Swamp Thing Volume 2 – Family Tree: A Visual Feast

Swamp Thing’s rebirth was a journey of beauty and hot fire. Yanick Paquette’s panels were a smash-up of wondrous green visuals juxtaposed with the mutilated world of the rot. It made me look at Swamp Thing a whole new way. This is a hero that sits outside of the typical pantheon of DC Comics characters; you’ll rarely – if ever – find him off on a cosmic quest with Justice League heroes, facing intergalactic threats. But that’s what makes the return, and resurrection of Dr. Alec Holland so much more appealing. It’s a vibrant Woodstock journey of Earth Day allegories and green initiatives that falls on the shoulders of one very reluctant hero.

Swamp ThingThe first Swamp Thing graphic novel brought back Dr. Alec Holland from the dead. We learned that the real Holland died and the last Swamp Thing was a “fake” created by the Parliament of Trees. Any time a character comes back from the dead, the explanation is always far fetched – even for comic books. However, this one was okay because it’s the new 52 and just about every other dead character had already come back to life in the DC Universe over the past decade.

By issue #7, I was fully invested in Dr. Holland, hated the Parliament of Trees for forcing him to be their “greatest” Swamp Thing ever and dug Holland’s love interest, Abigail Arcane – who just happened to be the predestined queen of the rot. It was a nice yin-and-yang setup, which was well played by writer Scott Snyder right downed to the canned peaches. Every time Paquette penciled a two-page spread it was a visual feast of destructive imagery and grotesquely mangled body parts framed by beautiful paisley green flora. Paquette really captures the feeling of two worlds colliding as well as the internal struggles of Holland and Abby Arcane.

Swamp Thing Volume 2 collects issues #8-11, issue #0 and Swamp Thing Annual #1. Snyder continues the great story he began in the first volume. Dr. Holland has reluctantly submitted to his preordained legacy as Swamp Thing and he’s done so on his own terms. He’s depicted as an angel; it’s foreshadowed that he can be Earth’s greatest savior or destroyer. The latter is a possibility stemming from his love of Abigail. In issues #8 and #9, you get the feeling that Swamp Thing is drowning in death – bodies litter each panel in horrific fury with the green trying to break through.

Perhaps the coolest thing about this volume is the appearance of Animal Man. Unfortunately, once he shows up the adventure is cut short. We get two origin stories and some foreshadowing split between issue #0 and the Swamp Thing Annual.

Like most origin stories, these tales sap the energy out of this volume. While they do offer more insight into Holland and Abby, which may serve as a good setup going forward, the stories feel exceptionally lackluster following the events in issues #1-11. We learn more about Anton Arcane, who raised Abby. He is a centuries old Swamp Thing slayer, who was involved in Holland’s life long before Holland knew that he was the next Swamp Thing. More importantly, we get more reason to hate the green and the Parliament of Trees. They are supposed to be on the side of good, but their undying interest in suffocating Holland’s ability to choose his destiny will just piss you off. At least, it pissed me off.

Swamp Thing Volume 2: Family Tree (The New 52) – Hardcover
Swamp Thing Volume 2: Family Tree
Issues: Graphic Novel Collects Swamp Thing #8-11,#0, Annual #1
Writer: Scott Snyder
Pencils: Yanick Paquette, Marco Rudy
Ink: Nathan /fairbairn, Val Staples, Matthew Wilson, Tony Avina, Francesco Francavilla
Cover: Yanick Paquette
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: April 16, 2013

Rating:
8 / 10

Detective Comics Volume 1 – Faces of Death: Mediocre Plots Twists Overshadow Great Art

Detective Comics: Volume 1 – Faces of Death comes in like a lion, filled with more than enough grotesque Joker shenanigans and debauchery to invigorate DC’s Batman lineup. The volume collects issues #1-7 of the new Batman: Detective Comics relaunch.

It’s worth picking up just to see the last page of issue #1, written and penciled by Tony S. Daniel, which will leave an indelible scar in your memory. Unfortunately, all the illicit Joker revelry ends with that issue, as the story arc goes off in a downward direction to follow a cavalcade of less intriguing villains. There are definitely several smart moments, especially those dealing with Commissioner Gordon. However, the majority of pedestrian twists and uninspired sleuthing doesn’t quite stack up to some of the more engrossing Detective tales of old.

Daniel’s story begins with a naked Joker, a man wearing a human mask and a young girl trapped in a fire. As if the Joker wasn’t a big enough problem, Batman has to worry about a guy wearing human skin. Gross doesn’t begin to describe it. Daniel’s artwork really captures the freakish nature of both of these serial killers, juxtaposed against Batman’s internal angst for letting Gotham’s villains run wild. Sure, you’ve seen the Joker get captured before – and, yes, he never dies – but the battle is too exciting to put down. Then, the final page of issue #1 will slap you in the face with one of the greatest Joker pages ever penciled. My hat goes off to whoever gets to purchase the original signed artwork for that page.

Things start to change in issue #2. New characters are introduced and the Joker story fades into a distant memory. If you’ve ever read a Detective Comics book, you always suspect any of Bruce Wayne’s new business partners or acquaintances. In a book that’s less than thirty pages, somebody new is usually somebody with a clandestine secret – especially in Gotham City.

Writers like Grant Morrison (except when he’s doing his best to be especially confusing) are able to deftly weave the intrigue and mystery into a story so that the reader is given a true mystery-detective tale. While most of the dialogue and Bat’s internal thought-bubbles are solid, Daniel doesn’t really pull off the mystery. What you read is what you get, and sometimes it can be heavy handed. Boyfriends, girlfriends, forgotten sisters and tricky kids all play obvious roles with transparent twists. The biggest shock comes from Gordon’s neck of the woods – and it’s one that made me wince, probably more so than the last panel of issue #1. You’ll just have to read it and find out.

There are pockets of potential sprinkled throughout the pages, especially with a group of d-class and utterly obscure villains stuck in the Penguin’s web. Given the right scribe, there is the potential that these villains could rise up and be as appealing as the Secret Six team that was introduced in Villains United #1. Mark it, wait and see.

While there are pockets of mediocre twists and trite villains in this book, when compared against previous Detective Comics tales, it’s still a good Batman read in DC Comics new 52. Plus, the artwork is just damned great.

Detective Comics Volume 1 – Faces of Death (The New 52) – Hardcover
Detective Comics: Volume 1 - Faces of Death
Issues: Graphic Novel Collects Detective Comics #1-7
Writer: Tony S. Daniel
Pencils: Tony S. Daniel
Ink: Sandu Florea, Ryan Winn, Rob Hunter
Cover: Tony S. Daniel
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: April 9, 2013

Rating:
7.5 / 10

Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls is an exciting voyage

Who does Gotham City belong to – the Bat or his predators?

In DC Comics new 52 series, each of its heroes and superheroes went through a modest rebirth. Costumes were redesigned and origins were tweaked to modernize the stories and open up the characters to new audiences. The new 52 rebooted the entire lineup of DC Comics, with all series renumbered to begin at issue #1. It followed up endless “crisis” events (enough to make your head dizzy) that spiraled out of Superman’s death (which seems like eons ago) and ultimately peaked with Batman’s death and return.

Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls
Of all the DC Comics heroes, Batman and Superman are the two heroes most difficult to tamper with. Neither character can ever truly die, nor can they ever retire and pass on the mantle to a protégé for more than a year or two. So when writer Scott Snyder, co-creator of Vertigo Comics’ American Vampire, was tasked with re-envisioning Batman as part of the new 52, he had his work cut out for him.

For over seventy years, Batman – the character – has undergone several changes, from costume and origin to tone and style. Born prior to World War II, the original Batman was simply a street vigilante who didn’t have a problem killing a street thug. Years later, he developed a conscious. We learned that Batman and guns don’t mix. Batman became camp. And inevitably Batman got back to his gritty roots.

In Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls, Snyder takes Batman and his alter ego, Bruce Wayne, through a different kind of evolution. We all know that Gotham City will always need a Batman, whether it be today or decades from now in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about evil, it is that no matter which weed (or how many) you pull out, another (or several) will always be there, buried deeper into the ground, strangling at the roots.

EDITOR’S PICK: Snyder’s Dark Knight Tale Shines in 52

Snyder doesn’t tamper with the tried-and-true formula. Batman is still a brooding, paranoid loner. Yet, he surrounds himself with loved ones (sidekicks, police and a butler), who are both weaknesses and crime fighting tools, depending on the situation. He’s the kind of guy that gives his son (Damian, Robin), adopted son (Tim Drake, Red Robin) and ward (Dick Grayson, Nightwing) high security access to the Batcave, but reserves the “highest” access for his butler, Alfred.

Instead of tampering with the Dark Knight’s innate qualities, Snyder takes a tangential approach to Batman’s rebirth. Gotham and Batman have always shared a symbiotic relationship. In order to change the man, Snyder changed the city, taking Gotham through a new stage of evolution. This isn’t the Gotham City Bruce Wayne thought he grew up in, nor is it the Gotham that Batman thinks he owns. Wayne’s family may have helped to build Gotham, but buried beneath Gotham’s history lies a secret that predates generations of Waynes. The Court of Owls is calling, whether Batman chooses to believe it exists or not.

Volume 1: The Court of Owls is a psychological thrill ride through Batman’s own psyche and vanity. Snyder smartly captures Batman’s intelligence and motivation, before breaking the character down against a new threat. Batman wants the best for his city, but we also see that there is a sense of pride and a hint of arrogance in his character. Years of winning have made him cocky. Artist Greg Capullo captures a Batman who is finally seeing Gotham for what it is – a city that is not his own. Several panels feature a haggard Batman, one that doesn’t fear death but rather fears a truth that he never believed existed. Capullo deftly mixes action with fear and horror. The panic in Bruce’s eyes is alive and real.

However, there are a few panels where Batman and his compatriots are out of their costumes and look a little too goofy. Dick Grayson often has a cavalier smile that sometimes looks vacant and even dumb. As Nightwing, his mouth and eyes often seem overtly mystified as though everything that Bruce says to him is baffling.

Batman Vol 1: The Court of Owls reminds us that even the Batman isn’t infallible, nor is he as smart as he presumes to be. By adding to Gotham City’s origin, Snyder has given Batman boundless room to grow in the realm of DC’s new 52. Batman has returned to a city that is entirely foreign to him – and always has been… even though he didn’t realize it. It’s an exciting voyage and well worth the read.

Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls (The New 52) – Hardcover
Batman The Court of Owls
Issues: Graphic Novel Collects Batman #1-7
Writer: Scott Snyder
Pencils: Greg Capullo
Ink: Jonathan Glapion
Cover: Greg Capullo
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: March 26, 2013

Rating:
9 / 10

Comics Review: ‘Batman’ #2 – Snyder’s Deliberate Dark Knight Tale Shines in 52

Reading a Scott Snyder comic is like sitting back with your favorite novel and savoring every page. You know that the next page will be just as good or better than the one that you are currently reading, but it’s so hard to go on. Snyder is a deliberate storyteller who wants you to read carefully into every phrase, dialogue bubble, and thought box – because there is always a subtle detail lurking in the text.

Batman #2, part of the 52 reboot, does a lot of things right about the Batman franchise. For starters, it doesn’t really reboot the series at all. Instead, Snyder has continued to stay true to the core characterization of Batman. While the Dark Knight’s costume may have had a military upgrade – the suit now has sharp points on Batman’s forearms – the character and his colleagues remain completely the same. If anything, this “reboot” – in particular issue #2 – has helped to add more depth to the famed Batman/Commissioner Gordon relationship as well as Bruce Wayne’s ties to Gotham.

The first page of Batman #2 starts off with brief history of the original Wayne Tower in Gotham. Bruce’s great, great grandfather oversaw its construction in 1888. Right away – without knowing anything about Bruce or his family – you realize that the Waynes have been in Gotham for over 100 years. Literally and figuratively, they helped to build Gotham. Alan Wayne is in architecture, which puts him in line with the Masons. The description also gives you a sense of Bruce’s age. We’re dealing with a younger Bruce. All of this happens within the first panel.

Snyder then proceeds to add a few Biblical references that will most likely have some importance in the future. For example, the tower has seven guardians to protect each of the seven train lines running through Gotham. It seems like an arbitrary number, but when Snyder is writing everything has significance. That reminds me, I have to pick up the second volume of American Vampire. If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do. Snyder really shows off his deft writing prowess in an original work.

When you turn to the second page of Batman #2, Bruce gets knocked out of a window. Once again, we see the Batman we know and love. The descriptions of Gotham’s history are all in Batman’s head. Yet, he’s totally calm and calculating just as he’s being thrown out of the window. Instead of panicking, he is thoughtfully analyzing how he was just thrown through “unbreakable” glass. The story then jumps back to 24 hours earlier. It’s Batman on a motorcycle against a helicopter. He’s gutsy and cocky all at once. Greg Capullo pencils a slight smirk on Batman’s face as he makes a very unpredictable move to take down the bad guys. While he takes down these unnamed villains, Batman chats calmly with Alfred, assuring his butler that the Dark Knight will be on time for his meeting with Gordon.

Back at the Batcave, Dick Grayson calls attention to a new Batman tool – a Photogrammetric Scanner – being used at the morgue. Batman is able to analyze bodies from the comfort of his cave.

This issue introduces a new threat in the Batman mythos – The Court of Owls. They want Bruce Wayne dead. Why? We have no idea? This phantom organization apparently exists in Gotham, even though everything Bruce knows about the city his family built would say otherwise. Although little information is given about this new threat, we do know that its assassins look like ninjas with goggles and claws. They also may be using some kind of augmentation to be virtually invincible.

Capullo’s artwork does a nice job of complementing Snyder’s writing. In American Vampire, Snyder always went for very visceral scenes. Capullo nimbly shifts between cartoony reactions to bloody illustrations. There are three superb pages of Bruce getting knifed. On one, Capullo pencils an extreme close-up of Bruce’s teeth, with blood flying everywhere. Two pages later, there is an amazing up angle shot of Bruce standing on top of a gargoyle with knives protruding from his body. It’s always great to see Batman in this kind of pose, like on the cover of the iconic Jim Lee Batman. However, to see Bruce in this similar pose riddled with blood is a visual treat.

If you haven’t checked out the new Batman series, you’re missing out on one of the best stories at DC. This is “THE” DC book of the Fall.

Note: This issue also contains a preview of Batman Noel, a deluxe graphic novel scheduled for November release. Story and art are by Lee Bermejo.

Batman #2
Batman #2
Issue Title:Trust Fall
Writer: Scott Snyder
Pencils: Greg Capullo
Inks: Jonathan Glapion
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: October 19, 2011
Rating:

9 / 10

Comics Review: Fear Itself #1

Struggling economies and job markets all over the world, mass media sensationalism, consumerism, religious wars, and natural disasters have all contributed to the very real state of the world. Never has there been more fear manifested and felt than today. Marvel reflected that in their event comic of the year, Fear Itself. It’s a wonderful concept about on a Norse god named the Serpent: The God of Fear who rises to power by feeding off the fear of others. He has a bone to pick with Odin who used magic to hide him but now he’s loose and Asgard and the Gods at their weakest.

Written by Matt Fraction and art by Stuart Immonen, the main book is seven parts but will eventually cross over into every major Marvel Universe book, including the X-Men books. If readers choose to supplement the main book, they can purchase eight mini-series, two one-shots, 14 tie-ins, and pick up Fear Itself: The Worthy 1-8 as a Digital-only download. That said, there’s enough to satisfy the most casual Marvel Comics reader with just the main title.

Five things that I loved about the first issue:
1) It’s easily accessible. Outside of the Asgard destruction, someone off the street should be able to pick up this issue and run with it.
2) Odin vs. Humanity. I love it when Odin rips into the human race. His insults are often amusing if not true often times. Everything looks like it will set up Odin accepting help from humans, super-powered or not. The first issue leaves both sides separated but they will probably need to band together to beat the God of Fear.
3) Odin addressing Uatu the Watcher. It’s rare that anyone see the Watcher, let alone speak to him. Again, the arrogance of Odin is fabulous stuff even as his world is a giant pile of rubble. You’d think this crisis would offer up plenty moments of humility. Nope. Not Odin.
4) The nod to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous line: The only thing to fear is… fear itself. In the current climate, it’s even more relevant today than when he first said it.
5) The connection with Hitler, his Thule Society and his fascination with the Norse culture was a cool bit of back-story. The fact that Sin is a major player in Fear Itself and that she is able to pick up the hammer of Skandi was an Excalibur moment. Now she becomes a major thorn in both Captain America and Thor as a new villain. She was a bad ass in the pages of Cap, but wielding a hammer that can rival Mjolnir puts Sin off the charts.

The book has great timing with Asgard falling and needing to be rebuilt. Tony Stark slimes his way in to offer to rebuild the city and create jobs in Oklahoma was pompous and transparent move. Is anyone surprised by Stark’s opportunistic ways? The Thor movie is just a few months away and Fear Itself is part of they hype machine; Thor continues to be at the forefront of the Marvel Universe as expected. This is great for current fans of the Thor comics as he’s never been featured in so many titles–ever. However with so many spinoffs, potential new readers from the movie could get confused as far as where to start. Hopefully not.

One fear that can be assuaged is that Fear Itself is pretty straightforward. Immonen’s art is rock-steady. Some of the big moments like Skandi being resurrected and Thor’s tussle with Odin were filled with eye-widening moments but Skandi’s underwater battle with the sea dragons guarding the God of Fear was chopped up too much for a scene that seemed to lend itself to larger, more fluid panels or splash pages.

Fraction writes Thor majestically, though relatable in Fear Itself and puts the friction with Odin back beeping on my radar. Fraction continues to show why he’s one of Marvel’s “Architects” to take Thor and other key Marvel characters into the future and his take on Steve Rogers is pretty good too. One just hopes this big event doesn’t let the quality of Invincible Iron Man or Thor slip, but I’m betting that more of Fraction’s writing benefits the readers. Let’s not forget that the Captain America film will be released when Fear Itself begins to wind down, another coincidence? I think not, but Marvel’s smart to keep these two characters at the front and center of the stage and if that excites you, then Fear Itself is an event you don’t want to miss.

I’ll hold my breath thought to see what type of lasting effect this will have on the Marvel Universe as these event comics can be lacking in that department. This episode also sets up the rest so I’m expecting bigger things down the road. But if the rest of the series is as good as the first chapter, then Fear Itself will be one of the more inviting and more enjoyable summer rides to have ever come into town.

Marvel Fear Itself #1
Fear Itself

Written by: Matt Fraction
Illustrated by: Stuart Immonen
Cover by: Steve McNiven, Stuart Immonen, Paolo Rivera
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Release Date: April 6th, 2011
Story: 8.5/10
Art: 8/10
Cover: 9/10
Overall Rating 8.5/10

Graphic Novel Review: Daytripper (Vertigo Comics)

Daytripper reads like an intricately woven novel, which is brought to life through vivid illustrations that look like a slice of life. Creators Gabriel Ba and Fabian Moon have delivered a tale of immersion. From the moment you are introduced to Bras de Olvia Domingos, a Brazilian obituary writer, you will be overwhelmed by this brilliantly composed story. The tale dissects a single life, through several life altering moments. Yet, one question always emerges and will have readers questioning their own existence. Is today the day that I am truly alive?

In the first pages of Daytripper, we meet Bras de Olvia Domingos. He writes obituaries for the newspaper. However, he’s never realized one important detail. “Even when he’s not writing about it (death), people will keep dying.” The words deliver a resounding smack-in-the-face against the blood soaked backdrop of comic panel. It’s a brief, but modest epiphany for both Bras and the reader.

From there, you head back in time to see how Bras came to such a prophetic realization. Much like Harry in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Bras is a man who lives out Langston Hughes memorable poem “A Dream Deferred.” He’s lived in the shadow of his father most of his life. However, we don’t know the exact nature of that relationship or the cause for any domestic dispute. While his father is apparently a successful writer, Bras has allowed his inner demons to prevent him from completing his own novel. We are also introduced to Bras’ wife, his friend Jorge and his mother.

Each chapter in Daytripper is taken from a year in Bras’ life, with each character playing a significant role in his life development. Every critical moment is explored, from Bras first kiss to his first true love. After reading Daytripper, you will feel like you know Bras better than your dearest friend.

The years play out like a series of “What If?” comics. You constantly wonder if you died and had a chance to continue living, would you live your life more fully and put aside that dream differed. In Daytripper, Bras’ mom calls him a Little Miracle because he was born during a black out. However, Bras’ life becomes more of a metaphor for “choice,” the real miracle evidenced in this story. It’s an utterly sad tale, filled with constant downers and morose moments. But, that’s the heart of Ba and Moon’s story that serves as a life allegory. It’s the comic version of Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist.”

The illustrations do a great deal to bring out the story’s emotional content. It’s rare that you’ll see so much emotion depicted in the eyes of a comic illustration. Yet, in Daytripper, the the full close-up of a character’s eyes will tell its own story, outside of the writing in the panel. It’s a cinematic take on illustration.

Daytripper is easily one of the best graphic novels written in the new millennium and is well deserving of a place in any reader’s bookshelf. After reading this novel, don’t be surprised if you find yourself charting out your own life and wondering what moment in your past did the most to define the person you are today. You’ll also question how you should live your life, if that moment has yet to come.

Daytripper [Paperback]
Daytrippers
Written/Illustrated by: Gabriel Ba and Fabian Moon
Publisher: Vertigo Comics
Release Date: February 8, 2011
Story: 9.5/10
Art: 9.5/10
Cover: 7.5/10
Overall Rating 9/10

Graphic Novel Review: Takio

Forget that Marvel or the creator-owned Icon imprint is publishing it. Never mind that the team that brought us Powers creates it. If you bring in any of that baggage when reading Takio, you’re selling the title short. The best way to experience Takio is to walk in with no expectations, besides the fun that comes with an “all-ages” book. Takio is the genesis of a new world where two bickering sisters of a multi-cultural family become the least likely of heroes.

Olivia is a seven-year old spitfire and too-smart-for-her-own-good chatterbox; Taki is the adopted big sister, doing what every thirteen-year old is trying to do: fit in. Taki is instructed by their mother to walk her younger sister to and from school, the most dreaded parts of her days. Their mother is a widow so if she’s not busy working, she’s off running chores. Taki is as much a parent as she is a sister. This family is unconventional but not uncommon, as is the familiar economic climate.

On this extraordinary day, Taki’s best friend, Kelly Sue arrives at home to find her father had lost his job as a corporate scientist. He feels he’s been wronged by the system, always being let go before he’s on the verge of a big discovery. Her mother ran out on them when she heard the news. All Kelly Sue’s father has to show for his work is one of his experiments and a vow of vengeance towards his former employer. It’s unclear exactly what it can do–even to him–but he destroys it in a rage, releasing an unknown energy that zaps everyone inside and near the house: a distraught Kelly Sue crying in her room, and her friends who were concerned for her.

What follows is the discovery of extraordinary powers through the wide-open eyes of a seven-year old, and her overly cautious and reluctant older sister. Someone’s obviously been left in charge too often. The experience strengthens the sisters’ bond, and they take it up on themselves to rely on one another and keep their powers secret-even from their mother. For their first mission, find Kelly Sue and avoid her father who is hunting them down so that he may use them and their newfound “Kung Fu Telekinesis” to propel his career.

Think of Takio like Ultimate Spider-Man but with more innocence built-in. Maybe it’s because of the girl factor. It’s fast-paced, a pure adventure that’s not heavy or too light and is stark contrast to most of the books that fill comic shops. I do question its claim of being an all-ages book though. With my parent glasses on, there were a few too many gun shootouts and “Shut-Ups” that caught my eye, but it’s easily acceptable for kids of a “certain age,” let’s say, to be determined by each individual.

The banter between Taki and Olivia is classic Bendis, who captures the persistent banter between siblings on paper. At certain points I was thinking this should be called, “Talkio,” but once the action kicks in, Oeming delivers in a big way. By the end, Takio is just the beginning of what will be an ongoing series of OGNs. I was originally thinking this would be a one and done book, but subsequent stories will be released when breaks in Powers publishing schedule allow it. It’s a solid start with plenty of potential.

In being longtime friends, Takio is the work of a family affair. Oeming’s wife, artist Taki Soma, likely inspired Taki in the comic and Bendis co-wrote the book with his daughter, Olivia. What was evident is that they nailed down the family dynamics first. It felt authentic. Takio is intended for reading with kids, and the Bendis family considered what is a growing population in this country, adopted children from foreign countries, which in turn creates multi-cultural families the same way mixed marriages do.

Oeming’s art is electric but takes some getting used to for those used to his usual ink-filled noir-art. For once, his illustrations are seen bursting with an overload of bright colors and pastels. The experimental style doesn’t take away from Oeming’s ability to tell a story, but it’s like looking at a paint swatch under florescent light as opposed to yellow bulbs. The way that Nick Filardi colors Takio makes each panel look like an old-fashioned animation cel. There are very few hard inked lines in the background art so the foreground art which is inked and has the more vivid colors, pops off the page.

As an Asian-American in his mid-thirties, the list of characters I could identify with in my childhood is a short. I myself have an interracial child; I personally don’t want every book to be crammed with politically correct characters, but it is nice to see characters represent what you see all around you every day. This is America today, and Takio embraces that without making it an issue. Taki and Olivia were treated as a normal family first, with issues that every reader could relate to, regardless of the makeup one’s family. Understand that Takio is not a token effort to appease a group of people, these characters have been taken care of, and they’re real. How their unique backgrounds, upbringing and cultures affect their decisions are what make me want to see where Takio goes.

For those readers who want something with more teeth, there are plenty of excellent titles to choose from. However, if you can still connect to stories aimed at a younger audience, support an extremely rare book in its class. It’s kid friendly, girl-friendly, and most of all, fun-friendly. Share this experience with your own child (inner or otherwise), and put Takio at the top of the pile of your purchases this week.

Takio [Hardcover]
Takio
Story by: Brian Michael Bendis, Mike Avon Oeming, and Olivia Bendis
Written/Illustrated by: Brian Michael Bendis
Cover by: Mike Avon Oeming
Publisher: Marvel/Icon Comics
Release Date: March 2, 2011
Story: 7.5/10
Art: 9/10
Cover: 8/10
Overall Rating 8/10

Graphic Novel Review: Sweet Tooth Vol. 2: In Captivity

Issues #1-5 of Sweet Tooth introduced us to an innocent young boy with antlers, who was thrust into a world he didn’t know to face a fate he didn’t ask for. It’s an Ugly Duckling story set in a world mixed between Children of Men and The Walking Dead. However, this story is anything but cliché post-apocalyptic tale. Jeff Lemire created something bold and unique when he mixed his expressively grizzled artwork with a suspenseful, page-turning story. Oh, and the dialogue is outstanding too.

Sweet Tooth Vol. 2: In Captivity collects issues #6-11 of the Vertigo comic series. In Vol. 1, we were introduced to Gus, the boy with antlers who lost his loving father –the only person he ever knew. Shortly after breaking into the wild, he is discovered and rescued by a hardened man named Jepperd. He had a rifle and a fighter’s spirit. Gus knew Jepperd long enough for Jepperd to eventually betray him and turn him over to a militia camp in exchange for a duffle bag. The first five issues built up Jepperd into a savior, before turning him into a callous, uncaring individual. However, we were all left wondering what was in the duffle bag and what happened to the righteous man we thought we knew.

Issues #6-11 collect the story of Jepperd’s origin. We learn the truth about the righteous man and the betrayer. The story goes back to a younger Jepperd, before the H5-G9 virus killed off much of the population and left every baby born since an animal-human hybrid. Jepperd falls in love with a woman he’d do anything for. The ensuing tale is one of love and remorse. We see how a simple man fights for his wife once the viral-outbreak takes root and humanity shifts to a world of bandits and ex-military warring with one another for resources. After the build up of Jepperd’s character in Volume 1, you expect him to be reunited with Gus at some point. So, it’s nice to learn how Jepperd came to interact with the militia camp and why he eventually must go back. There are some grotesque panels and reveals that really express the darkness of this tale. Through Lemire’s dialogue and visuals, readers will start to take on Jepperd’s weathered and crestfallen life. The backstory is just that engrossing and mixed in well with Jepperd’s present day journey to a trading outpost called Factory Town. He’s a man ready to die, but needing a purpose.

Lemire also delves deeper into Gus’s origin. After being thrown into a cage with other animal-human hybrids, a scientist by the name of Doctor Singh is introduced. He has been experimenting on hybrids as well as pregnant women in an attempt to find the source of the H5-G9 virus and potentially a cure. Through hypnosis we get to see a broader backstory on Gus. This was a smart choice on the part of Lemire. Instead of showing both Gus and Jepperd through flashbacks, Lemire opted to have Gus live out his past through hypnotic suggestion. It’s a subtle move, but adds so much to the experience of reading Sweet Tooth. There are also hints of religious undertones that creep into the story. Are the hybrids the children of a damned race or the start of something more?

Sweet Tooth Vol. 2: In Captivity continues a promising ongoing tale, with a dismal outlook on the future. This is a series that you have to read and a definite must for science fiction fans. If you haven’t read Volume 1 yet, it’s best to start at the beginning to have a full understanding of Jepperd’s character.

Sweet Tooth Vol. 2: In Captivity
Sweet Tooth Vol. 2: In Captivity
Story by: Jeff Lemire
Written/Illustrated by: Jeff Lemire
Cover by: Jeff Lemire
Publisher: Vertigo Comics
Release Date: December 14, 2010
Story: 9/10
Art: 9/10
Cover: 8.5/10
Overall Rating 9/10

Comics Review – Shrapnel: Hubris #3 (of 3)

shrapnel_hubris3_coverShrapnel: Hubris (1-3, Radical Comics) is the second chapter of the sci-fi Shrapnel Trilogy, following Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising. If you did not read the first part of the trilogy, do so because it is a far stronger, stand alone chapter than Hubris. Shrapnel follows the complex socio-political dynamics of interplanetary domination. The Solar Alliance is the new political infrastructure in a future where humanity has colonized all the planets of the solar system. They use aggressive military tactics to take over these planets, usually at the expense of the civilizations inhabiting the planets. The last free planet, Venus, is under siege by Marines. A defected military officer, Samantha “Sam” Vijaya, makes the decision to side with the Venusian rebels. In Aristeia, Sam’s rise to notoriety and authority as a war hero is shaped, while simultaneously delving into Sam’s emotional and psychological struggles while undertaking this challenge.

Hubris follows Sam’s story further as she decides to take more aggressive actions against the Solar Alliance by attacking a colony on the Moon. She leads a strategic mission that destroys an Alliance fuel reservoir resulting in social, political, and financial consequences. Along the way, Sam is forced to make allegiances with factions of dubious moral standing in order to gather sufficient fire power against the Alliance’s Marine might.

Written by Nick Sagan and Clinnette Minnis, Hubris lacks the flow that Aristeia possessed. Aristeia had all the gravitas of a Greek myth: an imperial force invades and conquers the foreign land and a lone figure rises from the past to overcome her personal adversity and become a legend in her victory over the invading force. Hubris attempted to take that allegory further by examining the repercussions of pride and what it has done to the Solar Alliance after it under-estimated Sam as leader of the rebellion. Hubris also explores Sam’s own morality, her struggles with her religious past, and the fate she believes will be hers because of the sacrifices she has made.

The subtext was very engaging and layered but it was drowned out by the extended philosophical and strategic ramblings across the issues. Some of the issues were made so explicit that the dialogue complicated the story rather than making it clearer. Also, the tapestry of supporting characters was expanded; some of these were interesting, while others seemed extraneous.

Some of the character artwork, provided by Concept Art House, was monotonous making it difficult to distinguish one character from another and therefore follow how the characters related to each other. Even Sam’s character development took a hit. Space was set aside to illustrate her backstory and emotional struggles but often these observations seemed out of focus with the rest of the story. One nightmare sequence in issue #3 in particular was revealing. But you rarely felt her emotional struggles while in the midst of planning or conducting an attack. It was difficult to understand which decisions she made caused her the most angst. Lastly, the covers, while capturing the essence of war and combat, started off strong but eventually lost their attractiveness. Covers that showed the faces of war were far more introspective and compelling (issue #1 and 2) than those that showed warships and soldiers canvassing wreckage. Let’s hope that the conclusion to the Shrapnel trilogy regains the form of the great mythology sagas it has been trying to emulate.

Shrapnel: Hubris #3 (of 3)
Shrapnel: Hubris 3
Created by: Nick Sagan & Mark Long
Written by: Nick Sagan & Clinnette Minnis
Illustrated by: Concept Art House
Cover by: Stephan Martiniere
Publisher: Radical Publishing
Release Date: Nov 3, 2010
Story: 6/10
Art: 6/10
Cover: 7/10
Overall Rating 6/10

Comics Review: Abattoir #1 (of 6)

There are three things a horror franchise needs: a haunting location, creative ways of dispatching with innocent victims, and a mysterious, creepy, insane, yet articulate psychopath. There is no one with better pedigree than Darren Lynn Bousman, director of the SAW films, who provided the source material for Abattoir. Seeing as how SAW 3D is the final chapter in the psychological-torture-gore genre, Abattoir may be looking to become the next big franchise.

Abattoir 1Does Abattoir offer a creepy location? Look no further than the name of series: ‘abattoir’ is French for “slaughterhouse”. And where would this slaughterhouse be? Of course, an average home in Middle America, just so you get the feeling that this could happen to you. Are victims killed creatively? Does being wacked by a weed-wacker count? And the creepy conductor of chaos in Abattoir? Mr. Jebediah Crone, an old man with a passion for homes where people have been killed, fits the bill to a tee.

Set in the 1980’s, Abattoir begins innocently enough – a child’s birthday party and the common concerns associated with such a gathering of family and neighbors. In a sudden flash, a weed-wacker makes an unexpected appearance, severing fingers, shredding appendages, and ending the lives of all the party-goers young and old. Enter Richard Ashwalt, a realtor assigned the tasks of selling the house in which the grizzly massacre occurred. Ashwalt has a conflicted life, trying to hold together an unstable marriage, raising a bright daughter, and trying to make ends meet in the economically-weak 1980’s in middle America. During a late-night viewing of the house, Ashwalt meets Mr. Crone, a man eager to take the property off Ashwalt’s hands though avoiding all the legal channels. Ashwalt rejects Mr. Crone offer and soon begins to experience some difficulties – one of which is becoming a ‘person of interest’ in a crime committed in a neighboring town. Ashwalt’s boss, a gentleman eerily reminiscent of Gary Cole (the manager from Office Space) tells Ashwalt about a realty myth concerning a ‘bogeyman’ who buys houses where people have been killed. Though Ashwalt tries unsuccessfully to reach Mr. Crone despite his misgivings, he is especially surprised to discover Mr. Crone has made himself comfortable in his own home at the conclusion of the issue. Shiver. We still have to look forward to what Mr. Crone ultimately wants to do with these homes and how this will affect Ashwalt.

Writers, Rob Levin and Troy Peteri lay down a strong foundation for a slow-boiling plot, simmering with tension and suspense. Hopefully, the pace will pick up a bit in the next chapters now that many plot elements have been introduced. Illustrator Bing Cansino does a respectable job setting the tone with shadowy appearances, misty edges and a dull color palette which makes you feel like you are intruding on a hazy and unwelcome memory. Abattoir has the potential for a franchise, as Mr. Crone makes his way from town to town collecting the memories of bygone massacres and sowing the seeds for future fatality. With five more issues to go, it’s anyone’s guess how this one will turn out but a betting man might wager, “Not good for Richard Ashwalt!”

**Review Update:
As a point of clarification to the cover rating not addressed in the piece. Cover artist Tai Young Choi missed the mark somewhat resulting in the 6/10 rating. Mr Crone comes across as a bit of a “hick-clown,” too buck-toothed and clown-haired in the cover. That is not the feel of the character inside. The draw for Abattoir is the odd title which might make some curious. And to make the name more salient, the background of the cover is the better focus. There were not-so-subtle hints such as the axeman silhouette on the second story (maybe a little less lighting there).

Since Crone is the person interested in the property, maybe if he appeared to be entering the house, looking over his shoulder and handing his card to us…? Or maybe Crone could have been smaller, stepping out of the shadows of the staircase handing us his card. Or maybe the same size depiction of Crone at the front of the house with creepy closed doors behind him. In sum, the cover felt busy; focus on Crone or interiors, but not both… Lastly, his hat should be off because he is indoors (he seems respectful in that way). The quality of the art is very high, it just misses the mark on interpretation and focus.

Abattoir #1 (of 6)
Abattoir 1 of 6
Created by: Darren Lynn Bousman
Written by: Rob Levin & Troy Peteri
Illustrated by: Bing Casino
Cover by: Tae Young Choi
Publisher: Radical Publishing
Release Date: Oct. 27, 2010
Story: 8/10
Art: 7/10
Cover: 6/10
Overall Rating 7/10