Saturday, December 27, 2014

Once Upon A Longbox Top Books of 2014


It has been a great year to be a comic reader.  So Tony and I decided to highlight some of our favorite books of 2014.  However we decided to focus on the great books that aren’t getting as much attention.  So before you guys start telling us we are idiots for not putting books like Saga on here, we just feel they are already really well represented.  To keep it clear My thoughts will be in black and Tony’s thoughts will be blue.

Top Books of 2014

Written and Drawn By Walt Simonson
Released by IDW

This book came out of nowhere to me.  Written and drawn by Walt Simonson, this series brings the godfather of Thor back to the realm of Asgard and the relating universe.  Ragnarok tells the story of what happens to the nine realms after Ragnarok comes to Asgard.  But because the gods are all dead this book focus’ on a family of Dark Elves.  It’s only on the 3rd issue due to a lengthy release schedule so the story is still being built.  But Ragnarok really shows why Simonson is still relevant in the comic industry.

Flash Gordon
Written By Jeff Parker
Art By Evan Shaner
Released by Dynamite Entertainment

I added this book to my pull list after reading Kings Watch.  I always enjoyed the cheesy quality of the eighties Flash Gordon movie, but I had never read any of the Flash Gordon comics.  Jeff Parker makes the Flash an incredibly fun character in this series.  Flash is a rich kid with no goals in life except to find the next big rush in his life.  Flash often doesn’t think before he acts, which tends to get him into lots of trouble.  But the aspect to me that really makes it stand out is the interactions between Flash and his two companions Dr. Zarkov and Dale Arden.  Both have very little patience for his actions which makes for a nice level of humor, to offset the dark concepts like genetic testing, universal domination, and oppressive leadership.  This is a must read for anyone who likes the feel of the old pulp stories.

Red Sonja
Written By Gail Simone
Art By Walter Giovani

Gail Simone really embraced the whole package of what Red Sonja has become known for.  It is a delicate balance of babes, blades, beer, and interesting commentary.  Before reading this I would have never believed that Red Sonja could have poignant messages that actually make you think, but Simone has done just that.  Whether it is PTSD, Slavery, or even religion.  Gail Simone has taken the “She Devil With a Sword” and made her a very complex character.  This is a book that everyone should really checkout.  

Completely agree with this pick.  As much as I hate that Simone is everyone’s go-to whenever there’s a book with a female lead, you can’t argue with the results.  She portrays Sonja as a strong, confident, and capable woman with her own code of honor and her own lusts and desires to satisfy.  We used to describe art in a Dynamite book as “Dynamite-tastic”, which is to say it’s complete garbage.  Dynamite has been making great strides to remedy this and Walter Giovani has been leading that charge.  His lines are nice and clean and he does a good job at panel-to-panel storytelling.

The Wicked + The Divine
Written By Kieron Gillen
Art By Jamie McKelvie

With the creative team involved it was guaranteed to be a good book.  But The Wicked + The Divine is almost perfect.  It focus’ on a group of deities that return to Earth every ninety years in the form of teenagers.  They live for two years then die.  The generation the book highlights are all musicians of different kinds, and the story is told through the eyes of a teenager who is a big fan of the group.  Gillen and McKelvie really explore what can be done with the comic medium, as well as weave an amazing world these characters live in.

When this was announced, I had a feeling it was going to be the “can’t miss” title of the year.  McKelvie and Gillen have proven that they are a great team.  Gillen has a real talent at writing young adults and McKelvie renders them beautifully. My only knock on this series is that it makes me wish that they were still doing Young Avengers.  They were just hitting their stride on that title before it was over and they moved on to this title.  I really wanted to see more of Miss America!

Superior Foes Of Spider-Man
Written By Nick Spencer
Art By Steve Lieber
This book was just fun all around.  Superior Foes followed the new Sinister Six (But There Are Only Five???).  Lead by Boomerang the team is comprised of a group of C-List or lesser villains.  The team are planning a Ocean’s Eleven style job that will make them legends in  the villain game.  But first they need to get past a series of double crosses and infighting.  Every member in the team gets their fair share of focus within the length of the book, making it easy to root for the lovable losers.  Then you get the moments with Mach VII and his misadventures in trying to keep Boomerang out of trouble, which makes for some of the funniest moments in comics this year.

Without a doubt, one of my favorites of the year.  In the last couple of years, there’s been a wonderful trend of quirky, irreverent titles--titles like Hawkeye, Deadpool, Secret Avengers.  But this is the gold standard among these titles.  It took characters that nobody cares about and turned them into a dysfunctional team that you wanted to read about every month.  Spencer and Lieber really clicked on this one and it really shows in the consistent quality we got every month.  Lieber especially is an underrated talent.  I hope to see more from both of these guys soon.
Honorable Mentions

Harley Quinn
Written By Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner
Art By Chad Hardin and others
Released By DC

This series could’ve been a real flop or majorly one note.  But the creative team of Palmiotti and Conner have really made Harley Quinn jump out of the shadows of her Puddin’s shadow to become a really great character.  The first great decision they made was moving Harley out of Gotham and into Coney Island.  Harley is now a landlord for a building full of Carnival performers.  And between taking in stray animals and dodging multiple attempts on her life, Harley helps the performers and hangs out with her best friend Poison Ivy.

Another quirky title.  This one has been so much fun.  As we witnessed in their Power Girl run, Palmiotti and Conner are an excellent duo when it comes to creating fun stories.  I hate only one thing about this series: Conner isn’t doing the interior art (we get a cover from her every month) and that’s a damn shame!  The series artist, Chad Hardin, does a wonderful job and is certainly no slouch.

Written By Tim Seeley
Art By Mike Norton

The story of a small town rocked by the return of several residents from the dead, Revival is more than just a horror comic.  The world put together is genius.  All of the people inhabiting the small town have interestingly realistic quirks to them.  When all is said and done the horror aspects take back seat to a character study.

Thor: God of Thunder
Written Jason Aaron
Art By Esad Ribic and Russell Dauterman

This book has been really strong since it began, and 2014 was no exception.  Even with the change in wielders of Mjolnir Aaron has written some of the best stories in comics.  And his writing has only been bettered by the art of Ribic and Dauterman.  Every month I look forward to reading this series.  And in time I am sure that this book will go down as one of the best runs in the history of Thor.

This is a character that Ted has more passion for than I do, but Aaron’s run can’t be denied.  Almost from the beginning until now, it has been top-notch.  Ribic’s visual style will define this era’s Thor for years to come.  He joins Simonson and Coipel in a very exclusive club of definitive Thor artists.  It’s too early to tell, but Dauterman may join them eventually.  His work on this year’s Cyclops title was fantastic in its own right, but he seems to have ratcheted up to another level on this book.  And credit has to go to Aaron, solicits had me thinking lady-Thor was going to be stupid, but so far I’m intrigued!

Terminator Salvation: The Final Battle
Written By J. Michael Straczynski
Art By Pete Woods
Released By Dark Horse

The story picks up right where Terminator Salvation ended.  The battle between man and machine is raging with both sides gaining little ground.  But both sides are making preparations for their play at the endgame.  For man this means a full assault on Skynet to send Kyle Reese back in time, as well as try to make their push to end the machine army.  For machines it is making a deal with the devil to wipeout mankind for good.  But the devil in this scenario is a dangerous serial killer from the past that Skynet wants to give full control of its army.  In twelve issues this book takes everything you think you know about the battle in the future and turns it on its head.  At the same time all of the events you know need to happen occur, and you get to see how they were planned out and what was risked to make them happen.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Review: Deathblow Deluxe Hardcover

Since getting back into comics I have been finding that the Wildstorm universe is probably one of the best put together universes in comics.  And the foundation of the Wildstorm Universe is all based around Team 7.  All the major characters have spawned from Team 7.  Whether it’s Grifter who was a member of Team 7 or the entire team of Gen 13 who are all descendants of Team 7.  With that said my review this time around is the deluxe hardcover of another member of Team 7.

Deathblow: Deluxe Hardcover
Written by Brandon Choi and Jim Lee
Art by Jim Lee and Tim Sale
Released by Image/Wildstorm

Deathblow is one of real standout characters of the Wildstorm universe, but he hasn’t really had the exposure that other members like Grifter have seen.  Deathblow was the only member that survived that didn’t get affected by the gen-factor testing.  But since the break-up of Team 7 Michael Cray/Deathblow has continued working for I.O. as a mercenary.  And the years of killing are catching up with him.  Mentally, spiritually and physically.   

The story starts with Deathblow finding out that he has terminal brain cancer and only has two years left, so he decides to take care of unfinished business from his past.  Unfortunately his actions put him at odds with his former employers.  Which leads to him being forced to kill a man he trained.  And that is when his descent begins to settle in.

But that just sets the table for the true story in this series.  Michael finds out that the cancer has spread throughout his body and now he only has a couple months left to get his affairs in order just before going on one last mission.  The mission takes him and his team to Iraq to take down a Hussein-esque dictator.  But there are darker powers at work, and their mission leads to the release of “The Dark Angel”.  The second in command to Lucifer and the only person who can release Lucifer from his prison.  In the battle Deathblow kills a priest that was part of The Order of the Cross, a faction of the Vatican specializing in battling the servants of the dark lord.  Putting Cray right in the middle of a battle that’s been waged since the death of Christ.  

All of these events align with the rise of a child that is prophesied to put an end to the dark of the world.  A former cop turned nun named Sister Mary takes the child into hiding on the orders of the Order of the Cross.  And eventually Deathblow and Sister Mary cross paths and team to try to stop the darkness that is gaining power.  But both sides are trying to recruit Deathblow for their cause.  The Dark Angel wants him to lead their armies against into the Heaven and help them burn it out of the sky.  Where the Order of the Cross wants to help him atone for what his life has wrought, and in turn use their weapon against them.  And both sides are devious with their methods to try to convince him to join their cause.  The Order promises him he can drink from the Grail, which would heal him of his cancer.

At the heart of this series is a story about a man realizing that he isn’t so sure that he likes the world his actions have built, but he doesn’t know anything other than war and death.  As well as his battle with spirituality.  It really tackles some pretty deep subjects, but it never seems like it is being forced down your throat.  The big question I pulled from this series though is “Which matters more? The ends or the means?’

Art wise Jim Lee only does the first issue of the series, and this is some of his best nineties art.  But the book gains so much more when Tim Sale steps in.  Sale brings his usual rough line work, but it never feels as exaggerated as the art he is really known for.    Sale really shines with the subject matter of the book.  If there were any downsides to his art, it would be that there are a couple female characters within the book that look almost identical which makes hard to tell at first if they are supposed to be the same person going by different names at first.

I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t mention that the packaging on this collection is great.  It is a nice sturdy hardcover and it has all of the Pin-ups and variant covers in the back.  And the pages are a high quality paper.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I highly recommend this series to anyone who likes great character writing and beautiful art.  As well as anyone who wants to see why the core of the Wildstorm universe is one of the strongest in comics.

Thanks for reading my review.  If you have any comments or questions, leave them in the comments section.  And as always, Keep reading comic fans.   

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Review: Gotham Central 1-40

Gotham Central
Writers:  Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka
Artists: Michael Lark and others

Anyone who knows me knows I have a massive blind spot when it comes to DC in general.  I don’t usually find their characters particularly compelling and have always been apprehensive about getting too invested in that universe because I feel rebooting just feels like pulling the rug out from under people.  But I’ve been trying to work through the some of material that many people say are high watermarks for the company.  For example, I’ve been working my way through Mark Waid’s Flash run (which I’m sure I’ll review at a later time).  For now, I’m reviewing Gotham Central for two reasons: One, I’ve heard nothing but good things about it over the years and Two, Rucka has never failed me as a creator.  Brubaker has been strong as well, if we ignore his X-men work.

I’m going to try to be as spoiler free as possible because I wouldn’t want to ruin anything in this series for anyone.  Some of the points I’ll be making may come across as gross generalizations, so please bear with me.

“And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.”

Why did I throw this quote in here, you ask?  I imagine this had to be how Rucka and Brubaker must have felt after writing this series.  Where could they possibly go from here?  Would they ever be able to top this?  Granted, both men did move on to some wonderful projects (Brubaker to Captain America and Rucka to Wolverine, for example), but this could have been their drop-the-mic moment.  They could’ve stopped here and called it a day.  Mind you, the art in this series was fantastic, the writing is the true star.  

This series reads like a police procedural that you would have seen Thursday nights on NBC back in the day, like a Law & Order and the like.  At first, the cast seems so large that you’ll never get your head around who they all are and what’s going on.  But this passes and you soon fall in love with each of them.  You learn their relationship dynamics with their partners and their other co-workers on the force.  Some of the character arcs force you to really become invested in some of them and you’ll want to know what’s going to happen to them next!

Throughout, we see these officers martyred, we see some go corrupt, and we see others go through a redemption of sorts.  One of the finest examples of how strong the writing is in this series is how they handle one of the officers being outed as a lesbian.  Rucka and Brubaker tackle this subject with such a maturity that I can do nothing but applaud such a fine effort.  Another excellent example of the writer’s range comes in my favorite arc of the series, Soft Targets.  In this arc, it’s a taut, fast-paced thriller that evokes thoughts of movies where there’s a race to stop a killer before the body count gets too high.
As I’ve briefly mentioned before, the art is no slouch either.  Michael Lark is among the modern masters in panel layouts and storytelling, right up there with the likes of Gabe Hardman and Darwyn Cooke.  Each panel looks exactly like a shot that you would see if this was a movie or tv show.  He eventually leaves the book, but he leaves it in capable hands.  Artists such as Kano and Steve Leiber do a phenomenal job picking up the reigns and continuing the story.

The verdict:  My absolute highest recommendation.  This series is one of the best I’ve read in years and I almost want to kick myself for not checking it out sooner.  Everything about it is absolutely top-notch.  Be warned though: you will come to love the characters in this book and the final arc is heartbreaking.  If I ever did a “Top 5 gut-wrenching moments in comics” article, this would be on it.  It leaves you feeling sad and angry at the same time.  When a comic can bring out such a visceral reaction in its readers, you know it’s good!

The score: 5 out of 5 stars.  

Monday, December 8, 2014

Creator Interview with Aaron Duran


I recently got the chance to do an email interview with Aaron Duran,  a Portland based comic writer that I have been a fan of for a while now.  He is currently writing two self published books, La Brujeria and Dark Anna and the Pirates of Kadath.  But there are many levels to the man that is known as “Geek In The City”.  So let’s dive right in.

Creator Interview With Aaron Duran

Ted: Where did your passion for comics begin?

Aaron: I don't really know where my love for comics comes. Actually, that isn't true. Comics have always been a pretty big part of my family for as long as I can remember. With some exception, I didn't have adult figures talking down to comics. My mom saw it as a great way for me to learn to read (which they are), and many of my aunts and uncles read comics well into adulthood, so it came pretty natural. I guess something about the sequential art format spoke to me. And, as much as I love film, radio, and television, they all have a limitation that comics simply do not have. I can tell any story I want, without a care towards budget or technology.

Ted: You are currently writing La Brujeria with James Sinclair and Dark Anna and the Pirates of Kadath with Ethan Slayton.  Are there very many differences between the way the collaboration works between you and the two artists?
Aaron:  I think the biggest difference in working with James and Ethan are the levels of familiarity and shorthand I can get away with. I've worked with James long enough that I can basically say something like “horror hag, kinda' lich-like” and he knows exactly what I mean. I am certain Ethan and I will get there, but for now I try to be more specific. In the end, I try really hard to cater myself to the individual artists style and likes. (Although I enjoy tossing in a curveball from time to time). But I  think artists have the more labor intensive side to comics, so if I can help them tell a better story, so much the better. Strong art can save the weakest scripts, so you give as much as you can to the artist.

Ted: Both of your books feature a strong female lead, which I as a person who grew up mostly in a house filled with strong females, find a really strong selling point.  What inspired you to make both of your leads female?

Aaron: With Althalia, it just felt like the right choice. I grew up in a house with strong and independent women, and some of the stories they would tell me always focused on women with special gifts. So when I started playing with the ideas behind La Brujeria, it made sense to make the lead a woman. With Dark Anna and the Pirates of Kadath, it was a necessity. When I first started working on the story, I initially planned to make it with Kevin Stephenson (who would end up doing the cover for the 0 issue). We wanted to make a pirate / Lovecraft comic together. During our planning stage he mentioned he'd love a book that he could give to his daughter one day as inspiration. And I wanted to take a historical pirate and give them a fantasy twist. Cut to a quick Internet search and I found Christina Anna Skytte. The rest fell into place. That being said, all of my stories start with the fleshed out human element first. Simply starting out by saying “Well, time for another strong female hero” is an immediate disservice to the story and readers.

Ted: What complications do you find being a creator who is self published?

Aaron:  Money, or the lack thereof. I know, such a mercenary answer, but it's the truth. Modern printing and digital comics have made it easier than ever to get your work out there. But it still takes money to make a comic. With La Brujeria, James and I have a more equal partnership, in that we don't get paid until the book gets paid. And while we've always operated in the black, no one is making anywhere near what they should make. (Read, anything at all). As a freelancer myself, I know all too well what it's like to be offered a job that pays in “exposure”, (which is code for giving it all away and wasting your time). So when I come up with a new comic idea, I work very hard at making sure the people involved get some form of compensation. That all adds up, rather quickly. Then comes distribution. It's simply not there. Well, not to the extent a creator would like. There are places like ComiXology, Apple Comics, and DriveThruComics that provide global platforms, but it's a very crowded pool. Still, it's a wonderful feeling when you can help get your book to rise above cacophony of the crowd. So I guess the very thing that makes it challenging is also a huge opportunity.

Ted: What creators inspired you?

Aaron:  Oh wow, there are quite a few. In comics, one of my earliest inspirations was and is Denny O'Neil. I really got into comics when he was an editor at DC and I remember flipping to the middle of the book to read “From the Den” before I read the comic proper. Later I would dig through back issues and discover the incredibly smart storytelling he was doing, years before anyone else. In the more modern era, it's writers like Greg Rucka and Kelly Sue DeConnick that leave a strong impression upon me. In their own way, their styles and stories are utterly fearless. But on the flip side, aren't put off by telling a story simply because it sounds like a hoot. In recent years I've tried to focus on artists. Mainly because I want to know more than “well, it's what I like”. To that end, I am still in awe behind the manic genius Jack Cole, the creator and artist behind Plastic Man. A rather haunted man, but what he did for visual storytelling was simply amazing and very under appreciated. Then there are creators like Becky Cloonan and a whole swatch of creators that made their own books and never once compromised. It's a work ethic I try to follow.

Ted: Of all the actors that have portrayed Bruce Wayne/Batman which was your favorite Bruce? and which was your favorite Batman?

Aaron:  Kevin Conroy, no question. I read anything with Batman, that is the voice I hear. Now and forever. Indeed, when it comes to my favorite, I'm going to fall down the Animated Series line the whole way. That series is Batman perfection. But, if I have to pick a live version, I don't think Michael Keaton gets enough credit. His Batman was a little stiff, but I think his Bruce Wayne is a wonderful mix of obsessed and aloof. (Although in a better movie, George Clooney could have been THE Bruce Wayne).

Ted: Do you feel the amount of event series and the tie-ins that carry over into the regular books are hurting or helping the big two?

Aaron:  I think the Big-Two are only focused on the short term. For good or bad, they have bigger masters to serve and those masters, with their shareholders, are not interested in the long game. (Although I think Disney has been very good for Marvel, I don't know if the same can be said for DC and WB). Having been both a consumer and merchant in comics, I know event fatigue is hitting both pretty hard. The number 1s always serve up big numbers, but they simply don't sustain. But, they sell well enough that both DC and Marvel are going to keep it up. Hate all the constant resets and events leading to events leading to events? Stop buying them. Support the ongoing stories and both companies will respond. It's as simple (and difficult) as that.

Ted: Wolverine’s bone claws.  in your eyes which is the better continuity. Did he Always have them? Or are they due to his healing factor compensating for the adamantium being ripped from his body by Magneto?

Aaron:  I'm a big jerk and say neither. When Magneto ripped the metal out of him, he should have been sans claws, period. But I guess if I HAVE to pick, I'd go born with them. The compensation angle just doesn't make any sense to me. Not ever superhero comics sense.

Ted: Between my co-creator on the site Tony and I we have a debate going.  So perhaps you could help us settle it. “Alien” and “Aliens” are two very different styles of movies, but in your opinion which is the better movie on the whole?

Aaron:  Whoa, whoa, whoa... Don't pull me into your nerd-lover spat here. Nice try! Also, I am again gonna' pull the jerk move and say you're both correct. The thing with Alien and Aliens is that aside from a shared universe and monster, they are wholly different films. Alien is quite honestly the greatest Lovecraftian horror film ever made. Whereas Aliens is a kick ass war movie. While both use dread with strong results, the pay off is from a whole other spectrum. Now, if you want to know which one I pop in the player more often, that's Aliens. On the flip side, Aliens can be a casual background flick that I quote as I cook dinner. But Alien? Alien requires a dark room and your total attention. Didn't help at all, did I?

Ted: So where can people find Dark Anna and La Brujeria if they wanted to pick them up?

Aaron:  Right now both are only available online. We still have some print copies of Dark Anna, which you can find – You can get a digital copy at ComiXology. (A 5-Star rating is always appreciated, it's the only way a Submit Title rises up the ranks). La Brujeria is only available in digital format these days, we can't afford a 6th printing (yes, 6th, to which we thank everyone for making that a necessity). La Brujeria #1 - #4 is at DriveThruComics and ComiXology.

Ted: Are there any upcoming projects you would like to promote?

Aaron:  I am in the middle of publishing my first novel, in fact by the time this goes out the book should be at a few publishers being reviewed. So, fingers cross at that one. James is hard at work in finalizing issue #5 of La Brujeria, while Ethan and I are hard at work on the first full issue of Dark Anna and the Pirates of Kadath. (Look for shameless crowd-sourcing promotion soon). Finally, I am working on an unnamed project with Matthew Clark which we should be announcing early in 2015. In the mean time, people can check out my weekly podcast, it's moderately entertaining. You can also follow me on Twitter at @GeekintheCity, where I will ramble on about episodes of Star Trek, why Flash Gordon is a genius film, and random home brewing pictures.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!!

Aaron Duran works several jobs, podcaster, ships cook, brewer, and writer just to list a few.  So volunteering his time to answer these questions for me was a real honor.  And if you get the chance please checkout La Brujeria and/or Dark Anna, they are both really good books and a lot of fun.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Review: Nazi Werewolf Zombie Inferno

Welcome back fellow readers.  For this installment I am asking the question, “What’s in a name”?  My co-creator Tony suggested this one to me.  So let the fun begin.

Nazi Werewolf Zombie Inferno
Written By Chris Bradshaw
Illustrated By Karl Jull
Released By Markosia Enterprises

The story, like the title, is something out of a late night B-movie.  And that is the appeal to me.  It tells the story of a man looking for a Nazi treasure that has been missing since the end of WWII.  So he hires a small group of mercenaries to help him find the location detailed in an old Nazi scientist’s journal.  When they locate the bunker and how to get in, it becomes clear that there is a history of dark experiments that occurred in this bunker.  And before long they come face to face with what was really going on there.  An army of werewolf soldiers that have been dormant since a little after the fall of the Third Reich.  The rest is pretty predictable.  Army gets released.  Team turns on each other.  People die.

Unfortunately the title and premise is where the fun ends on this book.  The dialogue is boring and confusing.  The characters are extremely one note, even for the B-movie feel.  And the story is disjointed and confusing.  So much so that by the time the twists in the story take place they have little to no effect.

But what really hurts this book is the “art”.  I put it that way because it is little more than pictures that have been enhanced in photoshop to look slightly drawn.  This was ambitious and could have really worked.  But the way the images worked made for confusing layouts which made the story harder to follow.  It made it so hard to follow that I can’t even tell you fully what happens in the story.  This art style also made it really cheesy when the creatures are unleashed.  It is very obvious that the werewolves are just people wearing bad masks.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

This book would have been so much better to me with a true art style and an artist with a good understanding of layouts to tell a story.  I wanted to enjoy this like I enjoy the cheesy horror movies of the eighties, but it wasn’t even the good version of a bad horror movie to me.

As always, thank you for reading my review.  If you have any comments or suggestions leave them in the comments section.  And remember keep reading comics fans.