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Is It Wednesday Yet?

27 April 2010 — Here we are again with another installment of your favorite comic book review series. As always, the reviews are free of spoilers, so read on without fear of having your experience ruined!

Our grading scale is simple:

Buy: An excellent comic book.
Borrow: A good comic, but save yourself some money by reading a friend's copy.
Flip Through: Give it a once-over at the comic shop.
Skip: This doesn't need to be explained.

Gen 13 #35
Publisher: DC Comics / Wildstorm
Released: 14 April 2010
Writer: Phil Hester
Penciler: Cruddie Torian
Inker: Saleem Crawford
Colorist: Gabe Eltaeb
Letterer: Wes Abbott
Cover: Pete Woods
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Desmond Reddick
I'm not sure what surprises me more, that Gen 13 still exists, or that it doesn't look much different than it did almost two decades ago.

This book takes place in the modern Wildstorm Universe, where half of Gen 13 has stayed behind on a post-apocalyptic Earth, while the other half has joined The Authority. Anyway, characters no one cares about have conversations no one cares about, including Phil Hester, unfortunately. And then the team saves a group travelling by wagon from a roving band of motorcycle cannibal pirates. Original, huh?

You know, I used to love the Wildstorm U. In fact, for years it was better than Marvel and DC combined. It contained several intriguing teams of characters all working towards different ends, occasionally coming into contact with each other with beautifully disastrous consequences. This is true for the whole studio from its inception to about the time Ed Brubaker stopped writing The Authority.

So what happened?

Well, while destroying the Earth and creating a post-apocalyptic world was a courageous move story wise, it's a move you can't go back from. At least not without a "twenty years later" scenario. It's bold, yes, and for that they should be commended, but it's clearly not working in this book.

The premise is as predictable and well-trodden as they get in speculative fiction, and it's handled so flatly that it doesn't even at one time attempt to be interesting. Characters make ridiculously clichιd comments throughout as well. For example, Burnout — one of two characters I actually recognize from the original series — makes the following soul-searingly wonderful observation early in the issue when the idea of splitting up is brought forth:

No. No Way. We've got to stick together. Every crappy thing that ever happens to us happens when we split up. It's like a slasher flick. Besides, we're family now. Family sticks together.

I'll give you a second to dry your tears before continuing.

Earlier I said that Gen 13 used to look like this, but perhaps that was a little too much like praise, because at least J. Scott Campbell's work — while cartoonish, full of cheesecake, and a little goofy — had a technician's hand. This art is about as pretty as a car wrapped around an oak tree. It's not offensive enough to look away from, but it's still not really worth looking at.

I suppose what the comic does quite well is that it catches us up on the current Wildstorm continuity in the first half of the first page, but even then it's done with a disembodied narrator whom we never hear from again. Then another narrator takes over the second half of the page. Urgh!

So, draw a series of interconnected squares in a row on the sidewalk, throw this book onto one of the squares, and get started on the hopscotch because you need to skip this one.

Hellcyon #1
Publisher: Dark Horse
Released: 14 April 2010
Writer: Lucas Marangon
Artist: Lucas Marangon
Letterer: Michael David Thomas
Cover: Lucas Marangon
Cover price: $3.50

Review: Sean Lemberg
Set on a recently colonized planet rife with political struggles, government oppression, and civil war, Hellcyon is the brainchild of writer / artist Lucas Marangon. Known for his work on several of Dark Horse's Star Wars comics, Marangon borrows a few basic ideas from the Lucasfilm behemoth for his independent debut. Giant empirical oppressors with a significant military advantage? Check. A flimsy, disorganized resistance filled with outlaws and freelancers? That's another check. Haughty gold cyborg with a classically trained British voice? Okay, he's missing that one.

The specifics of the story itself are more original than I'm letting on. Rather than focusing exclusively on the conflict, Marangon spends a fair amount of time on the political atmosphere and public opinions that led to such an explosive situation. In this case, Earth is the asshole oppressor, eager to hoard anything of value and make a profit at every opportunity. Halcyon, a small colony on the outskirts of civilization, has become the center of media attention after declaring independence and standing up to overwhelming odds. The success (or lack thereof) of this planet's movement could set a tricky precedent for future uprisings, and for that reason alone the galaxy is keeping a close watch on Earth's reaction.

It's a familiar story with a more modern slant. The parallels to current events aren't especially difficult to spot, either. Don't let those mature undercurrents fool you, though, because Hellcyon can be a wild ride when the time is right. As the first in a four-issue miniseries, the story doesn't waste a lot of time on set-up, which isn't to say it's lacking in detail. It gets you up to speed quickly and efficiently, but when the explosions start dropping Hellcyon hastily transitions into a slick, fast-paced action book. It's one of those rare instances where a story can be both intelligent and exciting.

His previous experience with the Star Wars properties is most apparent — and perhaps most rewarding — in Marangon's artwork. His compositions have taken on the same cinematic, breathless quality of that well known mega-franchise, especially when setting the scene with an exterior shot of an enormous space station or battleship. By weaving in bits and pieces of his manga influences along the way, Lucas produces an interesting marriage of visual styles and inspirations. His machinery has the daunting, impressive scale made famous by ILM, but also the organic curves and more elegant shape of a Masamune Shirow mech.

Lucas' artwork makes a good allegory for the issue as a whole: although it stumbles from time to time, when it clicks you'll be hooked for the duration. Many of the story's ideas teeter on the edge of plausibility, but they never quite tip over into the brink. Though it does sometimes feel like Marangon is testing waters that might be a bit too deep for his skill level, he's produced a genuinely entertaining first issue in spite of that. The overarching premise isn't quite as profound as Lucas would like to think it is, but it's good enough to stand on its own, and the action scenes more than make up for any shortcomings. Borrow it.

Siege: Loki
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 14 April 2010
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
Colorist: Nathan Fairbairn
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover: Marko Djurdjevic
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
In some ways, Loki is the perfect villain. Serving no one but himself, the God of Lies and Mischief delights in turning allies on each other, twisting knives, exploiting trust, and simply causing as much mischief and panic as he can in as little time as possible. From all indications, we're in the middle of witnessing his magnum opus. A master manipulator, he's effectively turned both Doom and Norman Osborn against his adopted home of Asgard, while at the same time maintaining his spot at the right hand of Balder, present ruler of the realm. What does he stand to gain? Well, what's wrong with a little chaos from time to time?

In the issue's first panel, Doom says it all: "You remain Loki, Loki." Really, that's all this issue adds up to. It's just Loki being Loki: toying with people for the fun of it; throwing a wild card into the mix for no reason other than to see who will get screwed; all while wearing that snide, pompous, ineffable sneer. Loki makes for a fantastic instigator, but as the central figure of a story, he's fairly lacking. He's one-dimensional, always scheming and misleading, but mixing his messages just enough to trick everyone he meets into following along. Like a pinch of salt, he's great in small doses, but too much spoils the lot.

Kieron Gillen's tie-in to the latest, greatest merry Marvel crossover to end all crossovers can't be chastised for avoiding answers. In fact, this issue solves a number of riddles that had been floating around Siege since it was in the set-up stages almost a year ago. The problem is, every last one of those answers boils down to "Loki did it just to mess with someone." Gillen's only real innovation in these 22 pages is the casual wheeling and dealing Loki does with Mephisto, a friendly face-off between the publisher's two most conniving personalities. Naturally, their clash utilizes the pen, not the sword, as they each attempt to one-up the other with escape clauses and fine print. It's a fun little competition, if not a particularly long or volatile one.

I didn't care much for Jamie McKelvie's artwork at first glance, but as the issue unfolded it slowly started to grow on me. I'll attribute that to his similarities to Steve Dillon, whose work I also took some time to really appreciate. McKelvie and Dillon both give their subjects a very pedestrian, everyday appearance — uncomplicated but rich in character. That's worked very well for Dillon over the years, since his cast is usually filled out with casually dressed civilians. Seeing Loki, Doom, and Mephisto with that kind of a treatment, on the other hand, seems to spotlight just how crazy their get-ups really are. If you can get past that, the quality of McKelvie's facial expressions will treat you well.

Siege: Loki makes for an amusing aside, an elaboration on several questions most readers probably already had a pretty good idea about. It's not required reading, however, as most every important point will be recounted in brief somewhere in the primary series. If you're crazy about Loki, this may result in a pair of wet shorts, but less-fanatical readers won't find anything spectacular inside. An inconsequential side-adventure, it's enjoyable but shallow. Flip through it.

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