The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen by Hope Nicholson – A Book Review

I got this item for free on Amazon Vine.  When I saw it, I thought it would be perfect for my eight-year-old daughter.  She’s developed a real affinity for super heroes, and I particularly want her to realize there are plenty of strong, intelligent, respectable female super heroes as well.

Initially, I assumed this would be a reference book of our most popular female heroes for her to both enjoy and from which to learn.  That was my mistake.  (That sounds overly dramatic.  This is not a negative review at all.  I’ll explain in a bit …)

As is my habit when I get unknown books for my children, I preview them first.  It became very obvious very quickly that this is not intended for an eight-year-old.

This is not so much a reference book as it is a historical overview of female comic book characters going as far back as the 1930s.  The book is divided into chapters by decade and presents anywhere from five to twelve characters per chapter.  The author tries to choose culturally important characters or characters that influenced the industry, and is sure to include an “Icon Of the Decade” at the end of every chapter.  The characters are incredibly diverse and from a wide range of publishers.

These publishers sometimes include those of the “adult” variety, and so some of the illustrations may be a little more suited for an older audience.  Like I said, I assumed this book was meant for children, and that’s my mistake.  There is a long, sordid history of objectification and exploitation of female characters in comic books, and this book does not shy away from that fact.

Nicholson has written a well-researched historical guide of influential female characters throughout the medium’s evolution.  She also provides nice insight and a funny sense of humor.  As my daughter ages, I will be more than happy to let her look through this book in order to understand the journey of the female comic book character as well as the growth of the industry.  In regards to females, comic books have come a long, long way, though there is still room to grow.

I am heartened that the final chapter, the 2010s, showcase some outstanding characters who are self-reliant, intelligent, strong, full of story, and largely free of being sexualized.  As a father of two little girls, I pray this is indicative of a change in societal views as well.

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

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Deadpool – A Movie Review

Though I’m an avid lover of all things superhero, even I must admit that the genre has become somewhat formulaic when adapted to film.

Due to the nature of Deadpool’s meta-fiction characteristics, I had high hopes that his feature film would redefine the comic book film genre and blaze a new trail.  I wanted it to show me something I’ve never seen before, to provide a story unlike the typical comic book movie, and to completely ignore any established conventions.

More on that later …

I’m the first to admit that Deadpool is hilarious.  It’s also violent, crude, profane, gratuitous – but somehow all in a lovable way.  Living up to his “merc with a mouth” moniker, Deadpool is literally talking throughout the entire movie with joke after joke after joke.

While I’ve never followed the character closely, all indications suggest that they stayed true to the antihero, even down to his ability to talk directly to the audience and acknowledge that he’s part of a story.  It’s honestly hard to see anyone other than Ryan Reynolds playing this role.  He pulls off the physicality and the humor perfectly.  In other words, this is the Deadpool we’ve wanted since he appeared in that other movie.

So while it’s true I liked it, I didn’t love it.

The simple fact is it didn’t break the mold liked I hoped it would.  I won’t spoil the plot, but other than the constant jokes and some moments of “breaking the fourth wall,” this is a movie we’ve generally seen before.

And that’s okay.

Perhaps I placed too high of importance on Deadpool.  I expected it to be more than it had any business being.  It absolutely lived up to the character and stayed true to his nature.  But I hoped it would be unlike anything else I’ve seen in a superhero movie, and in that case it disappointed me.

So, if you want Deadpool in the thick of crazy action, hilarious jokes, gratuitous violence, unapologetic nudity, and ceaseless profanity – this is the movie for you.

Just don’t take the kids.

Supergods by Grant Morrison – A Book Review

I have to be honest – I’ve always found Grant Morrison to be fantastic at creating concepts, but his actual writing in comic books always left a bit to be desired.  I fully acknowledge that this may have been more to a lack of available space or a miscommunication with artists than actual ability, yet his work tended to feel rushed near the endings and often discombobulated.

However, it goes without saying that he is a master of the medium, wildly appreciated, and a student of the art, and so when I discovered he had written a nonfiction book exploring the industry, revealing his back story, and philosophizing about the nature of two-dimensional characters and their eternal lives, well, I couldn’t buy the book quickly enough.  I knew I wanted to know the man’s thoughts on a first person basis.

Furthermore, I found myself excited by the notion that finally I would experience Grant Morrison unbound, unfiltered, and unfettered by a page count or panel limit.

If you’re in a hurry and you’d like to stop reading now, I’ll leave you with this – if you love intelligent (and sometimes trippy) conversation about comic books or super heroes, you will not be disappointed in this book.

Still reading?  Good.  Let’s dig deeper.

I enjoyed every aspect of this book.  Morrison started by explaining his own love of comic books and where that love began and why it persisted.  He then moved into a brief history lesson of the industry that I found riveting.  I’d heard most of it before, but he put it in his own words so entertainingly that it felt fresh (though I did learn a few new things such as Jack Kirby punching out neo-Nazis).  He then focused on pinnacle characters and important eras.  Finally, he delved deeply into his own storyline and how it intermingles with the stories he writes.

Morrison is clearly a smart man – and after reading Supergods I do wonder if he is a genius on some level.  Interestingly enough, I never would have thought this without reading Supergods.  You see, in Supergods, Morrison pontificates about chaos magic, fiction suits (I love this idea), and the possibility of these characters existing on a plane of reality all their own.  He discusses at great length his own mindset and philosophies behind different eras of his professional life.  Suddenly, past work that I had dismissed as overreaching and poorly executed had to be perceived in a new light.

For example, I distinctly remember feeling that Final Crisis became a jumbled mess near the end with no sense of plot.  Lo and behold, Morrison stated in Supergods that he meant for Final Crisis to lose any semblance of story, for he intended to convey that evil had won so greatly in that work that even a story could not be allowed to continue unmolested.

But that may be the problem with Supergods.  If it takes a large volume of nonfiction work to explain past storylines and elucidate upon them, then perhaps the storylines don’t stand on their own.  Maybe Supergods illustrates a weakness rather than enforces strengths.

On the other hand, however, having read Supergods has now made me approach Morrison differently with new readings.  For example, I just read Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne which is an offshoot of Final Crisis for fans in the know.  In the past, I would have balked at the notion of Batman traveling through time first as a caveman, then as a pilgrim, then a pirate, and so forth.  But, now having an inclination towards Morrison’s leanings and themes, I completely accepted it simply as a work of Morrison.  In fact, with the dark, serious nature of Christopher Nolan’s Batman earning global appeal, I am actually glad someone like Grant Morrison has been willing to play up the sci-fi element of a character who regularly rubs shoulders with human lightning bolts and cops wielding magic rings.  I’ve been reluctant to read Morrison’s Batman over the last five years because of his psychedelic tendencies, but now I really want to check out the opus of a man clearly dedicated to the beauty and wonder of the super hero, and this is specifically a result of having read Supergods.

Is this a good thing?  I don’t know, but it is my reality when it comes to the work of Grant Morrison.

Supergods was at times trippy and, quite honestly, when it comes to his personal life, a little crazy, but overall it was overall extremely enlightening and a joy to read.  I recommend all lovers of super heroes and comic books give it a try.  You’ll look at the industry, its characters, and the Grant Morrison himself with a new appreciation.

Ex Machina: Ex Cathedra (Volume 7) – A Graphic Novel Review

Ever since getting on board with Ex Machina after its first volume, I literally cannot wait for each new volume to be released.  That’s why, after months of looking forward to Ex Cathedra, I couldn’t help but initially feel a little disappointment.  However, after a second reading, my opinion changed drastically.  More on that in a moment.

Like I said, because I count down the days until certain books come out, I tend to pick them up as soon as possible and tear right through them.  I did that with Ex Cathedra, neglecting to let it sit on my tongue and savor it.  I forgot what originally drew me to Ex Machina was the fact that it was really unlike anything else, and so when I first read Ex Cathedra and didn’t get it, I thought, “What is this?  I waited for this?”  It seemed directionless, pointless, and haphazard to me.

But then I decided I read it too fast, and (as much to get my money’s worth as anything), I determined I should give it another go.

On the second read, I picked up on a lot of parallels that I missed the first time around.  In Ex Cathedra, Mayor Hundred (a former super hero who stopped the destruction of one of the Twin Towers) is invited to the Vatican to visit the Pope before his death.  When Hundred arrives, a Father reveals he arranged for Hundred’s visit to investigate the origins of Hundred’s abilities, even claiming the mayor may be the antichrist.  However, the Pope still wants an audience with Hundred, which prompts a Russian conspirator to use Hundred as an assassin by tapping into Hundred’s machine-friendly mind.  I won’t spoil the ending, but let’s say that Hundred has some incredible revelations as he tries to resist killing the Pope. 

Brian K. Vaughan offers a very brief story (four issues) full of nuance and punch-if read carefully.  As usual, Vaughan interrupts the present-day unveiling of the tale with flashbacks to Hundred’s The Great Machine days (his super hero identity).  In this volume, those flashbacks each deal with a different perspective on religion, which amplifies the main story, the one unfolding in Hundred’s here-and-now.  This author technique is effective because it continues to give us insight into Mayor Hundred’s character, his days as a super hero, and his various reactions to different situations involving religions.  This, of course, helps us understand his motives and reactions when meeting the Pope.

Artist Tony Harris continues to rock on Ex Machina.  His figures, clothing, architecture, and layouts are charismatic without being distracting.  His art works to supplement and progress the story, which is the idea in such a visual medium.  Harris, in my opinion, is one of the best in the business and deserves more recognition.

Finally, Vaughan takes the time to help us get to know Commissioner Angotti a little better by giving us some background on her all-the-while moving she and Hundred’s professional relationship forward and in a new, less combative direction.  While this stand-alone issue has some very serious themes, there’s also quite a bit of comic book in-jokes, especially involving another famous hero and Commissioner team. 

In Ex Cathedra, I was initially guilty of forgetting what draws me to Ex Machina on a regular basis.  I forgot I love this title because it’s like nothing else, and once I slowed down and gave it the time it deserved, I really saw it for the gem it is.

All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder: Volume I – A Graphic Novel Review

This book is absolutely insane, and I loved it!

What we have here is a Batman story free of any previous or current continuity.  Writer Frank Miller is taking Batman and starting his story from scratch.  (Or is he?  More on that later.)

The Batman in this storyline is testosterone fueled, immature, and more than a little nutty.  Miller takes him so over the top that I really and truly hope the writer is poking fun at his previous incarnations of the characters and his previous, ultraviolent works such as Sin City and 300.  The fact that both Batman and most other characters in the book refer to him as “the g-d-n Batman” can only lead me to believe Miller didn’t want us taking this too seriously.

However, Miller is also proving a point.  We’d always heard that Batman needed a Robin to take the edge off the man-to bring him back to humanity.  However, as a Batman fan of over twenty-five years, I’d never really seen an incarnation of the character that had him in DIRE need of a humanizing sidekick.  That is, until now.  Miller’s All-Star Batman is a whack-job, and it’s only through his dealings with Dick Grayson that he slowly begins to realize he’s turned into a monster.  Despite all the sex and violence in the book, Miller actually does a wonderful job evolving Batman’s character-there is real character development taking place that is rarely seen in the comic book medium.

And because this is an all-star title, the artist must be as equally as big a star-enter Jim Lee.  Jim Lee has always been a mesmerizing artist, but he truly outdoes himself with All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder.  His figures look amazing-as always-but the settings are what really blew me away.  His attention to detail is nearly genius-level, and I found myself studying every building in the skyline, every poster on the wall, every tread on a tire.  He is absolutely astonishing.

So while I’m glad this book isn’t the definitive and mainstream interpretation of the character, I am so glad we have this Batman as well.  I couldn’t put the book down.  It was ludicrously fun and breathtaking to look at and had me addicted within the first few minutes of reading it.

Now, if you’ll allow me a slight digression: Does anyone else think this is a prequel of sorts to The Dark Knight Returns?  As I started reading it, I noticed some thematic links between All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder and The Dark Knight Returns, as well as The Dark Knight Strikes Again.  This is nothing unusual with writers, many of them tend to have certain passions that they return to (consciously or not) in their work. 

However, as I continued reading, things began to seem like more than just coincidence.  For example, in the huge spread from Episode 4, doesn’t that look like the Dark Knight Returns Batmobile being built?  Also, we clearly see the cover to The Dark Knight Returns collected edition as a poster on Barbara Gordon’s wall in Episode 6.  The Wonder Woman design in Episode 5 is very similar to the Wonder Woman in The Dark Knight Strikes Again, as is her basic personality and attraction to Superman.  I would also argue that Superman, Plastic Man, Green Lantern, and Jim Gordon all seem tonally the same as they are in The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again

But, the real cinchers for me occurred first in Episode 8 where the Joker’s henchwoman was the same lady with the swastikas covering her nipples (wow, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d construct) as from The Dark Knight Returns: Book Three.  

And then, the big one-the HUGE one-happened in Episode 9 where Batman tells Green Lantern, “Of course we’re criminals.  We’ve always been criminals.  We have to be criminals.”  Now compare that to Superman’s internal dialogue from The Dark Knight Returns: Book Three, which was written roughly twenty years earlier: “When the noise started from the parents’ groups and the subcommittee called us in for questioning – – you were the one who laughed … that scary laugh of yours … ‘Sure we’re criminals,’ you said.  ‘We’ve always been criminals.  We have to be criminals.'”

In my estimation, it seems Frank Miller is using All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder to build upon his mythos originated in The Dark Knight Returns, and I think that’s incredibly entertaining.

Of course, if I’m right, knowing what we know about the end of The Dark Knight Strikes Again certainly makes his developing relationship with Dick Grayson seem bittersweet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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