Friday, December 28, 2012

Happy Birthday, Stan Lee!

Stan Lee turned ninety years young today and I'd like join comic book fans everywhere in wishing him the very happiest of birthdays. 

Shortly after my mother bought me my first comic book in the mid-1980s, I grew to love reading Stan's Soapbox and using it to get a sense of the Marvel world. Of course, so much has happened (both good and bad) to our industry since then, but it was still a thrill when I finally got to meet Stan (albeit very briefly) at the two conventions I attended this past year in London and Toronto. Anyone who has met him recently knows that he has the energy of a man half his age, and won't be slowing down anytime soon.    

Below is some footage taken in February at London SuperComicCon. It's one of the largest shows in the UK and this year featured a great Q & A with 'The Man' himself. In the short (and unfortunately somewhat shaky video) Stan talks about his future in comics and the great relationship he has with his fans; all while having a little fun too. Happy Birthday, Stan!   

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

WGTB Reviews Four Comics

Merry Christmas! Well, Happy Boxing Day as we call the day after Christmas here in Canada. Today was a day off for me and allowed me to take a break from all the holiday fun and write four quick reviews of comics I've read recently. As December 26th comics (Justice League and Amazing Spider-Man) haven't been read yet, the books written about today go back to the past two weeks. I hope you enjoy and are having a great holiday season.  

Marvel's Thor: God of Thunder #3 (February 2013) Written by Jason Aaron, art and cover by Esad Ribic, colour art by Ive Svorcina & lettering by VC's Joe Sabino. Edited by Lauren Sankovitch. PRICE $3.99
Jason Aaron, Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina continue to pack a punch with the third issue of Thor: God of Thunder. I have really been enjoying this book since the Marvel NOW! relaunch of this Thor title and issue #3 gives me no reason to stop looking forward to the next. I'm finding it to be a cross between Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods and the 90's sci-fi hit Babylon 5 in good old-fashioned comic book form. This issue, the third of the God Butcher storyline, has Thor deep in space at an amazing place called Omnipotence City and then in the equally cool ninth-century Russia, both of which are amazingly drawn. The action seems to have cooled a bit from the previous issue but that's okay because in #3 we get a somewhat more cerebral caper-type story. This comic goes deeper into the back story of the ancient foe Thor is dealing with and we even see the God of Thunder fearful of what the future could hold. A lot happens in this issue but it is easier to follow now that I'm used to the threefold time-jump aspect of it. With regard to art, Ribic's work really matches Aaron's story and is doing it for me. This is comic book high-fantasy at its best. 4.5/5 STARS

Comic book high-fantasy at its best from Thor: God of Thunder #3 

DC's Nightwing #15 (February 2013) Written by Kyle Higgins, pencils by Eddy Barrows, inks by Eber Ferreira, colours by Rod Reis & letters by Carlo M. Mangual. Edited by Brian Cunningham. PRICE: $2.99
My next quick review is Nightwing #15 by Kyle Higgins, Eddy Barrows and Eber Ferreira. I hadn't read the previous issue and picked this one up because writer Kyle Higgins really knocked a recent interview on Word Balloon with John Suintres out of the park and got me interested in the Nightwing aspect of the Death of the Family storyline. This issue was a good follow-up to Batman #15 which featured a meeting of the Gotham-based Bat Family and I enjoyed seeing Dick Grayson take off on his own to deal with the Joker's master plan. So while I'm not completely familiar with the longer storyline, I have to say this was a good, enjoyable comic book. I've always liked Nightwing and found the Joker as written by Higgins to be just as equal in evil and diabolical malice as that of Scott Snyder. This issue was also a nice break from Greg Capullo's art which seems to be wearing on me in recent issues with Eddy Barrow doing a great job here capturing the menace of the Joker awesomely. The below image was especially creepy. I think I'll come back to this issue next month and maybe go looking for back-issues to get a larger sense of the Nightwing story. 3.5/5 STARS 
Barrow's art was really enjoyable this issue of Nightwing #15

Marvel's Avengers #2 (February 2013) Written by Jonathan Hickman, art by Jerome Opena, colour art by Dean White with Justin Ponsor & Morry Hollowell. Letters by VC's Cory Petit. Edited by Tom Brevoort with Lauren Sankovitch. PRICE $3.99
In the two Avengers comics we've seen thus far from Marvel NOW!, there really hasn't been much to write home about. This comic, like its cousin book Thor: God of Thunder, is high-concept story-telling and involves some of the common evolutionary and extraterrestrial based tropes we often see in sci-fi and comics. Unfortunately (and unlike Thor) this book has taken a little longer to get off the ground. Indeed, the second issue was largely a story of the second group of Avengers assembling to go and rescue the first who are in trouble off-world. I enjoyed it on the whole and the introduction to the four principal baddies and the origins of their creators, The Builders, was especially good. I also know that this is a Jonathan Hickman book so I'm probably totally wrong about not thinking it's totally amazing and should probably re-read it in a couple days to discover what I've missed. But until then it gets a promising yet mediocre 3/5 STARS.
The group is still assembling in Avengers #2

DC's JSA Liberty Files: The Whistling Skull #1 (February 2013) Written by B. Clay Moore with art by Tony Moore. Colours by Dave McCaig, letters by Wes Abbot & edited by Ben Abernathy. PRICE $2.99
Easily one of the best comic books of the month, The Whistling Skull #1 is the first issue of a mini-series that creators B. Clay Moore and Tony Harris hope will eventually be turned into an ongoing run with forty odd issues. Set (sort of) in the DC Universe, the Whistling Skull is a Justice Society of America World War II story centred around a British non-Crown affiliated protagonist who fights the Nazi's. In parts it is very funny and entertaining, while in others it is downright grim and gory. Tony Harris' art at the beginning was a little tough to get used to, but the book never-the-less grew on me and by the end I was really enjoying this fusion of fun and intrigue. Come to think of it, this is what a comic book should be so I'm going to give it a high grade and say I'm already looking forward to the second issue. 4.5/5 STARS

Tony Harris' art takes some getting used to, but eventually grows on you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

WGTB Reviews The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

There's always something risky when you see a beloved book turned into a film. I first read The Hobbit when I was eleven years old and it very quickly led me to reading Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion and the rest of J.R.R. Tolkien's works. I still count him as my favourite author and when Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films came out over a decade ago, I'll admit I was a little skeptical about how it was going to be done. I've since come to appreciate the LOTR trilogy of films and walked into The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with the guarded optimism that I've acquired over the past decade. 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett & Christoper Lee. RATED: PG-13,  TIME: 169 Minutes 

(Warning: Some Spoilers Below)
Like Peter Jackson’s LOTR trilogy, this film draws upon the larger Legendarium of Tolkien and is not just an interpretation of The Hobbit. There are some subtle but noticeable changes made to the story in order to drive the the plot forward, but for the most part it sticks to the earlier part of the 1937 novel, albeit with some Dwarven back story from the The Unfinished Tales and Lord of the Rings appendices. The story begins with grandiose introduction to the story of the Lonely Mountain dwarves, then proceeds to the Shire, where we are introduced to an aged Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) talking to fellow LOTR alumni Elijah Wood (as Frodo Baggins). From there Bilbo tells the story of his adventure sixty years earlier where he set off (here played by a much younger Martin Freeman) with Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellen) and a company of dwarves. Along the way the group encounters trolls, orcs, (somewhat) friendly elves and Gollum. As their are two more films coming, I won’t say where exactly it ends, but you can probably get the idea from this description.

Sir Ian McKellen is back as Gandalf the wizard. In this scene he inspects his new sword Glamdring.
For the most part I enjoyed the film. There were a few additions to drive the plot forward that the purist in me felt unnecessary, but this was not too distracting. Much was said about the higher filming speed used by Jackson for this trilogy, but I can honestly say that this didn’t give me the dizzies it seems to have some other reviewers. The flight in the Goblin cave did seem a little longer than necessary -- at times taking on a Star Wars II factory scene feel -- but there was no headache or obviously fake prosthetic to speak of. One of the more active scenes featuring Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) moved chunkily in places but the effects on the whole were good. And New Zealand, as always, was stunningly beautiful.    

My biggest problem with this Hobbit film ties to one of my favourite moments in the LOTR trilogy. You may remember the scene with Gandalf and Frodo in Moria during The Fellowship of the Ring when they discover Gollum has been following them. Frodo remarks how it was a pity that Bilbo didn’t kill him when he had the chance. The wizard responded.

In The Hobbit the encounter between Gollum and Bilbo is protrayed well, but there was a problem. After Bilbo won (stole) the Ring, he was soon in a position to kill Gollum. This was well done, with Howard Shore’s music working perfectly with the internal debate registered in Martin Freeman’s eyes and the pitiable nature of Smeagol. I’ll admit my own eyes welled up watching. This is one of the most important moments in the entire history of Middle-earth and is what makes Hobbits truly great. Unfortunately, prior to this scene Jackson added a few lines of dialogue that detracted from Bilbo’s true nature and that really bothered me.  

See, earlier in the film there was an exchange between Gandalf and Bilbo where Gandalf speaks about mercy, violence and wisdom. Unfortunately, I found this really took away from Bilbo’s greatness and lessened him as a character in the film. Hobbits are the paragone of humble greatness in Tolkien's works, because they've always been able to make these type of realizations on their own: often while awash in a maelstrom of chaos or evil. That is Frodo, Samwise, Pippin and Merry in LOTR and Bilbo in The Hobbit. This virtue was lost in this film and it really came across that Bilbo's decision to spare Gollum was wisdom from Gandalf.  

That said, despite some flaws in characterization it was an entertaining afternoon of cinematic entertainment and I did think it was a good film. Howard Shore's soundtrack was simply outstanding, and despite some technological overkill in places, it was enjoyable and I'm maintaining my guarded optimism about the upcoming two we'll see in 2013. 3.5/5 STARS

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Getting Ready for The Hobbit

With the first installment of Peter Jackson's rendition of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit appearing in cinemas in a matter of days, I've been reading Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and some commentary lately to bone up on all things Tolkien. 

I'm a big Tolkien fan -- as I'm sure are so many of the readers of this blog. If you're interested in commentary on Tolkien's work, I highly recommend J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century by T.A. Shippey, which I just finished. It's been out for twelve years now, but I found it to be a great introductory work to Tolkien criticism and makes the point that J.R.R. Tolkien was -- suffice it to say -- a very special author. A paragraph from the closing few pages was especially poignant and I thought I'd mention it here. It talks about fantasy literature on the whole and is a statement that could equally apply to comic books:

The argument that fantasy is intrinsically less truthful than realistic fiction could be extended to say that realistic fiction is intrinsically less truthful than biography. But we all now (know) that fiction allows a writer to express something, perhaps metaphorically or by analogy, which could not be expressed by history. The same argument should be extended to fantasy. That is surely why so many writers of the nineteenth century, including the ones most closely concerned with real-world events, have had to write in a fantastic mode. 

Long ago I asked my English teacher if I could write an essay for class about The Lord of the Rings. She declined because it ‘wasn’t really literature’. Admittedly, having read it three times prior, it was a somewhat obvious way to cheat on a high school project. But I also didn’t quite understand what she meant by it not being 'really literature'. It certainly seemed like literature to me! Shippey's book takes aim at anyone who thinks in a similiar fashion and I wish I had the help of his ideas to refute my old teacher's idea back then.

The street in Oxford, England where the Eagle and Child pub is located. It's the circular blue sign in the distance. 
I hope you enjoy the film. With the exception of a few things (notably Faramir) Peter Jackson has proved he’s good at making Tolkien’s stories into feature films. I’ll be reviewing them here so keep an eye in the next week or so. Thanks for reading!    

Sunday, November 25, 2012

WGTB Reviews Journey Into Mystery #646

My first encounter with Kathryn Immonen’s writing came with Heralds, the five-part miniseries Marvel released in August 2010. What I gathered from this mini is that Immonen is both a quality writer and very good at writing strong female characters. Because of this, when it was announced she would be taking over a re-focused Journey into Mystery with the Lady Sif in the lead role my attention was grabbed. 
Marvel's Journey Into Mystery #646 (January 2013) Written by Kathryn Immonen with art by Valerio Schiti, colour art by Jordie Bellaire, letters & production by VC's Clayton Cowles, cover art by Jeff Dekal. Edited by Lauren Sankovitch. PRICE: $2.99
Immediately upon arriving at the shop on Wednesday, my local proprietor recommended the book to both me and others in the store. I was intent upon reading it already, but when I did, I came across a story that starts with Sif helping out her fellow Asgardian civilians before moving on to a quest to find the skills and talismans that it takes to be a great warrior. There was a little violence too. 

Sif seeks to learn in Journey Into Mystery #646 (January 2013)
There is a vastness and energy to the writing that gives this comic a real sense of impending adventure and it should play well as Journey progresses. The book was also loaded interesting and funny in-jokes (with great one on the opening splash) and the subtle reference to my favourite writer, J.R.R. Tolkien, further made the book endearing to me. This tells me that careful attention has been taken to crafting this book and it's a good thing to see.  

Can you spot the Tolkien reference?
With regard to the art, frankly, I'd never seen any of Italian Valerio Schiti's work before this book, but so far I think it's fairly good. With a welcoming blend of realism and fantasy, it captures the essence of this book very well and because of that makes it a fun read. Because of that, this abridged and quick review gives Journey into Mystery #646 4/5 STARS. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

WGTB Reviews Fantastic Four #1

At Fan Expo Canada this summer, Axel Alonso told us in a panel discussion that Marvel NOW! was going to be an opportunity for the new writers to make a 'hostile takeover' of their rebooted books and really make them their own. What exactly the editor-in-chief meant by this, we probably won't know until their respective sixth issues, but Fantastic Four #1 in twenty-two pages gave us a pretty good idea of what this meant to Matt Fraction: he's taking this book out of time and out of space!
Marvel's Fantastic Four #1 (January 2013) Written by Matt Fraction with pencils by Mark Bagley, inks by Mark Farmer, colours by Paul Mounts, letters by VC's Clayton Cowles.  Edited by Tom Brevoort & Lauren Sankovitch. Price: $2.99 

(Spoilers Below)
With art by Mark Bagley and Mark Farmer, this first issue of the still self-proclaimed "World's Greatest Comic Magazine!" begins with a quick back and forth through time, which is too complicated to explain here. It eventually settles, however, on the Baxter building complete with the members the extended Richards gang acquired during Jonathan Hickman's run. From there we move to Johnny Storm on a (hilarious) date in the Negative Zone, Ben Grimm in trouble on the Internet and Sue surveying her 'circus'. The issue then resolves itself with Reed suggesting the group head into space and time on board the 'greatest classroom ever concieved', all the while keeping secret the real goal of his voyage, which is to find a cure for the team's decaying powers.  
Johnny Storm takes his date to the Negative Zone from Marvel's Fantastic Four #1.
As happened in All-New X-Men #1, this book will play fast and loose with the space-time continuum and you get the sense from the get-go that it's going to focus on high space adventure. Frankly, it's great to see Fraction continue with the idea of the Fantastic Four being as much scientists and educators as super-heroes, and I'm already confident that it's going to have some great writing. Character wise, I was a little perturbed that Mr. Fantastic kept something from his wife, but if this turns out to be as important of a plot point as I think, then it will turn into some interesting drama and all will be forgiven.

Bagley's art captures the scientific aspect of Fantastic Four #1 well. Some of the faces, not so much.
Johnny Storm's date with a celebrity at the beginning was funny enough to give me a laugh out loud moment at work (I've felt the same way vis-a-vis a girlfriend and her mother), and was very true to character. Likewise was Sue Richards when she surveyed her domain with the love, wonder and protective energy we've come to expect from this stalwart Marvel character. 

Sue Richards surveys her 'circus' and Ben Grimm tries to stop something from going viral in Fantastic Four #1
Mark Bagley and Mark Farmer's art was good. I happened to notice that in some cases the female characters bear a striking resemblance to each other, but all in all the artwork seemed to capture the fantastical nature of the comic well and should work with the 'big idea' space themes we've come to expect from the Fantastic Four. Truth be told, I'm a F4 fan through and through and will always give it the benefit of the doubt. Happily, this issue gives me no reason not too once more: it's a good start and will give us the solid cosmic-themed family drama we've come to expect from one of Marvel's greatest books. 4/5 STARS

Friday, November 16, 2012

WGTB Reviews All New X-Men #1

Marvel NOW! continued this week with All-New X-Men #1, Mighty Thor #1 and Fantastic Four #1 arriving on the shelves of our local comic shops. Because this is a big week for first issues from Marvel, I'm going to try to write more than one review. I'll begin with a book I have particularly been looking forward to: All-New X-Men #1, a comic that brings the original five X-Men from the past and drops them into the present day. 

Marvel's All New X-Men #1 (January 2013) Written by Brian Michael Bendis with pencils by Stuart Immonen, inks by Wade Von Grawbadger, colours by Marte Gracia & letters by VC's Cory Petit. Edited by Nick Lowe $3.99

(Spoilers Below) 

Honestly, when I first heard Marvel was doing this, I was skeptical as it almost sounded a little too ‘comic-booky’. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the premise. Having just witnessed the massive fall from grace that Scott Summers experienced during Avengers vs X-Men, I got thinking how interesting it would be for a younger Cyclops to see what he's become. Of course, with Jean Grey having been gone for years now, I also thought it'd be interesting seeing how those characters who've particularly missed her react to a younger Jean, especially with Brian Michael Bendis writing the dialogue.  

All-New X-Men #1 starts with Hank McCoy in pain as he's about to experience his third mutation. We don't see this, as the story quickly moves from the Gold Coast of Australia to Ann Arbor, Michigan where we see mutants appearing out of the blue and Cyclops, Magneto and Emma Frost assisting their new 'brothers and sisters' handle the authorities who are trying to arrest them. This hostility is noticed by the X-Men at the Jean Grey School and we then move to a debate between its leaders who are trying to resolve how to respond to the hostility of their erstwhile leader. We don't see a resolution to the debate, because before this is resolved, we're sent to a flashback of the original X-Men where Beast arrives to talk his colleagues and ask a younger Cyclops to go into the future and talk some sense to the man he has become.
Beast in All-New X-Men #1 (January 2012)
While I typically start my reviews with my assessment of the writing, in his particular case I'd like to start with the artwork. I really enjoyed Stuart Immonen’s pencils and certainly count him as one of my favourite artists in comics right now. The younger X-Men, while having a somewhat retro look, do not look dated or tied to any particular era and this makes their look work. Jean Grey's hair, for example, looks like it could be from either the 1960s Batman show or an early 90s episode of Friends. The lines are smooth, the faces expressive and interesting, and the action sequences enjoyable. Immonen rendition of Beast also has a cool 'early 90s' Jim Lee's X-Men #1 look, which ties the 2012 characters to that important era magnificently.  

Which takes us to Bendis' story, which was good but not great. Again, as a first issue there wasn't too much to really get worked up about. But my sense is that this story could have used a little more packed into it, especially given that it was $3.99. Frankly, it was a 'Scott's at it again' comic which is fine, but I was starting to look forward to moving on from this past summer. Don't get me wrong: there were good parts and the exchange between McCoy and the younger Cyclops was especially well written and captured their personalities very well. I just felt a little short-changed because I didn't get to see the young X-Men move into the future by the end of the story. That would have made a great concluding splash for Immonen and really get us readers pumped for the second issue. 
The younger X-Men argue about their role in the world in All-New X-Men #1 (January 2012)
So All-New X-Men #1 was a decent enough start to what will obviously be a flagship series for the X-books. There's certainly places for this comic to go, and as I said earlier, it will be great seeing the older X-characters interact with the new. Stuart Immonen's art was great, but on the whole the story could have used a little more substance to it. Because of that it only gets  3.5/5 STARS.