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!)

King Arthur: Legend Of the Sword – A Movie Review

If you’re fan of either Guy Ritchie or King Arthur, I think you’ll be very pleased with King Arthur: Legend Of the Sword.

Fresh and visually captivating, you haven’t ever seen this King Arthur before.  This is an ass-kickin’ King Arthur who grew up rough on the streets in a house of ill repute.  He knows how to cheat, lie, steal, and fight without anything other than his bare knuckles.  Yet, there is a golden heart beneath the gruff exterior, perhaps even a noble one.

If you’re unfamiliar with the general story of King Arthur, his father (the King) is killed and his child, Arthur, is rushed to safety and raised in ambiguity without realizing his true heritage.  It’s only after pulling Excalibur from stone that he realizes his true calling.  This latest iteration of the iconic character follows familiar beats but also makes several significant changes to the traditional legend, most of which prove enjoyable.  I’m more than okay with Ritchie putting his own stamp on the tale – no need to show us what we’ve already seen before.

This movie depicts a grimy, dirty, gritty world in which Arthur resides, a world that is not kind to its inhabitants.  Yet, even for all the pallor, the movie retains Ritchie’s signature style.  These urchins have more hair product than you can ever imagine!  I also found it amusing that the clothing appeared strangely modern considering the era of the movie.  But you know what?  Who cares?  The movie looked good, the sets looked good, the costumes looked good, the actors and actresses looked good.  I’m not going to get hung up on authenticity – Arthur is kickin’ too much ass for me to care!

With tons of action and lines firing out of the actors’ mouths like bullets, this movie moves very quickly and absolutely entertains.  I relished that they made Arthur rakish without making him dark and brooding.  He’ll punch you in the nose, to be sure, but he’ll grin while doing so.  Make no mistake, he’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders and endures horrific hardships in this film, but you still see a charismatic, good man beneath the roguish exterior.

Ritche infused a bit of Peter Jackson’s sensibilities with his take on King Arthur.  There is more of a fantasy element than you’d probably expect, and some of the battle scenes look like they could have been pulled out of Lord Of the Rings.  However, unlike Jackson’s typical outings, Ritchie’s battles are far more intimate and willing to go smaller at times.  For the most part, those battles are fluid and look great.  But, there are a few moments in the film when it gets a little too “The Matrix” for my tastes.  You’ll know it when you see it.  Those scenes jolted me right out of the story.

I also didn’t care for the climatic one-on-one battle.  I won’t spoil it, but we’ve seen it a thousand times in most super hero movies.  I wish Ritchie had resisted the temptation to go that route while additionally forcing Hunnam to spout some awful lines (which have also been said a thousand times).

Even with all of that being said, I liked the movie.  I don’t think it’s for everyone, but if you are a Guy Ritchie fan or a King Arthur fan, you will not be disappointed.  I love that Ritchie is taking on so many English icons, and that he’s putting his own indelible touch upon such world renowned characters in his own inimitable fashion.

I’m very much looking forward to seeing this cast continue King Arthur’s story.  They have a ton of story left to tell.  If you know Arthurian legend well, they didn’t even skim the surface of his epic adventure.  If future installments are as fast-paced and action-packed as this one while still retaining a sly sense of humor and stylish delivery, I’m all in.

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

Guardians Of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 – A Movie Review

I’ll be honest and admit that when Guardians Of the Galaxy came around back in 2014, I wasn’t all that into it.  I didn’t even make it to the theater for a viewing.  Truthfully, even when it came out on video, I didn’t think it was all that great.  Funny?  Sure.  Different from any other Marvel movie?  Definitely.  Fun?  Yeah.  I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

So, with all that being said, I’d like to say that I LOVED Guardians Of the Galaxy: Vol. 2.

I won’t spoil anything in this review, but I found this installment far more funny.  These characters aren’t even trying to take themselves seriously anymore, except when they are – more on that later.

It also has a better plot that is no longer beholden to the Infinity Stones.  Elements touched upon earlier in the film came into play later in the film, especially in regards to the jokes.  But, even in terms of story, it all went full-circle and came together nicely.

The visuals are absolutely amazing.  As I watched the film, I stopped and appreciated the nuanced aliens, the diverse machinery, and how this film truly looks like it could span a universe.  (Maybe I should have said galaxy there, huh?)  It’s a feast for the eyes, to be sure.

There also existed a very cool message regarding family.  Again, I won’t spoil anything, but if the first film served as a reason to come together, this film serves as a reason to stay together.  As you can see from the advertisements, Nebula plays a far greater role, as does Yondu.  These two characters have familial ties to particular Guardians, ties that make for interesting plot developments.  I loved this film because of these character developments.  We’re seeing these characters change and grow in ways we haven’t seen in many other Marvel movies.

Of course, that’s not to say that this is a character study – not at all.  For the most part, these characters all have uproarious comedic moments.  I mean, I’m talking scenes that will make you absolutely guffaw.  Yes, I said guffaw.   But then, every once in a while, truly touching scenes arise.  Scenes that were emotional, sentimental, and tugged on the old heartstrings.  Happily, these moments did not at all detract from the film whatsoever – they only served to amplify the story line.  Were they a little syrupy?  Sure, but they worked well in a movie like this.

I also really liked that this film did not necessarily follow the tried and true sequel format.  It actually followed far more of a comic book or cartoon structure.  Once more, I won’t spoil anything for you, but this movie gives us an opportunity to see the Guardians in different situations, different dynamics, different groupings, and in different settings, and they each shine as a result.

Obviously, I loved this film far more than its first installment.  However, this movie would not have been possible without its predecessor.  I don’t mean that in the literal sense, of course.  Rather, I mean that by all the groundwork being laid in the first movie in terms of character, those characters now have a chance to break their own mold and grow in ways delightful.

Baby Groot is adorable.  Drax is hilarious.  Rocket is more abrasive than ever.  Gamora lets down her defenses.  Star-Lord becomes more than just a guy who cracks one-liners.  Nebula and Yondu?  You’ll have to see for yourselves.

Oh, and there are some fantastic cameos.  I can’t even touch upon those.  I will say this: be sure to sit through ALL the credits.  All of them.  And watch them closely.  There’s a lot going on even during the credits that’s a lot of fun.

That’s really the operative word – fun.  This is a fun movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I love it for its own sense of irreverence.

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

 

Lando by Charles Soule and Alex Maleev – A Book Review

This is the Lando book you never knew you wanted.  Trust me.  I like Lando.  You like Lando.  Everyone likes Lando.  The only problem is, most of us don’t have much exposure to Lando beyond the two Star Wars movies he’s in.  Well, this book changes all of that.  This graphic novel features our favorite space pirate doing what he does best: stealing, charming, plotting, and fighting.

In all seriousness, Lando proved a breath of fresh air as it breaks from many of the Star Wars graphic novels and books in that it does not feature a main character saving a world, a village, or a child.  I love those other books, but they seem fairly formulaic in that regard.  This is a heist book, through and through.  Who’s Lando trying to loot?  None other than the Emperor himself, though Lando doesn’t know that.

Taking place well before The Empire Stirkes Back and at only five collected issues, the author, Charles Soule, manages to deliver a lot of story, back story, and characterization in only a brief amount of time.  Remember Lobot?  He’s in Lando, and I’m positive his character will surprise you.  We’ve also got an Ugnaught — you know, the little pig creatures.  Furthermore, there are Royal Guards, a new bounty hunter, two new assassins, and an Imperial governor who makes a short, yet potent, appearance.  Oh, there are also a few Sith relics that will prove quite interesting to you.

Lando really is a page-turner.  It’s fun.  It’s got an interesting plot that doesn’t take itself too seriously yet has actual ramifications.  Lando is a swindler, no doubt, but this book also shows us he has a heart of gold.  It cuts to the absolute core of his being.  It’s easy to believe that the Lando in this book will one day become a general in the Rebellion and beloved hero.

I’d also like to mention Alex Maleev, the artist.  Maleev won me over long ago with his seminal work on Daredevil.  I wondered how the understated artist would transition from the streets of Hell’s Kitchen to the world of space fantasy.  Not to worry, Maleev is top-notch and he can pretty much draw anything and make it look great.  Make no mistake, the art in this book is distinctly Maleev — his style is unmistakable.  Yet, even with his realistic depictions and moody tone, this absolutely looks like Star Wars.

Lando is due for a major resurgence with Donald Glover playing the famous character in the new Han Solo movie, and if Glover interprets him anything like the Lando in this book, I know he will reclaim his previous glory.

Like I said,  this is the book you didn’t know you wanted.  If you love Star Wars, you will love Lando.

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

Mighty Thor: Thunder In Her Veins by Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman – A Book Review

This new approach to Thor is both refreshing and inspired.  As you can see from the cover, Thor is no longer the Thor with whom you’ve grown familiar.  Thor is now, well, a woman.  A masked woman, in fact.  By the time this volume rolls around, it’s already established that the new Thor is actually Jane Foster, a long time supporting character in the Marvel Universe and one-time love interest to the previous Thunder God.

There are several reasons the Jane Foster Thor has completely won me over.  The first reason is that the entire Marvel version of Norse mythology is being reintroduced to the reader as she gets to know it on a very personal level.  As Thor, she’s more exposed to the gods than ever before, and it’s fun to see each Norse deity broken down to his or her most basic, and potent, element.  Consequently, I recently read Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, and Jason Aaron, author of Mighty Thor, is actually staying true to quite a bit of the source material.  Marvel has never claimed to exactly represent the Norse gods as they appeared in legend, if they did Thor would have been a lot different indeed, but Jason Aaron does accurately reference some rather significant moments from the myths of old.

Another reason I’m captivated by Jane Foster as Thor is that she is always the underdog.  She’s always having to prove herself, whether it be in debate, strategy, or battle.  I imagine this could be considered representative of women in virtually all aspects of life, but in the case of this comic book, it’s a captivating recurring plot device.  We are accustomed to the old Thor handling everything that comes his way.  We know basically how he’s going to prove victorious and how he’s going to sound doing it.  With Jane, though, everything old is literally new again.

Finally, Aaron has upped the stakes significantly by killing Jane Foster every time she transforms into Thor.  Jane is fighting cancer, but the cosmic power of Thor counteracts her chemotherapy which results in Jane getting worse and worse every time she wields Mjolnir.  Foster is the epitome of valor as she chooses to help others while killing herself in doing so.  This contradiction is fascinating, especially because Jane Foster is a charismatic character.  I want her to be Thor, yet I also want her to survive.  This dichotomy is incredibly captivating.

Obviously, I love Jason Aaron’s writing.  Not only does he seamlessly blend authentic Norse mythology into his Thor stories, but he also understands what makes dynamic characters, pacing, and plot.  Best of all, he writes fluid, believable dialogue.  In the comic book industry, it’s rare for a writer to do all of these things well.

Also, Russell Dauterman, the artist, is fantastic.  Like Aaron, he utilizes an amazing ability to make the Norse gods look like the gods of myth, yet he’s also made them modern and even, in most cases, futuristic.  It’s a beautiful combination of myth, fantasy, and science fiction.  Most importantly, though, he creates dynamic panels that push both the reader and the action forward.  His drawings are detailed, well proportioned, well arranged, and his Thor is somehow the perfect combination of power and femininity.  On that same note, he also manages to make Jane Foster physically frail while still retaining a power and fire within her eyes and body language.

Honestly, I typically try to find something to critique in my reviews in order to offer some sort of objectivity, but with Mighty Thor I have no complaints.  For me, this is a perfect volume, through and through.  I can’t wait to read the next installment.

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(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!)

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters – A Book Review

If you’re looking for a book that will send your imagination into overdrive, this is the one.  The idea in Underground Airlines is that slavery did not end.  Four states — Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi — did not abolish slavery, namely because the Civil War never occurred.  The Underground Airlines is much like the Underground Railroad in that it is a network established to help slaves escape.  Just as no actual railroads were used to liberate slaves in reality, airplanes are not utilized in this book as a means of emancipation.

Set in our present day, Underground Airlines features a black man named Victor working as a bounty hunter for the government and specializing in tracking down escaped slaves.  I won’t reveal why he pursues this troubling work, but know that he has his reasons.

He soon becomes ensnared in a case that unsettles him.  Nothing about it seems normal compared to his past cases, and when he finds himself embedded with double-agent police officers, uncompromising priests, and government shadow operatives, he loses all sense of whatever self he’d managed to preserve since his horrific childhood.

Winters impressed me on several fronts with this novel, but particularly because he really thought through what the implications would be of a USA that did not do business with four major states in the South.  He created a world very recognizable, but also starkly different.  And though he didn’t go into great detail with the small deviations, it was apparent that he knew exactly the backstory behind every off-brand cigarette, every imported Middle-Eastern car, and every alternate Bill passed by Congress.  He developed a reality in which Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King met very different ends, a world terrifying to imagine.

Yet, at the same time, Winters introduced a world not quite different enough from our own.  Much of the racism and bigotry that is expressed by characters in this book are absolutely touted in our world as well.  If anything, I think this book forces us to hold a mirror up to our own society and ask ourselves if we’ve gone far enough with our Bill of Rights, our Constitution, and the long-term effects of the Emancipation Proclamation.

However, though Underground Airlines touches upon several important social issues, it does not preach, it does not lecture, it does not even necessarily seek to enlighten.  This book is a thriller, through and through.

In fact, it managed to surprise me from start to finish.  Victor proved unpredictable, the story line took several different turns which lead to places I did not anticipate, and it maintained a level of excitement throughout that is very difficult to do.

Of course, in the interest of remaining objective, I must point out a few areas that did not work well for me.  My main complaint is that there are many times when unlikely saves occur.  Just as it seemed Victor had no hope of survival or escape, something always managed to intercede on his behalf.  This is totally in keeping with the genre of the book, but for those looking to it to be something other than a thriller, these moments may be something of a jolt.

Along those lines, while Underground Airlines is quite bold in its premise and obviously intricately contemplated by the author, I would not put too much pressure on the book to be something it isn’t.  There are great societal implications for those looking to find them, but the book should not be labeled as a work aiming to progress social cause — it would not be appropriate for social justice classes, for example.  It’s not written to serve that sort of purpose.

However, if you’re looking for a smart, well-written, page-turner with a complex plot, I highly recommend Underground Airlines.

 

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