Sunday, September 28, 2008

Madame Mirage Vol 1 Trade & All Star Batman and Robin #10

Madame Mirage Vol. 1 Trade Paperback
Story by Paul Dini
Art by Kenneth Rocafort
Published by Top Cow

The story of murder, intrigue and revenge with superpowers, this is Madame Mirage. "Mirage" takes place in a world where superheroes are man-made creations through the advances in technology or bio-engineering to turn people into metahumans and metahumans into gods. Though when there are heroes, there must be villains. As people took advantage of the mega-tech for personal gain, the technology was banned, the superheroes became outlawed and the real outlaws went underground.

Aggressive Solutions Int. or A.S.I., is run by a cabal of villain groups. To the people, they are some kind of Los Angeles-based public relations firm or trouble-shooting agency. In reality, they are a front for a gang of powerful villains. All has gone well, until A.S.I. finds itself as a target of a relentless and violent vendetta by the mysterious woman calling herself Madame Mirage.
Paul Dini pitched the idea of Madame Mirage seven years prior to the first issue of the book. The early concept was pitched to an internet animation studio, where they wanted an action-driven femme fatale series. However, the studio had already gone out of business the weekend following the meeting. Following that, Dini put the Mirage pitch in the sketchbook where it remained for years until Jim McLauchlin came on board at Top Cow as an editor, and was interested in creating a new series about a tough new heroine and contacting Paul Dini. He brought back the Mirage concept, updated it because of how many years since the first pitch, and finally he started scripting the stories.

Dini compares Mirage to pulp hero The Shadow with a hint of Zatanna. Mirage employs various degrees of superpowers including mind control, "magic" and shape shifting in order to confound and destroy her enemies. To the point where she confronts an enemy, it is unknown what she will do or use to attack. It is worth noting that Madame Mirage and her visual appearance is based on his wife, Misty Lee, who is a magician and illusionist. The other thing about Mirage is that she has a younger sister named Harper, who acts as her backup on these missions against the A.S.I.

There is a plethora of twists and turns in this book that makes this title worthy to reckoned with. Some of which I don't care to mention because they would ruin a lot, including issue three in which we learn Mirage's origin. The action is superb and never dull. The book feels like a non-stop chase with Mirage just one step ahead of the bad guys. Dini weaves a tale of espionage and intrigue that we have not seen in comics in quite some time. Despite Dini's kid-friendly past with his DC superhero shows, Mirage is a book intended for mature readers with a climax that rivals "Kill Bill". Rocafort's art is simply ravishing. Madame Mirage will keep you guessing until the very end! The Volume 1 trade is the first story arc, but there will be another one coming out next year. Along with the issues, the extras are frosting on the cake. It has a cover gallery by Rocafort and variant covers by Greg Horn as well as initial sketch designs by Dini and Rocafort. It would be a crying shame for anybody to not pick up this collection if you missed out the first time around.

I'm the minority here when I claim I actually like this book. Sure, it's Sin City dialogue coming out of Gotham City's mouth, but I think the "All Star Batman" brand is merely misunderstood.
I have read quite a few interviews with authors, and being a aspiring writer myself I agree, some writers will sell rights to Hollywood for treatment of their material for the cash and for good reason. What do they care if Hollywood butchers it or not? It doesn't change the book, it will always be the same. If anything, it might generate more of an audience for the writer. And as for everyone stating that All Star Bats here isn't worth burning because it's not even worth a match, it's because its not Batman, well, its not suppose to be. If you want the Batman you know and love, just read that. Who wants to just see the same old? I compare it a lot to cover songs. I'm a sucker for a good cover song because I want to see someone else take on a song I may, or may not, already like. Its not the original, but I was never expecting the original in the first place. On that note, not all is lost as Jim Lee continues to give his all on this book. He's given multiple double-page spreads and splash pages to flex his artist muscle and, as always, nails them out of the park. Just like the best artists in the industry, Jim Lee delivers iconic images that pop off the page once his artist team of Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair get a hold of his work. It's just a shame that a Jim Lee and company drawn comic comes so rarely these days because I can never get enough of them. Some of my personal favorites from this month are the image of Batman holding a beaten Catwoman as well as Batman and Robin hitching a ride on a speeding train and to top it off, a touching moment between Jim Gordon and his daughter. That's just some "this is what comics are about" moments that this title is capable of.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! #2

Billy Batson and the Magic of SHAZAM #2
Story and Art by Mike Kunkel
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics

After a delay, the second issue of "Billy Batson and the Magic of SHAZAM" finally came out, and just like the premiere issue, I could not wait to get a hold of it. It backtracks a little with the story of Billy being chosen by the wizard, Shazam, and became the World's Mightiest Mortal. It also explains that Billy was not, in fact, the first to have been chosen. That privilege belonged to a young man named Theo Adam. Though the Wizard soon realized that Theo Adam was not the champion he first thought he was and was exiled. Now, Theo Adam has returned as an emo/goth teenager with no knowledge of the word that transformed him into the Wizard's former champion. And boy is he pissed. Eventually Theo Adam learns of Billy's secret identity and quickly bullies young Billy and tries to force the magic word out of him.

Later, Billy confronts Shazam about Theo Adam and the Wizard tells of his past heir and the mistake he made. Soon Shazam discovers that something even worse has occurred: the Seven Deadly Sins are gone and have allied with Theo Adam.

Kunkel keeps the pages busy on this issues, almost a little too busy. Some pages have up to fifteen panels and it almost seems as if he is cramming too much, and I would hate to see younger readers confused. Though that slight fault is easily outweighed at the sheer brilliance of it all. Once again, Kunkel's art tells the story so well, half the time you don't need words. The way he works some panels almost in the way of animation is just astounding. His use of facial expressions rivals that of Kevin Maguire.

The story delves more into the Shazam mythos but doesn't weight the reader down with almost seventy years of continuity. It all feels fresh and new, almost as if Kunkel had created the Captain and his story himself instead of weaving his own spin on it all. I am a huge supporter of comics for kids and this title is the best one out there for ages eight and up. Hopefully, Kunkel has worked out the kinks and we will see this title on a more regular schedule.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dragon Prince #1 Review

Dragon Prince #1
Written by Ron Marz
Art by Lee Moder
Cover by Jeff Johnson and Stjepan Sejic
Published by Top Cow

Ron Marz (Green Lantern, Witchblade) and First Born: Aftermath artist Lee Moder have teamed up for Dragon Prince, which debuted on September 10th. Prince is a four-part miniseries that is a mix of modern day fantasy with martial arts action and mystic mayhem, and anybody a fan of the Jade Empire video game series or younger audiences that obsess over Ben 10 will surely get a kick out of the title.

Going through "the change" is never easy for teenagers, though Aaron Chang is going through something quite out of the ordinary. Aaron has always felt sort of ostracized by his peers because of his mixed heritage (his mother being Caucasian and his father being Asian) and often called things like "white rice". His mother is a fantasy writer, much to the chagrin of her son, who feels like he is too old for her "stories". One day at school however, he learns that he is very much indeed different from his school mates as he chars the school bully with his breath of fire. He returns home where his mother tells him of his true heritage. He is the Dragon Prince, last of his kind and heir to the bloodline of all dragons. Hunted to the brink of extinction by a secret society of magi, dragonkind's survival is now in Aaron's hands.

First off, let me just say I am a huge Ron Marz fan. He created my favorite Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner), and his narratives for Witchblade have been the best since she burst onto the scene in the late '90s. He's made it more reader-friendly, which is always a plus in my eyes. While I'm not too familiar with Moder's art, I like his style. It's not too rendered and his panels are competent enough that anybody from the age of 8 to 80 can understand. The ink and coloring mesh well. Nothing is lost or overdone. This is a book I really want to pick up to see where it leads. I don't think there are enough "fantasy" books out in the market now. True, you could debate that all superhero books are fantasy, they are, but I'm talking about more in the style of the Wheel of Time, Harry Potter, The 10th Kingdom, etc. While I enjoyed Battle Chasers back in the day, the book almost never came out on time and I just lost interest.

Dragon Prince is a PG-rated book that could be picked up for ages 8 and up. I plan on picking up a few for my friends' kids. The fact that the protagonist is thirteen years-old should only make the book more related to the younger readers who loved the Eragon series (Aaron is actually seen reading that). I've been an advocate for comics being for kids again- the market has gotten almost too gritty and downright depressing with its focus on the "everything changes forever" storytelling. Dragon Prince isn't that. Yes, it's a big story which will leave our young protagonist changed, but its great storytelling, easily accessible, While this was just the first issue, I'm expecting great things out of this story. More, please.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

End of the line. Catwoman #82.

Catwoman #82 – Final Issue
From DC Comics
Writer: Will Pfeifer
Pencils: David Lopez
Inks: Alvaro Lopez
Colors: Jeromy Cox
Cover: Adam Hughes
Editor: Nachie Castro

For almost 70 years, Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, has been a pop culture icon. She's been portrayed by half a dozen women (animated and live-action) and is probably Batman's second most well-known character is his rogue's gallery. Though, in the past decade, she's transformed from just a cat burglar with daddy issues into an anti-heroine (rather than a supervillainess) with her own title...and a mother (who still had a streak of kleptomania). However, now is the end of the line for her monthly book. While it wasn't the most grandest of send-offs in comicdom, it was simple, but an issue that any Cat-fan could appreciate Basically, Catwoman leads Batman on a chase through the streets of Gotham, during which time she steals his utility belt. He doesn't understand why she's doing what she's doing, nor does she. Selina finally realizes that she was meant to be Catwoman. In the end, she and Batman reach an understanding, but she reinforces her mischievous nature by stealing the Batmobile.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't sad to see this title go. For so long, it has been one of the most consistently enjoyable books in DC's output. Pfeifer has demonstrated a thorough knowledge of Selina's character as well as a confident and sure handle of her voice, all the while proving she's one of the DCU's richest and most complex characters. However, I'd also be lying if I said I'm not happy to see Selina return to a life of full-blown villainy. I just wish she could do so in her own book. I've said it before, and I'll say it again – one of these days, DC is going to realize there is an audience and a market for a series that focuses on a villain protagonist. DiDio really screwed the pooch on this one. There doesn't really seem like there are any strong, female lead characters with their own book. Oh wait, I'm sorry, there are two: Supergirl and Wonder Woman. I've heard rumors of Zatanna getting her own book, and I'm aware of Vixen's mini-series coming up and Batwoman's series still in limbo, unless new developments have occurred and I'm just not in the know.

There was still so much potential with Selina. While I enjoyed her going to her roots, it felt rushed. Quite honestly, there is not a whole lot of issue in this one. It's touching and we know she's not going anywhere, but she deserved better. Lopez's pencils took some time to rub off on me, though I still prefer the bolder style of Pete Woods. I'm hoping for a revamp in the near future, or possibly on Vertigo (where I hope they take Zatanna). It's almost as if this title was too good for us, as consumers. We took Selina for granted. Always on-time, Well-drawn, well-written. Something that is far and between in the industry.

Thanks for the ride, Ms. Kyle. Hasta la vista!