Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Marvel SDCC announcement to look forward to: Star Wars etc

SDCC announcements to look forward to: Marvel
by rick olivares

I get the feeling that the annual San Diego Comic Con has become more of where new movies and television series are unveiled as opposed to actual comic books.

Look at what has garnered the most attention – the image of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in the forthcoming movie about the Amazon Princess, the trailer of the new Mad Max film, and the images from the new Avengers film among many others.

Having said that (and they’re not bad at all), were there, in my opinion, any great news regarding new comic books? For sure!

Let’s start off with the offering from the House of Ideas.

The three new Star Wars comics from Marvel – Star Wars (Jason Aaron and John Cassaday), Princess Leia (Mark Waid and Terry Dodson), Darth Vader (Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca).

For those who followed the Star Wars comics, Marvel originally got the franchise in the 1970s but it later reverted to Dark Horse. The Expanded Universe (EU) went on to cover books written by a who’s who in science fiction. Now that the sci-fi classic has returned to Marvel, it seemed inevitable that the EU’s days were numbered. That the new series by Marvel takes place after the events of The Empire Strikes Back will surely change the mythos that came after.

Why is this a hit with me and should be with other fans?

For starters, its got top-notch creative teams behind each book. Second, they’ve got enough lead time to ensure monthly releases. And third, you can be sure that any storylines developed in the new Marvel series will have tie-ins or implications on the new film episodes.

There’s the All-New Captain America with long-time crime fighting partner Sam Wilson (formerly known as the Falcon) donning the star spangled costume in place of Steve Rogers who is ageing as the Super Soldier serum in his veins seems to have dried up.

I can understand the wanting to present diversity but not like this. Wilson will be the 12th man to be known as Captain America and I’m of the mind that they should just promote Wilson’s character rather than replace Rogers who they simply love putting through the wringer time and again. Rogers is Captain America also because he is a former military man. Wilson isn’t.

Am not sure about getting this book but I shall keep tabs on this.

The upcoming Uncanny X-Men Annual featuring new time-traveling mutant Eva Bell is interesting not only for the explanation on where she’s been but also for the Marvel debut of Italian artist Andrea Sorrentino who made a name for himself illustrating DC’s Green Arrow.

The other big book from Marvel is the original graphic novel, Rage of Ultron from the team of writer Rick Remender and Fil-American artist Jerome Opeña who worked on Uncanny X-Force among other titles. Marvel was the first comic company to publish original graphic novels but have not released anything since 1988’s The Inhumans by Ann Nocenti and Brett Blevins. It’s about time they started producing more books as they have totally lagged behind DC Comics in this regard.

With the new Avengers movie (with the homicidal robot Ultron as the main villain) slated for a 2015 release, Rage of Ultron will be a perfect companion piece for old fans who didn’t get enough of the limited series Age of Ultron. However, this will provide an excellent jumping on point for new fans.

Opeña is one of the industry’s rising stars whose work I cannot get enough of. He’s got the most dynamic sense of design and layouts since Jim Lee. In a larger format, his artwork will be given the proper format to be appreciated.

Gushed Remender about Opeña’s work, “Jerome is a nutjob. He's a lunatic. I've been working with him for a decade, and it's so great to be back with him. The storytelling comes first, and the absolute labor he puts into it. An OGN (original graphic novel) is perfect for him. It's literally the work of his life, and to be teamed back up with Jerome and Dean is so great.”

And lastly, there’s the next big Marvel event after Original Sin – Axis – that focuses on the villains.

As a kid, there was this compendium released by Marvel titled, Bring On the Bad Guys!” and that featured all the origins of the major villains of the Marvel Universe. Only for Axis, they band together in what is like the ultimate Masters of Evil (not to be confused with the Avengers’ villains) where the Red Skull takes his place as probably the most evil of all villains. This was something that was first touched on in the first issue of Uncanny Avengers.

With the villains all united, we will see the tenuous alliance between the Avengers and the X-Men. If you call caught the AvX from two years ago, you will know that there is no love lost between the two bands of superheroes.

This promises to be a huge storyline that will affect the Marvel Universe for years to come.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Holy Major Anniversary! It’s Batman Day!

Holy Major Anniversary! It’s Batman Day!
by rick olivares

Last Saturday, Batman Day, was belatedly celebrated in all comic shops all over the world. While the first Batman comic ever, the now seminal Detective Comics #27, came out in May of 1939, the character’s American publisher saw it fit to give the fictional super hero his own day on July 27 (that also coincided with the week of the medium’s biggest celebration, the San Diego Comic Book Convention).

To celebrate the day, DC Comics gave away free copies of a modern version of Detective Comics #27 that features the original six-page piece by Bob Kane and Bill Finger as well as modern re-tellings by Brad Meltzer and Bryan Hitch and Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy and Batman masks from various eras.

Here in the Philippines, the biggest celebration was at Comic Odyssey at Fullybooked Bonifacio High Street where aside from the free comics giveaway, there was a comic book sale, a trivia contest regarding the Dark Knight Detective and his long history, a raffle, and a Cosplay. 

While the “classic” and more prominent Batman stories are The Dark Knight Returns, Year One, and The Killing Joke*, there is literally a bookshelf of other stories written and drawn by a literal who’s who in comics royalty who all need to take a stab at the character.

Aside from the three aforementioned classics, here are seven more Essential Batman stories that you should read and have in your collection.

The Long Halloween (written by Jeph Loeb and drawn by Tim Sale) This was first ever Batman story to mine what Frank Miller created in Year One. It tells of the serial killer known as Holiday who murders people during holidays. The 13-issue long series also tells of the origin of Two-Face.

Prey (written by Doug Moench and drawn by Paul Gulacy). Another story that takes place early in Batman’s career and also spins out of Year One. This was a story arc in Legends of the Dark Knight, an out of continuity book with different sets of creators for every arc. But this one worked so well that it’s now considered part of the regular mythos that introduced Hugo Strange as a villain as well as the creation of the Batmobile.

Son of the Demon (written by Mike W. Barr and drawn by Jerry Bingham). For so long this stood out of continuity but I loved it because I always like Ras Al Ghul as one of Batman’s deadliest villains and this is perhaps the best story featuring the two antagonists. And perhaps more than Catwoman (who I personally dislike the attempts to make a pseudo-hero), I always thought that Talia Al Ghul was probably perfect for Batman. And their brief time together begets Bruce Wayne’s son, Damian, unnamed at that time and who would not come into prominence until Grant Morrison re-introduced him in the Batman and Son story arc.

World’s Finest (written by Dave Gibbons and drawn by Steve Rude) A wonderful story originally published as a three-issue limited series that explores the complex relationship between Batman and Superman. This story takes place early in their respective careers as they temporarily trade cities to deal with the Joker and Lex Luthor who have both decided to expand their activities far from their usual haunts. This story runs contrary to the grim and gritty stories that have become the norm after The Dark Knight Returns and Year One.

Arkham Asylum: A serious House on Serious Earth (written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Dave McKean). A chilling look at Batman’s infamous rogues gallery. When a riot takes place at Arkham Asylum with its legion of killers and cutthroats taking over, Batman is pressed into service to quell the uprising. What follows is a psychological thriller where Batman fights for survival and against the madness that inflicts the asylum. In doing so, he learns the origin of the place and how the world outside affects the people within.

Gotham by Gaslight (written by Brian Augustyn and drawn by Mike Mignola and P. Craig Russell). The first Elseworlds story told out of continuity. It’s basic treatise is what if the Batman operated in the 1800s with Jack the Ripper fleeing London and taking up residence in Gotham City. Its critical and sales success spawned a host of Elseworlds stories not only for Batman but other DC heroes where they were pulled out of their normal settings and placed in different times and eras.

* The Dark Knight Returns was written and drawn by Frank Miller who also penned Year One although it was drawn by his Daredevil collaborator, David Mazzuchelli. The Killing Joke was written by Alan Moore and drawn by Brian Bolland.

During the raffle, I won Ian Sta. Maria's artwork of The Joker. But I gave it to old friend Gab Chee Kee who wanted it bad. In return, I got a buncha back issues from Comic Odyssey. Thanks, Sandy!

Recording a video-podcast with JV Tanjuatco and Jason Inocencio.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Picked up some old DC Comics stuff I loved

I recently got new copies of my ageing ones of the Justice League of America. My favorite JLA stuff are the pre-Crisis books. Issue #200 (March 1982 when I was in second year high school) is one of those giant-sized issues with multiple arists. I first bought this at Christhareth in Greenhills. I got it about two months after it was released as I coudn't afford it (because of my small allowance). And I still have that issue only the pages are really browning so I had to recently purchase a copy in better condition.

Issues #219-220 feature the annual JLA-JSA teamup this time against an evil version of Johnny Quick. It also clears up a lot of things about Black Canary.

And speaking of Black Canary, here are some issues I picked up AGAIN that are post-Longbow Hunters. I really don't know what became of the original issues I bought all those long years ago. I just wanted to get a lot of the old stuff I read and loved during my teen and early adult years. I guess that's an indictment of the quality out today.

If you liked DC's 2004 event series, Identity Crisis, then you will want to read this four-issue limited series that tells of Ray Palmer's life including an incident that could have precipitated Identity Crisis. I won't reveal that here. You just might want to read it. By Gil Kane and Jan Strnad.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Image Comics' Manifest Destiny: The sum of all your fears

Manifest Destiny: The sum of all your fears
by rick olivares

The late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said, “Why you may take the most gallant sailor, the most intrepid airman, or the most audacious soldier, put them at the table and what do you get? The sum of their fears.

Welcome to the fearful mystery that is

In writer Chris Dingess and artist Matthew Roberts’ Manifest Destiny, a fictionalized re-telling of the historic Lewis and Clark Expedition that crossed the Missouri River into the unchartered and untamed lands of the West in May of 1804.

The actual expedition, a two-year journey from 1804-06, as commissioned by then American President Thomas Jefferson, saw a small group of Army volunteers explore the newly acquired territory from the French with the objectives of establishing an American presence before the European powers could claim the lands as well as to study and map out the geography, plant and animal life as well as to establish trade relations with the Indian tribes.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition was successful as they met all its objectives. And of the 33-man Corps of Discovery that set out from Camp Dubois in what is present-day Illinois, they suffered only one casualty.

That is the actual story.

However, in Manifest Destiny, the historical fantasy comic book from Image by Dingess and Roberts, they remind everyone that nothing is more frightening than the unknown. And the Wild West is the final frontier for many of that Corps of Discovery as they battle monsters and the weird.

Dingess and Roberts waste no time in forging ahead. In the very first page of the first issue of Manifest Destiny, the three ships that comprise the expedition are shown along the Missouri. You get the feeling it’s like that scene from The Lord of the Rings where the Fellowship traverses the seemingly endless Anduin River that is fraught with wonder, mystery, and danger.

And it isn’t long before they encounter the weird. Not soon after they shoot an undocumented heron, they come across massive arch (much like the 630-foot Gateway Arch in modern day St. Louis, Missouri) that is made up of flora. The weird-meter ratchets up several notches when the party that has gone ashore to study the arch is attacked by a minotaur-like being except that it is half-man, half-buffalo. They are able to kill the creature but not before suffering their first casualty that unknown to Captains Lewis and Clark, was actually murdered by Jensen, one of several convicts who was conscripted into the party in order to gain a pardon.

The expedition is in near mutiny as they claim they never signed up to fight monsters and the unknown. Order eventually prevails and the expedition repairs to La Charrette, the last Euro-American settlement along the Missouri River where this time they have to fight off the remnants of the settlers who have turned into zombie-like creatures except they were infected by a flora-based virus. Humans aren’t the only ones susceptible to the virus as forest animals are also infected.

The ongoing series is now on its second story arc and the danger and mysteries mount just like the body count. The expedition survives not only through their firepower but also mostly through their wits and bravery. Not to mention the mysterious but deadly Sacagawea, the Shoshone Indian guide who is their resident monster killer.

You’re engrossed as the expedition catalogues the creatures they come across but you also cannot wait to learn the whys and wherefores of their existence and hostility. Except none are forthcoming… yet… as the expedition moves on into a world that is a melting pot of DC Comics’ Swamp Thing and H.G. Wells.

You’re engrossed as the expedition not only faces external dangers but also from within. Aside from the convicts like Jensen who has his own agenda, the conscripts also face their own internal demons such as when one soldier cannot contain his libido and attempts to rape one of the female survivors of La Charrette. He pays for his folly when he is stung to death by a giant mosquito.

No doubt, you’ve noticed how I used the word “engrossed” twice in the previous two paragraphs so that says a lot about Dingess’ writing. It’s all that and more. I chafe at comic books I can read in five minutes. Dingess is a wordsmith and that is perhaps the best compliment one can give because whether this comic takes me 20 minutes or more to read is good because you hang on to every word.

Roberts’ art is intricately beautiful. It’s detailed, crisp, and clear. I love how he is able to depict a variety of emotions. And he sure knows how to draw frightening things and show the stark terrors of people when faced with these monsters. This is the first I have seen of Roberts’ art. Usually, one is tempted to say that the art reminds me of so and so. But Matthew’s work is refreshingly original. And Owen Gieni’s colors bring that beautiful line work to life.

It’s a terrifying world west of the Missouri and every issue Dingess and Roberts leave you with a cliffhanger that makes you wish it were that time of the month when the next issue of Manifest Destiny makes its way into your hands.

Manifest Destiny is the sum of excellent storytelling.

Author’s note: Manifest Destiny is now on its eighth issue. Image Comics’ has collected the first six issues in trade paperback form. The monthly comic can be purchased at Comic Odyssey or other specialty shops.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Marvel’s got a winner with its Original Sin

Marvel’s got a winner with its Original Sin
by rick olivares

Original Sin is Marvel’s latest event storyline, Original Sin, features a premise that at once seems logical in the sense that, “why didn’t I think of this before,’ and this can push the 616 Universe in all sorts of directions better than any other crossover event they can think of.

Let me get this out of the way, I haven’t been overly a fan of crossover stories that seem to be more gimmick-driven that real honest to goodness storytelling-driven arcs. In fact, the one crossover I truly enjoyed was Operation: Galactic Storm that ran in the Avengers-related books from March to May of 1992. But when you think about it, it’s a rehash of the Kree-Skrull War except in this one, the Skrulls were in the background manipulating the conflict between their ancient enemies and the Shiar.

Original Sin interested me because of the premise of “who killed the Watcher and why” and the creative team behind the books – writer Jason Aaron and artist Mike Deodato.

Looking at the writer-artist tandem behind Original Sin, Aaron has been writing some terrific books of late – Thor: God of Thunder and Southern Bastards while Brazilian artist Mike Deodato has provided gorgeous pencils on books such as Wonder Woman, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and Thunderbolts to name a few.

From what I have read and gleaned from Aaron’s style, he moves the story forward rather quickly but manages to tell the backstory in timely flashbacks.  The man knows how to keep readers enthralled (and that is the word to describe how I feel when reading his works).

Mike Deodato’s style is like a more refined Marc Silvestri with Neal Adams-like perspectives. And he sure knows how to heighten the mood with his understanding of light and shadow.

With those two putting this together you know it’s going to be good.

The Watcher’s death sees several different sets of heroes -- who are unaware of their other’s purpose – on the trail of the killers. One group goes up against the villains of the piece – Exterminatrix and the Orb – but the latter activates the Watcher’s Eye that unleashes a wave of energy that exposes them to previously hidden secrets or erased parts of their lives. It divides the heroes as some attend to the unlocked mysteries while others continue their pursuit of the villains.

The other groups – seemingly put together by Nick Fury – discovers the bodies of lifeless monsters, aliens, and Ego-like planets all killed with gamma-irradiated bullets leads to – Nicky Fury! When the different groups converge they are all suspicious of one another and nearly go after each other when a bunch of Nick Furys appear; there’s an aged on apparently with the Infinity Formula drying out of system and a bunch of what are obviously Life Model Decoys.

Fury reveals that for the last several decades, he has not only worked with SHIELD but has protected the Earth in a covert manner from all sorts of alien, monster, and extra-dimensional invasions using his gun and gamma-irradiated bullets. Now that revelation ties up his reason for going to the ground during the Secret Invasion.

But issue #5 (of the eight issue series) ends there leaving us with another cliffhanger – until the next two weeks.

It makes sense to steal the Watcher’s secrets; after all, he sees and records everything. Information is both gold and power. It stands to reason that what he knows can hurt and destabilize a lot of people. Furthermore, he’s got an armory that can literally destroy the universe.

The villains behind the piece are Dr. Midas, Exterminatrix, and the Orb. Of the three the latter is literally a Z-list villain and Aaron makes no bones about it. Midas on the other hand, first appeared in Grant Morrison’s Marvel Boy and was revealed to be perhaps the world’s richest man with connections to SHIELD as well as governments and their various agencies. That sets him up as possibly the most dangerous person in the Marvel Universe.

While a lot has been revealed very early that only leads to more questions.

While it seems that everything immediately points to Dr. Midas and company as well as Nick Fury, I do not believe that the creative team simply revealed their hand right away.

There’s the matter of All-New X-Men #25; an issue that probably serves as an unreported tie-in to the main Original Sin arc.

In that issue, Hank McCoy is revealed to be talking to some figure that looks be like Charles Xavier. McCoy or the X-Men’s Beast, has been troubled by his bringing that original X-Men from the past into the present time to “save” the mutant race from genocide. Towards the latter end of the issue, it is revealed that McCoy isn’t talking to Xavier but Uatu the Watcher.

The Watcher informs the Beast that “A myriad of realities you have destroyed. You have guaranteed that the happiness and love and respect and adventure that you crave for your friends may never happen.”

The Beast implores the Watcher to help him put reality as it once was.

The Watcher says that he doesn’t act but only watches.

All-New X-Men #25 ends with McCoy wondering, “Maybe it is not too late. I can still make it right. I cans till fix this. I just need…”

So from one curveball to another the mystery just got a whole lot deeper. The McCoy angle isn’t previously know to many readers – unless you read All-New X-Men and have stumbled upon the connection just as I did. 

And despite being one huge massive ret-con (retroactive continuity that is comic book lingo for the alteration of previously established stories or facts behind works of fiction and is more related to comic books) this one sends the Marvel Universe spinning in all sorts of directions.

Not since Secret Wars has a crossover affected almost the entire line of Marvel books. And it sets up even more beguiling and intriguing storylines:
Was Tony Stark involved in the creation of the Hulk
How on Asgard did Angela (Neil Gaiman’s cosmic creation) become the long-lost sister of Thor and Loki?
Now that Captain America has possibly learned that he has been mind-wiped by Marvel’s version of the Illuminati, will this truly hurt his relationship not only with Iron Man but the other heroes?
And there’s more.

And perhaps, that is what makes Original Sin a winner of a crossover event. It doesn’t ram things down your throat (read X-Men Schism). You yourself want it and it is an engaging storyline that features top-notch writing and even more killer art.

In an age where we see rehashed stories (see the new Valiant Comics reboot) and unimaginative use of tired old concepts (hero versus hero in DC’s Trinity War), it’s good to see Original Sin make use of an unoriginal concept to breathe new life into it. The story straddles into near perfection and I say that because we have yet to see how it all ends.

And good ole storytelling has sadly been lacking in many comics today. Original Sin is an engaging story that neatly ties up a lot of loose ends but is never rammed down one’s throat.