Powers: The Bureau Vol 1 (2014) Review

Powers

STORY BY Brian Michael Bendis

ART BY Michael Avon Oeming

COLORS BY Nick Filardi

LETTERS BY Chris Eliopoulos

It’s part welcome back partner part crime involving kidnapping women. We are quickly reintroduced to Power’s veterans Deena Pilgrim and Christian Walker before Bendis throws us into batshit crazy hijinks that makeup the Power’s world. Bendis seems to always shine the most when he is able to cleverly take familiar and ridiculous themes from popculture or other lore and twist them into a different direction. This story arc is no different. We discover that someone is knocking up women, and sometimes men too, with power super sperm which forces them to incubate a kryptonite infused xenomorph which births like one can imagine. Yep, if you’re thinking WTF?, you are a normal human being. However, that’s part of the writing style Power’s readers love about this series.

Powers is a great companion to the super hero world because Bendis builds its foundation and humor off of asking what it would be like to live in a world of superheros. However, this isn’t a nihilistic Moorian take. Instead Bendis will ask questions like,”Would Superhero Groupies buy Power’s Sperm off the Black Market so they can have Power babies?”, or “Can undercover cops exist in a world with psychics?”.

Furthermore, the readers couldn’t ask for better characters to guide us through this world. Each panel gushes with humor because of the Agent Pilgrim’s foul mouthed quips and Agent Walker’s stonefront sarcastic retorts. Their banter combined with Pilgrim’s neurotic personality and Agent Walker’s sordid Power’s backstory fleshes out their dynamic personalities, and it’s a consistent pleasure to see how the agents will handle each new situation.

Because Oeming’s minimalist art style has flourishes like deep shadows and sharp and defined lines which creates a noir tonality, it perfectly compliments the crime procedural theme. The style could be compared to Batman: TAS with the coloring opting for gold rather than blue tones. Also, Oeming’s artwork is also just as over the top as the plot. Each fight scene is godly and brutal, each power ability is eery and luminescent.

There’s never a dull moment in this series. Each twist or new plot point will make any comic book lover smile and soak in the gritty behind the scenes take on living in a powers world. If the reader isn’t laughing at the human element, they are mesmerized by the incredible action from the Powers.

 

Grade: A+

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Black Science Vol. 1 (2014) Review

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STORY BY Rick Remender

ART BY Matteo Scalera

COLORS BY Dean White

Black Science is a genre redefining science fiction epic. Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera take us on a reality hoping adventure with a team of flawed ego-maniacal scientists. They’ve just finished building “The Pillar” which allows people to travel to alternate dimensions. They describe it like an onion, the Pillar slides them down through layers of reality to presumably arrive at the core and foundation to all realities. Nevertheless, all is not well since the Pillar had been sabotaged and is constantly jumping the team from one hostile dimension to the next.

Although each jump usually leads the team to a more desperate location, to stay behind will inevitably forfeit their chances of ever going home. With the diminishing crew dying off, even if they choose to carry on who knows how long until it leads to their ultimate destruction. Meanwhile, there’s the chance the Pillar itself is cracking through realities and making all of existence unstable.

Unlike other similar stories such as Fantastic Four, Lost in Space, or Sliders, Remender always puts the danger in the foreground. The peril and doom is just as prominent as any character whether it’s coming from sources such as Frog Warriors, possessed primates, or getting caught in a genocide war or much more. It also serves as the primary motivation for Grant and the team to get everyone back to their own reality. If that wasn’t enough, there’s constant inner-group conflict revolving around power struggles and trust.

As the story progresses, we discover that the team has just as many layers as an Onion. In many stories a character like Grant would be the hero or all round good guy; however, Remender doesn’t insult the readers with stereotypes, cliches, or overused tropes. Instead, Remender likes to bring healthy doses of realism to his characters. From little Pia to Kadir, each is well defined with their own personal flaws, self absorbed motivations, as well as their brilliance and fearlessness. A large amount of tension stems from conflicts between all these very diverse set of characters. This isn’t to say the characters aren’t likable. In fact, not only are the readers able to connect to these characters, but also their realistic portrayal helps anchor us down in this unbelievable epic. For example, we see Grant break away from the idealism and conventional nature of explores and scientists. Each new threat or revealed secret peels back another layer of Grant’s ego until only his raw and primal nature remains. Perhaps he sums it up best when he says,

“Ideology is masturbation. A jerk-off afforded to those few privileged with time on their hands and no wolves at the door. Put that shit to the test in the field. This is what you get. A savage monkey willing to die so long as he destroys his enemy”.

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Also, Remender isn’t afraid to sacrifice lives in order to remain true to the tale. By issue six, the readers have already seen some prominent characters die. With a steady death count, most writers fail to keep the readers from becoming detached. However, each life which is lost, no matter how small their role, is always a gut punch to the readers. Because we care about these people, it adds just that much more tension and feeling of risk. Once again, this shows how much talent is embedded in the writing.

Meanwhile, Matteo Scalera does an excellent job of balancing the familiar with the exotic. Each creature, plant, civilization looks somewhat familiar while simultaneously new and exotic. The eyes never feel like they are staring at another world or planet; rather, they are looking at this world from a flipped and reinvented perspective. Furthermore, praise also goes to Scalera and his team’s endurance for being able to completely rebuild our world from issue to issue. Each new dimension has its own unique and defining characteristics, and it’s always a dark and beautiful treat for the eyes.

At the end of the first arc, we’re left with a nail biting conclusion that Remender has only just begun this ride. He’s kicked off a dynamic and beautiful tale which is willing to challenge conventional story telling and examine how human nature and destiny fit into scientific and technological progress.

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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

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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.

Green Arrow: Outsider’s War (2014)

outsider warLemire, Maiolo and Sorrentino’s Green Arrow: Outsider War begins with Oliver going on a quest back to the island to find the sacred arrow. Meanwhile, the prior events have pushed Oliver Queen into the center of an all out attack from the Outsider Clans. The story showcases the strength of each clan such as the clan of the Arrow, Shield, Staff, Fist, etc. True, this sounds like 50’s pulp pulled from the pages of Doc Savage or Allan Quartermaine, but it retains just as much blockbuster excitement if not more so. What makes this series truly stand out is how the creative team works off each other. Oliver’s projected personality is similar to the clichéd playboy. However, from the green internal monologues to the shifting backgrounds and landscapes we see who Green Arrow really is. For example, if the scene is brutal or violent, the backgrounds become more angular and saturated in red. If the scene is menacing or ominous, the background fades into inky shadows. This style is very reminiscent of gothic literature or various styles of anime which took the internal state of mind and made external representations. Another great showcase of detail is the depiction and characterization of Oliver Queen’s father. His mannerism and look all the way down to his signature beard is a direct homage to Oliver Queen’s depiction in Green Arrow: Longbow Hunters. The creative team may be updating and modernizing our beloved Green Arrow, but we can rest assured that our green archer is in good hands. Not only does the team work brilliantly together, but also they know where and who Green Arrow comes from.

Clown Fatale (2013) Review

ImageClown Fatale follows the misadventures of four curvaceous circus clowns. After the ladies are witnessed stomping the fun out of some rapey patrons, they are  mistaken for another circus troupe who kill-for-hire on their off time. Each clown feels they have hit rock bottom, and they agree to the contract of kill the local cartel because according to them being a murderer is really only one step above being a circus clown anyways. What follows is a blood soaked version of The Man Who Knew Too Much with some heavy doses of Exploitation. Dinisio’s colors and Rosensweig’s artwork are sexy and explosive. Each character is well defined and never feel like a copy from the last caricature. Every violent collision is over the top and radically different from the last. For example, I couldn’t help but smile with delight watching Chloe light her last cigarette off the blazing hair of a screaming rodeo clown running by. Victor Gischler’s script remained straight as a bullet. He didn’t let exposition clutter up the messy fun. Instead, dubious backstories were only revealed enough to push the plot and characters forward, and they never felt contrived or clichéd. They were sensible reflections that help characterize why people are who they are. Also, because the characters never felt grandiose, it was much easier to relate to them and their motivations. One of the most surprising aspects of this comic was the female empowerment. The ladies start off being objectified, used and abused by the Man’s World. However, by the time the story boils over, not only have the clowns learn to defend themselves, but also the women were able to take control and make their own choices. It became quite poetic when Chloe gave one of the male aggressors a choice. He can rather shoot her with his last bullet but be burnt alive, or he can save himself from the pain and agony and take his own life. Honestly, when I picked this issue up, I Thought  it would get lost and forgotten in the endless depths of cleavage just like Lady Death or Grimm Fairy Tales. Instead, it became Dark Horse’s They Call Her One Eye of 2013.

SuperGods (2011)

supergodsNot only does Grant Morrison give the history and evolution of comic books, but also he gives the cultural relevance of each age of comic books. For example, he explains how the comic code forced the writers to protest with metaphorical style and leaned towards fantasy in a highly Freudian way. He always explains what significant events in society’s culture had influenced and re-created each age of comic book style and writing. The book is also peppered with Morrison’s autobiography which helps greatly ground the reader to the significance of comicbooks. Although there were parts of the book that dragged or had little significance, this book was highly informative and a must of any comic book reader who is interested in the author or the history of comics