The Courtyard (2003) Review

courtyard

Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Jacen Burrows

Like many Lovecraft stories, Moore’s Lovecraftian Courtyard focuses on a racist paranoid who begins to experience reality shift away. The story’s protagonist is a federal agent who is an anomaly theorist, which is being able to find a pattern in anomalies. This ability has our agent tying together clues between a string of cases which involve unrelated serial killers cutting their victims into meaty tulips. Hey, what else would one expect from Alan Moore re-imagining Lovecraft for the modern-day?

From the start Moore laces the story with a lot of Lovecraftian nods. The long jawed, dark-haired, pale skinned agent looks like a hard-boiled H.P. Lovecraft doppelgänger. If that doesn’t convince the reader, then his heavy and superfluous internal monologues will. Since this is a short read it’s hard to mention much more of the references without spoiling the pleasure of reading this tale of madness. Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that Moore also ties in other literature to expand upon the themes, like the Yellow King in Carcosa. Unlike many other writers of Lovecraftian literature who merely name drop, what Moore does well is craft a story which has the overall feel and tone of Lovecraft. Moore’s name dropping merely establishes the world; whereas, his paranoid and violent characterizations, the lengthy and macabre poetic narrative, as well as the mind-mending and reality breaking themes are what really make this a Lovecraftian homage. Jacen Burrows really nails down the rest of the look and feel of a Lovecraft story. Rather it be the black and white noir style, or the split panel framing which is reminiscent of reading the story out the old Weird Tales prints to the ending’s time and reality warping madness. For example, what do you see in the top right window panel in the second scene? With Courtyard, Moore and Burrows resurrected the madness us cultist mourn for.

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Orphan Black Season 1 (2013) Review

orphan blackCreators:

Graeme MansonJohn Fawcett

Stars:

Tatiana MaslanyKevin HanchardDylan Bruce

Like most good mysteries, the best way to describe the plot is the pitch. Orphan Black introduces us to a street girl named Sara. One day at a subway terminal, Sara sees a woman in distress when the woman turns to face Sara we briefly see that she’s an exact double of Sara before the double throws herself in front of a subway train. What follows is a multiple layered conspiracy about clones. Each character has depth and is uniquely defined. This says a lot considering Maslany plays seven different clones during the first season. It’s brilliant how she can completely morph into a different role in the same scene. Most cloned movies break the illusion and you begin to see only the actor and not the character; however, this is not the case. Maslany, Fawcett, and Manson work tirelessly to make sure the show never feels like a gimmick. For example, every clone scene is done twice with Tatiana and her acting double, Katheryn Alexandre. Not only is Tatiana trying to recreate each characters unique take, but also Alexandre is trying to act out the Tatiana’s body language, which really makes Alexandre more of an understudy than a double. There’s little wonder why Tatiana Maslany has won or has been nominated for several different awards for her performance in Orphan Black.

Because each character is unique and dynamic, it’s easy for the audience to become invested in each plot thread. However, because of the paranoid nature of the story, the creators do a great job of giving us enough to keep guessing who is behind what and why. Even when the audience correctly guesses who the antagonist is, this often just peels back another layer to their conspiracy and world. Another aspect of the creators genius is they don’t hold back on the ethical philosophies behind cloning technology. They dose it up with liberal amounts of nature versus nurture. For example, it shows dichotomies in the clones personalities. Each clone has a mixed bag of characteristics involving aggression, trust, neurosis, sexual orientation and so on. However, most of them share biological characteristics such as sterility and of course phenotypes. Also, the writers make sure to question the ethics behind cloning technology. Should there be trial tests like other medical inventions? Should scientists be able to patent the clones like one would with microchips?

Yes, this rabbit hole goes real deep. With the closing of the first season, Orphan Black has little interest in slowing down any time soon. Despite the heavy subject matter, the show’s pacing is kinetic and their momentum at the end of each episode rushes you to the next. Overall, this show has a great balance between being a thinking man’s adventure and escapist action.

Coffin HIll Vol. 1 (2014) Review

ImageSTORY BY
Caitlin Kittredge
ART BY
Inaki Miranda
COLORS BY
Eva de la Cruz
Coffin Hill is equal parts Southern Gothic and Supernatural Noir wrapped in a Neo Gothic style. The story focuses on Lacey Coffin. Lacey was a gothic and angsty teen who ran away from home to escape the witchcraft heritage of the Coffin family. After starting a successful career in law enforcement, she gets involved with an undercover shooting incident which gets her suspended. With no place else to go, she heads back to her home town to confront her bloody past, demented family, and the cursed lands of Coffin Hill.
First of all, writer Caitlin Kittredge wanted to base Coffin Hill off of real life locations known for their spooky histories, such as Salem. When visiting these places, Kittredge noticed it wasn’t the people who made these haunted places eery; rather, it was the location that created the creepy and malevolent ambiance to these locations. With the disembodied voices, the sacrificed children, the Gothic architecture, and the swampy forest, Coffin Hill is clearly the lurking antagonist of this story. In addition, Kittredge also does a great job of pacing out this slow burn mystery. Kittredge never lets the audience peek behind the curtain, but she still manages to give just enough clues at the end of each chapter to make you want to come back for the bigger reveal. She also applies this method towards each of her characters. Instead of shoving their past and motivation down our throats in the first few pages of the series, Kittredge shows glimpses of past actions or interactions between characters to slowly build up who they are and were. Also, it’s fascinating how Kittredge treats the witchcraft. The supernatural is always done in such a way that by the time it’s finished one starts questioning if any of it really happened.
The other half of this story is the art itself. Inaki Miranda and Eva de la Cruz perfectly express the mood and theme of this witchcraftian mystery. The characters retain the neo gothic look that had become synonymous with gothic movies and music about vampires and witches, even the protagonist has Marilyn Manson’s colorless eye. Miranda’s creative use of paneling is something to be admired. Not only will Miranda do things like letting his characters spill over into the next sequential panel but also he uses the panels to match the mindset and pacing of the story. When the story is in the calm sunlight, the panels will usually be in an 8 grid format. However, once the darkness of the supernatural or violence begins, the panels become more abstract or twisted in order to match the delirium. Cruz’s coloring also punctuates this dichotomy. When the setting is tranquil, the colors are warm and brightly highlighted by rays of golden sunshine. When the setting becomes disturbing, the colors are dark and blanketed with blue moon beams.
Kittredge sums up the protagonist in Lacey’s soliloquy , “When in nightmares you fall from a high place, you fight and struggle to wake up to remember the dream isn’t real, but the only thing that will wake you up… is hitting the ground”. By the time this volume wraps up, we see our haunted protagonist finally wake up into the bright reality, and we’re left wondering where can we go from here?
Overall, this story is fresh and brilliantly put together. For fans of the gothic supernatural or are still grieving over the loss of Hellblazer, Coffin Hill is definitely worth the read.

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.