Bug! The Adventures Of Forager – A (Comic) Book Review

This issue is so gloriously weird and so masterfully executed that you have to experience it.  It’s seriously a  must-read book for any comic lover out there.

As part of the Young Animal imprint (which is a division of DC Comics and, apparently, somehow connected to the mainstream content), Bug! The Adventures Of Forager utilizes several of Jack Kirby’s DC contributions, most notably Bug and Sandman.

Let that last sentence sink in a moment …

The first installment of this series is so strange. Bug wakes up after apparently breaking out of a cocoon.  He’s in a basement.  He’s flashing back to Cosmic Odyssey – you may need to “Google” that one.  A ghost girl appears along with a talking teddy bear.  This may be my favorite paragraph ever.

I won’t spoil it further, but if you loved Jack Kirby’s trippy Fourth World, this book is just as  nuts if not more so!  That’s not to say it isn’t well-constructed, though.  Lee and Michael Allred definitely seem to be headed somewhere.  There is a great deal of foreshadowing, and there are also several references to the past — we’re talking before Rebirth, before The New 52, even before Zero Hour — that raise very interesting questions not just about this title in particular but about the Young Animal imprint as a whole.

So along with a wild story and appearances by several revered Fourth World characters, you also have the most beautiful sequential art you will ever see.  Michael Allred is a very special talent.  Every single panel in this book is magnificent.  Not only is he a master of anatomy, but Allred is also able to do something many artists are not — he is able to convey body language and facial expressions that progress the story.  There are no superhero poses in this book.  His characters put actual weight on a single leg while standing, their fingers are never clenched into a superhero fist, and their faces convey actual emotion.  It is wonderful to behold.

Let’s not forget Laura Allred’s colors.  Michael Allred’s pencils and inks are gorgeous, but Laura’s colors amplify them exponentially.  It’s hard to pull of pink, red, and bright yellow in a single panel, but Laura does it and makes it all look perfectly complimentary.  Amazing.

Does this issue make any sense at all as a standalone?  Not really, no.  But, it absolutely lays solid groundwork for what seems to be a focused direction, and the wonderful art, Kirby character appearances, oddness, and general sense of fun make it a must-read issue.  Enjoy!

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

An Open, Encouraging Letter To Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck, the rumors are swirling that you want to give up playing Batman.  Please don’t.

The Internet can be a beautiful, wonderful place full of information, inspiration, and innovation.  Unfortunately, it can also be a putrid pit of negativity.  It certainly seems as though only those with vile complaints take the time to make their voices heard on the Web.

Well, Ben Affleck, it’s time to spread some positivity.

I’m a lifelong Bat-fan.  As a forty-year-old high school English teacher (and, yes, I am working on a novel—it’s mandatory), Batman has been a constant in my life since 1980.  For the English teachers out there, that’s thirty-seven years.

I’ve enjoyed Batman teaming up with Scooby-Doo, I loved the Super Friends, Adam West will always hold a special place in my heart, Michael Keaton and Tim Burton blew my mind, The Animated Series proved itself a masterpiece, Frank Miller scared me while aweing me, Val Kilmer didn’t scar me, George Clooney kinda did, and then Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan took Batman someplace both old and new in a way that felt important.

But you, Ben Affleck, you’re doing something that’s never been done before.  You are laying the groundwork for a cinematic Batman that must play with others.  No one else had the guts to do what you guys are doing.  No one else dared put Batman’s dark costume on the same screen as the Flash’s, Wonder Woman’s, or Superman’s only slighter less dark costume.  You dared take Batman back to his vigilante roots, and you are brave enough to depict his evolution not only into a team player, but the heart and soul of the Justice League.  Batman has endured a long and illustrious cinematic life, but you are truly breaking new ground.

I know the trolls have been really tough on you.  I understand you are sick and tired of fielding questions about a movie you haven’t even started filming yet.  I recognize that the expectations are impossible to meet.  In the here and now, you have a thankless job.  But please keep the big picture in mind.  You have a vision for where you want to take this character.  You see the end result, though it may be years away.  In time, people will appreciate you and your efforts.  You will win over the haters, trust me.

How do I know this, Ben Affleck?  I’m a diehard Batman fan, and you won me over immediately.  I am being totally honest when I say that I loved Batman v Superman.  I acknowledge it as the initial step in a marathon.   Of course Batman and Superman wouldn’t get along at first!  But, with his death, Batman realizes the great ally he’s lost, and with Superman’s eventual return, both men will recognize even further the good they can do.  In a way, Justice League will echo The Lego Batman Movie – Batman is ultimately a family man.   The orphan always builds his own family.  He has an army of Robins and a multiverse of teammates.  The aloof Dark Knight is nothing of the sort.  You are depicting the advancement of a brooding cynical man believing in heroes again and leading those heroes to a better tomorrow.  In the end, everyone will see that.

So, please, don’t step away.  Don’t interrupt the journey you’ve begun.  Anytime you’re feeling blue, get in touch and I’ll build you back up.  Want to know why you’re my third favorite Batman?  (Sorry, you’ve yet to top Adam West and Michael Keaton.  You’ve got to win over my inner child with those two guys and I just don’t know if that’s possible.)  First of all, you’re big, man.  I mean, you’re a really big dude.  Batman is also a big dude.  And, please don’t take this the wrong way, but you can deliver the smug, arrogant Batman/Bruce Wayne for which we’ve all been pining.  There’s an intelligence behind your eyes that make us believe this is the world’s greatest detective.  You ooze charm, both with the mask on and off.  You can look intimidating as hell one minute, and then project a heart-breaking inner turmoil the next.  You’re able to take every dimension of Batman that we love and combine it into your performance.  Furthermore, you’ve got great chemistry with Gal Gadot, and Batman must always have chemistry with Wonder Woman.  It’s geek law.

Ignore the hate, Ben Affleck. Persevere.  Know that you’ve really struck a chord with Bat-fans everywhere.  Sadly, as a society, we’re slow to heap praise.  Well, I’m heapin’, baby!  I believe in your vision, your performance, and your interpretation.  I believe, in the end, you will be the Batman for generations to come.

Of course, this could all just be a power play to gain leverage on the studio for some reason.  In which case, I wish you luck.  Whatever the case may be, my sentiments remain unchanged!

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Superman: Son Of Superman by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason – A Book Review

Oh, boy.  To understand Superman’s first volume under the Rebirth movement, you need to understand that the Superman in this book is the Superman we knew in the 80s, 90s, and early-2000s.  This is the Superman who married Lois Lane, the Superman who fought against Doomsday and died, the Superman who returned from the dead.

Why is this confusing, you ask?  Well, this Superman is now living in an alternate reality, one that arrived around 2010.  DC calls it The New 52 universe.  In this softly rebooted universe, everything and everyone got a facelift, modernized, updated.  The Superman in this new universe wore a suit more like armor than tights, had a romance with Wonder Woman, and wasn’t much of a talker.  He died in battle, though, and so the pre-New 52 Superman, who had been hiding out on this alternate Earth with his wife Lois and their son Jon, decides to don the red and blue again because, yeah, Earth needs a Superman.

Batman and Wonder Woman don’t know this new Superman.  No one does.  They don’t know if they can trust him.  They honestly don’t know what to think of him.  This is a really interesting dynamic because this classic version of Superman was the beacon of hope in his old universe—he was the gold standard.  To suddenly be an alien twice over adds an interesting dimension to the character, one that the creators were sure to touch upon.  I can only hope they continue to use it to drive stories.

But the real heart and soul of this book is the arrival of Superman as a family man.  Let’s face it—our classic Superman has always been a dad.  He may not previously have actually had a child, but he basically epitomized the traits we hope for in every great father—brave, selfless, compassionate, assertive, reliable, strong, and even a little boring.

Now Superman acts like a dad for good reason—he is one!  Their son, Jon, is just beginning to develop powers, and watching Superman guide his son through these changes is charming in and of itself.

Jon, who I believe is around ten or so, is an incredibly likable character.  He’s not too naïve, not too sassy, not too polished, but not too rough, either.  They’ve hit a nice tone with him, one that I hope they can continue.

I do believe Lois is getting a bit lost in the mix in this first volume, though.  In my opinion, her inclusion in the action feels a bit forced, and, honestly, there’s a moment at the end of this book where I really questioned Superman’s judgment in allowing a very human Lois to be anywhere near the cataclysmic battle taking place.

As much as the creators have hit the right note with Jon, they are missing the mark just a bit with Lois.  They’ve all been hiding out on this new Earth in order to protect Jon, and so Lois must be content as an anonymous novelist, doing house chores, and sort of playing the role of house wife.  It never felt quite true to the character, but neither did the big action scene in which she participates.  Granted, like Superman himself, getting Lois just right can be tricky.  I trust Tomasi and Gleason will eventually find the right chord for her.

So, yes, much of Son of Superman worked very well.  Seeing Superman as a father is something I very much enjoy, especially because I am a father myself.  It’s fun to be able to relate to him even now as a forty year old man.  Seeing Superman through Jon’s eyes breathes fresh life into the hero, and watching Jon struggle to become a hero in his own right is going to prove fertile ground for future stories.

But speaking of story, Son of Superman faltered with its main conflict.  The Eradicator is back, but I think this is the New 52 version of the character—I was never clear on that, to be honest.  Anyway, as an ancient piece of Kryptonian technology, he’s taken it upon himself to destroy Jonathan Kent, whom he views to be an impure blight against Kryptonian genes due to his human heritage.  Plus, as it happens, he’s got a bunch of Kryptonian souls living inside of him.

Frankly, I found the whole Eradicator plot a bit of a stretch, even by comic book standards.  There are dozens of directions they could have taken in this first volume, why they chose yet another character with an “S” on his chest and very convoluted motive is something of a mystery.  And the dozens of Kryptonian souls trapped inside of the Eradicator really took me out of the story.  It seemed like such a significant event just to kind of throw in there as an aside … it felt forced and unnatural to the general cadence of the book.  In fact, everything with the Eradicator felt a little clunky to me.

Furthermore, along those same lines, the art in Son of Superman is flat-out superb.  Patrick Gleason draws a heroic Superman, a charismatic Jonathan, and a self-reliant Lois.  But his style tends to be a little cartoony—a bit exaggerated.  There are a few installments in the book, however, where both Jorge Jimenez and Dough Mahnke fill in on the pencils.  Both are superb—I’ve been a Mahnke fan for a long while now.  But, their style tends to be a little darker, a little more realistic, a little more chiseled.  Like the storyline itself, the shift in art could be abrupt and jarring.  All of the art is wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but the flow is disruptive from installment to installment due to contrasting styles.

Son of Superman is not perfect, but it’s a bold, uplifting direction for Superman and I commend the creators for embarking upon such risk.  Taking one of your flagship characters and making him both a husband and a dad is unconventional to be sure, but I have no doubt this creative team in particular will provide captivating stories to come.  I think we’re all ready for Superman Dad … I know I am.

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Wonder Woman: The True Amazon by Jill Thompson – A Book Review

I have to be honest, I’m a huge fan of Wonder Woman, but my interest in her derives from two very distinct sources.

Firstly, I have two young daughters, and as a lifelong comic book lover, I very much want them to have a super hero for whom they can both admire and aspire.  With her rich history, roots in Greek mythology, and general decency, Wonder Woman fits the bill.  Best of all?  She is not derivative of a male counterpart.  My girls love Batgirl and Supergirl as well, but I don’t want them subconsciously believing they have to copy a boy to be cool.  Wonder Woman shows them they can walk their own path and achieve heroism just fine.

Secondly, Brian Azzarello rocketed Wonder Woman up the ranks to become one of my favorite characters, and this happened well within the last six years with the advent of The New 52.  By reinventing the Greek Gods and plopping them right down into the world of both man and Wonder Woman, Azzarello brought a complexity to Wonder Woman that, for me, didn’t exist in any other title.  He somehow merged the world of super heroes, ancient Greek mythology, and modern day concerns into a monthly title that never failed to captivate my imagination.  As you can probably guess, I was disappointed when he moved on.

Grant Morrison recently released his version of Wonder Woman’s origin set within the Earth One imprint.  I’ve reviewed that title already, but in a nutshell, it seemed to rehash events and themes already well covered within the character’s multigenerational existence, albeit with wonderful Morrison flair.

When I discovered Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, I felt both intrigued and fatigued.  On the one hand, Jill Thompson is an amazing talent and the fact that she both wrote and illustrated this book makes it a must-buy.  On the other hand, I’ve experienced quite a bit of Wonder Woman’s origin within the last few years, so much so that I really didn’t want to go down that road yet again.

In the end, I’m glad I made the trip down said road, but I’d be lying if I said a few bumps did not jostle me from time to time.

Let’s first discuss the art.  I could pretty much summarize it with one word and be done: magnificent.  However, I’m not a one word kind of guy, so allow me to offer a bit more.

Thompson’s drawings and colors have an ethereal picture book quality, which is meant as a compliment.  As I read this book, I felt as though I’d entered a fairy tale, not in content, but rather in terms of atmosphere.  The material is fairly serious, as I’ll discuss later, and there are some imposing monsters and gruesome circumstances, yet Thompson manages to maintain an almost otherworldly quality that struck me as … well … magical.

Her Amazons are also incredibly interesting.  Thompson depicts them as strong, sometimes brutal women, but they never appear brutish or even physically menacing.  Their strength resonates though a certain grace Thompson bestows upon them.  They are athletic, but not hulking.  They are beautiful, but not sexualized.  They are lithe and light except when weighed down by armor.  Thompson conveys a race capable of winning wars but very much more interested in art and culture.

As for the story, I congratulate Thompson on taking a different approach, but I wish she had avoided the “origin” element of the tale.  In this version, Princess Diana is a gift to Hippolyta from the Gods, and the Amazons treat her as such.  As a result, Diana is spoiled, humored, and given chance after chance even when behaving badly.  That’s not to say she does not have the heart of Wonder Woman within.  She is still capable of great feats, and is, for the most part, a decent woman, and the book takes care to remind the reader as such, but the book also spends a lot of time displaying Diana’s flaws.

By this point, Thompson had me hooked.  I liked this new approach in that Wonder Woman did not always have a heart of gold.  Though born physically perfect, the Amazons’ influence ironically tainted her persona.  She exercised selfishness, lied, took advantage, and even treated others poorly.  Again, though, Thompson made a point to showcase her heroic tendencies as well.

I won’t spoil the ending of the book, but Wonder Woman’s impetus for travelling to the world of Man is given a major overhaul.  She now has an express reason for wearing her armor, bracelets, lasso, and golden girdle.  I especially love the tiara’s new concept and its implications upon her character.

Part of me, though, and again, I’ll try not to spoil too much, did not enjoy the significant change in motivation behind Wonder Woman’s mission to Man.  Thompson executed it well, but it does bring a certain level of darkness to the character that I’m not sure I wanted.  Does it make more sense than her original origin?  Yes, absolutely.  But, at the same time, we’ve seen this story unfold hundreds of times before with other characters, especially those within the comic book medium.  In a way, it lessens Wonder Woman’s originality even as the event itself is unique and new to the character.  I’m honestly conflicted about the issue.  Perhaps this is a good sign, though.  Thompson evoked a lot of thought from me concerning her iteration, which means that I didn’t close the book, set it aside, and move on.  It’s been days since I finished it, in fact, and yet here I am, still thinking about it and trying to revolve my feelings regarding it.

Speaking of lingering issues, Grant Morrison made his Amazons overtly homosexual in Earth One.  It makes perfect sense when you really think about it – an island paradise solely comprised of eternal women.  Thompson handles the matter far more deftly, with a far lighter touch, but proves even more provocative in doing so.  She hints at much, reveals nothing, and accomplishes the perfect tone as a result.  My pre-teen daughter could read this book and think nothing of Wonder Woman’s sexuality, whereas, as an adult, a few scenes led me to certain conclusions.

Ultimately, Wonder Woman fans need to read this book.  It is beautiful to behold and delivers a distinctive exploration of the character’s incentives.  Thompson takes a super hero trope and manages to make it feel fresh, especially in regards to Wonder Woman’s garb and tools.  I like that Thompson scuffed Wonder Woman’s personality up a little, making her not quite so pure hearted and good intentioned, but I’m not convinced of its necessity.  The True Amazon will leave you with much to think about, and that’s ultimately the sign of a successful work.

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Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye by Gerard Way, Jon Rivera, and Michael Avon Oeming- A (Comic) Book Review

It’s not often I buy a single-issue comic book (or, as I affectionately refer to them – floppies), but I could not resist this issue due to the title alone.  Cave Carson would not have garnered my curiosity, but Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye?  Yes, that’s the kind of title that demands my attention.

I remember Cave Carson from my old Who’s Who comic books.  I don’t think I ever actually had a comic book with Cave in it, but reading about him in Who’s Who made me consider him a strange character.  Not quite a hero, but not quite a regular guy, either.  I categorized him in there with the Challengers Of the Unknown or the Sun Devils.

Gerard Way and Jon Rivera have taken what I would consider an obscure character and made him riveting.  Part of the fun of Cave Carson is that most of us don’t remember a single thing about him.  I’m 39, and I recall from my childhood him having underground adventures with his team, but that’s about it.

Cave Carson is now a widower.  His wife, and also teammate, died of an illness, and his daughter has grown into an independent college student.  Strangest of all, he has a cybernetic eye, something new to the character.  Why does he have a cybernetic eye?  That has yet to be revealed, but the eye is causing him all kinds of problems because it’s acting almost of its own accord.

Carson is depressed, purposeless, and suffering psychedelic visions that may or not be real.  Way and Rivera set up ample plot opportunities, develop interesting, engaging characters, and provide several satisfying guest appearances.  I won’t spoil it for you, but the very last page offered the return of a much beloved, equally obscure character from my childhood.

But do you know what really sets this book apart?  Micheal Avon Oeming.  Way and Rivera’s script might have been rather pedestrian in the hands of a lesser artist, but Oeming has a unique, weird style to his art that suits a book such as this perfectly.  His art is slightly cartoonish due to odd perspectives and angled characters, but it sets the tone so perfectly while catching the eye’s attention – it’s magnificent to behold.  Somehow Oeming makes characters simply taking to each other dynamic.  That’s the sign of a great sequential artist.

Best of all, there’s some really fun stuff in the back of the book.  Again, I won’t spoil it for you, but they did something totally fresh that took me back to my younger days of DC readership.

Though it’s been out for a few weeks, I absolutely recommend Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #1.  It’s one of the most original comic books I’ve read in some time.  In fact, this title has made me enthusiastic for the other Young Animal imprint’s titles.  I’m going to see if I can still find some of those first issues.

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All Star Batman #1 by Scott Snyder and John Romita, Jr. – A (Comic) Book Review

I’m the first to admit that Scott Snyder is a gifted writer.  His take on Batman the last seven or so years has been innovative, captivating, and high-quality.  His talent doesn’t end there, however.  You need to read his seminal series, American Vampire, as well as his excellent short story collection, Voodoo Heart.

All Star Batman is a new series in which Snyder will team up with the most gifted of artists for each story arc.  The first couples Snyder with industry icon John Romita, Jr.  The inaugural issue introduces a new conflict with Two-Face, a character Snyder has never tackled before (to the best of my knowledge).

I’ll be honest — the $4.99 price tag turned me off almost immediately.  It’s a little longer than the average comic book, and the cover is a little thicker, but otherwise there is no discernible difference.  It struck me as a cash grab on the part of DC.  Trust me, I looked through all the variants to see if any were priced regularly — there weren’t.  I settled on the awesome Jock cover you see below.

The book is made up of two different story lines.  One features Batman forcing Two-Face on a “road trip” of sorts; the other focuses on Duke, his new partner, and the on-the-job training Duke must undergo.  Frankly, both are overwritten and needlessly muddled.  Snyder has always shown a penchant for putting too much on the page, but this issue set a new precedent.  I don’t mind lots of dialogue, numerous time shifts, or even differing narrative techniques, but only if it works to the benefit of the story.  Snyder did all of these things in All Star Batman #1, but it only served to distract and confuse me.  I’m sure by the arc’s end all will make sense, but I think writers need to also honor the fact that these titles are released monthly and a single issue needs to stand on its own to some degree.  A fantastic example of doing it well is this week’s Superwoman #1.

Also, if I’m being totally truthful, I’ve never been a huge fan of John Romita, Jr.  I find his figures squarish and I just don’t find it pleasing to the eye.  I understand he’s considered among the best of comic book artists, but I personally don’t find his angles or panel placement all that creative or his drawings pleasurable to perceive.

With the inflated cover price, convoluted story, and overwritten dialogue, I really can’t recommend this issue.  It would perhaps be a better idea to wait for the collected edition.  You’ll save both money and frustration in doing so.

Superwoman Issue #1 – A (Comic) Book Review

I’ve been anxiously awaiting Superwoman #1 because of all the Rebirth titles, this one seemed the most creatively ambitious.  If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, Lois Lane now has the powers of Superman. How did this happen?  When did this happen?  Trust me, the book answers all of these questions.

In fact, Superwoman is probably among the best–if not THE best–of all the Rebirth titles thus far.  It is dense with story, yet Phil Jimenez executes the tale fluidly, organically, and creatively.  He actually plays with the narrative style quite a bit, but it works perfectly.  In truth, the technique he chooses enhances the overall quality of the book and makes it very engaging.

But Superwoman not only proved interesting to read, it was also fun!  With no less than two MAJOR revelations, Superwoman kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.  It’s one of the few Rebirth books that actually made me think to myself, “I can’t wait to find out what happens next!”  (And generally speaking, I’ve enjoyed most of the Rebirth titles.)

Of course, Jimenez’s art is always exquisite.  It’s so easy to take his talent for granted, but we need to really recognize not just his ability to draw very well, but also the masterful layouts he develops with each panel leading to the next to keep the story moving quickly.

It should also be noted that Superwoman is very well written.  The plot proved absolutely unpredictable and I’m already truly invested in #2, but he also displayed great characterization in not just what characters said, but how they said it.  We knew Lois Lane would be featured in the book, but Lana Lang also ended up having a very large role.  I won’t divulge any details, but I did not see Lois and Lana’s dynamic coming at all, and I loved it.  Honestly, I’ve been reading comic books for 35 years and this is the best depiction of Lana Lang I’ve personally ever read.

Superwoman #1 is fun, unpredictable, well written, expertly drawn, and everything I think a comic book should be.  After the issue’s cliffhanger, I can’t wait to see where Jimenez takes these characters next.