comics

REVIEW: “Joker” (2019) (Spoilers!)

mv5bzwfinzbkyjetmmy4my00mdfjltg2ntutmzi2odzlzjbjyzc3xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkxnjuynq4040._v1_sy1000_cr006741000_al_As if enough things haven’t been written about this movie, here comes another one. Ever since the announcement of this movie, I’ve been skeptical. The Joker is a character who has, historically, never had a definitive origin story – nor has he ever needed one. The entire point (and fun) of the character is that he has no origin. Various stories have hinted at one (The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight) but all have shied away from suggesting any of those origins is the definitive one. So, this movie being entirely about how the Joker became the Joker worried me a bit, though that worry was squashed a bit when they made it clear this movie wouldn’t tie into the larger DCEU and would be the cinematic equivalent of one of DC’s Elseworlds stories. With that context, it was a bit easier to get on board with a film like this. Then came all of the controversy surrounding the film – the articles about how it was irresponsible, the security concerns, etc – and the whole thing began to get a little messy. It was difficult to know what the film was actually saying versus what people were accusing the film of saying. The big question, now that opening weekend has come and gone without much incident, is whether Joker is a good movie that gets across all that it is trying to say. The answer? Yes, mostly. (NOTE: This review will contain some light spoilers for the movie, but this is one of those films where you pretty much already know how it ends; it’s not filled with surprises, but the enjoyment comes from the journey it takes you on.)

Joker (written by Scott Silver and Todd Phillips; directed by Todd Phillips)
“Joker” centers around the iconic arch nemesis and is an original, standalone fictional story not seen before on the big screen. Phillips’ exploration of Arthur Fleck, who is indelibly portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, is of a man struggling to find his way in Gotham’s fractured society. A clown-for-hire by day, he aspires to be a stand-up comic at night…but finds the joke always seems to be on him. Caught in a cyclical existence between apathy and cruelty, Arthur makes one bad decision that brings about a chain reaction of escalating events in this gritty character study.

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Review – “Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples” (Illustrated by Colleen Doran)

918fkn2oh0lWe all know how much I love a good Neil Gaiman story. He’s one of my favorite authors currently writing and I’ve yet to encounter one of his stories that I haven’t enjoyed in some way or another. Some of my favorite Gaiman things are the comic adaptations of his prose work. I always find it really intriguing seeing how comic artists adapt the work of Gaiman (an author who got, perhaps, one of his earliest and biggest breaks within the world of comics) into this more visual medium. This is where Snow, Glass, Apples comes into play. It’s the latest in a fairly-lengthy line of comic adaptations of Gaiman’s work to be published by Dark Horse Comics; ignoring their ongoing American Gods adaptation, it’s the second such graphic novel adapting some of Gaiman’s short stories. What intrigued me the most about this adaptation were the excerpts that featured some of Collen Doran’s illustrations. Her style promised a really interesting, unique, and gorgeous take on the original short story and I was very excited to give it a read. How did it turn out? Just as good as I’d hoped it would be, if not better!

Snow, Glass, Apples (written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Colleen Doran)
A not-so-evil queen is terrified of her monstrous stepdaughter and determined to repel this creature and save her kingdom from a world where happy endings aren’t so happily ever after.

From the Hugo, Bram Stoker, Locus, World Fantasy, Nebula award-winning, and New York Times bestselling writer Neil Gaiman (American Gods) comes this graphic novel adaptation by Colleen Doran (Troll Bridge)!

The short story this comic is based on is, perhaps, one of Gaiman’s best-known shorts. A retelling of the Snow White fairy tale from the point of view of the Step-Mother. What if Snow White were some kind of vampire-esque monster and the “Evil Queen” was only trying to save her kingdom from this threat? This is the question at the heart of the short story, itself a haunting and suspenseful tale that, as you’d expect, ends in tragedy. It’s a really solid short story, originally collected in Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors collection. I’m a sucker for a good twist on an old fairy tale and this one proves to be more than just “what if the villain was misunderstood”, pivoting hard into more of a “what if the ‘hero’ was actually the monster?” and I really dig that. Gaiman handles the subject with care, walking a fine line between sympathy for all the characters and depicting monstrous things with a monstrous touch. It’s a really solid, entertaining, haunting, and spooky story and it’s one of my favorites of Gaiman’s short fiction.

What makes this particular adaptation unique, though, are the illustrations from Colleen Doran. Doran’s art style throughout this comic adaptation is more reminiscent of religious stained glass artwork than that found in a traditional graphic novel. This stylistic choice really works well for the material, though, as it gives the whole story an elevated visual identity. Doran’s artwork is beautiful and she manages to maintain a superb balance between the beauty of the images and the practicality needed from them to usher the actual story of the graphic novel along. Each of her images, while being gorgeous works of art, exist to serve the story being told. They’re beautifully detailed but never too indulgent. It’s a perfect balance between beauty and practicality.

All in all, this is a must-read for Gaiman fans. It’s a short read – clocking in at around 60 pages – but it’s a beautiful new take on a Gaiman classic that will delight you, frighten you, and make you want to read it again and again. The story is haunting and well-executed, Doran’s artwork is beautiful and perfectly matches the tone of the story, and the whole affair just serves as a wonderful retelling of a great short story. It’s perfect for the spooky season, too, so give it a read.

Five out of five wands

REVIEW: “Doctor Who – The 13th Doctor, Volume 2”

13th doc vol 2With Jodie Whittaker’s second season as the 13th Doctor delayed until 2020, fans of Doctor Who are left to turn to other mediums to get their fix of new Doctor Who stories. Thankfully, Titan Comics continues to put out new 13th Doctor comics each and every month. And they’re really good, too, with each arc comprising a single storyline that feels like a complete episode of the series!

Doctor Who – The 13th Doctor, Volume 2 by Jody Houser, illustrated by Rachael Stott and Roberta Ingranata
A mysterious podcast leads the Doctor, Yaz, Graham, and Ryan throughout history as they work out how they’re involved in its creation and just who’s behind “Hidden Human History”.

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REVIEW: “Books of Magic”, vol. 1: Moveable Type

791348._sx1280_ql80_ttd_I never read Neil Gaiman’s original 4-issue run of Books of Magic, nor did I read any of the subsequent runs, so, naturally, of the four titles initially announced for the first wave of Sandman Universe series, this one was the one I was least interested in. It’s not that I wasn’t interested in the premise – I love a good story about people learning how to do magic – but it was more the idea that, due to my lack of knowledge of any of the previous stories, I’d be totally lost going into this comic and find myself unable to enjoy it for what it is. Thankfully, that’s not what happened. Unfortunately, it is still my least favorite ‘volume 1’ of the three in the Sandman Universe that I’ve read so far. (Mild spoilers follow!)

Books of Magic, Volume 1: Moveable Type (written by Kat Howard, illustrated by Tom Fowley, colors by Jordan Boyd) 
While Tim’s trying to study and attract the cutest girl in his class, there are cultists who want to kill him, believing his magical powers will eventually corrupt him, turning him into a merciless mage that will bring upon the end of magic forever! But when a mysterious new substitute teacher for his school called Dr. Rose wants to mentor and educate him in the magical arts so that he can discover the secrets behind the Books of Magic, Tim believes he has the tools to find his missing mother. Is this sudden guidance too good to be true, and what connection–if any–does Rose have to the disappearance of Tim’s teacher Mr. Brisby?

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REVIEW: “The Umbrella Academy – Hotel Oblivion”

81wb6js-mflIt’s been a decade since the second volume of Gerard Way’s wonderfully weird superhero series, The Umbrella Academy, hit stores and it’s been almost as long since the title of this third volume was announced. Since that initial announcement, there had been a lot of radio silence as Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá got busy with other projects. Thankfully, though, this third volume of The Umbrella Academy has come out and, in many ways, it feels like no time has passed. It’s very much the third installment in this ongoing series – and that’s both a good thing and a bad thing. (Mild spoilers follow)

Gerard Way (My Chemical Romance, Doom Patrol) and Gabriel Bá (Two Brothers, Casanova) have earned awards and accolades on their separate projects, and finally return to their breakout 2007 hit, for the latest chapter in the bizarre lives of their former teen superhero team.

Faced with an increasing number of lunatics with superpowers eager to fight his own wunderkind brood, Sir Reginald Hargreeves developed the ultimate solution …

Now, just a few years after Hargreeves’s death, his Umbrella Academy is scattered. Number Five is a hired gun, Kraken is stalking big game, Rumor is dealing with the wreckage of her marriage, an out-of-shape Spaceboy runs around the streets of Tokyo, Vanya continues her physical therapy after being shot in the head–and no one wants to even talk about what Séance is up to …

The award-winning and best-selling superhero series returns, stranger than ever–And their past is coming back to hunt them.

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REVIEW: “Lucifer, Volume 1: The Infernal Comedy” (The Sandman Universe)

91qts0qrbulAs I’ve previously said, I love Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. It’s one of my favorite long-running comic series and it had such a perfect ending as written. I didn’t read any of the spin-off material that came out during the original run of the series – such as the original Book of Magic miniseries or Mike Carey’s Lucifer run. But with the launch of The Sandman Universe, it seemed a perfect time to hop onboard the Lucifer train and see what his comic was all about. I gotta say, this first volume of the newest Lucifer series turned out to be a pretty great first Lucifer story for me to read. (Slight spoilers follow.)

This is the one true tale of what befell the Prince of Lies, the Bringer of Light–Lucifer. The blind, destitute old man, who lives in a small boarding house in a quiet little town, where nothing is quite what it seems and no one can leave. He’s trapped, you see? Trapped in a bizarre prison with no memory of how he got there or why. As the Devil soon discovers, the answers lay in wait with his estranged son, Caliban… too bad Lucifer can’t find him. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Detective John Decker is drawn into a shadowy conspiracy whose widely varied members share a single common purpose: to kill Lucifer Morningstar.

From crime and mystery author Dan Watters (The Shadow, Deep Roots) with art from Max Fiumara and Sebastian Fiumara (Abe Sapien, The Amazing Spider-Man, All-Star Batman) bring us the next chapter in the story everyone’s favorite son of God.

This is the first Lucifer comic I’d ever read. I was familiar with the character from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, but I’d never actually read any of the character’s solo stories. So, as this volume began, I did feel a bit confused as to what was going on. Watters definitely throws readers into the deep end in this story, but it quickly becomes clear that he has a well-thought-out masterplan that proves to be very accessible for new readers – and very rewarding, I suspect, for longtime readers.

In this story, Lucifer has had a son and has abandoned that son in the past – a fact that was alluded to within “The Sandman Universe #1” one-shot (also included in this volume). To right this wrong, he seeks to reunite the son with his mother. Naturally, things don’t go according to plan and Lucifer ends up in a prison he can’t escape from, being held hostage by someone from his past with an ax to grind. And when you’re the literal devil, that’s a lot of people.

The story unfolds in a very interesting way. As I said, it starts off right in the middle of everything, with Lucifer lost in this other world, missing his memories and trying to unravel everything. As the story goes on and the characters all figure out what is going on, the audience is clued in with a series of flashbacks – and a B-plot that ties in directly with the A-plot – and everything unfolds in a very interesting way and ultimately leads to a pretty climactic finale that perfectly sets up the next arc in this ongoing series.

Watters’ writing isn’t the only highlight of this book, however. Accompanying his writing is artwork from Max Fiumara and Sebastian Fiumara. The artwork from these two definitely elevates Watters’ script into something befitting of the devil. The art perfectly builds off of the established features of the Lucifer character – a character designed to be reminiscent of David Bowie – while also adding some new things and perfectly fleshing out the world with gorgeous settings and interesting characters. Watters’ script and Max and Sebastian Fiumara’s art is a match made in heaven – or, perhaps, in hell.

All in all, this first volume of Lucifer is a great start to this ongoing season. It’s a great jumping on point for readers new to the ongoing story of this character and it appears to be a great return to the character for preexisting fans. The story told within this volume is delightful, mixing Christian mythology with The Sandman Universe’s narrative flair. It’s equal parts moving, suspenseful, and bloody. It’s a great book for a great devil.

4 out of 5 wands.

REVIEW: “Mystery Science Theater 3000 – The Comic”

MST3K00In news that should surprise absolutely no one, Mystery Science Theater 3000 makes for a really funny, really enjoyable, and really good comic. I reviewed the first issue back when it came out and found it to be a pretty enjoyable read. Now, I’ve finished the final issue of the run and I can confirm that it remains an enjoyable read throughout its run, intertwining the signature MST3K humor with the world of public domain comics.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Comic by Joel Hodgson, Harold Bucholz, Matt McGinnis, Seth Robinson, Sharyl Volpe, and Mary Robinson; illustrated by Todd Nauck, Jack Pollock, Mike Manley, and Mimi Simon

The riffing hilarity of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 comes to comics when Kinga Forrester pairs her Kingachrome Liquid Medium with her latest invention–the Bubbulat-R! Jonah Heston, Crow T. Robot, and Tom Servo find themselves thrust into the 2-D world of public domain comics, with riffing as their only defense!

From its humble beginnings on a tiny mid-west TV station in 1988, through its years as a mainstay on The Comedy Channel/Comedy Central and the SciFi Channel all through the ’90s, to its spectacular resurrection on Netflix in 2017, Mystery Science Theater 3000 has had a transformative effect on television, comedy, and the way old, cheesy movies are viewed. Now creator Joel Hodgson has set his sights on the comics medium, and the four-color pamphlets will never be the same!

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REVIEW: “The Dreaming, Volume 1: Pathways and Emanations” (The Sandman Universe)

the dreaming vol 1One of the most appealing parts of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series was that it was one of those rare long-running comic books that had a definitive end. It ran for a total of 75 issues and, for a while, that was it. Over the years, Gaiman had returned a few times to the universe in order to pen a short spin-off here or a short prequel comic there, but there had never really been anything major that expanded on the world of The Sandman – aside from Mike Carey’s equally long-running Lucifer series, spun off from the character’s few appearances in the main Sandman run. So, when it was announced that Gaiman would be teaming up with Vertigo to launch The Sandman Universe, a collection of four series inspired by and expanding upon the original Sandman run, I was a bit skeptical. Of the four titles that were revealed, there were two that interested me the most: Simon Spurrier’s The Dreaming and Dan Watters’ Lucifer. As The Dreaming was the first of the four books to launch, it’ll be the first of the four that I’ll cover here. In volume one of The Dreaming, Spurrier takes us back into the realm of the Dreaming where Daniel, the current Lord of Dreams, has disappeared just as things are going wrong. And it only gets crazier from there.

The Sandman Universe – The Dreaming, Volume 1: Pathways and Emanations 
Written by: Simon Spurrier, illustrated by: Bilquis Evely, colors by: Mat Lopes 
Lord Daniel’s absence triggers a series of crimes and calamities that consume the lives of those already tangled in his fate. Until he is found, his realm’s residents must protect its broken borders alone. But the most senior storytellers are tormented by invasive secrets, the warden Lucien is doubting his own mind, and beyond the gates, something horrific awaits with tooth and talon. Only Dora, the monstrous, finds opportunity in madness, stealing dreams for the highest bidder. But she has no idea how deep the danger lies. Meanwhile, in Daniel’s gallery, something new is growing…

Written by fan-favorite author Si Spurrier (Motherlands, Suicide Squad) with breathtaking art by standout artist Bilquis Evely (Batman, Wonder Woman). The first book in The Sandman Universe kicks off with fireworks as The Dreaming literally tears itself apart!

The Sandman Universe is a new series of books curated by Neil Gaiman for DC Vertigo. Conjuring epic storytelling and immersing readers into the evolving world of the Dreaming, The Sandman Universe begins anew with four new ongoing series, existing in a shared universe, building upon Gaiman’s New York Times best-selling series that lyrically weaved together stories of dreams and magic.

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REVIEW: “Stranger Things: The Other Side”

Stranger Things - The Other SideStranger Things is massively successful. It’s probably Netflix’s biggest hit in the past five years, or so. So, it was only a matter of time before it started branching out into other mediums. Earlier last month, the first official novel – Gwenda Bond’s Suspicious Minds (my review of it here) – was released, but prior to that, Dark Horse Comics released a limited series – written by Jody Houser and illustrated by Stefano Martino – telling the unseen story of Will Byers during the events of season 1. It’s a great idea for a tie-in comic, but is the execution as good as the concept? Mostly, yeah.

When Will Byers finds himself in the Upside Down, an impossible dark parody of his own world, he’s understandably frightened. But that’s nothing compared with the fear that takes hold when he realizes what’s in that world with him!

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REVIEW: Dark Horse Comics’ “American Gods”, Volumes 1 & 2

Buffalo ManFirst, American Gods was an award-winning novel by Neil Gaiman. Then, it lingered in development hell for a decade – first as a film, then as a TV series – only to finally be picked up by Starz and given its first season in 2017 (and currently airing its second). Lastly, it was adapted by Dark Horse Comics – and P. Craig Russell and Scott Hampton – as a comic book. American Gods is a story that lends itself very well to the medium of comics as it’s a very visual book, with characters and locales that are large than life. It’s an adaptation that many fans have desired for a long time – given Gaiman’s beginnings in the world of comics with The Sandman – so, with two (of three) volumes of the American Gods comic now complete, how is this adaptation holding up? Answer: very well.

American Gods: Shadows
Shadow Moon gets out of jail only to discover his wife is dead. Defeated, broke, and uncertain where to go from here, he meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, who employs him to serve as his bodyguard–thrusting Shadow into a deadly world where ghosts of the past come back from the dead, and a god war is imminent.

American Gods: My Ainsel
The bizarre road trip across America continues as our heroes gather reinforcements for the imminent god war! Shadow and Wednesday leave the House on the Rock and continue their journey across the country where they set up aliases, meet new gods, and prepare for war.

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