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!)

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Doctor Aphra: Volume 1 by Kieron Gillen and Kev Walker – A Book Review

First appearing in Darth Vader, Doctor Aphra quickly became a personal favorite of mine.  In fact, along with Rey and Ahsoka Tano, I’d say she’s one of the most significant Star Wars characters to appear within the last ten years.

Consequently, because she regularly stole the spotlight in Darth Vader and even Star Wars, Marvel gave the good doctor her own series.

If you’re unfamiliar with Doctor Aphra, she is amoral, brilliant, and snarky as can be.  An archaeologist by trade, Aphra is not bound by such things as decency and preserving life.  She does what it takes, usually with a smile on her face.  Make no mistake, though — she is not insane.  She’s perhaps a sociopath, but of the really charming sort.

The beginning of this volume, titled Aphra, gets us off to the perfect start.  The first several pages succinctly establish Aphra’s character.  We immediately meet her hilarious supporting cast: the murderous astromech droid designated BT-1, the protocol droid specializing in torture named Triple 0, and the seriously disgruntled Wookie called Black Krrsantan.  Why does such a delinquent crew tolerate one another?  You’ll have to read the book to find out.

However, soon enough, Aphra became less enjoyable for me.  I hesitated to write this review for a few weeks because I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, and then, last night, it hit me.

Doctor Aphra had a really tragic father figure in Darth Vader.  Their bond, though completely toxic, also had an element of fun in that you could tell, somewhere deep within their crooked souls, they actually cared for one another in a strange familial aspect.  Since we know Darth Vader one day will actually live up to his role as a father, it proved ironically endearing to watch him with Aphra.

I feel that Aprha takes a serious misstep when it introduces her actual birth father.  After such a long story arc with Vader, it struck me as far too soon to put Aphra back in this role.  Yes, she is clearly her father’s better and often puts him in his place, which was an interesting juxtaposition with what we’ve seen previously, but by the book’s end you realize she does care for her father, just as you realize Vader cared for her.  In my mind, this plot would have worked far better further down the road after we got to see more of Doctor Aphra as character devoid of any paternal influence.

In fact, I think Doctor Aphra shines best in Star Wars: Rebel Jail.  In that volume, Aprha is mostly interacting with Princess Leia and Sana Starros (who also has great potential).  These three women are all about the same age and have differing perspectives on life, priorities, and laws.  It was an absolute blast to read their story when forced to work together.

I’d hoped that we’d get more of that sort of thing with Doctor Aphra’s first solo outing.  I really wanted to see her fully in charge of her adventure without, frankly, any sort of patriarchal influence.  I will, of course, continue to read Doctor Aphra, by no means is this volume a deal-breaker.  She’s an incredibly charismatic character who can fit into virtually any spot of the Star Wars universe, and I can’t wait to see her further cement her place in the vast mythology.

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

Briggs Land by Brian Wood & Mack Chater – A Book Review

I’ve never been disappointed in a Brian Wood book, so when I ran across Briggs Land: State of Grace (Volume 1), I knew I had to check it out.  I’m so glad I did.

The premise is perhaps as relevant as ever in that Briggs Land is a self-proclaimed sovereign nation within the United States.  It has existed since the Civil War, and it’s been a place anyone can go who wants to live an unfettered life.  However, that simple life grew more complex as the years passed, and Briggs Land is now a magnet for extremism, white supremacy, corruption, and domestic abusers.

The current patriarch, Jim Briggs, has been incarcerated for years, but that hasn’t stopped him from ruling Briggs Land with an iron fist.  Yet, his wife, Grace, suspects he means to betray their people, and she can’t allow that.  Grace, who married Jim as a teenager, takes control of Briggs Land, and virtually no one is happy about it.  She must contend with her murderous husband, her conniving grown sons, her treacherous daughters-in-law, her unpredictable citizens, and even the federal government.  But trust me, if anyone can bend Briggs Land to her will, it’s this woman.

Of course, as a graphic novel, I would be remiss to ignore Mack Chater’s artwork.  Chater’s talent is uniquely suited to Briggs Land.  It’s a little rough, yet incredibly detailed and well rendered.  It fits the tone of this book perfectly, as well as the characters themselves.  I’m not sure I’d like this style in a Superman book, but this is nothing like a Superman comic.  Now that I’ve experienced the first volume, I can’t imagine anyone else drawing this title.  It’s a perfect match.

This is a deeply political book featuring violent, manipulative characters.  In fact, I can’t say anyone is particularly innocent, especially the protagonist, Grace Briggs.  However, Grace does have a sense of justice deep within her, but it’s still not apparent how universal that justice is.  She is incredibly helpful to some in need, but I’m not convinced her charity is available to all.

Though the book may not sound like a must-read, believe me when I say it is a captivating story delivered with excellent pacing.  Brian Wood is a master at using story to subtly explore contemporary political and societal issues.  I quickly found myself engaged with the characters and utterly drawn into the unfolding plot.  I completely recommend Briggs Land.

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

Manifest Destiny: Sasquatch by Dingess and Roberts

This is one of my favorite ongoing series, and Volume 4 entitled Sasquatch is no exception to the previously established excellence!

We finally discover exactly how President Jefferson procured the skull of the Sasquatch which served as the impetus for Lewis and Clark’s true mission westward.  That epiphany alone makes this book completely worth the cover price!

This collection is divided into two story lines.  The first follows Captain Helm and his expedition as they traveled west before Lewis and Clark.  They soon encounter the brutal winter as well as the enigmatic Sasquatch.  Helm is bedeviled by an otherworldly entity, and it’s not Bigfoot.  If you’ve been reading the series, you know the mysterious arches often serve as a signpost to the supernatural.  Helm is drawn to the source of those arches, and it’s not for the faint of heart.

The other story line picks up with Lewis and Clark.  They are literally following in Helm’s footsteps and reaping what he has sown.  That’s not a good thing.  Death awaits them at every turn, and it’s not always from the things that go bump in the night.

As always, Matthew Roberts’ art is magnificent.  This title always flirts a bit with the horror genre, and Roberts’ definitely got to display his special talent for all things gory.  Seriously, this collection is particularly gross.  I mean that as a total compliment.

Chris Dingess continues to deliver a really tight plot that is beginning to align in ways I never expected.  His dialogue and characterization is consistent, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call this title “historical fiction,” he certainly did his research regarding Lewis, Clark, Sacagawea and their seminal journey.

Manifest Destiny is exciting, well-written, and expertly drawn with phenomenal color.  I absolutely recommend this title.  You’ll never look at Lewis and Clark the same!

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

Locke & Key: Small World by Hill and Rodriguez – A Book Review

Locke & Key proved itself a unique, must-read series years ago.  Written by Joe Hill and primarily drawn by Gabriel Rodriguez, the series had a very clear beginning, middle, and end.  It also concluded on a good note, which is not always an easy feat to accomplish.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, it follows the story of the Lockes, three siblings (high school aged and younger) and their mother. They move to the Locke family mansion after their father is murdered. This is the house their father grew up in, and it is full of mystery, horror, and paranormal keys that impart special abilities, as they soon discover.

Small World takes place long before the regular series.  It features an earlier Locke family with what they call the Small World Key.  It can put you into a doll house, take you out of a doll house, or any combination thereof.  This story features a spider that accidentally gets enlarged and set loose upon the family in their mansion.

The art is exquisite, as always, and the story is fine.  Unfortunately, this slim hardcover delivers an incredibly short tale.  The rest of the book is comprised of interviews, alternative covers, guest artists, notes, and the original script.

I won’t lie – considering that this book retails at $14.99, I felt very cheated.  I do admit that I bought it without researching the page length, which happens to be 24.  I did not even think about what the “Deluxe Edition” may mean.  Truthfully, I was unaware a single issue format had previously been released.  But, given the price and the fact that it’s a hardcover, I expected a book more consistent with those qualities.  I saw a new Locke & Key book and I bought it out of sheer loyalty.

The brief story shocked me in relation to its high price, and this ultimately soured me on the book.  As a result, I cannot recommend purchasing Locke & Key: Small World.  I’d pick it up at your local library instead.

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

Patience by Daniel Clowey

I have to admit that when NPR recommended this graphic novel, it did not seem to be something I’d enjoy.  If I’m being completely honest, I judged it by the cover, and the cover did not speak to me.

However, I found myself in a situation in which I had nothing else available to read, and so I gave it a shot.  The art immediately struck me as oversimplified.  Furthermore, the characters were initially completely unlikable while also making ample use of the “f” word.  The colors were far too bold.  In other words, it did not immediately win me over.

In the beginning, the story focuses on two adults—Patience and Jack.  They are truly in love with one another, but both are generally unsuccessful, uncouth, and somewhat rough around the edges.  Neither has made great choices in life; Patience has suffered indignation throughout her past; Jack has virtually no motivation.

Soon enough, Patience discovers she’s pregnant.  Both are elated, but both are also terrified.  They recognize the fact that they are not especially qualified to be parents, but they strive to forge ahead nonetheless.

But then Jack comes home from work to discover Patience has been murdered.

Of course, the authorities pin it on him, but he is eventually found innocent.  Jack is devastated.  His greatest loves—Patience and the unborn child—have been ripped away from him and cut out of his life.  He now has motivation.

The book next skips ahead several decades and we find Jack still searching desperately to find Patience’s killer.  Technology has evolved exponentially while society seems to have devolved.  We even have a few folks who don’t look entirely human.  Jack eventually gains the capability to time travel, and that’s when the book gets really interesting.

I won’t spoil the rest of the graphic novel, but Clowes delivers a story that kept me guessing and impressed me with its originality.  I won’t lie to you—I thought I had the ending all figured out, but Clowes managed to surprise me nonetheless.

This is a time travel story, with Jack jumping around quite a bit, and Clowes meticulously endeavors to make every event consequential to the overall plot.  Everything plays a role in this story—every action has a reaction.  That result may not be immediate, but it invariably happens.  I love the commitment to tight storytelling, I love the attention Clowes pays to time travel’s ramifications, and I love that, in the end, his unlikable characters grow into people for whom I deeply care.  Clowes also forced me to realize that they were actually the same all along—I am alone at fault for misjudging them.

On that note, the art, which I deplored at first, ultimately won me over.  Clowes lines are simple, but his anatomy and perspective are always perfect.  His panels are very straightforward, yet if you look hard enough, you find incredible detail in the little things such as books on the shelves or several doorways within the background of an apartment’s interior.  His colors are very bright in this book, as you can tell by the cover, but those bright colors work to contradict the dark tale unfolding. Perhaps those colors are simply his style, or perhaps those colors are meant to signify an eternal optimism even amidst the savagery surrounding Patience and Jack.  … I could be overthinking that one.

Be aware if you buy this book, there are brief, rather tame, moments of nudity, so you may not want to leave it sitting out for a youngster to grab hold of in the hopes of seeing Batman.  There is also a lot of profanity.

Patience surprised me.  I’ve never read anything quite like it, and it certainly struck me as completely original especially in regards to its medium.  It delivers a love story, a science fiction story, a philosophical take on time and space, a mystery, and a good old tale of revenge.  It studies a man who would do anything to save his soul mate and unborn child, a man who believes in the greater good even as he dives into the muck.  It also comments on how the past can shape the future, for better and for worse, and how sometimes we need to judge the present less harshly because of that fact.  Patience reminds us that we are all a product of what has previously transpired.

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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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