Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Red: Eyes Only

Red: Eyes Only
Written by Cully Hamner
Art by Cully Hamner and Val Staples
Lettering by Wes Abbott
Published by Wildstorm
Review by Lan Pitts

"The only thing that ever let me sleep was that we do it for a greater purpose. And now that's gone." -- Paul Moses aka Bruno Frank

No doubt it's been a good year for Red and its creators. The movie adaptation was a hit at the box office, and garnered a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture. The comic itself got more attention than it has in a while and reached a new audience. Red: Eyes Only adds another layer to the story as it is the prequel to the Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner original.

It's been a minute since I've read Red, but lucky for me, you can easily enjoy this story without having to scratch your head on what is going on. Paul Moses wants out of the job. His family has practically disowned him and has he carries a sense of loneliness and just doesn't care for the line of work. When Moses tells his employer that he wants out, it's not as simple as he thought. There's a process that slowly takes him out of the circuit, but that only leads to even more disaster and a revelation that Moses was not expecting.

Cully Hamner is taking the reins as writer and artist on this one as Warren Ellis did not participate. The violence is still there and the action is plenty, but there are still good character moments. I like Hamner's wink to giving Paul the alias of Bruno Frank, a nod to Bruce Willis. Hamner has solid panel construction and honestly some of his best work to date. The amount of detail put into every panel looks clean and crisp, the level of attention to the backgrounds is terrific. Even the detail of the Atlanta skyline and downtown Vienna just looks great on the page.

Colorist Val Staples joins in on the action. Usually, you'll find Hamner being colored on by Dave McCaig or Laura Martin. Staples has a more muted and softer pallet than what I'm used to seeing from him. Especially compared to his work on X-Men: First Class Finals. Though the colors do the suit the story, especially the more subtle moments.

Whether you're a new acquaintance or an old fan of Red and possibly weary that Ellis' exclusion will hinder the overall story, don't be. Hamner and company will satisfy your need for action, suspense, and quite a solid read.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Best of 2010

Gold Medal: The Unwritten (Vertigo) Deja vu, much? Yes, I'm aware I gave this book my gold medal last year, but the thing is, there is not a single book on the market that has captivated me as much as this one. Mike Carey and Peter Gross's creator-owned title has earned its place as Sandman's heir, and I feel set the standard for contemporary, mature storytelling. It's been quite the year in the world of Tom Taylor, Lizzie Hexam, and Savoy including Joseph Goebbels' phantom, vulgar rabbits, the return and sudden death of Tom's father, Wilson, and the revelation of the final Tommy Taylor book - suspense, drama, genuine humanity, and an engaging story that has me wrapped out it's finger.

Silver Medal: Strange Tales II With the first issue opening up
with a Wolverine as a lucha libre wrestler in a deathmatch-style
arena, all the while the narration of a letter written by a lost love
echoes throughout the story you realize, this isn't the normal Marvel
fanfare. Nope, this is Strange Tales II, the second collection
of stories that takes popular independent creators and artists like
Kate Beaton and Jhonen Vasquez, and let's them play in the Marvel
sandbox. The stories range from touching, to downright hilarious. I
missed out on the first series, but I made sure to check this one out.
I mean, how could you not purchase the second issue of this series
based off the cover alone?

Bronze Medal: Scotty SnyderTalk about one hell of a year. I had
seen promotions for American Vampire at my LCS leading up to it
coming out. I didn't pick it up atfirst, just because I was worn out from the whole vampire genre basically being shoved down my throat. It wasn't until I found myself reading, and enjoying, Iron Man: Noir that I decided to take the gamble with a new title with a relative unknown. Vertigo titles rarely lead me astray, and I fell head over heels for the new envisioning of what the American vampire is and Snyder's own theories and spins on the myth and folklore of the ancient creature of the night. Soon after buzz surrounds AV, Snyder becomes a DC exclusive writer, and soon after that, is announced as the writer for Detective Comics. Though, at press time only one issue of 'Tec under his direction, I just have a feeling Snyder will give the title some of its best stories yet. Quite an impressive year indeed.

What to watch for in 2011: Artifacts With only four issues out,
I couldn't really give this a place on my list, however, I am certain
this is the mega-series we will be talking about next year. With Hope
still missing, and the bearers of the Artifacts coming closer together, the end of the world draws nearer and nearer. While Ron Marz and Michael Broussard have given most creative teams a run for their money, I cannot wait to see what the remaining nine issues hold for the Top Cow characters and the universe at large.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Quick post-holiday reviews

The Stuff of Legend: The Jungle #3
Written by Mike Raicht and Brian Smith
Art by Charles Paul Wilson III
Published by Th3rd World Studios
Review by Lan Pitts

"So you suggest they are idealists? Believers in the old ways, or coexisting, and yet these humansss bring tools to hunt us. Like the Boogeyman'sss army! The days of unity amongst us died long ago. It is best they accept their new home...and being discarded." -- The Serpent King

If you haven't been following the adventures of Max, Jester, Percy, and the rest of the gang in The Stuff of Legends, then you are missing out. When our brigade of heroes wander into the clutches of the misfit toys of the Jungle, they aren't treated to the warmest of welcomes. Soon both sides realize that they have a common fiend in the Boogeyman and make a momentary alliance. Also, a bit of the origins of the Dark are revealed in a touching way. For being "just toys", Mike Raicht and Brian Smith has given these characters have some of the most sincere dialog I have read all year.

There is only one more part until the conclusion of Volume 2, and while that is reassuring I don't have to wait until the third volume for the rest of the story, the end of this issue caught me off guard. Part Four cannot come soon enough.

For those of you unfamiliar with the style of how these books are layed out, again, I cannot express this enough: Charles Paul Wilson III is a bonafide genius. The panel composition and colors use are nothing else out there. The action scenes, particually the ones feature Jester, are intense and still carry a certain weight of drama, you forget the characters are playthings.

With Christmas/the Holiday Season around the corner, a series like this is perfect for your little reader. The series showed promise a year ago and has not let me down. It's beyond captivating and highly recommended.

Witchblade Annual #2
Written by Ron Marz, Matthew Dow Smith
Art by Tony Shasteen, Matthew Dow Smith, Matt Haley, J.D. Mettler, Jason
Gorder, Michael Atiyeh
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Top Cow
Review by Lan Pitts

"This gift came to me so that I could serve our people. So that I could
protect our people."
-- Tatiana, Witchblade bearer

The second Witchblade annual just isn't a standard monthly comic, it's quite
the event. Three stories, three creative teams. All of them showcase
different traits on what defines a Witchblade bearer, though they share that
mystical nexus and some terrific stories come from it.

First story in the issue is "Stalingrad", featuring Witchblade of the era,
Tatiana, who we have seen before in past back stories and whatnot. Like Sara
Pezzini, Tatiana is a soldier in her own right. A protector and sentinel who
puts the people she defends first, even if it is the fate of a nation that
needs her and her "gift". The first thing you'll notice is Tony Shasteen and
J.D. Mettler's stunning photo-realistic art. It's not as gritty as, say,
Alex Maleev as it comes across as smoother and natural. Mettler's muted
pallet gives the pages a certain look that is rather unique this day and age
in comics. It works for the story and is a perfect match for Shasteen's
pencils and inks. The backgrounds and environments are jaw-dropping with the
sense of detail. The buildings seem towering, the facial expressions convey
genuine emotion from concern to rage that has you sucked in. Marz sheds a
bit more light on Tatiana that brings a bit of closure to the character.

The interlude of the annual, features another former Witchblade wearer, and
people of the hero, Joan of Arc. It's a bit brief, but connects the bearers
of the Witchblade as Sara has dreams of Joan using the weapon in war against
the English. At four pages long, it is there as a reminder that duty comes
before anything to the women who have been anointed to wear the relic. The
art is standard, but it's something that doesn't have that much time to
really go off and do its thing. Again, written by Marz, but with art by Matt
Haley and Jason Gorder. The detail on the hair and armor isn't over done and
gives a sleek look to Joan in battle. It's a sharp contrast to the previous
story, but serves as a perfect in-between story.

Final story of the issue is something quite unique in how it's presented.
It's mainly written as like an actual novel with bits of splashes of art
here and there: character busts, or items being talked about, or an actual
scenario. Written and illustrated by Matthew Dow Smith, "The Devil's Due" is
practically what you think of when you think of Witchblade, at least
when you think of Sara Pezzini adventures. As told through
an omnipotent point of view, Smith tells a story that shows all sides of who
Sara is, and how she thinks. She's a woman, a mother, a cop, and a
supernatural defender. The dialog is sharp, clever and insightful. The art
is poignant and moves the story along with its use of the red, white and
black splashed upon the pages.

Witchblade Annual #2 is a rare creation these days that packs a punch
and brings depth to characters that sometimes get the cold shoulder from
comic fans. It's refreshing and definitely worth a check out if not outright

Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #513
Written by David Liss
Art by Francesco Francavilla
Lettering by VC's Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lan Pitts

"I will have to learn these streets, to understand their denizens as an
ordinary man. You kept in touch with Hell's Kitchen as a lawyer...I have
something a bit more humble in mind."
-- T'Challa

As a Daredevil fan, the announcement that Black Panther would be the heir to
the Man Without Fear mantle I was a bit concerned. Not to say T'Challa is a
boring or mundane character that would not be worthy or anything of that
nature. It was mainly because it had just seem like a weird fit at first
thought. However, as the issue progressed, it seemed more and more that the
man formerly known as Black Panther is the proper guy for the job.

What it cuts down to is old school superhero stories with secret identities
and a job that isn't really a job, but a front. With papers forged and
created by Foggy Nelson, T'Challa becomes Mr. Okonkwo, from the Congo. He is
the new manager for a local diner and immerses himself into the alter ego,
but still prowls the streets kicking all sorts of criminal scum all over the

David Liss delivers promise to what make come from the former king
with a great look at the character, but sometimes the words get in the
way of the actions. Case in point, I don't need to know about what
Vlad the Impaler can do while he is doing it. It's old school
in nature, I'll give him that, but with a book like this, less should
be more. The conversation between Matt Murdoch and T'Challa that opens
the book is interesting in the aspect of why T'Challa chose to take up
the mantle of guardian of Hell's Kitchen. What lies ahead for Matt
Murdoch still remains a mystery.

Francesco Francavilla comes on the book like a pulp hurricane, with
his angled panel construction that shows the Panther's movements and
definetly feels right for the character. I mean, he is an artistic
powerhouse in this issue holding down the fort with pencils, inks, and
colors. It's something that I am looking forward to see more of.

First impression of this new "series" is good, but something still
felt missing from the story. It still holds a lot of promise, don't
get me wrong, but those weary fans need to give the book a chance and
I'm sure they'll be won over in time.

Magus #1
Written by Jon Price
Art by Rebekah Isaacs and Charlie Kirchoff
Lettering by Ed Dukeshire
Cover by Fiona Staples
Published by 12 Gauge Comics
Review by Lan Pitts

What would happen if magic was real, but locked away as a secret that very few people knew about much less use? That is the concept of 12 Gauge's new mini-series Magus.

I'm a fan of the more supernatural characters in comics. From Hellboy, to Witchblade, to Dr. Fate and Zatanna. I've always been attracted to the more mystical side of things, and when I saw a preview of this at HeroesCon this year past year, I knew it was going to be something to watch out for. How right I was.

Our central character, Lena Cullen, is one of those people who can use magic, but cannot control it well since magic has been sealed. It's a bit reckless. I mean, the issue starts with the display of the destructive forces she can summon. She goes on the lam and run into the rest of our supporting cast, including Father Swain. Swain is a minister that has magic of protective and healing properties, as well as a history of looking after people like Lena, the "Wilds". There are people after Lena, to stop her from disrupting reality with powers to make sure no more harm is done.

Plot aside, Jon Pirce's creativity for this story is intriguing, especially concerning the mechanics of magic and how it is used and created. The type of the person's soul, transfers externally to what sort of power they have. In the case of Lena, she is wild and unpredictable, therefore, her pyromancy comes natural. Father Swain's case is the same thing, like I mentioned, has healing properties because he is a kind soul with a protective nature.

Rebekah Isaacs has been on the indie seen for years, and Magus showcases her talents well. The world is like ours, mundane and average, but when magic comes into play, that's when the art really soars. The use of facial expressions from joy to outright panic comes across as genuine. The use of angles and landscapes are great, too, giving Magus a solid pace that never bores you.

This first issue sets things up rather well, and I plan on catching the rest of the action. It's creative, bold, and is simply unique.

Christmas from Top Cow

Suh-weet haul.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Strange Love (Zatanna/Dr. Strange)

I met Mark Robinson last year in New York where George got a very majestic Aquaman by him and the imagery just stuck with me. So, when George went back this past year, he got his contact information and I emailed Mark when I got a chance about any time he could do a commission. Well, it turns out, he was doing them right then, and having a special, too.

So I commissioned him a piece, and I was beyond blown away by the results and it surpasses anything I had in mind when I first envisioned it.

Review Haul

The Darkness: Four Horsemen #2
Written by David Hine
Art by Jeff Wamester, Jason Martin, and Felix Serrano
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Top Cow
Review by Lan Pitts

"I can feel it. The hunger, the rage, the burning fire of terminal disease running through my veins. The awful emptiness of death, opening a void in my soul...and the Darkness screams.

I guess I should make it clear that going into this, I was a bit weary. I am not David Hine's biggest fan. I found his recent arc on Detective Comics to be a bit stale. However, him taking Jackie Estacado's reins and running wild with them had me floored. Essentially, Jackie is up against the Biblical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who are re-interpreted as Hell's Angels biker types. Jackie isn't sure at first if these guys are the real deal, but soon gets a taste of their medicine.

The Darkness that is one of those characters that few writers "get", in my opinion. Either he sounds like the Punisher on steroids, or Batman possessed by Satan. He is neither of those things. He is a hitman who is cursed by his birthright. Hine gives Jackie the proper voice here, with a sarcastic tone in his voice, but somebody who understands that he is the embodiment of shadow. He comes across as the anti-hero he is billed as and not some demonic jerk.

Hine's dialog for the Horsemen is just as sharp as Jackie's. They play games with hostages and curse people randomly. The idea behind Famine, or Ronnie as his name is here, is interesting. Usually Famine is envisioned as a frail individual, but here he's loud, boisterous and quite rotund. The thing about Famine here is not that you are starved to death, it's that he controls your hunger and you never stop eating and you eat yourself to death. The imagery alone was something I wasn't expecting.

Speaking of imagery, Jeff Wamester soars on art. He handles the Darkness armor with precision and doesn't over-render the look or ruin it. It comes across as slick, but still gives the impression it offers protection. The Horsemen's designs are superb and they come across as a valid threat. How Wamester shows each of the Horsemen using their abilities is horrific and doesn't come across as pointless. The violence displayed is their big "hello, world, we've arrived" message to the population.

Darkness: Four Horsemen is one of those books where anything can happen. The Top Cow universe has seen apocalyptic scenario after the other, but can Jackie fight off the heralds of the end of the world by himself? I'm not the world's biggest Darkness follower, but this series has me hooked.


Okko: The Cycle of Air #3 (Published by Archaia; Review by Lan Pitts): I went into this book blindly, knowing little to nothing about the franchise. As a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender, I knew I'd be drawn to something of this nature. Boy, was I right. While there's no way to tell what's been going on in previous installments and the book just sort of happens, but once it gets going, it gets going. Some parts of the dialog seem a bit forced and out of place. The villain of the story, the demon hunter Kubban Kiritsu, is the most fleshed-out by comparison. The art by Hub and Emmanual Michalak is absolutely gorgeous that flows wonderfully on the page. There's an intense battle scene that just moves as smooth as a Japanese ink brush and the colors are just dynamite. If you can find the other two previous installments, please do, because if you're anything like me who is enamored with oriental mysticism and Samurai history, you'll love this series.


The Incredibles #14 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Lan Pitts): If you aren't picking up this book for yourself, or for a young reader trying to get into comics, for SHAME! Landry Walker's snappy character work and dialog is pure aces. While there is typecast as a mere "kids" book, it packs a lot of punch. Ramanda Kamarga and Marcio Takara give us some amazing art, with a minimalist style that delivers time and time again. The visuals come across as crisp and clean as you can get and convey each of the characters' powers and abilities. A great book that is a mix of adventure, fun, and a hint of danger.


The Green Hornet: The Golden Age Remastered #3 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Lan Pitts): Color me enthusiastic on this novel idea. Take some old Green Hornet comics from the 40's, dust them off, re-master them and publish them for this and future generation to enjoy. The original art is intact, with the coloring spruced up. Four classic tales that anybody who is an old-school fan of the Green Hornet or somebody just getting into the character can easily enjoy. Any fan of old style pulp comics will surely get a kick out of this as well. The Fran Striker stories have never looked better.


Vampirella #1 (Published by Dynamite; Review by Lan Pitts): Vampirella has one of those iconic comic book looks. Whether you know little or a lot about the character herself, her costume is easy recognizable. That being said, I guess Dynamite is in the business of pulling a Wondy and deviating from the popular bathing suit design to something a bit more contemporary, or as I like to say, TV-friendly. The thing about it though, is that the wardrobe change doesn't phase me in the slightest or hinder the story. Writer Eric Trautman (DC's Mighty Crusaders) gives Vampi here a Batman-like voice. Lots of inner dialog that moves the story along, while getting an idea of who this revamped (pun not intended) Vampirella is. The real star in this book is Wagner Reis. His panel layout reminded me of older Batman books and the George Perez era of DC. It's not crammed to the teeth with panels, and he keeps things interesting with great use of angles and such. I love the heavy inking in the book and the play with shadows. If you're looking for a flat-out origin story, don't look here. If you're looking for an entertaining read that's also pretty to look at, check out Vampirella #1.


Magdalena #4 (Published by Top Cow; Review by Lan Pitts): It looks like Patience has gotten herself in one hell of a pickle yet again. While following the trail of the so-called Antichrist, Patience and Kristof are ambushed and tricked by demons, and the young Antichrist, Anton. Of course things get even worst for our heroine as her spear is taken from her. The cover for the next issue looks incredibly foreboding. It's no secret that Ron Marz wanted to get on this book the moment he got into Top Cow, and in his patience (pun intended) we are rewarded with one fine book. Nelson Blake II does an excellent job showing Magdalena's fighting skills while expressing her grace that I think a descendant of Christ would possess. Also, great detail on the architecture around Paris. Marz's style has always been show and not tell, there's not that much inner dialog as usual and you get a sense of realism with the characters with their vernacular. Top Cow just keeps churning out with these great titles and if you're checking them out, you are REALLY missing out.


Witchblade #140
Written by Ron Marz and Saurav Mohapatra
Art by Stjepan Sejic
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Top Cow
Review by Lan Pitts

"Come on, we didn't see this coming." -- Sara Pezzini, Witchblade

I'm sure it's been said that nothing is more powerful than an imagination of a child. Or something along those lines. However, it's hardly said that a child's imagination could form the horrors that Sara and Gleason end up facing in Witchblade #140. If you haven't been following the events of Artifacts, first of all, for shame, and second of all, no worries. This issue concentrates more on the standard operations of two of New York's finest solving unknown mysteries and dealing with strange occurrences. So you won't be left out of the dark when you pick this up.

The issue starts off pretty standard from what we've seen before: Sara and Gleason investigate a brutal crime scene of some nightmarish creature and nothing but question marks emerge. A night doorman was horribly slaughtered, which is found unusual since the part of town was quite lavish. Sara and Gleason have a viewing of the security camera footage and it's not pretty what they find. Eventually they take to door-to-door questioning and run into a pair of some very, very odd children. The children like to draw and Gleason finds a comparison of one of the children's pieces to the creature that slaughtered the doorman. Of course we find out the real origins of the creatures and the two detectives find themselves surrounded.

From beginning to end, it reads like a classic set up. I love the little winks and nudges to fans. The paper the doorman is reading has hints of Dragon Prince. Also, the children's art work were really done by children, including two of Marz's kids. Marz delivers more of the police side of Sara, and a bit of her humanity in a sincere moment in an elevator. While she admits it's not easy being her partner to Gleason, Marz shows that Sara needs him in her life. Stjepan Sejic conveys that emotion through his great use of facial expressions.

It is still a mystery to me on why Witchblade is not on everybody's pullbox. This is a good jumping point for new readers that have been curious about the buzz. It's engaging, accessable, and feeds that supernatural need that you might not be getting elsewhere.


Starborn #1
Created by Stan Lee
Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Khary Randolph and Mitch Gerads
Lettering by Ed Dukeshire
Covers by Gene Ha, Humberto Ramos, Khary Randolph, and Paul Rivoche
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Lan Pitts

Imagine The Last Starfighter, meets the Never Ending Story, and you get Starborn.

Benjamin Warner appears to be your average wannabe hard sci-fi author that just can't seem to catch a break. His first book was rejected as it was too close to an existing author's work he was unaware of. I can't even tell you how many times that has happened to me. Yet, he continues to strive and write and do his best to get noticed in the world of literature. When he gets rejected again, that's when story starts really coming into motion. Benjamin comes face to face with one of his own creations at work and one of his childhood friends comes to his aid, for she is not what she appears as well.

Immediately, the striking style of Khary Randolph will hit you Not quite Humberto Ramos or Eric Canete, but his art represents the best of what I love about both of those artists. The way the characters move across the page from the simple motion of checking the mail, to dodging a would-be knock out punch, it just comes at you. And fast. The character design for the aliens and other out-worldy creations look stunning and unique. Adding the colors of Mitch Gerads to it and it's kicked up to another level. The look to creatures' skins or the wonders of the majesty of outer space look tremendous. Seriously, a great combination.

The script itself hearkens back to classic Stan Lee stories of the everyman thrown into a not-so-everyday situation. Chris Roberson excels here as I can empathize with the character and has set up an intriguing story, that I hope get its time to tell.


Rainbow in the Dark #1 and 2 (Published by KaBlam!; Review by Lan Pitts) Talk about a do-it-yourself project. Written, art, and lettering by indie sensations Comfort Love and Adam Withers comes another one of their unique tales that is a mix of fantasty, with Bohemian philosophies with a drop of Rainbow Brite. Donna White is your average teen, who lives in a normal world of black and white, that's not bad, or really exciting. That changes on her way to school when colorful creatures break through into her world, as well as even a more colorful band of freedom fighters that take rescue Donna and take her back to their world, full of feelings and emotions she hasn't felt before. Or dangers she's ever faced. At first readthrough, it feels a lot like the Wizard of Oz meets the forementioned Rainbow Brite. The character designs resemble rock and roll and rave fashions, and one of the characters even reminds me of Andre 3000 from OutKast. The story is intriguing enough to where I felt hooked and fell into the second issue where the world and the "Gloom" is explained. The dialog is thought out and sincere and the art truly fits the story being told. You might have seen this couple at numerous conventions across the country, and Rainbow in the Dark can be available online at their site, with .99 per issue. So if you're looking for something really different, I can easily recommend this title.