Saturday, April 14, 2012

WGTB reviews Dragonstorm #1

After having read and reviewed Stormchasers #4 by UnstoppableComics last month, I decided to follow-up with the publisher and get another comic. Why not right? I liked it last time and I've been doing my best think outside the Big Two box lately and read stories I might otherwise not come across. What I got was one of Unstoppable's latest offerings, a book called Dragonstorm #1 which did not disappoint. 
Unstoppable Comics' Dragonstorm #1 (April 2012) created, written and lettered by Jaydee Rosario with cover by Pat O'Donnell and pages 1-9 interior art by Joel Cotegar (inks by Alex Riveera) and pages 10-22 by Craig Shepard (inks by Michael Summers). 
First off, the name 'Dragonstorm' and the cover caught my attention right away. Having lived in Japan, I'm always willing to give anything that even remotely references the great ancient cultures of Asia the benefit of the doubt. But as I was reading the book and learning about the namesake hero, I soon realised Unstoppable was trying to pull a fast one. The true protagonist of this story is not Dragonstorm, but actually a teen-aged girl named Lyllian and this really sparked my interest. Indeed, much of the story is all about how Lyllian and Dragonstorm came to meet each other and how this sets us up for what could be an interesting dynamic for the rest of the series.
Lyllian and Dragonstorm from Unstoppable Comics Dragonstorm #1 (April 2012) Dragonstorm himself resembles a cross between Nightwing and (Marvel's) Captain Marvel.
You see (and I'm trying to be careful not to give things away here) Lyllian's mother and father are now out of the picture (euphemism!) and her own grandfather has forced Dragonstorm to train her for a task that has yet to be revealed. However, it is also made very clear to us that Dragonstorm is not the Grandfather's friend and Grandpa in this case is not a jujube dispensing nice guy (like mine is!) but rather the enemy and chief antagonist of the series. Okay, I’ve probably already given too much away, but this overall premise, while being somewhat similar to other stories, is never-the-less different in that it focuses on a female lead, which even in today's market is something irregular.* Suffice it to say, it will be interesting to see how this male/female -- guardian/ward relationship develops and could be a refreshing change for comic fans. 

While a common trope in comics, Dragonstorm is aiming to introduce the Guardian/Ward dynamic within the context of a male/female relationship. Risky perhaps, but could this also be in interesting innovation? Image of Bruce Wayne and Tim Drake from DC's Batman #654 (June 2006).
Moving on to the art, these responsibilities were divided with the first half of the book done by Joel Cotejar and the latter by Craig Shepard. Both artists did a good job and the panels, while more Image Comics mainstream than Big Two mainstream (take from that statement whatever you'd like), never-the-less complement and amplify the story. With regard to their portrayal of the Dragonstorm himself, I think he has some cool powers, including a wing-shaped force-field, and I look forward to learning how he came about as well as how he develops and changes over time.

Dragonstorm's 'wings' in Dragonstorm #1, April 2012
Grandpa's quite the baddie in Dragonstorm #1, April 2012
So there you go. Somewhat brief thoughts on the latest from the Unstoppable Comics stable. If you can get your hands on a copy of Dragonstorm give it a shot -- it's always good for us readers to look beyond the Big Two to see what the newer guys are doing. I've linked to their company's website above if you're looking to track down a copy and please let me know what you think about the book in the comment section below. 

*NB: I'll probably be stepping away from the blog for the next little bit (I have other scholastic commitments) but once again thanks for reading WGTB and please feel free to leave any comment about the blog. I'm still relatively new at this and always looking to improve. Also, if you're looking for a great conversation about the issue of female super-hero leads check out the most recent conversation between Kelly Sue DeConnick and John Siuntres at the Word Balloon podcast. It's very good.

Friday, April 6, 2012

V for Vendetta and Guy Fawkes

While travelling the London Underground a few weeks back, I brought along a copy V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. I hadn't read it since the film release in 2006 and wanted to enjoy it now that I was living in London. Originally a ten issue series released between September 1988 and May 1989, this story has since been reprinted in trade paperback numerous times and become a modern classic known to both fanatical and casual readers of comics alike. 
'V' from Vertigo's V for Vendetta originally published 1988-1989. Republished in 2007.
V for Vendetta tells the story of a dystopian United Kingdom, that while having avoided the carnage of nuclear war, has never-the-less survived the global political and economic collapse by walking the dark path of totalitarianism. ‘V’ our protagonist, is the mysterious and dramatic character who having been incarcerated and experimented upon by the government, uses the superpowers he acquired during these experiments to change the UK back to the free society it once was. He does this with the help of a young prostitute named Evey Hammond and wears the guise of a 17th century English revolutionary as he does it.

"V' again.
V for Vendetta is right up there with Watchmen as a masterwork of the genre and because of this I won't comment much more on the work itself. Rather, I'd like to take this opportunity to talk about one of the images that anchors the story throughout: Guy Fawkes, the above mentioned revolutionary. 

The story is about how 'V' takes his revenge and changes UK society.
Born in April 1570 in York, Fawkes lived in a time of religious tumult. During the reign of King Henry VIII, the Church in England had become the Church of England and broken with the Catholic Church in Rome. Henry's daughter, Elizabeth I, continued to foster this schism, but there was still many questions about the two faiths during her reign and beyond. Indeed, parts of Northern England were especially resistant to the Church of England and among these 'Recusants' numbered Guy Fawkes' step-father. Guy himself would eventually convert to Roman Catholicism. 

The Guy Fawkes mask worn by 'V'.
And events in England were not taking place in a vacuum. Indeed, much of Europe was embroiled in religious based wars and soon Fawkes found himself fighting for the Hapsburg Spanish in their rebellious Dutch provinces. When a temporary peace returned in that area in 1598, Fawkes returned to England where he fell in with a group of conspirators wanting to assassinate the protestant King James I, a Scot who had ascended to the English throne upon the death of his cousin Elizabeth. On the fifth of November 1605, the King, having been invited to Westminster to take part in the State Opening of Parliament, was supposed to go to Westminster where the conspirators were to explode their stashed gunpowder underneath him,  thereby killing him and much of the England's parliamentary and legal establishment. The attempt failed when it was uncovered by the King's officials and Fawkes and his co-plotters were taken into custody.
The Great Hall of the Palace of Westminster. This may have been the view Guy Fawkes during his trial.
Not without irony, Fawkes trial occurred in the Hall of Westminster, the oldest existing part of the Palace of Westminster. Now largely used for joint addresses of Parliament or other state events, this hall until the late 1800s also served as a courtroom. The indictment against Fawkes was interesting because while 17th century England had a distance to go before resembling today's justice system, the Fawkes trial was laced with language that would be anathema to any idea of natural justice. For example, most counts of the indictment are preceded with adjectives such as ‘treasonous’ or ‘traitorously’ whereas the potential victims of the crime are nearly always proceeded with ‘virtuous’ or ‘gracious’ in front of their names or titles. 
Looking at the Big Ben and the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster outside the doors into the Hall of Westminster.
So as you can probably guess, Fawkes and his co-conspirators were found guilty of their crimes, tortured and killed. Fawkes, never-the-less escaped the fate of a rope around his neck, when he jumped off the gallows and broke his neck before the executor could place it. He was still quartered and since then the fifth of November has subsequently become a night to celebrate the King's survival. 
The UK leader and V's antagonist, Adam Susan, monitors things in V for Vendetta
But back to the story at hand, it is a true testament to the power of V for Vendetta that the image of Guy Fawkes has surfaced in the imagination of many throughout the world as a protest figure. Indeed, his 'face' is now seen in many places -- from the Occupy Movement to the online group Anonymous. Naturally, this may have something to do with the 2006 feature film, but it is still demonstrative of the awesome power of this comic story. David Lloyd's idea of bringing Guy Fawkes to a modern context and Alan Moore's poignant and gripping story gives modern readers a new reason to explore the fascinating legal and political story of the man behind the mask. Go read V for Vendetta if you haven't already, and if you have, I hope you've enjoyed this little to voyage into English history.