X-Force (2014) Review

ImageSTORY BY
Simon Spurrier
ART BY
Rock-He Kim
Why do we have yet another incarnation of X-Force? Well, Cable gives a Mutant Without Boarders diatribe as the motive and mission behind X-Force. Mutants need to reclaim their foothold and protect and fight for every mutant regardless of political affiliation. Yeah, does it sound a little like Metal Gear? Because Psyloche thought so, and she pokes fun at Cable for it. Also, Cable believes there needs to be a unification between the mutant tribes in order to protect themselves from other nations. This is interesting because we see Cable dealing with all the leaders from various factions of mutants. This will inevitably add political elements and cameos to keep things fresh. Regardless, Spurrier lets his characters Marrow, Fantomex, and Psylocke assure us this isn’t a book to be taken seriously. Marrow’s new incarnation is a punk rocker who has an insatiable blood lust. Because Marrow’s internal monologues often break the fourth wall, it’s hilarious when Psylocke will telepathically interrupt us, so Psylocke can refocus Marrow on the mission. Also, for fans of Fantomex it’s refreshing that he is back to being his sleazy sex addict self who is constantly pining for Psylocke’s affections. I always felt that Fantomex is a character who shouldn’t take himself too seriously, and FantomexMax and Wolverine and the X Men are good examples of why. With Cable, Fantomex, and Marrow, being over the top caricatures who can’t help but get in their own way, Betsy “Psylocke” Braddock is by far the most relatable. From her bringing Marrow and Cable back through the fourth wall, to her poking fun at the metafictional humor, bizarre situations and character types, Psylocke is definitely on the readers side. When we get lost in Spurrier’s fun house, it will be Psylocke who will guide us through this freak show.
Rock-He Kim’s artwork is phenomenal. For once, what you see on the cover is what you get inside. This X Force still retains that muscular style that has defined X Force over their years. However, unlike Liefeld’s ability to invent new muscles for every new action sequence, Kim has his characters anatomy under control. It’s also interesting how Kim will contrast the hyper real depictions of the backgrounds, weapons, and machinery with his sharp and sketchy characters. This imaginative rendering makes the characters pop into the readers focus and also gives it a cyber-punk feel.
X titles are known for their heavy-handed drama and morals, but like Marrow told us this isn’t a story for over-thinking the hows and whys and instead let the boring people figure all that technical detail out. Instead, this is a story that promises to be a fun ride. So, for those who missed Simon Spurrier’s blitzed out but clever X-Men legacy run, this is a good time to jump into his new madcap adventure.   

Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher (2014) Review

Avengers-ConfidentialCreators:

Director Kenichi Shimizu

Writer Mitsutaka Hirota

Players:

Black Widow Jennifer Carpenter

Punisher Brian Bloom

Punisher is tracking down an arms dealer who happens to also be in SHIELD’s cross-hairs. After we see Punisher take down a warehouse full of armed thugs, Black Widow intervenes while Punisher is brutally interrogating the arms dealer. Punisher and Black Widow begin a confrontation full of CQC gunplay, scissor kicks, reversals and any other anime fighting style that may come to mind. This first scene sets the tone and style of this animated movie. Those who follow recent anime by the production company Madhouse will feel comfortably at home. What is impressive is how the gun fights are brutal and violent but never once show blood or gore. Despite it being a Marvel production, the action never feels less intense.

After the initial scene, what follows is more or less a paint by numbers action flick with a whopping amount of terrorist cliche’s ripped from testosterone fueled 80s action movies complete with a screaming guitar solo soundtrack. This isn’t a bad thing. After all, this movie focuses on Marvel’s leather tight femme fatale Black Widow and the take no prisoners Punisher. What should the audience expect? To top it off they are hunting down a techno terrorist organization called Leviathan who have committed, “every known evil deed”. Although this might sound a little cheesy, the action and animation is slick. Remember, this is also aimed at the little kiddies.

In fact, what this movie suffers from is too much character development for Black Widow. They throw a love story into the middle of the big confrontation and it bogs down the pacing and cohesion of the action. For a character named Black Widow, this was a really odd choice for the story. Honestly, if this side story was cut, it would have left the rest of the plot completely intact. Black Widow is voiced by Jennifer “Dexter” Carpenter. Although I loved her portrayal of Debra Morgan and her colorful uses of the F bomb, her voice acting needs some work. It was monotone and lacked much needed inflection. Brian Bloom, on the other hand, did a great job of portraying the gravel and grumble of the Punisher. Once again, this proves that voice actors will always perform better than live actors. It’s a different style of performance and few are able to successfully make the transition.

Overall, this was an entertaining movie that fathers could easily enjoy with their sons. This movie didn’t break any new ground for animated movies, but it did raise the bar for Marvel Animation’s hit or miss quality of direct to video releases. I am very excited to see what they will release next.

Hinterkind Vol. 1 (2014) Review

ImageArt by:

Francesco Trifogli

Cover by:

Greg Tocchini

Written by:

Ian Edginton

Hinterkind is set in a world where Humankind have forced themselves into near extinction. The surviving remnants of humanity are trying to pull together and rebuild their communities. However, this isn’t a standard apocalyptic tale. Ian Edginton has thrown fantasy elements into the mix. Hinterkind is a term for all the Fantasy species such as Elves, Giants, Trolls, Gnomes and so on. After Humankind are no longer the dominating species, the Hinterkind, lead by Elves, come back out of the mystical forests and mountains to reclaim their dominance. Although the setup sounds similar to Del Toro and Mignola’s Hellboy: Golden Army, it is still a very original and smoothly paced story. This can easily be read from an escapist point of view; however, one can also get lost in its depths. For example, this story parallels today’s economic climate. The western society is represented by Humankind and how their actions have led them to lose their control and dominance over the economic market. Meanwhile, the Orient is represented by Hinterkind and how they are reemerging as major players in production and capital. Although this is an interesting perspective of Edginton’s writing, it doesn’t get heavy-handed or stand in the way of the slick paced action or the character development. The story mainly focuses on a human who is naïve but bright and capable female protagonist, P. Monday. P’s charming idealism and survivors instinct is someone readers will want to admire or identify with.

Francesco Trifogli wonderfully detailed art builds this post-society world by having every panel trimmed with abandoned vehicles, overgrown ivy, and dilapidated buildings as well as other apocalyptic features. In addition, the same amount of detail goes into every character’s clothing and physical features which identify their class, race, or species. Another world building touch comes from Edginton which is each pivotal plot point is adorned with scriptures from the First Book of Monday. This is something similar to what Tolkien and Herbert had done in their sagas. What this Narrative device does is create a sense this is a mythological epic which beautifully accents the overall composition of this post apocalyptic fantasy. Edginton and Trifogli have crafted a richly detailed fantasy which perfectly balances social commentary with escapist adventure. Never once does it feel too preachy or shallow.

Darkness: Vicious Traditions (2014) Review

darknessAlex Kot is mostly known for writing cerebral social commentary, and this one shot doesn’t deviate from his favorite theme. The story begins shortly after Romans have conquered a northern tribe. Estacado, a descendent of the Darkness, awakes among a slaughtered heap of bodies. He begins a quest to seek out the Roman commander Legatus to avenge the death of his brother and tribe. This is a quick paced story splattered with gray mud and gore. What makes this story Kot’s is the internal monologue which kicks against the fourth wall and makes it read like an anti-war sermon. Although Dean Ormston’s backgrounds lack the world building detail, the artistic demonstrations of the death and supernatural quickly remind its readers what comic books can get away with. Besides, with its video games, ongoing and the Top Cow crossovers, the world building isn’t necessary. It still has plenty of other details to absorb. For example, the thick shadows blacking out panels when the Darkness powers begin to seep through is a nice touch. With its writers and fresh artists, Top Cow is a publisher to be reckoned with and this quick one shot is no exception. Just like its big brother Image, it doesn’t matter if you are picking up Artifacts, Darkness, Cyber-Force, or any other Top Cow title. They will all be solid and beautiful reads.

Red Team Season One (2014) Review

redteam7658An elite team of police officers called the Red Team take the law into their own hands and begin a plan to eliminate the untouchable criminals. People familiar with Garth Ennis have probably heard this tale before and for fans of the Hard Boiled genre have also seen this reenactment. What makes this stand out is Garth Ennis confessional style of storytelling. This story is being told to anonymous interrogators. This is an interesting approach because the reader can easily slide into our surrogate interrogators. They are even asking the protagonist questions which are no doubt swimming around in our mind. Then what happen, why did they do that, what is the connection, and so on. Because the protagonists are shooting the story straight, this plot device makes the reader feel they are playing their own part in the story. Furthermore, since this is told from a confession perspective, the story becomes a slow burning character building story arc. We often see this story told from a singular perspective and the pacing is too quick to understand how or why a person who enforces the law could slip down into the lawless path. Because this is told from two point-of-views, we get to see how people can justify the end. Although the development of the story is a slow burn, the action sequences are slick and brutal. The art never allows the gore and violence to stand in the way of the movement and pacing. Regrettably, the rest of the art becomes tediously repetitive. For example, each character has a permanent scowl on their face. The background and foreground lack any clear depth and is particularly noticeable in any wide panel shots. This could easily be due to the colorist because the b&w sketches at the back of each issue show more depth and detail than their final illustration. Hopefully, in future issues this will become a little more polished. Otherwise, they should leave the comic in black and white. Although the action scenes are impressive, this is a character focused story and the lack of detail between the actions scenes makes my hands want to skip the part that makes this story unique.

Magneto #1 (2014) Review

ImageThe introduction to this series in Uncanny X Men, left me feeling polarized if the solo series would be worth the money. After reading this first issue, it seems that introduction was a false start and the creative team, Bunn, Bellaire, and Walta have ironed the kinks out. In fact, the story in UXM isn’t referenced other than the location. The issue starts with a wide eyed gap jawed witness describing a confrontation with Magneto. After working a job for so long, the witness explains it becomes more like being on auto-pilot. You forget to think about actually doing each step. He compares this to watching Magneto. It’s like Magneto is on autopilot when he’s killing somebody. This analysis nailed on the gritty art style and the impaled silhouette shows this is indeed a fresh take on Magneto. This is no longer the Terrorist Magneto or the Romantic Erik. Instead, this is an amoralistic and burnt-out Magneto hunting anyone who has killed or tortured mutantkind. However, his trail of death attracts a new confrontation with sentinels.

The art style is kinetic and sharp. The hyper-focus attention to detail becomes most powerful at the police station. The action combined with heavy internal monologues of a self loathing crusader is gearing up to be at very least an entertaining read. Many comic book writers often re-energize their favorite characters with a gritty anti-hero spin. For Magneto, many have actually done the opposite. For several years now, the fallen mutant leader has silently stood in Cyclops’ shadow. It’s time to strip Magneto back down to his roots. He is, after all, Marvel’s top Anti-Hero and Villain, and with this explosive series and upcoming movie is perhaps what this titan needs to be pulled back into the spotlight.

Moon Knight #1 (2014) Review

moonknight1preview1jpg-dc37b5_960wWarren Ellis just began a new on going series over at Marvel, Moon Knight. This seems sort of an odd choice considering many of his works deal with Trans-humanism whereas Moon Knight is a Marvel take on Batman with one unique twist. Instead of the Rogues Gallery living in Arkham Asylum, they’re living inside Batman’s head and came out in the form of split personalities. When Ellis was asked why he chose Moon Knight, he said he knows people with Dissociative Identity Disorders, and its portrayal in the previous incarnations of Moon Knight was grossly inaccurate. Therefore, Warren Ellis aims to give Moon Knight and its readers a reality check which will inevitably give us a fresh take. This is also interesting to remember because we have to assume Moon Knight is an unreliable narrator, and this could and probably will lead to many different twists. The story begins shortly after an event where witnesses saw Moon Knight standing in the middle of the street having a loud argument with Wolverine, Spider-Man, and Captain America although none of these Avengers were anywhere to be seen, and it was because he was having an argument with them in his head. This sets the tone for Moon Knight’s unstable mind. For the rest of the issue, Moon Knight has many one sided conversations which roll into the next one. These are often full of self-analysis and psychological profiling. This helps establish Moon Knight as a man who sees the world and everyone in it as one large puzzle waiting for somebody like him to put all the pieces back together. Furthermore, Moon Knight’s detached state of mind will also push him into dangerous and violent situations which put his cunning and conditioning to the test.

Artistically, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire have chosen a chiaroscuro dominated style. Although there’s a lot of inky shadows and the details aren’t elaborate, Moon Knight and his white suit really pop-out from the darkness. This is really appropriate because it brings to mind the full moon against the night sky, and each page feels like it is glowing in your hands.

The worst part of this issue was its introduction. Usually, Ellis will use the first page of his comic runs as a mini essay which establishes the characters, world and era. Instead his heavy exposition and thick dialogues explaining Moon Knight’s backstory choked up most of the panels for the first few pages. The pacing wouldn’t have been bogged down if it rather A) used his usual introduction or B) allowed his artists to re-imagine Moon Knight’s backstory. It would have been fair to take option B that way the readers and the artists can show us the stylistic changes and direction this reboot was going to take. Regardless, by the time it reaches its conclusion they have found their footing and pacing, so the next issue is sure to fly more smoothly.

Three (2014) Review

comics_three_artwork
Due to popular culture, most people have heard of Sparta and their heroic battle of 300. However, few people know that for each Spartan a Helot walked in the warrior’s shadow. This is because the Helot’s were the Spartans enslaved class of people. Since only the ruling class write history, the Helots are only mentioned in passing and their history is sparse and speculative. After Kieron Gillen read Frank Miller’s 300 for the billionth time, he decided that the Helot’s were overdue for their five minutes of fame. Once he established a working knowledge and a relationship with an expert on Helots, he began to craft a story about a slave revolt called Three.

In order to establish the tension between the two classes, we are first introduced to a scene where Spartans are told to hunt down and slaughter Helots as rite of passage. This also introduces Kelly and Bellaire depicting flashbacks in a classy but brutal blood splattered black and white. After this intro to the classes, the story officially begins when a Phalanx of Spartans take shelter at a Helot farming encampment. It isn’t long before there’s conflict and all but Three Helot’s and one Spartan are slaughtered. This event leads to a fast paced hunt about oppression and tradition. Each installment is capped off with Gillen having an in-depth discussion with Dr. Hodkinson about the history of Sparta and their role in the Helot’s lives. With the progression of the story and interview, we discover why the archetypes of the main characters: coward, orator, widow, and crippled, are great representations of the rise and fall of Sparta.

Furthermore, not only did Hodkinson help Gillen write an accurate representation of this culture, but also he helped Kelly and Bellaire find an art style which compliments this tale. Although each character and location is clearly defined, they aren’t overly dynamic or detailed. The landscape shots are kept to a minimal and instead focus on the players of this tale. This approach clearly represents the character driven plot and the more simplistic era which it is being told from.

For fans of Miller’s 300 you will definitely find parallels by the time the story reaches its dramatic conclusion. However, this isn’t portrayed as an escapist blockbuster; rather, it’s more of a dramatic reenactment found inside an insightful documentary.