider-Verse continues the break neck pace and suprising intrigue using a smorgasbord of Spider-People

 

For the benefit of those without google, Spider-Verse is a war for the survival of the spiders of all realties because a terrifying vampirey family called the Inheritors is hunting around the multiverse devouring the life essence of Spider-People. Amazing Spider-Man #12 picks up right after the father of the Inheritors killed the cosmic Spider-Man in the dimension which had up to that point been a safe zone for the spiders of all realities. So far every Spider-Verse issue has pushed the story in a manner that does make ASM the only series you need to read to enjoy Spider-Verse. However issue twelve doesn’t do as much for readers who have been following all the tie-in books. The audience drops in on Jessica Drew with the Inheritors along with Spider-Man 2099’s autopsy of one of their enemies. In fact the only thread of the web not seen in this issue are the Scarlett Spiders in the clone factory. Once you get to the end of the issue, if you’ve managed to avoid the Internet spoilers, you will be in for a big moment at the end of the ASM 12.

 

Each ASM issue of Spider-Verse has introduced an alternate reality Spidey that’s stood out among others. Though his time was deliberately short, Spider-Banner from ASM #9 remains my favorite thus far. Chapter four has a spectacular run in by Takyua Yamashiro, the Spider-Man of Earth-51778. I hope we can call him Spider-Voltron without being sued.

 

Artist Giuseppe Camuncoli’s work can best be described as busy. For a story where the sheer number of characters on a page borders on gluttonous; very little space feels wasted. Slott works very well with Camuncoli’s art by keeping the dialogue necessary and letting the visual unfold the story. If there is one criticism that could be offered to the overall arc, it’s in the color work. While colorist Justin Ponsor does a solid job; the shifts to different dimensions feel too similar in tone. For a reader on the stand just flipping through the book it would be difficult to understand that these Spiders are in vastly different places.

 

As a stand-alone issue Amazing Spider-Man 12 has to be looked at in two ways. Readers who have been strictly sticking to Amazing Spider-Man have to pick up this issue to keep going on Spider-Verse. You’ve come this far and if this is the lull of the event then it did a horrible job of being boring. However should you be one of the die hard readers who’s kept up with every tie-in; you almost don’t need ASM 12 because much of the meat of the issue is simply keeping readers apprised on what’s going on in the other series. Overall, Spider-Verse as an event is doing the same magic for Spider-Man as a character that Sinestro Corps did for Green Lantern. It continues to prove you don’t need a company wide crossover to make an extravaganza that resonates.