Batman: White Knight by Sean Murphy – A Graphic Novel Review

I’ve read a lot of Batman stories in my day, but I’ve never experienced anything quite like Batman: White Knight.

Published under the DC: Black Label imprint aimed at more mature audiences, Batman: White Knight is a stand-alone collection that exists outside of regular Batman continuity.  Because of this, anything can happen.  Even so, for a book that is disconnected to the monthly Batman stories, it is oddly beholden to them as well as to the cartoons, video games, and movies.  More on that in a moment …

White Knight embraces a simple premise — What if Joker became good and Batman turned evil?  Now, the story is not quite that simple, but that’s the central concept.  Sean Murphy dives deeply into that idea while also exploring familial bonds, corrupt politics, abusive relationships, and mental health.  Like I said, this book distinctively examines content in a way that is unrivaled.

However, even though the story kept me guessing, certain aspects struck me as obviously recognizable.  For example, White Knight pays homage to the classic animated series, all of the Batman movies, the old live-action TV show, the comic books, and even the various Batman video games.  It’s as though parts of all of that happened in this Batman’s past, but in a way that we can’t fully understand.

Make no mistake, however, Murphy’s depiction of Batman and Joker, as well as their supporting cast, is what makes this book so enticing.  This is a Batman even more unhinged than in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.  This is a Joker unusually sane.  This is a Harley Quinn gloriously empowered.  This is a Commissioner Gordon realistically compromised.  This is a Gotham City genuinely broken by its atypical combination of criminals and vigilantes.  And though the book is gritty, it’s also not afraid to be bombastic.  Murphy offers an ending that seems like something out of The Fast and the Furious — and I mean that as a compliment.

Finally, Murphy is the writer and artist on this title, so I wanted to address his line work.  His Batman is feral, intimidating, and a force of nature.  Murphy tweaked the costume just a bit, but it’s his use of shadows and shading that really makes his panels pop.  Speaking of costumes, I love the slight alterations Murphy made to everyone’s look in this book.  You’ll know who’s who, don’t worry about that.  The changes he made were simultaneously appropriate and dynamic.

If you’re a Batman fan but feel like you’ve seen it all, give White Knight a chance.  It will strike you as extraordinary.

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

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Doctor Aphra: Remastered (Volume 3) – A Book Review

I still maintain that Doctor Aphra is one of the greatest additions to the Star Wars mythology in recent years, but this volume confirms my fear about the character–she cannot solely carry her own title.

This installment tries to spice things up a bit by making Doctor Aphra beholden to Triple-Zero, the murderous entity in the guise of a protocol droid.  Triple-Zero sends Aphra on a series of missions in which she must lead a group of mercenaries.  There are some interesting asides as Aphra develops a relationship with Magna Tolvan, the Imperial Officer.  Hera Syndulla also makes a substantial appearance, which was super cool to see.  But in the end, much of it felt forced to me.

The problem is that Doctor Aphra works best as a foil to, well, everyone else.  I love it when she pops into a scene, plays havoc with everyone and everything, and then leaves.  She has the luxury of being an agent of chaos.  She is naughty, hilarious, greedy, and lovable.  But in a title featuring her, she doesn’t have that advantage.  She has to carry every episode from month to month.  The writers seem obligated to reveal every little detail about her, and this is diluting the character.

In my opinion, Doctor Aphra has lost her “hook.”  She had it when she appeared in Darth Vader.  We knew just enough about her and what she was about and we (obviously) loved her.  Unfortunately, we loved her so much that they kept giving us more in the form of her own book.

I don’t know exactly how they can fix this issue, and I fully confess that this may be my issue alone.  Perhaps everyone else is loving the direction of the book and character.  I think I would like to see the book function as an ongoing gag on how Aphra swindles everyone she meets, but we never get the stories from her perspective.  Each arc would be narrated by her victims.  That would afford her the ability to maintain her mystique and “devil-may-care” persona.  It would take a great deal of creativity to constantly come up with stories where Aphra outsmarts everyone while revealing virtually nothing about herself, but I think that would maximize her potential.

Doctor Aphra does have a great deal of potential, by the way.  Clearly, she has connected with fandom.  I’m concerned that she’s being overexposed, though, and that we’re learning too much about her too quickly.  I adore this character and don’t want her to fade out of everyone’s interest.

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

Boxers by Gene Luen Yang – A Book Review

After teaching American Born Chinese for several years, I finally decided my (then) nine-year-old could handle it last fall.  She loved it, so when Gene Luen Yang came to our local library, we had to pay him a visit.  Unbelievably, we got there before anyone else and snagged a front row seat.  Mr. Yang was already there and held a wonderful conversation with my daughter.  He is truly an incredibly nice man and obviously a father of young children.

Because he made such a great impression on her, my daughter wanted to read everything by Gene Luen Yang.  She enjoyed Secret Coders, so I next grabbed her both Boxers and Saints as well.  Admittedly, I didn’t know much about either book.

She read them and made a few comments about them being a little bloody, then asked me to read them, too.  How could I say no?  I’m a fan of the author as well.

My daughter was right–these are bloody, violent books!  However, they are also very, very good.

Boxers takes place between 1894 and 1900.  Historically speaking, it deals with the Chinese uprising against Western invaders as well as Christian missionaries.  This all actually happened.

Yang focuses on Bao, a young man whose family, friends, and village has suffered at the hands of foreign influences and even Christians.  They are marginalized, bullied, and even killed for not conforming to outside forces.  Bao loves Chinese opera, specifically the many gods and goddesses featured therein.  As you know from American Born Chinese, Yang is particularly talented at infusing Chinese mythology into his stories.  Of course, in the case of Bao, these are not myths.  These gods and goddesses are reality, and he is soon able to harness their power.  He teaches others to harness their power as well, and this is the foundation of their strength against the bigger, better armed invaders that they confront.

The book culminates in the city of Peking.  There Bao must make his most difficult of decisions and face his ultimate challenge.

Boxers is a violent, complex book.  While I don’t regret letting my (then) nine-year-old read it, I should have done a little research and provided a bit more guidance as she devoured it.  It presents the very ugly, brutal side of colonialism and even Christian evangelism.  However, it also brilliantly depicts Bao compromising his “gut” feelings of right and wrong versus what he thinks is best for his nation.  Bao kills innocent Christian women and children in this book, but from his perspective, they are not innocent.  They are foreign devils trying to destroy his culture and people.

Yang himself is a Christian, so please don’t get on his case about this.  He’s depicting a character rooted in historical events and using him to explore obvious complexities that actually occurred.  The Chinese who did not conform were beaten and killed mercilessly.  The Boxers did the same to their adversaries.

Rest assured, Yang does not deal with any of this lightly.  He clearly put a lot of thought into how he wanted to execute this story.  I found it thoughtful, tasteful, and fair in relation to historical precedent.

I will admit, though, because of Yang’s drawing style, the violence jarred me.  This would have been a very different book by any other artist.  While there is blood, head shots, beatings, and even mass murder, Yang doesn’t make any of it gratuitous.  At the same time, though, he also doesn’t shy away from what’s happening.  At one point, Bao decides to burn a church with Christians inside of it.  Yang doesn’t soften this horrific event, but he also doesn’t sensationalize it.

As you can tell, Boxers deeply resonated with me.  I completely recommend it.  I do think it’s okay for children, but I would urge you to guide them through it (unlike what I did).  There is much to be learned from the book, to be sure.

I’ll review Boxers‘ accompanying title, Saints, soon!

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

East of West: Volume 7 by Hickman and Dragotta

East of West continues to be one of the most satisfying series that I’m following.  Even with the seventh volume, Jonathan Hickman engages the reader with innovative plot development and surprising character development.  I never know what’s coming next with this series, and that’s about the highest compliment that I can pay.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, the idea is that … I can’t even.  It’s far too complicated.  Just pick up volume one and you’ll catch on quickly enough.  Just know it’s a dazzling blend of fantasy, western, science fiction, military, alternate history, samurai, and religion.

Hickman utilizes an ever growing cast with grace and nuance — everyone gets a moment to shine in this series.  Furthermore, Hickman seems to know exactly where he’s going at all times.  At no point during this series have I felt as though Hickman is floundering — he never seems lost.  Every issue counts with this series.  Every scene serves a purpose.  There is no wasted time.  That’s rare for a title that has lasted as long as East of West.

Of course, as good as the writing is, East of West would not be the same without Nick Dragotta.  This artist has put a particular stamp on this book; he’s given it an inimitable style.  He makes everyone one and everything in this series look cool.  That’s a great characteristic for a comic as eclectic as this.  Though the term is overused, his art is absolutely epic in nature.

Of particular note regarding Volume 7 — several major players die (or seem to, at least).  Wolf steps to the forefront.  Crow continues to steal every panel in which she appears.  Doma gets the girl.  Oh, and Archibald Chamberlain reveals a very special talent.

When people ask me what current comic book series is a must-read, East of West is always at the top of my recommended reading list.  I see no reason why that will change anytime soon as its excellence continues.

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(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!)

Wonder Woman: Earth One by Grant Morrison – A Book Review

Grant Morrison is a luminary in the comic book industry.  He has earned every bit of adulation he has acquired over the years.  He is incredibly imaginative and fearless.  Frankly, though, I’ve always found him to be better at big ideas than actual execution.  In past books I’ve read, the concept is always amazing, yet the dialogue and pacing tend to fizzle out near the midway point and lose focus for the remainder of the story.

Wonder Woman: Earth One struck me as odd, consequently, because it suffered from the exact opposite issue.

Before we begin, though, it may be helpful to note that Earth One is a dimension within the DC Multiverse that essentially takes place in the wold as we know it.  Thus far, only Superman, Batman, and the Teen Titans have appeared on Earth One.  It is generally a place where the plots are a little more gritty and the heroes a little more flawed.

So I assumed Morrison would go bonkers with all of Greek mythology at his disposal.  I figured he’d take an entirely new angle and regale us with a Wonder Woman never before seen.  He would blow our minds with Greek power cosmic and postmodernist Amazonian idealism.

In fact, none of that happened.  He shook up the status quo a bit by making Steve Trevor black.  This ultimately had no real bearing on the character.  He also unequivocally identified the Amazons as lesbians, which, if you think about it long enough, would seem to make total sense.  He assigned a new father to Wonder Woman as a driving force of the plot, but, frankly, it wasn’t quite as notable as what Brian Azzarello already did with Wonder Woman’s regular DC title.  In other words, it’s fairly bland by Morrison’s standards.  Structurally, it stands up well.  The beginning, middle, and end all work well together with no instances of rambling or wandering.

With all that being said, it’s not a bad story.  It’s just not as original, thought-provoking, or creative as I expected from Grant Morrison.

The bright spot of the book is certainly Yanick Paquette’s beautiful drawings.  His art is streamlined and graceful.  He delivers an Amazon society that is both classical and technologically innovative.  His Amazonian women are powerful and elegant.  Like Cliff Chang, Paquette’s Wonder Woman is a regal warrior brimming with intelligence, confidence, and compassion.  It’s all right there, on her face.

But the star, the single person who makes Wonder Woman: Earth One a true work of art, is Nathan Fairbairn.  I’ve often said that a bad colorist can ruin a well drawn book, and a good colorist can make a poorly rendered book look amazing.  Fairbairn takes a wonderfully drawn book and amplifies it by tenfold.  His colors are bold without being distracting.  They make the drawings pop off the page.  They are an absolute pleasure to perceive.  I won’t pretend to understand the technical aspects of coloring, but I know great colors when I see them.  Fairbairn executed his craft masterfully in this book.

If you’re a Wonder Woman fan, I think you’ll find things to appreciate in this book — certainly the art and colors are worth the price tag alone.  It’s not the most bombastic of Morrison’s work, but it is one of his most direct and concisely delivered.

 

Star Wars: Vader Down – A Book Review

This is probably the coolest Darth Vader story I’ve ever experienced, and that’s no small statement.

The first crossover between Marvel’s Darth Vader and Star Wars comic book series, Vader Down collects the entire tale as Darth Vader crash lands on the Rebel Alliance’s new planetary base.  He hunts Luke Skywalker, the boy who humiliated Vader by destroying the Death Star.  However, though he’s told no one, Vader has learned that the rebel hero is also his son.  How exactly did Vader crash land on this planet?  I won’t spoil it for you, but it involves Luke Skywalker, and it is totally in keeping with the Skywalker tradition of adventurism.

What makes this graphic novel so utterly cool is that Darth Vader literally fights an entire battalion of rebel soldiers on his own.  He is surrounded by dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of enemy combatants and he doesn’t even flinch.  This is the Darth Vader you’ve always wanted to see, trust me.  I’ve never felt so good about rooting for the bad guy!

And while this prolonged conflict is worth the price of the book alone, there is much more going on in it besides Vader’s impossible fight.  Luke must battle a murderous protocol droid as well as his astromech partner who is somehow even more bloodthirsty.  Both are in service to Vader, by the way.  The two droids are accompanied by Dr. Aphra, a standout character new to the mythos and also dedicated to Vader’s cause.  She tussles with Han Solo, and you’ll love the steps they take to try to defeat each other.  Finally, Princess Leia ultimately faces down Vader herself; neither realize the implications of their confrontation.

This book is nonstop action with great sequences that will delight any Star Wars fan.  Though it features different artists due to the nature of the crossover, the pencils, inks, and colors are beautiful to behold.  Both writers capture that distinct Star Wars humor, deliver an epic story, and keep each and every character true to their roots.

I have thoroughly enjoyed both the Star Wars and Darth Vader comic book series, and this crossover between the two should be considered an instant classic.