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!)

The Dark Tower – A Movie Review

I very much love The Dark Tower series.  I believe when it is all said and done, these books will be remembered as Stephen King’s masterpiece–his magnum opus.  We have long wished for Roland of Gilead to grace the big screen, but time after time we were burdened with disappointment as it simply never seemed to work out.

Until that disappointment ended.  The news finally arrived that Idris Elba would play Roland Deschain and Matthew McConaughey the Man in Black, Walter, or whatever else you’d like to call him.  These are, under optimal circumstances, exquisite actors.

Furthermore, powerhouses such as Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Akiva Goldsman, and Stephen King himself served as producers!  These are names that have created some of our most revered entertainment.

Tonight, during a hellacious thunderstorm (which I personally considered the perfect backdrop), I finally got my wish–I saw The Dark Tower on a movie screen.

Did it bother me that, other than my friends and me, there were only five other people in the theater on it’s opening night?  Did the bad reviews give me pause?  Did I consider losing faith?

No, I have not forgotten the face of my father.

Here’s what we have to remember–a large portion of the viewing audience has never read The Dark Tower series.  In fact, the guys I saw it with haven’t read the books!  The industry could not make a movie that worked as a page for page adaptation of The Gunslinger.  They just couldn’t.  I know die-hard fans wanted that, but I think that’s being a little unfair.  We all know the rules by which Hollywood plays.  Big summer action movies are not exactly subtle, complex, or plot driven.

But here’s the thing–The Dark Tower isn’t actually that much of an action movie.  In fact, I think you saw most of the action several months ago in the first trailer.  It spent far more time than I expected developing young Jake and Roland’s bond, a bond that, over time, will become one of the greatest and most heartbreaking relationships in all of literature.  Jake is an extremely likable character in the books, and so I commend them for spending the time necessary to allow the audience to get to know him, to sympathize with him, and to like him.  It also offered glimpses into Roland’s past which resulted in his current, surly demeanor.  Finally, it took its time establishing Roland and Walter’s rivalry, one of the most dynamic I’ve ever read.  They provided far more story than I anticipated, and this pleased me to no end.  There’s action–make no mistake.  But there is also a lot of plot with ample room to grow.  More on that later …

Also, with a run time of just one hour and thirty-five minutes, The Dark Tower had to convey a great deal of story, motivation, and character as quickly as possible.  Simply put, it didn’t have the luxury of the books to slowly unfold the intricacies we readers adore.  In my mind, they successfully did this.  The established the Dark Tower’s purpose, Roland’s duty, Walter’s reason for wanting to destroy it, and Jake’s role relating to all three.

Were there some serious changes made?  Yes, there were some pretty significant departures from The Gunslinger.  We just have to accept that they needed to make this movie as digestible as possible for the casual viewer.  In my mind, they did this.  I mean, really, what do you want most from the first film?  I want to get to know Roland, I want to explore Jake and Roland’s relationship, I want to experience Walter and Roland’s ongoing conflict.  The casual audience needs to know the significance of the Dark Tower, and they need to see someone try to destroy it and someone try to save it.  I think the filmmakers did an admirable job walking this very fine line.

Honestly, they need to hook as broad an audience as possible with this first film.  If they do that, and if the rumors of television spin-offs combined with future films are true, they will then have the collateral necessary to dive deep into this multiverse.  Right now we need to get people on board with a big, easy to understand film, and then we can all go down the rabbit hole together as this thing adheres more strictly to the other books.

Oh, and there are plenty of rabbit holes for us to explore.  Though the movie didn’t specifically address any of these things, sharp-eyed viewers will notice graffiti praising the Crimson King, as well as ample rose symbols everywhere.  There are references to other King books, which play a HUGE role in The Dark Tower series.  In fact, you’ll literally hear the words “the shining” and see the name “Pennywise” if you look closely enough.

My hope, my sincere hope, is that with It releasing soon, we are going to get a King universe where they reboot all of his most famous works to interconnect with The Dark Tower.  The Shining, Pet Cemetery, The Stand, ‘Salem’s Lot, Cujo, and many, many others directly relate or are referenced in The Dark Tower series.   Can you imagine if King pulled a cinematic move like Marvel/Disney?  Why not?  He’s been entwining these books for decades!

I’d like to end this review commenting on the acting.  Matthew McConaughey could have really gone over the top with Walter.  He pulls it back just enough.  His Walter is creepy, unsettling, and obviously evil, but we never get any nefarious monologues or maniacal chortling.  He chooses to often speak softly rather than to bellow, and this made all the difference to me.

Finally, Idris Elba was not the obvious choice in my mind for Roland Deschain.  Let’s face it–most of us always pictured Roland as white.  King himself is on record as saying he modeled him off of Clint Eastwood.  However, Elba nailed this character.  Nailed it.  Elba captured Roland’s penchant for violence, his silent wisdom, his stoic torment, and–most importantly–his ability to accept Jake into his heart.  He delivered the most important aspects of this character so many of us hold dear thus rendering simple skin tone irrelevant.  Idris Elba is Roland Deschain–plain and simple.

I believe if you’re a casual viewer you will really be able to follow and enjoy this film.  For the avid Dark Tower fans, I think the film offers you the most important qualities that you crave with a great deal of potential to deliver the more nuanced adaptation you desire from subsequent films.  Of course, those won’t happen if we don’t get out there and support this first conventional installment.

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

Spider-Man: Homecoming – A Movie Review

I have to be honest, even though I thought Tom Holland’s Spider-Man proved one of the best parts of Civil War, I did not feel excited about yet another reboot of his own movie series.  I absolutely did not want to sit through poor Uncle Ben getting killed yet again, Pete getting bitten by a spider again, another turbulent romance with Mary Jane, and then a retread of the same villains we’ve also already seen.

Why didn’t I have faith in Marvel?

My mistake.

Spider-Man: Homecoming won me over completely.  It avoided all of those things I most dreaded.  Instead, we’ve got a Spider-Man finding his way months after Civil War.  This Spider-Man movie felt completely fresh and absolutely a part of the larger Marvel Universe.  Other than the web-slinging and the colors of the suit, Homecoming departed from much of what has already been done with Spidey on the big screen.  Tom Holland looks like an actual high school student.  He acts like an actual high school student.  He sounds like an actual high school student.  He’s got a whole new group of supporting characters.  Even Aunt May is a big departure from what we’ve already seen and they had some hilarious ongoing gags about her attractiveness.

As you’ve seen from commercials, Happy Hogan and Tony Stark play huge roles in this film.  This also sets it apart and makes it far more funny than any previous Spider-Man movie.  Tom Holland has great chemistry with pretty much everyone, but especially with Robert Downey, Jr. and Jon Favreau.

In terms of tone, Homecoming is pretty lighthearted and humorous.  However, that’s not to say it doesn’t have some serious action scenes and real suspense.  I wouldn’t say it’s scary at all, but the Vulture is definitely an intimidating villain in both appearance and action.

Speaking of whom, Michael Keaton undeniably crushes it as the Vulture.  He delivers a multifaceted character who is both sympathetic and even likable.  I love how they set him up, the motivation they give him, and then his mindset.  I think that, along with Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus, he is the best cinematic Spidey villain yet.  Maybe even the best contemporary Marvel movie villain, for that matter.

What delighted me most about Homecoming, though, is that it genuinely surprised me several times.  There were huge character revelations that I didn’t expected that made the story all the more intimate and definitely increased my investment.  I cared about virtually every character in this movie!

Spider-Man: Homecoming managed to somehow surprise while keeping a funny, light tone with real moments of suspense.  Tom Holland oozes charisma while emanating Peter’s intellect, charm, youthful indecision, and — most importantly — innocent heroism.

Against all odds, I am fully committed to this third Spider-Man reboot.  Here’s hoping Tom Holland will serve the anchor to Marvel’s cinematic universe for many years to come.

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

Wonder Woman – A Movie Review

You know I loved Batman v Superman, especially Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.  You probably also remember that when the first preview Wonder Woman arrived, I got very excited.

Last night, the wait ended, and my wife and I got to see Wonder Woman in her first solo film.  It’s hard to articulate how much pressure I put on this movie.  I needed it to be a critical success, not just a financial one, because that’s the big knock against DC movies so far in their shared cinematic universe.  I also needed Gal Gadot to prove she could headline a movie and carry it for the entire duration, not just come in and steal a few scenes.  Furthermore, I needed Wonder Woman to take her place as the inarguable international cinematic icon we all know she is.  Finally, I needed a Wonder Woman movie I will one day be proud to sit and watch with my two young daughters.  (This is a PG-13 movie by the way, and there are a few moments deserving of that rating.  I won’t let my nine-year-old see it for another few years, so take that into account.)

For the most part, I’d say Wonder Woman excelled in almost every way.

That’s not to say it’s perfect — it’s not.  But it’s very, very good.  In fact, my wife said it’s the best action movie she’s ever seen.  (Keep in mind she doesn’t watch a lot of action movies.)  I’ll start with what I didn’t care for, and then I’ll spend the rest of the review gushing.

My biggest complaint is that, at times, the backgrounds looked really, really fake.  Strangely fake.  There are about three moments I can think of specifically that totally took me out of the movie because of the weird texture of the background.

I’m also so tired of the big bad guy fight at the end.  This seems to be an unavoidable cliché for all superhero movies.  I don’t know how they escape it, but it needs to be addressed.

Finally, this will come as no surprise, but we got a lot of the patented Zack Snyder slow motion fight scenes.  Now, to be fair, I’ve seen most of Zack Snyder’s films, so this is a thing for which I’m very familiar.  I don’t think my wife has seen any Snyder movie, and she absolutely loved those same slow motion fights.  To her, it was completely new and fresh.  (Yes, I know Patty Jenkins directed Wonder Woman, but Snyder definitely infused a bit of his sensibilities.)

Let’s talk about what I loved …

Gal Gadot.  She oozes charisma.  She is perfect as Wonder Woman.  Her eyes have such intelligence and passion.  She is incredibly graceful and athletic.  Her comedic timing is even pretty strong!  She had some lines in this movie that could have been woefully cheesy, but she somehow delivered them humbly and full of authenticity.  In other words, her magnetism in Batman v Superman was no fluke — she’s got what it takes to keep Wonder Woman going strong for a long, long time.

You know what else rocked in this movie?  Wonder Woman’s home island of Themyscira and its Amazonian inhabitants.  They were so cool, and Robin Wright quickly established herself as the coolest of the cool.  Her character is Antiope, and I won’t tell you anymore about her, but she was awesome.

I have to admit, Chris Pine even won me over in this film!  He plays Steve Trevor, a character that’s been associated with Wonder Woman since 1941.  Pine and Gadot have great chemistry together, and their banter is really fun.  It’s important that Trevor be a likable, complex charter, a character worthy of winning over the heart of Wonder Woman.  Just as Lois Lane most be pretty special to hold her own with Superman, Trevor must be equally formidable.  Pine is always a little hit or miss for me, but he definitely complimented Gadot very well.  They make a good team.

When there’s not a ton of special effects going on, director Patty Jenkins shot a gorgeous film.  Set during WWI, Jenkins provided a beautiful Paradise Island, a horrific battle-torn Europe, incredibly intricate costumes, and plenty of interesting angles and camera positions.  At the end of the day, other than a few strange backgrounds, this is an extremely well-made film.

Though it at times bordered on being almost preachy, I loved the fact that this Wonder Woman wants to be a hero.  She wants everyone to be a hero.  She is not afraid to call people out, to tell people when they are acting shamefully, and to ignore any complications that could get in the way of doing the right thing.  She does what she thinks is right, she says what she thinks is right.  She does not shy away from being a hero, and this movie does not shy away from trying to be heroic.  Thought DC movies were too dark and brooding up to this point?  Wonder Woman defies that trend.

My absolute favorite scene will go down as one of the most iconic in the character’s history.  You’ve seen bits of it in the previews.  Wonder Woman is crossing a battlefield … by herself.  Her reasons for doing so are inspiring.  The immediate effects will make you want to cheer.  It’s an amazing, wonderful moment in the film.

I absolutely recommend that you see Wonder Woman.  It’s not perfect, but it’s about as good as a major summer blockbuster can be.  My wife thoroughly enjoyed it, and she’s typically not one for superhero movies.  Of course, this isn’t just another superhero movie.  Wonder Woman lived up to all of my expectations, and it will live up to yours, too.

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

Alien: Covenant – A Movie Review

I wouldn’t consider myself a huge fan of the Alien franchise, but I definitely have fond memories of Aliens scaring the crap out of me as a kid.  Honestly, believe it or not, Prometheus is what got me really excited for the revitalized Alien saga.  Prometheus seemed innovative, smart, and full of ramifications for not only where the Alien franchise has been, but also where it is going.

Because I loved Prometheus so much, I couldn’t wait for Covenant.

Here’s the thing … if you’ve seen Alien or Aliens, you’ve seen Covenant.

Did Covenant thrill?  Absolutely.  Were the special effects amazing?  Yes, without a doubt.  Were the monsters scary as hell?  Oh, yeah.

Unfortunately, from a story perspective, nothing felt particularly new.  The story is pretty much the same:  Distress call.  Good intentions.  Infection.  Bloodshed.  Female protagonists fights for her life.  [Redacted.]

Compared to Prometheus, Covenant felt like a retread.  Perhaps the biggest problem of all is that I didn’t care about Covenant’s crew.  None of them were particularly charismatic or even likable.  In fact, I think the vast majority of them were fairly bland and perhaps even cliched.  The apparent protagonist, Daniels, can’t compare to the magnetic Ripley or even the engaging Dr. Shaw.  Astoundingly, Michael Fassbender felt both constrained and exploited by his character.

I think if you’re a traditional Aliens fan, Covenant will entertain, but I personally just couldn’t get past some of the inexplicable decisions the crew made nor the unlikely scenarios presented in the plot.  There were so many instances that left me befuddled.

Speaking of plot, without spoiling too much of the film, there are about five minutes that directly relate to Prometheus, and, man, do I wish Ridley Scott had made that movie instead.  If only they had used that vignette as the foundation for an entire film … that movie would have been amazing.

So, like I said, if you’re a fan, Covenant will be a fun experience.  It’s not a bad movie at all.  It’s well made and looks fantastic.  I certainly had a good time watching it with some friends.  By the movie’s end, though, I realized I’d already seen it about thirty years ago.

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(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!)