Witchblade #121 Review

I’m a recent convert to this title, after the awesome Vol. 5 TPB and the even more awesome talents of artist Stjepan Sejic. Writer Ron Marz continues to build upon the mystical gauntlet’s mythos and shows once again that his deft hand is capable of fitting in to any genre.

Dancer Dani Baptiste (absent in this ish) is now, thanks to the recent events of the First Born arc, the wielder of half of the Witchblade, while long-time cop Sara Pezzini wields its twin. However, that doesn’t mean Sara has half of the trouble to deal with. Although in this issue, the first of the three part Crown Heights story arc, the only time Sara breaks out the blade is not in the midst of a frantic battle, but in the shower with her lover, fellow cop, Patrick Gleason.

The pair travel to Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community, specifically the Chabad-Lubavitch sect to investigate a rabbi’s gruesome murder, while tip-toeing around sensitive race issues at the same time. Meanwhile journalist Gretch tries to convince her editor of the existence of the Witchblade to run it on the front page, and hounds Sara until she gets some answers, which it looks like she just may get in following issues.

Although there is no fighting or hectic action to speak of, Marz still captivates with his swift pace and well crafted intrigue. Once again, the art is gorgeous. Sejic’s beautifully rendered figures add much realism. He also adds nice touches like soft focus backgrounds, reflections on windshields, and sunlight pouring into downtown streets. All this gives the book the grandeur of a Michael Bay film in comic book format. Top Cow are blessed to have an artist of Sejic’s talent on their roster.

The cover sums this issue up perfectly – Sara in full Witchblade get-up surrounded by staid priests. It’s like Witness, if Harrison Ford was a beautiful woman operating a powerful supernatural weapon. Future issues will certainly ramp up the action, as secrets are uncovered and the tight Jewish community reveals its true colours. For now, this first issue is a classy set-up.

Wolverine: Origins #28 Review

It seems everyone’s getting in on the act. Batman, Hulk and Wolverine are all fathers now, though the two Bruce’s (Wayne and Banner) sons seem to be estranged from their pops. Wolverine may not be a great father, but at least he’s able to bond with his kid. Well, Daken isn’t a kid anymore, though he certainly resembles his dad. Daken is the son of Wolvie and his one-time wife, Itsu. As is traditional with superhero’s lovers, she died. Raised in Japan, Daken grew up, learnt who his father was and came to blame him for his mother’s death. Thanks to the events of the last issue Wolverine now has the opportunity to start from scratch with his son, as Daken reawakens in a cave with amnesia.

Wolverine is a character that I’m always sceptical of. Like Venom and The Punisher, he seemed to suffer from overuse at one point, with more series, one-shots and cross-overs than he deserved. That seems even more true now. However, Marvel aren’t stupid. They know that he’s the most popular X-Man, and they also know that when his solo film premieres next year, this similarly titled series will hopefully ride its coat tails to a greater audience.

This is the first issue I’ve read of this series and it was a pleasant surprise. There’s enough action and cool moments here for long-time fans who’ve followed James Howlett’s illustrious career, or for those who just like him simply because of his bad attitude and cool costume. Primarily the story consists of flashbacks, including his final battle with Sabretooth, his brutal days in Canada’s Department H, and a lengthy look back at the Incredible Hulk # 180 fight with Jade Jaws himself, and Wendigo. Fans know this to be Wolvie’s first appearance although his costume is slightly different here, ie, no whiskers. His first meeting with Professor X is also an unexpected one, which is to be continued in X-Men: Original Sin #1.

Daniel Way has a firm understanding of the character and doesn’t rely on what others have done by making the clawed one almost a caricature. Way brings out Wolverine’s physical weakness, especially when fighting Hulk, and his emotional ones, all helped by suitably foreboding art. I haven’t looked at Mike Deodato’s interior work in a long time, but I was a fan of his glory days in the 1990s when he helped introduced Artemis in the pages of Wonder Woman. His pages were impressive then. They’re very impressive now. With a greater sense of realism than I’ve ever seen him use and a dynamism in page design, his figures are natural and moody, helped in no small part by him inking his own pencils. The Canadian mutant’s fight with Hulk is a thing of raw power. It’s the only time I’ve ever felt sorry for Wolvie.

Bordering on the need for a mature readers warning, there is plenty of vicious brawling in this issue, which makes sense considering this is effectively a series of lengthy flashbacks to Wolverine’s killing days prior to him joining the X-Men, and is a period in his life which hopefully still has some room left for further exploration.
As for Daken, well, hopefully he’ll become more than a novelty in Way’s hands and with Deodato along this book just may entice more ex-X-lovers to return to the fold.

Tales From The Farm Review

Another in my somewhat daunting pile of goodies from Comic-Con, Jeff Lemire’s book deserves its praise. Essex County Vol. 1 Tales From The Farm, to give it its full title, was published by Top Shelf last year. Ghost Stories and The Country Nurse are the two volumes that followed. All three are set in a farming community in Southwestern Ontario in Canada, and focus on the assorted characters who dwell there. Tales From The Farm is amazingly restrained in its beauty. With autobiographical comics, even loose ones like this, it can be difficult for writers to not thrown in the kitchen sink in order to increase its realism. Thankfully, Lemire knows better. As writer/artist it’s clear that he’s in charge and knows completely what he’s doing.

As for the story, it focuses on 10 year old Lester who recently lost his mother to cancer and is being raised by his Uncle Ken. It’s painfully obvious their relationship is a new and awkward one for both in moments where Lester chooses to watch the hockey game alone in his room rather than with his uncle and where Ken is unsure about how to deal with his nephew’s growing rebellion. Lemire’s skill lies just as much as in choosing what is not shown, as what is. In not over emphasising emotional moments, and giving us the barest of details he allows the characters to speak for themselves. With no narration it is merely the dialogue (of which there is little) to give us a peek into the hearts and minds of this pair. The only other character worth noting here is Jimmy Lebeuf, former hockey pro and man mountain who owns the local gas station and befriends Lester.

An orphan, a strained relationship, a misunderstood faded sports hero. You may be thinking that you’ve seen all this before. It sounds like the perfect ingredients for a independent film that makes critics swoon. However, there is more to it than that. Of course, sensitive comic fans will lap up any story with a comic loving outsider too, but its simplicity is its strength. That extends to the artwork as well. Using broad strokes helps convey the roughness of the two men in the story and the harsh terrain that surrounds them. Lemire sells the isolation of a remote town perfectly, and uses a lighter touch with more grey than black in the brief flashbacks of Lester’s dying Mum. A hand made comic from a 9 year old Lemire posing as Lester’s comic is also a nice touch, from the boy that never takes off his mask or cape. Well, almost never. A touching tale in the midst of tragedy and uncertainty, Tales From The Farm show that a boy’s imagination and curiosity can grow in the toughest of soils.

Top Shelf Reviews

I ordered a few books from Top Shelf’s recent on-line sale, and they arrived this week. It was a nice little gift, from myself. Apart from some free samplers, there was also Alex Robinson’s Too Cool To Be Forgotten, two James Kochalka books, and a CD inspired by Craig Thompson’s magnificent Blankets opus by the band Tracker (I’ll have to read it again now, with the accompanying soundtrack, though its 11 tracks won’t be enough to sustain the reading of the massive volume). I also picked up these two little numbers; Chris Staros’ Yearbook Stories 1976-1978 and Jeffrey Brown’s Every Girl Is The End Of The World For Me.

The latter is an epilogue to his so-called Girlfriend trilogy, of which I have read none. However, this104 page book was still quirkily enchanting, and I’m sure very guy could relate to it. I showed it to my fellow office dwellers when my package arrived and the title alone brought many a smile. Brown is a respected cartoonist, as well as a prolific one. Told over three weeks as 2003 becomes 2004 it’s essentially an intricate, dialogue driven look at the ladies that come and go from his life and how he feels about them. With his e-mails, and phone calls he paints a picture of a heart that flits between hope, confusion and sorrow, with great realism. The sketchy art won’t be for everyone, but if you’re a fan of Harvey Pekar’s work, you’ll no doubt find another everyman hero here.

Top Shelf have also just released an awesome trailer for Brown’s other series, The Incredible Change-Bots, a Transformers parody, but I’m sure it’s much more than that. Watch it and laugh.

Yearbook Stories was a pleasant surprise. Consisting of two short tales in its 32 pages it centres on two formative tales of the author’s high school years. The first one, The Willful Death of a Stereotype, chronicles Chris’ anxiety and desire to fit in yet still be himself, when he is presented with a move to a new school and a chance for re-invention. The first step in this process means pinning his hopes on becoming the new class president. Iluustrated by Bo Hampton, and with great lines like, “But dreams are not made of logic, and that alone is their magic,” it’s more whimsical than Every Girl, but still honest and real.

The second story, The Worst Gig I Ever Had is considerably more mature, with its swearing and nudity and is drawn by Rich Tomaso. This focuses on young Chris’ first band and a job for a bunch of bikers in the woods, which explains the title. I much preferred this tiny tome rather than Every Girl, with it’s quaint vibe that’s similar to The Wonder Years TV show from a few years ago. Both tales of the young Chris are bite-sized episodes in his life that perfectly capture the typically curious world view of a growing boy.

You can go here for a Every Girl Is The End Of The World For Me preview, and here for a Yearbook Stories preview.

Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch #1 Preview

Below is the awesome Clint Langley cover, and a few wordless interior pages from the new 5 ish mini-series devoted to former Ghost Rider, Danny Ketch. Written by Simon Spurrier (Silver Surfer) and pencilled by Javier Saltares (Iron Man), the first issue goes on sale on October 22 and explores the expanding mythos of the Spirit of Vengeance.

Flash Gordon #1 Review

Flash Gordon has had more facelifts than an ageing starlet. The sci-fi character was created by Alex Raymond in 1934 as a newspaper strip hero to compete with Buck Rogers. However, good old Flash has fared much better. Most would be familiar with the character from the awesome 1980 film (sing it with me, “FLASH! AHAAA!), the late 80s Defenders of the Earth cartoon, or last year’s poorly received TV series. However, far too many people confuse the character with DC Comics’ Scarlet Speedster, much to the chagrin of fanboys everywhere.

Ardden Entertainment is the newest publisher in the comic book biz, with Flash Gordon being their sole release. After a #0 issue launched at the New York Comic-Con, we have the official debut of the blond adventurer’s latest re-imagining.

It begins much in the same way as MI:2, except without the catchy theme music. Flash is climbing a cliff, when his solitude is shattered by a phone call ordering him back to campus, where he earns his living as a teacher. Seeing the rugged heartthrob as a professor may be too far fetched for some, but thankfully, the university scenes are swift, as Flash shouts at his boss, and meets his long time “friend”, CIA agent Dale Arden. There’s some fisticuffs, gun pointing and witty remarks, before Flash is recruited for the CIA once more and told that his old friend scientist Hans Zarkov has gone rogue and is building a Weapon of Mass Destruction. Flash doesn’t believe it, but seems to be the only one who knows where Zarkov is hiding, so it’s off to Africa for the team. All doesn’t go smoothly though, as the pair face a betrayal and a mid-air collision, leaving the issue on a cliff-hanger, showing evidence of its comic strip origins.

I wasn’t expecting much with this title. A new publisher, with new creators and a franchise that has been re-invented more times than Madonna’s wardrobe does not bode well. I’m glad I was wrong. Writer Brendan Deneen and artist Paul Green are a formidable duo who know each other’s strengths. Deneen’s script keeps things moving at a frantic pace, yet it never seems rushed. Having legendary comic book scribe J.M DeMatteis (The Amazing Spider-Man) as Editor is also a great addition to Ardden. Green’s artwork is simple, yet certainly not simplistic. With few lines he manages to give the characters a real fluidity, and the colours are perfectly suited to each scene. With manga inspired pencils reminiscent of J. Scott Campbell or Joe Madureira, it’s a very pretty book, with a sense of dynamism and beauty.

Once the team leave earth and meet Ming, things will heat up even further I’m sure as the cast grows and alien environments and creatures start to appear, as can be previewed here. For those with fond memories of Flash Gordon this update should be welcome, and for those who’ve never experienced his swashbuckling antics, this is a great place to start.

City of Dust #1 Review

Radical launch another title on October 1 with City of Dust, a 5 issue mini-series reminiscent of Blade Runner, Minority Report and the Christian Bale film, Equilibrium. Even those unfamiliar with the work of authors such as Philp K. Dick, certain aspects of this story will still appear familiar, such as the concept of mind crimes. COD’s future world has been constructed upon the belief that “fantasy, religion and imagination were wastes of the human mind, and served to corrupt the individual and pollute the masses.” Imagination is a scary place in this world, which means no comics. How cruel.

A future city where the government controls everything and any fantastic stories or ideologies are outlawed is nothing new. In fact, apart from the art the concept bears a loose resemblance to Freedom Formula, another Radical series. Those similarities are not glaring however and City of Dust makes a rather nasty (in a good way) first impression in its opening pages to ensure it diverges enough from other sci-fi tales.

Steve Niles is a strong enough writer to make this tale more than a knock-off . His horror leanings are hinted at, with multiple, violent deaths and a mysterious pair of bad guys. Well, I think they’re bad guys. Not much is given away. Just enough to entice readers into this world and start salivating for the next issue, especially on the last page where the protagonist is caught red-handed by his superiors partaking in an outlawed activity.

The hero of this adventure is homicide cop Philip Krome. A man filled with doubt, and lust apparently. He unwittingly imprisoned his father as a boy, after being told a classic, and illegal, children’s story. Niles gives Khrome enough uncertainty in his job that we are able to sympathise with him when he kills a nervous man reaching for a crucifix, not a weapon as Khrome assumed. The world building is just beginning and this 48 pager sets the tone well. A massive chunk of that comes from artist Zid.

Zid’s art is close to two of Marvel’s current stars, Adi Granov and Gabriele Dell’otto in the way colour and light is used to create an evocative atmosphere. I’d say this may be Radical’s best looking book to date. If you’re a fan of those artists, you must grab  City of Dust. The sense of depth adds a great deal of realism in the bustling city setting and creates a world of texture and beauty.

The liberally applied violence, profanity and sex also makes this Radical’s most adult book to date, so be warned. With its talk of mind crimes and hi-tech crime fighting gizmos, some hardcore sci-fi lovers may be tempted to roll their eyes with a “seen it all before” attitude. That would be a mistake. As The Matrix showed, as well as the films mentioned above, there is still much uncharted territory in gritty futuristic tales.

Visit here for a massive 19 page preview of this issue.