Y: The Last Man: Whys and Wherefores by Brian K. Vaughan – A Graphic Novel Review

This final installment to the Y: The Last Man series left me both unsatisfied and disappointed.

Y: The Last Man started out as a fantastic series.  It was a high concept with excellent characterization and an epic, fascinating plot.

But, as the series wore on, it lost steam.  I assumed this was the lull before the storm; that Vaughan slowed things down a bit so he could hit us hard for the ultimate chapter.

He didn’t.

Whys and Wherefores should have been monumental.  Instead, it felt to this fan as though Vaughan simply went through the motions of getting all the plots tidied up and packed away.  When Beth and Yorick reunited, a moment for which we’d literally waited years, it lacked any real emotional intensity.  Agent 355’s final fate cheated both the character and her characterization.  Alter’s motivation turned out to be a cliché.  The only truly authentic scene involved Yorick and Ampersand, his pet monkey, both of whom are male.

Which leads me to an important distinction.  Y: The Last Man, while initially very good, also originally focused mostly upon Yorick.  As Vaughan spread out his cast of characters, most of whom are obviously women, the title lost some of its magic.  I applaud Vaughan for undertaking such a mammoth challenge: any man attempting to write an entire series about how women would remake the earth without men is either supremely confident or a little crazy.  But sadly, as the series wore on, his women felt less and less genuine and more like a male’s excuse for including lesbianism and girl-on-girl violence.  In other words, they seemed to become objectified, which is the antithesis of how the series started.  For the record, I would be supremely interested to hear a woman’s take on this series.

All in all, Y: The Last Man ended with a whimper.  Its characters were swindled out of what should have been a majestic goodbye, and its readers were left without much to celebrate or commiserate.  It simply read like an ending rather than a finale.

Justice Society of America: Thy Kingdom Come (Part I) – A Graphic Novel Review

I’ve always enjoyed JSA, mostly because Geoff Johns has made a point to keep one foot in the past with the title while keeping the other foot firmly planted in the future.

With the Justice Society of America re-launch, the team has a new mission statement of making sure the world has better heroes, and so they are first tracking down legacy heroes and training them to deserve the mantle they’ve assumed.

Thy Kingdom Come is particularly fascinating because it reintroduces Superman from Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come series.  In expert juxtaposition, Johns makes a point that while the Earth-2 Superman thought Earth-1’s heroes weren’t heroic enough, the Kingdom Come Superman finds Earth-1’s (New Earth’s) heroes inspiring and invigorating.  Any writer will tell you that good writing means making use of unusual perspectives, and Johns does just this with KC Superman.

Furthermore, I love the KC Superman because he has an edge to him.  He’s damaged goods.  After all, he watched his world’s heroes demean and destroy themselves and did nothing until the (relatively) very end.  He wants a fresh start as well, a chance at redemption, and that makes him very compelling.

But among such heavy themes and dangerous adventures, Johns also brings about quite a bit of joyfulness.  Boxing matches between Wildcat and his son, fundraising at the local firehouse, and ski trips are just part of what makes this team such a delight to follow. 

Johns also mixes established, semi-established, and brand new characters in this book and gives each a chance to shine in an appealing and engaging manner.  To have characters over half-a-century old such as Flash and Green Lantern interacting with brand new legacy characters such as Wildcat II, Cyclone, and Citizen Steel brings an unpredictability that is missing in several other DC titles.  Throw in semi-established characters using familiar names like Hourman, Liberty Belle, and Starman, and you’ve got something exciting, amusing, and captivating.

For me, Justice Society of America continues to be a must-read and I really look forward to where the title is heading with its heavy referencing to Kingdom Come and multiple-subplots.

The New Avengers, Vol. 6: Revolution – A Graphic Novel Review

I really enjoyed this volume of New Avengers. The title gets a bit of a shake-up after the events of Civil War with a revamped, underground Avengers team featuring a black-suited Spider-Man, Luke Cage, Wolverine, Spider-Woman and the welcomed additions of Iron Fist, Dr. Strange and Ronin (a much-missed old friend wearing new duds).

The volume begins with beautifully rendered art by personal-favorite Alex Maleev. (Wonderful to see Bendis and Maleev together again!) I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but this tale in particular focuses on a long-missing Avenger and his search for a former teammate. Consequently, he doesn’t quite find what he’s expecting. Writer Brian Michael Bendis delivers a simplistic story invoking powerful characterization and potent emotion.

The rest of the volume features art by Leinil Yu and the new New Avengers. Yu’s art is a conundrum for me. It’s not particularly pleasing to the eye, yet it is absolutely charismatic and captivating. Yu is adept at delivering interesting angles and frames while cleanly progressing the story. I find myself studying each and every one of his drawings perhaps more than any other comic book artist in recent memory.

I’d also like to congratulate Brian Michael Bendis. He obviously wrote Revolution with Civil War and the then-upcoming Secret Invasion in mind, and so he’s careful to catch the reader up while planting seeds for the future. However, this is not what especially impressed me. What did impress me was the fact that Bendis played with flashbacks and perspective in order to deliver the whole of Revolution. Instead of giving us a linear story playing out from issue to issue, he took an artistic approach and allowed the reader to bridge some gaps and become mentally involved in deciphering the plot. Don’t get me wrong, even with the interesting technique, it’s a pretty straightforward story, but such added touches go a long way in satisfying me.

Overall, with the eye-catching art, inspired story-telling, and new additions to the team, New Avengers: Revolution was a very good experience.

The Death of Captain America: Volume I – A Graphic Novel Review

I’m a guy who waits for the collected editions of my favorite comic books, so my knowledge of the death of Steve Rogers arrived long before I read the actual volume in which it occurred. And you want to know something? It didn’t lessen the impact one iota.

This is because Ed Brubaker’s Captain America is masterful. This is not a title looking to shock you in one-and-done scenarios, this is a title where each issue builds off the prior and the author clearly has an epic plot in mind. The story progresses organically and logically.

Collecting issues #25-30, Steve Rogers dies in the first installment and then his supporting characters take center stage. Brubaker gives us a level of richness and complexity with Tony Stark, Sharon Carter, the Falcon, Nick Fury, the Black Widow, and Bucky Barnes rarely seen in comic books. The fact he keeps Captain America just as intriguing and captivating without Captain America is proof enough as to why this man won the Eisner award.

Now we all know who the current Captain America is, and this volume, as well as the preceding issues of this series, really sets up the events leading to Barnes donning the Captain America mask. It makes total sense and it didn’t feel at all forced.

In fact, I’d like to briefly congratulate Brubaker for reinserting Barnes into the Marvel Universe in a seamless, rational, and consistent manner. Unlike another once-thought-dead partner, Barnes has been handled with care and intelligence.

Furthermore, Steve Epting’s art is the perfect compliment to Brubaker’s realism. While cinematic in execution, Epting delivers characters and action that are believable yet extraordinary. His angles and layouts please the eye while strengthening the overall story.

Brubaker’s Captain America has been a delightful and unpredictable joy from the get-go, and I look forward to seeing where he takes us next!

Daredevil: Hell To Pay, Vol. 1 – A Graphic Novel Review

If you’ve been reading Daredevil for any length of time, you know Matt Murdock’s life has been moving pretty fast and furious for literally years. I like this volume in particular because it gives the audience a chance to recalibrate and get a feel for where Murdock has been and where he’s going.

Overall, this volume works to reestablish Murdock’s relationship with his wife, Milla. Milla’s been in this book for some time, but with everything else going on it was easy to put her on the backburner. Writer Ed Brubaker uses the issues comprising this volume to get everyone on the same page about Matt and Milla’s complex relationship as well as set up some conflict involving the two.

It’s not all romance, though. Brubaker also has a new enemy (sort of) for Daredevil to combat, one who is going to give the Marvel Universe as a whole some fits. Before we discover this villain, though, Daredevil must get to the bottom of the Gladiator’s atypical return to mindless violence.

The art by Michael Lark fits the tone of the book perfectly with a great mix of super heroics and crime noir. And the original covers by Marko Djurdjevic are literally breathtaking.

In summation, this volume was largely a chance to reacquaint the readers with Daredevil’s personal life as well as set up some major conflict to come, but at no time did it feel like “filler” material. Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark continue to make Daredevil a must read.

Ex Machina, Vol. 6: Power Down – A Graphic Novel Review

Ex Machina is one of those titles that should never work in the comic book medium. Former and short-lived superhero abandons his super-persona to become mayor of New York. And that happens before the start of the series. Let’s be honest, if anyone but writer Vaughan and Harris were involved, this series simply wouldn’t have worked.

Ex Machina: Power Down is a return to greatness for the creative duo. The storyline deals with Mayor Hundred struggling against a city-wide power outage just as a mysterious visitor takes his mother hostage in order to deliver Hundred an important message. That message has fascinated me and worked expertly as a bit of foreshadowing. In addition, as always, we are given flashbacks to Hundred’s involvement with 9/11 as well as some back-story during his training days.

The Ex Machina series started with a bang, utterly captivating me with every panel. However, the last storyline in particular focused a little too much on Hundred’s mayoral duties and not quite enough on the more fantastic elements of the series. Power Down is back to what makes Ex Machina work best–an equal blend of the realistic world of politics and the surreal world of super heroics.

Furthermore, let’s not forget about the art! Harris’ artwork is extraordinary and this series simply wouldn’t be as enjoyable as it is without him. He gets better with every issue he draws, and he was excellent to begin with! Moreover, Mettler, the often-ignored colorist, is truly responsible for giving this book in particular much of its flavor. The colors demand your attention in such an unassuming yet powerful manner; it’s astounding.

Finally, Power Down also offers a “special features” section in the back of the book with some background information given by both Vaughan and Harris. Very fun stuff if you’re into the production aspect of the book.

Ex Machina is a must-read series for all lovers of literature.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier – A Graphic Novel Review

I’ll never forget when I first read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I knew Alan Moore was a god among men in the comic book world, but even I wasn’t prepared for the majesty of his storytelling, the potency of his intelligence, or the power of his inspirational imagination.

Thus, when news surfaced that a new League adventure called Black Dossier was in the works, I could not wait–COULD NOT WAIT–until its release.

Finally, after more than a few delays, it was unbound, and while I won’t say I’m disappointed in it, I don’t love it as I did the other two League volumes. That being said, I respect Moore all the … more … for Black Dossier.

Alan Moore is not afraid to create art on his terms, and his terms alone. While Black Dossier does not have the charismatic story or sheer excitement of its predecessors, it absolutely pushes the limits as to what has traditionally been accepted in comic books the last several decades.

For example, Moore has said for quite a while he’d like to write a comic that made use of 3D glasses, and so Black Dossier does (no worries–glasses included). There are postcards, comic strips (like in the newspapers), excerpts from single spaced files with handwritten notes upon them, unreleased editions of works written by popular authors or featuring well-known characters, and pamphlets. Seventy-percent of this book literally duplicates the innards of a dossier. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Consequently, I feel I also must comment on the exorbitant amount of nudity in this book. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has always been a book for mature readers and on par with an R-rated movie. Like every other aspect of Black Dossier, Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill challenge conventions, and I admire them for that. However, even I found the level of nudity gratuitous. For some characters, the nudity made perfect sense when looked upon in a historical light (of which Moore is an aficionado), but at times it seemed the nudity was thrown in for simple orneriness. In other words, this is probably not a book you’ll want your children to get hold of. And if they’re unfamiliar with Alan Moore and his rebellious inclinations, I also wouldn’t expose it to your parents, husbands, wives, boyfriends, or girlfriends.

Even so, because of the willingness of author Moore and artist O’Neill to put forth so much effort into an undeniable work of originality and fearlessness, they earned my unending respect. However, I’d be lying if I said the nontraditional embellishments were enthralling. True, they work in a roundabout way to complete the overall story, but in the end, taken as a whole, the story wasn’t terribly interesting, and the accompaniments served as an impediment to an already deficient plot. My disappointment originated from the impression that the plot served the concept, rather than the concept serving the plot.

As an artist, I absolutely loved the boundaries Black Dossier annihilated and believe Moore and O’Neill should be looked upon as artistic liberators. As a reader, though, I found Black Dossier dull and plodding.

Fables, Vol. 9: Sons of Empire – A Graphic Novel Review

What can I say? Fables continues to be the best comic book series out there–period. Sons of Empire maintains the excellent status quo by setting up a major storyline to come, giving us an interesting Christmas tale, and further exploring the relationship between fathers and sons. Most entertaining, though, is a series of “short stories” throughout the volume that fill in some gaps on lesser characters and events.

Really, if you’re not reading Fables, you’re missing out on the best series going.

Y: The Last Man: Motherland – A Graphic Novel Review

In case you’re not familiar with Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man, the premise is that a catastrophic plague has wiped every man on the planet but one, Yorick Brown. For an inexplicable reason, Yorick and his pet monkey, Ampersand, were spared. Now Yorick desperately wants to traverse a planet in chaos as women work to establish order once more so that he can reunite with his girlfriend. He travels with Agent 355, who has been charged with protecting Yorick, and the scientist Allison Mann, who tirelessly works to determine what made Yorick and Ampersand different from anything else with the Y chromosome.

Motherland is the ninth volume in this graphic novel series. When Y first started, it was unlike anything else I’d ever read in comic books. Action-packed with a real sense of plot and purpose, Vaughan broke barriers with every installment. However, on this volume, I feel things are starting to drag out a bit. Still an enjoyable read, but it’s definitely treading water compared to earlier volumes.

But, be that as it may, I have every faith in the world that Vaughan will regain steam as he comes to the conclusion of this series. It was understood from the get go that this was a finite title, and I really think it will be a joy to read from start to finish once it’s concluded.

For those of you unfamiliar with Brian K. Vaughan, he is a master storyteller in the world of comic books, but he’s also the guy they brought in to get the television show LOST back on track when it waned a bit last season. Did you notice a discernable improvement in LOST towards the end of last season? You can thank BKV for that.

Please realize that Y is not your mainstream comic book such as Superman or Batman. It is a comic book, yes, but it is more like the HBO of the comic book world. There is adult language at times and adult themes. However, if you’ve ever been interested in seeing sequential art at its best, give Y a try.

Preacher, Volume I: Gone To Texas – A Graphic Novel Review

This is the first volume in a nine volume series collecting the acclaimed Vertigo series. For those of you who don’t know, Vertigo is a division of DC Comics, those folks who bring you Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. However, Vertigo is certainly not for kids, typically dealing with very mature subject matter and adult language. Think of it as the HBO of the comic book world.

That said, I’ve been trying to catch up on those Vertigo titles that have won numerous awards. Preacher was a title I’d never read but kept hearing good things about, so I figured I should give it a try. It’s written by Garth Ennis and primarily drawn by Steve Dillon.

You know how you’ll be eating out with a friend and they’ll tell you their food tastes horrible, then ask you to taste it, and you actually do because you have a morbid curiosity as to how bad it actually tastes? That’s Preacher.

As far as I can gather from the first volume, Preacher focuses on a man of the cloth who is empowered with a force from Heaven. Unfortunately, this preacher was losing his faith and when he finds out that God has deserted his post, he means to confront the Big Man on the matter using the same power that escaped Heaven and made its home within the wayward preacher. Helping him with his quest are his ex-girlfriend, Tulip, and an Irish vampire named Cassidy. How does an Irish vampire fit into all this? No idea.

I’m a little mixed-up with this series, because while I found it offensive on almost every conceivable level, I couldn’t put it down. I’m a big proponent of free speech, but literally almost every other word in this volume was profanity. It got kind of old. Also, the violence was rampant, and after several pages in a row of people having body parts blown off, I got feeling a little wearied. However, like a car wreck, I couldn’t look away.

So did I like it or not? I kind of liked it, but I’m ashamed to admit that. I don’t plan on reading it anymore, though, because I want to save my money and pick up other Vertigo titles that have a little more artistic integrity. I will grant Ennis this–he created some very memorable characters.