Comics Round-up 01.12.2013

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After a month-and-a-half long break, Shadowhawk and Bane of Kings welcome you to the first comics round-up for December, and the penultimate one for the year.

“For a change, this was a fairly good crop of stories, whether it is the always amazing Paul Dini’s Zatanna or the other supernatural of DCU with Dan DiDio’s Phantom Stranger, which turned out to be fairly decent, especially once J. M. DeMatteis stepped in for scripting duties. ” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields

“Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files delivers a solid standalone graphic novel, whilst Brian Wood impresses with Mara. Over at Zenescope, Robyn Hood: Wanted is entertaining and fun whilst Corinna Beckho impresses with the first volume of the second Star Wars: Legacy series, set 138 years after the events of Star Wars: A New Hope.” ” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields

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Comics reviewed by Shadowhawk: Zatanna Volume 1 by Paul Dini (DC Comics), and, New 52: Phantom Stranger Volume 1 by Dan Didio and J. M. DeMatteis (DC Comics).

*****

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Zatanna Volume 1 by Paul Dini

In the age of the New 52, given how many cancellations there have been ever since the DC Universe was rebooted just over two years ago, if there is one character I’ve really wanted to see get an ongoing series is Zatanna, magician extraordinaire from Gotham who is a friend of Batman and has assisted the Justice League in many ways over the years. I’ve seen her in various animated guises over the years, whether it be Batman: The Animated Series or the Justice League series, but never really in comics form. Her current incarnation in Justice League Dark isn’t one that I like all that much, and also resent the fact that she hasn’t been a primary character in the series thus far. Its a missed opportunity at best. So I turned to Paul Dini’s run, which was launched the year before the DCU got rebooted, and found that this series gave me exactly what I was looking for.

Zatanna as a character is wonderfully explored in this graphic novel, the first of two for the series. Paul Dini focuses on her a lot and puts her through some very interesting situations to show off his vision of the character. Given that he’s worked on various DC animated properties over the years and had overseen Zatanna in the medium at least once, this portrayal is quite familiar. Zatanna is talented, skilled, smart, and her sexuality is never gratuitous, despite the fishnet uniform that she wears.

There are two main arcs in this collected edition, with a sort-of fill-in story involving a supervillain team-up. The first shows Zatanna dealing with some less-than-wholesome creatures while the second brings in her brother as a supporting character and has her go up against an immortal villain. Each arc has great pacing that holds you tight and keeps you turning the pages. And I particularly loved the way that Zatanna reacts to her villains with contempt and boredom at times. It keeps everything fresh and consistent. And Dini’s dialogue is always punchy with some great one-liners too.

The art is by Stephane Roux and Chad Hardin as the primary artists with various other supporting artists, such as inkers Karl Story and Wayne Faucher, colourist John Kalisz and others. I loved the artwork here, apart from some character designs here and there in certain panels, which just had wrong proportions, or so it seemed like. I love Zatanna’s classic look and this book gave me that look in spades, while also showing Zatanna dressed much more “normally”. Some of the panels got quite violent, but the action choreography was fairly straightforward and easy to follow, so that’s another plus point here.

Overall, a great effort and definitely one of my favourite reads of the year.

Rating: 8.5/10

*****

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Phantom Stranger Volume 1 by Dan Didio and J. M. DeMatteis

When I read the first issue of this series last year, the #0 that was launched in September, I wasn’t too taken with the character or the story. But then I read the tie-in issues for Trinity War this year and am currently following the series through its entire Blight arc, and I have to say that I’m a fan. J. M. DeMatteis has been on top form with the series since taking over completely from Dan DiDio and its great to see how he’s turned it all around so that Phantom Stranger is one of my top monthly picks each month now. With all that excitement, I decided to go back and read the series from the start (it also helped that there aren’t that many issues total for now), getting over my initial disappointment with Dan DiDio’s scripts.

The Phantom Stranger is the man who betrayed Jesus Christ and was cursed for this sin, one of the greatest sins ever committed in the entire history of the human species. The Council of Eternity curses him to wander the Earth for the rest of his life, an immortal who eventually comes to do God’s Own bidding, or so he thinks. The backstory of the character is excellent and I definitely enjoyed it here in the first volume of the series. There are lots of rough tumbles in the story this early, but with each issue, there was definitely a slight improvement.

I gotta say that I really liked the overall characterisation of the character, who is one of the most major supernatural figures all of DC universe and has assisted various heroes over the years. This series takes him to a very low point and gives us a very unique insight to the character, which is what I liked most about the series itself. It kind of bothered me that each issue was basically a cameo from one or another heavy hitter from the supernatural/magic side of the DCU, such as the Spectre, Pandora, Constantine, Justice League Dark, and others following each other, issue to issue. Which kind of prevented me from really enjoying the story, but enjoy I did.

The artwork is by penciller Brent Anderson with “embellishments” by Philip Tan and, occasionally, Rob Hunter. Ulises Arreola rounds off the team as the colourist with Travis Lanham on letters. Overall the art was ok, so-so. Not the high standards I’ve come to expect from the New 52, especially the teams on Batman, Aquaman, Justice League, Batgirl and a few others, so that was somewhat of a letdown. But there are some really great splash pages in the entire 6-issue arc and those were definitely fun, such as the Spectre and Phantom Stranger squaring off against each other. Its little moments like that which give everyone a good feeling.

Rating: 7/10

More Phantom Stranger: #10-13.

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Comics reviewed by Bane of Kings: Dresden Files: Ghoul Goblin by Jim Butcher (Dynamite Entertainment), Mara by Brian Wood (Image Comics), Robyn Hood: Wanted by Patrick Shand (Zenescope Entertainment), and Star Wars: Legacy II Volume 1 by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman (Dark Horse Comics).

*****

GhoulGoblin

Dresden Files: Ghoul Goblin by Jim Butcher

Art: Mark Powers, Joseph Cooper

Harry Dresden, a Chicago private investigator and wizard, heads to a small, isolated Missouri town terrorized by Nevernever monsters. The singularly unfortunate Talbot family has suffered a curse that has decimated their number for generations, and only our hero can save them… that is, if he can survive hostile lawmen, the dark secrets of townsfolk, an ancient guardian spirit, and two deadly carnivores! Can Dresden cleanse the Talbot bloodline of its curse without a blood sacrifice of his own?

It’s been a while since I last read any Dresden Files and with Skin Game on the horizon that is something that I really need to remedy, especially as I regularly count this series among my Top 5 of my favourite ongoing storylines that I’ve pretty much ever read, and I was very pleased to see that in my second Dresden Files comic (the first being the second Volume of the adaption of Fool Moon, the second novel in the series) – it was not only written by Jim Butcher himself, but proved to be a very solid read that could be read with or without knowledge of the rest of the series – which proved to be very useful for someone like myself who hasn’t read them for a while – and hasn’t been keeping up to date on them either.

Harry is contacted by a cop from a small town in Missouri, to learn that it’s terrorized by monsters from the Nevernever. This is because the unfortunate Talbot family have suffered a curse that has plagued their family for several generations. Of course, the only person who can save them is the only wizard in the Yellow Pages – Harry Dresden, who also has to content with many more opponents ranging from hostile lawmen to an ancient guardian spirit within the pages of this novel. If any book series had the potential to be great as a comic it just simply had to be The Dresden Files – and I’d kill for an ongoing series written by Butcher and published by Dynamite. That’d be great.

The artwork in Ghoul Goblin is better than it was in the previous Dresden Files graphic novel that I’ve read – with Joseph Cooper taking over artistic duties from Brett Booth – even though it’s not as impressive as it could have been, with a few panels not being pulled off as well as they could.

The storyline is fairly decent as well, although not without its problems. There are a few places that don’t fit, much like the artwork – but overall it’s a welcome fun ride for anyone who enjoys Urban Fantasy. If you’re unfamiliar with the series then think something along the lines of Grimm, Supernatural or Sleepy Hollow. It’s fast-paced and fun with a great pulp feeling added to it allowing the graphic novel to have you hooked right from the start.

Overall then, Ghoul Goblin comes with a cautious recommendation, and will depend on your enjoyment of urban fantasy and the Dresden Files. Whilst it may be a nice jumping on point for a newcomer it’s not a recommended one, but it is a breath of fresh air for returning readers who are familiar with the series but haven’t read a novel in a while, or something new for die-hard fans who have read each book multiple times. It’s something that’s worth looking into though.

Rating: 3/5

*****

Mara

Mara by Brian Wood

Art: Ming Doyle, Jordie Bellaire | Collects: #1-6

Acclaimed creator BRIAN WOOD  (The Massive, DMZ, X-Men) and brilliant newcomer MING DOYLE (Guardians of the Galaxy, Fantastic Four, Girl Comics) bring you MARA, the story of an especially gifted woman in a sports- and war-obsessed future.  When she starts manifesting strange superpowers, the world that once embraced her turns against her, and for this young woman who once had it all, it’s almost too much to bear.  Both an intimate coming-of-age story and an epic superhero drama, MARA takes the genre to new places. Young adult friendly. Perfect for readers of WOOD’s Demo, Local, and X-Men work.

I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read of Brian Wood in the past with his Star Wars and X-Men series in particular and whilst I may not like him as a person given the recent news you can’t argue against that he’s produced some pretty quality work in fiction, be it for Image, Dark Horse Comics or Marvel. Outside of Battle of the Atom I’ve rarely been disappointed by Wood’s fiction and Mara is something that I was eager to try out as it escaped my attention until I saw a lot of people raving about this series recently and decided to check it out. The end result was a pretty solid origin story for a superhero – even if it may not be too groundbreaking Mara is nonetheless another solid entry in Brian Wood’s fiction and should not be overlooked.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect when coming into Mara but it surprised me and kept me very entertained as it was pretty easy to follow throughout, as well as managing to remain open ended with some questions left to the reader to answer, but you’ll be pleased to know that they’re not going to be bad ones. The book itself is interesting and unpredictable – it could easily be an origin story for a superhero or a supervillain and it’s not really predictable as to the direction that she’s going to take right up until the very end.

Mara herself is a pretty interesting character and the world itself that Wood has created is visually engaging – he has written strong female characters before and this mini-series is no exception – written in an accessible way despite its complicated premise and out of all of the things that Wood has written this year this book may well stand out as the best. The artwork isn’t half bad either – in fact, it’s very good – Ming Doyle is a relative newcomer to comics and based on what I’ve seen here I’m going to look out for what more the artist can bring to the table – as from what I’ve seen here it’s very good. There are several amazing panels throughout this trade and with the colourist Jordie Bellaire included it really is top notch artwork – and it’s always great when both halves of the creative team deliver on a book and this series is no exception.

Mara then is an interesting and engaging read that’s one of the best self-published works that I’ve read this year, with this book is certainly worth considering your attention. Do go and check it out if you can, I’d have to say that this is probably the best collection that I’ve reviewed in this roundup.

Rating: 4.5/5

*****

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Robyn Hood: Wanted by Patrick Shand

Art: Larry Watts | Colours: Nick Filardi | Letters: Jim Campbell | Cover: Stanley Lu | Collects: #1-5

As a mysterious villain calling himself “the Sheriff” begins to terrorize Nottingham, the people that Robyn once liberated are again in need of her help. But with the police searching for her on Earth, Robyn has her own problems. Can Robyn rise up and be the hero that Nottingham needs, or will she be forced to face the consequences of her own actions? Find out in the sequel to the fan-favourite series, Robyn Hood: Wanted!

Whilst not perfect, I found the first volume of Patrick Shand’s Robyn Hood series to be entertaining and it wasn’t going to be long until I checked out the next TBP and it happened to be Robyn Hood: Wanted that I noticed on NetGalley next. And I can certainly say that now the origin story of Robyn if you will is out of the way we can finally get into the more interesting stuff, as Patrick Shand brings an engaging, fun and solid storyline that furthers the development of Robyn Hood as a character and fleshes out her mythology even more.

This volume sees the return of Robyn to Nottingham when the mysterious villain known as “The Sherriff” starts to terrorise Nottingham. It’s an interesting twist on the original mythology and it’s nice to see the split between our world and Robyn’s newfound reality developing on both sides. Split down the middle it never feels like one is dominating the other as Shand delivers a great balance, and you want to see what will happen to Robyn in Earth just as much as you do in Nottingham. It’s an interesting storyline that’s developed over the course of these issues and I very much enjoyed this tale, but as mentioned above, it’s not perfect, and the problem that I had here remains largely with the artwork.

Don’t get me wrong, Larry Watts’ artwork for the most part is pretty good – but I wasn’t really a fan of the oversexulization of Robyn at various parts in the book. It’s something that’s apparent with every Zenescope book and Robyn Hood is no different – her costume at times whilst it does allow for a striking look is vastly impractical for real use. However this was probably the major issue that I had with the artwork – otherwise it’s fairly decent, and whilst it’s not quite up there with Gabriel Hardman’s art it beats Mark Powers and Joseph Cooper’s, or at least in my opinion.

All you need to be is familiar with the Robin Hood legend in order to enjoy this book. It’s newcomer friendly even if you haven’t read the Robyn Hood mini-series that preceded this although knowledge of what goes down in that TBP will certainly help.  Overall, the storyline itself is fairly solid – with plenty of action going on, but it doesn’t favour character development as aside from Robyn herself we don’t get much fleshing out of characters at least from what I’ve read. None really stuck with me but aside from that the book still remains decent – it’s just not especially good.

It’s worth checking out then if you’re a fan of Patrick Shand’s previous works and are familiar with Zenescope as a publisher. It’s an entertaining read despite its problems though and as a result I can cautiously recommend it.

Rating: 3/5

*****

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Star Wars: Legacy II Volume 1 by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman

Art:  Gabriel Hardman | Colours: Rachel Rosenberg | Letters: Michael Heisler | Cover: Dave Wilkins | Collects: Star Wars Legacy II Vol. 1 #1-5

Ania Solo is just a girl trying to make her way in the galaxy—and have a little adventure along the way! But when she stumbles upon a broken communications droid and a missing lightsaber, a little adventure turns into a whole lot of trouble . . . for Ania and her friends!

I’m pretty unfamiliar with the expanded universe of Star Wars having read around ten books in the franchise out of the god knows how many. Most of the novels that I have read have been before the events of the overall trilogy – all The Old Republic novels (aside from Revan) for instance, however I wasn’t going to pass up on a chance to read a Star Wars graphic novel, even if it may be set 138 years after the events in A New Hope, featuring Ania Solo, a descendant of Han and Leia – as the titular Legacy and her surname suggests. With such a distance between the original trilogy and this there’s plenty of room for expansion and changes from the Government of Star Wars that we’re used to, and it turns out that the Galaxy itself is attempting to put aside the troubles of previous clashes with the Government now compromising of not only the Galactic Alliance, but also the Jedi Council and the Imperial Court. The character herself isn’t revealed in name until the end of the first issue however you don’t have to be a genius to guess that she’s got some connection to the original three heroes, Luke, Leia and Han. She starts out owning a junkyard, but obviously it’s not going to be as simple as that and more is revealed to the reader as the storyline develops across the five issues collected in this volume.

Writers, the married pair of Corinna Sara and Gabriel Hardman bring to the table a fairly strong script with over six new characters introduced in the first issue alone. Whilst this takes a while to get used to our new characters particularly if you’re trying to get used to the new era as well, the story weaves along at a brisk and fun pace – with several interesting action sequences split across two divergent storylines that collide together with the Sith at its core. We get several well written scenes in the pages of Prisoners of the Floating World and Sara and Hardman both bring some excellent characterisation to the table as well, the characters are pretty awesome and varied and it’s not just Ania who’s well developed by the graphic novel’s end. Throw in some fun elements as well you have the right idea for a Star Wars story and it’s clear that Prisoners of the Floating World fits in right at home with the rest of the Dark Horse Star Wars comics – it’s similar in tone and quality to Brian Wood’s excellent main Star Wars series.

Hardman also takes over artistic duties for this issue and he provides some great art that really fits the overall tone of the book. He brings an interesting layer of detail with some stunning artwork and whilst it doesn’t quite match the amazing talent of Carlos D’Anda, it’s one of the better pieces of artwork that I’ve seen regardless.

Overall then, The Prisoners of the Floating World is a welcome first adventure into the even further future of the Star Wars Universe. I’ll look out for more of this title when I can and even though I was somewhat lost in places – it’s more or less my own fault for not being up to date on the universe itself. However, I can highly recommend checking it out if you’re familiar with the setting – The Prisoners of the Floating World is one of the better Star Wars fiction that I’ve read in any era.

So this Volume comes highly recommended and may be the perfect gift for a die-hard Star Wars fan in your family this Christmas.

Rating: 4/5

Shadowhawk is a regular contributor to TFF. A resident of Dubai, Shadowhawk reads, reads and reads. His opinions are always clear and concise. His articles always worth reading.

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