REVIEW: Hard Melody (2021)

A graphic novel by Lu Ming

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.

Nearing forty years old myself, its easy to look back at the last twenty years or so, and look at every bit of missed opportunity I had, every bit of wasted potential, and every misstep. It’s important to move forward with one’s life to avoid falling into a trap of a mid-life crisis at best, crippling depression at worst. For the book Hard Melody, we see three guys in exactly the same predicament – having the potential to have been big Chinese Rockstars in the past, their lives have moved on leaving their dreams behind.

Three thirty-year-old friends reunite in Beijing after nearly 10 years apart. They used to be free-wheeling rock-and-rollers without a care in the world, but now, after tasting their own variation of freedom in new China, they are tormented by how unforgiving and unglamorous life had become. Nothing at all like the fame and fortune they dreamed about as kids.

This book is fairly tough due to its subject matter, and there was a bit of Chinese cultural stuff that I was unsure of, but between the mature storyline and the artwork (which is amazing) I was hooked. As a stand alone, this is a great book, and stands as both a societal look at Chinese culture, as well as a way for the reader to think about how they plan to move on with their lives. Many peak far too young, and their later life suffers due to it, hopefully nobody suffers the same tragedy as seen here.

REVIEW – Elle(s) (2021)

A graphic Novel by Kid Toussain & art by Aveline Stokart

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.

When I first started this, I wasn’t too sure what to expect – the art style and setting made me worry I was about getting into a twee book for teenagers, but I was definitely wrong. While the premise may sound somewhat similar to the recent Disney movie Inside Out, only a superficial likeness is there – Elle(s) adds the extra layer of being about mental health issues, and what it means to love somebody with mental health issues into the mix, which makes this so much more. The depiction of “split personalities” is on par when accounts I’ve heard on various TV shows and podcasts – i.e. dominant personality controls everything and person sees everything in third person view – so that was interesting. It would interesting to see somewhen in the clinical psychology field review this.

Elle is just another teenage girl… most of the time. Bubbly and good-natured, she wastes no time making friends on her first day at her new school. But Elle has a secret: she hasn’t come alone. She’s brought with her a colorful mix of personalities, which come out when she least expects it… Who is Elle, really? And will her new friends stand by her when they find out the truth?

While volume one leaves this chapter as an unfinished mystery, and could easily turn into something supernatural and weird, I’m hoping it stays as grounded as volume one – as it was a surprise to me how much I enjoyed it.

Europe Comics continues its trend of quality comics that always seem to surprise me. I will definitely need to seek out the next volume upon publication to see where this story ends up going. Don’t let the cover fool you into thinking this is something other than what it is, and give it a try – It’s good stuff.

REVIEW: Elecboy Book 1 (2021)

A graphic novel by Jaouen Salaün

One part Mad Max, and one part Blame!, Elecboy takes some of the better tropes from dystopian/post-apocalyptic fiction and makes it something of its very own. Europe Comics has done a fine job of introducing me to many comics and creators that I have not been familiar with, and this is yet another entry that has caught my attention.

“In a devastated cityscape, a lone man fights off creatures of fearsome power: white, winged, serenely impassive, and capable of terrifying transformations… Decades later, in a desolate American southwest, a meager colony of human survivors ekes out a precarious existence between dwindling water supplies and magnetic shields that screen them from roving bands of aerial attackers. An ancestral upper class presides, while in the lower city, laborers do the hazardous work of keeping everyone alive. But all that may be about to change when the mysterious Joshua comes of age…”

Jaouen Salaün is a French writer and artist that has apparently been trying to bring the pages of Elecboy into life for over 18 years. Good news is, the story is fairly good, and more importantly the art is absolutely GORGEOUS, I want to see more of this guys creature designs more than anything. They remind me a bit of Tsutomu Nihei a tad, it would be interesting to see if that was one of his influences in any way.

This book is part one in a series, and tells a fairly compelling story until a cliffhanger ending made me sad that I don’t have more to read. I’ll have to keep checking back with the publisher to see when more of this is released. To be honest, I have come to the conclusion that I’m fairly confused as to why Europe comics isn’t bigger than what it is. They consistently have better content than other companies that feature a lot of European comics such as Heavy Metal – here’s hoping they take off at some point in the future.

REVIEW: The Vain (2021)

A graphic novel by Eliot Rahal

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.

Generic Vampire stories are a dime a dozen these days. If you don’t just have a weird version of Bram Stroker’s Dracula, but this time he’s in SPACE or something, you have the other side of the coin that alters them beyond recognition, perhaps into teenage sparkly pretty boys – and it all sucks for the most part. For me to get into a modern Vampire story, it has to be something different (but keeping with the lore), and this volume by Eliot Rahal fits the bill. Spanning more than 40 years, The Vain tells the story of a group of Vampiric survivors – changing with the times to stay alive at any means necessary. If that includes enlisting in the military to kill Nazis, or starting a vampire drug cult in the 70s, if thats what it takes that’s what they do.

Chicago, 1941. A blood bank is held up in a robbery, but no cash is taken—only blood. It’s the latest in a string of similar robberies and as the United States prepares to enter World War II, FBI Agent Felix Franklin is certain it’s part of a wider plot to weaken the United States by depriving it of its blood supply. But the truth is much more sinister.

I wasn’t sure I was going to like this at first. At times, some of the art in the book was somewhat simplistic, but as the story goes on, it improves drastically. The dialogue is also kind of janky in spots, but overall the script is pretty good, and you honestly can’t beat the setting. Vampires living through the Cold-War is something I’m pretty certain I’ve never seen before. As it went on, I was interested to see how The Vain (their WWII Codename) dealt with the zeitgeist of whatever decade they had made it to. The book didn’t overstay its welcome, and had a logical ending that made sense.

I haven’t read much by Oni Press, although I have seen them at Comicon in the past. Once Covid-19 dies down I will have to do a deeper dive on their library if conventions ever come back, I’d love to see if the quality of this book continues on.

REVIEW: Shadowman by Andy Diggle Deluxe Edition (2021)

A Graphic Novel by Andy Diggle (Author), Stephen Segovia (Artist), Shawn Martinbrough (Artist), Doug Braithwaite (Artist), Renato Guedes (Artist)

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 don’t want to beat a dead horse on here regarding my love for Valiant Comics (but you can read me gushing about it here), but this Comic is yet another series that confirms that. Shadowman, is a long running character that has persisted for nearly 30 years in different forms, The character probably hit its peak in the late 1990s when a cult classic videogame hit the shelves, its a shame a rumored film was never produced during this time, as the property was especially hot then. The current iteration of the character is a much less 90s-riffic version of the original Shadowman, Jack Boniface, and his exploits fighting foes from the underworld using voodoo powers.

The rise of the Shadowman! For years, Jack Boniface believed that he knew the true story of the Shadowman loa – the true story of the curse inside him. He was wrong. Now, the man once known as Shadowman is returning home to sharpen the weapon within… and unleash a reckoning on the evils of our world that will soon send shockwaves through heaven and hell alike… Superstar writer Andy Diggle (Green Arrow: Year One, The Losers) joins high-octane artists Stephen Segovia (Action Comics), Shawn Martinbrough (Thief of Thieves), Doug Braithwaite (Justice), and Renato Guedes(Action Comics) to reveal the full scope and power of the Shadowman mythos in an oversized deluxe edition hardcover of the series Nerdist calls “killer”! Collecting SHADOWMAN (2018) #1-11, and SHADOWMAN/RAE SREMMURD #1, along with more than 20 pages of rarely seen art and extras!

FIRST WATCH: Andy Diggle & Stephen Segovia Descend Into the Deadside with  SHADOWMAN #3, Hitting Stores In May! - Comic Watch

When I last left the character, he was bound in eternal servitude in the underworld, and I wasn’t sure where the comic was going to go afterwards. I think I’ve missed a portion of the story past that, but they allude to everything in the narrative pretty well. This actually could be a decent start for somebody new to the series, it doesn’t get bogged down in past lore, and re-introduces everything slowly. At it’s core, Shadowman is Valiant’s main “magic” comic ala Constantine or Doctor Strange, if we think in terms of rival companies. What definitely sets it apart is the emphasis on Voodoo lore, and the setting itself.

While I had an advanced review copy of this in digital format, I have purchased hardcover deluxe editions from Valiant in the past, and they are really good production-wise and great bang for your buck. Instead of buying 3-4 trades at fifteen a pop each, they usually collect an entire series in one volume and price it to where you get a decent discount. I’m sure this will follow suit.

This is another solid edition in my Valiant Comics library, and I really love the character. I should have quickly reviewed this for Black History Month, as Shadowman is a VERY solid overlooked black superhero that more people should know about. Then again, that’s Valiant’s M.O. most of the time, being inclusive, but in a natural way, unlike some other guys that do it in the fake corporate way. Highly recommended if you have not checked these guys out before.

REVIEW: X-O Manowar Book 1 (2021)

by Dennis Hopeless

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 Valiant Comics for a while now, especially since their relaunch about a decade ago. I think what sets them apart from other companies headed by out of touch movie execs or cartoon mice, is that they have their finger on the pulse with what fans actually want to read, and don’t pump tons of “fluff” into the market and over-saturate and shrink their audience through constant relaunches and special events. They have been amazing to interact with at conventions, and I honestly say say enough good things about them. Today’s topic is a graphic novel of the 2020 X-O Manowar book from Dennis Hopeless, I will admit, I’m about two years behind on keeping up with Valiant due to work keeping me VERY busy as of late, but I definitely wanted to read this as everyone’s favorite Visigoth Warrior is always one of my favorite titles.

“Save the day, destroy the world… Torn from the past and bonded with a living alien armor, will X-O Manowar become the hero the world needs now? As a futuristic force arises to destroy the planet, only this ancient warrior king has the courage to stand against impossible odds! Harvey Award winning writer Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum (All-New X-Men) and breakout star Emilio Laisio (Marvel’s Spider-Man: Velocity) unleash Valiant’s most powerful protector! Collecting X-O MANOWAR (2020) #1-4.”

This most recent storyline adds some grounding the the character that I really enjoyed. Prince Aric, in the past, has been somewhat distant from much of humanity considering his personality and origin of being a warrior from over a thousand years ago. This sticks him into a domestic situation, as he attempts to live amongst the people he tries to protect – all to a variable amount of success. One can’t help draw comparisons to either Spawn or Thor, which both had similar grounding to those characters that made them have a bit of humanity. Also, the “fish out of water antics” are perfect for a bit of humor. We are also introduced to a advisor-type character that is not unlike Elon Musk in real world terms, in Troy Whitaker. I’m not convinced he isn’t a villain as of yet, but he does help X-O with his image problem.

This is a solid read, and a perfect starting point if you’ve never read anything from Valiant before. If you are jaded with comics, or are tired of the nonsense “the big two” are always up to – give this a try! It’s honestly bee hard to go back after I started reading comics that are fun again.

REVIEW: Hercules Intergalactic Agent: Book 2 The Intruder (2021)

A graphic novel by Zabus & art by Antonello Dalena

Apparently, Hercules Intergalactic Agent: Book 2 The Intruder is the second book in a series that I was unaware of, I only realized after I started reading and saw the tiny “book 2” that was sighed an audible “oops.” Thankfully it’s honestly pretty easy to grasp what was happening despite missing the “first episode” as it were. It tells the story of a couple of underdogs, bottom of their class, students at an intergalactic agent school.

“Hercules and Marlon are in their second year of intergalactic agent school and they still have a lot to learn! But when their teacher is bitten by a strange alien creature, they’ll need to put down the books and leap into action because the sickness affecting Teach seems to be spreading throughout the school…”

While this isn’t really meant for kids, as it alludes to cursing a few times, the messages in the book would be good for a kid’s book – never judging a book by its cover, and having compassion for all living things. It has a pretty strong allegory to the recent string of migrant and asylum seeker crises that have arisen as of late, which makes it a pretty forward thinking book. The allusions could be a tad heavy-handed, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The art is fun, and it reminds me of something from the 80’s Heavy Metal movie.

REVIEW: Babylon (2021)

A book by Laurent Galandon, Frank Giroud & art by Philippe Nicloux

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.

Another day, another book by one of my new “companies to look out for”, Europe Comics. Babylon is another French comic, translated into English. I’ve recently come across a handful of their comics, and have really enjoyed them. Comics from western Europe have an entirely different feel to them than either the United States or Japan, focusing more on mature stories vs superheroes and the like, and for that I love them.

“If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him, Max Ferlane is your man: a good man with skills a bad past has left him. Now he’s trying to leave that bad life behind, put those skills to good use. He’s in the Congo rescuing a young girl from an arranged marriage when an old employer turns up: the Babylon Agency, specializing in high-profile political exfiltrations. Max is forced into a different, far more dangerous mission that will take him deep into warring jungles and his own past mistakes. For Max’s PTSD hallucinations are only getting worse…”

At first glance, and in the initial few pages, I figured this was going to be a bog-standard run-of-the-mill mercenary for hire story, but was surprisingly wrong when things took a weird turn. There are times in the book, where you are led to believe that things have suddenly gone VERY science fiction VERY fast, but its not what you think. Having the book take place somewhere in Eastern Africa, was also interesting, and gave the setting a bit of a political edge that I really enjoy in European Comics. That said, In many ways, Max Ferlane is somewhat of a cliché character in comics, one part Snake Pliskin, another Max Payne (if anyone else remembers that game), but this doesn’t detract from the story in any way.

This is the first part of a multi-part story, and I will eagerly be waiting for the next chapter. With my quibbles aside regarding some clichés, The setting, plot, and characters are cool enough to keep me reading. Yeah, it’s basically “Escape from Congo”, but that’s honestly better than most of the actual sequels to that franchise.

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…

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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)

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.