Speech Bubbles: Comics & Graphic Novels Comic Fan Talk About Comic Books! http://www.lunch.com/RealityInked <![CDATA[ In A Word: EPIC]]>  
A few weeks ago while I was exploring Amazon Fire TV, I stumbled across SPACE: 1999 as a suggestion following another program I’d just concluded.  I took the leap, ordering up the pilot … and the rest, as they say, is history.
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to my last paragraph for my final, unadulterated opinion.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
For the uninitiated, SPACE: 1999 was a Science Fiction program produced in the mid-70’s exploring the crew of Moonbase Alpha.  The premise in a nutshell is that man’s stockpiling of nuclear waste on our only satellite serves as a catalyst for an eventual explosion that propels the moon out of orbit and moving into deep, deep space.  Instead of a starship, the program had a ‘moonship,’ and the stories of the crew ranged from tales of survival, invasion, and terror.
 
Naturally – as the late 60’s era classic STAR TREK ruled the roost in TV syndication in those days – Sci-Fi fans were kinda/sorta split on what to make of SPACE: 1999.  So much of their collective effort had gone into demanding a new Trek series (one was on-the-boards but through circumstances it morphed into what inevitably became STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE), and I think maybe the feeling at the time was that they couldn’t openly embrace another TV show for fear of losing sight on achieving their first dream, that being a return to prominence for Capt. Kirk and crew.  Also as 1999 had been sold into syndication right out of the gate – whereas Trek had its infancy and initial reputation from being on network TV – I tend to suspect that it wasn’t as easily found on the dial.  Due to this and other reasons, 1999 rode down the middle of critical opinion, some liking it, some hating, but many others just not knowing what to make of it.
 
Now that I’d found it and explored a handful of what are largely revered to be several of its first season classics (I won’t even touch the debate regarding the show’s second season), I picked up that copy of AFTERSHOCK AND AWE (yes, it was still there).  Having just finished it, let me assure you that I am in AWE of it.
 
Essentially, it’s two graphic novels culled together around the series’ pilot, though there are indications that scribe Andrew E. C. Gaska consulted earlier drafts of the script in order to produce this version.  Where the recounting of the televised events end, the creators pick right up with an all-new tale, one exploring the events taking place on Earth after our moon was sent hurtling away and out of our solar system.  While heavy on biblical prophecy, AFTERSHOCK is a brilliant apocalypse tale, a vision that borrows elements from the show’s canon and spins them in some wildly effective new directions, though I was a bit distraught with how much of a downright skank Commander John Koenig’s near-miss of a wife turned out to be.
 
These two scripts work brilliantly together, helping first to re-establish the program’s central characters from a more cerebral perspective in the minds of the reader and then to shake up the status quo by exploring the greater universe of possibilities that helped shape who they were before they found themselves on this great journey into the unknown.  Separately, they’re quite good, but together they’re practically ‘required reading’ for anyone with even a modest interest in what was and what could still be in a Sci-Fi property that deserves another look.
 
Building on Gaska’s script, the visuals by Gray Morrow and Miki are at times derivative but never disrespectful to the unique 70’s appeal of the program.  Once the story turns to Earth, the art duties are taken up by David Hueso and Miki; they continue to build on that original artistic scheme, but they deliver a jaw-dropping look at the unfolding Apocalypse with more pomp and circumstance than one expects from a big-budget cinematic blockbuster.  Trust me when I warn you: the End of Times never looked so good!
 
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE.  If you were even a casual fan of SPACE: 1999 throughout its two televised seasons, then you owe it to yourself as well as all of fandom to run out and pick up a copy today (or, better yet, save a tree and get it digitally) of SPACE: 1999 – AFTERSHOCK AND AWE.  What Gaska/Morrow/Hueso/Miki and Archaia Black Label have achieved here is nothing short on epic: sure, there may be a few narrative blemishes that don’t go down as well as they should, but otherwise what you get is a pitch perfect re-examination of the fictional events that set this greatly underappreciated series in motion from two completely exciting perspectives.
 
Now, Hollywood … where’s THIS reboot?!?!]]>
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<![CDATA[ THE STRAIN Strains Credibility With So Many Derivative Elements]]>  
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
A Boeing 777 lands in New York City, bringing with it a horror that’s gone undiscovered for the better part of the last century.  It’s vampires – not the ordinary cape-wearing variety but undead, naked, lizard-tongued types – and they’re about to destroy civilization … unless an elderly pawnbroker and a team from the CDC can stop the carnage before it even begins!
 
What serves as a catalyst to set this story in motion (after the obligatory flashback set-ups) is an airliner lands in New York City and then loses contact with the tower.  Once aboard, investigators find what appears to be the dead bodies of a doomed flight with three exceptions (believed to be survivors).  The truth is something vastly more complex … but what I couldn’t help recognizing was that I’d seen this set-up before.  In fact, I’d seen it twice before, both times on the Fox television network – it was a narrative construct used for The X-Files and then again in the pilot episode for Fringe.  (Should I be all that surprised that the television version of this story is premiering only days away on the FX Network?!?!)
 
Now, I don’t want to feel like I’m picking on creator Guillermo del Toro.  The man certainly has a way of telling a story that’s unique; he has a strong command of visuals, and that’s probably why most of his work inspires so much of fandom.  I appreciate a visionary as much as the next person, but when you’re openly stealing ideas from your own previous exploits (such as the UV bombs featured in this story’s climax) maybe it’s time to hang it up until you have some other inspiration.  See, the movie BLADE II was directed by del Toro, and maybe he’s hoping folks don’t notice the similarities between elements introduced there and those in THE STRAIN.  UV bombs.  Vampires with these long, long tongues.  I noticed them.  I did – they practically jump off the page – and, while I won’t fault the man for re-using good ideas, I honestly expected greater ‘wow’ factor giving this property’s excessive TV build-up.
 
Still, I’m a sucker for a monster story.  On that level, THE STRAIN is a perfectly acceptable vehicle to get jazzed up about.  It has a kind of visual flourish here that feels right – plenty dark and hints of sensuality never feel out of place in the more Gothic scares – though perhaps it smacks of some obvious theatricality at times.  It’s worth a read, though I’d be suspect about where all of this can go that hasn’t been done before.
 
Therein lies my only real complaint with most of THE STRAIN: despite being a rather good modern-day vampire story, there’s an awful lot of it that feels like it’s been done before.  Besides the doomed airliner set-up, there’s very little to distinguish these characters from so, so many who have come before.  In fact, Syfy recently aired the first season of HELIX – a program involving some genetic virus in the Arctic – which featured a prominent scientist (played by Billy Campbell) who – lo and behold – had one failed marriage under his belt while coping with attractions from a prominent coworker; THE STRAIN’s main character is almost a carbon copy.
 
THE STRAIN: VOLUME 1 (HARDCOVER) is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The story is adapted by David Lapham from creator Guillermo del Toro’s work; with illustrations and artwork provided by Mike Huddleston and Dan Jackson.  (The artwork does look very, very solid consistently through the tome.)
 
RECOMMENDED.  As a modern day vampire story, THE STRAIN works pretty well … even though there are huge parts of it that feel derivative of sights, sounds, and themes that have been explored elsewhere (even by Guillermo del Toro himself!).  I guess that’s not a bad thing; it just kept me from possibly enjoying the story more than I would have under better circumstances.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of THE STRAIN: VOLUME 1 (HARDCOVER) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.]]>
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<![CDATA[ The (Dark) Force Is Strong With This Mini!]]>  
Dare I suggest that scribe Jeremy Barlow may be taking Darth Maul in the same direction?
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
From the product packaging: “With his Shadow Collective army stalled, Darth Maul calls on Mother Talzin for help and is sent reinforcements – the deadly Nightbrothers!  Maul is ready again to take on the Separatist droid army, Count Dooku, and General Grievous – in a trio of simultaneous battles!”
 
To be honest, I wasn’t all that thrilled either when STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS actually brought Darth Maul back from the dead … but as we learned he wasn’t quite dead.  As the story goes, he was kinda/sorta subsisting on all of the anger and hate that fueled his body in that netherworld (netherplace?); so it wasn’t really all that much of a logistical problem to reanimate the Sith.  In fact, one could argue that the character was finally in the proper state of mind to do something with all of that rage.
 
Whatever your position, Maul is back; and – in writer Barlow’s hands – he’s actually taking a few steps forward.  The Maul we knew from THE PHANTOM MENACE and THE CLONE WARS (to some degree) was never really depicted as the smartest Dathomirian Zabrak in the known galaxies.  In MENACE, he largely brooded from one scene to the next, turning in a wonderfully kinetic experience in the saber battle where he bested Qui-Gon Jinn but then fell to (a weaker) Obi-Wan Kenobi.  In THE CLONE WARS, viewers were given the sense that this new Maul – one heavily influenced by the darkest emotions – wasn’t going to go quietly into the night … and that’s certainly turned out to be the case in this comic book miniseries.
 
Essentially picking up moments after the first issue ends, scribe Barlow puts Maul in a position of humility as the Sith has to call on Mother Talzin for any and all assistance she can provide.  No doubt, this only further fires the hate he feels in whatever is left of a beating heart; and this forces him to come up with an even grander strategy, one that’ll not only put Count Dooku and General Grievous well within his grasp but also one that strongly suggests the tide may be finally turning against Darth Sidious’s favor.
 
Because I’m willing to concede bringing Maul back into the universe maybe wasn’t such a bad idea after all, I’m having a lot of fun with this mini right now.  Granted, it would’ve been nicer to have some bigger, more expansive artwork to go right along with the scope of the narrative (many panels are fairly light on elements, and some of the colors look downright uninspired); but as Dark Horse’s time with the STAR WARS’ license is winding down, perhaps this is the best we can hope for at present.
 
Still, things are shaping up pretty nicely.  Can they get even better?  We’ll have to be here in 30 days to find out!
 
STAR WARS: DARTH MAUL – SON OF DATHOMIR (#2) is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The story is written by Jeremy Barlow; the pencils are supplied by Juan Frigeri; the inks are by Mauro Vargas; with the colors by Wes Dzioba; and the lettering by Michael Heisler.  For those of you raised on an island, STAR WARS is the creation of George Lucas.  The issue bears the cover prices of $3.50, and that’s still the best price in town for original STAR WARS material so far as this longtime comics fan is concerned.  May the Force be with us.  Always.
 
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  As this tale involves Darth Maul and a fair percentage of fandom kinda/sorta rejects his whole ‘resurrection’ (of a sort), I’d imagine you know right now whether or not reading this interests you.  Sure, maybe he was better off dead, but isn’t there something said for never being able to keep a good Sith down?  The artwork may not be anything exceptional (some panels are Saturday morning cartoonish – not that there’s anything wrong with it), but a chess game set against the backdrop of a whole galaxy is definitely in motion before you reach the last page in this book.  Buckle up, kid.  This ain’t like dustin’ crops!
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of STAR WARS: DARTH MAUL – SON OF DATHOMIR (#2) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Blast from the Past: DARK EMPIRE Reconsidered (After All These Years)]]>  
One of the first big breakthroughs was something called DARK EMPIRE.  It went on to have a few sequels, but – for my tastes – I honestly didn’t much care for this tale even when it first hit the shelves.  It isn’t that I disliked the idea of exploring an Emperor Palpatine resurrected in the days of the New Republic fumbling to establish a firm footing; it’s just that so much of Tom Veitch’s story felt like character retreads.
 
More after the break …
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
Essentially, the story that unfolds here is that the Empire isn’t quite as dead as our heroes – Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa-Solo, Han Solo, and more – long believed it to be.  In fact, some lingering elements in the inner galaxies have gone a long way toward re-establishing their own union, putting the New Republic back on its heels and having to fight in smaller isolated conflicts once more.  Naturally, this brings our gang back together, and they’re rushed to the front lines in order to give yet one more ‘New Hope’ street cred with faltering worlds.
 
Lo and behold, our young Skywalker – now a bit older – discovers that the Emperor (aka Darth Sidious) has been resurrected (in a sense).  It would seem that his life essence has become a part of the living Dark Side – much like Obi-wan Kenobi, Yoda, and Anakin Skywalker have merged with the Light Side elements; all the former Palpatine need do is pull a younger version of himself out of a clone canister and – viola – new Emperor!  Now, he’s using some massive new weapons known as ‘World Devastators’ to crush planets that won’t bend to his will.
 
Just as was the thematic undercurrent for the Luke Skywalker character in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI (and many, many Extended Universe tales since then), this new Emperor wants to turn our hero to the Dark Side.  What makes this tale a bit different is that the Jedi seemingly does embrace it, though he admits to readers over and over again that he’s done so only to get closer to Palpatine so that he can inevitably defeat him.  Leia, Han, and the others don’t see as clearly what Luke’s motivations are, so they spend the bulk of their time trying to contact the Jedi Master so they can ‘reclaim’ him for their side … and, so far as I can tell, that about wraps it up.
 
DARK EMPIRE is a worthy read, but it’s nothing that really smacks of originality or epicness (if you’ll pardon my creation of the word).  The Emperor is the same – as are all of our regular players – so nothing new added to the mix pretty much leaves this tale tasting like something we’ve all had before.  That in itself isn’t enough reason to resist the story’s obvious temptations – could it be that Luke won’t survive the Emperor’s machinations this time? – which is why I basically deem it worth a read but little else.  Plus, DARK EMPIRE has a weird artistic template; it’s almost as if illustrator Cam Kennedy (who does terrific work) made some curious decision to color the worlds of George Lucas monochromatically, and, for the life of me, I can’t figure out how anyone thought that was a good idea.  (???)  One of the most enduring qualities of STAR WARS is how different the various worlds and machines and droids look from one to another, so casting so very many panels in as few color choices as possible makes no narrative much less commercial sense.
 
Heck, even the long-rumored dead Boba Fett shows up for what plays out like an almost obligator appearance, one meant to recapture the magic of the bounty hunters glory days instead of adding legitimacy to the web being spun here.  I like Boba Fett.  I get most fanboys like Boba Fett.  But his appearance here?  It just didn’t need to be.
 
RECOMMENDED.  I’m smitten with most of the Dark Horse’s adventures from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away; still, there’s something about DARK EMPIRE that just underwhelmed me.  There were a few moments of greatness – Luke’s commitment to kinda/sorta bringing the Force into balance; Leia’s love for family despite the obvious hardships; Han’s ribbing of his brother-in-law; etc. – but most of them underscore relationships already so firmly established that there was little new brought to the game.  Otherwise, much of this tale flew on autopilot, and it was hardly as DARK as it could’ve been.  Good – worth a read – but far from great.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Lara Croft Suffers Through A Second Installment of Gail Simone's 'Plain Jane' Makeover]]>  
Wanna know more?  Hang on after the break …
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
The way of the true action hero would, Lara Croft has defied the odds: not even a flood of Biblical proportions (and one with plenty of Biblical allegory) could wash her away, and she even manages to save a life in the process.  But survival alone isn’t enough as she realizes she has only one piece of a slowly emerging puzzle … one that might spell certain doom for Lara and her friends if she doesn’t act fast!
 
Ok.  Look.  I get that for whatever reason Gail Simone and the stewards at Dark Horse Comics felt it was time to go another way with Lara Croft.  Essentially, they’ve taken a seminal character of the video game revolution and given her a curious makeover.  Gone is Lara’s slick hairstyles only to be replaced with something that occasionally looks like it’s never had a comb run through it.  Gone are the tight, revealing t-shirts in favor of out-of-season blouses two sizes too big.  Gone are her Daisy Duke shorts and, in their stead, are baggy blue jeans or something that looks like bargain basement brown stirrup pants.  I mean … have you seen Lara in the panel at the center-bottom of Page 17?  (Note: page numbering can be notoriously different from digital to print versions.)  She’s wearing what I’d honestly suspect just came off a homeless person.
 
At some point, makeovers get ridiculous.  I’m laughing, Gail Simone, and I don’t think that’s what you intended.
 
I get that you wanted to show that an action heroine didn’t need to have D-cups in order to dish out a quality story, but you might want to encourage your creative team to avoid dressing her in the latest Ross sales gear as well.  I’ve no problem with taking a character in a bold new direction; I just didn’t realize that meant readers would have to shuffle through page after page of seeing Lara Croft looking like she was dressing in drag.  And bad drag, at that.
 
To my delight, this second issue is a marked improvement in terms of story.  The first issue had a respectable amount of action, but it wasn’t all that interesting, nor did the pacing feel right.  This time out, Lara gets from Point A to Point B with a noticeable increase in intrigue: the mythology elements are in place, and there’s even an Asian-looking baddie showing up threatening to kill people at a moment’s notice.  You get an A for improvement in that department, but the constant affinity for drabness is now starting to smother what could be an otherwise interesting adventure in the life of every fanboy’s favorite shapely adventurer.
 
At this point, I can’t imagine this title sinking any lower.
 
TOMB RAIDER #2 is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The story is written by Gail Simone; the pencils are drawn by Nicolas Daniel Selma; the inks are supplied by Juan Gedeon; the colors have been filled in by Michael Atiyeh; and the lettering is done by Michael Heisler.  The issue bears the cover price of $3.50, and – despite the underwhelming nature of it all – that’s still a fair price to pay for the quality of what’s packed between the covers.
 
RECOMMENDED.  It isn’t as if I’m not enjoying this TOMB RAIDER reboot.  Author Gail Simone’s script is interesting enough, and the story certainly contains some of the elements one could expect from characters in such a tale (i.e. action, adventure, intrigue, international players, ancient mythology, etc.).  It’s just that so much of it is poorly presented from the art team of Selma, Gedeon, and Atiyeh (mentioned above).  There’s no spark of magic.  There’s no thrill of the chase.  As a consequence, Lara Croft feels more like ‘Plain Jane’ in this artistically tepid makeover.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of TOMB RAIDER #2 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Fast, Fun, & Familiar MAUL Is Off To A Great Start In New Miniseries]]>  
To my surprise, DARTH MAUL – SON OF DATHOMIR’s first issue recalls some of those same undercurrents, pitting the Emperor’s failed apprentice against the Emperor himself as well as those who rose up to replace him when he fell so far.
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
For those of you not in the know, Darth Maul survived the events previously depicted in STAR WARS: EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE: the animated CLONE WARS series resurrected the Dark Jedi from the abyss, fueling him on a kind of existential hate and depositing him right in the midst of the chaos that is those wars.  However – as this tale opens – Maul’s been captured.  It isn’t long before he’s rescued by agents of his sinister organization, and this only means that Count Dooku and General Grievous will be tasked with bringing the Sith back, even at the risk of their own forces!
 
I won’t belabor a longer plot synopsis, mostly because SON OF DATHOMIR is probably a title you already know whether or not it interests you based on the big star attraction: Maul himself.  While other fans have voiced their disdain for bringing the red-faced devil back from the dead, I’ve had absolutely no problem with it.  In fact, I think it’s given some storytellers the opportunity to further explore this phantom menace who didn’t get much time to chew scenery on the big screen as I would’ve liked.  What started out as a rather two-dimensional villain has grown almost affectionately into a force all of his own in both the animated program and a handful of comic miniseries.
 
Similar to the tone of the Thrawn Trilogy, SON OF DATHOMIR starts out looking like a chess match between these opposing forces of evil: Maul wants nothing more than to rid the galaxy of Dooku, while the Count wants to make good on his agent’s (Grievous) promise to see the same happen to Maul.  The fact that Emperor Palpatine shows up albeit briefly in the opening pages makes for great drama, the kind of which one should have come to expect from Dark Horse’s talented stable.
 
As a first issue, this one works admirably, introducing readers to the particular time and place of these events, even kinda/sorta clarifying where the go in the greater chronology of the Clone Wars.  Scribe Jeremy Barlow crafts a masterful tale by pitting these characters against one another, along with the promise of drawing out who the Emperor sees as a greater threat – the Dathomir witches as lead by Mother Talzin – and I, for one, hope he can deliver on such a huge promise.  The artwork – as put together by the team of Juan Frigeri, Mauro Vargas, and Wes Dzioba – isn’t the greatest that has come from the publisher: several panels boast an almost minimalist style (shadows and silhouetted characters depicted against bright backdrops), but I’ve always been one for ‘story’ over ‘style’ six days a week and twice on Sunday.
 
SON OF DATHOMIR feels like a comfortable trip through hyperspace.  Maybe it’s a bit familiar.  Maybe it’s a bit derivative.  But it’s a quick two dozen pages into that galaxy far, far away I’m more than happy to read.
 
STAR WARS: DARTH MAUL – SON OF DATHOMIR (#1) is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The story is written by Jeremy Barlow; the pencils are supplied by Juan Frigeri; the inks are by Mauro Vargas; with the colors by Wes Dzioba; and the lettering by Michael Heisler.  For those of you raised on an island, STAR WARS is the creation of George Lucas.  The issue bears the cover prices of $3.50, and that’s still the best price in town for original STAR WARS material so far as this longtime comics fan is concerned.  May the Force be with us.  Always.
 
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  It’s Dark Horse.  It’s Star Wars.  It’s Darth Maul.  It’s the Clone Wars.  If you’re been on this wild ride as long as I have, then you’ll realize that it’ll soon be coming to an end as the license moves to Marvel Comics later this year.  DARTH MAUL – SON OF DATHOMIR starts out with Maul and the Emperor coming face-to-face once more, and it ends with the fallen apprentice on-the-run from the Separatist Forces allied against him and his black criminal league.  This is a great start to what might very well be the last original miniseries from the Horse’s mouth … and I’m already feeling the pangs of withdrawal.  Hop aboard while there’s still a chance.  This one looks to be solid.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of STAR WARS: DARTH MAUL – SON OF DATHOMIR (Part One) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Recommended DEATH Is As Exhausting As It Is Epic]]>  
So – being perfectly clear – let me also say that unlike countless others I’ve never been all that enamored with The Joker as Batman’s signature villain.  Sure, he’s a lunatic, and he’s driven to carry out every criminal act more despicable than the one before.  Madness has to count for something.  While I can appreciate that he’s always been intended to be the yin to Batman’s yang (or vice versa), I just saw him as the resident maniacal weirdo.  Nothing else.
 
Throughout the years, The Joker has had his share of good stories, and it’s easy to see how Scott Snyder’s “Death to the Family” tries to up the ante, putting the pale-faced grinner front-and-center in his efforts to perhaps once and for all say and/or do something definitive in his relationship with the Bats.  These two have been at one another’s figurative throat for so long it’s no wonder other writers haven’t come up with this exact storyline (it bears some mild resemblance to others, almost as if Snyder and his creative cohorts picked up elements of their favorite Bat-yarns throughout the years and mixed ‘em up in a cauldron for good measure); still, it’s Snyder’s signature command of dialogue that makes this one somethin’ special.
 
But it also makes it something downright exhaustive.
 
In the 80’s, I can remember debating the merits of the Batman having so many secondary crimefighters to help keep Gotham’s streets clean.  You had Robin.  You had Nightwing.  You had Batgirl.  You had Alfred.  Why, those alone and his on-again-off-again kinda/sorta romance/kinship with Catwoman meant, any given issue could easily turn into “The Bat-Family Adventure Hour.”  And – to be perfectly honest – I hated it.  It wasn’t that I hated any individual character; it was just that I always (always) saw The Bat as the quintessential loner.  Gotham’s last man standing.  Sure, some tales required he have some assistance, but, all-in-all, the tales I enjoyed were ones where he was the lone wolf going up against a pack of rabid dogs.
 
While drawing some modest allusions to the previously published tale “A Death in the Family,” Snyder’s “Death to the Family” tries to dial the drama up to eleven: The Joker captures every single member of the Bat-family in order to bring about Batman’s worst nightmare – the death of everyone.
 
This is what I mean when I say I’m honestly surprised no one came up with this exact story earlier.  It isn’t unheard of that Batman would suffer some tragedy to those closest to him; rather, what’s less likely to remain is allowing said tragedy to actually stand and become a lasting, final part of the greater Bat-mythos.  In the aforementioned “A Death in the Family,” Jason Todd bites the dust – or so we were lead to believe – at the hands of The Joker yielding a particular bloody crow bar.  (Heck, you kids can even Google that whole affair to discover what modest controversy it created beyond the covers.)  Proving that old adage – “no one ever really dies in fiction” – Jason’s back and in Batman’s good graces, making him only one of the several targets for the new-and-improved Joker (face not included).
 
Because the big finish (which takes for-e-ver) requires every member of The Bats’ entourage to be in jeopardy at the same time, there’s a massive amount of set-up here; and this is where the tale grinds to a near-halt.  Sure, it’s great to have the entirety of one impressive tale available in one handsome collection, so I’ll happily give kudos to DC there … only several of these lesser arcs really aren’t complete.  Don’t get me wrong: all you need to know about each and every character and how he (or she) plays into the conclusion is here – what’s missing is a slew of narrative hooks clearly continuing storylines of these separate ongoing monthlies.  For example, there’s a whole slew of references in the arc involving the Teen Titans, but half of it makes little to no sense to this reader because I’m unfamiliar with those characters and their respective growing pains.  Same thing with the Catwoman issues included.  Ditto with the Batgirl.  Oh, yeah, and Harley Quinn and her activities.
 
Catch my drift?
 
While I do appreciate having these issues collected here, their appearance doesn’t come without the extra baggage.  Snyder’s verbosity – while admirable – also tends to thrust The Bats’ and The Joker’s big showdown back into second gear.  (He’s brilliant at what he does, bar none one of the finest working today in DC’s stable; I just think he could use a stronger editor.)  My best suggestion?  Don’t even try to read all of this in one sitting.  I did … and then I went back and read it again because so much of these secondary appearances made so little sense to me at first blush.
 
Epic?  Yes.  One for the ages?  Possibly.  Recommended?  You betcha?
 
An easy reading assignment?  Not hardly.]]>
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<![CDATA[ As THE BLACK CIRCLE Began, So It Ends: In Mediocrity]]>  
Let’s dissect, shall we?
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
From the book’s editorial page:  “With the black peak on Yimsha in sight, Conan and Devi Yasmina are ambushed by the Black Seer Khemsa and his lover Gitara in hopes to ransom the devi for themselves.  But Khemsa’s betrayals have not gone unnoticed by his master and the Black Circle descends upon the group!  Ignoring Conan, the Black Circle swiftly dispatches their misguided brother and his lover, and steal Yasmina away, leaving Conan to plot his next action …”
 
One of the significant disadvantages to having read so many Conan tales and then being tasked with reviewing one like THE BLACK CIRCLE is that, invariably, there are mental comparisons to other better and lesser works.  Since they’re all about Conan and his various adventures, it gets hard to separate one from the other – you want to know that they’re all adding up to some grand legacy.  Still, a wise man once told me that life is only time spent between one’s more emotional high points – meaning that you’ll spend far more time just ‘being’ than ever feeling ‘exalted’ in any measure.
 
That being said, the best I can sum up this tale is that (A) it’ll never register as one of my favorites and (B) it’ll likely turn me off from ever seeking out the actual source material (the written word of Robert E. Howard).  For THE BLACK CIRCLE feels like a ‘black mark’ on Dark Horse’s otherwise pretty respectable record with the seminal Cimmerian – it dishes little action, it rarely makes narrative sense (at least, to me it didn’t), and it makes the barbarian look as though he’s lived a life of luck than boundless excitement.
 
See, I don’t want to see Conan second guessing what to do next.  I don’t either want him seeking out adventure solely for adventure’s sake because I’ve always pictured him as the ultimate “smart” barbarian – sure, he’ll gladly cross blades with any man should the opportunity arise, but he’ll have some cause behind it before he wastes burning calories without reason.  In these final pages recounting his exchange with THE PEOPLE OF THE BLACK CIRCLE (and, for the record, they’re not so much people as they are lizard-men), I see Conan going to rescue a kidnapped princess who the last I checked was his sworn enemy.  Didn’t he, after all, kidnap her solely with the intent of recovering seven of his captured comrades?  (Yes, I know that they were killed under other circumstances, but at what point did these two ever become allies of a type that he would risk his life for her?)
 
Now, I suppose one could reasonably stress that Yasmina was being held by forces of darkness so it would stand to reason that Conan would go after her merely just for spite.  Right?  Isn’t that possible?  Meh.  Like I said, I suppose that could be the case, and I suppose that’s what I’ll have to settle on as this one ends pretty definitively.  (Let’s just say that I, for one, hope there’s no sequel.)  That might be the case because even Yasmina gloriously announces “I knew you’d come for me!” in the big finish (which finally does serve up the requisite amount of bloody action), defying all sense of logic.
 
Still, there’s a brief coda that kinda/sorta returns them to their adversarial positions, none too quickly if you ask me.
 
CONAN AND THE PEOPLE OF THE BLACK CIRCLE (#04 of 04) is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The script is adapted by Fred Van Lente; the artwork is done by Ariel Olivetti; with the letters provided by Richard Starkings & Comicraft.  For those of you who grew up on an island, this tale and Conan’s creation rests entirely on the shoulders of Robert E. Howard.  This issue bears the cover price of $3.50, and – as much as that matters – it’s a bargain available only to those who have it to spend: Dark Horse’s reputation for quality is second-to-none so far as this reader is concerned.
 
(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED.  I wanted to like this one, but CONAN AND THE PEOPLE OF THE BLACK CIRCLE just felt too lukewarm too much of the time.  Light on action and even lighter on reason, this tale probably wouldn’t bring too many new readers to the fold; and it’ll probably leave some (like me) scratching their heads in mild disgust.  The best reason to hang through four issues?  Olivetti’s artwork is pretty killer right up until the last panel.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of CONAN AND THE PEOPLE OF THE BLACK CIRCLE #04 of 04 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution in no way, shape, or form contributed to my evaluation of it.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Third Issue Proves THE BLACK CIRCLE Is More Opaque Than Anything Else]]>  
Let’s dissect, shall we?
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
From the book’s editorial page: “The devi Yasmina attempted to coerce Conan into helping avenge her brother’s murder, but he kidnapped her instead.  Wazuli tribesmen attacked them, but luckily the chieftain, Yar Afzal, was an old friend of Conan’s.  However, when Khemsa, a Seer, kills Yar, the Wazulis believe Conan is responsible.  On the run again, Conan and Yasmina spot the black peak of Yimsha …”
 
Well …
 
I’ve honestly been waiting patiently for this tale – this one involving the people of the BLACK CIRCLE – to actually take of in some recognizable fashion; and, thus far, it hasn’t.  Issue 3 opens up with yet one more peaceful exchange between Conan and some secondary characters, and I’m now fully inclined to believe that – for reasons I may not be able to fully explain – this just isn’t one for the ages.  As I think I’ve maligned in my reviews of the first two issues, there just isn’t any action or adventure here, despite the fact that there are deaths of nobles and princesses and dark sorcerers and everything else one might expect from a Conan yarn.  What there isn’t is cohesion.
 
When a man filled with brutal abilities can (dare I say) talk his way out of every legitimate encounter, one has to question why he honed his skills with a blade for so many years?  Instead, why didn’t he spend some quality time with learned nobles and/or court jesters or others with a penchant for persuasiveness?    Why cultivate the reputation of a brawler when all one need be for the story is a braggart?  It seems like such a waste of muscle mass, much less cardio.
 
Again, scribe Van Lente pays close attention to packing his pages with the fewest panels in order to allow more space for speech bubbles.  Conan lectures the princess on trickery here.  They debate the merits of the geography there.  Thankfully, it’s only a few pages in when our featured pair come face-to-face with the dastardly sorcerer on a hilltop … where they spend another page just exchanging barbs.  Then – out of nowhere – there’s an entire wandering circus of lizard-faced sorcerers apparently in conflict and … bah!  This really makes so little sense!  The already kidnapped princess gets kidnapped again, and the BLACK CIRCLE is now off in yet some other unforeseen direction.
 
Still, the “barbarian” (I’m taken with using quotes on that word from now on because I’m not sure that Van Lente understands its meaning) meets up with that villain who wanted to take his life only two pages earlier.  Instead of handily dispatching the already ailing source of evil, Conan lets the man have a peaceful death.  Gone are the days when rugged adventurers speeded the enemies into the afterlife; now with left with an older, wiser, kinder, and gentler Conan who holds his adversary’s hand while he dies.
 
I’m getting too old for this stuff.
 
CONAN AND THE PEOPLE OF THE BLACK CIRCLE (#03 of 04) is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The script is adapted by Fred Van Lente; the artwork is done by Ariel Olivetti; with the letters provided by Richard Starkings & Comicraft.  For those of you who grew up on an island, this tale and Conan’s creation rests entirely on the shoulders of Robert E. Howard.  This issue bears the cover price of $3.50, and – as much as that matters – it’s a bargain available only to those who have it to spend: Dark Horse’s reputation for quality is second-to-none so far as this reader is concerned.
 
(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED.  THE BLACK CIRCLE appears to finally be heading for some big finish – there’s the hint that the Cimmerian will storm a mountain in order to kill the four masters of some dark magic – but it all comes more than a bit too-little-too-late for this reader.  It’s all been handed with far too much talk and so little action that I’ve lost caring about seeing the bad guys dispatched to the Underworld.  More likely, they’ll all turn up in some book club … with Conan leading the discussion!
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of CONAN AND THE PEOPLE OF THE BLACK CIRCLE #03 of 04 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution in no way, shape, or form contributed to my evaluation of it.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Lackluster Second Issue Doesn't Improve On Muddled Storytelling]]>  
Let’s dissect, shall we?
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
From the book’s editorial page: “The king of Vendhya is dead.  His noble sister – the devi Yasmina – has sworn to exact revenge upon his killers, the villainous Seers of Yimsha.  Yasmina attempts to enlist the aid of Conan, but he kidnaps her instead.  As Conan makes his escape, a sinister plot is uncovered when the devi’s servant, Gitara, reveals herself to have been instrumental in the king’s assassination …”
 
Taking a stab at a character who already maintains a regular monthly title can be a bit treacherous for any creative team.  Readers tuning in because they want “more of the same” might be quickly disappointed when they learn than that isn’t necessarily what this writer intended.  Additionally, one artist’s take on the classic leading hero may stretch into new territory, causing an even greater disconnect between the narrative and the artwork; where these should complement one another, they run the risk of feeling slightly distant to one another.  Granted, this doesn’t always happen – it may not happen at all – but something just doesn’t quite feel right with this take on the BLACK CIRCLE.
 
Instead of the exposition-heavy first issue, this second chapter does (thankfully!) open up with panels of exactly what draws most folks to a Conan story: action.  And blood.  Buckets of it when necessary.  However, imagine how red Conan’s face should be when the unfortunate fellow he slays turns out to be the foot-man of an ally.  Only prompting further confusion, Kerim Shah (the said ally) never even utters so much as a curse at the Cimmerian for savagely slaying his soldier.  I guess (in fantasy) henchmen are in fruitful supply!
 
Still, this second issue feels unnecessarily weighed down in exposition.  I suppose I understand that all ne’er-do-wells love to take the opportunity to grandstand or chew scenery every chance they get, but these villains seem more intent on talking one to death than fighting.  Far too many panels get committed to chitchat, and far too much plot unfolds as a consequence.  I don’t know what you expect from a Conan story, but rest assured I could do with less fluff.
 
Still, Olivetti’s artwork remains perhaps the only reason to hang with this miniseries.  The appearance of some grand sorcerer is handled with particular flourishes – there are plenty of small touches (i.e. the way a hand is held, the simple look of sparks vs. glowing orbs of spells, etc.) that a lesser talent might draw greater attention to, but the balance here is delightful.  Evil is best handled with some creative nuance, so it is too much to ask that Olivetti would maybe have a few words with Van Lente about trimming the prose?
 
In fact, Van Lente drapes far too many pages in background and speech bubbles that, by Page 11, I began wondering if he realized he was hired to craft a graphic adaptation and not simply rework Robert E. Howard’s text.  A few pages work nicely with better balance between the creative personnel, but this one is still shaping up way too wordy for my tastes.  If it seems like I’m beating a dead horse, then so be it: it’s my horse, and I’ll beat it if I like.  See, when there’s no balance, a reader (like me) ends up not being drawn into the yarn that’s being spun; instead, we end up asking what all this fuss is about and whether or not it’s worth it.
 
So far, it ain’t.  
 
CONAN AND THE PEOPLE OF THE BLACK CIRCLE (#02 of 04) is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The script is adapted by Fred Van Lente; the artwork is done by Ariel Olivetti; with the letters provided by Richard Starkings & Comicraft.  For those of you who grew up on an island, this tale and Conan’s creation rests entirely on the shoulders of Robert E. Howard.  This issue bears the cover price of $3.50, and – as much as that matters – it’s a bargain available only to those who have it to spend: Dark Horse’s reputation for quality is second-to-none so far as this reader is concerned.
 
(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED.  I’d add something more if I thought there was something further; however, CONAN AND THE PEOPLE OF THE BLACK CIRCLE is a bit of a mess.  One more learned than I might chalk it up to some bad editorial choices, and perhaps therein lies the culprit.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of CONAN AND THE PEOPLE OF THE BLACK CIRCLE #02 of 04 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution in no way, shape, or form contributed to my evaluation of it.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Sluggish Premiere To The Singular Cimmerian's Newest Tale]]>  
Let’s dissect, shall we?
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
From the book’s editorial page: “The king of Vendhya lies dying, victim of a ghastly curse placed up him by the dreaded Black Seers of Yimsha.  His sister, the devi Yasmina, watches over him still – but the kingdom already mourns his passing, for all his subjects know that he cannot live much longer …”
 
So begins this tale in the land of Vendhya … and, sadly, that’s pretty much where it stays for far too long.  Granted, every new adventure in the worlds of fantasy practically require a fair amount of set-up, but BLACK CIRCLE takes an awful lot of time setting so few characters in motion.  I get there in this days of old there was a great deal of pomp and circumstance associated to the impending passing of leaders, but scribe Fred Van Lente seems to be more interested in wringing every drop of sap from the syrup, setting an almost languid pace to these early panels.
 
To be fair, some of this could be because there is an awful lot of background Van Lente thought necessary to put this world together for newcomers, in which case I may not be the best critic to evaluate this particular Conan miniseries.  Given that I have more than a passing familiarity here, maybe I’m seeing too many stitches to these seams; however, I’m also willing to suggest that if I found it slow, so might the plebes.  For example, too much time is spent explaining the king’s personal history (it leads to one possible explanation for his current predicament).  By Page 10, I think everyone gets that the king isn’t long for this world … but didn’t we know that by the end of Page 1?  If not, certainly we did by Page 3!  I can only hope some of this exposition has greater meaning once this mini takes off.
 
Also, don’t most folks tune in to a Conan tale to see what Conan’s up to?  Unfortunately, the barbarian doesn’t appear officially until Page 15 (obviously, we see his form in the shadows), and, at this point, I was wondering if I had perchance picked up the wrong book.
 
If there’s any saving grace here, it’s that the artwork provided by Ariel Olivetti is pretty solid.  Lines are all clean, and there’s very little murk to these panels.  In fact, I’d venture to suggest that it didn’t need to come across so squeaky clean.  One of the enduring qualities of some of Conan’s more memorable tales is that some pages feel like living art on the page – they’re the kind of images I can see hanging up on the wall of some art gallery.  Even when Conan appears as his muscular self on Page 16, he looks like he just stepped from a bath.  Certainly, it doesn’t look as if he’s been recently ‘mixing it up’ with any bandits nor riding bareback across the countryside.
 
These are small gripes, indeed, but they do add up to some discomfort.  I can only hope this title improves (and improves quickly) in its narration with its second issue.
 
CONAN AND THE PEOPLE OF THE BLACK CIRCLE (#01 of 04) is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The script is adapted by Fred Van Lente; the artwork is done by Ariel Olivetti; with the letters provided by Richard Starkings & Comicraft.  For those of you who grew up on an island, this tale and Conan’s creation rests entirely on the shoulders of Robert E. Howard.  This issue bears the cover price of $3.50, and – as much as that matters – it’s a bargain available only to those who have it to spend: Dark Horse’s reputation for quality is second-to-none so far as this reader is concerned.
 
(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED.  You’ll have to cut me some slack if I seem more than a bit less than enthusiastic with this initial chapter in the tale that’ll shape up to be CONAN AND THE PEOPLE OF THE BLACK CIRCLE; but I thought this installment was a colossal misfire.  For starters, Conan doesn’t appear until halfway through the issue, and the massive amount of cultural set-up ends up feeling very paint-by-number by scribe Fred Van Lente.  Thankfully, Ariel Olivetti’s artwork is very solid; otherwise, I’d be less-than-optimistic that this adventure would be worth all of the effort.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of CONAN AND THE PEOPLE OF THE BLACK CIRCLE #01 of 04 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution in no way, shape, or form contributed to my evaluation of it.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Indiana Conan And The Temple of Gloom!]]>  
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
Finally, the Cimmerian has brought peace unto the lands of Aquilonia.  As our story opens, the barbarian and his army have taken control of the kingdom, wrenching it through bloodshed from those who would oppress an entire people into hopeless servitude.  Still, even as king Conan finds himself suffering a restless spirit, but it isn’t long before a sorceress comes a’calling.  With her, she brings word that his former love who suffered a tragic end – Belit – has not fully passed into a peaceful afterlife.  Of course, the mighty Nadina knows what must be done in order for this king’s queen to finally be at rest, and the man will stop at nothing to either see beloved into the beyond or expose the witch as the evil she may be.
 
So far as this volume – THE PHANTOMS OF THE BLACK COAST – goes, it’s a tale told obligatorily.  There’s really no grand pomp and circumstance to the entire affair; even the artwork feels a bit tired and grim.  Given the fact that matches Conan’s mood throughout much of this adventure, perhaps that’s exactly what novelist Victor Gischler intended artist Attila Futaki’s work to express.  Even if that is the case, would it be too much to ask for somebody to throw a light on these dark corners?
 
I’ve been trafficking in Conan’s graphic adventures off-and-on since the seventies, and, artistically, PHANTOMS certainly isn’t that far a cry from much of what’s been done before.  At this point, one wonders how any creative team can bring something new, something special to heads being cleaved from their shoulders or intestines being hacked from their abdomens.  It’s a bloody affair, indeed.  I can’t help but wonder why Conan’s mood never really ticked up even on the good days brought to life in these pages; perhaps he’s grown a bit too melancholy for his own good?
 
Furthermore, adaptations can be a tricky thing.  When one writer sticks too close to the material (as I can’t help but wonder if that’s what happened here), what ends up being accomplished serves the strengths and weaknesses of the original storyteller as opposed to highlighting something new being delivered unto a franchise.  Also, if one strays too far away from the source, then the audience is left wondering what happened to the character they’ve grown to love and admire.  I’d imagine a talent like Gischler would only be too happy to contribute to Conan’s expansive mythology, but an awful lot of this volume feels ‘phoned in.’  That isn’t intended as an insult – who wouldn’t want to have the ability to evoke classic Robert E. Howard tones? – rather it’s only a benign observation.
 
For all its narrative blemishes, quite a bit of PHANTOMS feels rushed.  Days are condensed into phrases like “Conan did X for days” (obviously paraphrasing there, folks), and several different characters even remark similar storytelling sentiments.  Who knows?  Maybe editing this entire affair into five issues was bound to strip some of the magic from a grand adventure; still, the way this one went it felt like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were turning Conan into a Hyborean Age ‘Indiana Jones’ … and that would be a horrific development.
 
CONAN: THE PHANTOMS OF THE BLACK COAST is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The story is written by Victor Gischler (adapted from the work of Conan’s creator Robert E. Howard); the art is provided by Attila Futaki; the colors are by Jok Coglitore and J. Blanco; and the lettering is by Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt.  This volume collects issues #1 through #5 previously published under the same name.  It’s all available for the low, low price of $19.99 … maybe that’s a bit steep for newcomers, but you can always try to pick one up secondhand if that’s easier to fit in your budget.
 
RECOMMENDED.  It may not be the greatest Conan tale Dark Horse has had the good graces to bring to life, but it’s still an admirable telling for anyone who follows the trials and tribulations of the world’s best known Cimmerian.  In fact, there’s plenty of stuff in there that makes it uniquely Conan – damsels and ne’er-do-wells alike; all I wish is that it flowed together as seamlessly as some other graphic collections I’ve had the good fortune to read.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of CONAN: THE PHANTOMS OF THE BLACK COAST by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Pretty Looking NOSFERATU WARS Is Less 'War' and More Skirmish Than Anything Else]]>  
Me?  I figure once around is good enough.
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
Tarquin and Moria are vampires deeply in love with one another, but it would seem that fate is forever conspiring to put distance between them.  Wanting nothing more than to enjoy wedded bliss, the two seek and receive an official ceremony, only to turn the tables on a man of the cloth in their dastardly deception.  Having broken some established ‘code’ of behavior, a vampire cabal rises against them, only to leave the lovely Moria no other course of action but to confront those who would punish them directly.  In doing so, she leaves Tarquin behind for – dare I say? – parts unknown.
 
Pardon the expression, but there’s very little substance to sink one’s teeth into with NOSFERATU WARS.  Sure, there are vampires aplenty as this tale is set apparently on the cusp of a plague in the Dark Ages, but everything else is all style, mind over real matter.  It all looks grand (whatever or whoever Menton3 is should be commended for imbuing this tale with some deliciously dark visuals), but, by the last page, it’s hard to tell if there’s more meant to follow (a postscript speech bubble implies Tarquin’s tale is only just beginning) or if this was meant to fill in a pothole to some other avenue.  The only one who knows is storyteller Steve Niles … and, so far as I’ve been able to find, he’s not saying.
 
As a one shot, I suppose it’s easy to conclude this is all well and good … but I found I tall a bit puzzling for reasons I won’t disclose as that would be too much of a spoiler.
 
Intrigued?
 
Then give it a read.  It’s certainly worth a look, if nothing else.
 
NOSFERATU WARS (One Shot) is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The story is written by Steve Niles; the art and cover are by Menton3; with letters provided by Nate Piekos of Blambot.  For those wanting to know a bit more, this one-shot collects four installments originally appearing in DARK HORSE PRESENTS #26-29.  It’s available for purchase for the low, low price of $3.99, a reasonable investment if noir-inspired vampire tales tickle your fancy.
 
RECOMMENDED if for no other reason than the sheer creepiness of it all.  NOSFERATU WARS is a one-shot that strongly hints at little more than set-up (i.e. the state of the world, the characters populating it, etc.), and I’ve no doubt that writer Steve Niles is either using this as a springboard to some greater story or filling in the background of some greater story that already exists.  Either way, it’s a vision sadly incomplete, making it hard to enthusiastically endorse on any other level.  Give it a go, if the dark and dreary world of vampires is in your wheelhouse, and maybe you can discern far more than I.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of NOSFERATU WARS (One Shot) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.]]>
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<![CDATA[ The Stuff of Legends … Or Is It?]]>  
Not I, that’s for sure.
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
In those frantic times following the destruction of the Imperial’s greatest weapon, the Death Star, the Rebels are understandably on-the-run.  No doubt, the Empire would’ve brought every available ship in the galaxy bearing down on the fourth moon of Yavin, so their evacuation was a necessity.  As an organization, Luke Skywalker’s success in shooting a torpedo down that small exhaust port probably brought more people into the Rebel fold … and that’s largely where STAR WARS: REBEL HEIST begins.  Our heroes are indeed scattered about the galaxy, and Han Solo has apparently been tasked with a very special, very secret mission which involves training a new recruit.
 
For better or for worse, that’s really all the story told in this first issue.
 
That certainly isn’t gangbusters in my estimation.  I’ve followed Dark Horse’s tales over the years, and there have been many better first installments than this one.  Quite a bit of the tale’s time is dedicated to ‘the stuff of legends’: Han Solo has become one (don’t forget how pivotal his efforts were in allowing Skywalker to do what he did in the big finish to STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE), so it’s entirely acceptable that any new recruit would look at him with glowing, adoring eyes.  While those sentiments are all well and good, it’s still a bit disappointing if not underwhelming that nothing of substance appears to unfold in these first pages, and that’s why I opened my review with the reminder: greatness is rarely found in humble beginnings but rather properly earned before the epic conclusion.
 
Solo certainly behaves as one would expect him to behave, though I thought there were a few uncharacteristic moments.  Did he learn nothing of running in with blasters blazing in A NEW HOPE?  Sure, we knew he preferred a fair fight, but that was before all of the ‘did he or didn’t he shoot first’ nonsense George Lucas unfortunately hoisted upon fandom.  (My take?  Of course, he shot first.)  And his faithful sidekick – the Wookie Chewbacca – is nowhere in sight, another disappointing development for any first chapter dealing with our lovable smuggler.
 
Still, if Dark Horse has taught me anything over the years it’s definitely don’t judge a book by its cover; so I’ll be here in 30 days to see what develops now that Han and this Rebel new-hire are really up-to-their-elbows in Imperial danger.  Who knows what’ll happen next?
 
STAR WARS: REBEL HEIST (Part 01 of 04) is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The story is written by Matt Kindt; the pencils are provided by Marco Castiello; the inks are done by Dan Parsons; the colors are perfected by Gabe Eltaeb; with lettering from Michael Heisler.  All of this comes available to readers at the low, low prices of $3.50 an issue, and that’s still a bargain no matter where you go in the galaxy to get it.
 
RECOMMENDED.  It’s a slow start, but REBEL HEIST might end up being the stuff of legends?  It’s hard to say for sure as there’s so little to this as a first chapter in a four-part story.  What there is, however, is plenty of focus in the area of the Original Trilogy, the timeframe most STAR WARS fans identify with.  The Rebels are on the run, the Empire is on the move, and the Force may yet to strong with those who need it most.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of STAR WARS: REBEL HEIST (Part 01 of 04) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Captain America shows them how its done.]]>  
Set a short time after The Avengers, Captain America finds himself working for Nick Furry and Shield, though he's conflicted about the organizations goals and tactics and finds himself butting heads with them as much as working with them. The Captain sees Shield as playing to people’s fears and taking advantage of that instead of protecting people’s freedom, and he seems to have a point. Shield plans to launch three new Helo Carriers with the ability to take out any human being in the planet easily, efficiently, and without putting any lives in danger to do so. Sound familiar? Captain America, being the boyscout that he is, disproves, but being the solider that he is doesn't know quite what to do about it. That all changes when The Winter Soldier, a super assassin on a vendetta against Shield, shows up and starts wreaking havoc. But who is this Winter Soldier, who does he work for, and what is their plan?
 
I guess the thing I love most about this movie is the way it morphs a standard super hero flick with a healthy touch of James Bond. This isn't your everyday gun ho action flick like we're used to from Marvel, and it’s also a far cry from the dreary, brooding recent DC adaptions we've had. Cap's punches a lot of guys in the face, sure, sure, but deep down in this movies heart it’s a spy flick through and through with a healthy dose of super humans and high tech weaponry. And you know what? I approve. Captain America fits perfectly in a movie like this and gets incredible support from Black Widow, Hawkman (not to be confused with Hawk Eye who, sadly, doesn't appear in this film) and Agent Robin Sparkles. Together with Nick Furry they make a hell of a team.
 
Along with having a great cast of hero's we're also treated to some great villains as well. Besides Loki Marvel villains... well, they're kind of lame. Let’s be honest, who here cares about Red Mask, or Dark Eldar, or Human Torch want to be's? Forgettable, one shot, lame villains the lot of them. Though The Winter Soldier himself was, I will admit, a bit of a disappointment once the mystery about him was stripped away, he's not the only one Cap's and company has to deal with. I'm not going to spoil anything for you but I will say the villains, and the threat they pose, are the best in the Marvel universe besides Loki himself.
 
Marvel has made some incredible movies. Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and especially The Avengers were all fantastic films. Captain America: The Winter Soldier deserves to stand among these as one of their best. The action is just incredible, the characters and villains memorable, and it breathes life into the Captain America franchise. If you are a super hero fan, you owe it to yourself to see this film. You will not be disappointed.]]>
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<![CDATA[ This Is A Brilliant Adaptation, And It's My Personal Favorite of the DC Universe Original Movies]]>  
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
We’ve all been there, wishing we could’ve done something differently.  Which of us hasn’t wanted a chance to go back into the past if only to tweak some singular small event in order to offer us a greater chance at happiness in the present or the future?  The loss of a loved one cuts deeply enough to leave a scar that’ll last a lifetime, and that’s what Barry Allen decides he wants to fix about his past: he wants to be there to stop his mother from dying at the hands of some cruel assailant.  Because he’s The Flash – because he has the ability to maneuver in and out of the time stream – he decides to do just that … and, little did he know, he tears apart the very fabric of the DC Universe!
 
This is a brilliant tale, the kind of which didn’t used to exist when I started reading the monthlies back in the 1970’s.  Why?  Well, it’s necessarily dark, and it’s quite darker than most of the usual fare I’ve read in The Flash’s books.  In part, that’s because the greater entity – DC Comics – wanted to use this tale as a dramatic springboard with which to reboot their entire catalogue of heroes, villains, and superheroes.  In case you haven’t heard of it, DC rebooted its various worlds in 2012; while its may’ve been a source of new life for some books, I haven’t seen the rewards in others.
 
That story – FLASHPOINT – has now been adapted by the ongoing DC Universe Animated Original Movie lines, and – so far as this critic is concerned – they’ve done it justice.  All of the adult themes are there (mark my words: this is probably NOT one for the kids due to the heavy nature of violence and torture throughout), and, despite serving up the usual ‘slightly better than Saturday morning fare’ animation this one is draped in glorious somber tones and hues.
 
Still, there are some pieces of the overall story that don’t ‘mesh’ as well as they could, and I think that’s largely because this is essentially an 80-minute feature.  The time needed to plot out all of this so that it made perfect sense to newcomers would probably be more like an animated miniseries – suffice it to say, there’s a world war going on, but it’s primarily being waged by fallen superheroes and the minions they command; and, despite it being front-and-center in the conclusion, it really gets short shrift in the first half.  It gets introduced briskly with The Flash’s memories being changed so that he better understands this new universe he’s found himself a part of, and I think it could’ve been handled better than what we get here.
 
Time travel stories are pretty universal – even folks who don’t much care for sci-fi narratives tend to enjoy a good time-travel-yarn – so THE FLASHPOINT PARADOX is most definitely worth a view even by those who aren’t drawn to comic book properties.  There’s enough in here that gives the story greater depth as well (i.e. Barry’s desire to see his mom alive again; Thomas Wayne’s desire to give his son a second chance at life; Wonder Woman’s wishes to be free of a marriage she doesn’t want, etc.), and I think that there’s probably something for everyone.
 
But – and I’m only harping on this because I think it’s a realistic observation – this is NOT for kids.  It’s pretty grim.  It’s a very dark tale.  There’s an awful lot of violence, and it isn’t the usual comic-book-style; it’s graphic and at time disturbing … such as what happens to Barry Allen in this world when he tries to recreate the accident that made him who he was in the original world.  It’s rated PG-13, and I think even that’s mildly questionable in a few instances.  So consider yourself warned.
 
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE.  Everything about this JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE FLASHPOINT PARADOX is superior, from the voice direction, the animation style, right down to the thematic elements.  This is miles and miles better than practically anything else being done in the direct-to-DVD market, and it’s the kind of story that probably appeals to old and new fans of DC’s titles alike.  I will say – and I stress this very emphatically – this is NOT a tale for children as some of the other DC flicks have been; the subject matter is necessarily dark and grim, and the level of corresponding violence is indeed quite high.  For mature comic’s fans like myself, this is a home run.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Exploring History]]> http://www.lunch.com/RealityInked/reviews/d/UserReview-Mr_Peabody_and_Sherman-362-1893756-245227-Exploring_History.html http://www.lunch.com/RealityInked/reviews/d/UserReview-Mr_Peabody_and_Sherman-362-1893756-245227-Exploring_History.html Tue, 25 Mar 2014 13:43:15 +0000 <![CDATA[ Red Sonja Is Down But She's Not Out for the Count]]>  
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
When we last saw Red Sonja, she was perfectly still, silenced from the throes of the plague that had ravaged her body; but the arrival of her twin benefactors managed to elevate her chi from the darkest thoughts.  It would seem that the king’s son has perhaps found a cure, and, if it isn’t too late, he may be able to save our beloved heroine.  The road to Patra will be treacherous – as even Sonja expects – but she’ll have her vengeance over Annisia if it’s the last thing she does.
 
This fourth chapter in this title’s relaunch manages to deliver a few surprises – not happy taking Sonja’s life, Annisia is now laying claim to the fallen warrior’s legacy; Annisia’s followers have begun to question their leader’s mental state; and an all-new flashback reveals the two women’s first encounter in the pits and in combat.  One might suspect at this point that scribe Gail Simone and her creative crew would’ve played all of their cards and simply be waiting for deliver a big finish; but thankfully they’ve demonstrated one more time that there are layers worth divulging in a right time and place when exploring this world and its various characters.
 
Still, it might be easy to dismiss some of this chapter’s smaller moments as a needed bit of theatrics.  A group of Annisia’s forces encounter the twins (Ayla and Nias) and Sonja on their return trip, giving the plague-stricken lady a chance to show that – even when afflicted – she still has the right stuff to snuff out evil in its tracks.  However, Simone has earned my faith – she’s exhibited tremendous poise in crafting this vision; she’s proven to be a gifted steward of this title and its eponymous She-devil – so I’m more than willing to cut her some slack to turn in some fisticuffs and well-staged bloodletting, letting artist Walter Geovani and the rest of the gang join in the occasion.
 
What matters here thematically is that Sonja is down but she’s far from out.  She’s already proven herself a force to be reckoned with, and now she’s itching to get back at what she does best.  I, for one, welcome the return to form … even if it spells greater doom (if that’s possible).
 
RED SONJA #4 (Ongoing) is published by Dynamite Entertainment.  The issue is written by Gail Simone; the art is drawn by Walter Geovani; the book is colored by Adriano Lucas; it is lettered by Simon Bowland; and the series is presently edited by Joseph Rybandt.  Individual issues bear the cover price of $3.99 … and that’s a bargain considering the depth, action, and characterization contained within.
 
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE.  Simone and her crew continue to set-the-stage for an all-new version of RED SONJA.  It’s epic.  It’s heroic.  It’s the reason readers explore heroes.  Now that we’re in the home stretch for a legendary rematch, we’re sure to have the important questions answered and maybe even a few more raised so that this team can turn their attention at where these journeys may go next.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that I’ve repeatedly contacted the fine folks at Dynamite Comics via email and their web site in hopes to arrange for reader copies of RED SONJA (Ongoing); however, the company apparently does not recognize nor cooperate with requests from new media outlets.
 ]]>
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<![CDATA[ LEGACY II 'Feels' Like The Original Trilogy]]>  
We’ve developed the ability to christen these works as ‘closet favorites.’  Others call them ‘guilty pleasures,’ almost in an attempt to dismiss any quality wrapped up in them or silently to beg forgiveness (in advance) for our liking something we know we shouldn’t.  For example, I’ve always loved FLASH GORDON (1980) for its cartoonish performances, drug-trip visuals, and high camp.  To worsen matters, I have absolutely no problem admitting to anyone how much I love it even though I’ve been cautioned by countless others that to do so only cheapens my reputation.
 
So enter STAR WARS: LEGACY II: VOLUME 1: PRISONER OF THE FLOATING WORLD.
 
Hell.  Being my usually cynical self, I ought to be spending quality bandwidth making fun of the obvious pomposity wrapped up in that inelegant title alone!  Using a word like ‘Legacy’ in anything practically implies that you – as a writer – have usurped whatever respectability belongs to an established property for your own selfish needs.  To me, it presupposes that you’re crying out for attention.  But it’s use here is only intended to distinguish itself thematically from some of the other STAR WARS work that’s come before in Dark Horse’s 20+ years with the license; these are the stories of those who come after those we know so well, and that’s all it’s meant to underscore.
 
Ania Solo is the great-great granddaughter of that intrepid smuggler of old (STAR WARS’ Han Solo) and his bride (Princess Leia Organa).  She is the ‘legacy’ at the center of this tale, and, while she doesn’t quite have Solo’s penchant for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, she’s definitely a close second.  She finds herself at the center of a galaxy-spanning effort to establish a kinda/sorta new-fangled alternative to the long-running Republic, a move requiring the participation of the new Jedi Knights.  And, of course, where there are Jedi, there are bound to be Sith.
 
Like the Prequel Trilogy, Legacy II is a return to an era of politics set within that galaxy far, far away; and I have to admit that there were elements of this that didn’t quite make as much sense as I suspect the creative crew intended.  As is often the case, this world continues to build on the greater STAR WARS mythology – as well as what became canon from the earlier Legacy I title – and, as a consequence, I think some of this can be healthily chalked up to ‘lost in translation.’  (I say ‘healthily’ because I don’t think anyone need run out, purchase all of the Legacy I books, and bone up on it.)  Thankfully, this is an adventure relying on briskness – there’s plenty of action and intrigue to distract from the greater political superstructure – and that pace lends itself pretty well to the narrative.
 
It also helps considerably that Ania feels like a natural successor of her great-great-granddaddy.  She’s spunky, and she flies by the seat-of-her-pants in much that way one might expect of anyone named Solo.  She traffics in salvage work (you’re telling me the Millennium Falcon wasn’t a scrapheap itself?), and she makes it up as she goes.  Clearly, she has no endgame in mind when she does what she does, and her particular brand of inventiveness also works within these covers.
 
As for the supporting players?
 
Well, because this is only a first arc to what will obviously be a greater story, I think it’s safe to say that Solo’s given the best screen time here with good reason.  Her immediate partner – Sauk (A Mon Calimari) – comes off as a bit of a rascally JarJar to me (not a good thing, but, like I said, it’s early).  AG-37 is an assassin droid (IG-88 style) who shows up partway into the tale, and, while he’s given a few moments of comic relief, he’s a welcome addition … think C-3PO with more than a touch of Jedi-style wisdom.  And the Jedis?  Well, they’re wrapped up in here largely because the plot as designed required it.  They have respectable Jedi moments, but none of them have the charisma of a Kenobi, a Ginn, or even a Yoda at this point.
 
What amazed me, though, when I had finished all of it is that – as I alluded to above – I kinda/sorta … liked it.  For the life of me, I can’t quite put my finger on why.  There’s a terrific vibe – an undercurrent – that serves this five-issue story.  It feels like it’s thematically closer to the spirit of the Original Trilogy, and because I found the action entirely accessible despite some confusion over certain times, places, and politics, it worked just fine in a single sitting.  Lastly, there are moments that strongly echo back to things that’ve occurred elsewhere in the STAR WARS’ universe.
 
Mind you, it has miles and miles to go before I’d ever put it on par with the films.  But as a first volume I found it enticing and interesting enough to maintain my interest.  Considering as much as I’ve read in this lifetime, let me say that that is no easy thing.
 
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.]]>
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<![CDATA[ A Life Lived Comes Full Circle In RED SONJA #3]]>  
That’s what comes to mind when I dwell on Red Sonja, and, if issue #3 is any indication, Gail Simone agrees with me.
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
When we last saw our heroine, she had done the unthinkable – she had surrendered to her former friend and colleague in death, Annisia, accepting the sentence carried down of her exile into the wilderness.  For Sonja had contracted the plague.  That she might perish, those she had briefly served would be allowed to live out their days in isolation.  Now, as she toils away what’s left of her time on the mortal plane, she’s troubled with visions.  Of her past.  Of her failures and of her victories.  At one time, she believed she had miles to go before she could rest, but as life fades from her afflicted body two friends emerge from the wild … but they might be too late.
 
In this third issue, Simone continues to demonstrate why the union between her and the red-headed She-devil is, perhaps, a match made in warrior heaven.  This whole arc began with Sonja being at her best; and now Simone has practically delivered her into the afterlife.  (I say ‘practically’ though the events here may make you fear differently.)  She’s served up a somewhat humiliated and broken soul as our lady suffers illusions of her past and a family she couldn’t save.  Granted, she hadn’t the skills or the experience to do differently, but – on the cusp of her death – she’s insistent on finally doing right by her father’s wishes and the teachings of her people.  She’s down but not out.  She’s surrendered, but the fight still lives in her heart, despite what she confesses to the vision that plague her.
 
This is what great drama does.  It takes a central character and puts him or her through their paces.  It doesn’t do it solely to serve up dramatic circumstances; rather, it does it because that’s the only way our protagonist can learn anything about the emotional baggage she carries in her heart and in her memories.  Sonja’s gone from the ultimate high to the ultimate low.  As she learns from these nightmares, she’s as guilty for her situation as is fate; thus, only now is she prepared to take that great and private journey into whatever waits for each of us on the other side.
 
And – to my pleasure – Simone serves all of this up rather dispassionately.  Using these visions as flashbacks, she introduces us into the Sonja we never really knew, in her early days trying to learn her place in the society to which she was born.  There isn’t all of the dark psychology that kinda/sorta goes hand-in-hand with some of the costumed vigilante tales that occupy so much of comic store shelves.  This is a young maiden who learned she was fast.  Good with a bow.  Cunning in the wild.  She doesn’t hate herself for who she was or what she becomes.  She accepts it, knowing that there’s nothing more to say on the matter.
 
The closing panels are a bit of doom and gloom, but I suspect this is a gifted author’s attempt to remind us of that age old adage: it’s always darkest … before the dawn.
 
RED SONJA #3 (Ongoing) is published by Dynamite Entertainment.  The issue is written by Gail Simone; the art is drawn by Walter Geovani; the book is colored by Adriano Lucas; it is lettered by Simon Bowland; and the series is presently edited by Joseph Rybandt.  Individual issues bear the cover price of $3.99 … and that’s a bargain considering the depth, action, and characterization contained within.
 
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE.  Fire and ice.  Fire and ice.  If you take nothing away from anything I’ve written here, then leave this space with what I said about how fire and ice define Red Sonja.  I think you’ll be as surprised as I was when I read it how well all of that comes together in these pages.  Yes, there’s the obligatory cliffhanger, but it’s the kind that only underscores how important you’re here again in thirty days.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that I’ve repeatedly contacted the fine folks at Dynamite Comics via email and their web site in hopes to arrange for reader copies of RED SONJA #1 (Ongoing); however, the company apparently does not recognize nor cooperate with requests from new media outlets.
 ]]>
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<![CDATA[ Curiously Flat STAR WARS Tale Feels Like An All-Too-Obvious Retread]]>  
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
The real business of building a Galactic Empire truly took place in those fitful days following the events depicting cinematically in STAR WARS: EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH.  That’s when Darth Vader – at Emperor Palpatine’s behest – went about the thuggish business of bringing rebellious star systems under Imperial control.  In the process, Vader naturally broke a few eggs – meaning to say that he killed innocent people in order to instill fear – and it’s this fertile time that Tim Siedell and his creative crew seek to mine in DARTH VADER AND THE NINTH ASSASSIN.
 
Essentially, the story boils down to these elements:
A.     Vader kills a powerful businessman’s son, and that father wants his vengeance.
B.     Said angry dad hires his very own lethal assassin to put Vader six feet under.
C.     Eight failed attempts later, said angry dad finally finds a ‘Ninth Assassin’ who just may be up to the task (hence the miniseries’ title).
D.     Vader and the Ninth Assassin play a game of galaxy-wide cat-and-mouse, attempting to bring all of this to closure in five issues.
 
I guess there’s nothing wrong with the idea of plunking a lumbering menace like Vader into the unlikely position of conducting a police procedural – which is basically how a large chunk of NINTH ASSASSIN plays to the audience – but what Siedell accomplishes here is a very far cry from anything that could be called “Vader, P.I.”  This largely nameless assassin crafts a compelling idea – he needs to get the Dark Lord out of his element and into foreign territory, away from the Empire’s prying eyes, where the deed can be done in quiet; so he hatches a plot to imperil the Emperor (or so we’re lead to believe).  Unfortunately, for all of the man’s cunning, more time is spent with this somewhat goofy subplot – there’s a secret cult on a distant deserted world that somehow has foreseen Vader’s rise to power (it’s never quite clear, but, in the end, comes off more as a fabrication than anything else).  When the two finally go mano-a-mano for the big finish (or what seems like a big finish), it’s a surprisingly short and ineffectual showdown, so much so one wonders what so much ado was about.
 
The artwork is perpetually appealing, as is the case with most of Dark Horse’s forays in the galaxy far, far away, which only underscores why this NINTH ASSASSIN is little more than a one-time affair.
 
STAR WARS: DARTH VADER AND THE NINTH ASSASSIN is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The script is written by Tim Siedell; the pencils are done by Stephen Thompson and Ivan Fernandez; the inks have been provided by Mark Irwin, Denis Freitas, Drew Geraci, and Jason Gorder; the colors have been done by Michael Atiyeh; and the lettering was completed by Michael Heisler.  As you well should know by now, STAR WARS is the creation of George Lucas.  The volume collects individual issues previously published in five installments, and all of this comes with a cover price of $24.99 (USA).
 
(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED.  Meh.  As much as I liked some of the elements leading into DARTH VADER AND THE NINTH ASSASSIN, where it eventually took readers was through a web of ideas and themes that have already been amply explored in the vast STAR WARS Universe.  Yeah, we know Palpatine is always pulling Vader’s strings.  Yeah, we know that Vader is always looking for another way to please his master.  If the only tweak you can bring to the material is that you posit the Dark Lord into a set of circumstances that require him to behave like Sherlock Holmes, then maybe the tale isn’t one worth exploring further after all.  It’s fine for a one-off read; trust me when I conclude it has virtually zero re-read quality.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of STAR WARS: DARTH VADER AND THE NINTH ASSASSIN by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Outstanding Character Crises Pushes RED SONJA Toward New Horizons]]>  
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
When we last saw Red Sonja, she was marching into battle with a motley band of villagers she had trained at Dimath’s request when – lo and behold – the very general she’s leading those people against turned out to be someone very near and very dear to her.  Her name is Annisia, and their friendship was forged not only in the battles they previously shared but also in their imprisonment in a cruel fate from their past.  As readers learned (via helpful flashbacks), Sonja and Annisia spend years side-by-side in a dungeon, growing to know and understand what little comfort they could from one another’s company, until they found themselves freed from those shackles and sent on their separate ways.  Now they’ve been reunited under the cruelest circumstances imaginable as Sonja learns that Annisia believes herself haunted by the souls that they’ve slaughtered before!
 
What Gail Simone has accomplished in only a scant two issues of this new incarnation of RED SONJA has a wondrously epic feel to it but also an interesting personal dynamic that perhaps I, as a reader, never expected.  Here I’m presented with two Amazonian warriors – both equally committed to the task of dispensing their respective forms of justice and punishment – and they come together to clash in ways both physical and psychological.  While it’s clear that Simone knows her audience will always root for Sonja, the writer doesn’t skimp on Annisia’s characterization, presenting a combatant who possesses equal cunning, equal physical prowess, as well as a compelling reason to wish her well.  You can feel emotions being toyed with in such a way so as to lower your guard … only to be prepared for yet one more twist in the story that’ll likely change how you think of it going forward into the next segment.
 
Walter Geovani’s artwork – both the first issue and this second one have maxed out on battle scenes, though nothing has been even remotely as gratuitous as one might expect from male-dominated titles – is solid, with men and women rendered in crisp, clean lines; Adriano Lucas supplies some wonderful colors, but, by the issue’s end, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were a bit too much brightness to the palate here.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for easily identifiable panels and action.  Still, there’s something to be said for the nuance of darker, gloomier colors (especially given developments here), and maybe that’ll change given the supplied cliffhanger to this read.
 
Dare I also mention, there’s the hint of a somewhat desired yet illicit romance between the two warrior women?  That thought alone will drive male fandom (and probably some women) crazy waiting for its potential resolution.  As can happen in some relationships, there’s an overwhelming sense of ‘resignation’ to all of it – maybe it just wasn’t meant to be – and that takes on even stronger meaning as Red Sonja prepares for what may be her most treacherous personal trial yet.
 
RED SONJA #2 (Ongoing) is published by Dynamite Entertainment.  The issue is written by Gail Simone; the art is drawn by Walter Geovani; the book is colored by Adriano Lucas; it is lettered by Simon Bowland; and the series is presently edited by Joseph Rybandt.  Individual issues bear the cover price of $3.99 … and that’s a bargain considering the depth, action, and characterization contained within.
 
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  Simone has dished up RED SONJA as not only the usual mover and shaker of her own adventures but also – particular in this second issue – as a victim to a very cruel twist of fate.  Unlike other heroes, we know our faithful heroine won’t take the news lying down (or will she?).  This elevates SONJA to the level of must-read at least for the near future as the character comes alive with all-new development as well as a growing cast of supporting players who hopefully might hang around for the duration.  It’s a wild ride, and there’s no better time to jump aboard than the present.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that I’ve repeatedly contacted the fine folks at Dynamite Comics via email and their web site in hopes to arrange for reader copies of RED SONJA #1 (Ongoing); however, the company apparently does not recognize nor cooperate with requests from new media outlets.
 ]]>
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<![CDATA[ Dejah Thoris Is Lovely Enough To Eat! Eat Alive, That Is!]]>  
I’m no expert on such matters, but now that the action has switched from the Martian plains to the arctic wastelands, isn’t she gonna catch cold?
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
When we last saw our Princess of Barsoom, she had been captured by some sky pirates and hauled away from her fellow tribesmen.  As this issue opens, we see that she’s been strung up to a thick pole, and she’s being harshly interrogated about what she and her people are looking for in the Arctic wastelands.  The pirate lead – a lovely ‘black’ known as Phondari – finds her ship in hot pursuit from yet another largely pirate ship, and, despite their best efforts after even joining forces with Thoris, they’re all captured by an even surlier brute – a hulking menace known as Xen Brega.  It would seem that Phondari and Xen have previous history – the women fled his service, and he’s been pursuing her ever since – and things take a grim turn when he announces that he’ll have her and Thoris sent to the galley … to be prepared as his next meal!
 
Much like so much of what’s come before, WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS #7 essentially excels are maintaining its high camp sensibilities.  While the circumstances are dire for the characters, I don’t honestly believe scribe Arvid Nelson wants his readers to take any much less all of this with great seriousness.  It has a deliriously demented feel to it some of the times, and it’s all plotted out with a kind of space-swashbuckling charm … pirates, included.
 
Those who tune in for their monthly regimen of near-porn (seriously, Dejah Thoris wears next to nothing in this incarnation) have a little something extra to get excited about in this chapter: Phondari – the sky pirate who takes our beloved Dejah hostage – is equally … erm … shall we say ‘endowed’?  She appears essentially in the same style as the princess; perhaps they’ve both shopped from the same catalog? 
 
WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS #7 is published by Dynamite Entertainment.  The story is written by Arvid Nelson; the tale is illustrated by Carlos Rafael; the work is colored by Carlos Lopez; while the book is lettered by Marshall Dillon; and all of this is naturally based on the works of the master, Edgar Rice Burroughs.  It’s available for a cover price of $3.99, a bargain if you can get it.
 
RECOMMENDED.  While I didn’t find it as fun-loving as the last issue, so very much of DEJAH THORIS #7 continues serving up the same spirit and kitsch the title has become known for.  It helps to think of it as being thematically similar to 1980’s camp classic FLASH GORDON but with way more midriffs.  As I’ve counseled all along, there’s really nothing wrong with that per se; it’s just that as much as I love gawking at luscious ladies I still don’t feel there’s anything wrong with giving Dejah a shawl every now and then.  Otherwise, some panels feel downright dirty, bordering on pornographic.  If that makes me an old fuddy-duddy, then so be it.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that I’ve repeatedly contacted the fine folks at Dynamite Comics in hopes to arrange for reader copies of WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS; however, the company apparently does not recognize nor cooperate with requests from new media outlets.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Grim & Gritty, X Is A Perfect Vigilante Tale!]]>  
Now that the first arc is available in a trade paperback format, get ready for both barrels.
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
The city of Arcadia hasn’t so much fallen on to hard times: it’s crashed, burned, and is smoldering in its own ashes.  Crime has picked the city clean, and what morsels of wealth and power are left only attract the vilest filth imaginable.  Scum like Mr. Berkshire will strip the place clean, feeding his illicit machine so long as there are crumbs worth scavenging.  However, X has returned from the city’s dark past – a masked, one-eyed crimefighter who necessarily operates outside the restrictions of the legal system – and when a muckraking cyber-reporter draws the attention of the criminal elite, the man will join forces with her in order to see a bloody reign of terror brought to a fitting end.
 
So far as this reviewer is concerned, X is the ultimately vigilante read.  Just to be perfectly clear, Batman will always (for personal reasons) be my individual favorite monthly read – with Superman being a very close second – but when I want my fill of over-the-top, theatrical violence, I happily turn to X.  He’s part Dirty Harry, part samurai, part Charles Bronson in DEATH WISH, part Snake Plissken, all wrapped up into the total badass package.  He’s an unstoppable killing machine who shows up crawling out the darkness behind you when you least expect it.  As frightening as he is, he’s precisely the kind of monster you’d want on your side should the chips go down.
 
Duane Swierczynski’s take on X might be one of the single greatest re-imaginings this forty-year-comic-book veteran has ever seen.  There’s a kind of organic chemistry to all of it – one part violence plus one part redemption equals nothing but quality reading – and it’s all been concocted in such a way that one simply can’t wait for the next chapter in the man’s brutal full-frontal assault on the big city’s underworld.  Arcadia might be dead, but, so long as there is breath in X, he’ll be fighting for its resurrection.
 
All praise aside, I have to say that I honestly didn’t much care for the appearance of a kinda/sorta sidekick to this seminal slugger.  I have nothing wrong with Leigh – as a character, she’s just fine for most of the purposes she served – but I find it very hard (almost inconceivable) to believe that X would take her under his wing so easily, bringing her in so close so that she can be a yin to his yang.  In X’s world, there’s no need for a reporter.  But I suppose as it looks like she’s put down roots I’ll just have to see what develops.  So long as it doesn’t bud into anything resembling love, I might be able to swallow that dirty pill.
 
X – VOLUME 1: BIG BAD is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The story is written by Duane Swierczynski; the art is provided by Eric Nguyen; the colors are by michelle Madsen; with lettering done up by Richard Starkings and Comicraft.  This volume collects the story previously published individually as Chapters 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4.  Lastly, this collection includes a handful of sketches as a postscript which shows the various versions of character profiles of those featured within the covers.  This collection bears the cover price of $14.99, and, yes, that’s a bargain if this kind of gloriously gory material is your cup of tea.
 
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE.  You might wanna leave your stomachs at home, kiddies, because this first volume of X’s triumphant return is likely to leave you tossin’ your cookies if hardcore blood, guts, and violence isn’t to your liking.  X is the ultimate masked vigilante who’ll stop at nothing to rid what’s left of his fair city of the scum who’ve robbed it deaf, dumb, and blind.  Despite being shackled with a bit of a know-it-all sidekick in this incarnation, he’s still punishing evil the way evil is best left: stone cold dead unless it’s barely breathin’.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of X – VOLUME 1: BIG BAD by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Bland Reboot Lacks The Visual Distinctiveness Befitting Ms. Croft]]>  
Want to know more?  Stay tuned after this brief qualifier …
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoiler necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
Lara Croft knows something is wrong.  She can sense it.  That, and she’s been having these nightmares about her impending doom.  Something has gone horribly wrong, and, unless she can put the pieces of her dreams together in a way that makes perfect sense, she and her friends are likely to suffer some horrible consequences.  As it turns out, she isn’t the only one being plagued by these visions.  When she tries to help an old friend Jonah from his own haunting experiences, she’s nearly washed away for her good deed!  (Trust me: the pun will make perfect sense if you read the book.)
 
When you think about characters that come and go from pop culture, Lara Croft is fairly new to the game.  She’s only been around for a few decades, but, in the time, she’s certainly made a name for herself.  She’s had video games and books about her.  She’s also had a relatively successful run in the comic books.  And there have even been a few blockbuster-style motion pictures exploring her mythology and her adventures.  She definitely appears to have ‘staying power’ (as the executives say), so it’s only fitting that someone give her some more time to gain an even stronger foothold with audiences.
 
As for the latest comic book, novelist Gail Simone certainly knows a thing or two about crafting stories for dynamic female leads.  She’s cut her teeth on Wonder Woman and Red Sonja, so one might expect more than gets delivered in this opening installment.  There’s a terrific theatrical-style action sequence that opens the story – let’s say it involves gunplay and a wrecked airplane teetering perilously from the top of a mountainous waterfall – but, sadly, the action pretty much starts and ends right there.  To be fair, there’s also a great sequence which closes out the issue, but it’s all delivered with too many unanswered questions for it to logically make much literal sense.  The rest of the book is dedicated to establishing this world with Croft and her allies, and perhaps it’s that curious absence of a true villain or any overwhelming quest that leaves me feeling a bit underfed.
 
Some of this lukewarm reception might be because artistically what Simone and artist Nicolas Daniel Selma have done is a bit of a deviation from what’s come before.  Without putting too fine a point on it, the previous incarnations of Croft have been as much about her female attributes to some degree as they’ve been about anything; her assets were always drawn up with God-like inspiration, making her a lusciously endowed Amazonian made further appealing to fanboys by her Librarianeque spectacles.  Big boobs.  Tight pants.  Tighter t-shirt.  These were the norms for her time, and they’ve been left in the dust as it were in this new creation which clearly reaches for toned-down sexiness via toned-up arms.  Unfortunately, the accompanying artwork here is largely blasé, allowing the heroine to kinda/sorta blend in with the background, and that’s never good for the lead to do.  You want her to stand out – one might argue that was in part why game designers practically satirized those feminine assets to a degree – but here?  Why Lara Croft could be the girl next door … well, if the girl next door makes good use of her LA Fitness membership.
 
For what it’s worth, I honestly didn’t much care for the Croft movies.  (I personally thought not only was Angelina Jolie all wrong for the part but also the stories just didn’t seem to ‘understand’ the potential of a kinda/sorta female version of Indiana Jones.)  It just seemed to me that, as a character, she wasn’t so much explored the way she should’ve been, and perhaps that was what happens when you cast a high-profile actress to play the heroine.  (It all ends up being more about Jolie and less about the work.)  I couldn’t say beans about the games, other than I know they’re out there, and they’ve definitely inspired a whole generation of cosplayers to go spelunking for some awesome selfies.
 
TOMB RAIDER #01 is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The story is written by Gail Simone; the pencils are by Nicolas Daniel Selma; the inks are by Juan Gedeon; with lettering by Michael Heisler.  It all comes with a cover price of $3.50, and that’s not bad for what you get in return.
 
RECOMMENDED.  While it’s missing some of Croft’s traditional appeal – as well as an easily identifiable villain – TOMB RAIDER #01 isn’t what I’d call anything resembling a disaster.  Instead, it feels like Simone and her crew are taking their sweet time to draw some distinctions between what’s come before as well as the direction they’re heading in artistically.  You’ve heard the phrase, “This isn’t your father’s Oldsmobile”?  Well, this isn’t your father’s Lara Croft.  (Or maybe, given the youth of the franchise, I should better say, “This isn’t your big brother’s Lara Croft.”)  This is a new era, a new beginning, one where she gets looser t-shirts and khaki Capris.  There are strong hints as to where Simone may take us, but much of this is rendered so blandly (colors are a wash, and only the action sequences truly feel lifelike here) it’s really difficult to get excited about any of it.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of TOMB RAIDER #01 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Could Darth Vader Have Made A Grave Error?]]>  
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
Clone Trooper CT-5539 – better known as Hock Malsuum – has already seen some miserable things in his short, cloned life, but that doesn’t stop him from continuing to serve the Empire.  However, when he sees a crushing military defeat in the offing, he quickly continues as the dutiful soldier and tries to make command aware of it.  They won’t listen, and he ends up being hauled before Emperor Palpatine himself to explain why the battle turned the way it did.  In doing so, he may’ve earned the ultimate respect of Lord Vader himself!
 
Could it be that Darth Vader – the towering menace most in the galaxy know as the true might of the Galactic Empire – could it be that he’s made mistakes?
 
From a narrative point, all of us know (spoilers!) that Anakin Skywalker made one.  In fact, he made a huge mistake.  Galaxy-spanning mistake.  The kind of mistake you really can’t take back.  That’s why some of us take issue with George Lucas’s re-imagined ‘Special Edition’ ending to RETURN OF THE JEDI; after all of the evil Anakin trafficked in, can he truly be so easily forgiven and embraced by the Light Side of the Force?  It isn’t about forgiveness as some might have you believe; rather, it’s about what’s “right” in the universe, and I’m off that mindset that says Vader only deserves forgiveness from his family, not from the greater galaxy-at-large or whatever lies waiting beyond this world in this Force-friendly afterlife.
 
But I digress …
 
What makes CRY OF SHADOWS such a compelling story worth following this issue is the fact that the audience learns that Vader isn’t above it all much the way he appears at the onset of A NEW HOPE.  This Vader – the one unfolding in these pages specifically in front of the eyes of a clone designated CT-5539 or ‘Hock’ – is fallible.  He can choose poorly.  He can make a downright wrong decision.  Not a bad decision.  But a W-R-O-N-G decision.
 
As this story continues to unfold, perhaps Hock and the readers will learn otherwise.  Maybe the Dark Lord had something greater in his mind when he made this fateful choice?  Perhaps he’d seen something in his various meditations with the Dark Side that instructed him to deliberately choose poorly, to intentionally bring about such a public, humiliating defeat?  Until we do, what scribe Tim Siedell and his crew have done here is served up a small moment that redefines Vader as we’ve come to know him.  He isn’t all machine after all.  There’s a man beneath all of those components and that armor.  And that man – like any of us – might make a boneheaded decision that’ll cost him dearly some day … despite the fact that Anakin Skywalker already did.
 
Excellent issue.  Not perfect.  But it certainly gives readers something to think about.
 
STAR WARS: DARTH VADER AND THE CRY OF SHADOWS #3 is published by Dark Horse Comics, and – only for those of you who may’ve grown up on an island – STAR WARS was created by George Lucas.  The story is written by Tim Siedell; the art is by Gabriel Guzman; the colors are by Michael Atiyeh; and the lettering is by Michael Heisler.  The story is set during “The Rise of the Empire” era of history, which (for movie fans) is the period after the Prequel Trilogy and before the Original Trilogy.  The issue comes with the cover price of $3.50, payable in Old Republic credits.
 
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  As one who has been reading comic books for over forty years, let me tell you that it’s the little things that make a big story work.  You can have a high-concept idea or even high-profile guest stars all you like, but if the creative crew doesn’t know beans about putting them together in such a way as to make the good, the bad, and the ugly of the tale work, then you fundamentally have nothing.  While some might dismiss this third installment of DARTH VADER AND THE CRY OF SHADOWS for taking too much time to make its central point, I’d point out that those critics are missing all of the stellar smaller moments – an opening panel of utter decimation; a lone, imperious Vader standing on an Imperial bridge; and how that moment gets contrasted with Vader (near the tale’s end) standing somewhat powerlessly before the Emperor and other cronies at his side.  The devil is in the details, and this third issue has some terrific detail worth notice.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of STAR WARS: DARTH VADER AND THE CRY OF SHADOWS (#3) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Disappointing Second Issue Does Little More Than Build On The Ideas of the First]]>  
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
When we last saw Clone Trooper CT-5539, he was rather unceremoniously being left for dead by the Jedi on a distant planet offering little hope for survival much less rescue.  When we join him in this issue, he’s pretty much in the same place, coming to terms with the fact that he’s dying slowly.  But ‘dying’ does not mean he’s given up on the good fight, and readers learn precisely why the Kaminoans worked so hard to engineer genetic survivors, of which CT-5539 is quality stock.  He’s given himself a name – Hock – and, despite the odds, he’s about to be found.  Not only that, but he’s on the path for his exploits to draw the attention of a certain Dark Lord of the Sith.  Where such attention might lead is only beginning!
 
This second installment in THE CRY OF SHADOWS is basically still expanding on the premise as laid out in the first issue, introducing readers to a clone with his own measure of character.  In all circumstances, Hock refuses surrender.  Whether it be a pack of wild wolf-like creatures or whether it be bending to the will of fallen Jedi, he’s forever a soldier hell-bent on being the best that he can be.  It’s this dedication to service that captures Vader’s eye so well; perhaps the Dark Lord sees a bit of himself in the wounded soul.
 
Also, SHADOWS is deft at tinkering with the audience’s expectations.  In the Original Trilogy, STAR WARS showed us a world where Stormtroopers were so similar to one another even a captive Princess Leia thought it odd that a short one showed up to rescue her.  Making them faceless under such non-descript armor only further enhanced their conformity to a genetic ideal.  The Prequel Trilogy pretty much side-stepped any thematic discussion of real merit regarding the development of an entire race to basically serve as slaves to a galactic government, and I’m thrilled that Dark Horse has picked up on these ideas.  It’s clear that there’s still life screaming to rise up and be something: not only do we witness Hock’s desire to be greater than the sum of his parts, but he recounts the story of another – Kaddak.  Granted, Kaddak’s story is only a vignette here, but I can’t help but wonder what role this demented and depraved ‘aberration’ may yet play in the tale.
 
If anything, I could quibble with SHADOWS over some of its artistic choices.  Some of the artwork is far too ‘clean’ and ‘bright’ for my particular tastes, especially given the grim and foreboding subject matter driving the main plot.  Both Hock and Kaddak’s struggles are meant to defy the genetic status quo – clearly, both are crying out to be more than what these societies have in store for them – and both are reduced to scratching notches on their respective walls to count out their days.  But without knowing where all of this is heading that gripe may end up being a bit premature: I’ll let you know when it’s all over.
 
STAR WARS: DARTH VADER AND THE CRY OF SHADOWS #2 is published by Dark Horse Comics, and – only for those of you who may’ve grown up on an island – STAR WARS was created by George Lucas.  The story is written by Tim Siedell; the art is by Gabriel Guzman; the colors are by Michael Atiyeh; and the lettering is by Michael Heisler.  The story is set during “The Rise of the Empire” era of history, which (for movie fans) is the period after the Prequel Trilogy and before the Original Trilogy.  The issue comes with the cover price of $3.50, payable in Old Republic credits.
 
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  Scribe Tim Siedell uses deceptively lean prose to craft a clone at odds with his world (perhaps even his entire existence) in STAR WARS: DARTH VADER AND THE CRY OF SHADOWS.  At its core, the story is little more than a coming-of-age narrative centered on the most unusual individual (if a clone can ever really be considered anything resembling “an individual”) but where you’d expect to get pimples and cliques and social awkwardness you get a man growing not only more adept at being a killing machine but also impressing the ultimate killer (Darth Vader) in the process.  The artwork is surprisingly bright for such a grim subject, but perhaps that’s exactly what Siedell wants you to think: there’s no way to know for sure until all is said and done!
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of STAR WARS: DARTH VADER AND THE CRY OF SHADOWS (Part 02) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Disappointing Finish To An Incomplete Tale Mars An Otherwise Stellar Ride With Conan!]]>  
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
I’ve never been one to mince words.  In my writing life, that’s made me probably as many friends as it has enemies.  My enemies tend to believe I take the subject matter too seriously and, consequently, I’m too ‘hard’ on the material.  While I don’t disagree with that position, I’d argue that we, as readers, have a right to expect something of continuous quality.  KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON does serve up that continuous quality … right up until its ending, which only left me wanting more.  Artistically, that ain’t such a bad place to leave the audience, but, as a reader, I’m left hanging.  Granted, the break isn’t something of the magnitude like what George Lucas did with THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK – leaving an audience hanging on a massive development at the end of the picture (hint: “I am your father”) for another three years (!!!) until it would be resolved.  Dark Horse Comics has done similar – they’re leaving audiences hanging – but it isn’t with any necessarily monumental revelation.
 
Rather, this story just … ends.
 
Stylistically, Conan has achieved a measure of personal peace.  One might even say that he arrived at a crossroads of sorts, where he had to make a decision.  Going one way meant immeasurable risk while going the other way would mean … well, by all appearances it really ends up meaning little more than NOT going with what’s behind the first door and simply making it up as he goes.  This isn’t to say that there isn’t obviously more to this story because nothing could be further from the truth.  He hasn’t reclaimed his kingdom.  He hasn’t retaken the throne.  He hasn’t even ‘gotten’ the girl he’s spent so much of his time ruminating about in measured flashbacks.  All he’s done in the end of Part 6 is decide enough is enough – for now – so he can … what?  Live to fight another day?
 
What the hell happened to fortune and glory?
 
Methinks I’m overthinking it?  Maybe?
 
Still, it’s been a terrific ride … right up until those last few disappointing panels.  I’ll definitely be here to find out how the rest of the story gets told; I’m just honestly too gobsmacked right now to even think about it any more.
 
KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON (Part 6 of 6) is published by Dark Horse Comics. The story is written by Timothy Truman; the art is by Tomas Giorella; the colors are by Jose Villarrubia; and the lettering is by Richard Starkings and Comicraft. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is an adaptation of a tale woven by Conan's creator, Robert E. Howard, himself. All of its bloody glory comes with the cover price of $3.50, and that's a bargain at any slaying!
 
RECOMMENDED.  What’s entirely satisfying about KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON has been the entire creative run of Truman and his merry band of hellraisers.  Together – working from the inspiration of Howard’s original novel – they’ve served up a wonderful graphic tale of the mighty Cimmerian, one that legitimately hits all of the right mythic chords.  Like the adventure, it’s nothing sort of legendary.  What’s entirely frustrating is that – if you were watching closely and/or had some familiarity with the source material – then you’d know this final issue wasn’t going to be the end (there’s a subsequent miniseries hitting shelves soon that fleshes out the latter half of the novel).  Sure, it’s great to have something to look forward to, but these closing panels hit pretty hard in the heart and with not enough emotional satisfaction.  It’s like being invited to a great seven-course meal only to find the chef forgot to make dessert … and you really came for the dessert!
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON (Part 06 of 06) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Can All Of This Really Conclude In Only One More Issue? Say It Isn't So!]]>  
Whatever the truth may be, it becomes very clear that the barbarian is going to need his friends before THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON comes to its inevitable conclusion!
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
Marching into the Iron Tower isn’t something any man would do, but – then again – Conan is hardly “any man.”  While he was king, he took time to learn the tower’s many secrets, and that includes knowing private passageways whose use was restricted to the royal class.  Naturally, this gives him an advantage in saving the lovely Albiona (who appears deliciously clad beneath very little fabric in a full panel, though marred with blood), as does the fact that her attackers thought their former king dead.  What Conan learns is not only limited to the cruelest way to dispatch some ne’er-do-wells but rather is just how quickly evil rises amongst a populace left without a proper ruling influence.  He barely recognizes most of those he presided over, and that doesn’t stop him from doing what he must to save the girl, escape the clutches of the criminal, and set off on the last leg of this adventure to bring the Heart of Ahriman home!
 
Like the song goes, “I get by with a little help from my friends,” and that’s precisely what serves the Cimmerian so well in this fifth installment.  Those who would still serve him as king rise up to assist the man on his journey to re-assemble his kingdom.  The fact that Conan showed mercy in the past – even in the most curious of circumstances – has gained him supporters he knew little of or about, and its these thankful souls that spur him on through this latest adventure.
 
Will it be enough?
 
Certainly, there’s no way to know with what scribe Timothy Truman and his team have turned in for this fifth issue.  I’m still inclined to underscore something I penned in my review of the previous chapter: I’m not entirely certain all of this can sufficiently resolve itself with what may arrive in thirty days.  There’s a kingdom left to rebuild, but the barbarian hasn’t even found the needed stone, nor does he know its exact location.  What of the lovely Zenobia?  Will he return to her as well, as he had promised?  Surely, his journey to retake the throne won’t transpire without some massive conquest or legendary battle, and I find it impossible to believe Truman would tie all of this up in a single outstanding issue … yet stranger things have happened.
 
KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON (Part 5 of 6) is published by Dark Horse Comics. The story is written by Timothy Truman; the art is by Tomas Giorella; the colors are by Jose Villarrubia; and the lettering is by Richard Starkings and Comicraft. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is an adaptation of a tale woven by Conan's creator, Robert E. Howard, himself. All of its bloody glory comes with the cover price of $3.50, and that's a bargain at any slaying!
 
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  All roads are pointing Conan to a gem of unimaginable power, though it remains perilously out or reach.  Still, THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON has shaped up to be one admirable ride with some exceptional storytelling done by Truman, Giorella, and the others.  Some of its been a bit grim, but aren’t the best adventures always a bit grim before the finale?
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON (Part 05 of 06) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Kings And Sorcerers: A Match Made In Mythology]]> One of the developments that can make an interesting character even more exciting is when he behaves in some manner either contradicting his nature or that knowingly increases his own jeopardy in any given situation.  Granted, writers will on occasion manufacturer such instances in order to play up a dramatic angle to the plot, but so long as it happens organically with the greater story then that’s an easy circumstance to overlook if you’re a happy reader.  When a long-established character does it, the stakes are obviously a bit higher, as cynical readers might look away fearing that this uncharacteristic development is little more than a stylistic “jumping off the shark.”  Again, I’d have to argue that if – and only if – it serves the story and appears to be a one-time-occurrence, why quibble with it?  Why not instead sit back and enjoy it for nothing more than what it is?
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
With the help of the lovely Zenobia (whom he’s promised to return one day to liberate), our fabled Conan tears away on horseback from the castle of his imprisonment.  His mission: to return home and retake the throne from those who’ve usurped his reign.  However, even a man on a mission will stop to aide an old woman suffering the beating of her life at the hands of three surly soldiers.  Little did Conan know that this was no ordinary “hag” – Zelata has been practicing the art of witchcraft for years.  To return the favor, she offers the Cimmerian some disturbing visions of what has transpired in his absence, and she counsels him on what’s necessary to get back on the throne.  As fate would have it, Conan sees a challenge much more treacherous than even he had imagined.
 
With this fourth part of KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON, scribe Timothy Truman pushes the narrative into a more provincial direction than what had come before: he presents a vengeful Conan seeking a return to normalcy.  There’s little time or space for the hints of a life-changing romance, but what there is continues to be a veritable feast for hungry followers of the Cimmerian’s life.  At this point, it becomes clear that this story will not likely wrap up as conventionally as perhaps one may’ve assumed back at its onset.  In fact, it may not conclude in this run at all.
 
The challenge before the barbarian are mythic in scope – in order to set things right, he must find ‘the heart of a kingdom.’  What’s missing in those cryptic words from the wayward witch is what shape such heart may take.  Does it describe a gem used previously by the sorcerer who helped bring Conan to such a lowly state, or could the phrase mean something a tad more personal?  Naturally, our hero is up to whatever quest is required of him, but first things first: there’s a fair maiden trapped in an Iron Tower (not Zenobia but instead the Countess Albiona) needing his help.  Sorcery has never been a friend to him.
 
Still, legends of this sort are exactly what one might expect from any of Conan’s adventures, and Truman and his creative team continue to display why they’re in the right place at the right time in both the Cimmerian as well as his readers’ lives.
 
KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON (Part 4 of 6) is published by Dark Horse Comics. The story is written by Timothy Truman; the art is by Tomas Giorella; the colors are by Jose Villarrubia; and the lettering is by Richard Starkings and Comicraft. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is an adaptation of a tale woven by Conan's creator, Robert E. Howard, himself. All of its bloody glory comes with the cover price of $3.50, and that's a bargain at any slaying!
 
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  No good man ever goes down without a fight, and this fourth issue definitely serves up some of the most gruesome kills of KING CONAN’s run thus far.  And why shouldn’t it?  The man’s faced life and death more times than he cares to remember.  While he’s quick to rush in where others fear to tread, it certainly looks like there may be more challenges in store for the fallen king ... even when that means embracing the dark arts that have never served him well.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON (04 of 06) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
One of the developments that can make an interesting character even more exciting is when he behaves in some manner either contradicting his nature or that knowingly increases his own jeopardy in any given situation.  Granted, writers will on occasion manufacturer such instances in order to play up a dramatic angle to the plot, but so long as it happens organically with the greater story then that’s an easy circumstance to overlook if you’re a happy reader.  When a long-established character does it, the stakes are obviously a bit higher, as cynical readers might look away fearing that this uncharacteristic development is little more than a stylistic “jumping off the shark.”  Again, I’d have to argue that if – and only if – it serves the story and appears to be a one-time-occurrence, why quibble with it?  Why not instead sit back and enjoy it for nothing more than what it is?
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
With the help of the lovely Zenobia (whom he’s promised to return one day to liberate), our fabled Conan tears away on horseback from the castle of his imprisonment.  His mission: to return home and retake the throne from those who’ve usurped his reign.  However, even a man on a mission will stop to aide an old woman suffering the beating of her life at the hands of three surly soldiers.  Little did Conan know that this was no ordinary “hag” – Zelata has been practicing the art of witchcraft for years.  To return the favor, she offers the Cimmerian some disturbing visions of what has transpired in his absence, and she counsels him on what’s necessary to get back on the throne.  As fate would have it, Conan sees a challenge much more treacherous than even he had imagined.
 
With this fourth part of KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON, scribe Timothy Truman pushes the narrative into a more provincial direction than what had come before: he presents a vengeful Conan seeking a return to normalcy.  There’s little time or space for the hints of a life-changing romance, but what there is continues to be a veritable feast for hungry followers of the Cimmerian’s life.  At this point, it becomes clear that this story will not likely wrap up as conventionally as perhaps one may’ve assumed back at its onset.  In fact, it may not conclude in this run at all.
 
The challenge before the barbarian are mythic in scope – in order to set things right, he must find ‘the heart of a kingdom.’  What’s missing in those cryptic words from the wayward witch is what shape such heart may take.  Does it describe a gem used previously by the sorcerer who helped bring Conan to such a lowly state, or could the phrase mean something a tad more personal?  Naturally, our hero is up to whatever quest is required of him, but first things first: there’s a fair maiden trapped in an Iron Tower (not Zenobia but instead the Countess Albiona) needing his help.  Sorcery has never been a friend to him.
 
Still, legends of this sort are exactly what one might expect from any of Conan’s adventures, and Truman and his creative team continue to display why they’re in the right place at the right time in both the Cimmerian as well as his readers’ lives.
 
KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON (Part 4 of 6) is published by Dark Horse Comics. The story is written by Timothy Truman; the art is by Tomas Giorella; the colors are by Jose Villarrubia; and the lettering is by Richard Starkings and Comicraft. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is an adaptation of a tale woven by Conan's creator, Robert E. Howard, himself. All of its bloody glory comes with the cover price of $3.50, and that's a bargain at any slaying!
 
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  No good man ever goes down without a fight, and this fourth issue definitely serves up some of the most gruesome kills of KING CONAN’s run thus far.  And why shouldn’t it?  The man’s faced life and death more times than he cares to remember.  While he’s quick to rush in where others fear to tread, it certainly looks like there may be more challenges in store for the fallen king ... even when that means embracing the dark arts that have never served him well.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON (04 of 06) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
One of the developments that can make an interesting character even more exciting is when he behaves in some manner either contradicting his nature or that knowingly increases his own jeopardy in any given situation.  Granted, writers will on occasion manufacturer such instances in order to play up a dramatic angle to the plot, but so long as it happens organically with the greater story then that’s an easy circumstance to overlook if you’re a happy reader.  When a long-established character does it, the stakes are obviously a bit higher, as cynical readers might look away fearing that this uncharacteristic development is little more than a stylistic “jumping off the shark.”  Again, I’d have to argue that if – and only if – it serves the story and appears to be a one-time-occurrence, why quibble with it?  Why not instead sit back and enjoy it for nothing more than what it is?
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
With the help of the lovely Zenobia (whom he’s promised to return one day to liberate), our fabled Conan tears away on horseback from the castle of his imprisonment.  His mission: to return home and retake the throne from those who’ve usurped his reign.  However, even a man on a mission will stop to aide an old woman suffering the beating of her life at the hands of three surly soldiers.  Little did Conan know that this was no ordinary “hag” – Zelata has been practicing the art of witchcraft for years.  To return the favor, she offers the Cimmerian some disturbing visions of what has transpired in his absence, and she counsels him on what’s necessary to get back on the throne.  As fate would have it, Conan sees a challenge much more treacherous than even he had imagined.
 
With this fourth part of KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON, scribe Timothy Truman pushes the narrative into a more provincial direction than what had come before: he presents a vengeful Conan seeking a return to normalcy.  There’s little time or space for the hints of a life-changing romance, but what there is continues to be a veritable feast for hungry followers of the Cimmerian’s life.  At this point, it becomes clear that this story will not likely wrap up as conventionally as perhaps one may’ve assumed back at its onset.  In fact, it may not conclude in this run at all.
 
The challenge before the barbarian are mythic in scope – in order to set things right, he must find ‘the heart of a kingdom.’  What’s missing in those cryptic words from the wayward witch is what shape such heart may take.  Does it describe a gem used previously by the sorcerer who helped bring Conan to such a lowly state, or could the phrase mean something a tad more personal?  Naturally, our hero is up to whatever quest is required of him, but first things first: there’s a fair maiden trapped in an Iron Tower (not Zenobia but instead the Countess Albiona) needing his help.  Alas, sorcery has been no friend to him.
 
Still, legends of this sort are exactly what one might expect from any of Conan’s adventures, and Truman and his creative team continue to display why they’re in the right place at the right time in both the Cimmerian as well as his readers’ lives.
 
KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON (Part 4 of 6) is published by Dark Horse Comics. The story is written by Timothy Truman; the art is by Tomas Giorella; the colors are by Jose Villarrubia; and the lettering is by Richard Starkings and Comicraft. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is an adaptation of a tale woven by Conan's creator, Robert E. Howard, himself. All of its bloody glory comes with the cover price of $3.50, and that's a bargain at any slaying!
 
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  No good man ever goes down without a fight, and this fourth issue definitely serves up some of the most gruesome kills of KING CONAN’s run thus far.  And why shouldn’t it?  The man’s faced life and death more times than he cares to remember.  While he’s quick to rush in where others fear to tread, it certainly looks like there may be more challenges in store for the fallen king ... even if that means embracing the dark arts.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON (04 of 06) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
]]>
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<![CDATA[ Now There's A King I'd Follow!]]>  
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
When we last left Conan, some dreaded thing – a beast – was lunging at him and his accomplice Zenobia from out of the darkness.  As happens all too often in tales of this sort, vanquishing one enemy really only means clearing the path for another, but this is the conflict the Cimmerian has been waiting for: Tarascus has returned to the castle, and – if our barbarian has anything to say about it – the man won’t draw breathe another day!  Things don’t go as smoothly as he would’ve liked, and Conan is left with no other course but to flee the palace.  Flee he does, and the promise of new adventure – taking back his throne – awaits him and his loyal readers.
 
One of the standards of palace intrigue – especially those tales involving kings who would align with the black arts – is that, eventually, wizards and warlocks are also apt to be double-crossed; thankfully, THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON (03 of 06) is no different.  Tarascus realizes that a man who deals in magic is almost as much threat as is a barbarian with a sword, so he necessarily acts out to preserve his time on the throne.  This gives readers a chance to see a contrasting portrait of how royals behave – Tarascus turning on a gifted ally at the same time as Conan seeks to keep Zenobia’s identity a secret for her part in helping to spare his life – and that’s the stuff of great literature: present readers with opposing viewpoints so that they can choose who is the better ‘king’ to follow.
 
Also, this third installment is the first time I personally felt that the action and intrigue finally rose to the level of perfection.  Scribe Timothy Truman has adapted Howard’s original novel in such a way as to hone in on the greater moments, and this third issue feels like there’s finally a genuine understanding between the original tale, the adaptation process, and the pacing.  It starts with a big action sequence – Conan facing down a blood-thirsty ape preying on the dungeon inhabitants – and it builds consistently toward a climax … with the necessary side jaunts along the way.
 
Furthermore, Truman’s perspective has been to book-end his tale as an aging King Conan narrating this story via flashbacks to a royal scribe.  (This may be a conceit of Howard’s original novel, as well; I couldn’t say, as I’ve yet to read it.)  Whereas the first two issues had to dispense moments of establishing the characters, this third installment benefits from that narrative device mostly being left in the background – it shows up fleetingly – and, thus, the actual tale finally gets the center stage treatment it deserves.
 
All in all, DRAGON is definitely shaping up in a way that I’d imagine pleases most Howard fans and even his fiercest fanatics.  Bravo, Dark Horse!  Bravo, indeed!
 
KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON (Part 3 of 6) is published by Dark Horse Comics. The story is written by Timothy Truman; the art is by Tomas Giorella; the colors are by Jose Villarrubia; and the lettering is by Richard Starkings and Comicraft. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is an adaptation of a tale woven by Conan's creator, Robert E. Howard, himself. All of its bloody glory comes with the cover price of $3.50, and that's a bargain at any slaying!
 
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE.  Finally, the myth that is KING CONAN becomes but a man in THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON (03 of 06).  He may not be of noble blood, but Conan on occasion demonstrates that he understands that truly serving people occasionally means rising up, vanquishing enemies against all odds, and inspiring them to align themselves behind a great man.  Zenobia’s kinship inspires Conan to accept the demands of leading, and he rises above his natural barbaric instincts in order to save the two of them from certain doom.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON (03 of 06) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]>
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<![CDATA[ By Crom! An Epic Befitting A King!]]>  
(NOTE: The following review contains minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you're the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I'd encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you're accepting of a few modest hints at `things to come,' then read on ...)
 
When we last left our fabled barbarian, Conan struggled past the pains of affliction and rose up from his makeshift bedchambers preparing to march into the field of battle against the hordes of Tarascus after witchcraft had been used to decimate most of the Cimmerian’s forces and allies.  Now, the same black magic is used against him, and he wakes up later in the dungeons controlled by Xaltotun.  But as is often the case with good men, he won’t be held in chains for long, and his rescuer may indeed change more than just the strongman’s immediate fate: she may be the love of his life!
 
Scribe Timothy Truman’s work here is particularly good.  Though I’ve yet to read Howard’s original novel (I recently purchased a Kindle, so I’ve uploaded it into my library of items to get to hopefully in the next year), the prose here definitely feels as if it’s been inspired by epic legend.  There’s a fair share of background the goes hand-in-hand with any adaptation, but, in Truman’s hands, it never quite feels as if we’re delving into unnecessary exposition; rather, one senses that all things are pointing these characters (and the readers) in precisely the direction they need to look.
 
Additionally, Tomas Giorella’s artwork is pretty fabulous.  No doubt, Conan has always been a project those serious about their craft want to work on, and Giorella’s panels compliment the epic story with grand though gritty visuals.  The colors are understandably muted, giving the work a very earthy / natural essence, definitely something needed when trafficking in the world of ax-wielding warriors, villainous wizards, and even scantily-clad women of the castle.
 
As the tale ends, Conan’s gained an accomplice – Zenobia, one of the rare loves of his life – and the stage is set with yet another cliffhanger, one that’ll mean only more action in thirty days!
 
KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON (Part 2 of 6) is published by Dark Horse Comics. The story is written by Timothy Truman; the art is by Tomas Giorella; the colors are by Jose Villarrubia; and the lettering is by Richard Starkings and Comicraft. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is an adaptation of a tale woven by Conan's creator, Robert E. Howard, himself. All of its bloody glory comes with the cover price of $3.50, and that's a bargain at any slaying!

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON is shaping up quite nicely, a fitting tribute to both a character and its creator of legend.  Stylistically, DRAGON is a throwback to days when pulp strongmen were regarding with greater artistic considerations than they’re often given today (did you even see that last theatrical Conan reboot?!?), so this is definitely one title worth following.

In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital copy of KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON (Part 2 of 6) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]>
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<![CDATA[ This ENEMY Feels A Bit Too Familiar To My Liking]]>  
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
John Connor is gone.  No, he’s not dead.  He’s just gone.  As in not here.  In fact, he quite literally hasn’t yet been born, I suspect, as the events here unfold very nearly after the conclusion of the first TERMINATOR film.  Another T-800 cybernetic killer emerges from a time bubble with its sights set on Dr. Elise Fong.  But disgraced intelligence operative turned private eye Farrow Greene is also looking for Dr. Fong, and when these two forces collide they’re likely to leave a trail of bodies and destruction in their wake!
 
THE TERMINATOR: ENEMY OF MY ENEMY is a throwback to a time when comic book stories were, say, a little kinder, a little gentler.  What scribe Dan Jolley has done is picked up the franchise at a point when theatre audiences were only just familiar with them, setting his tale not long after the end of the story that took place in the first film.  It’s 1985, and the local theatre in playing BACK TO THE FUTURE and THE GOONIES according to the marquee.  For those of us familiar with that time and place, there’s definitely a welcome sense of nostalgia to those first few panels.
 
But – like I said in the outset – that’s pretty much all we learn.  As a first issue, there’s also a certain sense of obligation around much of this – Greene is established with a mysterious past, but then again so does this Terminator (with hippie-length hair) and so does Dr. Fong.  This introduction poses more questions than it can possibly answer, so rather than belabor any narrative points (much of which would just be speculation) I’ll instead say that this looks like more of the same, meaning it may not be any grand addition to the franchise.  Too soon to tell?
 
Dark Horse has taken a respectable number of stabs at infusing the Terminator franchise with some life, though I’d have to honestly admit that I’ve yet to be suitably ‘wowed’ by anything they’ve turned out.  THE TERMINATOR: ENEMY OF MY ENEMY at first blush looks like more of the same – fairly nebulous storytelling, fairly routine artwork, fairly obligatory action sequences and panel layout – but I’ll happily cut them some slack as this is only a first issue.  Sure, maybe I hoped for more – especially with the benchmarks they’ve been reaching and exceeding on STAR WARS and CONAN – but, alas, it is what it is.  I’ll admit that Dan Jolley’s story has an inspirational twist, setting this one hot-on-the-heels of events that ended after the first film in the property, so maybe that’ll help send this one to greater heights as it all unfolds.
 
THE TERMINATOR: ENEMY OF MY ENEMY is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The story is written by Dan Jolley; the pencils are by Jamal Igle; the inks are by Ray Snyder; the colors are by Moose Baumann; and the lettering is by Nate Piekos of Blambot.  Also, there’s a great little afterward from Brendan Wright, and I strongly encourage everyone read it to better understand some of the particulars surrounding this particular tale and its place in Dark Horse’s history.  It all comes with a respectable cover price of $3.99.
 
RECOMMENDED.  No, it isn’t perhaps as grand as I expected, but there’s still something to Dan Jolley’s THE TERMINATOR: ENEMY OF MY ENEMY that feels comfortable, feels ‘at home’ in this story of yet one more T-800 showing up to spell certain doom for some unfortunate soul.  It doesn’t appear to be John Connor this time out – thank you, story gods! – but it might somehow tie back into the existing mythology before all is said and done.  Tonally, it’s very similar (maybe too much so) to that first film.  I’ll withhold some judgment until I see how our mysterious lead heroine develops in thirty days.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of THE TERMINATOR: ENEMY OF MY ENEMY #1 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Waking Up ... On A Bed of Rats!!!]]>  
Something else is definitely afoot in VEIL.  In fact, methinks there’s quite a bit at play.  If you’re truly interested, then stay tuned after my usual qualifier for some of the saucier details.
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
Veil woke up this evening, lying in an abandoned subway terminal among a field of rats.  But – looking like she does (which happens to be entirely nude) – she’ll make friends quickly (the wrong kind of friends) once she walks the busy city streets above, until a polite young man named Dante intervenes the way a gentleman should and offers her his coat.  Before the dazed and confused young maiden can be snatched away by forces who’d love to do vile things to her, he manages to take her back to his apartment, get her some clothes, and try to communicate with her.  However, fate has more in store this evening than what Dante was prepared for, and, before you know it, they’ll both be on the run from both sides of the law.
 
Now – without spoiling anything – let me tell you first that this first issue is a doozy.  Fortunately, it’s a quick read – there’s scant prose in here, as much of the first several pages is heavily dedicated to some deliciously moody artwork served up by Toni Fejzula – but don’t do like I did and miss the details.  Remember what I said: pay close attention to the details.  Crime novelist Greg Rucka has forgotten more about the fine print than folks like you and I have ever learned, and I can’t help but thinking that he and Toni are in cahoots, carefully sprinkling clues for any dear reader to discover in even those first few small panels.  For instance, there’s a gun, an exchange of money, and maybe even something a little more that goes down right as this clever little ditty begins.  So sit up and pay attention, kids: there are masters at work here.
 
Also, VEIL isn’t without her own mysteries.  She’s a puzzle – a beautiful quandary of the most deadly possibility available to man – and I suspect she plucked even her own name right out of thin air.  Or did she?
 
Clearly, there’s more at work than any of us can ever truly know in a first issue, but Rucka and the team are on the job, dishing out a wonderful set-up for intelligent readers.  Will they be able to sustain this along with the supporting tension for its five-issue run?  There’s no way to know from these pages, but let me be the first to heartily encourage you to run out and pick this one up if you haven’t yet.  It’s a grand start to something that appears to be as dark and magical a contemporary fairy tale (with crime, don’t forget) than you’re likely see anywhere on shelves today.
 
VEIL #1 (of 5) is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The story is written by novelist/author Greg Rucka; with artwork provided by Toni Fejzula; and lettering by Nate Piekos of Blambot.  The issue comes with a cover price of $3.50 – not the best deal in town, but it’s well worth the price so far as this long-time comic book reader is concerned.
 
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE.  There’s an awful lot going on in VEIL that doesn’t quite meet the eye on first blush … or else I missed it on my first read-through.  (Yeah, it happens!  But if you’re up for more specifics then go ahead and read the minor spoilers above.)  Where this one is heading I’ve certainly no idea; I suspect Rucka may not be able to keep up this pace (at some point, questions will have to be answered), but I’d definitely want to be here to watch as the ‘veils’ are pulled back and the secrets revealed.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with an advance reading copy of VEIL #1 (of 5) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Satisfying Conclusion To Two-Part Adventure Set Within A Much Greater STAR WARS Story]]>  
(NOTE: the following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
With a squad of elite Stormtroopers in tow, Vader has taken leave of his command within the greater Imperial structure, shunning the demands of the Emperor himself in order to run off on a personal errand of much import.  He’s shanghaied a young officer – Ensign Nanda – to do some of the dirty work, but, before all is over, the Sith Lord will be served up with perhaps his greatest awakening since his fall twenty (or so) years previous in the events depicted in STAR WARS: EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH.  Now with full understanding of the stakes before him, Vader returns to Coruscant to put his own destiny back into the hands of his master.
 
Wood’s writing continues to propel this series into corners fans have long only imagined – where did this happen? When did that happen? Who put this into motion? etc. – and it’s been nothing short of inspired.  Like those original films (or certainly much in the way THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK played out), the tale has become a galactic chess match with pieces constantly in motion as a certain Jedi Master once told us.  There may not be a lot of grand character development, but what there is is great serial writing building on established mythology while tweaking new avenues worth further pursuit.  Plus, issue #14 feels very much as though it’s bringing a suitable conclusion to the whole “What happened with any survivors of Alderaan?” that has been toyed with previously.  I’m not sure that there’s anything more to that angle: Wood has surprised me before, so I’ll be here if he chooses to do it again.
 
STAR WARS #14 (Ongoing) is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The story is written by Brian Wood; the pencils are by Facundo Percio; the inks are by Dan Parsons; the colors are by Gabe Eltaeb; and the lettering is by Michael Heisler.  STAR WARS was originally created by George Lucas.  It all comes with a cover price of $2.99 an issue, and that is the best bang for your buck in all of the Outer Rim worlds, my friend.
 
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE.  Vader finally puts all of the pieces to the puzzle before him together, and then returns to Coruscant on bended knee in order to get back into the good graces of the evil Emperor Palpatine.  The conclusion of this two-issue arc (which began in the last published installment) delivered as it promised: “Five Days of Sith.”  Revelations were made, and an all-new character (Ensign Nanda) entered the mythology … but all of the real action was precisely where it should be: on the Dark Lord of the Sith himself.  Jump aboard this story before it comes to an end, my friends, and you’ll be glad you took my advice.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of STAR WARS #14 (Ongoing) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]>
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<![CDATA[ A Return To Normalcy Prompts A Welcome Change of Scenery to DEJAH THORIS!]]>  
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
Picking up only days after the events culminating in Issue #5, Dejah Thoris and her people have begun repairs to the city of Helium, picking up the pieces from the battle that decimated so much (see the previous narrative arc available in DEJAH THORIS: VOLUME 1).  However, a new problem – something’s broken the city’s plumbing! – sends the lady and a detachment to the Martian arctic, where a new enemy has established a foothold thanks to a secret tied to unimaginable wealth!  Will this band of warriors be enough to restore the flow of water or will they instead be eaten alive?
 
From the first page, my expectation was that scribe Arvid Nelson and his crew were prepared to serve up much of the same as what’s come before to this ongoing tale.  Stylistically, it all looks and feels similar to the first five issues, but thankfully there’s a new chink in the fabric: an all-new location!  When the chilled environment appeared, I realized that the variety of locales really had affected THORIS’s first five issues – everything blended together, and there was very little to distinguish one book from the next.  Now, the change of scenery actually caused me to perk up a notch, though it didn’t last all that long before our princess finds herself taken captive by some Martian “blacks.”  (In true chromatic sense, they’re not ‘black,’ per se, much more ‘gray.’)  Oh, the colors of the wind!
 
As with the first arc, there are instances where things happen that could’ve been handled vastly more improved.  For example, there’s a stowaway aboard Thoris’s craft who never quite gets explained as well as he could’ve (Why was he there?  What were his intentions?  How did he know when Thoris and her crew would be heading to the ice cap?).  Furthermore – without spoiling a plot point too greatly for readers, though this issue was first published a while back – there’s a moment wherein the princess confronts the stowaway when out of nowhere a net simply appears and captures her.  Erm … who threw it?  Why did they throw it?  If someone else was there to throw the next, couldn’t there have been a shadow or, at least, a shadowy figure in the distance?  I had to re-read the series of panels a few times in order to see if I had missed something.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t, and, while it all makes sense further down the road, I don’t like narrative surprises that don’t explain themselves in the here and now.
 
That’s alright.  Call me old-fashioned.  I’ll wait.
 
Otherwise, the launch of this second arc is a bit of an improvement over the first.  Granted, Thoris is still drawn much like a Playboy centerfold, and she’s increasingly appearing in positions contrived to help amplify any man’s libido.  But it looks like that artistic conceit (if you can call it that!) is definitely here to stay.
 
WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS #6 is published by Dynamite Entertainment.  The story is written by Arvid Nelson; the tale is illustrated by Carlos Rafael; the work is colored by Carlos Lopez; while the book is lettered by Marshall Dillon; and all of this is naturally based on the works of the master, Edgar Rice Burroughs.  It’s available for a cover price of $3.99, a bargain if you can get it.
 
RECOMMENDED.  If it’s sci-fi cheese you want, then WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS continues in that grand tradition of serving up the best fantasy-fueled TnA (ask your parents, kids!) quality ink and color can provide.  It ain’t so bad.  Issue #6 boasts an interesting change of scenery in that Dejah and her kin are off to the arctic wastelands of Mars (those boob adornments have got to be driving her crazy!), as well as bringing a whole new band of pirates into the tale to mix things up.  Nelson and his team continue to dish on a classic character with good clean fun … well, maybe not so much ‘clean’ for the kids reading.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that I’ve repeatedly contacted the fine folks at Dynamite Comics in hopes to arrange for reader copies of WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS; however, the company apparently does not recognize nor cooperate with requests from new media outlets.]]>
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<![CDATA[ An All-new Take On A Classic Female Hero]]>  
Things look to have changed just a bit as Dynamite Entertainment has put together a pretty impressive re-launch of the character.  Even more impressive is the name they’ve introduced to spearhead this re-imagining: longtime novelist and comic book enthusiast Gail Simone.
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
It all begins three years ago when noble king Dimath rescued an enslaved nation from the evil wrath of Zamoran ruler, a coward who isn’t even present for the defeat of his city.  In the process of sparing these people, Dimath spares two women – two gladiators chained in a dungeon and buried under layers of filth, sweat, and blood.  Readers learn that one of them is, in fact, our beloved Sonja (naturally, as this is a re-launch, methinks it’s shaping up as a bit of an origins story – never a bad thing), but the fate of the other won’t be known until the very last pages: we learn that she’s returned in present time, and her sights are set at now destroying the city King Dimath had previously freed from malevolence.
 
I have a solid reputation of being pretty hard on first issues.  It isn’t that I dislike them; rather, it’s that I find them increasingly difficult to do in this day and age.  Think about this: how effectively can one creative team introduce a book’s characters, world, and situation in a mere 20 to 30 pages?  It’s indeed a daunting task, and it’s certainly one Ms. Simone appears up to here.  There’s a palpable sense of glee at giving Red Sonja a makeover, if not the perfect chance to rise from the ashes of what’s come before (literarily) and poise her for a new future.
 
And why not?  As I tried to explain above, Red Sonja has often times felt as though she was given the treatment of an afterthought by many teams.  She doesn’t have the name recognition of a Batman, Superman, or Spider-man.  She doesn’t have the respect that even the Conan book has, what with its link to the big budget movies.  She’s never quite had the cache of courtesy given even to TV’s XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, another statuesque beauty that came out of nowhere and received fandom’s willing (and lustful) embrace.  Sonja’s been around for quite a while, and it would seem that only now Dynamite’s giving her a chance to explode.
 
Explode she does.  When she finds herself unnecessarily kept from sleep on a bed of leaves by a trio of brigands who threaten her safety, she barely bats an eye.  However, once the band of thieves threaten the two young ladies who’ve curiously shown up at the same time with intentions of saving our ginger heroine, she rises to the occasion and quickly dispatches two thugs to the Underworld.  The third?  Creatively, he happens to tie in with the message the women have been sent to deliver: Sonja is being called to Dimath’s side with hopes that she can help save his kingdom.
 
So far as my particular scale for first issues is concerned, RED SONJA #1 is solid but it misses gold.  I don’t dislike the story; it’s just that there were too many elements relying on flashback.  As a narrative device, I’ve always believed that the flashback should be used sparingly.  It’s definitely used to good effect here, but it necessarily limited my time with Sonja – the real star of the comic – and that’s who I tune in to see.
 
Still, it feels as if Simone has a firm command – much like the character she’s penning – of this world.  My impression may dramatically improve with the second issue as readers are left with one of those grand, jaw-dropping cliffhangers in this issue’s final panel.  If nothing else, Simone has definitely served up a solid reason to return to the world of Red Sonja … even if it’s only for a short but sweet visit!
 
RED SONJA #1 (Ongoing) is published by Dynamite Entertainment.  The issue is written by Gail Simone; the art is drawn by Walter Geovani; the book is colored by Adriano Lucas; it is lettered by Simon Bowland; and the series is presently edited by Joseph Rybandt.  Individual issues bear the cover price of $3.99 … and that’s a bargain considering the depth, action, and characterization contained within.
 
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  As a first issue (as part of a re-launch of a long-established character), RED SONJA #1 at times feels surprisingly a bit perfunctory, and that’s likely because Sonja is so already well known to those who love her best: her readers.  As a jumping on point for new readers, I suspect the addition of novelist and comics’ scribe Gail Simone (who’s long been credited with Wonder Woman’s current resurrection) might bring fresh blood into the fold.  God knows she’s delivering fresh blood to the pages.  Kudos to a solid start: I’ll definitely check in to see where it’s all heading.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that I’ve repeatedly contacted the fine folks at Dynamite Comics via email and their web site in hopes to arrange for reader copies of RED SONJA #1 (Ongoing); however, the company apparently does not recognize nor cooperate with requests from new media outlets.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Adult Themes Clash With Juvenile Fantasy in DEJAH THORIS's First Volume]]>  
Playing in a world created by legendary scribe Edgar Rice Burroughs that has little name recognition beyond fandom AND the association of what many saw as a heavily flawed big-budget film?  That’s another thing entirely.  If WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS is any indication, then I suspect there’s more than one way to skin a Calot.
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
Set over four centuries before the time period of Walt Disney’s JOHN CARTER, the ongoing monthly DEJAH THORIS comic shows us the world of Helium warring within its various tribes.  As often happens in times of war, there are fragile ‘ceasefires’ put into motion by any series of events, and that’s how this volume opens: the all-high Yorn declares a cessation of hostilities between the various people.  However, once these various rulers and princes are drawn to Yorn’s castle – where even Dejah herself gets promised to Yorn’s chubby son, Valian, as part of the terms for ending the conflict – it becomes very clear that ulterior motives are at play.
 
For those who might be questioning how it’s even possible that Dejah Thoris would even be around four hundred years before John Carter, I can answer that simply: Martians, by their nature, are essentially immortal.  They only die when they’re slain, so this story as conceived by Arvid Nelson is entirely plausible, even probable given what we know about the political and social structure of Barsoom (aka Mars).  And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking this approach so far as I’m concerned: there’s a respectable amount of background provided in the Burroughs’ books (those that I’m familiar with), so the field is a vastly open place upon which to play out some terrific adventures.
 
The question remains: is “this” a story worth telling?
 
Unfortunately, I’ll leave my answer a bit nebulous, mostly because I’d rather not spoil the overall arch of it.  (Though for those truly interested in knowing more I have penned reviews for each of the individual issues which do address some of the particulars, and I encourage you to seek them out here on Amazon or over at Lunch.)  I will say that I thought much of DEJAH THORIS to be a bit of a creative misfire: it would seem Nelson and his crew haven’t quite decided which potential version of the John Carter universe they’d rather occupy – that of the books or that stemming from the Walt Disney movie.  Thematically, much of THORIS feels like it’s giving a nod to the Mouse House – the drama is very simple and not very elegant given the dynamics of what could’ve been done; and the art style feels unnecessarily ‘clean’ with bright tones and dark lines, much akin to animation geared toward younger viewers.  If that is the case, then why are all of Dejah’s ample (ahem) assets on full display?  She appears bra-less in any circumstance (not that Martian princesses wear bras), with her bosoms only shielded from full display with nipple adornments.  It’s a deliciously grown-up depiction for a story so elementary, and I’m not certain that’s the way to go.
 
Still, the tale feels almost ‘classical’ in structure, the kind of thing reverential of Burroughs’ world, and that alone interests me enough to continue reading until such a time as I grow weary of all the cheese.
 
WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS #3 (Volume 1) is published by Dynamite Entertainment.  (For those needing it spelled out perfect, this is a trade paperback which collects the first five issues of the DEJAH THORIS ongoing comic book.)  The story is written by Arvid Nelson; the artwork is drawn by Carlos Rafael; with coloring provided by Carlos Lopez; and the lettering is done by Marshall Dillon.  If it’s special features you’re looking for, then you’ve got something to look forward to, indeed: there’s a terrific collection of artwork (much of which is alternate comic books covers) along with some sketches and a terrifically comprehensive rundown from artist Joe Jusko on just how he approaches the legendary princess.  Nice job, Dynamite.  It all comes with a cover price of $16.99, but I’ve seen it available for much cheaper online from other vendors.
 
RECOMMENDED.  Although it would be easy to dismiss WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS (VOLUME 1) with a hearty “nothing to see here” – stylistically, it adds very little to the world of comicdom; and given the fact that it takes years centuries before the legitimate, canonical saga of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter series of novels.  However, I liked it well enough on a straight read-thru to give it a thumbs-up, just not one as enthusiastic as I had initially hoped.  The artwork is much too ‘clean’ for my tastes, making it appear like Saturday morning fare for children, but given the prevalence of about as close to male and female nudity as one can get that’s horribly misdirected.  If you’re going to pen stories skewed toward adults in any way, then got all of your oars in the water and deliver that instead of something that feels dumbed down for a wider audience.  Who knows?  Maybe it’ll grow into something more than the typical cheese, though there’s nothing wrong with ogling Dejah so long as she’s okay with it.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that I’ve repeatedly contacted the fine folks at Dynamite Comics in hopes to arrange for reader copies of WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS; however, the company apparently does not recognize nor cooperate with requests from new media outlets.]]>
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<![CDATA[ A Big Finish And An Untimely Death Gives Princess Thoris Something To Cry About]]>  
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
The alliances that were put into motion throughout the previous four issues proved a pivotal factor in the finish to DEJAH THORIS’s first storyline.  Not everything wrapped up nicely – some people lived, some people died, but largely everyone readers expected to come through from the finish did so.  Rest assured: Dejah’s fine.  She might be a bit emotionally frazzled, but she still looked great in the resident bikini.
 
The strength of Issue #5 really starts and stops with Nelson and his team’s ability to stage the big climax.  To my surprise, they pulled it off quite well.  There’s an awful lot of visually exciting combat – stylistically, it’s certainly in line with everything that’s come before, and perhaps that was a little disappointing.  When it all looks too similar, then there’s little cause on the part of the reader to distinguish one “big moment” from the next “big moment,” and too much of it ends up blending together into a sea of mediocrity.
 
But heroes are heroes precisely because they come through when history requires they do so.  Each of the players here – Dejah, her family, their allies, Valian, and even Yorn – play some part in the final conflict.  Naturally, there’s a lot going on in some panels, and, in one instance or two, things happen a bit so quickly that I had to study the panel (and a few panels before) to see if I’d missed something.  Eventually, I realized that I hadn’t – it was merely that Nelson and his artists didn’t show the moment a major character was shot.  Instead, they showed him in the act of receiving a significant blow, so call me naïve if I’m a reader who likes to have a development like that better plotted out for me visually.
 
It is what it is.  Or isn’t.
 
Also, the battle is given a nice denouement.  Usually, those kind of sentiments get brushed over, and, in a monthly read that clearly prides itself on action + boobs + action, I can appreciate that the book’s creative personnel didn’t scrimp on the pathos after delivering so much macho.  It wraps up with a tragedy, and, despite suspecting our princess felt otherwise, she proved (rightfully so) that some royalty always hides away silent in the heart.  That kindness – that humanity – only comes out in the most dire circumstances imaginable.
 
WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS #5 [Ongoing] is published by Dynamite Entertainment.  The story is written by Arvid Nelson; the artwork is drawn by Carlos Rafael; with coloring provided by Carlos Lopez; and the lettering is done by Marshall Dillon.
 
RECOMMENDED.  As much as I wanted to love Arvid Nelson’s conclusion in WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS #5, I didn’t.  I didn’t dislike it.  The best I can say is that it came up a bit short.  Perhaps it’s that so many of the notes struck were a bit too similar to ones that have been struck in similar stories.  Perhaps it’s that the big finish came a bit too easy to those involved.  There’s nothing wrong with a measure of predictability to any tale; but when the best moments feel like they’ve been pilfered from other works maybe my expectations for a grand showdown were misplaced.  It all ended like it began … right in the middle of the road.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that I’ve repeatedly contacted the fine folks at Dynamite Comics in hopes to arrange for reader copies of WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS; however, the company apparently does not recognize nor cooperate with requests from new media outlets.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Alliances Are Forged ... While An Angel Gets Her Wings!]]>  
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
As the issue opens, it has become very clear to the red people of Barsoom that Yorn intends to wipe out not only the Green Horde of the North but also any man, woman, or child who stands in his path.  Thus, the various peoples of Helium have come together in secret in order to discuss joining forces to keep the planet safe from destruction.  As is often the case in matters of state, the men and women are quick to realize that they’ll need much more than words to convince their mortal enemies to link up for battle against a common foe … so how convenient is it that the Colossus strikes during their fateful meeting!
 
At this point, Nelson and his team feel like they’re cruising on all cylinders.  The plot has been clearly laid out – this is essentially a struggle for survival – so they can dispense with any great character revelations.  Still, they’ve cleverly held back a trump card in that respect, and it gets served up when – lo and behold – Prince Valian shows up having escaped his father’s wrath.  He brings with him a knowledge of lost sciences, but he also delivers something more; he finally divulges privately to Dejah what happened in Yorn’s past … something that possibly served to create such anger for the various Martian clans.
 
What else does he bring?
 
Naturally, Dejah won’t be sitting the final battle out, and Valian gives her some nifty equipment: she gets wings!  With that body and those Cover girl good looks, Princess Thoris looks like one of those Victoria Secret’s angels come alive!
 
WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS #4 [Ongoing] is published by Dynamite Entertainment.  The story is written by Arvid Nelson; the artwork is drawn by Carlos Rafael; with coloring provided by Carlos Lopez; and the lettering is done by Marshall Dillon.
 
RECOMMENDED.  Issue #4 of WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS is a bit of a revelation compared to what’s come before.  There’s some modest character development at play late in the pages as an escaped Prince Valian who’s taken up refuge among the ‘red people’ confides in the princess some information about Yorn that leads them to better understand what event may’ve shaped the evil ruler, putting the world of Barsoom on a path toward annihilation.  As they say, “Better late than never!”  Alliances are struck, plans are revealed, and the warriors appear en route to an epic showdown with the Colossus!
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that I’ve repeatedly contacted the fine folks at Dynamite Comics in hopes to arrange for reader copies of WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS; however, the company apparently does not recognize nor cooperate with requests from new media outlets.]]>
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<![CDATA[ A Few Moments of Weak Writing (???) ... and Genocide! Let's Not Forget the Genocide!]]>  
In the meantime, roll up your sleeves … turn off your brain … and get set for another chapter in the ongoing serial!
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
The stone creation that secretly resided in the catacombs beneath Yorn’s castle finally received what it wanted: Yorn’s unbridled rage.  For as soon as the leader showed it such emotion, tentacles emerged and pulled him deep inside.  Fueled by his anger, it becomes the Colossus of Yorn, rising up from the depths in the ground, and it turns its mighty powers against the green army that is the Great Horde of the North.
 
As we learn, Yorn definitely has a mean streak.  In previous issues, we’d basically been treated to the lighter touches of his dark side.  He set up the opposing armies of Helium.  He saw them imprisoned.  He took Dejah Thoris, first, as a ruse to marry his son, but then – when the jig was up – he had her tossed into a tower for only God knows what nefarious activity?  Now – as he’s merged with a diabolical weapon – he begins preaching from Hitler’s book of mass genocide, ordering his many men to obliterate the green army and, when they’re done, slaughter their women and children!  When it looks as if he’s about to turn on his son, Valian, thankfully he suffers some kind of psychological or physical trauma; he emerges briefly from the chest of the creature to ask everyone what’s happening to him!
 
Sadly, it looks like either scribe Nelson doesn’t yet know what it is he wants to happen to Yorn or else he doesn’t want his readers to know.  The moment of torture ends with Yorn’s question, and the action shifts to Dejah and the men of Helium now heading for sanctuary.  When the Colossus of Yorn is shown ravaging cities of the North in the issue’s final panel, there’s not a hint of any trauma.  Did Nelson forget?  Did Yorn forget?  Methinks we may never know … unless we’re here again in 30 days!
 
One last thing: Prince Valian also takes a curious turn in characterization.  Nelson went to great lengths to make readers sympathetic toward the young man – Valian was displayed as little more than a pawn to his evil father, and he’s even been roughed up by Yorn’s palace toughies.  Still, the chunky man has always stood up for what those in the audience would think was proper – he stood up against his father’s tyranny, he stood up for Dejah’s honor, he spoke loudly against what campaign of deeds his father had embarked on.  However, in this issue, as soon as he’s confronted by Yorn about letting Dejah go, he quickly adopts a “who me?” attitude, and that development seems decidedly incongruous with every character moment that’s come before.
 
Maybe – like dear ol’ dad – he’s losing his mind, too.
 
Or maybe it was just lazy writing.
 
WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS #3 [Ongoing] is published by Dynamite Entertainment.  The story is written by Arvid Nelson; the artwork is drawn by Carlos Rafael; with coloring provided by Carlos Lopez; and the lettering is done by Marshall Dillon.
 
RECOMMENDED.  Somehow, Nelson and his crew managed to rile up the action a bit further than he’d already established with the previous two episodes in WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS #3, and that’s never a disservice to a budding readership.  However, I can’t help but wonder if they sacrificed quality control in favor of some clever imagery as there’s a clear kinda/sorta continuity break within one action sequence and then (not many panels later) Yorn’s “what’s happening to me?” moment is completely dropped without any explanation.  Given the fact that a few pages later, the Colossus is back in action, I can only guess Yorn wasn’t all that concerned with the fact that the behemoth seemed to be seizing control of his mind.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that I’ve repeatedly contacted the fine folks at Dynamite Comics in hopes to arrange for reader copies of WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS; however, the company apparently does not recognize nor cooperate with requests from new media outlets.]]>
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<![CDATA[ DEJAH THORIS #2 Proves She Was Never Meant To Be A Disney Princess!]]>  
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
DEJAH THORIS #2 opens up only moments after its first issue ended.  Our warrior princess of Barsoom has been locked away in a curiously phallic-looking tower while her father and grandfather are tightly locked away in dungeons far below.  Yorn is taking steps to secure his very own weapon of mass destruction he’s had excavated from beneath his castle.  And Prince Valian – noble, impressionable, and chunky Prince Valian – comes to the realization that his evil father has been reading his homework, for it was Valian who not only knew where the buried monuments had been secreted away but also what a threat they could be to the peaceful people of Mars.
 
Perfunctorily, scribe Arvid Nelson steamrolls his tale of royal intrigue onward, still with very little attention to fleshing out these characters any more than their humble skivvies and nipple covers will allow.  The emphasis here remains on action – now that the armies of Helium have been captured, a new green menace rises on the horizon, and it won’t be long before they’ve delivered a reckoning unto the house of Yorn.  To be fair, Valian does begin to come into his own rights as a man – readers learn a bit more about his past and how the lessons he’s learned have shaped him and his values; because he knows all too well what’s in store should his father engage some ancient evil, he throws caution to the wind and rescues Thoris … who rather conveniently straddles the man to the ground.
 
Oh, the horror!
 
Developments progress, and it does appear as if the tide is starting to turn against Yorn’s favor … but, as tends to happens in the world of comic books (even the less cheesy ones), readers are left with yet another cliffhanger that compels them to tune in again in 30 days.
 
Unfortunately, the artwork and colors by Carlos Rafael and Carlos Lopez (respectively) still don’t rise to any appreciable level.  It’s clear that they’ve created a stock of warriors not unlike any measureable barbarians, but they’re intent (for the time being, it looks) on sticking with strong, clean lines and relatively generic Saturday morning animation blandness.  They pack more curves onto Thoris than any woman deserves – living or animated – so I suspect they’ve sacrificed innovation in favor of currying the young man’s collective libido.
 
Not that there’s anything wrong with it …
 
WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS #2 [Ongoing] is published by Dynamite Entertainment.  The story is written by Arvid Nelson; the artwork is drawn by Carlos Rafael; with coloring provided by Carlos Lopez; and the lettering is done by Marshall Dillon.
 
RECOMMENDED.  It’s hard to find much fault with WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS #2, but that doesn’t necessarily say much.  This is old-school adventure – the type of which made famous nearly a century ago in Saturday morning motion picture serials.  On that level, Barsoom has probably never looked better.  But Dejah?  I’m worried she’s gonna catch cold once the Martian weather turns!  What’s a scantily-clad princess to do?
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that I’ve repeatedly contacted the fine folks at Dynamite Comics in hopes to arrange for reader copies of WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS; however, the company apparently does not recognize nor cooperate with requests from new media outlets.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Obligatory Starts As DEJAH THORIS Dons The Royal Thong!]]>  
That’s why I was a bit surprised to learn that Dynamite Entertainment decided to ‘fiddle’ in the richly envisioned world of John Carter as they were originally conceived by the equally legendary Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Still, I found much of WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS a pleasant li’l surprise.
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
The tale that unspools in the DEJAH THORIS book takes place centuries before John Carter’s arrival on Barsoom (aka the planet Mars).  As such, the writers and artists who are playing with Burroughs’ creations do have a gracious amount of wiggle room.  What they’ve conceived here – in this first issue – shapes up to be a tale heavily sprinkled with what one might expect: there’s war, there’s peace, there’s palace intrigue, and there are hints of significant duplicitousness.
 
Apparently tired of war, the Jeddak of Yorn sends an envoy onto the battlefield to demand a cessation of all hostilities.  His reasoning is simple: he will not the announcement of his royal son’s betrothal to be overshadowing by the conflict.  And just who is the prince wedding?  Why, who else … but Dejah Thoris herself!  While the news comes as a surprise to her, the princess inevitably concedes; Arvid Nelson’s story doesn’t exactly expound on the warrior’s logic behind agreeing to serve as bride, but he does give her a note of regal acknowledgement.  She is, above all else, a princess.
 
As the plot unfolds, it would appear that Yorn has ulterior motives behind his grand scheme; yet audiences are only granted insight as to what that may be in the issue’s final panel.  (I won’t spoil it, partly because I’ve no idea of what it may mean: some secrets are best kept for Issue #2!)  But, as an inaugural issue, DEJAH THORIS does hit most of the right notes – it gives a proper time and a proper context, as well as proper introductions to all of these players.  Sadly, there’s no real depth of characterization here – everyone is, mostly, one-dimensional.  You’ve got a princess behaving princess-ish and a villain who even looks villainous, so the people hit their marks and then get out of the way so that the story can progress.  Hopefully, that will get more attention from Nelson and his crew as the tale unfolds.
 
Still – as I’ve always remarked – there’s something to be said for a book that knows what it wants to be and delivers on that premise.  In that estimation, DEJAH THORIS clearly establishes a foundation of big action, big promises, and even bigger boobs.  (Seriously, how can that woman not have back problems?)
 
WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS #1 [Ongoing] is published by Dynamite Entertainment.  The story is written by Arvid Nelson; the artwork is drawn by Carlos Rafael; with coloring provided by Carlos Lopez; and the lettering is done by Marshall Dillon.
 
RECOMMENDED.  The negatives?  Well, there’s very little characterization in any of this.  The artwork is surprisingly clean and almost obligatory, though Dejah Thoris’s ample assets are given titillating display.  And there’s very little depth of storytelling going on at any level.  The positives?  What?  Are you kidding me?  It’s the world of John Carter centuries before John Carter was there, not exactly as envisioned by Edgar Rice Burroughs himself but with enough hint and nuance that it looks like WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS might defy expectations and turn into a wonderful if not mildly cheesy sci-fi throwback to the days of Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and … well … John Carter … but without John Carter.  Let the legends begin!
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that I’ve repeatedly contacted the fine folks at Dynamite Comics in hopes to arrange for reader copies of WARLORD OF MARS: DEJAH THORIS; however, the company apparently does not recognize nor cooperate with requests from new media outlets.]]>
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<![CDATA[ Noir-Infused Crime Thriller Follows The Hollywood Formula To Near-Perfection]]>  
How fitting is it that Duane provided the intro for Image’s SUNSET?  Why, it was a match made in the old folks’ home, it was!
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
In his younger years, Nick Bellamy knew how to live.  After the Korean War, he found better ways to use his particular brand of skills in service to a Vegas kingpin, the kind of gangster who wasn’t above using the irons for more than just idle threats.  Hoping for a shot at his own form of retirement, Bellamy defied his best interests and double-crossed the Gianelli mob, putting the big guy himself behind bars for what he thought would be a life sentence.  Now – thirty years later – Gianelli’s out … and he’s gunning for his former enforcer if it’s the last thing he’ll do.  Can Nick set aside his best interests one more time and save the li’l lady and the son he never raised before bullets fly?
 
If it’s hard-boiled prose you’re looking for, then SUNSET is exactly what the doctor ordered.  Mind you: it ain’t perfect.  In fact, I’d argue it’s a far cry from it, and that could be because the young guns who whipped up and spun the story – Christos Gage (writer) and Jorge Lucas (artist) – are just that: young guns.  They haven’t quite walked enough miles in an old man’s shoes to recognize what true Geezer Noir should be, but they’ve steeped themselves in enough literature and/or books to know a good thing when they have it.  Whether they intended it or not, the storytellers created a tug’o’war between the past and present that ends up being a bit more distracting than it should be, though I suspect most readers will simply delight in being along for this ride.
 
And it is a wild ride, indeed.
 
Artistically, Lucas’s artwork is good, though I found some of the panels requiring more attention than one would want in a tale that’s supposed to be about action, about movement, about pace.  Too many faces – largely, the aged ones – appear similar to one another, and the only distinction between one black-and-white panel to the next is some crow’s feet here and a laugh line there: that’s not enough so far as this four decade veteran of reading comics is concerned, and some of the panels could’ve used less black and more white for purposes of clarity.  It’s very similar in tone to what Frank Miller’s already done (to vastly greater effect) in his line of SIN CITY comics, so I’m honestly surprised they banked so heavily on colorless images here.  Parts of it end up feeling a bit derivative, but methinks Bellamy wouldn’t have concerned himself so much with the mere act of flattery by comparison.  He’s a true original – a last-man-standing – and, like he lived his life, he’d want his experiences to be told without association to somebody else’s narrative.
 
Also, SUNSET’s conclusion really stretches that old thing we call “suspension of disbelief” too far.  I won’t spoil it, but let’s just be perfectly clear that it involves a casino, some state-of-the-art security systems, more C4 than you’d want to shake a stick at, and a big boom.  A really big boom.  I think Gage watched too many Hollywood actioners and took the easy way out.  If I learned anything from my short time with Nick, it would be that he wasn’t interested in an easy way out.  He’d choose the most sublime.  Making things go boom just felt cheap.
 
SUNSET is published by Image Comics, Inc.  The story is created and written by Christos Gage; the work is drawn by Jorge Lucas; and the lettering is by Troy Peteri.  This collected volume is digest-sized, and it contains a smart (and fitting) introduction from author Duane Swierczynski.  If you’re interested in special features, then you’re in store for the original proposal in the afterward, along with some other artwork and character designs by Gage.  It’s a swell assortment; think of it as icing on the literary cake.
 
RECOMMENDED.  At times, SUNSET is far too cinematic, too formulaic to serve as legitimate hard-boiled fiction – a vanity project crafted by Christos Gage and Jorge Lucas clearly with high hopes of bringing Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman together with maybe Ann Margaret or Sophia Loren as the aging squeeze.  Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, much like the big motion picture set pieces that populate the latter half of an otherwise crusty tale about violence, vengeance, and (surprisingly) Viagra.  As a one-off read, it’s solid enough to get two pistols up, but methinks it seriously lacks re-read quality.  Enjoy it while it lasts!]]>
http://www.lunch.com/RealityInked/reviews/d/UserReview-Sunset-362-1892254-244247-Noir_Infused_Crime_Thriller_Follows_The_Hollywood.html http://www.lunch.com/RealityInked/reviews/d/UserReview-Sunset-362-1892254-244247-Noir_Infused_Crime_Thriller_Follows_The_Hollywood.html Wed, 12 Feb 2014 06:32:18 +0000
<![CDATA[ Do We Really Want A Real-World Superhero?]]> I miss John Ritter.  For those of you who don’t know who he was, John Ritter was an actor who largely appeared in television sitcoms and comedies, though he did have a modest film career.  He didn’t have any great claim to fame, but – in just about every appearance – he always just played a likeable guy.  An average Joe.  The everyman.  Early in his career, he played an actor playing a superhero; the film was called HERO AT LARGE, and, in the piece, Ritter was a struggling actor who – one night while wearing home his costume from work – actually foils a convenience store robbery.  Suddenly, everyone in the news wants to talk about Captain Avenger!  Sure, it was some fairly predictable fluff, and it all ends very predictably ‘happy ever after,’ but there’s something to be said for those sentiments regarding superheroes even in this less-gilded day and age.
 
Dark Horse is heading in the exact opposite direction with FURIOUS #1.  It’s the real-world tale of a real-world girl who finds herself a real-world superhero, and, for my tastes, the emphasis is definitely on “real” and less on “hero.”
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
Cadence Lark is a young woman who finds herself gifted with superhuman abilities.  Hoping to do something noble, Cadence decides she’s going to use her powers only for good – to help right the various wrongs she sees going on in the world around her.  And that’s probably a good decision, especially given the fact that her own private universe seems to be a living nightmare!
 
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: first issues are a tough sell.  There are so many variables that need to be put into motion in order for a book to have a decent shot.  A writer has to introduce the players.  An entire world needs to be created.  There are things like ‘theme’ and ‘narrative’ and ‘narrative focus’ which all require some measure of attention.  This doesn’t even touch on the fact that your lead – your main character – has to be fully fleshed out and brought to life in as effective yet expedient manner possible.  And all of this is going on while you have readers reading!
 
Despite its first issue jitters, FURIOUS is a solid read, though I’m a bit unclear as to what audience is being sought here.  For example, Cadence lives the life of the young woman in today’s modern world; and, as such, scribe Bryan J.L. Glass chooses to make her a modern creation, complete with all of the psychological shortcomings that come with the package.  It isn’t enough to worry about herself, she has to worry about every little thing she does.  And if that isn’t enough, there’s this whole ‘hero’ thing that puts a damper on her otherwise good nature.  She can’t help but get snarky with the polite grocery clerk who’s only trying to help lighten her heavy load, but, by the time she’s walking from the mart back home, she can’t help but ponder his attractiveness without some additional snark at herself and him for noticing her.
 
See, there’s a reason men are men and woman aren’t, and, as a man, I don’t know that I’d honestly want to spend a whole lot of time inside the head of Cadence Lark.  It isn’t a bad place to be; she’s clearly been crafted with a sense of responsibility and some compassion for her fellow men and women … but second-guessing has a limit.  If Glass pushes FURIOUS beyond these considerations in the second issue, then I’ll reserve judgment going forward – she’ll develop more as a fully-embodied person and not just a sometimes snarky introvert who spends way too much time in her head to do herself any good.  If he doesn’t, however, then this’ll be a book I quickly sacrifice in pursuit of other things.
 
Unlike John Ritter -- an actor with universal appeal -- Cadence wasn't all that likable.  Like most women her age, she chooses was she's going to be -- she chooses what her attitude is going to be -- and even if she's pretty her attitude isn't.  I'm not looking for a glam-girl, but I still need to have a temperament worth tuning in for once every thirty days.  This one?  It isn't it.
 
FURIOUS #1 is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The story is written by Bryan J.L. Glass; the art is provided by Victor Santos (a nice job, by the way, if not a bit derivative of stuff I’ve seen elsewhere); with lettering by Nate Piekos of Blambot.  With a cover price of $3.99 an issue, that’s not all that bad, but it’d also encourage me to nudge this book from the purchase rotation if it goes in the direction this first issue did.
 
(MODESTLY) RECOMMENDED.  I doubt that FURIOUS will be for everyone.  Who knows?  It might end up being pretty divisive.  That isn’t a bad thing necessarily; it might bring more folks into the fold if for no other reason than to see what everyone’s talking about.  Me, I tend to prefer my heroes playing out their lives as heroes; I’m okay with a limited amount of introspection, but when introspection becomes the driving force behind the story being told, I’m more inclined to look away (in the short term) and wait for the big finish (in the long run) before saying anything.  Who wants to spend all day in the real world – with real world issues and real world problems – only to try to escape them at night within the pages of a comic book … only to find the real world still waiting for you?  Granted, it helps when Furious’s real world is worse than your won, but you get the point.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with an advance reading copy of FURIOUS #1 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
I miss John Ritter.  For those of you who don’t know who he was, John Ritter was an actor who largely appeared in television sitcoms and comedies, though he did have a modest film career.  He didn’t have any great claim to fame, but – in just about every appearance – he always just played a likeable guy.  An average Joe.  The everyman.  Early in his career, he played an actor playing a superhero; the film was called HERO AT LARGE, and, in the piece, Ritter was a struggling actor who – one night while wearing home his costume from work – actually foils a convenience store robbery.  Suddenly, everyone in the news wants to talk about Captain Avenger!  Sure, it was some fairly predictable fluff, and it all ends very predictably ‘happy ever after,’ but there’s something to be said for those sentiments regarding superheroes even in this less-gilded day and age.
 
Dark Horse is heading in the exact opposite direction with FURIOUS #1.  It’s the real-world tale of a real-world girl who finds herself a real-world superhero, and, for my tastes, the emphasis is definitely on “real” and less on “hero.”
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
Cadence Lark is a young woman who finds herself gifted with superhuman abilities.  Hoping to do something noble, Cadence decides she’s going to use her powers only for good – to help right the various wrongs she sees going on in the world around her.  And that’s probably a good decision, especially given the fact that her own private universe seems to be a living nightmare!
 
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: first issues are a tough sell.  There are so many variables that need to be put into motion in order for a book to have a decent shot.  A writer has to introduce the players.  An entire world needs to be created.  There are things like ‘theme’ and ‘narrative’ and ‘narrative focus’ which all require some measure of attention.  This doesn’t even touch on the fact that your lead – your main character – has to be fully fleshed out and brought to life in as effective yet expedient manner possible.  And all of this is going on while you have readers reading!
 
Despite its first issue jitters, FURIOUS is a solid read, though I’m a bit unclear as to what audience is being sought here.  For example, Cadence lives the life of the young woman in today’s modern world; and, as such, scribe Bryan J.L. Glass chooses to make her a modern creation, complete with all of the psychological shortcomings that come with the package.  It isn’t enough to worry about herself, she has to worry about every little thing she does.  And if that isn’t enough, there’s this whole ‘hero’ thing that puts a damper on her otherwise good nature.  She can’t help but get snarky with the polite grocery clerk who’s only trying to help lighten her heavy load, but, by the time she’s walking from the mart back home, she can’t help but ponder his attractiveness without some additional snark at herself and him for noticing her.
 
See, there’s a reason men are men and woman aren’t, and, as a man, I don’t know that I’d honestly want to spend a whole lot of time inside the head of Cadence Lark.  It isn’t a bad place to be; she’s clearly been crafted with a sense of responsibility and some compassion for her fellow men and women … but second-guessing has a limit.  If Glass pushes FURIOUS beyond these considerations in the second issue, then I’ll reserve judgment going forward – she’ll develop more as a fully-embodied person and not just a sometimes snarky introvert who spends way too much time in her head to do herself any good.  If he doesn’t, however, then this’ll be a book I quickly sacrifice in pursuit of other things.
 
Unlike John Ritter -- an actor with universal appeal -- Cadence wasn't all that likable.  Like most women her age, she chooses was she's going to be -- she chooses what her attitude is going to be -- and even if she's pretty her attitude isn't.  I'm not looking for a glam-girl, but I still need to have a temperament worth tuning in for once every thirty days.  This one?  It isn't it.
 
FURIOUS #1 is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The story is written by Bryan J.L. Glass; the art is provided by Victor Santos (a nice job, by the way, if not a bit derivative of stuff I’ve seen elsewhere); with lettering by Nate Piekos of Blambot.  With a cover price of $3.99 an issue, that’s not all that bad, but it’d also encourage me to nudge this book from the purchase rotation if it goes in the direction this first issue did.
 
(MODESTLY) RECOMMENDED.  I doubt that FURIOUS will be for everyone.  Who knows?  It might end up being pretty divisive.  That isn’t a bad thing necessarily; it might bring more folks into the fold if for no other reason than to see what everyone’s talking about.  Me, I tend to prefer my heroes playing out their lives as heroes; I’m okay with a limited amount of introspection, but when introspection becomes the driving force behind the story being told, I’m more inclined to look away (in the short term) and wait for the big finish (in the long run) before saying anything.  Who wants to spend all day in the real world – with real world issues and real world problems – only to try to escape them at night within the pages of a comic book … only to find the real world still waiting for you?  Granted, it helps when Furious’s real world is worse than your won, but you get the point.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with an advance reading copy of FURIOUS #1 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
I miss John Ritter.  For those of you who don’t know who he was, John Ritter was an actor who largely appeared in television sitcoms and comedies, though he did have a modest film career.  He didn’t have any great claim to fame, but – in just about every appearance – he always just played a likeable guy.  An average Joe.  The everyman.  Early in his career, he played an actor playing a superhero; the film was called HERO AT LARGE, and, in the piece, Ritter was a struggling actor who – one night while wearing home his costume from work – actually foils a convenience store robbery.  Suddenly, everyone in the news wants to talk about Captain Avenger!  Sure, it was some fairly predictable fluff, and it all ends very predictably ‘happy ever after,’ but there’s something to be said for those sentiments regarding superheroes even in this less-gilded day and age.
 
Dark Horse is heading in the exact opposite direction with FURIOUS #1.  It’s the real-world tale of a real-world girl who finds herself a real-world superhero, and, for my tastes, the emphasis is definitely on “real” and less on “hero.”
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
Cadence Lark is a young woman who finds herself gifted with superhuman abilities.  Hoping to do something noble, Cadence decides she’s going to use her powers only for good – to help right the various wrongs she sees going on in the world around her.  And that’s probably a good decision, especially given the fact that her own private universe seems to be a living nightmare!
 
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: first issues are a tough sell.  There are so many variables that need to be put into motion in order for a book to have a decent shot.  A writer has to introduce the players.  An entire world needs to be created.  There are things like ‘theme’ and ‘narrative’ and ‘narrative focus’ which all require some measure of attention.  This doesn’t even touch on the fact that your lead – your main character – has to be fully fleshed out and brought to life in as effective yet expedient manner possible.  And all of this is going on while you have readers reading!
 
Despite its first issue jitters, FURIOUS is a solid read, though I’m a bit unclear as to what audience is being sought here.  For example, Cadence lives the life of the young woman in today’s modern world; and, as such, scribe Bryan J.L. Glass chooses to make her a modern creation, complete with all of the psychological shortcomings that come with the package.  It isn’t enough to worry about herself, she has to worry about every little thing she does.  And if that isn’t enough, there’s this whole ‘hero’ thing that puts a damper on her otherwise good nature.  She can’t help but get snarky with the polite grocery clerk who’s only trying to help lighten her heavy load, but, by the time she’s walking from the mart back home, she can’t help but ponder his attractiveness without some additional snark at herself and him for noticing her.
 
See, there’s a reason men are men and woman aren’t, and, as a man, I don’t know that I’d honestly want to spend a whole lot of time inside the head of Cadence Lark.  It isn’t a bad place to be; she’s clearly been crafted with a sense of responsibility and some compassion for her fellow men and women … but second-guessing has a limit.  If Glass pushes FURIOUS beyond these considerations in the second issue, then I’ll reserve judgment going forward – she’ll develop more as a fully-embodied person and not just a sometimes snarky introvert who spends way too much time in her head to do herself any good.  If he doesn’t, however, then this’ll be a book I quickly sacrifice in pursuit of other things.
 
FURIOUS #1 is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The story is written by Bryan J.L. Glass; the art is provided by Victor Santos (a nice job, by the way, if not a bit derivative of stuff I’ve seen elsewhere); with lettering by Nate Piekos of Blambot.  With a cover price of $3.99 an issue, that’s not all that bad, but it’d also encourage me to nudge this book from the purchase rotation if it goes in the direction this first issue did.
 
(MODESTLY) RECOMMENDED.  I doubt that FURIOUS will be for everyone.  Who knows?  It might end up being pretty divisive.  That isn’t a bad thing necessarily; it might bring more folks into the fold if for no other reason than to see what everyone’s talking about.  Me, I tend to prefer my heroes playing out their lives as heroes; I’m okay with a limited amount of introspection, but when introspection becomes the driving force behind the story being told, I’m more inclined to look away (in the short term) and wait for the big finish (in the long run) before saying anything.  Who wants to spend all day in the real world – with real world issues and real world problems – only to try to escape them at night within the pages of a comic book … only to find the real world still waiting for you?  Granted, it helps when Furious’s real world is worse than your won, but you get the point.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with an advance reading copy of FURIOUS #1 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
]]>
http://www.lunch.com/RealityInked/reviews/d/UserReview-Furious_1-362-1891625-243899-Do_We_Really_Want_A_Real_World_Superhero_.html http://www.lunch.com/RealityInked/reviews/d/UserReview-Furious_1-362-1891625-243899-Do_We_Really_Want_A_Real_World_Superhero_.html Wed, 29 Jan 2014 21:42:12 +0000
<![CDATA[ MONSTERS! Is An Epiphany of Curiosities]]>  
Then – about a decade ago – I saw Fritz Lang’s groundbreaking METROPOLIS for the very first time, and I suffered a massive paradigm shift.  I was downright gob-smacked by the film’s composition of elements.  I was utterly taken about at the complexity of ideas contained in the tale.  I was dazzled by the use of light and shadows and set construction.  I had never seen anything like it, and I honestly figured I never would again, I’d never find something filled with the magic and mystery and mayhem without the use of words capable of stirring that muse deep inside my generally critical soul.
 
Earlier this morning, Gustavo Duarte served me up another epiphany.
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
Despite the inclusion of my usual disclaimer above, I’m not going to spoil anything here.  I’ll be happy to give the usual plot synopses – the first story involves a man undergoing perhaps the same kind of epiphany I have today, but his is perhaps a bit darker, involving light and darkness and aliens and UFOs and (dare I say) chickens (!!!); the second serves up lighter fare (though no less inspired) about two birds who arguably have the worst day they could ‘at the office’; and the third (my personal favorite) is a kind of ‘fish story’ about the big one that didn’t get away.  It’s brilliant on so many levels that I’d almost encourage you to start reading the book from there … but why spoil it?  Better yet: save the best for last, as this collection has cleverly done.
 
Like Lang did for me in his look ahead into a brave new world, Duarte shows us our very own with these fables about foibles, and all of it is accomplished without the use of a single word.  Granted, there is dialogue of a sorts between these characters, but it’s a cleverly nuanced use of pictures that the artist uses to convey an idea, not a specific set of nouns or verbs and adjectives.  The reader easily ‘gets the gist,’ and he’s free to fill in the blanks all on his own.  And isn’t that a startling use of freedom injected into the piece?  Do you know that many accomplished storytellers who’d allow his (or her) audience to make it up as they go?  Duarte is giving you the benefit of the doubt, allowing you to be as smart as he is in the act of ‘experiencing’ the plot as it unfolds, and I thought that was unquestionable genius here.
 
Stylistically, his renderings of these people, its things, and these concepts are as wackily obtuse as the themes he’s explored, so all of this meshes together in a way that I found it hard to distinguish what I thought from what Duarte possibly wanted me to take away from ‘reading’ his story.  Everything is just one degree away from satire – one iota removed from the bizarre – only further serving to highlight why the man and his work within these covers is definitely intended to be something a bit more personal, a bit more involved than the next trade paperback.  It’s a bit of what I’d called “shared lunacy,” and it definitely deserves a space in your stack of reading this month.
 
Bravo, Gustavo!  Bravo from this 40+ year veteran of comic book reading!  You’ve shown me something new, and, for that, I give you this humble ovation.
 
MONSTERS AND OTHER STORIES is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The stories within (three of them) were conceived and drawn by Gustavo Duarte.  It all comes with the cover price of $12.99 (USA), and that’s definitely money well spent so far as this critic is concerned.
 
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE.  I’m ashamed to say that I’ve been reading comics since the early 1970’s but I’ve yet to see anything filled with as much wonder, excitement, and old-fashioned magical storytelling (without words) like MONSTERS AND OTHER STORIES.  Granted, the lack of the spoken word and/or the loss of those sometimes pesky thought bubbles directing the reader where to go, what to think, or how to conceive of it all might prove a bit disheartening at first; still, as the work goes on, Gustavo Duarte’s unique vision wins you over.  If you’re like me, you’ll be saddened to reach the end, knowing that these fanciful little journeys are all over … just when you were really getting caught up in the spell … but maybe, if we’re lucky, they’ll be another collection real soon.  Isn’t that how you know you read something ground-breaking?
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with an advance digital reading copy of MONSTERS AND OTHER STORIES by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/RealityInked/reviews/d/UserReview-Monsters_And_Other_Stories-362-1891283-243781-MONSTERS_Is_An_Epiphany_of_Curiosities.html http://www.lunch.com/RealityInked/reviews/d/UserReview-Monsters_And_Other_Stories-362-1891283-243781-MONSTERS_Is_An_Epiphany_of_Curiosities.html Wed, 22 Jan 2014 17:53:55 +0000
<![CDATA[ 'Sounding Like An Epic' Does Not An Epic Make]]>  
Their story takes place just around that corner I mentioned above.  How effectively it reaches common ground is something I’m keeping until after this short break …
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
Approximately ten years from today, a presumed terrorist event will take place on American soil, and that act of terror will rock the American cultural and political structure to their core precisely because what Abraham Lincoln once warned: we have become our own enemy.  In this not-too-distant-future, citizens known as Vitros – manufactured humans – will be presumed responsible for unleashing a virus on mankind … but what purpose it all may’ve served remains a secret.  Were they truly responsible, or was this event little more than the strings being pulled by some grand puppetmaster hoping this new breed of man would be implicated?
 
Well … the truth is you’ll have to wait to find out, and that’s a bit disappointing with this much heralded release from Dark Horse Comics.  PARIAH arrives on the scene with pronouncements that it’s quite possibly on track to be one of the next big things in graphic storytelling.  That’s a mighty big promise, and, as much as I’d like to say this trade delivers, I’m left with more questions than I am answers … never quite a place a reviewer (much less a reader) likes to be.
 
In fairness, that’s because there’s a great amount of world-building that takes place in PARIAH.  These four ‘chapters,’ if you will, go to great lengths to not only establish where and when we are but also we spend an great deal of time inside the heads of these near-humans, so much so I started to wonder why.  Did Warner and Gelatt want to establish the emotional complexity of the great novel in their comic story?  If so, then I’d have to give ‘em kudos for making the effort, though I do personally prefer a bit more actually “happen” in my titles.  There are parts where these characters – they’re all presented as teenagers – remind me of some time spent in the heads of Stephen King’s younger characters from THE STAND (not a bad comparison), and that’s largely why I tend to think it’s where the writers are heading (some epic showdown).
 
Still, some of the psychological reflections by one of the more sinister types ends up feeling largely empty – like he’s being a manipulator of men and women only because he can while his motivation is purposeless.  When this happens gradually – imagine the way it does over the course of a novel – it’s usually structured with the balance of interludes into the lives of others; however, as this trade takes much time in establishing only a few characters, I’m left wondering if all of this will truly add up to the epic only hinted at before it loses its readership to other, quicker titles.
 
PARIAH, VOLUME 1 is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The story is written by Aron Warner and Philip Gelatt; and the art and lettering are by Brett Weldele.  The trade comes with a retail cover price of $14.99, and that’s not a bad deal … so long as you go in knowing this tale works mostly as set-up for what’s destined to follow: I suspect that’s where the action will be.
 
RECOMMENDED.  The first volume of PARIAH is all set-up.  The action remains extraordinarily slim, and much of the time is spent in the heads of these various characters – these genetically engineered youth geniuses – not exactly a bad place to be but one that sacrifices action in favor of reflection on the state of the world around them.  It’s hard to predict where this kinda/sorta “Lord of the Flies In Space” might go – there’s ample room for speculation, though the tone leads me to predict it’ll all end badly.  Based entirely on this trade paperback, I’d be far more inclined as a reader to await the next trade paperback than I’d be inclined to pick it up monthly: I found little meat worth picking from the bones of the separate chapters/installments, and I prefer my meals a bit more filling.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of PARIAH, VOLUME 1 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/RealityInked/reviews/d/UserReview-Pariah_Volume_1-362-1891142-243725-_Sounding_Like_An_Epic_Does_Not_An_Epic_Make.html http://www.lunch.com/RealityInked/reviews/d/UserReview-Pariah_Volume_1-362-1891142-243725-_Sounding_Like_An_Epic_Does_Not_An_Epic_Make.html Mon, 20 Jan 2014 07:31:21 +0000
<![CDATA[ Score One For the Rebel Alliance In STAR WARS #11]]>  
That’s a sentiment that’s been percolating throughout Brian Wood’s run on STAR WARS.  Taking us back to the timeframe between A NEW HOPE and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, we’re certainly aware that these characters are the ones who served Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine a serious blow in the battle of Yavin; but since that time they’ve been on the run.  At every turn, it seems like the oppressive might of the Galactic Empire was ready to bounce, ready to strike, ready to release their wrath on the tiny band of do-gooders for the loss of the Death Star.
 
Put-up-or-shut-up time has arrived.
 
Guess who comes out on top?
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
What awaits Rebel star pilots Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles now that they’ve slipped the clutches of Imperials … only to find themselves flying T.I.E. interceptors as part of an attack wing bearing down on the fleeing Rebel Fleet?  What fate could possibly be in store for Birra Seah now that she’s failed to meet the demands of an angry Lord Vader?  What’s lurking out there in the cosmos for Han Solo and Chewbacca in the heart of a dense asteroid belt?  What’s the real motivation behind Bircher’s desire to tangle face-to-face with the Rebel Alliance?  And where or where has Princess Leia gone off to?
 
STAR WARS has been a virtual celebration if not glorification of underdogs.  In the Original Trilogy, the cocky fighter pilot Luke Skywalker learned to control his passions and use the Force in order to accept his destiny and bring about the end of the Galactic Empire.  The upstart Princess Leia needed to be captured by Imperials and brought down a peg or two in order to truly recognize her importance to those that she served.  Han Solo has always found himself living outside the law but desperately trapped between those who serve the Empire and those who illegally profit off the misfortune of the political system.  Why – if you think about it – even a young Anakin Skywalker (in the Prequel Trilogy) was a bit of an underdog, little more than a scruffy kid looking for a way out of his life of oppression.
 
Once more, Wood has dipped deep back into the well, and he’s served up yet one more issue that shows why Dark Horse tapped him to take the franchise in a bold direction.  Having the solid artwork supplied by Carlos D’Anda – who goes to great lengths to make these iconic characters retain the look of the original STAR WARS era but couples them with newcomers that don’t look even remotely out of place – only further solidifies this ongoing title as ‘one to watch’ on the shelves these days.  Great writing, great settings, and great drama like this rarely combine as effectively; D’Anda even manages to bring to life a star battle like those usually reserved for the silver screen!
 
There’s a promise that the currently storyline will conclude with Issue #12, and, based on the developments from the last few pages of the book, I’ve no doubt there are still a few more aces up Wood and company’s sleeves!
 
STAR WARS #11 (Ongoing) is published by Dark Horse Comics, and STAR WARS was created by George Lucas.  The story is written by Brian Wood; the art is provided by Carlos D’Anda; the colors are compliments of Gabe Eltaeb; the lettering is by Michael Heisler; and the whole shebang is edited by Randy Stradley.  It all comes with a cover price of $2.99, and, in my humble estimation, that’s the best-priced book for its storytelling value I’m reading today.  Bravo, Dark Horse, bravo!
 
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE.  There’s only one issue to go for Wood’s current storyline, and now that the news has broken that Dark Horse Comics is losing the STAR WARS license to Marvel Comics in 2015 (curse you, Walt Disney!), who knows what may yet be in store for Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, the droids, and all of the Rebel Alliance?  By far, this has been a terrific, terrific experience: this team of storytellers has successfully brought back to life everything that made the Original Trilogy of films such a memorable experience.  Can they deliver a blow-out climax?  We’ll certainly know in 30 days!
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of STAR WARS #11 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/RealityInked/reviews/d/UserReview-Star_Wars_11_Ongoing_-362-1890281-243244-Score_One_For_the_Rebel_Alliance_In_STAR_WARS_11.html http://www.lunch.com/RealityInked/reviews/d/UserReview-Star_Wars_11_Ongoing_-362-1890281-243244-Score_One_For_the_Rebel_Alliance_In_STAR_WARS_11.html Mon, 6 Jan 2014 01:47:28 +0000
<![CDATA[ The Fate of the Galaxy Rests In the Rebels' Hands As Evil Returns to Prominence in STAR WARS]]>  
Thankfully, scribe Brian Wood ‘gets’ that, and perhaps that’s why he’s ventured into the STAR WARS universe during the Original Trilogy.  Thankfully, he returns the character of Darth Vader – one of cinema’s most revered screen villains – to prominence.  In #10, when Vader speaks, others listen.  Clearly, they fear the consequence.  They fear the exercise of evil.
 
And that, my friends, makes for stirring drama.
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
What lengths will Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles be willing to go in order to save themselves and their friends from the looming Imperial menace?  How far would Princess Leia Organa descend into the depths of vengeance when she faces a man responsible equally with Grand Moff Tarkin for the destruction of her homeworld, Alderaan?  How will Han Solo survive his first face-to-face encounter with the legendary bounty hunter, Boba Fett?  And what greater instruction does Darth Vader have for the agent who has delivered him a galaxy-shattering revelation?
 
This is not only great STAR WARS; it’s great drama.
 
Scribe Brian Wood has continued to raise the stakes in his ongoing monthly set in a galaxy far, far away.  Still, #10 contains some exceptional moments (finally) for some of his bit players.  Prithi may have made the ultimate sacrifice in her service to the Rebel Fleet.  Birra Seah delivers a discovery unto Vader himself, and she sees personally how definitively evil demands not so much obedience as it does subservience to its cause.  And an ambitious – maybe too ambitious – Imperial commander wants nothing more than to participate directly in slaughtering Rebel pilots and capturing the glory of the Emperor himself.
 
Unlike how others writers dance around evil and its various machinations, Wood is doing brilliantly what George Lucas did back in the late 70’s and early 80’s: he’s putting evil and its aftermath on direct display.  He’s put it there, given it a face again, and he’s contrasting its ruthlessness in wonderful moments with our heroes having to reflect on what costs that evil has brought to them individually and collectively (the collapse of Red Squadron; the destruction of Alderaan; the loss of anonymity for the Rebel Alliance now forced to flee the Imperial Fleet; etc.).  Mostly, he’s showing us a galaxy in conflict by putting our heroes through their paces, always building toward something greater with each successive issue.
 
That’s an adventure I, for one, am willing to take.
 
STAR WARS #10 (ONGOING) is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The story is written by Brian Wood; the art is drawn by Carlos D’Anda; the colors are by Gabe Eltaeb; and the lettering is by Michael Heisler.  For those of you who may’ve missed it, STAR WARS was created by George Lucas.  The issue comes with the welcome, affordable price of only $2.99.
 
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE.  Wood continues to deliver the goods, bringing that seminal Original Trilogy era of STAR WARS to life.  Alliances are starting to shift, and friendships are continuing the build – there’s some great character strengthening for Wedge Antilles, a man the films only treated incidentally who’s had a long, rich, and distinguished life in the pages from Dark Horse.  This is why we read comic books, folks: they build on the foundation of what’s come before, showing us only a glimpse at the possibilities yet to come.  They keep us young, and they keep us interested.  Bravo!
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of STAR WARS #10 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/RealityInked/reviews/d/UserReview-Star_Wars_10_Ongoing_-362-1890095-243198-The_Fate_of_the_Galaxy_Rests_In_the_Rebels_Hands.html http://www.lunch.com/RealityInked/reviews/d/UserReview-Star_Wars_10_Ongoing_-362-1890095-243198-The_Fate_of_the_Galaxy_Rests_In_the_Rebels_Hands.html Fri, 3 Jan 2014 17:05:43 +0000
<![CDATA[ The Force Remains Unstoppable With This One!]]>  
I hate slobbering over the guy.  I love what he’s done with Conan, though I know I’ve had detractors who disagree with me; and I’m growing particularly fond of his forays in the planets, systems, and cultures created by George Lucas.  STAR WARS is back in a big way in this monthly, and I hope everyone whose reading this enjoys it half as much as I do.
 
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters.  If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
 
Leia finds herself one she believes could be an ally … but is he?  Luke and Wedge finds themselves facing a squad of stormtroopers … but is that all that’s waiting for them on their mission aboard a Star Destroyer?  Han, Chewie, and Perla suspect they’ve escaped the bounty hunters for the time being … but have they truly?  What secret does Darth Vader discover, and, more importantly, what will it mean for the fate of a galaxy?
 
Brian Wood’s run on Dark Horse’s current STAR WARS title has been nothing less than consistently stellar.  Right out of the gate, Wood established the proper tone for the piece – the Rebel Alliance is struggling to survive – especially given the fact that as all of this takes place chronologically before THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (hereafter TESB) when we know for certain that the Rebels were still in dire straits.  His grasp of the characters has served him well, though I’ll admit that, at this point, it’s very difficult to get all that jazzed about the newcomers he’s brought to the game.  They’re there, and I’ve no doubt that he’s stocked some big things for them; it’s just hard to get all that excited by the handful of small, connecting scenes they’ve been granted thus far.
 
Without spoiling it too much, Wood gives Vader perhaps his biggest moment of this new title thus far.  It involves a personal revelation for him – the identity of a certain someone – that was established in TESB but wasn’t given any greater explanation.  It’s little moments like this which go a long way toward cementing the relevance of this story, told as it is in the here and now, and gives yet one more reason for readers to jump on board.  With Woods plotting (much of this wild ride has felt once again like the motion picture serials of old, like the very first movie did), the emphasis stays on action, raising the stakes even more than he did thirty days ago in #8.
 
Where all of this may climax is still impossible to see (“Visions of the future are always in motion, my padawan”), but, rest assured, this is still looking like the title to read for any and every STAR WARS’ fan around.
 
STAR WARS #9 (ongoing) is published by Dark Horse Comics.  The story is written by Brian Wood; the pencils are by Ryan Kelly; the inks are by Dan Parsons; the colors are by Gabe Eltaeb; and the lettering is by Michael Heisler.  It all comes with a cover price of $2.99, and that is money well spent, my Jedi apprentice!
 
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE.  At some point, I suspect it’ll slow down, but for the time being nothing feels as natural, as inviting, and as rewarding as another installment of STAR WARS written by Brian Wood.  Jump aboard when you can, or you’re likely to miss making this Kessel Run one worth boasting about.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of STAR WARS #9 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/RealityInked/reviews/d/UserReview-Star_Wars_9_Ongoing_-362-1890063-243169-The_Force_Remains_Unstoppable_With_This_One_.html http://www.lunch.com/RealityInked/reviews/d/UserReview-Star_Wars_9_Ongoing_-362-1890063-243169-The_Force_Remains_Unstoppable_With_This_One_.html Fri, 3 Jan 2014 01:57:44 +0000