12-24-09:  Sneak Review--A Second Chance at Sarah (Ape Entertainment)

by Brian LeTendre

I am a sucker for stories involving time travel.  The idea of going back to either undo some tragic event, or somehow change you’re the course of your life is a fascinating concept to me.  Movies like “Donnie Darko,” “Time After Time,” “The Butterfly Effect” and “Back to the Future” all explore this concept in their own unique ways.  Writer Neil Druckmann and artist Joysuke Wong have offered up their own unique take on the concept with “A Second Chance at Sarah,” a well-spun tale of love and loss tinged with the supernatural.

“A Second Chance at Sarah” opens with a guy names Johnny holding his newborn son in a hospital room.  We quickly see that the child’s mother Sarah is in a coma that she’s unlikely to come out of.  Things quickly take a turn for the otherworldly when we find out Johnny is about to make a deal with a demon to somehow try and save Sarah from her comatose existence.  The deal Johnny makes sends him back in time to 1996, when he was a high school student that had not yet begun dating his future wife Sarah.  Johnny has twenty-four hours to prevent Sarah from making a decision that will seal her fate in the future, and the demon pulling the strings behind it all has a plan that not only threatens the future of Johnny and Sarah, but their child as well.

Neil Druckmann is probably best known as a lead designer at Naughty Dog and the co-writer of “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune” and “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.”  He makes the transition to graphic novels seamlessly here, as “A Second Chance at Sarah” is a well-paced story with no fat on it.  Druckmann knows where he’s going, and he doesn’t waste any of the book’s 96 pages on unnecessary filler.  Joy Wong’s painted art style is a perfect fit for this time-travelling story that is part dream and part nightmare.  She also uses color to great effect in capturing the changing mood of the book.

All in all, “A Second Chance at Sarah” is a great read and definitely worth checking out.  I’m looking forward to see what comes next from both Druckmann and Wong.

4.5 out of 5 Second Chances

“A Second Chance at Sarah” is in December Previews, and will be hitting stores in February.  For a free preview of the first 24 pages, head over to www.ape-entertainment.com.

12-21-09:  What Happened To War Machine?

by Brian LeTendre

Everything started out so good.  In the past couple years, whether it was in the pages of "Avengers: The Initiative" or "Iron Man: Director of SHIELD," War Machine was a great character.  In fact, the three-issue arc that finished out "Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D." was fantastic (remember the satellite that turned into a giant robot?--awesome).  When the new series was announced and we found out Greg pak was writing it, all signs indicated it would be great. 

So, as I was reading the final issue of War Machine this week, I found myself thinking about what went so wrong that the series was being canceled a mere 12 issues in.  And in the end, I think that James Rhodes as a miserable cyborg is just not a likable character.  In fact, making him a cyborg in the first place just seems like a poor choice for the character.  Sure, it makes him stand out from every other guy wearing a suit of armor, but it made me as a long time fan of Rhodey feel like it wasn't the same guy anymore.  As action-packed and gritty as the new series was, Rhodes was pretty much a miserable son of a gun the whole time. 

And then there's the last arc, where we find out in that there's a brand new body out there for Rhodes to download his brain into, basically making him "human" again (which happens in issue #12).  This felt completely forced, and it seemed like Pak was told to re-humanize Rhodey by the end of the series, so that he would be recognizable to readers when the "Iron Man 2" movie comes out this May.  It almost felt like this series was doomed from the start, merely a vehicle to reposition the character for when the movie arrives.

It's a shame that this War Machine series never really got off the ground, and I'm wondering if the character can even sustain his own book anymore, as opposed to showing up in other characters' series.  I don't think we'll have to wait too long to find out though, as I'm sure we'll be seeing at least a War Machine miniseries launch in the wake of Iron Man 2.  Let's just hope Rhodey is a little more likable next time around.

12-20-09:Titanium Rain # 1 (Archaia Publishing)

by Matman

I love history! If it wasn’t for that passion I may never have collected war comics thus I may never have stayed with comics. So with that love and enthusiasm I dove into the world of 2031 and Titanium Rain.

The future is a scary place! In this particular future, a Civil War in China has erupted into a global conflict. As war erupts on a very technical level, it still needs human soldiers; men and woman who not only handle the most advanced weapons, they become weapons. To get more of an edge over the enemy, pilots are introduced to the Prometheus Initiative. By augmenting them with mech, they will have better aim, reaction time and become better killing machines!

Writer Josh Finney does an excellent job in introducing the readers to the characters and the situation. Instead of text pages, a group of pilots sit around a poker table, tell their story and their own situations. This is a great way to move a deep and heavy story without boring the readers. But I think for many, the art will be what draws the readers really in. Josh Finney and Kat Rocha use a photo real art style that is incredibly detailed and almost jumps right out of the page. Some of it can be a little unsettling like the eyes following you! Very cool stuff! This is the only style that would work with this book.

I can give you a bunch of reasons to pick up this book (number two is also available), but the number one reason is it’s an incredible read; deep, emotional but very accessible. Comics don’t always have to be all superheroes so take a chance. If you can’t find it at your local shop, go to www.archaia.com or www.titaniumrain.net.

Matman Rating – 4 out of 5 Jade Empires

12-14-09:  Dante's Inferno #1 Review

by Brian LeTendre

Maybe I shouldn’t have read the first issue of WildStorm’s new “Dante’s Inferno” series after having just played the PS3 demo of the game.  Because “Dante’s Inferno #1” is almost a scene for scene recreation of that demo, which is essentially the prologue for the game.  Clearly, not everyone who will be reading the comic series will have the played the demo or be buying the game, but most will.  I find that in most cases, people who play the actual games are the ones buying these comic adaptations, because they’re looking for more details on the characters and worlds they experience in the games.  There’s not much new to be found in the pages of this comic, which is a shame, since it carries the dreaded $3.99 price tag.

For those that haven’t read Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno,” it’s an epic poem about Dante’s journey with the poet Virgil through the Nine Circles of Hell.  The upcoming video game from EA has reimagined Dante as a soldier in the Crusades, who makes his way into Hell in an effort to rescue the soul of his beloved and redeem himself for his own sins.

The story in the comic is told through the eyes of Beatrice, and follows pretty much the exact same storyline as the beginning of the game.  Beatrice tells of how she and Dante pledged their eternal love for each other (and engaged in pre-marital sex) before he headed off to war.  Beatrice and her family are subsequently attacked during a revolt, and Dante does not make it back in time to save her.  As her soul is taken to Hell by Lucifer, Dante goes after them.  He meets the spirit of the poet Virgil at the Gates of Hell, and must defeat the guardian of the Gates before he can pursue Beatrice further.  The issue ends (just as the demo does) with Dante going through the Gates of Hell.

The story that Christos Gage crafts in Issue #1 is pretty shallow, and it’s exactly the same as the game.  I was hoping for more backstory about Dante and Beatrice’s relationship, or the politics of the war and how Dante came to be involved.  These are the elements that the game has added to their version of “Inferno,” and I thought I’d be reading more about them.  Diego Latorre’s art is very abstract and dark, which lends to the tone of the issue, although it’s tough to identify with the characters and the world when you don’t get a concrete picture of it.

Overall, I was slightly disappointed with Issue #1 of “Dante’s Inferno.”  I’m hoping that in the remaining five issues, the book will go beyond the details of the game and offer a deeper look into Dante and Beatrice’s relationship, and the events that led up to her murder.

2.5 out of 5 Circles of Hell

12-10-09:  Why I'm Dropping...X-Force

by Brian LeTendre

The X-Men universe is like its own pocket world within the larger Marvel U.  It’s a world I’ve admired from afar, but not having grown up reading about that world (I was more of a Spidey guy), it’s one that I find completely inaccessible.  The X-Men universe is not a friendly one to new readers.  I’ve tried several times to find a way in, only to end up running into hordes of obscure characters and convoluted plotlines that are so self-referential they require knowledge of the past 20 years of X-Men stories to follow.  And yet, I continue to try and find a way in.

Which brings us to “X-Force.”  When the series launched in February of 2008, I saw it as my latest opportunity to get a foot in the door of the X-Men universe.  It was a team-based book (which I love), and the team was small enough that I was hopeful I’d be able to follow what was going on.  Wolverine, Warpath, Wolfsbane and X-23 were the starting roster.  I didn’t know a lot about Warpath, Wolfsbane or X-23, but I was willing to learn.  Not to mention, the premise of a covert wetworks X-Men team was simple enough.

Boy was I wrong.

The first story arc had X-Force run an old enemy named Bastion and put his head on a Nimrod robot (I have no idea what a Nimrod robot is, by the way).  This new Bastion leads the Purifiers, who are another group that hate mutants.  The Bastion uses a technarch (who I only know about because of Annihilation Conquest) to reanimate dead villains from the X-Men’s past.  Enter a bunch of guys I know nothing about, and the writers do nothing to explain, and we’re down the rabbit hole of another self-referential X-Men book.

But I hung on.  I liked the idea of the fanatical Purifiers, and I was starting to get into the characters of Wolfsbane and X-23 (I found Warpath kind of boring).  Unfortunately, the X-Force team’s roster started to expand (with Angel, Vanisher and Domino), as did the number of villains from the past, creating a snowball effect.  I officially had no idea what was going on, when the book ran into the Messiah War storyline.  That was a welcome reprieve, as I had been reading “Cable,” which is the one X-book that I don’t have trouble following.  Once that brief crossover was done though, it was right back into chaos, as Selene (from the Hellfire Club) is pulling a page out of DC’s “Blackest Night” and resurrecting all of the X-Men’s old allies to fight against them—or something.  I’m really not sure.

Anyway, my point is that within the first story arc of a new X-Men book, the writers (Kyle and Yost) did the same thing that almost every other new X-Men series does—alienates new readers.  I’m starting to wonder if there are contractual bonuses for the number of references that an X-book has to storylines and characters that are more than ten years old.  There must be.  Because if there isn’t, the only reason to stay mired in what has come before is that you don’t have any new ideas.  The sad thing is that because the X-Men have enough of a longtime fanbase, X-books don’t need to attract tons of new readers—they’ll sell fine if a decent segment of the existing base buys new titles.

So I bid you adieu, “X-Force.”  I will continue my ongoing search for accessibility to the X-Men universe somewhere else.  Having just subscribed to Marvel Digital Comics, perhaps I’ll check out the “Ultimate X-Men” line…

12-8-09:  Indego Blue #1 Review

by Brian LeTendre

“Indego Blue” is an interesting look at a possible future for our world that features a main character you can really root for.  

The future world of “Indego Blue” is one where the government’s obsession with creating the perfect soldier results in the fracturing of modern society.  Scientists began splicing animal DNA with human beings, creating “transplants”—human/animal hybrids.   While the government is creating some promising hybrids, splicing eventually makes its way to the black market, and soon there is an entire section of the population that is some form of “transplant.”  The government decides that all transplants should be rounded up and disposed of.   That’s when Indego Blue decides to go rogue and help other transplants like himself escape the government death squads.  Indego is a dog/human hybrid with a James Bond-type persona, using his former FBI expertise to help those who are now in need.  He’s aided by another transplant named Baxter (his ‘Q’) and two scientists who are trying to help him recover the memories he lost when he underwent his splicing.

In Issue #1, writers Robert James Russell and Jesse Young do a nice job of presenting the world and setting the stage for the rest of the series.   The story moves along quickly, and even though we don’t know a lot about Indego yet, there’s enough detail that we can identify with what he’s trying to do.  Howard Russell’s art gives the book an animated series feel, which actually lends itself well to the action-oriented story. 

“Indego Blue” Issue #1 is a strong start to the series, and I’ll definitely be coming back for the next installment.

4 out of 5 Dog Days of the Future

From now until the New Year, you can get the first issue over at Drive Thru Comics for a mere $0.90!  Click here to go to the product page and check it out.

12-6-09:  X-Babies #3 Review

by Brian LeTendre

With “X-Babies,” Gregg Shigiel and Jacob Chabot have created a book that is aimed at a younger audience without the usual dumbing down of the characters.

If you’re not familiar with the X-Babies (created by Chris Claremont and Art Adams), here’s the skinny: Mojo once turned all of the X-Men into kids, and then he made a clones of them after the real X-Men returned to normal.  The adventures of the “X-Babies” are broadcast around the galaxy as one of Mojo’s more popular shows.  The name is a bit of a misnomer though, as they are more like X-Toddlers, or X-First Graders.  They argue, they banter, and they beat the tar out of bad guys—they just do it with more humor and less cussing than the real X-Men. 

In the new "X-Babies" series, the X-Babies (Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Colossus, Storm, Cyclops and Kitty Pride) find themselves imprisoned on Mojoworld, having been replaced by cute and cuddly versions of themselves on Mojo TV.  They break out and try to find who’s responsible, and end up running into characters from all of the other shows on Mojo TV.  Issue #3 has them finally confronting Mr. Veech, the man who has taken control of Mojoworld, as well as their new cutesy counterparts.  A battle ensues, and the new X-Babies are much more of a challenge to the originals than they expect.

What’s fun about this series is that Shigiel is actually parodying many of today’s kids’ comics that have been really simplified for younger audiences.  The cute and cuddly versions of the X-Babies are something you could actually see happening.  I think one of the themes of this series is that the X-Babies have been around since the 80’s, and they’re not part of the new trend of sweet and sappy reimaginings of popular comic heroes.

Jacob Chabot, who Secret Identity fans know from his stellar “The Mighty Skullboy Army” work, does a great job here, especially since he’s drawing two completely different interpretations of the characters.  His design of the X-Babies with slightly larger than normal heads gives the book a cartoonish feel without being unrealistic.  The characters are very expressive, as you would imagine young kids to be, and there’s a lot of attention to detail in everything from the environments to the action.

I was pleasantly surprised by “X-Babies” #3, and I hope this series gets the recognition it deserves as an intelligent comic for younger readers.

4 out of 5 Mojo TV’s

For those wanting to find out more about the creators, you can check out Gregg Schigiel’s site www.hatterentertainment.com, and you can see “The Mighty Skullboy Army” and the rest of Jacob Chabot’s work over at www.beetlebugcomics.com.

11-25-09:  G-Man: Cape Crisis #4 Review

by Brian LeTendre

After the explosive end to “G-Man: CapeCrisis #3,” the fate of the two super-powered brothers was in question.  Great Man appeared dead, and G-Man was nowhere to be found.  Thankfully for fans of the super siblings, all is not as bleak as it seemed.  Issue #4 deals with the fallout of the major magic explosion that was caused by Great Man splintering the magic that gives he and his brother G-Man their powers.  Both Great Man and G-Man make a visit to the spirit world while their bodies lie unconscious.  Billy Demon, Tan Man, Sparky, Sun Trooper and Kid Thunder help a recovering Great Man make amends for ripping everyone off, and G-Man's journey back to his friends gives a nod to “Where the Wild Things Are.”  Once everyone's back safe and sound at Glendof's castle, there's still the question of how the boys are going to get their powers back.  Good thing there's one more issue of CapeCrisis left for us to find out.

As we've talked about on the show, “G-Man: CapeCrisis” is a very fun series filled with memorable characters.  Chris Giarrusso's ability to write humor in a way that pays off for kids and adults is unmatched.  This is a book you can read with your kids and enjoy together, and how many books can you say that about these days?

4.5 out of 5 Ponds of Resurrection

If you haven't gone over to www.chrisgcomics.com yet, you really need to.  Not only will you be able to read up on all the G-Man characters, but there's a great gallery, some flash games, and some great animated toons that showcase Chris' great sense of humor.  Check it out!

11-23-09:  The Tick: New Series Issue #1 Review

by Brian LeTendre

While a lot of fans were probably introduced to The Tick via the 1994 animated series on Fox, his comic roots go all the way back to 1986, when a little known artist by the name of Ben Edlund created him as a mascot for the New England Comics newsletter.  A couple years later, The Tick got his own comic series, and the rest is history.

While the TV show featured a somewhat different supporting cast than the comics, they both showcased the offbeat humor of The Tick and his crime-fighting sidekick Arthur as they encountered allies and adversaries that parodied many of the superheroes and villains we grew up with. 

For the past 16 years, The Tick has appeared in several limited series and holiday specials, but with “The Tick: New Series,” he's finally retunred to ongoing comics.  The series will be a bi-monthly book, and will feature all new adventures of The Tick and Arthur, written by Benito Cerenoand drawn by Les McClaine.

Issue #1 functions as a bit of a holiday special in and of itself, as the main story involves The Tick attending a Christmas party th the Comet Club and exchanging gifts with the likes of Rubber Ducky, Bumbling Bee , Caped Cod and Running Guy.  Meanwhile, Arthur is relegated to the Sidekick's Lounge, where he recounts old Christmas adventures for the other sidekick, featuring Professor Chromedome, Chairface Chippendale and Scarf Ace.  The issue does a nice job of introducing fans f the animated series to some of the comic's supporting cast, as well as providing some familiar faces and places.  There's some great laughs, and Cereno has no problem matching the tone of the characters established by previous writers.  Les McClaine's art is a great match for the characters as well, and fans of the animated series will feel right at home with the look of the book.

All in all, “The Tick: New Series” #1 is a great way to welcome old and new fans to The Tick universe.  Highly recommended.  

4.5 out of 5 Man-Eating Cows

11-19-09:  Iron Man & The Armor Wars #4

by Brian LeTendre

As I’ve mentioned on the podcast before, I think “Iron Man & The Armor Wars” is a great series for fans of the recent movie, or those are tired of Tony’s darker exploits in the regular Marvel U over the past couple years.  Issue #4 offers a great conclusion to a series that has gotten stronger with each issue.

The “Iron Man & The Armor Wars” series began with Tony trying to move his business to the West Coast and shift Stark Industries’ focus away from weapons manufacturing.  Unfortunately for him, a group of Neo-Soviets have taken all of his Iron Man armors and are using them to hunt him down and make his life miserable.   Issue #3 saw Tony being seemingly betrayed by Rhodey, and he’s now in the clutches of the Red Barbarian, the leader of the Neo-Soviets.

Issue #4 is a well-paced wrap-up to the series, as Tony gets a little help from an unexpected ally and is able to turn the tables on the Red Barbarian.  He also finds out that it wasn’t Rhodey who betrayed him, and he feels guilty for ever questioning their friendship.  As the book winds down, Tony is heading back East after promoting Rhodey to oversee the Peacekeeper Armor project with Pepper’s help.  There’s also a great cameo from the real Doom at the end of the book, which serves as a nice end cap to the story.   

I’ve loved this series from the get go, and I actually felt the series became more accessible with each issue.  Issue #4 features a great recap of the first three, and every character in the story is either introduced by name or explained in the context of what’s going on.  You could easily pick up the last issue of this series and enjoy it without feeling lost.

I also couldn’t review this series without giving a round of applause to Craig Rousseau, who was an absolutely perfect fit for the book.  He handles the action sequences with ease, and his slightly cartoonish style punctuates the humor throughout the series, particularly the way he draws the characters’ reactions to what’s happening around them.  He also has a great talent for varying the amount of detail in the foreground and background that ensures you are seeing a particular panel the way he wants you too.  Everything just flows along well with the story.

The highest compliment I can pay to Caramagna and Rousseau’s work is that I want to see more of Tony Stark and Co. in the world that they’ve created.  I’d love to see this team get a run on “Marvel Adventures Iron Man,” or at least the opportunity to do a few more stories like Armor Wars, as they’ve created a fun version of Iron Man that works for audiences of all ages.

4.5 out of 5 Super-Hot Darkstars

11-14-09:  Lemuria #1 Review

by Brian LeTendre

In Lemuria #1, creator Adam Prosser introduces us to a world that was once ruled by the might lemurs.  That is, until the lemurs all became lazy and directionless and were passed by man on his way up the evolutionary scale, relegating them to a much lower status in society.  It’s against this humorous backdrop that Prosser crafts two tales of sword and sorcery that are filled with action and laughs.

In the first tale, a high-school aged sorceress in training daydreams about living a life of adventure.  She gets her wish when an overweight barbarian and her lemur sidekick show up at the girl’s school to rob it of treasure.  The two end up uncovering an evil cult that was sacrificing students to a demon god (who happens to speak like a surfer dude) and hijinks ensue.

The second story, a warrior rides into town looking for a man rumored to be ‘the bravest in the world.’  Instead he finds an effeminate tailor that sends him on a fetch quest for supplies, which turns out to be much more difficult a quest than it sounds.

Prosser writes great dialogue for the characters in his world, and his art style matches the humor of the book perfectly.  It’s clear from just these two tales that the world of Lemuria is filled with colorful characters that all have their own stories to tell.  I’m looking forward to meeting more of them in the future.

You can download the first issue of Lemuria over at Drive Thru Comics for a mere 75 cents by clicking here to head to the product page.

11-8-09:  Why I'm On The Fence About...Hack/Slash

by Brian LeTendre

In theory, "Hack/Slash" should be my favorite monthly book.  As a horror fan, the concept of  a hot girl and her hulking, deformed partner hunting classic b-movie slashers sounds incredible.   Throw in plenty of gore, sexual overtones and toilet humor, and it's a recipe for success.  So why, after 26 issues, am I on the verge of dropping this title from my monthly pull list?

Two of the biggest reasons this title's on the bubble are the inconsistent writing and artwork.  In terms of the art, "Hack/Slash" has had a revolving door of artists from the get go.  It's not surprising that some of their styles work for me and some don't  My biggest problem is that after 26 issues, I think it's time to settle on a look for the book and stick with it.  I've enjoyed artist Bryan Baugh's last few issues, but I'm not sure he would be a great fit for the long haul.  The inconsistent art puts a lot of pressure on the writing to carry the book.  Creator Tim Seeley handles all of the writing duties, and in Cassie and Vlad, he's created two great characters that I've grown to really care about.  The supporting cast leaves something to be desired though, and I often feel like the subplots with the other members of Hack/Slash Inc. are just filler, as they're never deep enough to get you to care about the other characters.  The book is also very self-referential, and the occasional editor's note isn't enough to help new readers understand who some of the recurring characters are, or why they should care.  The recent arc in issues 26-27 is a great example of that.

Finally, there's the cost factor.  At $3.50 per issue (and $5.50 for the recent 25th), inconsistency is something this book cannot afford in order to stay on my pull list.

So why have I stuck with the book for this long?  Because when it's good, it's really good.  The storyline involving Cassie's search for her father was great, and arcs like Tub Club (Issues #7-9) and The Coldest Dish (Issue #11) were well crafted tales.  "Hack/Slash" has also done a great job with crossovers, particularly the “Re-Animator” one, in which Seely wove Herbert West into Cassie's family issues seamlessly.  And as I mentioned before, Cassie and Vlad are such great characters that I continually give this book the benefit of the doubt.

In the end though, something's got to give.  I need a regular artist to stabilize the look of the book, and either better subplots or a trimmed down supporting cast in order to keep "Hack/Slash" on my pull list.  I'll give it until issue 30 (three more issues) and then I'll make my final decision.

If you're a current or former "Hack/Slash" reader, what do you think?  Head to the boards and let me know.

10-25-09: Misery Loves Sherman (AAAARGH Comics)

by Matman

I’m not normally a ‘strip guy’! And I have a very hard time relaxing as I read web comics. So when it was announced that Chris Eliopoulos’ Misery Loves Sherman was being collected into trade form, I was very excited. I love his work on ‘Franklin Richards Son Of A Genius’ so much because of the simplicity of the characters and the scale of trouble he gets into.

When we first meet Sherman we are introduced to a little boy who is not having a very good time of it. His father is a bit hard on him, his sister is a bully, his mother is distant and his imaginary alien friends are not too helpful. He’s picked on in school and trouble just seems to find him. His issues are enough that we can relate to most of them (like alienation) and not become saddened by it. Sherman is a likeable kid that you hope will get a chance to shine at least once, but you still laugh when he doesn’t. The humor of Misery Loves Sherman is easy to get, easy to follow and easy to understand at any age. The characters are strong and stand up on their own very well. Sherman doesn’t need to be in every strip for it to be funny. From Benny and Zort (his alien friends), Melvin (an action figure), and my favorite, Death or as he’s known here, Mort! All can carry the jokes and move the story by themselves. A great ensemble cast.  

This is an incredible collection. This book collects the first year of strips from www.miserylovessherman.com and what is nice is that you don’t notice the growing pains as it went along; it starts out strong and never stops. You do see Chris’ art become smoother and storytelling become sharper, but the stories are all good. Misery Loves Sherman from AAAARGH! Comics is a book that young readers will love (my daughters loved the yapping dog and the boy who peed in the pool) and older more seasoned comic readers will as well. If you like the style and pacing of Chris Giarrusso (G – Man) and Art Baltazar (Patrick The Wolf Boy), than you’ll love Misery Loves Sherman. It’s fun for fun’s sake!

Matman Rating: 5 out of 5 Plastic Growth Hormones

10-20-09:  28 Days later #3 Review (BOOM!)

by Brian LeTendre

Michael Alan Nelson and Declan Shalvey are doing a great job I capturing the feel of “28 Days Later,” and issue #3 continues to deliver a well-paced story focused on one of the movie’s most interesting characters.

“28 Days Later” revolves around Selena, one of the few survivors of the first movie.  She gets recruited by a reporter to go into the infected zone and get the ‘real’ story of what’s happening with the infection.  Against her better judgment, she accompanies a team into the zone, and things go bad from the start.  Issue #3 sees one of the team get infected, and when Selena has to do what’s necessary, the rest of the group starts to fall apart.  Unfortunately for them, the zombies don’t have a lot of sympathy for them.  The issue races to a finish as the group tries to rendezvous with a supply boat and make it off the island.  They do, but their respite is short-lived, as they end up running into the military, who probably have some questions and may shoot first before asking any of them.

Nelson keeps the book moving along well, and Shalvey does a nice job with the action and the gore.   Selena was probably my favorite character from the movie, and this series builds on the idea of the hardened veteran who’ll do whatever it takes to survive.  I’m in for the whole run on this one.

4.5 out of 5 Rage Viruses

10-6-09: Haunt # 1 (Image Comics)

When you team up creators like Todd McFarlane, Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley this can be big (BIG) news. After all Robert Kirkman has set the bar very high with Walking Dead and Todd McFarlane? When comic fans talk about great runs, many mention Spawn # 1 – 20 as some of the best ever written and drawn. And Ryan Ottley does some incredible art on Invincible (also a Kirkman book). So would this team mesh?

Haunt # 1 starts out with a completely creepy feel. Much like early Spawn had a back alley grimy feel to it, so does this book. Here we meet Kurt and Daniel Kilgore, two brothers who have their secrets, issues and some deep secrets. Kurt is a secret agent who is on the run and he seeks out his brother who is a priest. In times of trouble a priest can be a good person to seek out, right? Wrong! Daniel is an absolute disaster when it comes to his personal life. Following the death of Kurt, his body fuses with Daniel to create Haunt! What happens next is anyone’s guess.

First of all, the origin may have been a bit ‘forced’, but the possibilities are endless. These brothers hated each other and now are forced to work together within the same body. The character and basic story have that McFarlane feel. Fans of Walking Dead will recognize Kirkman’s pacing and dialogue; very straight forward. Haunt # 1 has some deep peripheral elements with some eye catching visuals. Who would have thought Ryan Ottley could draw so dark, morbid and bloody…yes bloody. Fans of his may be in for a bit of a shock.

Overall, Haunt # 1 is a strong first issue and I hope readers give it a fair chance. Sometimes all – star creative teams are a lot of flash and no substance, but this book has something to sink your teeth into. Take a chance on this one. Grab one of the five variant covers, and enjoy a good comic!        

Matman Rating – 4 out of 5 Headless Gunmen

10-2-09:  The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh #1 Review

by Brian LeTendre

In my years of comic reading, I honestly cannot remember a run of amazing storytelling like the one Mark Waid is on right now.  The most amazing thing to me is that he's doing it on multiple properties, from long-established books like “Amazing Spider-Man,” to completely new creations like “Irredeemable.”  And he's hitting home runs every time out.  

Take “The Unknown” for example.  He created the book about Catherine Allingham, the world's greatest detective, who also happens to be terminally ill.  The original four-issue series detailed Catherine's preoccupation with finding out what happens after death, as she investigated a mystery about a device that was said to be able to measure the human soul.  In the end, she didn't find all the answers she was looking for, but certainly found some promising leads.  She also found a new partner in James Doyle, a savvy bouncer who loved a good mystery almost as much as she did.  The series ended with the promise of further adventures, and Waid did not waste any time in delivering a new “Unknown” series, the first issue of which hit shelves this week.

“The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh” #1 takes the few things we thought we knew about the main characters and turns them upside down.  The book opens in Italy a year after the original series, and Catherine and James are no longer together.  The fact that Catherine is still alive is a mystery unto itself, as she should have been dead six months ago.  She's got a new bodyguard, and she doesn't even remember who James is.  James himself can barely remember the last several months, as something happened to both he and Catherine when they were investigating a series of small town murders.  Their memories seem to have been wiped, and James is trying to put the pieces together.

Waid does an excellent job of putting you in James' shoes, as much like him, we're trying to get our bearing and figure out just what the heck has happened to him and Catherine.  The story unfolds methodically, and the ending is one that I did not see coming, especially in a first issue.  Minck Oosterveer returns on art, which keeps the look and feel of the “Unknown” universe consistent with the last series.  He also does an excellent job of capturing emotion through facial expressions, particularly James' struggle with seeing Catherine again.

“The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh” #1 is a great read and another home run for Mark Waid.

5 out of 5 Shocking Twists

9-16-09:  Awakening #1 Review

by Brian LeTendre

You may have heard of “Awakening” before.  The title actually started as a 10-issue series that began publication in 2007.  Three critically-acclaimed issues of the planned 10-issue series were originally published before the restructuring of Archaia Studios Press hit.  When the company started up their publishing schedule again in June, “Awakening” emerged as a two-volume graphic novel series, the aforementioned issues being collected with two other chapters to form volume one.  In this review I’ll be talking about the first issue of the series, which is chapter one of the collected edition.

What Nick Taplanski and Alex Eckman-Lawn have created with “Awakening” is a unique take on the zombie genre that has a distinct noir flavor.  The story is set in the small town of Park Falls, and follows former detective Derrick Peters.  As the first issue opens, Peters is doing some private investigation work for a woman whose husband has gone missing.  The details of the man’s disappearance are not adding up, and Peters eventually sees similarities between his case and some other disappearances that have occurred recently.  A shady pharmaceutical company, corpses with bite marks on them, and shadowy government intervention all point to something much more sinister than just some random disappearances.  

Taplanski opens this series with a well-paced first issue that sets the table nicely for the rest of the story.  In addition to the main mystery of what’s happening to people in town, each of the core characters has unanswered questions of their own, like why Peters is no longer on the force, or just what made the ‘town crazy’ lose it in the first place.  Alex Eckman-Lawn’s artwork is dark and surreal, and it reminded me of some of Ashley Wood’s work, particularly the stuff he did on the “Metal Gear Solid” books.  His style fits the story well.

Issue #1 of “Awakening” does an excellent job of sucking you in and raising a lot of questions about what’s to come in the rest of the series.  Whether you’re a horror fan or you just love a good mystery, there’s a lot to sink your teeth into with this one.

The first three single issues of “Awakening” are up on Drive thru Comics Right now.  You can check out the first issue for only 99 cents.  To head over to the product page, click here. 

4 out of 5 Town Crazies

9-11-09: Red Herring # 2 (Wildstorm / DC)

by the Matman

No capes or crossovers, just good old fashion conspiracy and political intrigue. Oh yea…and aliens and cover-ups. Sounds like just a typical day in Washington, DC, right?  Well, almost.

Welcome to the insane world of Maggie McGuffin and the second incredible issue of Red Herring from DC / Wildstorm. Following the events in the first issue, Maggie is not only on the run but being aided by ‘Red’ Herring. On the outside ‘Red’ seems to know what is going on and is one step ahead of the agents looking for Maggie. On the inside it’s hard to tell, but right now he’s Maggie’s only chance of surviving. In the second issue, the pace slows down a bit which is good after the breakneck speed of the first. We get in a little deeper to the alien cover up and start to see who are the players involved. And something is up with Canada

Writer Dave Tischman (Greatest Hits) has picked up a thing or two from working with Howard Chaykin. But where Chaykin can sometimes be heavy handed with politics and one dimensional with secondary players, Tischman is much more in control of the entire playing field. He has built up characters that you may not like, but are very interested in what makes them tick. Sure I’m a little creeped out by Meyer Weiner and Penny Candy, but I want to know more about them. Yes, Congressman Damorge Channel may be a complete letch, but I’d vote for this guy! You need to read this one carefully to enjoy all the subtle jokes and humoristic tones he puts on every page. The other half of the creative duo is artist Philip Bond who is the perfect fit for this book. His style is very British (before I even knew he was British) and his panels flows perfectly. His style is very much like Tim Sale and Eduardo Risso (100 Bullets); rounded and full of expression. Inker David Hahn does a fine job holding everything tight and clean. Nothing gets lost in the panels; you feel depth and know where things begin and end. Colorist Guy Major rounds out the visual team with flair. The colors are so important at setting the mood of the book especially with the single color backgrounds.

If you are looking for a different kind of book; one that makes you think, laugh and question our leadership, than Red Herring is the series for you! Well written and beautifully drawn, this could be the sleeper hit of the year.

Matman Rating: 4.5 out of 5 tips for Harry!

9-6-09:  Exiles #6 Review

by Brian LeTendre

Oh Exiles, I hardly knew ye.  Just when I felt like I was getting acclimated to Jeff Parker's take on the merry band of reality-hopping heroes, Marvel pulls the plug on the series.  I could go into a diatribe about how ridiculous it is that they only gave it six issues, but I'll save that for the podcast.  The important thing is that at least Marvel gave Parker and artist Salva EAspin a little bit of notice and a few extra pages to not only wrap up the first story arc, but also answer some questions that go back to the origins of the first Exiles team.

In the opening page recap, Parker uses Morph to break the fourth wall and actually speak about the cancellation of the series.  Then we see the team put the finishing touches on a mission they had left incomplete a few issues ago.  After that, it's off to a reality where's nothing is wrong where the team can chill out and get a little R&R.  During their brief respite, Polaris figures out that Blink has been lying to them since she became part of the team.  They incapacitate Blink and follow the signal from her Tallus to the Panoptichron, the citadel outside of normal space and time which is basically the HQ for the entities that oversee the Exiles.  It's here that the new team finally gets some answers about the origins of the Exiles, and their true purpose.

I'm not going to ruin those answers for you (I'll probably do that on the podcast), but I certainly found them to be pretty satisfying.  Parker does a nice job of reaching back into the history of the Exiles and putting together some plausible explanations for the different reimaginings of the book over the years.  He also leaves the door open for someone else to come down the road and change things if they need to.

The book ends on an up note, but it's really bittersweet, as you can see that Parker had some big ideas for this series that he was forced to reveal in the final issue.  I don't know when we'll see the Exiles again, but I can't help feel that fans have missed out on what was to be an excellent run of stories from Parker and Espin.  With all of the books Marvel craps out on a weekly bases, I have a hard time reconciling that this one deserved to be canceled.

4.5 out of 5 Gone Before Their Times

9-4-09:  FTL #1 Review

by Brian LeTendre

Ian Sharman and Orang Utan comics have put together a rock solid anthology of sci-fi, fantasy and horror stories with “FTL” #1.  “Faster Than Light” serves up five unique stories of different sizes that are all satisfying and give the book a consistent feel of quality throughout.

Scapegoat by Dwight Macpherson with pencils by Riccardo Latina is one of the longer stories in the book, and it presents a bleak look at the future after war breaks out between mankind and robots.  A human soldier that tries to bring an end to the war only validates the reasons for the robot uprising in the first place.  “Prey” by Trey Wickwire and John Cboins is a bite-size tale that examines the role of predator and prey.  With “The Long Forgotten,” Ian Sharman and Izzy Davis offer up an interesting take on both the beginning and end of life on earth.  Cherie Donovan and Melissa Hudson’s “Obsession” tells the story of a vampire that gives a young woman the gift of revenge after taking her life.  Finally, Peter Rogers and Nuno Nobre’s “Bloodstain” follows one of the original vampires of the world who’s tired and ready to accept his fate…until he finds out what that fate actually is.

It’s nice to see an anthology book that doesn’t get stuck on one particular genre.  I enjoyed the diversity of stories in “FTL,” and since the book hits to all fields, there should be at least one story in issue #1 that resonates with people.  My personal favorites in this issue were “The Long Forgotten” and “Obsession,” but there were no throw-away stories in the bunch.  “FTL” #1 is a book I have no trouble recommending to fans of all different genres.

You can find “FTL” over at Drive Thru Comics by clicking here.

4 out of 5 Angry Dragons

8-29-09: Crime Wave Volume One (Three J Productions)

by Matman

Before we get this review going, let’s just get this out in the open. Despite how much we look alike, writer Carl Herring, Jr. is not a relative of mine. Sure we may be able to trace back to a relative or two (an original Herring), but we are not related. This review isn’t nepotism at its finest, but an honest review of a very good book.
Crime Wave Anthology Volume One is a collection of three short stories written by Carl Herring Jr. and drawn by Scott E. Ambruson and Chris Torres. Two of the stories feature the FBI team of Chase and Hunt who are a likeable and very believable duo. Since each story is about 6 or 7 pages, Carl wastes no time getting right into the action and seems to miss the pitfalls of short story telling. Dialogue between the characters is believable and very well written.

If you are a fan of shows like CSI and Law And Order you will instantly fall right into the book. The feel and action is written very much like a TV drama. Since I’m not a fan of those shows, I expected a little trouble getting into it, but I didn’t.  Here is a sneak peek… with no spoilers!

How far up does corruption go in Preston, Georgia? Read ‘Above The Law’ and see just how high the ladder it goes. This is a quick story that takes advantage of every panel to tell a satisfying tale. This is my favorite of the three stories.  

What do you do when an imprisoned serial killer takes over a prison? In ‘End Game’, Agent Chase must confront an old enemy in a battle of wits with the lives of hostages in the balance. Not only does Chase have to fight inmates all the way in, but his every moved is being watched.

In ‘Safe House’, the house isn’t so safe! When a witness is in protection from the mob, can Clayton Rio and the hot Rio Mendez protect him? The art in this one is excellent especially the painted coloring of Ed Traquino who also does all the lettering. Action, adventure and a hot girl in (and not in) a towel… nice!   

With an eye catching cover by Secret Identity pal Norm Breyfogle, Crime Wave is an excellent read even if the genre doesn’t interest you. Crime Wave Volume One is a full color comic that is suggested for mature readers.

Matman Rating: 4 out of 5 Crime Sprees

For more information on Crime Wave and all things Herring, please go to www.threejproductions.com

8-23-09:  Power Girl #4 Review

by Brian LeTendre

Seriously, is there a creative team out there that has more fun making comic books than Palmiotti, Gray and Conner?  Four issues into the new “Power Girl” series, this may be my favorite DC book going right now.

After defeating the Ultra-Humanite in the last issue, Power Girl is having a girls’ night out and taking in a movie with Terra.  The interaction between the two characters in the theater is priceless, as we find out that Power Girl likes the same kind of horror movies as I do (rated ‘R’ vs. ‘PG-13’) and Terra is too scared to look at the screen most of the time.  On the way home they run into some villains that look like they stumbled into our world straight out of my last D&D campaign.  Troll headbutts and giant stone death grips ensue as Power Girl and Terra take care of business, capping off their evening on the town with a good punch-up.

In short, I love this book.  Conner’s art combined with Palmiotti and Gray’s storytelling create an infectiously fun book that will remind you why you love comics in the first place.  Go out and support this book.

5 out of 5 Actioneers

8-14-09:  Bone Chiller Review

by Brian LeTendre

Robert Heske’s “Bone Chiller” is a collection of 10 modern tales of horror that offers a little something for everyone.   Heske wrote all ten of the short stories himself, and teamed up with a variety of artists on the collection.

The first story is entitled “Her First Day Alone,” and it takes a frightening look into post-partum depression.  The mother in the story descends into madness as she thinks about her child having to leave her and go to daycare.  Things get pretty ugly from there, and the fact that extreme incidents have occurred in the real world around post-partum depression add another level of creepy to this tale.  Monty Borror does a nice job on the art chores, particularly in the haunted look that he creates for the mother, which gets worse and worse as the story wears on.

The rest of the collection features shorter stories, and my two favorites of the bunch are “False Pretenses” and “Dead Dog.”  “False Pretenses” features a cautionary tale about internet dating with a twist.  “Dead Dog” is the story of a burgeoning serial killer with a god complex that gets him into trouble.  Both of the stories are illustrated by a guy named “Zue,” and his stuff jumps of the page.  His style is gorgeous and he does a great job with facial expressions and giving characters emotion.  I will definitely be looking for more stuff from him.

As a horror fan, I enjoyed all of the stories in Heske’s collection, and fans of “Creepy” or “Tales from the Crypt” should find a lot to like here as well.  Twelve bucks for over 140 pages of content isn’t too shabby, either.  For more info on the book, head to http://www.coldbloodedchillers.com, and if you want to download the book as a PDF for the ridiculous price of $2.99, head over to the product page at Drive Thru Comics by clicking here.

3.5 out of 5 Tales of the Macabre

8-8-09:  Witch Hunter/Night One-Shot Review

by Brian LeTendre

Monarch Comics and Jester Press have joined forces to put out a one-shot featuring  Vincent Ferrante’s “Witch Hunter” and Troy Hasbrouck’s “Night” characters.   The story follows vampire FBI agent Sabrina Voght and her werewolf sidekick Skinner as they’re investigating a rash of child disappearances at a school.  They run into Witch Hunter disguised as a janitor, who’s there trying to spoil the plans of the Scarlet Circle, an evil cult that has members in every world and dimension.  Working together, the trio find out that the Scarlet Circle have allied themselves with a vampire god that seems to be recuperating from injury by absorbing the essence of the kidnapped children.  Plenty of punch-ups ensue as Vought, Skinner and Witch Hunter have to disconnect the vampire god from his lifelines, and Sabrina almost loses herself to bloodlust before being saved by her two colleagues.  The story ends with a nice twist, as it seems the vampire god’s purpose was not what it originally seemed to be.

Ferrante and Hasbrouck make a good team, as the interaction between their characters feels natural, and they handle the reasons for the characters encountering each other well.  I haven’t read Night before, but artist Elias Martins does a great job of capturing Witch hunter’s look and the action sequences are well done.  Perry McCants, who’s no stranger to the “Witch Hunter” book does a nice job with the coloring, particularly during the scenes with the vampire god.

Overall, “Witch Hunter / Night” is a well-crafted crossover, and I wouldn’t mind seeing these characters together again in the future.  I’m definitely going to give “Night” a try, as I like what I’ve seen so far.

You can download this comic at Drive Thru Comics for $1.99 (that’s $2.51 off the print issue price).  Click here to go to the product page.

4 out of 5 Self-destructing Elves

8-6-09:  G-Man: Cape Crisis #1 Review

by Brian LeTendre

For anyone who’s not familiar with Chris Giarrusso’s “G-Man,” series revolves around the misadventures of Mikey G and his brother Dave, a couple of super-powered siblings.  Mikey gained superpowers one day when he cut up his family’s magic blanket and made a cape out of it, dubbing himself “G-Man.”  Not to be outdone, Dave snags one of the blanket scraps and makes a belt out of it, the naming himself “Great-Man.”  The character origins and a series of strips were collected in 2004’s “G-Man: Learning to Fly,” which I would recommend that everyone pick up.  A G-Man collection that includes the original one-shot was released in May by Image, and it also features a G-Man Christmas story and a bunch of other extras.  

On August 12th, a brand new, 5-issue miniseries called “G-Man: Cape Crisis” will be hitting stores, and for the first time, Giarrusso is exploring the G-Man universe in a full-length storyline.  This story involves a bunch of neighborhood kids finding out about the magic blanket that G-Man’s cape is made out of.  They get their hands on the remaining scraps of material and…..well, I’ll let you read the story, but rest assured, hilarity ensues.

The first issue of this series does a nice job of catching new readers up on the origin of G-Man’s powers, as well as brining in other members of the supporting cast.  As always, Giarrusso’s writing is filled with humor that both adults and kids will get something out of.  In particular, the interactions between G-Man and his brother Dave (Great-Man) are hysterical, and very familiar to any of us with siblings.  The art is fantastic, and Marvel fans will instantly recognize Chris’ signature style.

In addition to the full length story, the issue has several back-up strips, including Baltazar and Franco’s “Patrick the Wolf-Boy,” Chris Eliopoulos’ “Misery Loves Sherman” and Jacob Chabot’s “The Mighty Skullboy Army.”  All of the back-ups fit well with the tone of the book, and will hopefully lead to people checking out some of the great work Giarrusso’s pals are doing.  As icing on the cake, the preview cover for issue two is based on classic Atari 2600 box art, which is worth an extra point on the review score by itself. 

All in all, “G-Man: Cape Crisis” #1 is an excellent all-ages book that fans of any genre should enjoy.  I highly recommend picking this one up, and if lots of people support it, we’ll be lucky enough to see more G-Man series in the future.

6 out of 5 Magic Blankets

7-31-09:  Silber Minicomics Reviews

by Brian LeTendre

I have not had too much experience with minicomics in the past, so I was excited to check out writer Brian John Mitchell’s line of minicomics under the Silber Media banner.  Each comic is about the size of a matchbook and sells for $1.  Most of the pages feature one panel with text below them, giving them the feel of a small storybook.  After reading each of the four titles Mitchell is currently writing, I was impressed with his ability to pack a good amount of narrative into such a small package.

Here’s a rundown of the four titles I read:

“Just a Man” is a Western tale of a farmer that is out for vengeance after his family killed by people looking to get his land.   The story is very reminiscent of some classic westerns (Unforgiven for example), but Mitchell does a great job of drawing you in with the main character’s tragedy, and also giving you plenty of payoff before the issue is over.  The art by Andrew White is raw and really carries the emotion of the main character.  This one was my favorite of the bunch.

Worms” is sort of a sci-fi horror story about a woman who is the subject of some grisly experiments, which involve some kind of worms being injected into her bloodstream.  I read issue #4, and it seems to be a turning point in the story, as the woman rises up against her captors, presumably tapping into some power that she’s developed because of the experiments.   Kimberly Traub, a tattoo artist by trade, provides the art for this story, and it has an abstract, nightmarish quality to it that creeped me out (in a good way). 

“XO” follows the story of a hitman, and issue #5 is a flashback tale of how he got started in his life of killing for hire.  I enjoyed the dark humor of the book, and the origin story is ironic and funny.  Melissa Spence Gardener’s art is solid and will appeal to more traditional comic books fans.

“Lost Kisses” is definitely the most personal book out of the four, as Mitchell takes a self-deprecating look at his own feelings and attitudes.   He also provides the stick-figure art on the book, which gives it the feel of a diary entry.  With issues #9 and #10, he explores his relationships with people, love and hate, and his own need (or lack thereof) for approval.

Brian John Mitchell definitely knows how to tell good stories within the parameters of a minicomic, and he’s paired himself up with artists that fit well with each individual title.  I am interested in reading more of each of the four titles, and I’ll probably check out some of Silber Media’s other stuff as well.  At $1 apiece, you certainly get your money’s worth.  To see these comics and more, head to http://www.silbermedia.com/comics

4 out of 5 Size Doesn’t Matters

7-27-09:  Dark Reign: Fantastic Four #5 Review

by Brian LeTendre

“Dark Reign: Fantastic Four” is the only Dark Reign tie-in that I've picked up so far, primarily because it's a lead-in to Jonathan Hickman's upcoming run on Fantastic Four.  I'm happy to say that with issue #5, Hickman has set up some very interesting themes to be explored in future FF issues.

“Dark Reign: FF” follows the story of Reed Richards looking at the post Secret Invasion landscape and trying to figure out just where things went wrong in the Marvel U that brought about the current status quo.  Was it Civil War?  Was it the Illuminati?  Reed wants to figure out where things went wrong so he can fix it.  To that end, he's built “The Bridge,” a device that allows him to explore alternate realities to see if they've fared any better than the 616 universe.  His use of the device sends Sue, Johnny and Ben through a series of alternate realities, while Franklin and Valeria are left alone in the BaxterBuilding to fend for themselves against Norman Osborne, who's trying to shut down the Fantastic Four.

Issue #5 of the series sees the kids defeat Norman and Reed return everyone to the current reality.  There's an interesting showdown with Norman and a nice family moment, but the real payoff for this series is the table that Hickman sets for his FF run.  In using the Bridge, Reed has run into some mysterious figures that seem to share his desire to 'find a better way.'  While we don't see much of this group, they'll be showing up in Hickman's run for sure.  There's also an interesting story thread started when Reed lies to Sue, telling her he's dismantled the Bridge, only to go behind her back and reassemble it.  The issue ends with a short preview of Hickman and Eaglesham's first FF issue, which continues along the theme that Reed blames himself for everything that's gone wrong, and he believes it's his responsibility to fix it.  

I enjoyed this series and I am really looking forward to the next chapter of the Fantastic Four.  This is a good place to jump on the title if you've been wanting to get into it. 

4 out of 5 Family Matters

7-25-09:  Timestorm 2009-2099 #3 Review

by Brian LeTendre

Sigh.  I just don't understand it.  Between 1992 and 1998, hundreds of 2099 comics created a highly detailed vision of a possible future for the Marvel U.  Unfortunately, through three issues of the “Timestorm” miniseries, Brian Reed and company have failed to tap into what made the 2099 universe great in the first place:  the characters.

The premise of this new series is that Tyler Stone of Alchemax is using a time altering device for some mysterious purpose.  He uses the Punisher of 2099 as a pawn, sending him back in time, where he shoots both Spider-Man and Wolverine.  Instead of being dead, they are transported to 2099 (with alittle help from Doom), where a catastrophic time/space event is occurring due to Tyler Stone's use of said time altering device.  Now Wolverine and Spidey must team up with the heroes of the 2099 universe to save the day.

At first I thought my main problem with this series was the re-imagining of the 2099 characters and their origins.  A younger Miguel O'Hara, thousands of Hulks, X-Men that are amalgamations of their previous 2099 counterparts, etc.  As the series has gone on however, it's not the new spin on the characters that bothers me, it's that none of these new characters are very interesting.  The 616 Spidey and Wolverine are the stars of this show, and they completely overshadow any of the 2099 characters, including Spider-Man 2099.  It's because of this that the story feels much more like a “What-If?” one shot than a reboot of a universe Marvel plans on utilizing again in the future.

I am a huge fan of Brian Reed, but I really feel like this series has been a big missed opportunity on Marvel's part to bring back a universe that could be the next Ultimate line.  Sadly, I don't think anyone will care enough about these characters to want to see them anytime in the near future (no pun intended).

2 out of 5 Wasted Opportunities

7-15-09:  Finding Nemo: Reef Rescue #1 Review

by Brian LeTendre

BOOM! Studios recently released the latest title in their kids’ line of comics with “Finding Nemo: Reef Rescue” #1.   Not only does the book do an excellent job of capturing the feel of “Finding Nemo,” it’s also accessible to those who haven’t seen the movie (all five of you out there).

“Reef Rescue” begins with Marlin, Nemo, Dory and most of the rest of the supporting cast back at home near the coral reef.  During a field trip, Nemo and his classmates notice that something seems to be affecting the coral, causing it to turn a dull gray and break apart.  Marlin, Dory, Nemo and Squirt volunteer to try and find out what’s happening before it gets any worse.

Writer Marie Croall’s story is easy to follow and Erica Leigh Currey’s art is spot on.  The best compliment I can give it is that I both heard and pictured the movie characters as I read each panel, and it felt like a perfect fit.  The book is bright and colorful, and the story is appropriate enough that even kids who haven’t started reading yet will get a lot out of it.

BOOM!  likely has another hit on their hands with this one, and it’s great to have another solid kids’ title on the shelves.

4 out of 5 Just Keep Swimmings

7-9-09:  The Stuff of Legend #1 Review

by Brian LeTendre

On Free Comic Book Day, Third World Studios treated readers to a sneak peek of what effectively was the prologue of “The Stuff of Legend.”  We saw a young boy kidnapped from his bedroom by the Boogeyman, and several of his toys banded together to mount a rescue mission.  The preview ended with the toys entering the boy’s closet and crossing over into The Dark, a place where they became flesh and blood, and had to engage the armies of the Boogeyman in bloody battle.  The amazing artwork by Charles Paul Wilson III and story by Mike Raicht and Brian Smith clearly showed that “The Stuff of Legend” is a polished, well crafted tale that had me looking forward to seeing the rest of it.  

I’m happy to say that after reading the entire first issue of “The Stuff of Legend,” the rest of the story completely delivers on the promise shown in the preview.  Once the toys are in The Dark, things take a decided turn for the worse.  Not only do the toys have to face the armies of the Boogeyman, but their resolve as a group is tested, and when the weakest member of the group (Percy the Piggy bank) gets separated, the Boogeyman sees an opportunity and takes advantage of it.  What happens after that has major ramifications for the band of toys trying to rescue the boy.

What I love most about “The Stuff of Legend” is that it takes two concepts that every kid recognizes and expertly combines them.  Most of us were terrified of the Boogeyman at some point in our childhood, and most of us dreamed about what it would be like if our toys came to life.  Raicht and Smith’s story is indeed a dark one, but one that feels like it sprung from a child’s imagination.  Because it does resonate so well, I found myself really caring about what happened to the characters, and the emotional beats of the first issue really hit home.  Not to mention, Wilson III’s artwork is amazing, particularly the way he handles the transition of the characters between the real world and The Dark.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough, and it’s a safe bet you’ll hear it discussed at the end of the year when people are making their “best of” lists.  You can check out the FBCD preview issue of The Stuff of Legend at www.th3rdworld.com

5 out of 5 Legendary Tales

6-27-09: William Shatner's Tek War Chronicles # 1

by Matman

Did you ever wonder why movies and comics always show the future as bleak and a little scary? Because if they weren’t, we wouldn’t be reading or watching now would we?

Tek War is the creation of William Shatner who knows a thing or two about the future! While on the set of Star Trek V (that is 5), Shatner began writing notes for what became the first draft of Tek War. Since then his ideas became several novels, a comic book series, video game, a card set and a short lived TV show! I will say now I have never read or seen any of them, so this review could be interesting. I’m going in cold!  

The Tek War Chronicles is a bleak story that page after page only gets more depressing. Jake Cardigan is a 22nd century police officer who has just been released from jail. Not only was he incarcerated for a crime he doesn’t think he committed, his release is a bit mysterious. Someone wants Jake for something …and chances are it’s not for good. Jake has also been told that he can’t get in contact with his wife and son. The 22nd century isn’t so happy! One of the only escapes is the effects of the digital drug Tek that changes the way you look at things as it destroys you.  

Writer / creator Shatner and Scott Davis have given us a tale that you can just pick up and just enjoy. You don’t need to know what has happened in the past and that is a tribute to their writing and plotting. You just need to know one thing…Tek is bad news! Erich Owen handles the pencils (and inks) and does a fine job with the storytelling and the many different characters he gets to play with. The coloring by Michelle Davies brings the pages to life, but in some parts flattens out the depth. Bluewater Comics has always given you the best in paper and printing quality so don’t forget that if you get a little freaked by the $3.99 price tag.

As much a crime story as a sci fi tale and even a mystery, Tek War Chronicles is a great book that you can just pick up and enjoy.

Matman Rating – 4 out of 5 flying cabs.

6-24-09:  Mighty Avengers #26 Review

by Brian LeTendre

Since the relaunch of “Mighty Avengers” a couple years ago, I’ve felt like it has struggled to find its place in the Avengers world.  Clearly the “New Avengers” is the flagship title in the stable, and “Avengers: Initiative” has established itself as sort of the “JSA” of the Avengers, focused on shaping the upcoming heroes of tomorrow.  “Mighty Avengers” is somewhere in between, and its lack of grounding has made it the least interesting of the three books.

When Dan Slott came onto the title, I had high hopes, as I’ve loved pretty much everything else he’s done.  While he started out a bit slowly, the last two issues have really started to give this series a foothold in the MarvelU.  Issue #26 firmly established the “Mighty Avengers” as Hank Pym’s team, and also solidifies the new direction of his character. This arc has pitted Pym against Reed Richards, who, at least in the popular vote, is smarter than Hank.  Pym needs a device that will help anchor his other-dimensional secret labs that are close to becoming lost in the nether regions of time and space.  Reed feels the device is too dangerous to give to Pym, and the ensuing showdown has the Avengers trying to steal the device before everything Pym has built is lost.

What I love about this arc is the focus on super science, and how Slott re-establishes Hank Pym as a guy who should be mentioned in the same sentence as Reed Richards.  The team comes together nicely in this issue, and Slott plays Amadeus Cho and Jocasta well off of Pym’s character.  When the story concludes, there are still plenty of questions left unanswered, but this crew of Avengers feels solid, and there’s a good foundation for wherever Slott plans on going from here.

I’d love to see Slott be able to tell some stories with this group that are not hampered by whatever events Marvel has planned for the upcoming year.  It’s an interesting group of characters that he can have a lot of fun with.

4 out of 5 Super Scientists

6-13-09:  Robot 13 #1 Review

by Brian LeTendre

With “Robot 13,” writer Thomas Hall and Artist Daniel Bradford have combined action, mystery, robots and mythological creatures into one unique vision that will has me hooked after the first issue.

The story is set in 1939, aboard fishing vessel off the coast of Spain.  When their nets pull up what appears to be a skull-headed robot creature, things start to get weird.  The robot is sentient, but appears to have amnesia.  Just as the sailors are starting to wrap their heads around what they’ve discovered, the ship is attacked by a giant sea creature.  The robot snaps into action, attacking the creature and saving what’s left of the crew.  The first issue ends with the crew agreeing to help the mysterious stranger that just saved their lives.

Hall combines elements of Greek Mythology, pulp science and good old fashioned monster stories to great effect.  Daniel Bradford’s art will draw immediate comparisons to Mike Mignola, but it’s his coloring that really stands out here, in particular the job he does of bringing the feel of the cold, dark depths of the sea to the reader.  His art overall is a perfect fit for Hall’s story.

“Robot 13” #1 is a strong start to this quarterly series, and was definitely a standout at MoCCA 2009.  I highly recommend it.  Ask your local comic shop to order the issue, or head over to http://www.blackliststudios.com/ and purchase a copy there.

4.5 out of 5 Colossi

6-9-09:  Irredeemable #3 Review

by Brian LeTendre

Mark Waid continues to write the living daylights out of this series with “Irredeemable” #3.  As the Plutonian’s former allies try to find out why he’s gone bad and how to stop him, his former enemies are trying to figure out where they stand as well.  It’s a new world now, where up is down and archenemies are potential allies.  A bunch of villains get together in the former hideout of Inferno, the Plutonian’s first victim from Issue #1.  The Plutonian also show up, and offers each one of them a chance to prove their trustworthiness and form an alliance with him.  The consequences of their decisions are life-altering, to say the least.

What I absolutely love about this series is how lean it is.  Waid does not draw anything out.  The events of the first three issues of this series would be a 6-12 issue arc in most current books.  It’s gritty, bloody, and straight to the point.  Most of all though, it’s fun, and you can tell Waid is having a great time destroying the superhero conventions that have been built up over the last 50-plus years.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. 

5 out of 5 Shiny Red Buttons

5-24-09:  Chew #1 Review

by Brian LeTendre

John Layman and Rob Guillory have put together a truly unique story with “Chew,” and the first issue does a great job of sucking people into this new series.

Tony Chu is a Philadelphia cop who has a very strange talent—he's a Cibopath.  This means that anytime he takes a bite of something, he can see details about it.  If he eats a steak, he can see the cow it came from, the farm the cow was raised on, etc.  

In the world of “Chew,” poultry has been outlawed because of a Avian Flu epidemic.  While staking out a black market chicken operation, Tony and his partner get caught up in a federal investigation being run by the FDA.  As a consolation for having the investigation taken out of their hands, Tony and his partner are treated to a chicken dinner.  When Tony takes a sip of the soup, he finds out something very sinister about the man who cooked it, and things will never be the same for him after that.

John Layman has written a really tight story in the first issue, not only introducing some of the main characters, but also getting the reader acclimated to Tony's power and the world that he lives in.   He balances the humor, crime drama and horror elements well, and Guillory's art is spot on throughout.  Together they also do a great job of making Tony a sympathetic character, despite having a rather grotesque defining trait.

I can honestly say that “Chew” is unlike anything else I've read in a while, and it reminded me why I've missed John Laymen while he's been secreted away writing “Champions Online.”  It's good to have him on a monthly book again, and I'm looking forward to seeing where this series is going.  

“Chew” #1 is scheduled to hit stores on June 3rd.

4 out of 5 Finger-Lickin' Goods

5-23-09: ICONIC (Comic Book Artist Guild)

by Matman

I always tell people to be very careful about independent anthology books. For one thing, you never know what you’re going to get as far as quality and cohesiveness (and price). For every few good stories there is more junk! And what is the hope of a creator to get their name and work out there sometimes backfires.
Having said all that let me introduce you to a collection not like any of that! The book is called Iconic and it’s from our friends at the Comic Book Artist Guild (CAG)!

Iconic is more than just a collection of stories, it’s a collection of memories of days gone by. Each all ages story features familiar characters like Sherlock Holmes, John Henry, and Ebenezer Scrooge and brings the reader back to the time when they first discovered excitement in reading, mostly in volumes featuring those above mentioned names! Holding the stories together is a beautiful short written by Chris Buchner and drawn by Brian Brinlee. Every three or so stories we are reminded that this is a grandfather reading the book to his grandkids. His goal is to share and pass on the thrill of reading and using imagination. For the next 100 or so pages you are treated to some just brilliant storytelling! Here in my opinion are a few of the best…

First In Flight – Writer Robert J Sodaro and artist Rick Lundeen take us to the Connecticut coast for a story that challenges everything you thought you knew ‘Wright’!

In George And The Monster, writer Scott Ludwig and artist Keith Murphey delves into the darker side (and arguably more fun) of storytelling…the scary bedtime story. Someone or thing is out to get George and the team that stands with him to fight is quite charming.

Sherlock Holmes has never been able to solve one mystery; the identity of Jack The Ripper! After reading Repercussions by Dwight Baldwin and J.M. DeSantis, you’ll see why. An ending I never saw coming.

Although not a fan of mythology, I quite liked Talos The Bronze by Rafael Gonzales and Philip Clarke. Full of excitement and magic, it was Rafael’s art that drew me in.

Outlaws Of Industry is an epic tale of greed, action and heroics by writer Ryan Markle, penciler Paul London and inker Alex Rivera. Just when you lose your faith in your fellow humans, you get it back.

Since artist Brian Brinlee is featured very heavily in Iconic I feel it is important to note how impressive his work is. Readers of Sky Pirates are already familiar with his talent, but here he brought it to a whole new level. His panels here reminded me of classic stuff by Sam Glanzman, Tim Truman and Dick Ayers! 

With over 30 creators involved, 11 illustrated stories and one bibliography, there was a lot of time and energy put into Iconic and it reads like a labor of love. Each story blends wonderfully with the overall theme and although there is not a bad story in the bunch, some work much better than others. Every creative team in this book does a fantastic job and should be proud of their contributions and those of their partners. One thing you may not notice as you enjoy the book is the quality of the production. The inking is tight and the lettering is crisp, well placed and easy to read. Those are a couple of things that can ruin a ‘indie’ books overall presentation. Art and story are important, but if lines look fuzzy and the letters are all over the place, it may distract you! Since I haven’t gotten my own copy yet, I can’t tell you about page quality, binding and overall readability (I got PDF files), I’m sure it’s top notch as well! The format will be a 6 x 9 perfect bound paperback set for a release of June 6th.     

Since Iconic is a fundraiser, look at the fact that not only do you get a cool book for under $10.00, but you’re helping CAG raise some much needed cash. And after you’re done reading (and rereading), search out some of those involved, let ‘em know what you thought and help support their projects. There are some incredibly talented writers and artist out there not working at one of the ‘majors’ and this is a way to discover a bunch between one cover!

Matman Rating – 5 out of 5 ‘Dear Watsons’     

5-13-09:  The Unknown #1 Review

by Brian LeTendre

Since Mark Waid arrived at BOOM! Studios, he has been on an incredible run of creativity, whether it be the stuff he’s writing for other companies (his stuff on Spidey has been great), or the new properties he’s introducing through BOOM!  Hot off the heels of “Irredeemable” comes his latest work, “Unknown.”

“The Unknown” tells the story of Cat Allingham, a modern day Sherlock Holmes.  Her amazing eye for detail and her ability to read a crime scene has allowed her to solve some of the biggest crimes of the day.  She’s also a best-selling author, and is first on the short list of specialists that are called in when a come seems unsolvable.  Oh, and one other thing—Cat has six months to live.

The first issue does a good job of establishing Cat, her reputation and her current situation.  The books also brings in the character of James Doyle, a savvy bouncer who ends up being Cat’s hired muscle.  Together, the two of them travel across the world to investigate what could be the last mystery Cat ever solves, and one that could provide answers about her own fate. 

Much like Irredeemable, the pacing in this issue is great, and there is a real sense of urgency to cat’s character, given her current situation.  I’m not familiar with artist Minck Oosterveer, but he’s great here, perfectly communicating the dark tone of the book and keeping up with Waid’s breakneck pace.

“The Unknown” #1 is another  great first issue for BOOM! and mark Waid, who are really making some noise in the industry right now.  Go support their efforts and buy this book.

4.5 out of 5 Unsolved Mysteries

4-30-09: Dragon Frog # 1 (Big Fly Creative Works)

by the Matman

Wally Wallas is a frog who, when he was younger, was orphaned and crippled in a subway accident. But instead of just giving up and living with the cards he was dealt, Wally enters the world of martial arts and develops his body and mind to become
New York City’s greatest hero. But the question is why? Is it to prove a point or really make a difference.

Dragon Frog is an adventure that takes place in an anthropomorphic world. Here, Wally donned in a purple surf suit and goggles, breaks up a hi tech bank robbery and is able to keep his identity a secret.  He finds great pleasure in this until he meets with his sensei who’s not very happy about this. Wally feels he is doing ‘good’ by being a hero, yet his master (who looks like the old Corn Flakes rooster) feels Wally is not looking at the big picture. He mentions ‘enemies that scour the world’ and for our young hero it means nothing. Like many of a younger age, he only thinks in the now but his motives are pure. Throw into the mix a mythical human looking monster called the Humbaba and you have one of the best comics I’ve read in a long time.

Writer / Creator Sergio Clavijo has somehow been able to mix the best elements of The Ninja Turtles, The Empire Strikes Back and the Karate Kid and make a unique and inspiring story. His characters are full of excitement and the story moves at a nice pace with plenty of action and animals. Artist / Colorist Aleth Romanillos is in one word, amazing. His style, panel layouts and colors bring this world to life. As you look at the pictures, you can’t help but feel good and smile. I don’t know how much editing Nanci Lillie had to do, because this book seems to have just put itself together. The perfect creative team for the perfect comic.

For me Dragon Frog # 1 brought back the feelings I had when I first read the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles way back in 1983; a fun and completely different comic. Dragon Frog is an all ages comic so big it’s in magazine size. Bigger art, bigger story and bigger fun!

Matman Rating – 5 out 5 web fingered karate frogs

4-7-09:  American McGee's Grimm #1 Review

by Brian LeTendre

In the first issue of American McGee’s Grimm, the creative team of Dwight MacPherson and Grant Bond unleash the titular character of the video game upon the traditional superhero comic.

For those that haven’t played the game, Grimm is a dwarf that is disgusted by how fairytales have become sweet and sappy, full of happy endings.  He wants to return to the days when fairy tales were dark, filled with harsh lessons and cruel realities.  In the game, players control Grimm as he rampages through well known stories spreading darkness and mayhem.  A trail of darkness follows him wherever he goes, and he has a “butt stomp” move that increases the range of his darkness-spreading power.  As Grimm corrupts the world around him, the fairy tales lose their sugar coating, and their dark and violent roots are revealed.

For the comic, writer Dwight MacPherson does a great job of picking up Grimm’s story and running with it.  In Issue #1, Grimm has pretty much corrupted all of the fairy tales he can, and he’s looking for a new challenge.  He decides to make the world of comics his next target, as it’s filled with stereotypes and clichés.  His first order of business is to deal with superhero comics.  What follows is basically a skewering of the comic book theme of good guys triumphing over bad guys.  Grimm pays a visit to the supervillain fraternity and gives them an upgrade.  He then proceeds to put together a plan to take down the good guys once and for all.  With Grimm on their side, the villains finally manage to turn the tables, and the outcome for the heroes is a decidedly unhappy ending.  The story is filled with witty dialogue and nods to both well-known superheroes and well-known storylines.

Grant Bond expertly handles the art in this book, taking the look and feel of the Grimm videogame and contrasting it with a traditional comic book style.  As the story progresses, so does Grimm’s influence in the comic world, and Bond keeps the art in sync with the story all the way.

Whether you’re a fan of the game or not, American McGee’s Grimm #1 provides a great parody of our beloved comic genre that is worth a read for any comic fan.  The comic hits stores April 29th, and anyone wanting to check out the game can play a free episode of it over at www.gametap.com

4 out of 5 Twisted Tales

4-3-09:  Irredeemable #1 Review

by Brian LeTendre

Wow.  Mark Waid’s Irredeemable # 1 punches you in the mouth, knocks you down and then keeps pummeling you until you black out.  It’s everything a first issue should be and more. 

Irredeemable is the story of the Plutonian, a Superman-like character who goes from being the world’s greatest superhero to the world’s most dangerous villain.  The first issue throws readers into the story after it’s already begun.  A hero named The Hornet is desperately trying to get his wife and kids out of the house before the Plutonian finds them.  Unfortunately for them, they don’t get out in time.

We then see the remainder of what used to be the Plutonian’s superhero fraternity trying to figure out a way to stop him.   We also find out the reason behind the Plutonian’s change from hero to villain.  He became obsessed with people who criticized him and mocked him, losing his faith in humanity after seeing their compulsion to tear their heroes down.  Now he’s coming after all of the heroes he used to serve with, taking them out one by one.

There’s surely more to the backstory of just what made the Plutonian snap, but Waid does a great job of setting up the series in a tightly written first issue.  Peter Krause gives the book a great look, really nailing the emotional moments in the story.

Irredeemable #1 is a terrific start to what may be one of the standout series of 2009.  A must buy.

5 out of 5 Heroes Running Scared

3-30-09: Wolverine - Prodigal Son (Del Rey / Marvel)

by the Matman

When Antony Johnston asked if I’d be interested in reviewing his latest work, I said yes right away. After all,
Antony is the writer of some incredible and thought provoking books like Wasteland and Dead Space and very instrumental in the early success of Secret Identity. So when I asked what it was he said “a manga take on Wolverine”.

Uh – Oh! I’m not a Wolverine fan, nor do I read any manga! This wasn’t looking good. How do i get outta this!

So when I popped open this smallish book the first thing I noticed was the panel layout. Instead of traditional flat and even boarders they were schizophrenic. But I read on.

Here we meet a Wolverine very different than the overused Marvel character. Logan is a young boy who was found in the woods by Mr.Elliot, the sensei of a martial arts school in the wilds of Canada. Here he also an outcast! The best fighter in the school (except for maybe Tammy Elliot, the sensei’s daughter), Logan has made many enemies with students past and present. His healing factor and bone claws also don’t warm him up to his classmates who look at him as just a psychotic freak. But the main theme of the story is not so much alienation, but fear. Since the school is a ‘school’, there comes an end to the time there. ‘Where do we go?’ and my ‘place in the world’ are all the fears we had upon our own graduations, but since this is the only home Logan has ever had, the fear runs deeper.

As I read the book I realized Antony Johnston could right cereal box instructions (pour in bowl, add milk and eat) and make them incredibly interesting. There are at least five huge fight scenes that are made more spirited by the writing and a full chapter with no words that still tell a meaningful story. With his current works like Wasteland (Oni Press) and Dead Space (Image), Antony tends to let the action or situations tell the story. Here he lets the characters fuel the reading fire.

Just as important to the presentation is the art and Wilson Tortosa doesn’t disappoint. Visually is where the traditional comic reader struggles with manga, but Wilson keeps Wolverine recognizable and his action scenes are a nice blend of fury and beauty. His pencils are very expressive and details to things like planes cars and cityscapes are perfect. As someone who thought all manga artists draw the same, it was a shock to think I recognized Wilson’s art and style from somewhere else. Five years ago he was the artist on Top Cow’s Battle Of The Planets and most of you know the love I have for BOTP and Gatchaman!

Wolverine – Prodigal Son is an excellent way to introduce traditional comic fans to manga and vise versa. It’s an ages 13 + book that is a full 166 page story (plus 20 more pages of sketches) and has a price tag of $12.99. Don’t let the price tag freak you out too much. Look at what you pay for your regular comics and do a page to price count.

Rating - 4.5 out of 5 Kicks To The Face 

Wolverine – Prodigal Son is from Del Rey Manga and hits shops April 7th. For more information go to www.delreymanga.com