Comic Book Review: Elektra #2

e2
Standard

Elektra braves the dangers of Monster Island and a rival assassin in her search of the elusive assassin known as Cape Crow! The psychotic killer Bloody Lips closes in on Marvel’s deadliest femme fatale!

After a strong debut, Elektra’s strange journey to Monster Island takes a turn for the unexpected. While Bloody Lips is running loose, cannibalizing assassins for their knowledge of Cape Crow’s whereabouts, Elektra encounters killers Scalphunter and Lady Bullseye in a mother monster’s nest. This explosive and visually stunning fight sequence brings Lady Bulleye into the clutches of the psychotic Bloody Lips as Elektra encounters what appears to be Cape Crow. To her disappointment, it turns out to be his son, Kento Roe, wearing his father’s suit and mask.

As Matchmaker arrives on the island, Elektra soon learns that Kento was the one who put out the contract on his father’s head, offering Matchmaker money that he didn’t have to put Elektra on the charge. Trusting his father to be rehabilitated, he hopes to secure Cape Crow’s safe return as Guild assassins race to the island to collect the bounty. Elektra believes that the boy is either lying or delusional about his father’s better nature, but takes Kento at his word, vowing to find Cape Crow in exchange for all of his father’s contacts, weapons and money. Kento agrees to the deal, and he, Elektra and Matchmaker set off to find Cape Crow in his hiding place in China.

Building on the mystery of the opening issue, Blackman and Del Mundo do not disappoint in Elektra #2, delivering another tightly-scrimped and beautifully executed book. Blackman’s talent for dialogue is impressive, balancing the dual narration of Elektra and Bloody Lips through strong characterization and language. He’s established an appropriately eerie tone for the strange and dangerous world he’s dropped Elektra into, as the timeless, otherworldly quality of characters like Matchmaker serve to make Elektra’s world all the stranger. There’s also a prose-like quality to his scripting that I find really refreshing, the action sequences diffused by sparse conversations that read like well-paced prose.

As with the last issue, Del Mundo’s artwork is stellar. His sense of pacing and storytelling is superb, but every line, every gesture is so wonderfully expressive. Even the rounded boundaries of panels, defined by thick smudged strokes, take on a dynamism of their own, vibrating with the barely-contained energy that moves across the page as it does in the jungles of Monster Island. Del Mundo’s palettes, with the help of colorist Marco D’Alfonso, beautifully develop the often flat, vague spaces that the characters inhabit with delicate fields of color and painterly detail to create define this cool and alien world in soft pastels.

I really enjoyed the last issue, but I absolutely loved Elektra #2. If you haven’t picked this book up, I suggest you do so. It’s definitely worth a read

Comics Creators: David Hatch

tumblr_n2z6xbSmJS1t0oh1ko1_1280
Standard

Let me preface this by saying I usually don’t review comic strips. I don’t often encounter them in any kind of journalistic capacity, and academically speaking most classes I’ve taken on analysis of graphic narrative and comic books tend to shy away from the comic strip in general. At least in my respective Art and English departments, they seemed to suffer from an inability to really talk about comic strips in any meaningful way.

That said, I first came across David Hatch’s comics just a month or so ago. David sent me an email, asking me to look over his site and give him some feedback on his comics. While it took me a little longer than I would have liked to oblige, as I was distracted by various deadlines and exams, when I finally got around to looking at his work, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

tumblr_n4gpipKkem1t0oh1ko1_1280

There’s something I love about David Hatch’s comics. There’s a childlike charm to them, an innocent absurdity that defines the weirdness of his subject matter. Drawing on pop culture references specifically from the horror genre, there’s a tongue-in-cheek silliness to his work that’s really refreshing. His work remains almost doggedly hopeful despite sometimes seemingly dark circumstances. By his own account, David is indeed a hopeful guy, who finds peace in meditation and making comics. In his own words:

I try to be simple and minimalist in my approach. I try to be clear. I want everyone (from young to old) to understand the gags. I want the art to be as basic as I can make it. I also like to use simple tools and materials to make the comics. I work off a board that I place in my lap, leaning it against a desk. I draw with Microns on cheap printer paper from Staples office supply. I don’t ever use Photoshop or the computer in any way. Corrections are made with white paint and a tiny sable brush. I don’t have any art training other than some classes from high school. But I always liked to doodle, and I’ve always loved the funny papers and comic books, so I’m just a regular guy who wanted to try drawing one.

tumblr_n45nn1N5iB1t0oh1ko1_1280If you’re curious, you can find more of Davids’s comics at THE LOOKY EMPIRE. Stop by and give his work a peep. It’s definitely worth the trek.

Comic Book Review: Captain Marvel #3

CM3
Standard

Captain Marvel & the Guardians of the Galaxy! Carol takes her mysterious alien passenger home… and lands in the middle of an uprising against the Galactic Alliance! Does our good soldier obey orders — or defy the Avengers and side with David against Goliath? Two guesses. First one doesn’t count.

Captain Marvel and the Guardians are still stuck with a wayward child and a political mess on their hands after the last issue, as Tic hijacks Carol’s ship to try to kill Star-Lord. A scared and angry child, doomed to return to the poisoned planet Torfa and stalled diplomatic talks with the Spartax Empire, Tic is easily reined back in as Carol all but breaks into her stolen ship to retrieve her cat Chewie. Seeing the plight of Tic’s people, refugees of the Builders’ march across the stars, Carol agrees to return to Torfa to help. However, the situation on the ground is much more complicated than Carol first thought, as the poisoned refugees refuse to leave the planet despite the unknown illness sweeping through their population, fearing a Spartax conspiracy but unwilling to start over on another world and leave the dying behind. As diplomatic talks break down, Carol’s attempts to interfere, no matter how well-intentioned, fall on deaf ears, and she learns the only way to help the people of Torfa is to deal with the illness itself.

DeConnick, Lopez and Loughridge continue to make a great creative team as this storyline unfolds into a very human political drama, hitting all the right notes. The scripting is solid and well-balanced by equal measures of humor and action, Carol’s dogged resolve brought to the page by DeConnick’s skill for dialogue and strong characterizations. Even the stock alien characters like Eleanides have a real sense of character and purpose, leading to a tense but much needed reality check for the presumptuous Carol. DeConnick’s Carol is always growing, dealing with small but critical challenges that help to shape the person she’s becoming, and so far this arc has shown Carol’s development in subtle and satisfying ways.

Lopez’s line work continues to impress, capturing much of the inherent comedy through lively characters expressions and great attention to detail. While Groot only appears for the first few pages, the loving detail given to every gnarled branch is worth highlighting as Lopez’s knack for organic shapes is remarkable. And did anyone else catch what appears to be a statue of Cthulhu in the final page of the sick ward on Torfa, slightly obscured by overgrown brush and tree limbs? Colorist Loughridge’s palettes and use of shading, especially during the space chase at the beginning of the issue, is pleasing from start to finish.

Comic Book Review: New Avengers #18

NA18
Standard

In all of creation, only one Earth has successfully met and triumphed over each Incursion that has threatened it: the Earth of the heroes of the Great Society! Guess which Earth is on a collision course with ours?

As Original Sin picks up steam and the showdown between Captain America and Iron Man unfolds in the pages of Avengers #29, it’s now or never for the Illuminati. Now faced with the impending incursion with the Great Society, the team faces the choice handed to them: murder the only heroes to have fended off the Mapmakers, or face their own destruction. As T’Challa turns to his ancestors to steel his resolve, Bruce Banner joins the roster and teams up with McCoy to offer some new solutions so stave off the death of the Multiverse. Meanwhile, Stephen Strange finally returns from selling his soul and Tony Stark, fresh from a rather dramatic beat-down by Cap and the Avengers, is beginning to lose focus on the task at hand, bringing him to Black Swan’s cage for answers.

Gaining momentum from the tension of the Original Sin event, New Avengers #18 is a solid read that explores the deepening fissures in this team. Just as it seemed that T’Challa and Namor were finally able to come to overcome their longstanding feud, T’Challa’s father asks him why he has yet to kill the Atlantean, sowing the seeds for future conflict. As Reed Richards appears to have accepted the realities of the Illuminati’s struggle against annihilation, Tony is beginning to waver after his confrontation with Steve. It’s interesting to see Tony’s transition from cold certainty in Avengers #29 to indecision of this issue, determined to find new alternatives in light of his betrayal. Banner also makes a logical addition to the team, and hopefully he’ll be given a chance to do something useful rather than be relegated to the background as Hank McCoy has been.

While Hickman delivers another strong script that poses some compelling questions, Valerio Schiti on pencils is the real highlight of the issue for me. I really enjoyed Rags Morales’ artwork as of late, but the strength of Schiti’s line work, with his delicate crosshatch shading and rounded forms, brings a softened quality to the story. His expressive style helps to add an emotional weight to the title which it has frequently lacked, often lost in muddled character details and murky coloring. Schiti’s pencils are beautifully complemented by Martin’s decidedly more neutral color choices, continuing the trend of clean lines and brighter palettes. A solid read all around for this creative team.

Writing and the Writer: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2014

1001987_10152405552556798_9091788802583335819_n_edited
Standard

Earlier this month I ventured the forty-five minutes to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to attend the ninth annual Texas Frightmare Weekend. This was my third appearance at the convention, invited by publisher Eric Beebe of Post Mortem Press, and in attendance with gang of authors Brad Carter (Saturday Night of the Living Dead), Chris Larsen (Losing Touch), Andrew Nienaber (STZ), Billie Sue  Mosiman (The Grey Matter), and C. Bryan Brown (Necromancer). Max Booth III (Toxicity) did a (largely) factual write-up of the whole sordid affair, which you can read here on LitReactor.com, chronicling all of our various adventures behind the table. I’ll let you read his summary rather than write my own, because this isn’t about the convention or promotion. It’s about how I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin.

While I had been to this event before, in 2012 and 2011, this was my first real, honest convention appearance.  My first two appearances, by my standards, were abysmal. That’s okay, though, because they were learning experiences. Back then I was a novice who had never worked a convention before, let alone finished a book worth selling. Now I have my first novel under my belt, another in the can, and five more installments on the way. I also have established myself, to some degree, as a comic book reviewer, with several interviews and podcast appearances to give me time to practice how to sell myself. Because, as an author, I’m always selling myself. I know that now. When I was a young and inexperienced writer, I was given some really terrible advice about separating myself from my work. Back then I was told I wasn’t worth promoting, that I had no place in the reader’s mind when buying a book.

Me and a little one from Werepups.com

Me and a little one from Werepups.com

But if you’re at a table, or answering questions at a panel, speaking to people face-to-face, you’re part of the package. You’re part of the sale, a piece of what’s being bought. Whatever persona you put on, whatever airs you choose to persuade people to purchase your work, the reader is paying for that as well. When I was younger, that idea terrified me, too afraid to put myself out there, to sell my work to people on the floor. I felt like I hadn’t yet earned the right, that I was some kind of pretender waiting to be found out. That I wasn’t smart enough, or talented enough, or engaging enough to be worth their time.

When I walked out onto the convention floor this time around, I was admittedly a little nervous. The crowds at TFW are not quite what I’m used to dealing with over in my corner of the internet these days, as I move away from horror fiction to focus on superhero fiction and cape book reviews. But after a little while, I relaxed. I was joking with people in line to get in on opening night, chatting with other vendors in the smoking area outside. I stood at the head of the table whenever I could squeeze between my fellow countrymen and talked with people as they walked by, sometimes about books and sometimes about nothing at all. I didn’t sell a book to everybody, but I tried to give people a reason to come back, or to look us up online. People came up to me later on the floor, whenever I got away from the table for a little bit to stretch my legs. They all smiled or shook my hand, and told me how nice it was to speak to me at the table. That felt like a victory, albeit a small one.

On Saturday afternoon, me, Brad, and the assorted Chrises were on a writing panel. The topic was why writers tend to be drunks. I think the schedule put it a little nicer than that, but that was basically the gist of the conversation. It was a small conference room, seating around fifty people; not every seat was taken but it was a good crowd. Here they were, listening to our stories and nodding their heads, their hands flying up with questions. As I sat there, I felt wholly at ease. A year or two ago, I probably would have crawled out of my skin, or resorted to just trying to be funny and get a laugh out of people, too nervous to say anything substantive. Instead I jumped right in, answering questions and talking about my book, my personal struggles, and my attempts to try to elevate genre fiction in my own work, be it fiction or reviews. (Sure, we talked a lot about getting drunk and not wearing pants, too, but everybody knows I do that all the time.) And when people came up to the table later, or caught me in the hallway, to shake my hand and thank me for what I said at the panel, that felt like an even bigger victory.

Texas Frightmare Weekend 2014, as I later found out, was a record-breaking weekend for Post Mortem and I was one of the best-selling authors at the table. That’s satisfying enough, but what I took away from that con was a sense of accomplishment. I came to TFW wanting to prove to myself that I could sell my work and myself, and engage with readers in a meaningful way without the safety of a computer screen. Maybe I didn’t sell a hundred copies of my book, and maybe I wasn’t at San Diego Comic Con in Hall H, staring into an eager sea of fans. But I still felt good about what I had accomplished, and about the people that I met along the way. That, to me, is what matters the most.

Comic Book Review: Black Widow #6

BW6
Standard

The entity behind the attacks sits alone and mysterious on the dark water—can Natasha infiltrate the floating lair? Black Widow’s strength and cunning will be put to the test as she follows the trail of blood and destruction to the beginning…This is a mission too dangerous even for S.H.I.E.L.D.

Coming up against her deadliest threat yet, Natasha’s fight with the Indestructible Man takes an unforeseen turn. As this title’s opening arc draws to a close, Natasha’s self-imposed isolation, a recurring theme throughout the series thus far, plays an interesting role. Once again Natasha must rely on her training and wits to best Damon Dran, defeating him and his men, only to Dran is no longer indestructible, and he’s running scared. Soon she realize there’s a larger threat lurking in the shadows, one far deadlier than she could have anticipated.

When Dran is killed in SHIELD custody by a double agent, Maria Hill must distance herself from this already messy international affair. She still needs Natasha’s help to track down the mysterious person (or persons) involved, who agrees to begin the hunt without SHIELD support. Without the promise of assistance coming through official channels, Natasha is reminded once more that it doesn’t hurt to have friends. A surprise cameo by Hawkeye seems to bring that home for Natasha as she must strike out on her own to track down those behind Dran’s assassination, readying herself for the next leg of this title.

Bringing this inaugural storyline to an end, Edmondson and Noto deliver a satisfying conclusion that sees Natasha through her chosen loneliness to reach out to those around her in small but meaningful measures. Telling Isiah that she appreciates him over breakfast is a subtle shift from the woman who used to argue with the cat about coming into her apartment, but a telling one nonetheless. Such shrewd character development is a testament to the strength of this creative team, who have successfully grounded Natasha’s visually engaging action/adventure narrative in a cleverly handled personal arc. Noto always provides a stunning reading experience, but it’s the moments like Natasha and Maria talking in the rain, or in her apartment with the stray cat she won’t admit she’s adopted that are the most expressive, the most memorable from this book as well as this arc.

Comic Book Review: Moon Knight #3

MK3
Standard

In this issue: Moon Knight punches ghosts.

On rare occasions, you come across an issue that is exactly what the summary promises. This is one of those times as the night’s greatest detective prepares for his strangest job yet, in the third issue from this dynamic creative team. As a gang of punks take to the streets to terrorize New York City, what looks like a simple case of spree violence turns out to be more than law enforcement bargained for. Calling in Moon Knight, his case hits a snag when he discovers the punks are ghosts, meaning they can hurt him but he can’t hurt them back. Spector is left bloodied and confused after the encounter, returning to his manor to seek Khonshu’s guidance.

This adventure is a strange one, a subtly nostalgic excursion that delves into the paranormal aspects of Moon Knight’s world. Bested by the punks, Spector heeds Khonshu’s advice and arms himself with the ancient relics of the dead, giving himself the power to move among ghosts. Moon Knight’s costume undergoes yet another makeover as he tackles the punks head-on in a visceral fight sequence that utilizes all of his weapons and gadgets. The adventure concludes on a somber note as Spector tracks down the source of the hauntings, discovering that the punk gang was brought back by their dead leader’s seemingly haunted childhood music box.

The inherent silliness of fighting ghostly punk rockers in a suit cobbled together from antique armor is mitigated by Ellis’ smart dialogue and tight scripting. Despite the thinness of the plot, Ellis pulls it off with his usual restrained humor, and still hitting those subtle sad notes that, to me, make his writing so memorable. Shalvey and Bellaire’s artwork ground the strangeness of this otherworldly story in the brutality of its violence, stressing the sense of immediacy and physicality to strike a meaningful balance. The strength of this collaboration yields an entertaining yet eerie adventure, brought to a satisfying conclusion by Ellis’ dry wit and Shalvey’s incredible sense of storytelling. Another great issue.

Comic Book Review: Elektra #1

E1
Standard

Witness the beautifully violent return of the world’s deadliest assassin. A life spent in silent pain has led Elektra to the precipice of despair. As she prepares to shed her past and take her next step, everything you know about her will change! Death is no escape, but she will find her way as a new option opens up that will take Elektra to places no other Marvel character can go.

Elektra returns to the page in her own monthly series from W. Haden Blackman and Michael Del Mundo, rife with beauty, violence, and a cast of strange and otherworldly adversaries. This #1 takes the familiar trappings of Elektra’s story of loss, pain and revenge and runs headfirst into uncharted territory of the strange and mystical. Looking to give this character new life, Blackman and Del Mundo take bold steps to tell a very different kind of Elektra story, infusing her bloody adventures with pulp sensibilities for a fun and visually stunning ride that is sure to satisfy.

As the issue opens in a ghostly tower above New York City, Elektra’s life is at a crossroads. Looking to move beyond the identity crisis that has so long defined her, soon she finds herself on the doorstep of The Matchmaker. Striking a strange silhouette for a broker, Matchmaker is a 1920s flapper girl, out of time and far, far older than she looks. When Elektra comes to her looking for an assignment, Matchmaker puts her on the case of Cape Crow, a mysterious killer of assassins who earned the ire of the Guild of Assassins.

After being forced underground by the Guild, Cape Crow has recently surfaced on a remote island off the coast of New Zealand. As an assortment of nefarious people send their best guns to kill Cape Crow, but Matchmaker has been paid an obscene amount of money to see him brought in alive. Accepting the contract, Elektra finds herself on a mission to keep Cape Crow alive long enough to collect the reward on his head – if she can keep the competition from killing her first.

Blackman and Del Mundo’s vision of Elektra is remarkably beautiful, set against a strange and dirty pastel-colored world where time and space are soft and undefined. This world is a violent one, as Del Mundo brings Blackman’s brutal story to the page through dramatic two-page spreads and fluid design, where memory and fable, past and present all run together. The complex and often insecure nature of identity, as Elektra herself has often encountered over the years, is exquisitely illustrated in the juxtaposition of Elektra with the character Bloody Lips, making for compelling narrative symmetry. Blackman’s scripting is air-tight, setting the stage for unfamiliar readers while still offering a fitting reintroduction for this character. From top to bottom, this is an excellent start to this series.

Comic Book Review: New Avengers #17

NA17
Standard

Must the New Avengers destroy a perfect world so that the Earth can live?

After a post-Infinity lull, New Avengers has made a bit of a comeback with the current leg of this universe-hopping arc. Tying in with the events of this week’s Avengers #28, this issue follows the story of the Great Society as they struggle to hold back the coming invasion of the Mapmakers. This unlikely team of outcasts continues against insurmountable odds to save their Earth through hope and duty, unlike the frayed and cynical 616 Illuminati, whose own struggle has led to deepening divisions and terrible choices.

As these diametrically opposed teams are drawn into conflict over the impending incursion between their worlds, Hickman establishes an interesting parallel between them. After several issues of watching the Illuminati sit back and passively observe the violent and inevitable fall of surrounding worlds, the dynamics of this new team are a fascinating departure to the doom and gloom. Their exploits are even enough to push Namor and T’Challa, who have spent much of the series at odds with one another, toward common ground in a scene that nicely breaks a lot of the tensions in this team.

Of course, all of this is just set-up. Successful though they may be, these scenes are ultimately window dressing for the inevitable encounter between these teams, as only one Earth will survive the incursion. But the question remains: Which Earth deserves to live? The utopic world of the Great Society, or the broken one of the Illuminati? Hickman and Morales, with colorist Frank Martin, deliver a strong issue, punctuated by the kind of warmth and humanity that has been often lost amid the looming tragedy of this series. Yes, this is very much a book about great men doing terrible things, and making impossible choices to save their world. Still, rarely have we been given such an intimate look into the lives of those on the other side of the incursion point. While this series has often been swept up in the larger storylines of its sister titles, it feels like it’s getting back on track and standing on its own merits.

For these reasons, New Avengers #17 is a good read from start to finish. Strong scripting from Hickman and solid artwork from Morales and Martin keep things moving along at an engaging clip and muster some much-needed empathy from this otherwise dour book. I’m hoping this series continues its current upswing and we get more issues like this in the future.

Comic Book Review: Ms. Marvel #3

MM3
Standard

The All-New Ms. Marvel has already gained international fame. But in Kamala’s case, star-power comes with a whole lot of… awkwardness. Find out why the most exciting new Marvel hero is also the most loveable!

With her family still mad at her and her friends making things worse, Kamala’s life gets even more complicated in Ms. Marvel #3. Her impromptu rescue of her classmates sparks a media firestorm as everyone in Jersey City turns to Carol Danvers for answers in the aftermath of the Terrigenesis mist. Trouble is brewing both at home and school as Kamala tries to navigate this strange new world of superheroes, unprepared for the life she thought she wanted. Wilson’s characterization of Kamala as the unlikely but endearing every-girl hero continues to unfold here with heartfelt results, full of the growing pains and awkwardness true for most any sixteen year old. Kamala’s plight feels natural, her dialogue funny and delightful in the face of her total uncertainty.

Soon, bolstered by her budding sense of confidence, she finds herself on yet another rescue mission, this time to help her friend Bruno. She’s getting comfortable with her powers, and in other people’s skins, but it’s going to prove to be too much, too fast for the inexperienced Kamala. Walking in on what she thinks is an armed robbery at the Circle Q, she once again turns into Captain Marvel to save Bruno, taking on the appearance of her hero in order to feel powerful. However, her efforts end in tragedy when she’s accidentally shot in the ensuing scuffle, dealing Kamala and her blossoming superhero career a life-threatening blow. The collaborative efforts of Alphona and Herring bring Kamala’s fantastic world to the page with truly beautiful results, especially this final scene, finding a balance of heart and humor through sheer strength of storytelling and thoughtful color choices.

Kamala’s heroic coming of age story continues with increased personal stakes in this issue, as she inadvertently puts her identity and life in jeopardy. Wilson’s scripting is as strong as it was in previous installments, brimming with the kind of wit and charm that makes this title such an engaging read. Like any teenage girl, Kamala’s trying on different skins in her quest to carve out her own identity, speaking to very core experiences of uncertainty and exploration that most of us have felt in our lives. While natural and relatable, this does raise some serious questions, if not for Kamala herself then for the Marvel Universe at large.

Some people have criticized the book for Kamala’s shape-shifting, calling it a form of white-washing in that she chooses the appearance of a white woman as her model for heroism. While I understand this argument, and had some reservations of my own when I read the first issue, I find that Kamala’s choice speaks to the reality that there just aren’t enough visible heroes of color for her to emulate. As the first Pakistani Muslim hero with an ongoing series, Kamala has no other representation, no role models within her community to look up to. Until she comes full circle as the hero we truly need, she’s working with what she has in a very flawed world, and trying to be the best she can be in it. As young a character as she is, Kamala Khan is making a big difference, creating a more inclusive stable of Marvel heroes and reaching out to readers who have otherwise never had representation in cape books. And I’d say she’s doing a hell of a job so far.