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Review – Teen Titans: Earth One Vol. 1

Written by: Jeff Lemire                                                                                                     Pencils by: Terry Dodson                                                                                                  Inks by: Rachel Dodson & Cam Smith                                                                       Colors by: Brad Anderson & Terry Dodson                                                            Collects: Original Graphic Novel, $22.99 ($17.25 after MCS discount)

Though I’ve enjoyed every title under DC’s Earth One banner, none of the Superman or Batman stories really explored the “alternate universe” space. There are deviations from the canon DC Universe, but they’re slight. Superman is still super-manning and Batman is still taking on Gotham corruption, admittedly with less …tact.

GN cover by Terry Dodson

GN cover by Terry Dodson

With the release of the latest E1 series, Teen Titans: Earth One, the question many will have is, does the story deviate enough from the source material to justify the purchase?

The biggest changes readers will observe are to the team members themselves. Beast Boy, Cyborg, Jericho, Raven, Terra and a surprise guest make up the team, and they all play well (though not often with each other) over the course of the book.

While the graphic novel contains the familiar Teen Titans themes of searching for ones place in the world, and forging relationships amongst peers, Lemire makes significant changes to the Titans formula using the team itself. The youngsters are altered enough (in some cases very different) from their mainstream counterpart that most preconceptions you have of a given character will need to adapt. Their superpowers by-in-large function the same, but who they are and what motivates them is changed, which in turn affects how they connect with each other.

Their interpersonal struggles are set against the backdrop of conspiracy that somehow links every member of the Titans. As discoveries are made, bonds are fostered. The conspiracy is good too. There are hints here and there as to what’s going on, but Lemire plays a good hand, and tips it enough to make things consistently compelling. If the quality of the narrative ever started to dip, the curiosity inspired by a new universe with altered and compelling relationships between the Titans kept me moving, as they should.

Vic Stone transforms into Cyborg

Vic Stone transforms into Cyborg

This is my first experience with Terry Dodson’s pencils, and I came out pleased, but yearning for more. Dodson does a great job depicting the Titans themselves. This is a teen-oriented book and he approaches it as such: using clean, expressive lines to create a tight, simplistic experience. It can be too simplistic, however, as there’s a notable lack of background in many panels. I don’t mean just the occasional tree or rock that fades into the background, either. Too often there’s nothing to see except the characters themselves, and when there is scenery, it’s usually not very detailed. It could be argued Dodson did this on purpose, opting to draw the reader’s focus towards the character interactions, and I understand that, but I’m usually not the kind of reader that would notice something like this, which may say enough on its own.

Perhaps most off-putting is Dodson’s depiction of Slade Wilson in his Deathstroke uniform. It’s not awful, but it’s also not intimidating, which is kinda Slade’s thing. Between his fun-dad depiction earlier in the book, and his smirk-worthy battle attire, the Terminator’s edge is somewhat blunted. There are also times with the occasional limb would have an off-kilter shape to it. Small things like these take away from an otherwise refined aesthetic.

Dork-stroke

Dork-stroke

Any criticisms of Lemire’s writing I have are limited to the speed with which the GN reads, and the scope that it’s working with. DC appears to have a circa 150-page mandate for all the E1 books, as no comic in the imprint (both published and announced) contain more than 160 pages. This appears to hinder the story as Lemire alludes to big things in the book, but doesn’t seem to have quite enough space to address everything properly, affecting the story’s pacing. Presenting a number of interesting questions without the space to provide answers is an incredible bummer, primarily because of the rate the E1 installments are published (roughly one volume in a series every 18 months).

As someone who’s been holding out for a good Teen Titans tale for quite a while (Scott Lobdell’s work on the New 52 incarnation was an exercise of self-punishment), this comic definitely scratches an itch. Just keep in mind the poor page-to-price ratio, and the long wait for volume two.

BG1

Review – Batgirl #35

Written by: Cameron Stewart & Brenden Fletcher                                         Pencils & Inks by: Babs Tarr                                                                                            Colors by: Maris Wicks

With Mark Doyle moving from DC’s Vertigo imprint to serve as group editor of Batman related comics, much was made about the Bat-family adopting a fresher, more indie feel. New titles such as Arkham Manor and Gotham Academy are supposedly pillars of the new approach, as well as a new direction with Batgirl starting with issue #35. But does “new” and “indie” also mean good?

Batgirl #35 - Cover by Babs Tarr

Batgirl #35 – Cover by Babs Tarr

Gail Simone is no longer the mind behind the series, and with her goes the darker, long suffering Barbara Gordon. Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher are now writing, and immediately establish a decidedly lighter feel to Batgirl’s world.

The tone changes so much that depending upon who you are and what you’re relationship to Simone’s vision or traditional Batgirl storytelling will most likely determine how you feel about the new direction.

A new, youthful vibe echoes through the book, as Babs and her environs are now clearly geared toward an audience comprised of millennial girls rather than whatever it used to be (visual approximation). Babs moves into a new neighborhood in Gotham City, a spot called Burnside, and seemingly brings very little of her baggage with her. The change in her personality is stark, as she appears to instantly cure herself of her nagging PTSD. She’s now strictly a college girl who is low on funds, trying to make ends meat in the classroom and on the rooftops.

Issue 35 features a big shift in BG's personality.

Issue 35 features a big shift in BG’s personality.

Speaking of sudden contrasts, Burnside is a pretty jolting location given the general awfulness that tends to happen in Gotham. Apparently one short taxi ride will take you away from all those pesky masked murders and into a place so filled with hipsters you’d swear Brooklyn and Portland, OR, had a love child. Do you like you’re independent coffee shop to serve locally grown, Joker Toxin-free coffee beans?

Both Burnside and Gordon’s apartment are brought to life by artist Babs (not a type-o) Tarr. Her style reminds me of Chris Samnee, from Marvel’s current Daredevil series, and that’s certainly not a bad thing. She isn’t as artful as Samnee, and she prefers brighter colors, but she renders a world that is definitely worth exploring. There’s even a clever two-page layout by Tarr to demonstrate how Gordon uses her trademark didactic memory to find out who stole her laptop.

Perhaps the best example of the new Barbara Gordon comes when she has an alcohol-fueled hook-up in her new apartment. This is a clear departure from the old Batgirl, and just one of the ways the creators tilt their focus towards a new audience. The book is so chalk-full of new-girl-for-a-new-age instances that fans of the past series and older readers will be forced to either get with the program or (more likely) grumble in the corner.

Babs' costume has undergone a redesign

Babs’ costume has undergone a redesign.

Some Batgirl fans will undoubtedly feel cast aside by DC’s new approach to the series, and with good reason. This is a distinct departure from what came before. That said, this is a good comic, with a lot of fun between the pages. At it’s best Batgirl #35 reads like a cross of Mark Waid’s Daredevil, and Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye (the Kate Bishop issues). At it’s worst it is a clear attempt by DC to use an old favorite to expand into a new market.

DC drew a line in this sand with this comic, and I enjoyed it enough to see where it goes.

jamiemaddrox

X-Factor: The Complete Collection Vol. 1 – Review

Written by: Peter David                                                                                                    Pencils by: Pablo Raimondi, Ryan Sook, Dennis Calero, Ariel Olivetti, Renato Arlem, & Roy Allen Martinez                                                                         Inks by: Drew Hennessy, Wade Von Grawbadger, Dennis Calero, Ariel Olivetti, Renato Arlem, & Roy Allen Martinez                                         Colors by: Brian Reber & Jose Villarrubia                                                              Collects: Madrox #1-5 & X-Factor #1-12 (Trade Paperback)

X-Factor: The Complete Collection Volume 1

X-Factor: The Complete Collection Volume 1

When I first saw the solicitation for this book a few weeks ago, I got excited. I’d heard from various avenues about Peter David’s second volume of X-Factor (or first, as Marvel messed around with the issue numbering as the series went on) was pretty darn good. Whatever freaking volume it’s now considered to be, David wrapped up his run on the title last year, and this seemed like a pretty good opportunity to jump in.

One of the great aspects about the book is the simple concept. Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man, decides to start a mutant detective agency out of Mutant Town, with the help of fellow mutants Guido, M, Rictor, Siryn, Wolfsbane and a new character named Layla Miller, the girl who “knows stuff.” I’m attaching links to all these characters because prior to reading the book, I had never heard of any of them. That’s part of the appeal, though, because it punctuates the idea of a rag-tag group of very different characters coming together to try and help people out… even though they’re pretty unqualified.

The basic principle of a group of varying personalities trying to live with one another is solid in itself, but since everyone in said group is a mutant, and the series occurs immediately after House of M, everything gets an extra punch of the tried and true Marvel formula of “mutants trying to live in an ever changing, angry world.” Additionally, Madrox had previously sent out duplicates of himself all over the world to gain knowledge and expertise, and they come back home to poppa so he can reabsorb them and benefit from their experiences. It’s like how pagans use to eat peoples brains for the same purpose, but less sticky.

X-Factor #12

X-Factor #12

Another big draw for me was the idea of X-Factor Investigations, the team’s official business name in the book, would be solving crimes and mysteries and the like. I like a good mystery. While X-Factor does help out some mutants in need, the arcs don’t really play out like a detective story, but more of a ground level tale with some detective elements. It was a little disappointing, but the way David allows you inside Madrox’s head (he’s far and away the start of the show) to get some noir-inspired narration makes up for it. In that vein, the narrative relies on the metaphor surrounding Madrox’s multiplicity, and his difficulty to constantly adapt to it.

I mentioned the obscurity or lack of recognition the mutants that make up X-Factor have (for me) for good reason. I enjoyed being thrown into a pre-existing world to get to know established characters. David writes a tale that is easily accessible for new readers, but still hints at the characters’ well defined past. Each page is that much more interesting when any given panel can offer insight into a character you’re just getting to know. It also made the series’ willingness to play ball with Marvel’s House of M and Civil War events bearable. I normally hate how crossover events by Marvel and DC infect various series that would almost always be better off alone, but X-Factor seems uniquely set up to deal with Marvel’s modern continuity. X-Factor’s niche is to solve people’s problems, and crossovers are nothing –for a variety of reasons- if not one big problem.

Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man

Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man

Usually one of the best ways to disrupt the immersion or narrative flow of a comic is to break up the art teams, and this occurs a lot throughout X-Factor. The art is never bad by any means, but there is a disparity in the quality. The visuals were definitely at their best in #1-4 of X-Factor with Ryan Sook, Wade Von Grawbadger, Dennis Calero, and Jose Villarubia in charge. There was a sense of dark, dank clarity that worked hand in hand with the story. The aesthetic low points come from the work of Brian Reber and Renato Arlem. Reber’s colors lacked detail in my opinion, and Arlem seemed far too hesitant to ink over some of his own pencils at times, and I say that as someone who tends to like the depth that leftover pencil marks can offer. Their contributions didn’t do much for me, but I struggle to say any particular issue was less than visually average.

The collection begins with Madrox #1-5, before going full bore into the X-Factor issues, but it’s really one in the same. The Madrox mini-series just works as the unofficial beginning to this incarnation of X-Factor. It’s a quality book that currently shows me a lot of potential, and clearly had enough potential to give a dedicated fan base and over 100 issues. The volume collects 17 issues, representing a terrific value.

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Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review: rebuff

The first thing out of my mouth has to be my acknowledgement for the immense amount of respect I have for Nick.  He’s a well-thought, well-spoken, talented-beyond-his-years individual of whom I’m very proud to have on our team. Yet here he’s beyond his years.

Amazing_Fantasy_Vol_1_15_001I’ve got to imagine that Nick doesn’t know the story of Gwen Stacy. Or that she had children with Norman Osborn (even if half of us ignore that story). Nick’s comments to ‘Raimi’s bathtub suicide’ lead me to believe that he’s never read the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko books that paved the way for everything Peter Parker, The Amazing Spider-Man is.  Peter Parker would never graduate the way he did in the movie, in point of fact, he would probably rush across the stage with his head down.

As a Spider-Man fan I was more uncomfortable with this new movie than with the first Amazing Spider-Man. About twenty minutes or so in I actually missed some of the movie as I thought about just getting up and leaving. Not to exaggerate that moment, it was probably ten minutes later that I actually looked around to see how many people I would ‘bother’ in making my way out.

I completely agree with Nick as to the erratic pace that kept the viewer as off balance as Spider-Man himself was throughout the film. I was worried about too many villians but was pleasantly surprised that cinematically I think this is one of two moments that Sony got right with the movie. All comic book movies seem to be formulaic to me so I was thrilled that when we got to the climactic end, it wasn’t.

maxI also think that it was very unfortunate that Max Dillon is portrayed as a whack job before becoming Electro. Some of the fight scenes with Electro seemed like a scene out of a bad video game.

There were many moments that plot device just felt so pushed on me that the whole thing felt unnatural and unwelcome. All-in-all, as a Spider-Man fan, there was only one scene that I thought Sony got right. That’s really too bad because as big a fan as I am, come DVD/Blu-ray time I don’t think I want to spend money on this. I don’t want to see it, or even listen to it in the background, again.

1/10 from me. All of the potential was missed.

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