Mister Miracle #1 (2017) by Tom King and Mitch Gerads – A (Comic) Book Review

I fell in love with Mister Miracle (Scott Free), his wife Big Barda, and his partner Oberon in 1987 when they first appeared in Justice League and then also when Steve Rude drew his one-shot special.  He appealed to all of my sensibilities as a ten-year-old.  I mean, he was a super hero, so that was most important.  But he was also a super escape artist!  Awesome!  Married?  That’s cool!  From another planet?  What!?  Traded as part of a peace treaty to Apokolips and raised in torture even though he’s the son of the Highfather, which is pretty much the equivalent to a supreme god?  The stuff was amazing.  Of course, back then, I didn’t realize this was all the brainchild of Jack Kirby.  Had I known that, my astonishment would not have been so unexpected.

Tom King has been on fire lately with Batman, which has not gone unnoticed by me.  I’ve read those available collected editions, and while they are very good, I didn’t really understand why people were so ecstatic about his writing.  Furthermore, if we’re being totally honest, I’ve never head of Mitch Gerads, the artist.

However, I’ll buy anything with Scott Free in it, especially when he’s starring in his own title.  That, plus the positive word of mouth, compounded by Gerads’ delightful Twitter persona, convinced me to run to the comic book store and pick up this first issue.  (I had to wait until after an emergency root canal, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.)

Plainly stated — this may very well be the best first issue I’ve ever read (keep in mind I’ve been reading comics for thirty-seven years).

Mitch Gerads won me over utterly and completely with the very first page.  This first page simply shows Scott Free’s face, but his expression is so real, so, well, expressive, that it haunted me.  I also noticed right away the dot matrix coloring, something totally unnecessary but absolutely charming.  When you consider that Gerads drew, inked, and colored the art in this book … that’s quite a feat, especially because he did all three exquisitely.

Almost all of the pages in this issue are nine-panel grids.  That is a rarity in today’s comic book, yet it’s so brilliantly effective.  It keeps the eyes moving, it keeps the pace going, it conveys both more story and action, and it’s just more fun.  I love that the creative team took a chance on doing something considered passe and making it fresh.

By the way, that expression on the first page?  That’s nothing compared to what Gerads does later in the book.  This is the most real Scott Free has ever felt.  At times I could swear I saw a soul behind his eyes.

Let’s talk about Tom King.  By the second page, King displays his fearlessness by depicting Scott Free in need of a greater miracle than ever before.  King presents a very serious conflict from the onset, one that he treats both respectfully and effectively.  However, as you might expect, things are not necessarily what they seem.  King offers just enough clues to lay the foundation of quite a mystery, one that makes both Scott Free and the reader question everything unfolding throughout the book.

I love the constraint King displays in this first issue.  By utilizing the nine-panel grid, he is able to convey a lot of story without hardly any words at all.  As a result, he can keep the dialogue to a minimum.  These characters actually talk like real people in short bursts.  King does not fall into the trap of making his characters double as narrators explaining the events surrounding them.  They subscribe to the philosophy that, if given enough space to work, Gerads can draw everything we need to know.

I rarely buy single issues because, frankly, they don’t feel worth the cover price.  Often times they strike me as far too brief, disjointed, and obviously part of a much larger whole.   Mister Miracle #1 is obviously part of a larger story, yet due to the sheer amount of artwork, events, and story within, it proved totally satisfying.  Like I said, I consider it the best first issue I’ve read in a quite a while, maybe ever!  Well done to all involved!

On a final note, and this is perhaps the greatest compliment I can offer, I will definitely be in my local comic shop for issue #2.  If such quality continues, I plan to buy all twelve issues of this series.  As someone who has primarily bought only collected editions during the past fifteen years, I can bestow no greater honor.

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

Mother Panic: A Work In Progress by Jody Houser, Tommy Lee Edwards, and Shawn Crystal – A Book Review

The Young Animal imprint intrigued me, so when each of the various first issues debuted, I had to check them out.  If we’re being honest with each other, Mother Panic #1 did not resonate.  I did not much care for Violet Paige, the woman behind Mother Panic’s mask.  I did not understand her motivation, her means, nor her technology.  She struck me as whiny and selfish.  Furthermore, I felt placing her in Gotham City and using Batman appearances as nothing more than a sales tactic.  (Even on this trade cover, the eye is drawn to him well before it is to her.)

However, an opportunity arose to procure a copy of A Work In Progress free of charge through Amazon Vine, and so I took advantage.

I’m so glad I did.

What I like about the Young Animal titles is that they are operating with a big picture mindset.  All of them seem to be going places, and these places cannot quickly be reached.  The disadvantage of such storytelling, however, is the possibility that a title could lose a reader early on if not initially dynamic enough.  Well, I’m here to tell you, if you gave up on Mother Panic after the first issue, it is certainly worth a revisit.

As A Work In Progress, well, progresses, we begin to understand Violet Paige’s past traumas that resulted in her maladjustment.  This is a deeply flawed protagonist.  She has an agenda, and she does not want to be distracted from it.  But, deep within her heart, she allows herself such distractions, especially when saving lives is involved.

Jody Houser, the writer, succeeds in providing a terribly complex character who, with each new issue, reveals more and more of herself.  Paige’s supporting cast grows with each subsequent installment, and they are equally interesting.  (In fact, there is one former bat-villain that specifically delighted me.)  Houser’s plot is multilayered, and we quickly realize that this is not a simple revenge story.  Happily, Houser is careful to keep some things a secret.  I think this is a brilliant move to keep readers coming back.  For example, Mother Panic has powers, but it’s not made completely evident what those powers are.  She also has some very impressive technology, but we have no idea from where that technology derives.  Those two mysteries alone are enough to keep me coming back.

Tommy Lee Edwards depicts the first arc’s artwork, and it suits the tone of the book perfectly.  It is gloomy, rough, and dark, yet the action is clearly conveyed and the figures are rendered well.  Shawn Crystal handles the art duties for the second arc of the book, and though his art is a bit more cartoonish, it still fits both the character and the story very well.  Each artist depicts Mother Panic as a primal, almost monstrous, force of nature, not just a woman wearing a costume.

I think it should be noted that, at no point in the book is the character actually referred to as “Mother Panic.”  It’s a very cool pair of words, though I’m not sure it’s the stuff of a vigilante alias.  I mean, it sounds awesome, but I have trouble picturing the media or criminals choosing it as a moniker.  Does that mean Violet Paige herself assigns the designation?  I guess we’ll wait and see.  Great title for a book, though.

Finally, Mother Panic has a very “Vertigo” vibe to it.  I feel like it would fit in well next to The Sandman, American Vampire, and Fables.  That’s why every time Batman and Batwoman made an appearance, it sort of jarred me.  On the one hand, I liked seeing the Bats interact with a violent costumed vigilante dropping f-bombs.  Felt more accurate to the Gotham environment.  On the other hand, I didn’t feel as though they quite fit in correctly, which made me think they are there just to help sell books.  After reading A Work In Progress, Mother Panic stands just fine on her own.

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

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye by Gerard Way, Jon Rivera, and Michael Avon Oeming – A Book Review

You may remember from last November that I loved Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #1 (click HERE if you want to read that particular review).  Life got in the way of reading subsequent issues, but I made a point to purchase the collected edition of the first six episodes which has been titled “Going Underground.”

Everything I adored about the first issue continues with each additional installment.  Yes, this title gets weirder and weirder (which is a total compliment), but it also gets funnier, more sentimental, and even more full of action.

Way and Rivera pack this volume full of everything a reader could want.  There’s melancholy and loss regarding Cave’s wife, Eileen.  There’s science fiction and mystery regarding his cybernetic eye.  There’s a family dynamic and father/daughter tension regarding his college-aged daughter, Chloe.  There’s intrigue and corporate turmoil regarding his former employer, EBX.  There’s fantasy and philosophical conflict regarding the underground kingdom known as Muldroog.  And there’s lots and lots of gunfire regarding Cave’s unlikely friend and obscure blast from the past, Wild Dog (a personal favorite of mine).

But, even with all of these different things going on, Way and Rivera deliver a cohesive story that seems to be going somewhere specific.  I won’t lie — this book travels to some strange places and doesn’t always make obvious sense.  That’s part of what I love about it.  However, the authors have revealed enough to make me trust their vision and skill.  I suspect this will be an epic story that unfolds slowly amidst more immediate action, and that’s just the way I like it.  Best of all?  There is a dark humor always present, one that is sometimes delightful, sometimes disturbing, but always funny.

Michael Avon Oeming’s art suits this story perfectly.  At times, this book gets really, really violent.  Oeming’s art is a little on the cartoonish side, so it’s always shocking when he depicts one of those intense moments.  However, even though his art has a simplified look, his characters are always in motion, his panels flow smoothly, and the implied movement is always conveyed interestingly.  In other words, he’s very good at this medium.  I particularly enjoy the angles he chooses and his creative use of space upon the page.  At times he employs the traditional panel grid, but he is also unafraid to subvert that convention and do something more experimental.

We can’t appreciate Michael Avon Oeming without also crediting Nick Filardi’s coloring.  There are certain teams in the industry that enhance each other’s talents to create something incredibly special.  Oeming and Filardi are such a duo.  Filardi’s colors in this book are subdued yet extreme, strange yet beautiful, traditional yet innovative.  His use of the dot matrix looks customary but feels revolutionary, which is probably a great way to describe Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye as a whole.

It’s also a great way to describe another element of this book — Tom Scioli’s Super Powers.  Allow me to take a trip down memory lane … Once upon a time, I enjoyed a cartoon called Super Friends.   The Super Friends had a few kid members, particularly Zan and Jayna — The Wonder Twins.  That cartoon eventually evolved into Super Powers, which also had a comic book and a toy line that I still revere to this day.  Finally, comic books used to have backup stories featuring less popular characters that couldn’t always support their own series.

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye features such a backup story called Super Powers by Tom Scioli that features Zan and Jayna — The Wonder Twins.  It is absolutely bonkers and marvelous.  It embraces beloved elements and designs of that era, yet it also undermines those elements to create something mutinous and captivating.  It is unorthodox, daring, and strangely charming.  In an industry where we seem to keep getting the same stories over and over, Super Powers defies established methodology.

By now you’ve probably guessed this, but I highly recommend you add Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye: Going Underground to your bookshelves.

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

The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen by Hope Nicholson – A Book Review

I got this item for free on Amazon Vine.  When I saw it, I thought it would be perfect for my eight-year-old daughter.  She’s developed a real affinity for super heroes, and I particularly want her to realize there are plenty of strong, intelligent, respectable female super heroes as well.

Initially, I assumed this would be a reference book of our most popular female heroes for her to both enjoy and from which to learn.  That was my mistake.  (That sounds overly dramatic.  This is not a negative review at all.  I’ll explain in a bit …)

As is my habit when I get unknown books for my children, I preview them first.  It became very obvious very quickly that this is not intended for an eight-year-old.

This is not so much a reference book as it is a historical overview of female comic book characters going as far back as the 1930s.  The book is divided into chapters by decade and presents anywhere from five to twelve characters per chapter.  The author tries to choose culturally important characters or characters that influenced the industry, and is sure to include an “Icon Of the Decade” at the end of every chapter.  The characters are incredibly diverse and from a wide range of publishers.

These publishers sometimes include those of the “adult” variety, and so some of the illustrations may be a little more suited for an older audience.  Like I said, I assumed this book was meant for children, and that’s my mistake.  There is a long, sordid history of objectification and exploitation of female characters in comic books, and this book does not shy away from that fact.

Nicholson has written a well-researched historical guide of influential female characters throughout the medium’s evolution.  She also provides nice insight and a funny sense of humor.  As my daughter ages, I will be more than happy to let her look through this book in order to understand the journey of the female comic book character as well as the growth of the industry.  In regards to females, comic books have come a long, long way, though there is still room to grow.

I am heartened that the final chapter, the 2010s, showcase some outstanding characters who are self-reliant, intelligent, strong, full of story, and largely free of being sexualized.  As a father of two little girls, I pray this is indicative of a change in societal views as well.

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

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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