REVIEW: Haru’s Curse (2021)

A Manga by Asuka Konishi

Cover

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Natsumi’s little sister Haru was her whole world—and now she’s gone. After the funeral, Natsumi reluctantly agrees to date her sister’s fiancé Togo. But as their relationship develops with the passing seasons, Haru’s memory lingers over them like a curse. Asuka Konishi’s English-language debut is a nuanced and affecting portrait of the conflict between romantic and familial love, and of the hard choices that face us all in making our lives our own.

Description

I usually stay clear of romance manga because its generally childish, basically pornography for men, or entirely comprised of slapstick comedy, usually taking place in high school, and is so far distanced from my life that its like me watching Disney Channel sitcoms meant for children. I gravitated towards reading Haru’s Curse for two reasons: I love atypical art styles in anime/manga, and the description sounded mature and somewhat thrilling for a romance manga.

The art style thing comes from my distaste of how most anime has looked for the last decade or so, I’ll likely upset people here, but I feel most of the Moe Manga boom from 2008 onwards looks the same and tells the same stories, and this style has infiltrated just about every non-shonen property. The tall, angular art style in Haru’s Curse reminds me of CLAMP or its derivatives upwards of 20 years ago. I love it when manga artists are willing to move away from the stylistic norm, even if it’s a throw-back of sorts. Usually, to me, its a sign of quality. and it definitely was.

Internal page

Storyline-wise, the way Asuka Konishi writes is refreshing. Most romance manga follow the tried-and-true cliched plot of 1) girl lusts over dreamy and brooding guy 2)he has mysterious past 3) they go headlong into love 4) some obstruction gets in the way 4) they work through it and are together, or in some cases the main characters die etc. It gets tiresome and seems too formulaic. This story is somewhat flipped on its head as it jumps point of view a few times, even telling the story from the male protagonist’s POV a few times. The couple in question only start “dating” as some sort of mourning for Natsumi’s younger sister Haru, who has died of cancer. Once they meet a requirement of her proposal, that Togo takes her to all the places that he enjoyed with Haru, their relationship abruptly ends. Or at least, that’s what they think. I don’t plan to spoil everything, don’t worry!

All of the main characters are written as real people, none are “Mary-Sue” perfect people, and each has flaws. Seeing the story from all points of view was great, and gave depth to everyone. This comic deals with issues like arranged marriages, familiar pressure, and even Japanese societal norms that really leaves you on the edge of your seat like any good drama would. I don’t normally say this about this genre, but I think this has been my favorite manga of the year so far, and I will try to find a way to read the author’s previous work, Raise wa Tanin ga Ii (something like: I’d Prefer It If We’re Strangers in Our Next Life).

Cells at Work! Baby 1 (2021)

A graphic novel by Yasuhiro Fukuda

Cells at work! is one of those little surprises I found last year when I was still subscribed to Kindle Unlimited. While seemingly every new manga coming out is some sort of isekai story – the plot of Cells At Work! was rather refreshing despite its simplicity. The main series told the story of the relationship between a lowly red-blood cell and her budding relationship with a heroic white blood cell while they go about their lives trying to keep their home healthy. The way biological functions were realized on an anthropomorphized scale was cool, and vaguely educational. I later found some of the spin-off works such as Code Black (which was gender swapped and dealt with a destructive person heavily drinking and such), and enjoyed them as well. This is the first time I’ve heard of this detour from the main story- and I’m pretty excited as we now have cells living inside a baby:

BEING A BABY IS HARD WORK! Join these cute baby cells as they work hard within their tiny body! A mini-Red Blood Cell picks up oxygen from the helpful ladies at the Placenta, and meets a White Blood Cell for the first time, in this adorable spinoff of Cells at Work! But when tremors begin to shake their world, they’ll need to consult the Gene Library to find out what’s going on! Could this be…a contraction? And might their body soon have to…fend for itself?!

Official description

This book still tells the story of a Red Blood Cell, however rather than seeing her task of delivering oxygen throughout the body as some sort of delivery job ala the Post Office, this book starts out in a pre-school setting sort sorts with all of the Red Blood Cells first learning how to deliver it then transitions to the setting we’re all used to. The story takes us from forty weeks into the pregnancy, to the birth, and finally into some situations a baby might have in their small life such as removal of the umbilical cord, eating for the first time, and the lungs being filled with fluid etc. This all leads up to a viral attack, and the introduction of fan favorites – The White Blood Cells, this time in chibi form. We see this through the relationship between Red Blood Cell and her big brother that watches over her, and keeps her out of trouble (or at least he tries).

Interior art

I will give this book props for not just being a total rehash of previous books with chibi characters, or a book with wall-to-wall jokes. I’m thinking of the Attack On Titan spinoff set in a school, and how awful it was. This stands on its own, and honestly is paced largely the same as the other books, it just has a different setting an somewhat different characters.

I enjoyed this book a lot, and it is a great volume in the ever-growing Cells at Work! saga. Honestly, I think the only thing left for them to do would be a animal version of it, or something about viruses (they did bacteria already I suppose). We’ll see where it goes I guess. If you like Cells at Work! you will enjoy this, if are not familiar with what this is all about, it stands on its own for the most part and could be read without prior knowledge of the other books. Definitely, a recommendation.

REVIEW: Manga Classics – Romeo and Juliet (2018, 2020)

An adaptation of the 1597 Classic by Stacy King, Crystal S. Chan, and Julien Choy

Romeo and Juliet: Manga Classics

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

This is the second book by Manga Classics that the gracious folks over at that company were nice enough to let me peruse, with the first Being The Count of Monte Cristo. I won’t bore everyone re-treading the same pre-amble as with that review, but I will summarize that I very much enjoyed that edition, and love the idea behind the whole initiative – an attempt to get kids and younger adults to get into classic literature without throwing huge 800 page tomes their way. I felt the respect for the source material was, perhaps, one of the best things about that book – as it avoided the many pitfalls others have fallen into making “manga versions” of things when they were not, in fact, a part of the Japanese manga (comic book) scene.

Romeo and Juliet is the classic tragedy of western literature. Created by William Shakespeare, it is tale of two very young lovers from Verona, Italy who defy the wishes of their feuding families, get married then, and tragically, end their own lives in the name of love. It is their deaths that ultimately help the rival families of the Capulet’s and Montague’s find reconciliation. Manga
Classics brings an incredible new reading experience with this adaptation of Shakespeare’s most popular and frequently performed plays: Romeo and Juliet.

Manga Classics product page
Romeo and Juliet | Ch01 Pg04

Going into this book, I was somewhat worried, as the Count of Monte Cristo is largely available in Modern English readily, whereas any adaptation of a Shakespeare play has a choice – keep the archaic, yet poetic language of the original play, or adapt it into modern language and perhaps lose some of the wordplay and witty dialogue. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the dialogue was largely left intact from the source material, albeit cleaned up a tad. While this could make it hard to read for some folks, this would make it a great source to help one’s understanding of the language in the actual book – I recall occasionally using a supplementary Cliff notes book in high school whenever doing a Shakespearean assignment (I was big on British Lit back then) – honestly this would have been way better.

The art style is clean, well done, and consistent with many shoujo comics of the near past without losing itself to modern clichés. I personally love the manga style from the middle to late 90’s, so I especially liked this one. I will say that, of the two, I preferred the Count of Monte Cristo a bit more, but that could be that I’ve read Romeo and Juliet so many times that it does not hold the same “oomph” as it once dead, whereas I’ve never fully read The Count. All-in-all, still a solid read and a great addition to anyone’s manga or classical literature library. As I said in my previous review – Schools and libraries should really look into getting a ton of these, you’d probably be surprised how popular they’d be.

REVIEW: Tankies (2021)

A graphic novel by Garth Ennis, Carlos Ezquerra, Hector Ezquerra, Tony Avina and Simon Bowland.

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I’ve been a fan of Garth Ennis for a while, and while I definitely enjoy his classics such as Preacher or The Boys, I have grown very fond of his lesser-known military-themed books ever since I did a promotion a while back and inquired a whole slew of Battlefields books. When I saw that this volume was available, I jumped at the chance to check it out. I think the one thing I appreciate the most about these books is that, while definitely casting The Allies as heroes in most books, he doesn’t pull punches. Bad things happen in war, and its important to show that – for far too long we’ve been fed a steady stream of overly-patriotic Captain America vs Hitler stories, completely undermining the fact that war is horror-incarnate. Ennis excels at showing the human side of war, and the toll it takes.

After D-Day the largely untried Allied armies meet their seasoned German counterparts on the killing grounds ofBocage country. As Panzers and SS units turn the French hedgerows into a slaughterhouse, a lone British tank crew struggles to rejoin their squadron. Their only hope lies in their commander, Corporal Stiles—but does even this wily old trooper stand a chance against the infamous Tiger? Newly promoted but just as angry, Sergeant Stiles enters the battle for Germany in command of a Sherman Firefly—capable of taking out any tank thus far encountered. Unfortunately, the enemy have a new tank of their own, the mighty “King Tiger,” with twice the firepower of the original. As Stiles and his men join the Allied advance into the Nazi homeland, they find worse horrors than Tigers lurking in the German twilight.

Book description

This volume is comprised of nine comics, grouped into three separate story-arcs in the life of Sergeant Stiles, a tough as nails tank commander from Newcastle that has seen it all in the world of mechanized combat and is one of the few who has lived to tell the tale. Usually lamenting on the poor state of British tank engineering in the face of ever increasing mechanical brutality from Germany, Stiles is well respected despite his Geordie accent being a focal point of mocking. One little tidbit I enjoyed was that we learn Stiles is Pagan when they were forced to shell a German church, makes me like him even more.

The third section takes place during the Korean War, which I am glad to see. My Grandfather served in that war, and I always think it gets largely ignored by just about everyone, so seeing it here was awesome. It was crazy to see the shift in battlefield tactics. German tank commanders in parts one and two almost seem aristocratic and machine-like vs the relentless hordes of Chinese soldiers they come across in Korea. Men climbing on the tanks, trying to drop bombs in the engines, doing suicidal attacks. Sheer insanity I can imagine.

Carlos Ezquerra (1947–2018) was the artist for this series, and I have seen him do the pencils for much of Ennis’s war books – he’s great at the technical side of historical aircrafts, tanks, guns etc, as well as depicting humans and the actions of war. When I saw that the book was dedicated to him, I was sad as he was always a n artist I looked forward to seeing in this genre. Best known as one of the original creators of Judge Dredd, Ezquerra will be VERY missed.

This was a great book, and any fan of war comics, history, or honestly anyone into comics at all should check out. Stiles is a great character, and I’d love to see him pop up again, although I’d imagine this will be all as it ends in a decent spot. I loved the afterward, which is a lengthy essay detailing where some of the ideas for the book came from, you can tell Ennis is interested in teaching history here, and as a history buff, I loved it.

REVIEW: Teddy (2021)

A Graphic Novel by Laurence Luckinbill; Adapted by Eryck Tait

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

July 1918. Preparing to speak to an eager audience, 61-year-old Teddy Roosevelt receives the telegram that all parents of children who serve in war fear most: His son Quentin’s plane has been shot down in a dogfight over France. His fate is unknown. Despite rising fear for his youngest son, Teddy takes the stage to speak to his beloved fellow citizens. It is, he says, “my simple duty.” But the speech evolves from politics and the war, into an examination of his life, the choices he’s made, and the costs of his “Warrior Philosophy.”

Official description

Teddy Roosevelt is one of those Presidents that comes to mind when one thinks about the great orators that we have had in the past in that very office. I won’t get too political here, but recent events in the political world make me look back at old speeches and feel some weird sense of nostalgia for a time that is WAYYYY before my time – a time when The President was remarkable and gave intellectual lectures as speeches rather than ridiculous messes designed for sound-bites. This graphic novel, about Theodore Roosevelt, encapsulates this very well as it showcases a oration by Roosevelt that is intertwined with biographical information.

Despite being a history major, I am not 100% certain that this was an actual speech or if its pieced together from various speeches and ideas that Roosevelt espoused. Either way, the storytelling here is remarkable. The speech is right after Teddy has learned that his son is missing fighting Germans during WWI – he was told that giving a speech in his state of mind was likely a bad call, but he does it anyway. He talks about his rough upbringing as he was very sickly as a child. It was only through sheer perseverance and respect for his father that he was able to largely overcome most of his ailments or at least learn to keep them at bay.

Interior page

Giving the speech as a former President, Roosevelt lashes out at President Woodrow Wilson, the man that unseated his chosen successor William Howard Taft, and himself when he attempted to run for a third term. Wilson is accused of causing deaths of many (including Teddy’s soon, not confirmed dead at this point) and paving the way for German domination of the world. The speech is fairly “hawkish” and really shows the mindset America was in at the time. The speech is peppered with an overview of Teddy’s life, and what it means to be a real patriot as well as other themes.

I absolutely loved the story here, and despite being skeptical of the format initially, it works very well. The art style, minimalist with blacks and blues, is great and not something you see too often. I’d love to see more of these made from other well-known speeches in the future. This is honestly a great book, as one could toss this into a school library or assign it as a class project, and I think kids would really gain a bit of extra understanding that merely just reading a speech or textbook does not allow. Definitely recommended!

REVIEW: Black Star (2021)

A graphic novel by Eric E. Glover (Author), Arielle Jovellanos (Illustrator)

Black Star by [Eric E. Glover, Arielle Jovellanos]
Cover via Amazon

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I was awarded a review copy of Black Star. The plot was intriguing, but I was und=familiar with the creative team, so I had no idea what to expect. What Black Star is, is a solid debut for Eric Glover, one would never guess that this was his first foray into comic writing (granted, this was originally a screenplay) by what we have here.

[…] In order to retrieve samples of an alien flower that may hold the key to saving countless lives, Harper North and her crew of scientists must journey to Eleos, a dangerous planet in deep space. But as they approach Eleos, their ship is caught in an asteroid storm and as it hurtles towards the surface, its reserve shuttle detaches, landing over 100 kilometers away. When the rest of the crew perishes in the burning wreckage of the ship, North races towards the rescue shuttle built for one, hoping to fulfill their mission and survive.  But North isn’t alone: The team’s wilderness expert is still alive and hell-bent on hunting North down and claiming the shuttle for herself.

Press synopsis excerpt

It’s hard to talk about this without giving away tons of spoilers, so I will attempt avoid that. This is an unconventional disaster story of sorts – a survival story akin to Lord of the Flies, in that the protagonists are not necessarily “good guys”. Perhaps the strongest thing about Black Star is its emphasis on moral ambiguity. This is the story of people doing things they need to do in order to survive. Sometimes that means making tough decisions and hurting others, selflessness is not always an option if you believe your own survival is the key to saving the world. That also comes with a burden, can one live with their choices if bad things are done?

There is a point in the book where one of the characters actions was pretty upsetting, I realized that they had basically “turned heel” entirely – their actions are rough to witness and really make you question if, in the same shoes, a sane person could go through with such an act.

All-in-all, Black Star has really put Eric E. Glover and Arielle Jovellanos on my radar. If this doesn’t get picked up as a film, I’m hoping this is successful and they continue in the comics industry. Not only is the story interesting, but it avoids cliches in a lot of comics. The story structure almost reminds me of European comics, such as ones found in Metal Hurlant and Humanoids to name a few. The storytelling has a darker edge, and doesn’t feel the need to have “a happy ending” for the sake of it. I would definitely recommend this book.

Joey Ryan: Big in Japan (2017)

Another Day, another foray into my stack of wrestling comics I’ve obtained in the past few years but woefully neglected to read for some reason. In the past, and especially in the days when I was a really heavy comic reader, I never really got into wrestling comics simply because they would usually take things far too seriously or end up like the infamous Ultimate Warrior comic book where he ….emmm….does something to Santa Claus. Nowadays, it seems like wrestling comics are thankfully way more fun, much like today’s topic.

Today, we’ll be looking at a comic that came from one of my boxes from Pro Wrestling crate, although I think it was originally produced by Chido comics as a follow up to their successful line of Lucha Underground comics via Kickstarter. You might remember Chido comics was also the company behind the Rey Mysterio comic I’ve done on here in the past.

For those completely unfamiliar with the rise of Joey Ryan’s unique brand of comedy wrestling, I’ll try my best to fill you in a bit. Ryan has had something of a sleazy 70’s pornstar gimmick for a while – he comes to the ring rubbing oil allover his hairy chest while sucking on a lollipop in a suggestive way showing that in his mind at least – he’s a sexy guy that all of the women in the crowd all going to swoon over. But since he’s actually presented like the anti-Rick Rude, it’s mostly people cringing at how creepy he can be.

A few years back, a short clip surfaced online of Ryan using his penis (not really, wrestling’s silly) to flip someone over after they attempted to harm his downstairs neighbor. This, of course, went incredibly viral due to the silliness and absurdity of the “move” and basically changed Ryan’s entire career. Now, he’s managed to even land a sponsorship from a popular online porn company.

Here’s the move in action:

In this post-Kayfabe world of pro wrestling, where despite heckling by diehard MMA guys (You know it’s fake right brah!) – everyone knows exactly what wrestling is, and a gimmick such as this can flourish. In fact, lately it seems like wrestling things that go viral are almost always something intentionally ridiculous, and make somebody what I assume is a pretty good living. they might even get popular enough to appear on National TV wrestling brands such as Impact Wrestling and Lucha Underground, or even get their own comic book!

“Joey Ryan was pro wrestling’s king of sleaze – until five years ago, when a match gone wrong left his tag team partner crippled and one of his opponents dead. Now he spends his days looking for answers at the bottom of bottles in Tokyo bars. But when he hears that his old nemesis is back in town, he decides it’s time to get back in the ring.”

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This comic is basically a Dark Knight Returns sort of alternate future affair for Mr. Ryan as it’s not a tale of him at his prime vanquishing evil-doers, but a story of a washed up and grizzled Ryan who has abandoned the business due to a horrible tragedy and how he gets back into the ring. It seems that five years prior to this comic, Joey Ryan and his tag partner Candice LeRae (who is not named) were involved in some sort of match where a wrestler was killed and LeRae was horribly injured, Ryan obviously blames himself and has turned into a miserable drunk.

Joey runs into an old friend that has news of his arch nemesis, a huge guy called Butch Satan, and that he has issued an open challenge – Ryan initially refuses to even contemplate wrestling again since the last time, his penis killed a man, but is swayed by promising to do a serious match with no silly gimmicks. Ryan tries to fight a clean fight, but soon realizes that he must use Dong Style one more time to win…

joey ryan big in japan comic 4

This comic is pretty silly, it both takes itself almost too seriously at times, and veers into absurdity at others. it’s because of this that the comic actually reminds me a LOT of a Deadpool book, especially some of the more serious ones before folks thought his catchphrase was “Chimichanga!” which it isn’t you guys. I mean when you have a guy getting advice from a sentient Gummy Bear, which is something that happens in this book, you know it’s a crazy comic. Jamie Jones provides a solid art style and coloring for the book, and you can follow the action very easily.

My only quibble is that it’s a bit too short, if this only exists as a one shot it’s a shame as I’d love to see more comics like this. Thankfully Chido Comics will be masking a series of Lucha Libre comics soon, but they are all looking like one-shots as well – fingers crossed that changes.

La Mano del Destino #2 (2011)

la mano del destino 2 cover

La Mano del Destino is a six-issue story which tells the tale of a once-champion Luchadore – who, after being betrayed, agrees to a Faustian bargain in order to exact revenge upon his betrayers. Mesoamerican myth and high-flying, Lucha Libre action converge to tell this story of vengeance and destiny.

In issue 2 of the La Mano del Destino six-issue story, we learn the harrowing history of the man who became La Mano del Destino – a familiar tale of sibling rivalry, but with a tragic twist. We see what drove our hero to become champion and why the loss of his title and mask were an unbearable indignity.

After reviewing the Rey Mysterio comic book a few weeks ago, I remembered that I’ve actually received a few more wrestling comics in various boxes I’ve ended up with. Forgive me for not remembering which one, but one of the very first Lucha Loot packages I got contained a random issue of a comic called La Mano del Destino by J. Gonzo. For some reason, I tossed this book into my swag box and forgot about it until I went in looking for a Joey Ryan comic I also plan to review. Published by a small independent publisher called Castle and Key Publication, La Mano del Destino is planned  to be a six issue series of which I believe five have been released. My main question is – can you jump into this at issue 2, or would it be a bad idea? we’ll see!

la mano del destino 2 page 1

Luckily, this issue is entirely a flashback issue and has little of what came before. It’s basically a stand-alone tale of a pair of brothers trying to survive after the death of their father in the early 1940’s in Mexico. The boys are sent to live with a military general that basically only agreed to bring them in because he respected their mother. One brother, nicknamed “Monchi” is seen a s a strong boy, so he is to work in the fields with the other laborers, he basically lives outside and sleeps in a barn – a rough life for a young man.

This is all while “Petey” becomes a house-servant of some sort – living a life of relative luxury when compared to his brother. Monchi apparently has a gift for leadership and agitation and leads a servant revolt right up to The General’s doorsstep – Petey tries to stop tragedy from happening, but ends up accidentally accidentally shooting his brother in the hand before the General basically fires all of the servants and they both get tossed in prison. More tragedy leads to Petey deciding to become a luchador once he gets out, to atone for his past.

la mano del destino 2 page 2

The art in this comic is definitely something unique, it’s somewhat exaggerated and angular while being vaguely reminiscent of classic “Silver Age” books from artists such as Jack Kirby especially in the coloring. This gives the book an odd vibe where it looks modern, like some sort of street art, but also VERY retro – looking like a screen-toned book from the past. This brash coloring scheme can lead to some things I did not like, such as a lot of expeditionary test bubbles being a bright pink color that are harder to read than most comics.

Despite a few typos here and there, this is a solid comic, but it flies by wayyyy to fast in order to meet the 25 page max limit. I wish we could have seen more of Monchi’s path into becoming a rebel leader of sorts, or more with them interacting with The General in any way, but what’s there serves its purpose and flows well. I might have to try to get more of this, or perhaps I will see if a trade eventually comes out.

To read more about this comic series, check this out.

la mano del destino 2 page 3

Lady Death: Extinction Express (2016)

 

A while back I started reviewing some of the recent Lady Death comics, and here is part two! So if you want to read a bit about her origin or how these comics came to be check that link out as going into this review I’m going to assume we’re on the same page. I hope to keep doing these until I’m all caught up, which could be a while at the almost glacial pace I’ve been moving at. While you’re at it, make sure to head over to Kickstarter to see the newest volume that will be coming out soon, I might do an un-boxing time article for all the swag I get from the campaign if that’s something somebody would want to see.

Check HERE for my review of part one.

The Hellbourne Elders dispatch Atrocitas, an insane angel/demon hybrid assassin to destroy Lady Death for once and for all. But their epic confrontation proves tragic for a beloved character and sets in motion events that will change Lady Death’s undead life forever! Is this the road to extinction? Featuring the diabolical return of Hellwitch and the first appearance of Chaotica, a major new character in the Lady Death Universe.

Lady Death Extinction Express jacob

This book basically starts off right where the last one left off, and introduces a few new characters mentioned in that blurb. Atrocitas serves as the major villain for this book and seems to have been created by desperate Hellbourne leadership as a creature that should be able to stand toe-to-toe with Lady Death. He’s not nearly as formidable as one would imagine when it comes to actually fighting Lady Death, but has this nasty ability to do heinous things and come back from the dead quite often after being dispatched which is pretty damn annoying. Perhaps his biggest jerk move is maiming The Lady’s noble steed Vassago, forcing her to take a step back and desperately head towards a known warlock to see if he can heal the horse.

We also see the return of Hellwitch, a character that originally seemed like a stand-in for Purgatori somewhat, but is starting to get her own characterization so as to truly separate the characters. Apparently, Hellwitch is salty because she is a Hellbourne nationalist of sorts – when Satanus took Hell over and placed his Demonkind in charge of ruling it’s fiery pits – it didn’t sit well with many Hellbourne people. Then a deal was made with heaven to punish Earthbourne sinners within the confines of Hell (you know BIblical-style) which further set off Hellwitch and her like-minded followers. Moving this character away from the simple “you killed my Dad!” revenge archetype is great and her motivations really help both with world-building and fleshing her out.

Lady Death Extinction Express eye candy

I would mention Chaotica here, but she is barely in the comic and I assume she’ll be a bigger part in the next issue.

In my last review, I mentioned that the writing in part one was superior to that of part 2, and that the art in part 2 was better than part 1 – neither of which were deal-breakers, but just how it was. This time, I felt the story, and especially the dialogue, were improved a lot as well as jiving very well with the art. This is by far the strongest of the three books in just about every way, and has enough tension, action, and cool spots to keep any fans attention.

Lady Death Extinction Express hellwitch

This is also one of the more unapologetic issues of the series when it comes to the gratuitous imagery including a silly scene where Lady Death jumps into the mouth of a huge, monstrous dragon-like beast fully clothed and comes out with a new bikini fashioned from her tattered clothing in such a way that she now has a bikini on. I’m not complaining, but it was pretty laugh-worthy.

All-in-all this book was really good and makes me pretty excited to read Oblivion Kiss – I now can’t wait to see Hellwitch and Lady Death go at it again and see how Chaotica fits into everything.

Lady Death Extinction Express chaotica

 

The Masked Republic Luchaverse: Rey Mysterio #1

“The current in a family line of Mysterios that dates back centuries, each one trained to be a champion of the people and to take on a great evil that has been prophecised to return and plunge the world into darkness. Rey Mysterio is on a quest, aided by the military clandestine group known as “The Ambassadors”. The mission is clear: retrieve the one thing Rey will need to take on this returning evil…..THE MASK OF THE FIRST MYSTERIO!”

To be honest, when it comes to comics related to wrestling, I never really picked up too many, not even back in my heaviest comic reading days. So aside from the Joey Ryan comic I got a while back (which I should review on here) I haven’t really read too many. Luckily Masked Republic had my back recently by tucking one of these bad boys into my recent Lucha Loot Treasure Chest (Review here) via Chido Comics.

This comic reminds me a lot of the old-school luchador films from the 60’s starring El Santo and Blue Demon in that it exists as a way to create a rich mythology behind a wrestler that can’t easily be conveyed in the medium of wrestling as it would come off as VERY silly and far too over the top (well maybe not in Lucha Underground). In this comic, for instance, we find out that Rey was in fact trained in an old Mexican monastery by an old man that would not be out of place in a stereotypical Kung Fu film (I’m sure that this is 100% factual :P). he is prophecised to be a sort of messianic figure – a man that will eventually save the world from impending doom.

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This comic features a handful of references to other well-known Luchadors such as Konnan (who seems to be Rey’s boss or something) and Tinieblas (who apparently took an off-page trip to the Himalayas specifically to get a map to the location of the foretold ancient mask for Rey). The mask itself is a reference to none other than Rey Mysterio Sr. While actual cameos would have been cool, I really like that this is building what I hope to be a full-on comic universe featuring luchadors. I assume that;s something that has existed in Mexico, but over here not so much.

Perhaps my only gripe was that the members of The Ambassadors serve very little purpose in the story (so far) aside from standing there and looking scared or wise-cracking while Rey beats the crap out of Zombie mountain lions using his super-powers. I would have almost preferred for the team to me made-up of actual wrestlers, but we’ll see if these guys pop up again.

The final page is an advertisement for a second one-shot featuring The Lucha Brothers (Fenix and Pentagon Jr.) Since these two are basically my favorite wrestlers at the moment I’m pretty excited to see where this goes and get my next Lucha Loot assuming that will be in there. This was a fun read for what it was and a must buy for any Lucha Fan that’s been wanting something like this for a while. Chido Comics is something that could be on the cusp of something cool, I’ll definitely keep an eye on them!

The Multiversity

The Multiversity

I’m torn between thinking this was good, and thinking this was somewhat pretentious. I like Grant Morrison, but he has a tendency to let his ideas get away from himself and we end up with something like Multiversity. This is a fine collection of one-shots that show obscure versions of DC characters in a lot of different circumstances all vaguely related to a possible apocalyptic event in all 52 universes of the DC “Multiverse”. The problem lies in that the “cement” that holds this book together, the story of a cursed comic book created by an evil organization to destroy reality, is easily the weakest part of the series.

This book comes across as far too ambitious for Morrison, who perhaps was trying to create a Watchmen-esque satire of DC’s obsession with these large cross-over events, and ended up making something that barely makes any sense. There is also an attempt to make the reader part of the story – ala The Neverending Story, that feels forced and unneeded.

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Some of the one shots were good – really good. I’m a sucker for Captain Marvel, so anything starring that character is always right up my alley, as was S.O.S, and The Uncle Sam vs Nazi Superman story. A few others were sort of bland. There was one in particular about a world of entitled DC teen superhero reality TV stars that overstayed it’s welcome to me pretty quick.

Perhaps the Most ambitious story here was Pax Americana, Morrison’s send-off of Alan Moore’s The Watchmen. The Watchmen was based on old Charlton Comics characters that ultimately were modernized to better work with the material. Here Morrison goes back to the original characters and weaves a story that is more of an art piece than an actual comic. The story is told backwards, that is each page turn reveals more about what happened before, and the reader is made to read in a bizarre figure-8 pattern that is a meme in the story. I kind of wish it would be it’s own book, but it was a bit over-the-top and considering Morrison’s hatred of Moore (and vice versa), could have been a jab at his nemesis in some way.

All in all, this is worth reading, but as a whole “Graphic novel”, it fails to seem like anything other than a stack of one-shots. It’s a shame because something like this could have been huge.


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Star Trek: Harlan Ellison’s The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay

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I have seen the Star Trek episode The City on the Edge of Forever many times, and it’s definitely a great episode, but I had no idea what I was in for when I picked this up. I knew that Gene Roddenberry was notorious for altering many scripts that came across his desk – sometimes for the better sometimes for the worse (There is even a film called Chaos on the Bridge about this). What I had no idea about was the bad blood between Harlan Ellison and Roddenberry over the script for this story. It was deemed un-filmable, large portions were changed and entire characters were removed – all to make it more “Star Trek”. Granted, the episode went on to win a Hugo award, but I wonder what it could have been in its original form? Luckily thanks to IDW we have a graphic novel which adapts the second draft by Ellison, and in his own words “moved him to tears”.

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One of the main differences between the two versions of the story is the inclusion of an antagonist that is somewhat replaced by a drug addled Doctor McCoy (accidental of course) in the actual aired episode. Enter: Lieutenant Richard Beckwith, a drug dealer selling the illegal “Jewels of Sound”, kills Lieutenant LeBeque after he threatens to expose Beckwith’s activities to Kirk (selling drugs to people on away-missions). He storms the transporter array and goes to the planet where he later alters time. This one change already drastically changes the tone of the episode to a much darker story-line. I’m pretty sure censors would not have let that fly in 1966, but one never knows.

Another few shocking moments are racist overtones Spock has to deal with (everyone thinks he is Chinese) and a moment when Spock almost commits murder in desperation to “make things right”. Honestly this book contains enough new material for a full second part of this episode including a disturbing fate for our villain.

All in all, this is the superior version of this story and an amazing book for sci-fi fans and Star Trek fans alike.

Planet Comicon – Kansas City, Mo – Report

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Sylvester McCoy and me

As you can see from the title, this post is largely unrelated to the main theme of this site, and happens to be a convention report. Thankfully, as you can see from the image above, there was definitely some UK science fiction fun to be had! Yeah, that ugly mug up there happens to be mine, and standing next to me is none other than Sylvester McCoy aka The seventh Doctor aka Radagast The Brown. Said convention was a Kansas City-based convention called Planet Comicon and it was held in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

The reason I decided to write about this on here, is that personally, I think there is some cross-over appeal from sci-fi fans and those who go to “comic-cons”, because in all honestly they aren’t just about comics anymore. Thankfully I live in the middle of Missouri, and Hollywood has never swooped in on our conventions, so it’s not like it has deviated too far from the main purpose of these types of conventions. There are panels, media guests and comic book writers and artists like anything else, minus all the BS that seems to have been messing up much larger events like San Diego Comic Con.

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For years, I have always attended anime conventions because part of me (erroneously) assumed that my local comic conventions were nothing more than small dealer rooms that you paid to get into. When I heard that Planet Comicon was going to be held at Bartle Hall, a huge convention center, I immediately took notice. I think the biggest con I attended was an anime convention in Dallas Texas (Project A-Kon) that had something close to 10.000 people attending, and considering the size of the building plus the sheer amount of people at Planet Comicon that I saw, I’m assuming that this one will be bigger when all the numbers are added up. The paper was suggesting almost 20,000 minimum!

One reason I don’t attend too many of those aforementioned anime conventions is because of my age. I’m 31 now, and most anime convention attendees seem to be somewhere between 12-17. Not to be one of those “get off my lawn” types, but the younger millennial crowd sort of annoys me, and having thousands of them left unsupervised means that I get to witness things like pulled fire alarms, trash all over the place, hormonal kids making out in hallways, and other fun stuff. A Comic Con crowd is skewed much older, and as a result the rude people are heavily outweighed by awesome people that can handle themselves in public.

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Pretty big crowd for a Friday

Aside from that, the MAIN reason I honestly stopped going to many anime conventions was the fact that I really enjoy panels, and at anime convention panels are REALLY hit or miss. Occasionally one stumbles upon something good, like the year I saw the world premiere and Q&A of Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles. Other times were not as good, like that time I had to sit through two awkward twelve year olds attempting to run a panel on Japanese horror films, and my quest to try to sneak out of the room as politely as possible.

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Margot Kidder of Lois Lane fame.

I attended some pretty cool stuff this year, most of which was related to Star Trek: The Next Generation. This was because this convention had basically all principle cast members from TNG including Marina Sirtis, Levar Burton, Wil Wheaton, Jonathan Frakes, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, and Brent Spiner. Also in attendance was the Star Trek God himself William Shatner and an unannounced John De Lancie! The convention did advertise a special moderated panel featuring all the the Trek guys, but I could not afford tickets to it. Good news is, most of these guys had smaller panels themselves.

The first panel I attended was a Q&A session with the Canadian-American “scream queen” and occasional Lois Lane herself – Margot Kidder. This was a guided Q&A (Moderated by a member of scifi4me.com) with an interview of sorts at the beginning and audience questions afterwards. Some gems were discussions on how Kidder got started in a tiny Canadian mining settlement mere miles from the arctic circle and her occasional flings with the likes of Warren Beatty and Jeff Bridges. Superman was, of course, a main topic towards the end of the panel, and Kidder suggested that she understood the torn fandom on the latest Superman offering suggesting, that the newest movie was perhaps “too dark”. All in all, pretty cool panel.  

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Michael Dorn and Marina Sirtis from Star Trek: TNG

Up next for us was a Star Trek related panel featuring Michael Dorn and Marina Sirtis in the hot-seats. As Trek fans will know, they played Deanna Troi and Worf on TNG. This was more of a full-on Q&A and started with some lighthearted banter between the two at the beginning. Sirtis cracked me up because I’m VERY used to her calm demeanor as Deanna Troi in TNG, so hearing her coarse, no-nonsense verbal attacks on various topics was pretty fun. On the flip-side, Mr. Dorn was “the straight man” of the affair, and tried to keep everything on topic. The running joke of this panel was that Marina kept bringing up how somebody had told her to be “sensitive to the mid-west view on political issues” which was like a splash of blood in shark infested water for her. She comically veered the discussions into a commentary on health care reform, gay marriage, and marijuana legalization no matter what Dorn tried to do to stop it.

On Saturday, we attended a Wil Wheaton Panel where the former Wesley Crusher himself lead a fun discussion about tabletop gaming, craft beer, and the perils of being a step-father. We ended up WAAAY in the back of the room for this and another panel so the picture that I am about to post will be tiny and awful. The best part of this panel was a “cameo” by Gates McFadden, introduced as “Space Mom”. As Trek fans will know, McFadden played Beverly Crusher in Star Trek: TNG, and was the on-screen mother for Wheaton during his time on the USS Enterprise. Since she didn’t have a panel of her own at this convention, it was cool seeing her appear in some capacity.

This mysterious blur is Wil Wheaton supposedly.
This mysterious blur is Wil Wheaton supposedly.

Next up was the Brent Spiner and Levar Burton panel, which had an ENORMOUS line waiting for it. We were actually scared that we wouldn’t be able to get in, but thankfully were able to get a few seats towards the back of the room. The panel started with Spiner having to deal with a rowdy “heckler” with a deep southern drawl yelling about how awful he was. Eventually security came in and revealed the “heckler” to be non other than Jonathan Frakes playing an obviously pre-determined joke of Brent. This was pretty great and really got the crowd going. Gates McFadden also made yet another guest appearance, and after that it was all questions!

The hot topic seemed to be LeVar’s other popular role as the host of the popular PBS educational program Reading Rainbow. o many questions were asked about this that Burton had the audience sing the theme song, and announced a Kickstarter campaign was about to materialize to help fund internet video versions of the show for a new audience and a smartphone app. Brent pretended to be irritated by the attention, referring to Burton as “Roots guy” and discussed popular roles on Independence Day and a fictitious sequel to Star Trek Nemesis where Commander Data didn’t die after all.

Yet another bad picture, this time it's Levar Burton and Brent Spiner
Yet another bad picture, this time it’s Levar Burton and Brent Spiner

Perhaps the highlight of this con for me was getting to meet Sylvester McCoy and attending his Panel. The panel itself was simply amazing because he decided to forgo the stuffy rule of “guest sits in chair” and proceeded to walk around talking to the audience, hugging people and other things. I’m pretty sure that the guys from the Traveling The Vortex Podcast were probably annoyed slightly, because McCoy sort of moderated his own panel, but they were good sports. The panel itself appears to have been recorded as a podcast on their site, so be sure to check that out if you want to listen to the fun we had.

Highlights of McCoy’s panel was an impromptu session of spoon playing on Darth Vader’s head and a kazoo heavy rendition of the Doctor Who theme to close everything out. My wife gets really nervous around celebrities, so she was freaking out a little bit about how close to everyone McCoy was. stories like his near foray into the priesthood as a teenager were delightful, and really made this the best panel I have EVER attended. If you ever get a change to see Sylvester McCoy at a con or something you will have a ball.

The McCoy Panel
The McCoy Panel

Another fun Doctor Who related event was a performance of the “Timey-Wimey Puppet Show” – a one man “Punch and Judy styled puppet show for kids and adults alike. I later got to meet the man behind the show, Mike Horner, and snap a picture with him. do yourself a favor and watch a few of his videos on YouTube up there, it’s pretty funny.

The highlight of the puppet show for me was a segment where cosplayers we asked to come up on stage for a rendition of “Twelve Days of Christmas” featuring regenerations of The Doctor, and there was a little boy, no older than five, dressed as William Hartnell. He was even a master at holding his lapels and looking surly.

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Mike Horner of the Timey Wimey Puppet Show with a few of his creations

This was a crazy weekend here is Kansas City because this convention, Big 12 Basketball, some sort of marathon, and a symphony performance were all scheduled at the same time within a few blocks of each other. Not only did that mean crazy traffic, but it also meant that parking was awful, and way too many people from Kansas and Iowa (due to basketball) were all over the place. If I have only one complaint it was that the city could have staggered these events a bit. Thankfully another convention, Naka-Con (an anime convention) was over the state-line in Kansas or it would have been too much to deal with.

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The General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard

I do have a funny story about the parking situation this weekend. On Saturday, we had TONS of trouble finding a parking space. Many of the bigger garages were at capacity, and many were resorting to shady stuff like parking at Denny’s to avoid high fees. we eventually found a nearly empty garage a few blocks away in “the art district” and jumped at the opportunity to get a place to stop at a cheaper price.

Not only did we discover that a nearly-vacant parking garage is sort of creepy, but the whole thing had “artsy-fartsy” minimalist music piped into it that sounded like a combination of a didgeridoo and someone scraping metal on the ground. To me, this was the soundtrack of hell itself, and I imagined that we’d soon witness Pyramid Head from the Silent Hill franchise walking around a corner at any moment. Had I thought this out, I would have attempted to record this for the site, but I wasn’t sure I’d even discuss this in any way.

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I haven’t had this much fun at a convention for a LONG time. For a while I always had something spoil the whole thing for me: whether be someone we came with getting cranky, annoying kids, or poor management. There is basically nothing bad I can say about the con itself, and I’d recommend this experience to ANYONE into comics or other nerdy “pop-culture” things. Planet Comicon has won me over, and they better expect me there for years to come!

If any of the footage from the panels surfaces online (I think it was recorded by the con staff) I will try to post it on here at some point, but otherwise listen to that podcast up there for a taste of what Sylvester McCoy had to offer.

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Doctor Who / Star Trek: Assimilation Squared Issue 2

Since there is a new Star Trek film just on the horizon and a new season of Doctor Who hitting the airwaves, I figured that now would be a great time to read some more of the recent comic crossover Assimilation Squared. For those that didn’t catch my last review, this story centers on an alliance between The Borg and The Cybermen – two similar alien races from both franchises. Their first action as a unified front was the sacking of Delta IV, an attack that was very surprising considering the way The Borg usually make themselves known prior to any offensive actions. In the final panel in the previous issue the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise and the crew of the Tradis were just about to meet in what The Doctor assumes is prohibition era San Francisco.

While the first issue dealt mostly with setting up the shocking alliance between both armies of zombie androids and their attack on Delta IV, issue two is a little deeper, a bit more “talky”. Tipton does a great job writing convincing Star Trek: The Next Generation dialog. For example, I really enjoyed the conversations between Commander Geordi LaForge and Commander Data since their “bromance” was often times my favorite part of the show itself. Usually Data would misunderstand a human trait of some sort whether it be laughter or anger, and Geordi would have to set him straight. Take this snippet for example:

Data shows that he is often very human
Data shows that he is often very human

Geordi has pointed out that Data was created more than thirty years ago, and that he could benefit a lot from some of the more “modern” android technology being worked on currently. Data, in the most supreme example of foreshadowing ever, ponders on whether that could get out of hand, and if he’d lose himself in the process.

I was surprised that the beginning of the issue shifted back, in a non-linear manner, to before the meeting between The Enterprise crew and The Doctor. This makes sense because we only saw Picard and Co. for like half a panel at the end of the last issue, so it’s good to see what they were doing during the Delta IV attack. Starfleet has set up a mining operation on a remote aquatic planet populated by “fish people” a fact that Commander Worf humorously undercuts with “they sound delicious!” In order to make quotas and keep the flow of the minerals steady, the folks in charge of the operation have had to cut corners leading to accidents and losses of life. Geordi asks why they are mining so frantically, a question Picard replies to with “The Borg”. It seems that Starfleet was nearly decimated at the battle of Wolf 359, a Star Trek battle depicted in the fan favorite episodes The Best of Both Worlds: parts 1 and 2.

Speaking of those episodes, and derailing any sort of flow here: that two-parter is soon to be re-released with HD special effects next week on Blu-Ray, you should all pre-order it below if you like the series:

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Best of Both Worlds (Blu-ray +UltraViolet)

You may be asking yourself: “Where is this Doctor fellow that is supposed to be in the book, I think there is an image of him on the cover?” Well, much like the previous issue, the interactions between the two sets of characters is kept to a minimum until the very end where we finally see them interact. This scene is pretty funny as The Doctor basically ignores everyone and bee-line’s it directly to Commander Data. There is a misunderstanding where the Enterprise crew thinks that the holodeck has gained sentience and that the Doctor is merely a “bug” in the system, and The Doctor simultaneously thinks that Data is some sort of anachronistic robot that shouldn’t be in the past. And just when everyone is having fun, the Borg and Cybermen arrive…..bummer

Poor Data
Poor Data

I really enjoyed issue one of this series, but issue two tops it in every way. The first issue almost seemed like two unrelated stories jammed together, and this one flows so much better overall. I definitely love the art style by J.K. Woodward, he uses life-like painted interiors that one seldom sees in comics these days. It really adds to the realism that makes one think this could have been a real episode of either show. Now that the cast is all together, and the villains have appeared, I think we are in for a real treat in the next issue. Maybe Commander Worf will smack the Doctor for talking too much or maybe we’ll find out what’s going on!

 

Doctor Who / Star Trek: Assimilation Squared Issue 1 Review

Outside the realm of fan fiction and other such non-official works of fandom, there really hasn’t been any sort of official crossover between Doctor Who and Star Trek. While fans would no doubt go crazy for an actual televised adventure pairing the two properties, something like a novel or a comic book is such a better fit. When I opened my mailbox earlier this week, this is exactly what I got with Doctor Who / Star Trek: Assimilation Squared Issue 1. The book is written by Scott and David Tipton along with Tony Lee.

This first issue starts with a bang, as a federation aligned planet called Delta IV is invaded by the Borg in a manner not fitting their usual attack patterns. We find out that it is typical of these monstrous zombies to warn people before they set out for assimilation, but this time they just swoop in with guns blazing. Could this be caused by their mysterious alliance with a new race that the federation has never seen?! (yeah we all know it’s the Cybermen :P) The Prime minister of Delta IV and a few Starfleet officers are left to find help on a tiny escape shuttle. One can only assume that they will stumble across the enterprise pretty soon. We jump ahead to Ancient Egypt in which the Doctor, Amy, and Rory are setting out to stop an ancient alien invasion. It seems that the pharaoh at this particular time might just be not what he seems. With that plan foiled the Tardis crew set out for 1940’s San Francisco, a locale very popular for fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation!

This book does a great job of capturing the two styles of the seemingly unrelated universes. While we don’t actually get to see the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise until the very last page of this issue, all of the other Starfleet related stuff is very much in line with what we have seen for many years in all of the various Star Trek materials out there. It will be nice to see how the writers handle Picard and his crew in the upcoming issue, especially with the Doctor in tow. Speaking of the Doctor Who front, the dialog is very much spot on, with how the Doctor tries to handle a bumbled infiltration into a pyramid to confront the pharaoh. His hijinks are the comic relief of this issue, and definitely show the tone of the show very well i.e. fun but dark. Some of the dialog is a bit sparse, but with the nature of the comic being VERY action oriented, it really doesn’t warrant a ton of heavy dialog. I will be looking out for that in coming issues.

The highlight of this book has to be the art style. J.K. Woodward, an artist I’m not familiar with, does these cool painted interiors that make the book look like a million bucks. I’m not sure if this is hand painted or digital, but it’s really nice. Some of the images of The Doctor and Amy look especially great as I’m assuming the artist is using references from the show itself. Here is an example page:

All-in-all, this was a great kickoff to a fun romp, but it was all over way too soon. The next issue should be awesome with the Doctor ending up on board the Enterprise and meeting the crew that we all want to see. For me this is a definite buy for fans of both franchises.

A Look at Doctor Who / Star Trek Assimilation 2 Issue 3!

Doctor Who / Star Trek The Next Generation Crossover!

I saw an article on the Huffington Post, of all places, that signified a collective wave of nerd ecstasy this week. It seems that IDW, the guys that do the monthly U.S. Doctor Who comics, have teamed up with some folks that do Star Trek comics to produce this:

from the article: “The 32-page “Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation2” will be written by Scott and David Tipton, authors of “Star Trek: Infestation.” The authors will have “a helping hand from longtime ‘Doctor Who’ writer Tony Lee,” the comic “will feature fully painted artwork from J.K. Woodward,” there will be a “rare” wrap-around photo cover and artist Joe Corroney will create a variant cover “featuring the Doctor and friends aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise,” according to IDW.”