Monday, August 28, 2017

Longbox Junk - Mass Effect: Homeworlds


I DO love me some Mass Effect! I've always considered it to be the Star Trek game nobody has ever really managed to deliver.  This "mini-series" came out right before Mass Effect 3 as part of the massive hype behind the game.  It's actually not so much a mini as it is 4 separate one shots tied together by the Mass Effect theme.  Did the comic books manage to capture the spirit of the popular video games?  Let's find out!

This first issue of Homeworlds tells a story of James Vega (a no-nonsense Marine introduced as a new character in Mass Effect 3) before he joined the crew of the Normandy. This is a younger, more conflicted Vega trying to choose between his family and going into the service. 

The story is pretty well written, but there's a lot of focus on action. . .the issue is basically one long chase scene after a drug deal gone bad. . .it does give a some insight into why Vega becomes the duty-driven Marine we see in Mass Effect 3, but it's almost an afterthought to the action. The light story and art that is decent but nothing special make this a pretty average comic.
The second issue of Homeworlds tells us the story of Tali'Zorah nar Rayya and her companion, Keenah, in the events leading up to the first Mass Effect game.

Like the first issue, this one is also pretty much one long chase scene as Tali and Keenah try to get some vital information that they've discovered to anyone willing to act on it, while being chased by a deadly assassin hired to stop them.

There were some decent story moments in here, particularly about the racial prejudice against Tali's people, but (like the first issue) what little story there was took a back seat to the action. A shame. Tali was one of the more interesting characters in Mass Effect.

The art on this one is extremely stylized, with elongated, stretchy forms. I don't think it fits the material well. It looks like something from an indie book instead of a tie-in to a major game release. The strange art choice and extremely light story make this an average issue. It's a bit better than the first, but not by much.
I really liked this third issue of Homeworlds, as it features one of my favorite characters, Garrus Vakarian. . .former cop, expert sniper, and all around alien badass. I had Garrus at my side through all 3 Mass Effect games. But really. . .who didn't? 

Besides the general "Hell yeah" of an issue focusing on Garrus, the story here was a big win for me because it told the tale of just HOW Garrus (then known as the vigilante Archangel) ended up where Shepard found him on Omega station at one end of a bridge single-handedly sniping all comers from the other end. It was something that was never explained in the game (Mass Effect 2).

Turns out he didn't start out solo, but was part of a team of vigilantes. They were betrayed and ambushed. Garrus the last survivor. The story flashes back to his younger days and his demanding father, as well as during his time as a cop and discovering how little effect his by-the-book efforts had on crime.

All in all, this was a great story that lived up to this series' promise of expanding the background of the Mass Effect characters. The dark, scratchy art isn't the greatest thing I've ever seen, but it fit the nature of this story nicely. All things considered, this was a great issue.
This closing issue of Homeworlds tells a story featuring Liara T'Soni immediately before the events of Mass Effect 3, explaining how and why she ended up on Mars during the first mission of the game.

The story is a bit muddled and unclear, and most of it is a sequence of chases and escapes from rogue agents of Cerberus trying to stop her from gaining the information she's looking for. Like the first two issues of this series, it's a bit light on story, which is a shame because Liara isn't so much an action character as the others. . .she's a scientist, investigator, and information broker. It seems a waste to just throw her into some chase/fight/escape/repeat scenes and call it an expansion on her background.

The art is pretty good, even if it makes Liara look meaner than she should be. All in all, the disappointing story makes this issue. . .like 3/4 of this series. . .average.
And there you have it. . .Dark Horse's Mass Effect: Homeworld 4 issue "mini-series"
All in all, I have to say I was pretty disappointed with it.  With the exception of the third issue, these stories were all pretty much chase scenes with a sprinkling of story on top.  This COULD really have been much better.  I'd still suggest it to fans of Mass Effect for those bits of story, and I highly suggest the third issue, but if you aren't already a fan of Mass Effect, don't even bother.  As a whole, this "mini-series" is utterly average.  A damn shame.
Up next. . .
Who WAS that masked man?  Just one of my favorite characters of all time!
Dynamite's 26 issue 2006 run of The Lone Ranger.  
Be there or be square!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Longbox Junk - Transformers/ G.I. Joe


Don't let your preconceptions of these two properties or memories of the cartoons they are based on fool you.  Dreamwave did something truly out of the box with this series by placing these well-known (and frankly overused) characters in an "Elseworlds" alternate history World War II, and painting the usually bright characters in grim and dark hues for a gritty, violent tale that is like nothing else from these properties that I know of.  Read on!

It's not often that you can find something unique in comics.
Just about everything that CAN be done HAS been done at some point. 

Dreamwave's Transformers/G.I. Joe is unique.

When I think of Transformers, I think of bright colors, sharp lines, and an overall picture of entry-level giant robot anime for young teens. Likewise, when I think of G.I. Joe, I think of brightly-colored heroes who shoot and get shot at, but nobody ever gets hurt. Once again, entry-level military action for young teens.

I expected as much from this mini, but had those expectations completely blown out of the water. Instead of brightly-colored sci-fi shootouts, what I got was a dark, gritty, violent tale set in an alternate timeline World War II. Completely unexpected. 

This first issue sets up the conflict very well, with WWII raging, Cobra discovers and activates ancient war machines (Decepticons) that lay waste to Europe. America, seeing the writing on the wall, forms a special unit (G.I. Joe) to attack Cobra headquarters in an effort to find out if these devastating game changers can be stopped.

All in all, it's a pretty simple story with a simple setup. What sets this apart is the alternate timeline setting and the extremely dark and gritty artwork. The writer and artist nail the atmosphere of desperation perfectly. This is not the Gung-Ho nobody dies feel of your average G.I. Joe story. This is not the bright, shiny average Transformers story. This is a tale of suicide missions and hopelessness in the face of a superior enemy.

Jae Lee is a unique artist in that nobody else draws like him at all. He's one that you can tell just by looking who the artist is. Like a Truman, a Sale, a Kubert, a Mignola, and so on. His take on the Transformers is dark and dirty. The Joes are rumpled and ready for action. His art, above all else, makes this crossover stand out from the hundreds of other Transformer and G.I. Joe stories. 

All in all, a fantastic first issue with a unique take on some very overused characters. If I have one complaint, it's that Lee's art is sometimes TOO dark and a bit hard to follow. But other than that, this was one of the most surprising things (in a good way) I've read in a long time.
Another great, dark, gritty issue. The story this time splits 3 ways between one team of Joes discovering and activating the Autobots (who reveal that they have been on earth for about 3 million years), a power struggle between Starscream, Megatron, and Cobra Commander, and a running battle between Snake Eyes and Stormshadow. All very well done, except the Snake Eyes/Stormshadow battle seemed to run a bit longer than it should. But that's just a small complaint for an otherwise fantastic issue.
This series just keeps getting better as the story continues to follow 3 threads. . .the Joes and Autobots desperately trying to establish a beach head for a naval invasion of Cobra headquarters, the power struggle between Cobra Commander and Megatron, and the continuing duel between Stormshadow and Snake Eyes. Once again, I felt that a bit too much attention was paid to the Stormshadow/Snake Eyes conflict, but other than that. Very well done.

One thing that stood out to me on this issue as the action heats up is that the book is rendered in very grim tones of black, brown, green, and grey, with only an occasional splash of color. This REALLY makes explosions, when they happen, stand out front and center with a burst of orange and red. A superb and subtle effect.
The already huge cast of characters expands and the story splits into another couple of threads, making this issue seem a bit crowded and cluttered. I get that they wanted to try and throw EVERY popular G.I. Joe and Transformer character into the mix in their alternate WWII form, but it's starting to get a bit cumbersome. Not that it's bad. . .the writing is still great and the artwork is still grim, gritty and dark (if anything, maybe a little TOO dark at times).

Cobra takes one of the Joe team commanders (Flint) captive, and the operation turns into a rescue mission. It's also revealed that Destro and Starscream are working together against Megatron and Cobra Commander, building a giant Transformer/Earth Tech robot called Bruticus. Also, the battle between Stormshadow and Snake Eyes is STILL going on!

There were a few weak moments. . .how can Destro and Starscream keep a GIGANTIC robot that absolutely dwarfs the already huge decepticons hidden? And then there's the giant great white shark that becomes part of Snake Eyes and Stormshadow's overly-drawn out battle. Overall, despite the weak points, this was still a great read.
As things build up to the final issue, it gets more crowded.  Fortunately, the writer keeps his hand firmly on the wheel and things stay on track as the Joes move in to rescue Flint before the invasion force arrives to pound Cobra's base to dust with naval bombardment, Cobra Commander (who establishes his superiority over Megatron with the Matrix) fills the beaches with slaves as human shields to put off a mass landing of troops, and the battle between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow FINALLY comes to an end. All in all, it's still a pretty simple story. . .it's just getting overcrowded with characters.

A standout moment in this issue is when Shockwave fires the first shot in the impending final battle, nailing Superion with a MASSIVE explosion. Superbly illustrated by Lee!
Holy crap. There are a LOT of characters in this issue! But the difference between this story and most G.I. Joe or Transformer stories is that about half of those characters die during this final battle.

There's a lot of balls in the air in this final issue, but the writer juggles them well and brings this unique series to a very nice close. I won't spoil the ending, but once again, Optimus Prime realizes that sometimes to protect the weak, the strong must make sacrifices. My only problem with an otherwise fantastic, action-packed and emotional issue is that the ending is very abrupt.

All in all, I really enjoyed this whole series. It was a unique look at characters i didn't think had any mileage left in them, and a completely unexpected dark and gritty presentation of what is normally bright and pretty juvenile. Well done from first page to last.
Overall, I found this to be a unique and unexpected take on these two well-known properties, with good writing and fantastic art throughout.  There were a few clunky moments in the story, it got a bit crowded with characters toward the end, and sometimes the art was TOO dark, but I have yet to find a perfect comic book, so those small flaws in no way take away from highly suggesting this series to anyone who enjoys military comics, whether or not they are fans of Transformers or G.I. Joe.  This is just a great series and truly a hidden gem among Longbox Junk.
Up next. . .
It's a video game tie in mini-series that's really 4 one-shots.  Mass Effect: Homeworlds.
Be there or be square!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wayback Wednesday - X-Men #23

X-MEN #23

Welcome one and all to another Wayback Wednesday edition of Longbox Junk, where I take a look at some of the older comics in my collection, and give YOU yet another review you never asked for!

First off, my apologies for being a bit late with this one.  The hotel I manage in Northern Utah was smack in the middle of an Eclipse Madness travel route as people flocked to Idaho and Wyoming for some of the best viewing.  And (in my extremely humble opinion) that's about the ONLY reason large groups of people would ever want to flock to Idaho and Wyoming.  I think the government could give away land in Idaho for free and there still wouldn't be any flocking to be had.


X-MEN #23 (1966)

Let's start at the beginning and take a look at the cover.  It's pretty well-drawn, but seems extremely busy.  The lightning bolt being shot by "The Eel" over on the left side just looks bad.  It's not a terrible cover, but it's certainly not that great either.  It loudly proclaims that this particular issue is for action lovers, but (as you'll see below) that isn't really true at all.  THIS comic is for lovers of 1960's-style madcap comedy, the likes of which hasn't really been seen for quite a while.  Read on!

The story goes like this (and it's a doozy):

In the previous issue, the X-Men have been captured by Count Nefaria, who wanted to recruit them to his criminal "Maggia" organization (Marvel's hilariously obvious way of dodging code-violating references to the "Mafia").  But he quickly learns that he needs to improve his recruiting methods when the Merry Mutants tell him to sit and spin.  Despite this minor setback, Nefaria decides to go ahead with his plan. . .to take Washington D.C. hostage for (insert best Doctor Evil voice imitation here) One Hundred MILLION dollars. 

To accomplish his. . .er. . .Nefarious. . .plan, Nefaria covers D.C. with a clear dome created by a 1960's super-science ex-machina device, and then, since the X-Men inconveniently decided not to help him, he sends his B-Team of minor Maggia supervillains disguised as the X-Men by way of hologram to deliver the ransom demand, giving the government 3 hours to pony up the cash or all the oxygen gets sucked from the dome.

Of course, the obvious weak point in this plan is thinking the government can do ANYTHING in 3 hours.  I can't even get my address changed at the DMV in less than 3 hours.  But once again, I digress. . .


Back at Nefaria's base, the X-Men are trying to escape.  Jean Gray tries and fails to contact Professor X, not realizing that he's busy working on a secret project and has pretty much decided to ignore all incoming mental calls.  While the captured X-Men bungle around trying to figure out how to escape, Professor X is finally disturbed by a regular phone call.  It's the military requesting he get his bald behind to Washington to consult on how best to destroy those evil X-Men holding the city hostage. . .which comes as a bit of a surprise to him.  About that time, the X-Men finally free themselves and Professor X manages to get a "What the hell is going on, guys?" Mental call through to Jean Gray, and a plan of action is formed.


Nefaria is contacted by the government and they've agreed to his terms.  Even better, the X-Men show up and tell him they've changed their mind and will work with him.  He sends the X-Men to pick up the ransom, then tells his fake Maggia X-Men minions (B-Listers Unicorn, Plant Man, Porcupine, Eel, and Scarecrow) to keep an eye on the X-Men for a double cross.  The Maggia quickly decide to double cross Nefaria and steal the ransom for themselves.  While all that is going on, Professor X arrives on the scene and sends his astral form into Nefaria's base to spy on him, learning the secrets of the ex-machina machine forming the dome over Washington, but unable to do anything because he's pretty much a mental ghost.


The X-Men collect the ransom and are chased by both the military AND a mob out for the blood of those filthy, unpatriotic muties.  They are rescued by the Maggia, but only so they can steal the ransom.  A brawl ensues, complete with quips galore and expository power explanations shouted during battle in such a way that there can be NO doubt that this is a 1960's comic.  In the end, the X-Men prevail, but Unicorn double crosses his Maggia partners, grabs the money and runs.  The X-Men give chase and get the money back, but the other Maggia villians regroup and there's a hilarious juggling back and forth of the bag with the ransom in it until Marvel Girl finally manages to escape the battle with it.


Jean returns to Nefaria's hideout and gives him the ransom bag.  However, their discussion about how great the Maggia is going to be with all this new money is interrupted by a mysterious masked man just strolling in and ignoring them while turning off Nefaria's machine forming the dome over D.C. The other X-Men finally arrive and are distracted long enough for Nefaria to escape with the ransom bag.  The mysterious masked man is revealed to be Professor X walking around with the aid of his secret project. . .a transistor powered set of leg braces.  Everyone takes a moment to say "Hold on. What?" before realizing Nefaria and the ransom is gone.


On board Nefaria's escape boat, the criminal mastermind THINKS he's gotten away with the money, but Unicorn shows up for a final double cross, only for it to be revealed that the ransom bag is an illusion, created by Professor X using Nefaria's own illusion machine and they are taken into the custody of The Coast Guard.  The real money is returned and the X-Men are cleared of wrongdoing. All's well that ends well, right?  WRONG!

After an extremely brief victory celebration.  Jean Gray reads a letter she got in the mail and tearfully tells the X-Men she has to leave the team.  Wait, What? Nope. . .to be continued.

SPOILER FOR NEXT ISSUE: It's from her parents and they want to transfer her to another school.

Okay. . .so that was the story.  And there was a lot of it for one measly issue of a comic book.

Overall, I really liked it.  But not so much for the superhero action promised on the cover, but for the unintentional (or maybe not) comedy of it all.  It reminded me a lot of those "madcap" or "screwball" comedies of the past, where everyone is running around and the situation just gets crazier and crazier.  There are so many double crosses and inconvenient situations in this issue that I couldn't help but laugh as each new one popped up. By my count, there are 6 double crosses in this story, with "Criminal Mastermind" Nefaria being the victim of 3 of them! 

I'm not really sure that this book was meant as comedy, but there's just a zany feel to it that makes it really enjoyable to read.  In particular, when the X-Men and the Maggia are fighting over the briefcase that has the ransom in it and it keeps getting passed from person to person. . .nobody can keep it for longer than a few moments before someone else grabs it. It's like something straight from an old Monkees episode!  

The art on this book was pretty good.  Nothing really stood out in a big way, but there weren't any really bad parts either.  It was just good workmanlike art, pretty standard for a 60's superhero comic.  The coloring was pretty sloppy throughout the book, though.  Not so much that it made for a bad read, but definitely noticeable enough to distract from time to time.


All in all, I really enjoyed this issue. . .but probably not for the reason the creators originally intended.  I found the multiple double crosses, inconvenient situations, ex-machina problem solutions, and cases of mistaken identity to be some good, funny reading.  Like I said above, I'm not sure if the creators MEANT for this book to be funny in a madcap comedy way, but that's what I got out of it.  I'd be interested in finding out if anyone else has the same take on this issue.

See you next Wayback Wednesday.  Be there or be square! 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Longbox Junk - One Shots (Part 2)

ONE SHOTS (Part 2)

More one shots. . .YAY!  I love 'em. Let's do this!
OUR ARMY AT WAR Featuring Sergeant Rock (DC 2010)

Sergeant Rock is one of my favorite characters. As a Marine Corps veteran, I can appreciate how Rock is actually one of the greatest ANTI war characters ever created. This modern take on Rock is one of the strongest comics I've read in a LONG time.

It is written to perfection with the story flashing back and forth between WWII and either Afghanistan or Iraq (not made clear), with the characters finishing each other's dialogue across time, showing the old soldier's adage "The more things change, the more they stay the same." to be true. The ending of the story, when we find out why the modern character fights, is an emotional punch to the gut, and comes out of nowhere. I won't spoil it, but it's the kind of ending that puts everything before it in a whole new perspective. . .

The art is superb in every way, from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, to the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers, the whole issue is rendered in incredible detail. And then there's that fantastic cover by the legendary Joe Kubert. . .

From the cover to the last page, this one shot delivers on every single panel.  Highly suggested.

GIANT-SIZE WOLVERINE (Marvel, Vol. 3 2006)

This is a nice, hefty book. Unfortunately, 75% of it is reprint material (X-Men vol 2 #6-7). Let's look at the parts separately. . .

HOUSE OF BLOOD AND SORROW: I'm not the biggest Wolverine fan, but I really liked this story. The art by Aja perfectly suits the "Backwoods Chtulu" horror of this story, and the colors in sickly shades of brown and green really bring it home. This is now officially one of my favorite Wolverine stories. It's straight up gory horror with Wolvie in "Logan" mode. A real hidden gem!

X-MEN (vol 2) 6-7: Where the first part of this one shot was dark, moody, and gruesome, the back 3/4 of the book is brightly-colored 90's superhero cliche to the hilt, with a giant cast of characters shouting exposition to each other (explaining their powers in the middle of a brawl. . .WTF, 90's?) I found it a bit hard to get through, as it just sort of drops you into the middle of the continuity-dense X-Men saga. I don't understand why they reprinted an X-Men story in a Wolverine special. Couldn't they have found a Wolverine story? I'm confused.

The Jim Lee art is fine, if a bit gaudily-colored, so the reprint isn't entirely bad. Just a bit out of place. It feels like padding to justify doubling up on the price.

All in all, this one shot was half and half. A dark Wolverine story that is superb in every way, and a gaudy, wordy, 90's X-Men reprint. If it was JUST the first story, this would be a 5 star review. But good with bad brings it down to 3.  I'd still suggest it just for the first story alone.


I really like this story, which sits apart from the regular Star Wars title as a stand-alone tale.

While the art is generally good, and even has a few really great moments (the first page shot of Imperial Coruscant comes to mind), what elevates this story is that it completely flips the script and defies expectation in that not only is the hero unsuccessful in his mission, but he is played like such a chump by The Emperor, that his mistakes are devastating to the Rebellion. 

I know, I know. . .the heroes are supposed to win against the odds. But there's a reason that Empire Strikes Back is regarded as the best Star Wars movie. The writer of this One Shot remembered why that is. Sometimes the bad guys win too. Very nicely done.  Highly suggested.

WONDER WOMAN ANNUAL 6 (DC vol. 2 1997)

There for a while, DC was doing "themed" annuals. . .Year One, Elseworlds, etc.

This one was from one of the more forgettable years. "Pulp Heroes". To tell the truth, I see very little "Pulp" in this annual (compared to some of the others) and more "Two pretty standard stand-alone Wonder Woman stories" Let's look at them separately. . .

NECROPOLIS: The first story is a tale of Wonder Woman as a young teenager on Themyscira discovering death and madness in Paradise as she accidentally causes the death of a friend, then descends to the "City of The Dead" to try and rescue her.

The story was a little light, with decent artwork. I did like that they decided to set the story in Wonder Woman's past, and that the villain was unexpectedly sympathetic. All in all, a pretty good story.

FROM HELL SHE CAME: The second story features Artemis (AKA Angry Substitute Wonder Woman) going to Hades to lead a failed rebellion, then tricking Hades in order to escape again.

This one was full on 90's style "Bad Girl" violent cheesecake. The story was light and tacked on as an excuse for the fighting. The twist at the end was predictable, and once again. . .there was nothing "Pulp Hero" about it. That said, for what it is, it's okay.

All in all, this was a decent one shot. Nothing great, but not particularly bad. It's just a little odd that neither story fit the "Pulp Heroes' theme at all, especially when compared to other Annuals in the theme that year. So as pulp it fails. As a couple of decent Wonder Woman stories, it does okay.


This one was pretty bad. 

First, the good. . .the cover is awesome.

And that's about it.

The story is a "Be careful what you wish for" tale set in two different intertwining times and places. . .a medieval fantasy kingdom and modern times. The story itself is. . .okay. It's predictable and extremely light, but it's okay.

The art is weak and juvenile. It looks like something a high school student would draw to impress his friends. Female bodies are drawn to perfection, while their faces and hands are crude afterthoughts. The artist can draw boobs quite well, but he can't draw vehicles or backgrounds. 

All in all, this is a poorly-written, poorly-drawn teenage cover bait cash grab. No bueno.

And there you have it, another batch of One Shots.  A bit more of a mixed bag for Part 2, going from the absolutely fantastic and highly suggested Our Army At War, to the juvenile cover bait cash grab of The Little Mermaid.  I liked throwing a few one shots into the mix.   I will definitely be doing this again.

Coming next. . .
Have you ever asked yourself how giant sentient robots would change the outcome of World War II?
Dreamwave provides the answer to the question you never knew you had!
G.I. Joe vs. Transformers.  Be there or be square!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Longbox Junk - One Shots (Part 1)

ONE SHOTS (Part 1)

Well, folks. . .as you can see, we're skipping this week's "Wayback Wednesday" edition of Longbox Junk.  Sorry about that, but it's way too busy at work with this whole area gearing up for Monday's Eclipse (I manage a hotel in Northern Utah pretty close to ground zero for full darkness).  I THOUGHT I could do a "Throwback Thursday", but no way.  I'll get X-Men #23 reviewed when the Eclipse Mania is over with next week.

BUT. . .

In the meantime, here's something I already had written and ready.  One Shots!

I have a lot of one-shots in my collection.  They're probably my favorite kind of comic book.  Not that I don't like following a character month to month, but there's definitely something to be said for having a complete story in one issue.  No cliffhangers.  No waiting.  Just a single compact piece of comic book goodness. 

I decided to throw some one shots into the Longbox Junk mix for the next few entries before I go back to complete runs and mini-series. . .Enjoy.



First off. What an absolutely fantastic cover!

There are three short unconnected stories in this special, let's take a look at them individually. . .

THE GREAT BLIZZARD: This story doesn't feature Hellboy or any of the B.P.R.D. characters, but some characters I'm unfamiliar with who seem to be paranormal investigators in the 1800's (David Grey and Sarah Jewell). The art is very nicely done on this one, and the dialogue between the characters is snappy. The story itself is a little disappointing, but I wouldn't mind finding out more about these new characters.

GOD REST YE MERRY: A tale set at Christmas in the 1950's starring Hellboy and Professor Bruttenholm versus a possessed Santa Claus. It's played for laughs and the art isn't great. . .very cartoony. I got a chuckle out of Hellboy getting an ugly sweater for Christmas, though. Probably the worst of the three, but not terrible.

THE LAST WITCH OF FAIRFIELD: Now HERE'S some good Hellboy. The classic team of Hellboy, Abe Sapien, and Liz Sherman tracking down some lost children and coming in conflict with a witch. The ending is a chilling reminder that when it comes to the supernatural, sometimes when you win, you still lose. The best of the bunch with a great story and great art by the same artist who did that fantastic cover.

All in all, I really enjoyed this one shot. The middle story was pretty light, but that didn't drag the whole thing down.


I really liked the physical quality of this one shot. It's a heavy, thick book with a minimum of ads on good quality paper. Dynamite always knows how to put together a nice comic.

The story is a simple, straightforward tale of Sonja repaying an old friend (now a king) a favor by helping defeat a rampaging army led by a brutal general. She demonstrates that it isn't always the strongest army that wins the day by leading them into a deadly trap instead of meeting them on the battlefield. I liked the simplicity of the story and how it took Sonja from her usual lone wolf adventures and put her in the position of being the leader of an army. 

With the simplicity of the story, the art is the star of the show. I really liked the Frazetta homage cover. The art inside was for the most part superb, but some panels seemed strangely unfinished, plus the artist could never seem to get a handle on what Sonja's face was supposed to look like. But those are just small complaints in what was otherwise a fantastic one shot.


This one was REALLY good.
For starters, the photo-realistic painted cover is superb. The interior art is dark and heavily-inked. It reminds me a lot of a less angular Mike Mignola style. It perfectly fits the story and every panel is fantastic.

The story is one of the best Predator tales I've read. I could easily see this one as a movie. Basically it's about the only Predator that they managed to capture alive. . .but are they studying it, or is it studying them? 

All in all, from front to back, I found this to be a fantastic one shot.


Don't let the cover fool you. The story inside is actually a tense, almost Hitchcock-like "Lifeboat" story about 3 friends turning on each other after the Punisher carefully maneuvers them into position.

I really liked this one shot. . .until the end. It shows Punisher as a devious manipulator and that no fish is too small for him. It did break down into some silliness at the end of things, but before that, it was a nice change of pace from the usual Punisher story.

The art throughout was generally pretty good, and reflected the tense psychological drama. Unfortunately, the artist doesn't do a very good job drawing Punisher himself. The last panel of the book is especially bad.

All in all, good taken with bad, this was a good read with an unusual story for Punisher.

X: ONE SHOT TO THE HEAD (Dark Horse/Comics Greatest World)

I had never heard of this character, not even sure where or when I picked up this one shot, but I was pleasantly surprised. It's actually pretty damn good (in a grim-n-gritty 90's way).

This comic doesn't do any favors as far as introductions go. I had to hit the internet for info on "X", who seems to be a Punisher/Batman combo. The story is nicely done, with X stalking and trapping a crooked politician.

The art is a bit schizo. . .the cover by Frank Miller is absolutely fantastic! Then the front 2/3 of the book is "Meh" art with lousy colors. Then the last 1/3 switches to a different art team and it's superbly done!

All in all, I enjoyed this book. The art was hit and miss, but generally good. It was a lousy introduction, but enough of one that I want to dig up more "X" comics. Bad taken with good, I give this one an average score.
All in all, I'd have to say that the Predator one was my favorite of the batch.  It was outstanding in every way and I'd highly suggest it.  Lowest on the rung was probably X.  I like the idea of a Punisher/Batman combo without all the goofy supervillains, but it really wasn't that great.
Up next. . .
I like One Shots. You like One Shots.  How about some more one shots?
Sgt Rock, Wolverine, Star Wars, Wonder Woman, and Grimm Fairy Tales.
Be there or be square!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Longbox Junk - Batman And Robin (Part 3)

(PART 3: ISSUES 20 - 26)

And now the big finish!
Okay. . .not really big. And not really a finish. . .
I have to say that I really liked this issue a lot, starting with the best cover in this series so far. Absolutely fantastic! This one is going on the "cover wall" in my mancave.

A new arc starts with a new team. That makes the 3rd writer and 10th artist in just 20 issues, for those keeping count.

The art is serviceable through the book and actually very nice in places. Not the best artist on this series, but not the worst.

The new writer captures the banter between our heroes better than any other so far. From a great opening sequence where Bruce, Damian, Dick, Tim Drake, and Alfred watch a movie together, to an autopsy scene where Commish Gordon tells Damian to not be a smartass in front of him and dead victims like the boss he is. This was probably one of the better issues of this run.
Another very nice issue. I'm liking this new writer's touch on Batman and Robin. There are nice scenes of them interacting with Commish Gordon again, as well as showing the team engaged in some actual detective work. This is more like how I pictured a Batman and Robin series would be. The artwork remains decent, and even shines in places, like Batman and Robin swinging to meet with Gordon against a backdrop of the Bat-Signal.

The villain seems a bit sketchy, though. . .with unexplained over the top powers. But other than that, this was a great issue.
A very nice wrap up to this arc in this issue. It takes place (mostly) in Arkham Asylum, so we get nice cameos from Batman's regular rogues gallery like Mr. Zsaz, Calendar Man, Mad Hatter, Killer Croc, who haven't been seen in this series. Once again, good character moments, great scenes of detective work, and nice interaction between the heroes make this one of the better issues of the run. 

Unfortunately, the weak link is the villain. His motivation and origin are given to us in this issue, but his powers and how he got them are never explained and seem way more powerful than someone with his background should have. It's just sort of glossed over.

Still. . .weak sauce villain aside, this arc was more like I expected from Batman and Robin. Well done.
And another creative team steps in for this new arc. That makes 4 writers and 12 artists on this series now (2 artists on this issue).

This time out, we learn what became of Red Hood (Jason Todd) after being arrested during the first handful of issues in this run. Turns out he's been killing his way through prison trying to get a transfer so he can escape. Batman and Robin have been busy and sort of forgot about him until now, and they're like "He's killed HOW many people? WHAT?"

The character of Red Hood is MUCH better done than it was in Morrison's hands. It's pretty obvious they're moving him away from "Grim homicidal maniac" toward the "Wisecracking Punisher Lite" that he was in the New 52 "Red Hood and the Outlaws" series he starred in.

All in all, this is a very nice re-introduction to Jason Todd. This new writer carries on the much-improved dialogue and interaction between characters that started in the last arc. This was a good issue that I have no complaints at all about.

Too bad this series started to improve so much toward the end of its run. . .
The 13th artist on this series steps in on this issue. His art is darker and less "comic booky" than what we've seen in the last 10 or so issues, but it's very nice despite the lack of backgrounds. 

This issue is mostly fighting as Batman and Robin team up with Red Hood to battle "The Zoo Crew". I'm not sure if they're the same Zoo Crew of Captain Carrot fame, but they're just as ridiculous, being animal/human hybrids that spring Red Hood from prison and capture his former sidekick (Scarlet) because their leader wants him to do. . .something. . .for her. It's all very unclear and I can't find on the internet where this all came from or where it went.

This issue is a drop in quality from the first one of this arc. There's still some good dialogue and character moments, and Red Hood suits up in a much-improved costume (that's halfway between the God-Awful "pillhead" version from earlier in this run and the one seen in "Red Hood and the Outlaws), but other than that, the plot of this issue is a bit of a mess.
Along with the artist from last issue, another one steps in for the back half of this one, making it 14 artists for 25 issues. Is that some sort of record?

That said, the artist on the back half is very much inferior and you can easily spot where he took over. No bueno.

The final story arc of this run (the last issue is a one and done) ends with a big battle between Batman, Robin, Red Hood, and. . .ninjas? I really have no idea what this was all about, and I searched the internet and couldn't solve the mystery of the plot in this arc. Maybe it was something else they had planned for Red Hood/Jason Todd before the New 52 wiped all the old stuff off the board. 

Red Hood and his sidekick, Scarlet escape at the end of it all, but the outfit he was wearing was never seen again, Scarlet was never seen again. The woman who sprung him from prison is never identified. The Zoo Crew is never explained, and where the hell do the ninjas fit in? Who knows? All I know is that in "Red Hood and the Outlaws" none of this is mentioned and he's suddenly friends with Arsenal and Starfire. 


Unexplainable plot aside, there were some great character moments, especially for Jason Todd, some great dialogue, and nice art (in the front half). So this issue really wasn't bad.
And for the final issue of Batman and Robin vol. 1 yet ANOTHER artist and writer step in, making 5 writers and FIFTEEN artists for a 26 issue run. 

The issue itself is really more of a "Batman Incorporated" tie-in than a series finale. It takes place in France and co-stars "Nightrunner", the French "Batman", who is really a good character with a nice look, but is sort of half-heartedly portrayed in this issue.

The story itself is a mess with a lot of psychedelic aspects to it. It all fell somewhat flat and felt more like a filler issue in the middle of a run than any sort of a finale. All in all a disappointing ending for this series.
Overall, I found this to be a series that never really found its groove.  5 writers and 15 artists over the fairly short course of 26 issues tell that particular tale well enough.  But it's not just that.  What started out fairly strong quickly went off the rails as Grant Morrison turned this book into a vehicle for other projects.  After he left, the following creative teams had to try and steer it onto another course, and they did pretty well at it. . .unfortunately, it was too little too late.  With the New 52 quickly approaching, they ended it all on a filler issue.
A damn shame.  This series COULD have been great. 
I'd definitely suggest reading this series, even though parts of it were hard for me personally to get through.  There was some great art and I really liked the Dick Grayson/Damian Wayne Batman and Robin team.  It's just a shame that Morrison couldn't keep enough of a grip to understand that he was writing about crime-fighting vigilantes and not about the arcane mysteries in his mind.
Up  next. . .
After 26 issues of Batman and Robin, how about I switch things up a bit before I do another full series run?  One shots! Hellboy, X, Wonder Woman, Wolverine, Red Sonja, Predator, Sgt. Rock, Star Wars and Punisher, oh my. . .
Be there or be square

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Longbox Junk - Batman And Robin (Part 2)

(Part 2: Issues 11 - 19)

Part 2 of 2009's pre-New 52 Batman and Robin run. . .
Down the Grant Morrison rabbit hole we gooooooooooooooooooo!
 There are some pieces to the puzzle missing in this issue due to Morrison's usual dependence on trying to connect everything with everything else instead of telling a straightforward story about mysterious tunnels and chambers discovered beneath Wayne manor.
That said, this issue was mostly a fight scene in the Wayne graveyard. It's hard to twist up a fight scene in convoluted storytelling, so this issue wasn't too bad, despite that it's unclear exactly WHO Robin and a British detective are fighting because they seem to come from another book. Can't remember if Morrison was still on the main Batman title at this point, but this is probably a plot point from there bleeding into this title.

All that aside, I really like the art on this issue. It has a very "Brian Bolland" look to it, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Oh for God's sake, Grant Morrison.

Damian Wayne is being remote controlled by Talia Al Ghul and Deathstroke to attack Batman. Batman fought a giant bat-demon beneath Wayne Manor (or at least I think so. It took place off panel for some reason and is mentioned in passing). And the cherry on top of this rancid Morrison Madness sundae is that the cultured British detective Oberon Sexton is actually the Joker in disguise.


The Joker reveal has to be one of the most ridiculous things I've read in a long time. Morrison makes Dick Grayson look like a chump that can be fooled by a mask after spending YEARS fighting the Joker. No bueno.

We're in deep, people. Personally, I'm at the point where my "Morrison Meter" is in the orange and I'm starting to not want to read the next issue.
So now we have the 5th artist in 13 issues. I really like Irving's dark, moody art. His depiction of the Joker is one of the best I've seen. Very nice on the art end of things.

As far as the story goes. . .

Once again, it seems like most of the background material for this issue is actually somewhere else. For God's sake, why can't Morrison keep a story in one title? He did it for the first 6 issues.

So I guess the world thinks Thomas Wayne (AKA Bruce's dad) is back from the dead, but it's really an immortal Devil Worshipper (Also named Thomas Wayne) from the 1700's. Wait. . .what?

That nonsense aside, there's some nice story moments between Commish Gordon and Batman about how well Dick Grayson is filling some mighty big boots. There's also a nice tense confrontation between Joker and Damian. Also, Professor Pyg returns. So aside from the wacky Thomas Wayne crap, the rest of it was actually pretty good.
This issue starts extremely strong with the Joker using Damian Wayne to escape. A very nicely done scene.

Unfortunately, the rest of the issue is a mess. It's completely off the rails, and not in a good way. I won't even attempt to describe the convoluted plot.

That said, the opening scene, the fantastic artwork, and just the general WRONG of Professor Pyg keep this issue from being completely bad.
In this issue, we have Batman and Robin teaming up with Joker to take on Doctor Hurt (AKA Thomas Wayne. . .immortal devil worshipper and all-round A-Hole) and Professor Pyg as Gotham riots under the influence of a mind controlling virus.

Oh. . .and the real Batman shows up.

It's bad. Really bad. God damn you, Grant Morrison. You've taken the fun out of reading Batman and Robin.

That said, the art is still superb and the last page reveal of Batman's return was great, so it wasn't ALL bad. . .just 95% of it.
There's 3 artists on this issue (making it 7 artists in 16 issues for those keeping count). The difference between the three is jolting, as none of them have a similar style. I'd have to say I like Burnham's the best, with Irving second. Stewart's art is pretty much "Comic Stock" and is just sort of there while the other two are superb.

This issue (Thank God!) ends the current arc with Batman returned, Joker escaped after burying Doctor Hurt alive, Professor Pyg captured again, questions about what's going to happen to the Dick Grayson/Damian Wayne Batman and Robin team, and the public announcement of "Batman Incorporated". 

There's some fantastic art in this issue, and a sweet fight scene with the two Batmen and Robin against all comers that elevate this issue from no bueno to pretty good.

That said, this whole convoluted arc seemed like nothing more than a vehicle for Bruce Wayne's return and the introduction of Batman Incorporated.

Hopefully, now that required DC business bizniz is out of the way, they can go back to some more straightforward storytelling and a bit of fun.
Praise the LAWD!

Grant Morrison turned his attention toward Batman Incorporated and away from Batman and Robin!

Along with the new writer, there's also another artist on this issue (That's artist #8 in 17 issues). His art is pretty good, with a sharper, more angular, "Comic Booky" style that fits the story nicely. My only complaint is that the artist draws Damian too old. He's about as tall and buff as Batman (Still Dick Grayson, as Bruce Wayne is globetrotting to gather international heroes for Batman Inc.) instead of looking like a 10 year old kid.

The story isn't the greatest, but at least it's straightforward and doesn't depend on silver age fan service and self-referential continuity. It has some fun moments, and isn't full of the "Everything must connect, everything is bigger than it seems" pretentious crap that is Grant Morrison's hallmark. Thank God he turned his attention elsewhere.
I might actually be able to finish reading this run without forcing my way through it.
So, two artists on this issue. . .making it 9 in 18 issues. Once again, the styles aren't particularly complimentary. The change becomes obvious when Robin suddenly shrinks in stature from being a buff teen to a young boy. Neither art style is spectacular, but they aren't bad either.

The story is pretty straightforward and to the point (Thank God), telling the origin of "The Absence" (The villain of this arc). There's some good parts, but the fact remains that The Absence is a completely ridiculous villain. But then again, I got what I asked for, right? Straightforward, simplified stories that bring a bit of fun back to Batman and Robin? 

Unfortunately, it reads like 70's schlock. Would it be too much to ask for a happy medium?
This issue concludes the first non-Morrison arc. All in all, it was a straightforward story that had a few good moments and built up to a pretty good ending. 

The villain was sympathetic, but really ridiculous. She reminded me of some of the Batman books I grew up on in the 70's. Is that a bad thing? I was just glad I didn't have to go to the internet for reference, so I think I can forgive a bit of schlock and camp. 

All things considered, this arc was pretty good. Not great. Not even close to great. Just pretty good. A bit fluffy compared to Morrison's weighty crap, but there's nothing wrong with that, as far as I'm concerned.
I have to tell you, it was a real effort to make my way through to the end of Morrison's run.  I just about gave up on it around issue 14.  I guess I'm just a sucker for punishment.  But thankfully, things began to improve (slightly) with his departure.  Only 7 more issues to go. . .fingers crossed for a strong finish!
Coming Next. . .putting the wrap on Batman and Robin.  Issues 20 - 26.
Be there or be square!