Reviews: Battling Boy & Gambit Volume 1

Battling Boy (2013). First Second. Written and illustrated by Paul Pope.

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Monsters roam through Arcopolis, swallowing children into the horrors of their shadowy underworld. Only one man is a match for them – the genius vigilante Haggard West. Unfortunately, Haggard West is dead. Arcopolis is desperate, but when its salvation comes in the form of a twelve-year-old demigod, nobody is more surprised than Battling Boy himself.

Magical t-shirts, space, crazy monsters? What’s not to love about this book?

Battling Boy is a demi-god who has been sent to Acropolis to prove himself. He’s been told very little about what he’s supposed to do and is only given some magical t-shirts with which to accomplish his goals. He goes in just as blind as the reader and together you discover just how crazy this world is and how much work needs to be done. This is the kind of story that I would have inhaled as a kid (and frankly still is). It’s action packed, dangerous and above all a little crazy. The villain is also incredibly creepy.

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In terms of the artwork, I applaud Paul Pope’s unique style but found it a little abnormal for my taste. Sort of like how Ren and Stimpy used to make me feel – a.k.a unsettled. That’s not to say it was bad, just not my style.

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Given my affinity for awesome super-heroines it should be no surprise that I was most enthralled with Aurora West, so I am very excited to see she is getting her own book later this year. However upon giving my copy to a nine year old boy I was quickly informed that in fact the t-shirts are the coolest part (and a trip to school for show and tell finds that others agree – I’m outnumbered!)

Gambit Volume 1: Always a Thief (2013). Marvel. Written by James Asmus. Illustrated by Clay Mann & Diogenes Neves.

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When Marvel’s premiere thief sets his sights on his biggest score yet, he may just end up over his head. Desperately searching for a means to destroy the pilfered artifact that’s cursed him, Gambit journeys deep into the Guatemalan jungles in search of a lost temple – but finds an ancient god-monster accidentally loosed on Earth! It’s going to take more than just playing cards and southern charm to get out of this one!  Then, coerced by a criminal mastermind, Gambit is sent to the United Kingdom to heist the greatest weapon in the history of man: Excalibur! How will Marvel’s premiere thief manage to dupe his extortionist while also escaping with a clear name? Be here as the X-Men’s ragin’ cajun kicks off his all-new solo career!

Gambit and Rogue were my OTP before that was even a term people used. I remember watching them on the old X-Men cartoon before school and loving every line of their Southern dialogue. And Gambit’s absence from the X-Men movies (let’s just pretend the Wolverine origin movie doesn’t count) was one of my biggest disappoints. So when I saw he was staring in his own comic series I knew I had to check it out.

I thought this collection started out on a strong note. Gambit is a lot more mature after everything he’s gone through but he is still himself and he is dying to return to his old ways (if only for a little while). But as it continued I began to lose interest. Primarily because he hardly interacts with any of the other X-Men. I know this is his solo series but I have a hard time believing the team/the school wouldn’t be a central part of his life/thoughts. The second reason was that this reads just like an Indiana Jones story, which in itself isn’t a bad thing, but doesn’t feel particularly “X-Men.” This could have been any generic thief in my opinion. And finally the love interest. She fell completely flat to me. Her actions didn’t make any sense and ultimately she is completely forgettable.

Despite how initially excited I was for this series I don’t think I will be continuing with Volume 2.

Reviews: Rachel Rising, Superior Spider Man + The Manhattan Projects

I’ve been pretty lucky recently. A lot of the trade paperbacks I’ve been picking up have been absolutely excellent. Here are three of my new favourites.

Rachel Rising. Volume 1 The Shadow of Death (2012) Abstract Studios. Written and illustrated by Terry Moore.

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Rachel wakes up at sunrise on a shallow grave in the woods and discovers the freshly murdered body in the dirt is her own. With events of the previous night a blur, Rachel seeks out her boyfriend Phillip. But Phillip has a new girl now and Rachel is beginning to suspect she rose from the grave for a reason… revenge! Collects issues 1-6.

This is without a doubt one of the most underrated comics on shelves right now. It’s a dark and mysterious tale and it had me captivated from the very first few pages.

Rachel Rising is unsurprisingly about a girl named Rachel. Rachel is not your average girl though. She was dead and now she’s not. However before you get any wrong ideas, this is not a zombie comic. Rachel is not undead. She is alive again, with only a scar around her neck and bloodshot eyes as evidence of what happened to her. She’s a very mysterious character, you don’t find out a lot about her write away, revelation are slow and deliberate building onto the overall suspense of the story.

This comic is extremely dark. There is a lot of death and destruction and it will shock you. BUT it is not gory by any means, which is an impressive feat – to make me gasp in surprise without resorting to gore. The art is also completely in black and white. I wasn’t sure about this at first. It’s normally not my thing, but in this case I couldn’t imagine this comic in colour. The black and white and simple style really add to the creepiness of this story. It’s something terrible happening in the most normal of places.

If you enjoy horror, ghosts stories or simply comics with a lot of suspense I highly recommend Rachel Rising. It’s one of my new favourites.

Superior Spider Man Volume 1: My Own Worst Enemy (2013). Marvel. Written by Dan Slott. Art by Ryan Stegman & Giuseppe Camuncoli

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THEN!…Peter Parker spent a lifetime living up to the responsibilities his powers foisted upon him, but his story finally ended dramatically in the historic Amazing Spider-Man #700. NOW!…The new Amazing Spider-Man has arrived, and he is better in every single way. Smarter, stronger…Superior. And he’ll prove it, both to himself and the world, when he faces down the all-new Sinister Six! But is this all-new Spider-Man in cahoots with J. Jonah Jameson? And has Carlie Cooper figured out the Superior Spider-Man’s secret identify? Plus: Spider-Man and Mary Jane…reunited?! All this and the return of the villainous Vulture! It’s an all-new era of web-slinging excitement, and it all starts NOW! Collecting Superior Spider-Man 1-5.

The problem with characters that have been around for decades is that often times their stories can feel recycled or repetitive. So I really have to hand it to Dan Slott from bringing us a unique and daring new Spider Man plot arc.

Peter Parker is dead. That alone is enough to throw this series through a loop. But to make matters even more interesting, Doc Oc has taken over his body and taken up the mantel of Spider Man. And of course, being the self-important, genius that he is, Doc Oc believes he can be a superior Spider Man. And for a little while he manages it.

I like Peter Parker. I really do. I think that he is funny, and good natured and an all around great character. But I also love reading things from the villains point of view. I love when writers allow readers to really get inside the villains head and find out more about them, and that is exactly what Slott has done here. Is this new Spider Man a nice guy? Not really. He’s still helping people sure, but his motivations are a little more suspect. But he is an interesting character, who faces his own challenges, desire and obstacles.

I know this plot arc is rather controversial but I actually think it’s a nice change. It’s already been announced that Peter Parker will be returning eventually, so why not sit back and enjoy this look into the psyche of one of his most famous villains?

The Manhattan Projects Volume 1: Science, Bad (2012). Image Comics. Written by Jonathan Hickman. Art by Nick Pitarra. 

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What if the research and development department created to produce the first atomic bomb was a front for a series of other, more unusual, programs? Collecting the coolest new series of the year into one super science package. Collects The Manhattan Projects issues #1-5.

This is one of those comics that I feel like everyone is reading and yet I knew almost nothing about the story (except for the line above) before I cracked open Volume One. I actually thought it was about aliens. Like Area 51 inside the Manhattan Projects.

And there are sort of aliens. But there is much much more to this comic than that. Jonathan Hickman is incredibly good at making me believe the incredible. The Manhattan Projects centres around real people, but he takes some major liberties with their biographies. For example, Robert Oppenheimer. In the context of this story Oppenheimer is a twin, and his twin brother, Joseph, is also quite brilliant. However Joseph’s brilliance is more along the lines of Dr. Moreau or Dr Jekyll and he’s goes more than a little mad. The way this is written was so realistic I actually had to google it to make sure there wasn’t actually a Joseph Oppenheimer. I think that’s what makes this series so compelling. It may be filled with over the top science fiction but it is twisted up with real life people and facts and it makes you want to believe (like the X-Files).

The art is also quite unique. It has a way of throwing you off balance, and making you feel a tad uncomfortable. In this way it adds to the bizarre nature of the story.

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The end of this volume will leave you desperate for more. You’ll need to know what else this group of mad scientists were getting up to behind closed doors.

Review: Before Watchmen – Minutemen/Silk Spectre

Before Watchmen: Minutemen/Silk Spectre (2013) DC Comics. By Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner.

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The critically acclaimed and Eisner Award-winning creator of DC: THE NEW FRONTIER Darwyn Cooke lends his talents MINUTEMEN. As the predecessor to the Watchmen, the Minutemen were assembled to fight against a world that have more and more rapidly begun to spin out of control. Can these heroes from completely different backgrounds and with completely different attitudes on crime come together? Or will they fall apart before they begin?   SILK SPECTRE takes an introspective look at the WATCHMEN feature player’s struggles with her overbearing superhero mother and her scattered path toward taking the mantle of the Silk Spectre. With gorgeous art by co-writer and illustrator Amanda Conner (POWER GIRL, The Pro), SILK SPECTRE takes a very different perspective at the world of BEFORE WATCHMEN. Collects BEFORE WATCHMEN: MINUTEMEN 1-6 and BEFORE WATCHMEN: SILK SPECTRE 1-4.

I was wary of reading any of the Before Watchmen comics after hearing how strongly Alan Moore was opposed to them. I love the original and I wanted to respect the creator’s wishes. But ultimately curiosity got the better of me and I decided to check out at least one volume. I chose this one because I always wanted to know more about Silk Spectre (since it seemed like she got a raw deal overall) and I enjoy Amanda Conner’s artwork.

The first half of this collection is the story of the Minutemen – the group of heroes that proceeded the Watchmen. It’s narrated by Hollis Mason, who has decided to write a first hand account of their adventures and wants to make sure it’s ok with the rest of them. I found it a bit hard to follow at first but before long I was caught up in all the twists and turns and scandals. Seriously so much scandal.

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The Silk Spectre half is significantly less dark and is really more of a coming of age story than a superhero tale. We watch her grow from just another flower child to the hero she was trained to be. It’s a interesting story, though a times a bit fluffy and the secondary characters are a tad forgettable. The artwork is fantastic thought – bright and energetic and it makes up for the weak spots in the story telling.

If you enjoyed Watchmen and aren’t ready to leave the world and the characters behind this collection is worth a shot. It’s not as brilliant as the original but it is a compelling and fun read, and much better than I expected it to be.

3.5 out of 5

– Christa

Comix Reviews: Week of October 23 2013

I have such a back log of comic reviews to write! I’m going to do my best to catch up this week.

You’ve been warned

– Christa

Sex Criminals #2

Image. Written by Matt Fraction. Art by Chip Zdarsky. Cover by Chip Zdarsky.

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So who’s the boy with the same sexy-time time-stopping gifts as Suzie? Meet John, who until last night thought he could freeze time with his junk. At long last not alone, what kind of horny hijinx will he and Suzie get up to together? What ANY of us would do if having sex stopped the whole world: We’d do crimes.

The first issue led us through Suzie’s sexual awakening. We saw how she struggled with her unqiue…gift growing up and how she had no one to talk to about. Issue #2 spends more time on Jon’s experience. Like Suzie he also found there was no one to talk to – but he deals with things a bit different. Through Cumworld. His sexual awakening feels familiar to many a teenage boy. Curiosity and a whole lot of porn. But unlike many teenage boys he has unlimited access. Anything he’s even remotely curious about he can check out. I like that this issue is approaching issues of sexuality from both genders. Suzie and Jon are both excellent well balanced characters. This series has definitely hooked me and I’m looking forward to learning more about Suzie and Jon as people and as buding bank robbers.

4 out of 5

– Christa

Wolverine and the X-Men #37

Marvel. Written by Jason Aaron. Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli. Cover by Ed McGuinness.

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    X-MEN: BATTLE OF THE ATOM, PART 8! Wolverine, who just lost his healing factor, takes a mortal hit! And a surprise ending that changes everything in the X-Men Event of 2013!

I found this to be a huge improvement over the last installment. I could actively follow what’s going on!  Although that being said there is only one issue left  and I am still totally clueless regarding the bigger picture. I think we all are. I’m really looking forward to reading how they wrap everything up and finding out what was at the centre of this crazy event. Confusion aside it’s been a lot of fun and nice to see all the X-Men reunited (even if they are fighting one another). This is an action heavy issue, which is great for pacing but all of the fight scenes and splash pages seem to come at the expense of detail. Character expressions in particular felt a bit rushed.

3 out of 5

– Christa

Young Avengers #11

Marvel. Written by Kieron Gillen. Art by Jamie McKelvie. Cover by Jamie McKelvie 

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They say you can never go home. For the Young Avengers, it’s not true. They can go home. It’s just that if they do, the universe may end. Better not go home then, eh? WHAT ARE YOU DOING, YOUNG AVENGERS? YOU’VE DECIDED TO GO HOME? GAHHKKH! YOU GUYS! Is Kate Bishop an enemy in waiting? Is this the last we see of the loveable/strangle-able Kid Loki? Are rhetorical questions a cheap device when writing solicits? All answers revealed, except the last one, which you’ll have to work out by yourselves.

We’re almost at the end of the Mother Arc! It’s been a long one but overall a solid one. There’s been a lot of interesting developments and I’m excited to see what Loki has up if sleeves – if anything. Maybes he’s been bluffing his way through the whole time. Who knows? As always Gillen’s writing is well paced and there are plenty of funny moments to giggle at.

I’m always a fan of McKelvie’s art but in this issue it was especially noteworthy. Loki’s transformation in particular.

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He is no longer the child we have become accustomed too. This feels like a good lead in to his own series and a chance for the other Young Avengers to reclaim the spotlight (and if I could put in a request for more Kate and Noh-Varr I would be very happy).

Oh and Tom Hiddleston fans? You’re going to love the new look.

4.5 out of 5

– Christa

Review: Nightwing Vol. 1 Traps and Trapezes

Nightwing (III) Volume One: Traps and Trapezes (2012). DC Comics. Story by Kyle Higgins. Art by Eddy Barrowsnightwing

As a part of the acclaimed DC Comics – The New 52 event of September 2011, Dick Grayson flies high once more as Nightwing in a new series from hot new writer Kyle Higgins and artist Eddy Barrows! Haley’s Circus, the big top where Dick once performed, makes a stop on its tour in Gotham City – bringing with it murder, mystery and superhuman evil. To uncover more clues as to why a mysterious assassin is targetting him, Nightwing joins the Haley’s Circus tour in order to find more clues and protect those he loves. But as Dick becomes closer acquainted with the big top he grew up with, he discovers there’s a much deeper, darker secret to be discovered. Collects Nightwing #1-7.

I have a complicated relationship with this character. On one hand he’s very charming and very easy to grow attached to. Right from the get go in this volume Kyle Higgins establishes him as a more human version of Batman. He lives in the neighbourhoods he’s trying to protect, he throws his costume on the floor etc. He’s also quite witty and determined – commendable qualities for sure.

However his own again off again relationship with Barbara Gordon (my favourite member of the DC Universe by far) kind of sours the whole experience for me. Seriously, how do you forgive someone for this?

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From the 2007 Nightwing Annual

But anyway, this is the New 52, so let’s all try to put that behind us and begin again with Mr Dick Grayson.

The most obvious thing about this collection is that there is a lot of internal dialogue. Nightwing is a thinker. And there’s a lot of external dialogue as well. He is also a talker. Sometimes this is a bonus because you always know what’s going on, everything is spelled right out for you on the page. But other times I just wanted him to let me figure it out for myself. I’m all for banter but sometimes action is better.

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Extended dialogue aside Nightwing is a rather admirable character.  I think Kyle Higgins did  a great job bringing out that more human quality. Dick Grayson is someone more people can relate and he has more “normal” relationships than Batman does. And he manages to do this despite his tumultuous history (growing up in a circus, seeing his parents murdered, being raised by Batman etc). Or at the very least Grayson does his best. He wants to be that person and I can respect his for that, despite his dubious romantic entanglements.

Like the Batman and Batgirl titles, Nightwing isn’t a full reboot. There is some information that is tossed out casually as though you (the reader) must already know it. Barbara Gordon/Batgirl does make an appearance and their history seems to have been kept intact. This soft reboot makes sense however when you realize how tied up this volume is with the first volume of Batman. It is directly tied into the “Court of Owls” story arc. I highly recommend you read the Batman volume first so that the full repercussions of Nightwing’s discoveries are understood.

The highlight of this volume for me though was Eddy Barrows artwork. With all that trapeze training Nightwing moves quite gracefully and that is apparent in the artwork throughout this book. His movements look fluid and natural. I also love the way Barrows draws strong facial features as it clearly articulates the range of emotions that characters experience throughout the story. My only complaint was that Barbara Gordon and Dick’s new love interest – Raya Vestri – look almost exactly the same. I understand that it’s supposed to be demonstrating Grayson’s “type” but if they were actually so similar looking it would be a little unhealthy and well kind of weird.

Ultimately this comic does give some basic background information for Dick Grayson – his ties to Haly’s circus, how he got hooked up with Batman and his relationship with Barabra. But the development of his character doesn’t go much further – sure he’s funny, and more down to earth than the Dark Knight but what else can you tell us? This was by no means a bad comic, it just wasn’t a particularly daring or original one either. I’m interested in reading Volume 2 to see if they branch out from here but I would recommend picking up one of the other Bat Books first.

3 out of 5

– Christa

Review: Relish by Lucy Knisley

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen. First Second. Written by Lucy Knisley. Art by Lucy Knisley. relish

Lucy Knisley loves food. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, this talented young cartoonist comes by herobsession honestly. In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe—many of them treasured family dishes, and a few of them Lucy’s original
inventions.

This is a story of one woman’s love affair with food. Definitely a story I could relate to, a story most people should be able to relate to. Relish is a book that will inspire you to revisit your own journey with one of our most basic, and necessary activities and I believe all reviews/conversations about this book should start with people sharing their own experiences.

My parent weren’t foodies by any means  but I loved food growing up. From my mother’s spaghetti sauce to my grandmother’s lime velvet salad, there were (and still are) dishes that always bring up certain memories. Ravioli makes me think of the French baby sitter we had one summer, maple flavoured anything calls to mind trips to my family’s sugar bush and corn on the cobb brings me right back to the scattering on farms that surrounded my childhood home. I went vegetarian as a teenager had to start cooking for myself – my mom refusing after a long work day to prepare two separate meals. I fell in love with cooking and trying new things and seeing what different flavours tasted like together.

When I went off to university I began  waiting tables at a number of different restaurants to pay the rent. I served everything from Asian fusion, to lunch buffets, to 5 star dining. Since I staying in town for the summers as well, when all the students were gone, many of my friends were food industry people as well. When all of your friends are waiters, chefs and bartenders good food and drink are always part of the equation. I have never ate so well in my life and have not since leaving the food industry when I moved to Toronto. Although Toronto has provided a whole new chapter in my relationship with food (there is a whole restaurant that is based around meatballs!)

In Relish, Lucy Knisley tells her own story beautifully. Drawing on all the senses. I really felt like I could smell and taste the food she was describing. Her early years with food were very different then mine but she makes them feel incredibly easy to relate to. And the stuff I could recognize later on put a smile on my face as it brought to mind my own memories. Food is a very personal and sensual thing and Relish reminds us of all the good times we’ve had with it.

The whole book is filled with beautiful artwork. It’s very colourful and full of life and the style is very accessible for all ages.The recipes especially were a fun touch. I wanted to try everything! I’m still working my way through them but I can definitely vouch for the chai tea – it  was especially tasty.

I highly recommend you pick up Relish and take a trip down memory lane. But be warned – this story will leave you hungry and ready for a food adventure!

5 out of 5

– Christa

Review: Bandette Volume 1: Presto!

Dark Horse Comics.  Written by Paul Tobin. Art by Coleen Coover. 

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The world’s greatest thief is a costumed teen burglar in swinging Paris by the nome d’arte of Bandette! Gleefully plying her skills on either side of the law, Bandette is a thorn in the sides of both police inspector Belgique and the criminal underworld. But it’s not all breaking hearts and purloining masterpieces when a rival thief discovers that an international criminal organization wants Bandette dead!

Bandette hit my radar this year when it was nominated for an Eisner award. It was a bright and lively digital comic that was popping up left, right and centre. So when I saw it was going to be released in a printed collection I knew this was my opportunity to see what all the fuss was about.

This comic is written in the French style. I haven’t read too many French comics before now but the ones I have read I’ve really enjoyed. I like the quirky art and the humorous story telling and in this sense Bandette fits right in. This may be a comic about a vigilante but it has none of the dark and angsty overtones that comics like Batman are known for. In fact quite the opposite, this comic is the furthest thing from dark. Instead it’s lighthearted and funny and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Bandette is actually quite campy – there’s a lot of witty one liners and banter between Bandette and her foes.  At one point “knockout spray” was used, reminding me of the old Adam West Batman show.

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The story moves along quickly, shoving you right into the action. Bandette is always on the run – both from danger and towards it. In a short amount of time you meet her arch nemesis – Monsieur, as well as organized crime ring that wants to bring her down.  I liked how you were always sure Bandette was going to come out alright but you were never entirely sure how she was going to pull it off. She’s definitely one for thinking on her feet and using resources (like her friends) to their full potential.

Overall this is a fun, all ages comics that you should read when you’re looking for something light, fast paced and need a few laughs.

*side note: My advanced copy was really blurry and hard to read and sometimes I felt like I was missing something. This most likely won’t be a problem for the print so chances are this comic will be ever better in it’s final form!

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Clearly a fate worse than death!