Tuesday, December 14, 2010

25 Graphic Novel Reviews: A Retrospective

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It's Lovely Weather for a Sleigh Ride Together…

It's hard to believe it's December 2010 already.

I like to think I started an annual tradition last year with my Top 10 Young Adult Books for 2009. Since I've gotten some positive feedback from the list recently in my library, I went ahead and created a NEW! Top 10 Young Young Adult Books for 2010! Exciting, right!? A few of the titles were originally published in 2009 but I managed to read all of them in the last year. I actually already have two titles to add to next year's list as well.

Also this month, the piece I wrote for Graphic Novel Reporter is now up online. Check out How to Build a Dynamic Comic Social Hour if you are interested in starting a graphic novel / comic discussion group at your bookstore or library. I've also included a permanent link to GNR on the right side of the blog. They're a great resource for librarians (including a great graphic novel core list) and anyone else interested.

Monday, December 6, 2010

VINTAGE - Good for the Soul, The Boys

Have you heard of The Boys? Well if you had, they wouldn't be doing their job very well. These five individuals, sort of freelancers that kind of work for the CIA, are called in when superheroes... well, when they don't act very heroic if you get my drift. Garth Ennis, the series' writer, really gives the finger to modern superhero culture in this book. In just one example, a supporting character known as "The Legend" - a crotchety old man who is in essence Stan Lee - swears, drinks, and throws around terms like "no prize" just so you know who he's a parody of. Fun stuff like that. The Boys are; Butcher, the leader and general sociopath (at least when it comes to heroes). Mother's Milk (or "M.M." for short), basically a guy who likes everything neat and orderly but that you really don't mess with. The Frenchman, who is often used as a kind of muscle for his tendency to go into fits of horrible murderous rage. The mute Female (of the Species) who, even with the not talking, is actually the scariest one of the bunch. Finally, Wee Hughie. A Scotsman who's girlfriend was killed with practically no regard by a speedster, he's often the voice of reason in the sea of superhero chaos. That, and he's generally a nice guy.

Monday, November 29, 2010

VINTAGE - Live Fast, Runaways

VAUGHAN, Brian K. Runaways: Live Fast. Marvel Comics, 2010 (originally published 2006/2007). ISBN: 9780785141556

There's nothing like a little vintage Runaways to get me in the holiday spirit. I can't really claim to be a fan of the shrunken manga style that Marvel Comics is now publishing them in, so when I was using my Turkey Day coupon to pick up a graphic novel at my favorite bookstore, I opted for the 'normal' oversized option. It's much more preferable. What's that? You've never heard of Runaways? Well, it's an amazing series by Brian K. Vaughan about a group of kids who, you guessed it! Ran away. Specifically from their parents who turn out to be a group of evil supervillains bent on wiping out most of humanity. You know, so they could be immortal. And they all hated each other because only half of them would win that special prize. Anyway, the parents sacrificed a young innocent girl once a year for power and usual sacrificial jazz. The only problem is that one year their kids see them. This is when they hatch their plot their plot to run away. To Breakfast Club-ise this, there's the Nerd (Alex), the Goth (Nico), the Jock (Chase), the Weirdo (Gert), the Princess (Karolina), and the Kid (Molly). At this point in the story, both Alex and Gert have died in separate incidents; new members Victor and Xavin have joined the team in their place. Throw in an awesome dinosaur (named 'Old Lace') telepathically connected to Chase, as well as a transportational 'Leapfrog' with an attitude, and you have the whole team.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

VINTAGE - Superman/Batman: Supergirl

LOEB, Jeph. Superman/Batman: Supergirl. DC Comics, 2005. ISBN: 1401202500

Just when you thought all the superhero action was over, I'm throwing a wonderful combo at you just before turkey day. TWO superheroes for the price of one. A little title DC Comics likes to call Superman/Batman. They slap those two wacky kids together just to see what wacky highjinks will ensue. In this one, the second volume that happens to be penned by Jeph Loeb from Batman: Hush acclaim, he reintroduces Supergirl into mainstream continuity. Hasn't there always been a Supergirl, you ask? Yes. Sort of. Since the late fifties. Sort of. Loeb does his best to explain the situation in a, I'll say it, poorly written foreward to the book. He uses a rollercoaster analogy because apparently some high-up muckity much at DC was riding a "Superman-themed rollercoaster" and saw that Supergirl's biography was kind of horrible. It described her a protoplasmic lifeform. P.S. I totally know which coaster they were referring to. It's totally Bizarro at Six Flags! I was there! And the best part of that was totally reading the bios while I was waiting in the line. I'm a nerd who reads comics. Rollercoasters are kind of scary.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


CLAREMONT, Chris. X-Men: Fall of the Mutants. Marvel Comics, 2001 (originally published in 1988). ISBN: 0785108254

The story here is not incredibly strong, especially if you haven't read the issues leading up to this. The New Mutants were a team of "junior" X-Men, sort of a second generation of X-Men teenagers after the original had pretty much reached adulthood. Like the team that was introduced in Giant Size X-Men #1, this team was supposed to be a little more international, to show that mutants were more than a bunch of caucasian Americans. There nine "official" New Mutants as of the first 50 issues; of these, only seven actually appear in this story. Here it's Cannonball, Mirage, Magik, Cypher, & Wolfsbane. It's kind of later on in the New Mutants history, which lasted 100 issues and served as a precursor to X-Force in the early nineties. Shatterstar, who I've talked about before, first appeared late in the run of the New Mutants. I actually really like the stories. Chris Claremont created it and wrote it for a long time. At this point, Louise Simonson was writing the title in Fall of the Mutants. I like Louise Simonson as a writer, but kind of hate what she did to these poor mutant kids. This story is a perfect example.

Monday, November 15, 2010

VINTAGE - Rest [New York Comic Con]

POWERS, Mark. Rest, volume 1. Top Cow Productions, Inc. 2010. ISBN: 9781607062103

This post will mostly be about the first volume of Rest by Mark Powers, Shawn McManus, and Marco Castiello. It will also be at least partially about my experience at New York Comic Con last month since my attendance there is the whole reason I both discovered this title and purchased it. The scans are going to be of the main character John, because I think he's supposed to be visually based on Milo Ventimiglia. There were also a lot of panels of him in his boxers and HEY, who doesn't love that? I know I do. It's also worth noting that I totally slightly ripped the top of one of the pages in this trade to give you those scans. That's dedication, people. It's also a little infuriating; this cost me $30.00. It was kind of worth it, though. I got to meet not only the aforementioned Milo Ventimiglia, but pretty much everyone who involved in making this comic. And they all signed it. Which... actually? Makes it kind of more sad that I ripped it. Even if it was just a little bit.

Friday, November 12, 2010


CLAREMONT, Chris. X-Men: Fall of the Mutants. Marvel Comics, 2001 (originally published in 1988). ISBN: 0785108254

It's part two of our Fall of Mutants series. This time, we are focusing on the original team of X-Factor. I actually briefly talked about their formation during the Phoenix Rising post since that included X-Factor #1 as the very last tale. This particular story took place over three issues from X-Factor #24 - X-Factor #26. It's not exactly the most finely crafted story, but it does introduce several elements that factored into the early nineties run of X-Men that I really loved. The first was Apocalypse as a villain. While Apocalypse had previously appeared in X-Factor #6, he's really introduced as a supervillain here. Why is that, you ask? Well, because Warren Worthington III is revealed as alive and as Death, one of Apocalypse's horsemen in the early pages of this story. Many interpretations of Warren becoming Death (and ultimately Archangel) show him as an unwilling participant in his own transformation. This story very clearly puts the blame on Warren; while Apocalypse goes to him and gives him the option to become one his servants - to "fly again." Totally not mind-controlled. Warren readily accepts his fate as he, at this point, literally had nothing else to loose.

Monday, November 8, 2010

VINTAGE - Angel Special, Lorne

BYRNE, John. Angel Special: Lorne. “The Music of the Spheres.” 48p. IDW, June 2010. ISBN: 9781600107238

Sometimes when you are visiting your local comic shop, something happens that can only be described as serendipity. You aren't looking to buy anything other than what you came for, but something catches the corner of your eye. It draws you in, and you are surprised that you haven't even heard of it before that moment. It's almost... magical. That was the case with this particular Angel story, focusing on the character of Lorne. When I was buying my monthly titles at Midtown Comics, a new tradition I'm trying to uphold, they had this propped up on display at the register. Not only did I not know that they were doing a tribute comic for Andy Hallett, who passed away a few years ago, but I also didn't know that John Byrne was the artist and writer involved with it. Byrne has done a few Angel comics for IDW. These are the few that I'm willing to admit are actually good.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


CLAREMONT, Chris. X-Men: Fall of the Mutants. Marvel Comics, 2001 (originally published in 1988). ISBN: 0785108254

Let us harken back to the eighties... to a time when only nerds loved The X-Men.

In 1988, Marvel Comics ran a sort-of crossover between Uncanny X-Men, the New Mutants, and X-Factor. These were the only X-Men related titles at the time. There's now something like two dozen. Like I said, different times. One of the reasons I'm going to be tackling each "chapter" individually is because the titles don't really intersect. At all. While all of them have to do with the nation's growing concern over "the mutant menance" in general; the X-Men are fighting a mystical god-like being in Dallas, the New Mutants are confronting beast creatures on a weird island in the middle of nowhere, and X-Factor is fighting one of their own. Like I said, nothing really connecting them on any one particular point. The Uncanny story is my favorite, so I'm kind of glad to be talking about that one first.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

VINTAGE - Those Left Behind, Serenity

WHEDON, Joss & Brett Matthews. Serenity: Those Left Behind. Dark Horse Comics, 2007. ISBN: 9781593078461

Let's talk about the Serenity graphic novel.

It's good. Let's just start there. This story, which actually ran for three Dark Horse comic issues, is collected in this awesome hardcover. I remember because I bought all the issues as it came out. Which was hard, because they were selling out fast. Each issue had three different covers, highlighting one of the nine main stars of Firefly. Unlike many other Vintage titles, it's actually still in-print so you can buy it for your library. And buy it you should. Did I mention it's good? There's a co-writing credit here between Joss Whedon and Bret Matthews. I don't know who did what; let's assume, in typical Joss Whedon comics-fashion that he did much of the story plotting and Bret did much of the nitty gritty writing stuff, like say... dialogue. You can't really tell, because this is so spot on with both the show and the movie that it's a piece of the universe everyone should read in order to... yeah, I'll say it... stay shiny.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Epic End of October Updates & Stuff

I'm proud of you guys for sticking with me during all my Buffy posts. I know not everyone was into it... but admit it. Some of you were. I threw in an X-Men and Batman title for balance, just in case Buffy was not your thing. I had a good time at New York Comic-Con 2010. For those that attended my panel, or didn't but wanted to, I did want to provide the handout for anyone that didn't get a copy. What's coming up in 2010, you ask? I am going to tackle a big collection in X-Men: Fall of the Mutants during the next few weeks that will be divided into three parts (Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, and New Mutants respectively). The majority of my Vintage posts are done. I only have a few titles left to review, none of which will really be "vintage." Two were even published in the last year. I feel like it's the end of an era, so I've been thinking a lot about what direction this little blog should go in for 2011.

Here's a little image preview of a few covers from upcoming year-end entries:

Monday, October 25, 2010

VINTAGE - Batman Forever Adaptation

O'NEIL, Dennis. Batman Forever: The Official Comic Adaptation of Motion Picture. 64p. DC COMICS, June 1995. ISBN: 1563891999

I know what you're thinking. They didn't. But oh yes, they did. They made it into a graphic novel. And what's worse: I'm actually going to review it. I did, however, make a promise to you about going through all the old treasures in my collection... and Batman Forever is in there. Sadly. It's actually been republished, too. There are different covers I've found. Dennis O'Neil, who is actually a great Batman writer, has his name on this piece of poo. That's surprising. If you aren't familiar with Joel Schumacher ruining the Batman film franchise, this is a loose adaptation of the movie with the same name. It revolves around Batman stopping an already established villain Two-Face, inadvertently creating a new enemy in The Riddler, and gaining a new partner in circus performer-turned-orphan Robin. Like most graphic adaptations and novelizations, this was most likely adapted from the original screenplay to coincide with the release of the film. Both came out in the summer of '95, so it's a fair assumption for this title.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

VINTAGE - Lost & Found, Spike

TIPTON, Scott. Spike: Lost & Found. IDW, Jan. 2006. illus. by Fernando Goni, Impacto Studios. ISBN: 1933239972

I remember not really liking this graphic novel very much the first time I read it. After re-reading Spike: Lost & Found, I have to say... maybe I was a little to harsh. It does have a few continuity errors in it, but it's kind of a cute story overall. Angel is in the story as much as Spike is. I think it really should have been titled "Spike and Angel: Lost & Found" because that would have been a little more accurate. Anyway, like the last vintage post on a Spike comic, this was pretty early in IDW's publishing run of Angel-themed comics. They ended up being pretty expensive for fewer pages, and the stories weren't that compelling. Like the last IDW Spike comic, you can see from the panels I've scanned that they've used that too rich, painting-esque art that I'm not really a fan of. I actually think the work might be digital, using Photoshop to digitally alter real shots of James Marsters. Reading all of those Scott Allie editorials in the back of Dark Horse Buffy comics has totally paid off.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

VINTAGE - Hunting Ground, Angel

GOLDEN, Christopher & Tom Sniegoski. Angel: Hunting Ground. 80p. DARK HORSE COMICS, August 2001. ISBN: 1569715475

Picking up where my last Vintage post on Angel left off, "Hunting Ground" is the next book is the rough sequence that Dark Horse published when it bound copies of the first monthly series. As a fun treat, there's a story here that was originally published in Dark Horse Presents #155. Meaning it wasn't in the original monthly series, so I didn't read it when it came out. Actually, re-reading the story... I'm not sure I actually ever read the Dark Horse Presents story. So it's a true vintage post, since I discovered something new from something old. Pretty much the best thing you can hope for when you are reading old trade paperbacks. So I'll break down the story in two parts; first, we get the aforementioned story I may or may not have read but definitely do not remember. We will also get the story proper, which concerns what I believe is Wesley's introduction into the comics and a fun story involving Angel being framed for murder.

Monday, October 18, 2010

VINTAGE - A Stake to the Heart, Buffy

NICIEZA, Fabian. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: A Stake to the Heart. 96p. DARK HORSE COMICS, April 2004. ISBN: 1-59307-012-8

Before we even get started with this Buffy collection, let me just say... it's weird. I re-read all of the trades featured in my Vintage posts so I can compare what it was like reading it then compared to what it's like reading it now. I remember that A Stake to the Heart was a bizarre collection of stories. Reading it over just kinda confirmed that for me. To give you some background: this is from the pre-Season 8 run of the Buffy comics and was actually the final four issues of the regular ongoing Buffy monthly series (issues #60-64). It's totally on wikipedia, which is how I got the issue numbers right. Fabian Nicieza, who is known more for being an X-Men writer, penned this tale. As with a bunch of the storyarcs set at the end of Buffy's run, this story actually serves as a prequel for the time before Buffy Summers moved to Sunnydale. Specifically, Buffy's parents Hank and Joyce have just decided to separate. This gives Buffy all kinds of gross emotional problems, which lead us to the story at hand.

Monday, October 4, 2010

VINTAGE - Phoenix Rising, The X-Men

STERN, Roger & Various Auth. X-Men: Phoenix Rising. 112p. MARVEL COMICS, May 1999. ISBN: 9780785107118

Jean Grey. She's a superhero who hasn't had a lot of luck with codenames. Originally, she was called "Marvel Girl." Pretty quickly she became a woman, so that name didn't stick. Then she got cosmic-powers in the eighties and started calling herself "Phoenix." Then she saved the universe. She was still cosmically powerful though, and an old enemy (Mastermind) with some new villains (The Hellfire Club) were able to warp her mind and turn her evil. The X-Men couldn't really stop her. The intergalactic Shi'Ar couldn't, either. While on the run with her main squeeze Cyclops, she watches helplessly as he gets shot with what she thinks is a mortal wound. She goes apeshit crazy, kicks everyone's ass, then sacrifices herself for the sake of the universe. It sounds corny, but it's still widely regarded as one of the great comic stories of... well, ever. Chris Claremont wrote the story. It was ballsy, because he essentially killed off one of the original X-Men forever.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

VINTAGE - Old Times, Spike

DAVID, Peter. Spike: Old Times. 48p. IDW, 2005. ISBN: 1933239972

The whirlwind weekend of Buffy inspired trade paperbacks has me writing up a storm. Today though, we are not focusing on Buffy or Angel, but the thorn in both their sides: Spike. Our friendly neighborhood English vampire didn't start getting his own titles until a few years back, when Dark Horse gave up the rights to publish Angel comics. A small independent publisher called IDW picked it up and they've been making Angel comics every since. I think Dark Horse is getting back the license sometime in the next year, but if the current Buffy comics are any indication, the new Angel Dark Horse comics might not be any better than the IDW ones. Spike: Old Times is an example of the early IDW stories. It was a short (maybe the length of two full comics) one-shot I think largely intended to see if people would buy solo Spike comics. Since they still publish them, I guess it worked.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

VINTAGE - Earthly Possessions, Angel

GOLDEN, Christopher & Various Auth. Angel: Earthly Possessions. 80p. DARK HORSE COMICS, June 2001. ISBN: 1569715335

In the olden Dust Waltz days of Buffy Comics, Dark Horse also acquired the rights to publish comics for Buffy's spinoff series Angel. The original Angel series was entirely written by Christopher Golden. Chris is from Boston and did book signings in New Hampshire on a pretty regular basis, so I got to meet him a number of times. He wrote a Spike & Dru novel, as well as many other books and even video games for the extended Buffy universe. He got Buffy, and often found the characters' voices when he was writing them. The Angel series didn't end up lasting more than a year and a half. This is ultimately sad, since the Angel stores I'm going to review here are pretty much the best examples of how Buffy/Angel stories can work in comics. Also, I have this graphic novel autographed by him. That's pretty neat. If you don't know, Angel is Buffy's ex-boyfriend who had a bicentennial. Cursed by gypsies over a hundred years ago, he is a vampire with a human soul. After he and Buffy break up, he moves to L.A. and starts up a detective agency. He helps the helpless.

Friday, October 1, 2010

VINTAGE - The Dust Waltz, Buffy

BRERETON, Dan. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Dust Waltz. 80p. DARK HORSE COMICS, Oct. 1998. ISBN: 1569713421

I have quite a few of the older "Buffy" comics to talk about. As you would expect from me, I will give mostly positive reviews on the majority of 'em. I like Buffy. I liked comic books even before that. When the two things came together pretty early in the show's run, I was a happy camper. Despite the fact that Dark Horse was publishing them (at that point, I wasn't really a fan) and despite the fact that I had read several bad media tie-in "Buffy" books. That said, there were definitely a few diamonds in the rough.

The Dust Waltz is not one of them.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"VINTAGE SERIES" ~ The Master Index

So it's been a few months since I had the idea to write about my musings over my out-of-print collection of trade paperbacks. With no good indexing system on Blogger (or on blogs in general), I've decided to create an index for you to better navigate the "Vintage Series"

Here's the current list (updated 10-25-2010):

(01) Kitty Pryde & Wolverine {0785130896}

(02) Wolverine & Punisher: Revelations {0785107290} *

(03) New X-Men, Childhood's End {0785118314}

(04) Age of Apocalypse, X-Calibre {0785101322} *

(05) Robin Year One {1563898055}

(06) Teen Titans, the Judas Contract {093028934X}

(07) X-Men, Days of Future Past {0785115609}

(08) Spider-Man: Birth of Venom {0785124985}

(09) Beauty & the Behemoth, Hulk {0785106596} *

(10) Excalibur Visionaries {0785137408}

(11) The Dust Waltz, Buffy {1569713421} *

(12) Earthly Possessions, Angel {1569715335} *

(13) Old Times, Spike {1933239603} *

(14) Phoenix Rising, The X-Men {0785107118} *

(15) A Stake to the Heart, Buffy {1-59307-012-8} *

(16) Hunting Ground, Angel {1569715475} *

(17) Lost & Found, Spike {1933239972} *

(18) Batman Forever Adaptation [DC Comics] {1563891999} *

Despite this batch originally being "ones I own + out of print," it's been expanded to include older comics I've happened to read / re-read. Only the ones with the stars next to them are trades I still currently own.

You'll notice that I included Kitty Pryde & Wolverine in this list. It was initially presented as one of my "In Review" blogs. In retrospect, it really was the first "Vintage" one. It inspired the whole series- so I've decided to include it here. I'll be sure to update the list as I add future titles.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Okay, so let's talk about Shatterstar.

Originally created by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld when they were busy destroying everything I loved about The New Mutants (oh WAIT! Can you already tell how biased this is going to be? 'cause you should have picked up on that), Shatterstar is a genetically-bred warrior both from another dimension and from the future. I honestly think they wanted to create a character with such a complicated backstory future writers would probably be unable to handle him, but maybe I'm being too cynical. It was probably for the depth of storytelling that could take place. Let's face it, the early '90s X-Force stories were full of story elements. Not excessive violence or pointless mutant vs. mutant battling (why am I criticizing? I actually liked early X-Force stories). Anyway, 'star was a mainstay on the team, even as other characters such as Cable and Cannonball would leave for the X-Men team proper over the next several years and the rest of the X-Force team would eventually suck beyond the telling of it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Comics for Adults, New York Comic Con

Over the summer, specifically when it was June and I was feeling all ambitious, I applied to moderate a panel at the New York Comic Con. My work is kind enough to allow me attend the convention as a professional development day, and NYCC offers a discount to 'educators' - librarians are included in that label, making a weekend pass only $10.00. I figured that since they love librarians, I should contribute something to them. Also, who doesn't want to speak at a panel at the New York Comic Con? I'm under the mistaken impression that everyone would want to. This whole thing became kind of a non-issue come August (AKA when I was feeling a lot less ambitious) and NYCC rejected my panel.

Now, because I am fate's bitch, it looks like instead of moderating a panel, I'm going to be speaking on someone else's. Which is cool; this panel is a lot more focused than mine was going to be, and is specifically talking about Graphic Novels and Comics for Adults, as opposed to the sort of youth-centric one you would have seen from me. I mostly only help adults now and deal primarily with an adult collection, so I guess I know stuff about the topic. I've spent most of the afternoon pulling together resources, coming up with a top 5 list (although, I sent in a list of 13 - never ask a librarian for a 'top 5 list' EVER!), and coming up with things I might like to highlight. I'm probably not even going to talk that much at the thing, but I'm excited that I get to do cool things like this every so often. I'm excited; the people on the panel are all smarter than me.

If you're going to be at the New York Comic Con, and you'd like to go to the bestest panel ever, comment on this entry and I'll e-mail you the details. As the panel gets closer, I'll probably talk a lot more about this. SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

CURRENT - The Losers, Book 2

In my ever continuing duty to review materials for School Library Journal, they happened to send me a little ditty called The Losers, Book 2 by Andy Diggle. Which is slightly odd timing, seeing as how I just saw the film based on the graphic novel series like two weeks ago. I was thinking that maybe this collection would be some sort of sequel to the film. But as they often do in Hollywood, it looks the storyline got changed around a bunch. While the origin of the team happens at the beginning of the movie, it isn't until many, many issues into the comic book that you find out how the losers "died." Aisha, who was played by Zoe Saldana in the film, is also a much darker, harder character in the graphic novel. In the film, she is presented as this shady outsider with resources, who uses her sexiness to ultimately get what she wants. Aisha basically kills so many people in the comic that they give her single issues where she can just cut loose and go ape sh@#$ crazy. I half love reading her, while the other half is mostly just afraid.

I'm glad that this title was randomly selected for me to review, because like Brian Wood's DMZ, its comic book literature I really should be reading but probably wouldn't have. Left to my own devices, it's all X-Men and Batman. I still think the superhero genre of comic books is the biggest, and let's face it: librarians don't really want to admit that. I will, and I keep reading stuff by people like Scott Lobdell and Peter David because ultimately it's pretty awesome. The last issue of X-Factor? It was all character development. In a superhero comic. With my Vintage Series, you guys are seeing a lot of comics that I loved as a kid. I also get to justify why I loved it, which is a fun exercise. Yeah, things can sometimes be overly complicated. But that's part of the fun.

Back to The Losers. It's a fun series. Like DMZ, I can't really recommend it for young kids (even though I know they will read it anyway) because of all the f-bombs and bloody body parts panel-to-panel. The series definitely explores a lot of the more "Huh?" moments I had watching the film, including giving an explanation for why the sniper character really doesn't speak. One of the downsides is, I'm calling him the "sniper character" because I keep forgetting everyone's name. The girl is Aisha, the hero is Clay, and the bad guy is Max. The rest of the team sometimes gets lost in the shuffle, except for Jensen 'cause that dude is HILARIOUS! Anyway, at 280 pages, it's a dense read. I'm about halfway through it. I'm enjoying it immensely, and figured I would recommend it as something to order for your library or just read for fun.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

VINTAGE - Excalibur Visionaries [A. Davis]

DAVIS, Alan. Excalibur Visionaries, volume 1. 232p. MARVEL COMICS, July 2009. ISBN: 0785137408

So there was a time when Nightcrawler and Shadowcat got their butts kicked by an evil mutant team called the Marauders. This was during the Morlock Massacre storyline. Kitty wasn't even really hurt; she was just trapped in a phased state and couldn't resolidify. I'm pretty sure Kurt was in a coma though. He gets the prize. Anyway, they both were sent to Muir Isle to get better. Xavier's friend Moira MacTaggert (isn't that such a great name!?) made it her business for them to get better. But while they were recovering, the X-Men fought an evil creature in Dallas called "The Adversary" who apparently killed them on national television (he did, but this multiverse guardian named Roma resurrected them at the end of the Fall of the Mutants storyline). Obviously, the X-Men have lots of storylines.

Somehow, Rachel Summers had also been separated from the X-Men before they ended up in Texas. She later rejoined Kitty and Kurt in Scotland. They met with a UK superhero (and the brother of one of their fallen comrades Psylocke) named Captain Britain. The group also attracted the attention of a shapechanging empath named Meggan with a mysterious past. Together, the five formed a group known as Excalibur. While this trade isn't the origin of the team, it is arguably the twilight of the original series. With Alan Davis drawing and writing it, he tied up many of the dangling plotlines left open in the first several issues. I also learned that Rachel met up with the group while she was on the run from Mojo, which I guess is why she wasn't with the other X-Men when they were "killed." It also explains how Roma was the one who ultimately manipulates the team into forming to combat an unknown threat.

This collection includes the introduction of several characters who were intended to be new additions to the team. All of them were kind of unique and interesting. There was Kylun, a warrior who is from our world but was raised on an alternate one to be an extreme warrior. Cerise, an interdimensional alien who could create hard light constructs. Feron, a mystical descendant of a powerful sorcerer who is brash and impulsive. And finally, the mutant Micromax who could change his shape at will. The latter is introduced as more of an annoying obstacle for the team, as he is employed by the government and butts heads with them on a few early occasions. Ultimately, though he helps the team in their battle against the evil Necrom, who both Kylun and Feron are destined to defeat albeit because of much different reasons. Davis's departure from the book essentially meant the demise of these characters; I think only Micromax has been used in current continuity, and sparingly at that.

Excalibur originally had a cute, lighthearted tone that was preserved when Alan Davis wrote this series of issues. In a way, this is kind of their loss of innocence. When Scott Lobdell took over the book, he began writing them as a much darker team, focusing primarily on the original team members. I always found this kind of sad, because the team here had a lot of potential for being great. And Excalibur always had this kind of quirky otherworldly-ness that did set it apart from other X-Men books at the time. It's sad that it became just another X-Men title to Marvel Comics, then was eventually canceled. The series was sort of revived by Claremont again a few years ago, but lacked all the things that made this version of the team great. Unlike other vintage titles, this one is still available (ya know, if your best friend Scott B. isn't holding it hostage) so grab it while you can!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

VINTAGE - Beauty & the Behemoth, Hulk

On impulse, I decided to comb through the racks of discount graphic novels at Midtown Comics one afternoon. I was in the mood for something older, something that reminded me why I fell in love with comics in the first place. They didn't have much, but they did have an older trade paperback of Incredible Hulk issues that caught my eye. As a big fan of Peter David's work on X-Factor and of the author in general, it's hard to believe I haven't read a lot of his 11+ years that he spent writing The Incredible Hulk. I decided, what the hey? It was worth a shot. The Hulk is never my first choice for comics, red or otherwise, but I figured David's work would be strong. He also wrote an introduction and a conclusion for the book which was a nice touch.

This volume jumps around a lot. So much so that it's hard for me to sum it up in a few paragraphs. This was published in the '90s before trade paperbacks really told a coherent story, so it's more of a 'best of' collection of Betty Ross's relationship with Bruce Banner/the Hulk. It tells the origin of The Hulk, which is nice for first-time readers. This is mainly because the first issue is where Bruce and Betty meet. It then goes into a story where Betty is already a gamma-inspired villainous called the Harpy with really no explanation as to how she got that way. If such things don't bother you (I'll admit, it didn't bother me as much as you might think) then just go with it. Don't know why the Harpy story really made it into the collection, other than it's referenced in the very last issue as a throwaway line in the last issue and Bruce cures her while she is the Harpy, I guess proving his love or whatever.

The idea of following an epic love of two characters sounds like a good idea on paper, but so many different things have happened to The Hulk over the years that it means whatever stage of transformations he's in is going to be hard to follow. For instance, The Hulk is the grey Hulk by the time you get to the McFarlene-drawn story (don't get excited about that, it's definitely not his best work) you kind of wish you knew more about what happened in the in-between periods. The last story I reviewed, Spider-Man: The Birth of Venom did have little prose pieces in between the reprinted issues to tell you something like, "Peter Parker broke up with Felicia Hardy; he then marries Mary Jane." Stuff that would obviously good to read, but doesn't really directly relate to oh, say the aforementioned birth of Venom. I think it's kind of integral to know what's going on with The Hulk to better understand the story here, as Peter David's storyline for the character just made him too dynamic to read snippets of.

This collection is not in-print anymore, which I'm not actually going to lose sleep over. The earlier stories, including the Hulk's origin and the Harpy tale, are not written by Peter David. The art is also all over the place, and it prevents the volume from that cohesive feeling I think you're supposed to get from reading a collected work. I think it was good to read these stories and have them stored away in my vast knowledge of comic book history, but reading some of the now-published Essential collections might give a reader a better conception of The Hulk's story overall. The cover is also epically horrible. While Bruce's relationship with Betty is obviously integral to his story as a whole, it's really not enough to base a collection on. That's why this trade paperback just doesn't hold up.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

VINTAGE - Spider-Man: Birth of Venom

Ah... Spider-Man, Spider-Man. He does whatever a spider can. But there was a time, many many years ago, that he got a really cool black costume. This costume let him do a little bit more than just your average friendly neighborhood wallcrawler. For example, it could mimic any type of clothing with nothing more than a thought. And it could also create its own webbing. The only real downside was that Peter Parker tended to be a little bit exhausted while he was wearing it, but he didn't even put it together that it might be his fancy new threads that were causing that. I mean, why would a goopy black costume from outer space make you tired?

Well, that costume was alive. It was a symbiote, an organism that thrives by bonding to another. And in the weird alien costume's defense, the only really negative thing it was doing to ol' Spidey was highjacking his body in the middle of the night and fighting more crime. A lot of personal issues prevent Spider-Man from getting his costume checked out early on, mostly his fractured relationship with Aunt May. Peter thought it would be a good idea to drop out of graduate school, so May thought it would be a good idea to stop talking to him. Oh, Aunt May. You go, girl! Anyway, Spidey is all butthurt about it. He's also getting frisky with the Black Cat, but he has the sneaking suspicion that she is lying to him about something. She is; she has weirdo bad luck powers she got from the Kingpin, but doesn't want to tell him about it. Also, he spends more of the story actually thinking about her than spending physical time with her. That, to me, made me not care as much about their relationship. There's also a really bizarre moment when they're in his apartment and she "can't even look" at his face without his mask on. That's kinky. I mean... does he leave the mask on?

Spider-Man fights some pretty lame villains in the lead up, including a feral dude named Puma and Vulture rip-off villains calling themselves 'the Vulturions.' I don't know if the Vulturions ever came back, but seeing as how Spidey could barely maneuver himself around while he was having an internal struggle with his costume, it's pretty sad that he manages to beat four of these dudes when his heart is not even in it. It's easy to see why Puma and the Vulturions aren't adapted into most 'alien costume' updates in media adaptations. They suck. Well, the Puma half-sucked. I liked the panels with his face changing. That was groovy. He had a lot of logic problems. Like, "as long as I fulfill my tribal obligations I can TOTALLY be an assassin!" Nope, buddy. I don't think that really works. Anyway, Peter manages to get him and his freaky ass costume over a bell tower, where sonic vibrations nearly kill them both. The costume gets off him, then also saves him from a bell-inspired brain bleed. It's weird that the costume saves him and later tries to kill him, but I guess bonding with a new host gives it perspective on how it was ultimately betrayed. Or, I'm trying to solve Marvel Comic plot points without getting paid for it. Either way.

I totally left out how Spider-Man took a trip to Fantastic Four headquarters and discovered the costume was alive after Reed Richards tested it. He uses this cool looking 'sonic blaster' to get it off Spider-Man. Then, Johnny Storm gives him an original Fantastic Four costume. But since they have no masks, he pokes eye holes out of a brown paper grocery bag and gives him that to use. Heh. Then he put a 'Kick Me' sign on his back. Double 'heh.' I don't think the Human Torch gets as much credit nowadays for being an ass, but he totally should. I guess Chris Evans playing him in the movies (and being the best part of those movies, let's face it) is vindication enough. But it's a nice little moment. For some reason, in the alter McFarlene stories, Spider-Man keeps going to talk to The Thing. Why? Wouldn't you rather have Mr. Fantastic, the SMART one, being the guy who gives you advice on your evil alien costume? This is probably because McFarlene wanted to draw The Thing more than the other characters. He draws him with this weird dinosaur ridge on his head. It's cool-looking, but I don't think Thing is supposed to look like that. Also, it just makes no sense that he's the one Peter is talking to.

So we all know the story, right? Eddie Brock, a disgraced journalist, is thinking about killing himself. He goes to a church to pray (he is Catholic, after all) and instead of being bathed in heavenly light, he is bathed in alien goop that Spidey used to wash in his sink. It's the alien costume! And it finds a friend in Eddie, who blames Spider-Man for his current, crappy life. Really, if you read the story Eddie lays it all down. At no point is it really Spider-Man's fault. It's hard to say that it's Eddie's fault, though. It's actually just kind of, life sucks dude. It wasn't his fault he got played by some chronic confessor, then reported a false story. Spider-Man caught the real killer, so it's his fault? That's kind of faulty logic, Eddie. The costume should have more of a beef because Peter actually tried to kill it. The story also makes a point to mention that the symbiote had no emotions before trying to bond to Parker; that Parker ended up giving the creature a measure of emotional intelligence it didn't have previously. Which also means he's sort of responsible for it hating him for the simple fact that it learned hate from him. That is kind of awesome in how unfortunate it is.

Whether you love him or hate him, Venom is a character that in the early '90s you couldn't really escape. It's funny how there are a lot of limited things you can do with the character; his single-minded quest to destroy Spider-Man as well as knowing that he and Peter Parker were one and the same noticeably excluded him from the mid-nineties cartoon following his first appearance. He does show up eventually, but I think by then he was so redeemable he wasn't even a villain anymore. I like how in initial stories, he isn't really portrayed as a bad guy; in fact, a back up story in this collection has him saving people in a truck stop (the story is amusingly titled, The Truck Stop from Hell!). Venom would go on to sort of be an anti-hero of sorts, but it is sad no writer has really captured the complexities of how great this character could really be.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the Blog Entry

For those of you who don't know me in my precious little real life, I was highly anticipating the release of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. After having a lot of initial doubts about the casting of Michael Cera in the title role I firmly get to stick it in my craw or whatever that expression is because he was genius. Once the trailer came out, I was basically drooling for the movie to come out. It didn't disappoint. I've seen it. Twice, natch.

Blogs are of course writing about how good it is but how the box office numbers don't necessarily reflect this. In fact, they really really don't. Which is a shame, because it's a high budget movie that basically found an artistic indie director (I will always kind of think of him as that Memento guy) and this film was supposed to be his first mainstream success. But people aren't getting it and it's being (largely) written off as a "youth" movie with no attention span. I think people have forgotten that first and foremost, movies are really there to be entertaining. More than that, Scott Pilgrim the film takes all the best things from the graphic novels (there's a lot of inside references that support the text if you give it a read, despite the fact that movie deviates from them in a lot of clever ways) and makes it accessible to a wider audience than just your average comic book nerd. It's sad that people aren't giving this movie a chance. Sad enough to make me write a blog entry about. Sad enough to go see the movie again a third (and possibly fourth) time.

Also, shout out to Michelle (my very own Envy Adams) who sent me the movie poster through the mail. It's hanging above my computer, and you basically can't escape it no matter where you go in my apartment. I also bought the soundtrack. And I want to buy the score (especially for the 'Roxy' track). Obsession can be a sick, sick thing.

Scott Pilgrim movie aside, I am now picking up a few more comics monthly. While I still have yet to read Simonson's Birds of Prey series (which is getting ridiculous; I have 4 issues in my 'comixbox' at home [it's like a 'mother box' but cooler]), I did catch up on both Winick's Red Hood miniseries which I'm oddly liking a lot and the Buffy the Vampire Slayer one-shot that just came out focusing on of all people Riley Finn. For those of you who don't know, Riley was an oft-hated character who dated Buffy after Angel did. This sort of sealed his fate; no one ever really liked him (except maybe some of the writers. I'm talking to YOU, Marti Noxon!). Ultimately, that's kind of sad because he became much more interested in the 5th Season of the show. He kind of realizes Buffy's drifting away from him, she's not realizing it, and he doesn't really like her friends. He became this weirdo loner character, and eventually leaves mid-season when, let's face it, they ran out of things to do with him. Marc Blucas was both sexy and heartbreaking; I was actually kind of sad when he left Buffy; his send-off was much better and worked better story-wise than when Seth Green had left the show over a year earlier. Anyway, that's Riley. He came back once and was married to some hootchy that everyone just had to love because of how badass and cool she was. Horrible character, in my opinion, who I constantly come up with "how she died after the show ended" scenarios in my head for. True fans of Buffy will agree with me. She sucked.

Jane Espenson, much beloved writer of episodes like Earshot and Triangle to name just a few, penned this single one-shot from Dark Horse focusing on why Riley mysteriously appears as a bad guy (then a good guy) in the ongoing Buffy series. It's sad, because with so much going on, Riley definitely faded into the background during the ongoing series. Is he even still alive? I don't even think the let us know. Anyway, Jane wrote a Jonathan Levinson book awhile back that was genius, so it's no surprise that her Riley issue is really, really strong here. She made me care about his marriage. What? I hated that chick! But here, it's like they are an old married couple who happen to be awesome super spies that are let's face it, never really going to get to retire. They are trying to talk about kids, but like while disarming warheads. Fun stuff like that. The issue is just kind of a back and forth between Riley and Mrs. Riley (her name is Sam. SAM! That is so dumb! It's like she's a dude!) talking about him helping Buffy out, their relationship, etc. But it works. I enjoyed it enough to say it's probably going to be one of my favorite issues of the whole series, maybe seconded only to Harmony's issue where she becomes a reality TV star.

There's also some stuff about Angel talking to the forgotten character of Whistler that's nice but that I really didn't care about. The single panel shots featuring the Twilight design though are nice. I really, really love his mask and overall trenchcoat look. Karl Moline drew the issue (he also drew the Frey crossover in the ongoing) and his work is top-notch here. He obviously had time to really do it up. Anyway, I promised some rants on single issues I read, so thar ya go. I'm inspired to geek out over comics by going through back issues of the 4th Letter, which now appears in my blog links to the left side of the screen. I already have chosen Gavok as my favorite writer there. So many good comic nerd points are made on that blog, I can't even begin to describe how much I love it. Oh yeah, you should also go see Scott Pilgrim. Right now he's vs. the Box Office, and he needs your help to touch the back of their knees.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Updates, Smupdates

I shouldn't have to tell you to go see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. You should have already seen it. Twice. Like me (...and I'm probably going a 3rd time, too!). The fight between Ramona and Roxy is reason enough to pay the $13.50, kids. Go now, GO!

So my lack of reading trend continues. I have been catching up on so many movies I really wanted to see over the past few years, but never really got the chance to. Last night was Factory Girl with Sienna Miller. She was kind of amazing, even if they did sort of pick and choose what parts of the reality of Andy Warhol's life and times the decided to portray. I think you can still take away that it was entertaining. And Hayden as a faux Bob Dylan was super sexy. Sort of like he was born to play that role.

After buying comics on a monthly basis, I'm ready to spend a night or two finally catching up on issues I'm getting but haven't been reading. This includes a bunch I previously Bookmooched but never read (there were two issues of Green Arrow in there, including one when he fights Mirror Master) and that Spider-Man epic "The Birth of Venom." I believe I promised you a review. If I didn't, I'm doing it now. I might even start reviewing single issues comics, since at least that would give me something to write about. I'm going to start reading the new Birds of Prey series (I have the first 3 issues) and I'm buying all the single issues of the Red Hood Jason Todd story. So I promise, you will get something from me soon. This is boring. It's just me justifying not reading. I like to let you know that I didn't forget I had a blog; I just stopped caring a little.

In other news, read this blog called The 4th Letter. It has an extensive Top 100 What If? Countdown that I found AMAZING. I remember many of the issues (and have that at my home in NH still) and the reviews are accurate, as well as massively entertaining. I LOL'd guys, literally.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

CURRENT: Witch & Wizard

My summer dry spell continues. After successfully cleaning up my office and donating books to many worthy causes (including sending several to a program on Rikers Island- you can learn how to the same here) I was left with very few books on my shelf.

If you guys remember all my Book Expo 2010 planning, you'll remember that Little, Brown sent me a bunch of copies of James Patteron's newish YA novel Witch & Wizard. While I found several deserving teens to hand the books out to, I was left with several hardcover copies on my shelf. After my massive clean out, I still had one left. I've never read James Patterson before, despite his popularity. I figured maybe it was time. I've read the first few short chapters and the story is pretty good. It's about some totalitarian near-future world where the government has been supplanted by someone sort of dictator called 'The One.' The brother-and-sister Allgoods, the novel's protagonists, are captured by this government in the beginning. While it hasn't been revealed why, I think it's safe to assume that it's probably because they have some sort of latent magical powers. Definitely a mysterious mood at the beginning as we discover this new world, and the action is a nice change of place since it's been awhile since I read something exciting that wasn't a graphic novel. I'm thinking of keeping the book at work and reading on my break time, as opposed to lugging it around with me everywhere I go. I think I might even finish it quickly this way.

I apologize for not blogging more. It's been happening with my work blog as well; it turns out that when I'm not reading, I have nothing to blog about it. I have been continuing my trend of watching movies lately, and a backlog of housework is really cutting into time for fun stuff like reading. I'm actually partially reading the Patterson book just so I have something to blog about. This is probably a bad reason to start reading a book, but I'm optimistic that I actually might enjoy it. It's also nice not to really be in a rush to finish a book, with a book review deadline or trying to nominate it for a booklist committee. I'm thinking about starting to read the Suzanne Collins books since Mockingjay is coming out in less than a month. What do you guys think should I read it?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

CURRENT: Harvey by Herve Bouchard

Despite my proclivity for movie viewing lately (seriously, it's becoming a problem. I have about 10 movies from the library at home... including the oddly addicting second season of True Blood) I'm slowly getting back to books. We can thank School Library Journal once again for sending me a graphic novel to review. It's definitely something that's completely out of my normal element. Harvey, by Herve Bouchard and illustrated by Janice Nadeau, will hit bookstores on the first of October. In France and Canada, the book is already out. The catch is you have to read it in French. In fact, it's actually won one of the many literary awards I've never heard of. In this case, it's the Canada Council for the Arts Governor General's Literary Award. Pictured here is the French/Canadian, and not the upcoming American, cover of the book.

I'm about halfway through the title. I suspect it might win some American literary awards as well. The book is obviously for children, focusing on a young child and written with a kind of childlike innocence. The book is also pretty dark, using muted colors and, for lack of a better description, "ugly" art. I'm not usually a fan of unpretty pictures in graphic novels. Harvey is one of the rare exceptions. For this title, it works. It helps sets the mood that ultimately, this is not going to be a happy book about happy things. I'm already planning on handing it off to a few other librarians to see what they think about it, especially when it comes to deciding which age groups it's the most appropriate for.

For those of you who follow me on Goodreads and LibraryThing, you probably noticed that I splurged a little and brought a new graphic novel recently. There should be a review and musings about Spider-Man: The Birth of Venom sometime in August. After going through the early sections of the tome, it's a lot more about Spidey getting used to his new costume than it is about Venom. I guess arguably the costume is Venom, but the story really starts for me when Eddie Brock gets his new threads and starts talking about himself in the plural form.

So... what's on your summer reading list?

Monday, July 26, 2010

IN REVIEW: Pontypool (2008)

While it is extremely rare that I will gush about movies here, there's just one that I have to tell you about. For about a year, I heard about- which is ironic, keep reading- a little horror flick called Pontypool. Discussing this movie is oddly appropriate on a book blog because it was based on a novel titled Pontypool Changes Everything. A man named Tony Burgess wrote both the book then adapted the movie for the screen. I'm curious to read the book. The movie is inspired by Welles' War of the Worlds, taking place inside a radio station from the perspective of a radio shock jock, his producer, and a few supporting characters. I think the book might go into greater depth than the movie does, expanding the general concept of Burgess's radical idea which, sadly, is being reviewed as "a zombie flick."

Pontypool is not a zombie movie. There are similarities, sure. But this is more of an epidemic/disaster movie and kind of an original one at that. Burgess proposes an idea that language can become a disease. In this movie, as the characters struggle to realize what's happening, they learn that certain words are "infected." When they say a word, they don't understand. Then they keep trying to repeat it until they do. An infected word for you is not an infected word for someone else. As your mind deteriorates, you begin "hunting" for sound. In sort of the zombie twist, infected people try to ingest the sound. So, for instance, if you hear someone talking you grab them and try to bite their mouth. Literally, they are trying to steal the sound. One infected person, after going through repeats and confusion, just goes off in a corner and starts making this low pitched howl at one point. Super creepy.

A repeating mantra or chant seems to throw off infected people. With everyone saying the same thing, it somehow appeases the disease. It's as if one vocal concept can become a consensus. I also like the idea that when an infected person initially starts repeating a word it might be "an immune response" - your body and mind trying to find this unnamed word disease. It's also kind of great to have a movie where characters are warned halfway through to "avoid the English language." The key to curing this affliction is to understand words in ways that are not the way they are. For example, the one cured person in the film starts repeating "kill" over and over again. When the hero tells her, "kill is kiss" over and over again, she begins to conceptually understand the word differently. Opposites are warned against in the climax, which I'd like to assume is because when you are thinking about the opposite of what a word means, you are still sort of understanding the root word. What's really scary is, can you really stop understanding what a word means? I don't think I could.

Part horror, part suspense, Pontypool is definitely a unique thriller. It challenges your conception of language. Even when the characters know they shouldn't be talking later in the movie, they still can't help themselves. Both the Internet Movie Database and Wikipedia have fun articles about the film because well, gosh darnit... it was just so good! Movies don't usually keep me on the edge of my seat like that. I also just read and remembered that, although unnamed in the movie, those afflicted are known as "Conversationalists." Awesome. And a sequel is planner. Awesomer. Without giving away the end, I leave you with the line the protagonist, Grant Mazzy, leaves Pontypool with at the end, "It's not the end of the world, it's just the end of the day."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

IN REVIEW: Blackout by Keith R.A. DeCandido

I often tell people that despite working in the library environment for nearly a decade, it wasn't until recently that I started "reading again." This is actually somewhat inaccurate; in a way, I really never stopped reading; I just didn't tell people what I was reading because it was slightly embarrassing - I had a weakness for anything Buffy the Vampire Slayer from Pocket Books.

As you would imagine, much of what I read was horrible. However, it's also where I discovered Christopher Golden, a writer who contributed greatly to the Buffy expanded universe. I now read his titles unrelated to Buffy and discovered some truly great horror and fantasy worlds that he's created. Some of the books- in particular one by Golden and his often co-writer Nancy Holder- like Spike & Dru: Pretty Maids All in a Row is excellent. Taking place during World War II, it follows what Spike and Drusilla were doing in Europe. The title I'm reviewing today was in a similar vein; taking Buffy-type supporting characters from the past and expanding upon the little information we cold glean about them from the television series. You know, if you go for that sort of thing.

Blackout is an amazing book, second only to the aforementioned Spike & Dru novel. The book is now out of print and pretty hard to come by. I had to interlibrary loan, just as I did the Days of Future Past story from the X-Men. The story centers around two primary characters it focuses on are Spike and Nikki Wood, the latter of which was the vampire slayer during 1977 in New York City. Keith R.A. DeCandido, a native New Yorker who grew up during the seventies, did a bunch of research into the title. He found out that in July, NYC suffered a 25-hour city-wide blackout. Hence the name of the book. Most New Yorkers are facing a city-wide budget crises, including prisoners being released because it was no longer cost-effective to hold them, and the Son of Sam killer was still unidentified and roaming the streets.

While Keith did take some liberties, it's surprising how accurate a picture of 1977 he creates. He also creates Reet Weldon, a former plantation slave turned vampire who has overrun (and now mostly controls) the criminal underground of the city. Reet is probably one of the best villains ever in a Buffy book, a villain who is so used to controlling things behind the scenes that when he finally steps up to fight, well... you can probably guess what happens. The book incorporates several a-ha! moments from the television series and Angel, including Roger Wyndom-Pryce's run in with Spike mentioned in an aside comment from one episode. Keith was obviously a fan of the show and really did his homework. Drusilla, who I feared wasn't going to be in the novel, does finally appear. She's written wonderfully despite being relegated to a sort of damsel-in-distress role.

This novel was so good. I'm sad it didn't make it to hardcover, but I'm guessing that by this point, they weren't really publishing many more of the books. They've all but ceased now, which is sad. Especially if this is the type of story than can be told. Read Blackout and tell me what y'all think!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

VINTAGE - X-Men, Days of Future Past

Taking advantage of my local library's Interlibrary Loan service, I was able to get my hands on a copy of the long out-of-print Days of Future Past trade paperback. While, as a teenager, I read a novelization of the story- which even quotes the comic, I remember some of the banter back and forth word for word- I still hadn't seen John Byrne's art in all it's glory. The collection features some odd surrounding material; while Cyclops's departure from the X-Men due to Jean Grey's recent death does indeed go with the story, the X-Men Annual storyline of Nightcrawler's mother trapping him in a magical version of Dante's Inferno, and the final story of Kitty Pryde home alone with an alien trying to kill her... these don't really go with the rest of the story. This collection was bound and printed long before Marvel started printing their 'epic' black and white collections of ALL issues of Uncanny X-Men. Even though the stories don't go together, I'm glad I got to read the X-Men Annual story. I doubt I would have gotten a chance to read it otherwise.

"Days of Future Past" actually only last for two issues in the Uncanny X-Men comic, despite being one of the most pivotal (and interesting) stories in the X-Men's history. The story begins 30 years in the future. In the "present" the year is 1980, and Kitty Pryde has just recently joined the X-Men. While in the "future" Kate Pryde is a middle-aged women running for her life, trying to meet up with an elderly Wolverine in a now-destroyed New York City. The future is bleak; an assassination of a presidential hopeful senator in 1980 led to a series of events that allowed the robotic Sentinels into taking over North America. The Sentinels are ready to move overseas to spread their control world-wide, but the rest of the world is ready to launch nuclear weapons to prevent that from happening. The surviving X-Men, who are very few, are Storm, Colossus, Wolverine, newcomer Rachel, and Kate herself. They are assisted by Rachel's lover, Franklin Richards the only surviving member of the Fantastic Four, and Magnus- Magneto, who ironically has been confined to a wheelchair.

The future X-Men, facing what they accurately predict to be the end of the world, hatch a two-fold plot. They escape from the south Bronx internment camp that they have been confined two and plan to destroy the Sentinels' Manhattan HQ located in the Baxter Building. Meanwhile, Rachel and Kate have an even more implausible plan; Rachel is going to telepathically send Kate's consciousness back in time to inhabit her younger self. This is kind of genuis because it gets away from the normal conventions involved in your typical time travel story. If people really do have crazy telepathic powers, why couldn't they shoot someone mind back 30 years? Kate is chosen to inhabit Kitty because, having just joined the X-Men, the youngest member of them won't be ready for a psychic assault. It's also worth noting that when Kate inhabits Kitty, it's not a switcheroo; the young Kitty's consciousness just becomes displaced for the rest of the story.

Fred Dukes, the criminal tub of goo known as the Blob, escapes from prison in the issue before "Days" begins. It's revealed that he's been recruited for a new "Brotherhood of Evil Mutants" - this lineup, led by Mystique, include the earth-shattering Avalanche, the flame-controlling Pyro, and the future-telling Destiny. I believe it's the first appearence for probably all of the new Brotherhood. The fight between the Brotherhood and X-Men is pretty evenly matched, even with the X-Men's superior numbers- the team consisted of Storm, Colossus, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Angel, and Sprite (Kitty Pryde's then-codename, not the lemon/lime delicious beverage as many assume). As a kid, I was confused as to why Angel was a part of this lineup; it's explained in the issue before that he's filling in for Cyclops, who left the team shortly after Jean's death. This is also Storm's first leadership gig post-Cyclops, so Mystique kind of banks on the fact that Ororo will be inexperienced to deal with her and her evil team. It's a good bet. While Storm douses Pyro's flames more than once, Blob is shown to be the bruiser of the team. Colossus, at first, really can't move the immovable. He eventually, with Wolverine's help, figures out that you can move the ground beneath Blob. Nightcrawler is initially doing well against Avalanche with a punch-teleport combo, but Destiny's prediction power allows her to tell Avalanche where he will appear next. While Nightcralwer recovers, Mystique morphs half her body into his form, taunting him with how similar they appear. She also knows his real name and the name of his gypsy adopted mother, which somewhat horrifies Nightcrawler. Her biological connection, though assumed for many many years after this, isn't actually confirmed until an X-Men annual story well over a decade later. Chris Claremont, who of course wrote Days, had an initial plan for Mystique's biological connection to Kurt... which would have been far, far cooler.

The dire situation for the future X-Men turns to be just as grim as they expected. Rachel stays behind to guard the unconscious Kate while Storm, Colossus, and Wolverine all storm the Baxter Building. Surprisingly, Wolverine is the first to die after trying to "fastball special" a Sentinel with a sneak attack. Turns out, the robot knew he was there. Storm fights valiantly, but is soon impaled. Colossus manages to toss a Sentinel from the building in a fit of rage, but Rachel later hears his death telepathically as she sadly reflects on the loss of her friends. In the past, Kate (still in young Kitty's body) stops Destiny from killing Senator Robert Kelly. Kate disappears, presumably to the future (later stories confirm this) and Kitty is back to her old self. The X-Men wonder if they've really averted the disaster. While it looks like maybe the have, Kelly later appoints Henry Peter Gyrich and Sebastian Shaw to head up Project Wideawake. The Project's goal? To build Sentinels. Hopefully this collection, or a similar one, will find it's way back in print. If not, you can always try to interlibrary loan it at your local library! I did, and I'm glad I did :-)