Wonder Woman, Volume 1: Blood (2012)

Wonder Woman, Volume 1: Blood (2012)

Wonder Woman: Blood collects issues #1-6 of the DC Comics New 52 Wonder Woman series with writing by Brian Azzarello and art by Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins.

Wonder Woman, the Amazon born of clay and a prayer, has known who she is all her life. However, when Hermes (yes, the god Hermes) attempts to help a young woman who has been impregnated by Zeus (yes, the god Zeus) – Zeus’ wife, Hera (yes, the goddess Hera) is none too happy about it and sends her followers to go pay Zeus’ new concubine a visit. Under the protection of Wonder Woman, the Amazons and even some gods and demi-gods – the mortal woman still may not survive the fury of Hera, and in the meantime – Wonder Woman learns that maybe she’s not who she’s thought she was all this time.

To me, Wonder Woman has always been one of DC Comics’ most interesting characters. As far as mythology goes, she is DC’s version of Marvel’s Thor (Yeah, I know Wonder Woman came first, obviously). With all the controversy of Gal Gadot being cast as Wonder Woman I figured it’d be a good time to re-examine the character for myself and ended up giving the first six issues of the New 52 version of Wonder Woman a try in order to do so.

First off, the writing was pretty decent. Azarello, you can tell, wants to keep a lot of the mythology in tact and he does so pretty well. At least for a comic book, anyway. One thing I didn’t really like, though, was there seemed to be an awful lot of puns. I’m not sure exactly how many there were, but I felt like that’s all I was doing at points was reading puns to myself that the characters were saying. That hindered the enjoyment in places, but overall it was pretty entertaining aside from what I felt were jarring transitions between issues and even within individual issues.

The art was okay, but I feel like it was maybe a tad too cartoony. It reminded me of Bruce Timm a bit, which is good, but in the context of an Amazonian woman who spends her time hacking the arms off centaurs, I feel like it should be more gritty and realistic. It would really bring home the reality of our world and put it in tune with the fantastical aspects of the mythological one that Diana inhabits.

Overall, I enjoyed it and I look forward to seeing where it goes in the next volume. Seeing all the different gods represented in the artist/author’s interpretations was kind of cool, too. (Although Hermes is pretty creepy looking, I’ll admit).

JOE Rating: ★★★

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Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel (2013)

Original Theatrical Release Date: June 14, 2013
Director: Zack Snyder

Kal-El was sent from his dying planet, Krypton,  as an infant by his father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his mother Faora-Ul (Ayelet Zurer). With him, they sent the hopes and wishes of their entire Kryptonian race. Raised by human parents after crash-landing on Earth, Kal-El was renamed Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) and eventually had to come to terms with his extraordinary and god-like abilities, using those abilities to help others though they didn’t always realize it. However, when another survivor from Krypton – Zod (Michael Shannon) shows up and demands that Earth give up this “Superman” or face dire consequences, Clark/Kal must choose a side. The Kryptonians or the Earthlings.

Now, before I get down to brass tacks, I need to say something: I am not the biggest Superman fan in the world. Don’t get me wrong. I love the basic idea of his character, and his abilities are cool for the most part…but the dude is just too invulnerable. Sure, he’s got his weaknesses but they sort of change over time depending on the needs of the story line (in the comics, anyway). Plus, they’re really specific weaknesses – like Kryptonite, a rare green rock from space – really?! Also, Superman is an alien and it’s hard to identify with him already on account of his insane god-like abilities – but when you also throw in the fact that he’s not even human, then there is definitely a disconnect.

With that said, I don’t think this was the worst Superman movie I’ve ever seen.

I came into this film with no real expectations other than to be entertained for a while. I was entertained for the most part, for sure. Zack Snyder’s direction was the usual fare of fight sequences and thoughtful, introspective scenes. The writing by David Goyer was decent, but some of the elements were too clearly designed to be almost like a parable. The acting was decent by Henry Cavill and the rest of the cast, and it was nice to see Russell Crowe back in shape a little bit. He’d been looking a little chubby the past few years. However, some of the special effects were wonky and some of the story elements had me going “really?”, and that’s all on top of the movie being way too long. Two and a half hours with not much really to show for it.

Now, I had been entertaining the idea that this would be sort of a darker version of Superman, sort of how Christopher Nolan brought Batman back to his gothic roots. I was right in a way, but wow…I was not expecting the level of wanton destruction Superman caused during the fighting with Zod. In other incarnations of Superman, Supes would have tried to direct the fight to the countryside or somewhere uninhabited….but in the film, Superman uppercuts his opponents through skyscrapers, toppling the buildings, and he doesn’t have time to save anyone. Crazy. My other gripe was the way in which Jonathan Kent’s (Kevin Costner) character was handled. The writers wanted him to be “Uncle Ben” to Clark but it didn’t translate nearly in the same way as the poignant character of Uncle Ben did to Marvel’s Spider-Man.

All in all, it was decent as an action flick. I wouldn’t go in thinking much more than that, even if you’re a Superman fan. I am interested to see if they change anything up during the sequel. Guess we’ll find out! (EDIT: I’m feeling like the upcoming sequel will be a shit show, but I hope they prove me wrong. They are CRAMMING IN so many characters. It’s crazy.)

JOE Rating: ★★★

Movie Trailer For Man Of Steel

Joe The Barbarian (2011)

Joe The Barbarian (2011)

Publisher: Vertigo
Creative Team: Grant Morrison, Sean Murphy

Joe The Barbarian collects issues #1-8 of the limited DC/Vertigo series written by Grant Morrison (Batman Inc., Supergods) with artwork by Sean Murphy (Hellblazer, American Vampire: Survival Of The Fittest).

Joe Manson is an eleven-year-old kid with type 1 diabetes. On top of that, his father died overseas in the ongoing war in the Middle East. It’s no wonder that he spends all day in a dream world of action figures and drawings of noble knights and scary creatures. However, after some school bullies steal his candy he gets home and begins to go into hypoglycemia, but unexpectedly also into another world…one so real he cannot discern it from reality. Traversing this new fantasy world, in the real world he is only trying to get to the kitchen. Realities blur and soon it’s apparent that there is a purpose behind the visions and that he must stay alive.

First off, I love Morrison and I love Murphy. Two great talents working together. Can I refer to them as M&M? Haha, no, but really.

The story is evocative of Alice In Wonderland and Tellos, sort of mixed together in one awesome stew. Tellos will always be my favorite but this book managed to capture that feeling and the wonder of that book, if a little bit darker….yet it had almost as much heart.

It was nice to see a story dealing with a character who must battle diabetes. Coming from a family where diabetes is a constant concern, Joe The Barbarian was especially poignant to me. My great grandmother recently died after choosing not to continue with her dialysis treatments but she’d been battling diabetes for years.

In any case, I loved Murphy’s work on American Vampire, and I think he did an amazing job with Morrison’s fantastical vision in this book. The art has a nice steampunky type of style to it, which somehow fit the theme nicely.

You should really check it out, especially if you enjoyed Todd Dezago and Mike Weiringo’s work on Tellos.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Here’s A Sample Page From Joe The Barbarian
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Northlanders: The Cross And The Hammer (2009)

Northlanders: The Cross And The Hammer (2009)

Publisher: Vertigo
Creative Team: Brian Wood, Ryan Kelly

Set in Viking-era Ireland, Northlanders Book Two: The Cross And The Hammer, collects issues #11-16 of the DC/Vertigo comic book series written by Brian Wood (DMZ, Demo) and illustrated by Ryan Kelly (Lucifer, The New York Four).

It is 1014 in Viking-occupied Ireland. One lone man, only known as Magnus, refuses to bow to the will of the Viking overlords and is leaving a bloody trail of insurgency in his wake. Magnus has no ties, no weaknesses, nothing to lose…except his daughter Brigid. Magnus’ killing spree and defiance catches the attention of Lord Ragnar Ragnarsson, a forensic specialist and confidant of the King who becomes obsessed with finding Magnus and ending his uprising.

When it becomes apparent that the only way to draw Magnus out of hiding is to provoke him by senselessly murdering innocent Irish families, it sends the two foes into a circle of psychological warfare and intrigue.

I was really looking forward to this volume after having already read Northlanders: Sven The Returned, which was amazing…so maybe my hopes were a little too high.

First off, don’t get me wrong. I would rather read this volume than not read this volume. Northlanders is a great series, and Brian Wood is doing some great stuff. Even the premise of the arc in this volume is decent and had me intrigued, but it all ended up falling a little flat.

Ryan Kelly is a great artist but I was honestly, the entire time, comparing his style (without meaning to) to Davide Gianfelice’s, who did the art for the issues collected in the first volume. In some ways, Kelly’s artwork is better for this Irish story but in others it just doesn’t feel up to par. There was nothing wrong for it save for the flavor, and despite some great splash page work some of it seemed a bit cartoony.

On top of that, I was sort of brought out of the story some by the way Lord Ragnar Ragnarsson spoke/wrote in the way that you might see a character do on an episode of CSI. I kept thinking to myself “This is so modern sounding. WTF is going on here?

Another thing to watch out for is the twist ending. It seems to be all the rage nowadays to give a twist ending on everything, but I don’t think they had to do so, here. It wasn’t super-compelling as it was and then to sort of glaze over it all with a twist ending such as the one found within the pages of this TPB, it just dulled everything down even more.

Overall, I wouldn’t miss this entry into the series, but it could have been much better. I hear that Volume III is, indeed, much better…so I’ll have to check it out. So, give this a read if you follow along but I’m not so sure this will be a favored volume in the series.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Here’s A Sample Page From Northlanders, Vol. 2: The Cross And The Hammer
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Justice League: Doom (2012)

Justice League: Doom (2012)

Original Theatrical Release: February 28, 2012
Director: Lauren Montgomery

The Justice League is a team of powerful superheroes dedicated to protecting Earth from all manner of supervillains and other dangers. Batman (Kevin Conroy), the most human of the Justice League, has created contingency plans to defeat each individual member of the famed superhero team. Vandal Savage (Phil Morris) has plans of world domination and decides to send Mirror Master (Alexis Denisof) to sneak into the Batcave and steal all of Batman’s files, including the weaknesses of the Justice League. This results in Batman, Superman (Tim Daly), Wonder Woman (Susan Eisenberg), Green Lantern (Nathan Fillion), Martian Manhunter (Carl Lumbly), The Flash (Michael Rosenbaum) and Cyborg (Bumper Robinson) all having to fight for their very lives as Batman’s contingency plans prove all too effective.

Taken from the Tower of Babel story line, the events in this film mostly mirror those found in DC Comics, with some differences. However, with only 77 minutes to tell this story, I think they managed to do a good job, overall. Still, some fans of the original material might feel like this doesn’t adequately translate Mark Waid’s original writing. Movies will almost always lack the depth of their source material, so it’s best to treat them as separate entities if you can.

The animation was very slick and stylized. The voice acting was consistently very good, and it was nice to see the Legion Of Doom go up against the Justice League. You could get a sense of the classic rivalries between the characters even without knowing all of the years of back story behind them.

DC seems to really have a handle on all of their animated features – I will give them that. DC characters are sort of larger than life and tend to lend themselves more to animated adventures, where Marvel characters tend to be more gritty and aside from characters like Spider-Man, are more suited to the big screen.

With that said, in this (too) short animated feature, you will find copious amounts of action, danger and adventure…and you will feel that the League really is close to being defeated, because they are…and it’s because of one of their own members. (Thanks a lot, Batman…)

JOE Rating:  ★★★★

Trailer for Justice League: Doom

The Sandman Volume 1: Preludes & Nocturnes (1991)

The Sandman Volume 1: Preludes & Nocturnes (1988)

Publisher: DC/Vertigo
Creative Team: Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III

Set in the DC Universe, The Sandman Volume 1 collects issues 1-8 of the comic book series written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III.

A wizard who wants to live forever attempts to summon and trap Death, but inadvertantly traps her younger brother, Dream (aka Morpheus). Fearing retaliation, the wizard and his cohorts keep Morpheus imprisoned in a magical cell for a couple of lifetimes. When his captors make a mistake and Morpheus breaks free, he is weak from his time in imprisonment and also finds that his captors have stolen and have sold three of his possessions which help give him power. His helm, his bag of dust and his ruby pendant. With these items he will be close to full strength again, so he sets out to find them…but they are spread wide and though he is a god, Morpheus finds that some of them are guarded more closely than he would think. Teaming with well-known DC Comics characters like John Constantine and Martian Manhunter, Morpheus must go to Hell and back to find his things. Literally.

While this is not the strongest entry in the Sandman series, issues 1-8 are a great introduction to the world Morpheus inhabits and is a good set up to the wonderment that follows in later volumes. The artwork is great, but the colors in the collection versus the originals are a little bit off, a little bit darker. This might be problematic for some purists, but I think for the tone of the piece, the colors suit it well. Then again, the original colors were more dreamlike. It’s a coin toss on which you’ll like better.

This beginning collection is a story about starting over. Morpheus was content with where he was and with his station, overconfident that he had everything nailed down. When this was proven false by his imprisonment by a bunch of mortals, it shook him up a little. Weakened and forced to find alternate ways to deal with things, Morpheus becomes a compelling character. Though a god, he is still fallible.

The characters are all really interesting. We get to meet the perky character of Death, we get to see a new and frightening/sad interpretation of Cain and Abel. There are dangerous and fantastical dream creatures and lots of magic thrown in.

If other DC characters weren’t tossed into the mix, you wouldn’t even think of it as a comic book story that exists in the world of superheroes, but Neil Gaiman has seamlessly integrated Morpheus and his mythos into the existing DC canon.

Give this a read, and especially the later collections.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Check Out This Sample Page From Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes!
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Northlanders: Sven The Returned (2008)

Northlanders: Sven The Returned (2008)

Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics
Creative Team: Brian Wood, Massimo Carnevale, Davide Gianfelice

Set in Viking-era Scotland, Northlanders: Volume One (Sven The Returned) collects issues 1-8 of the DC/Vertigo comic series written by Brian Wood (DMZ, Demo) and illustrated by Davide Gianfelice (Dylan Dog).

Sven, as a boy, abandons his roots and is sold as a slave, ending up in Constantinople where he is freed. However, he longs to return home and finds that his uncle, the evil and cowardly Gorm, has subjected the people and stolen his inheritance. Sven becomes a one-man army in his quest to get back what is rightfully his, and he will turn the white, icy tundra red with the blood of any who stand in his way….but at what cost?

I just finished reading the first issue of Helheim (My review of Helheim is linked there) and while I liked it, a lot of it felt like fluff. Northlanders is definitely not fluff. It is gritty, filled with blood and greed and sex and you will find yourself glad that you were not alive to see such times.

Brian Wood weaves a great story around a would-be-unsympathetic character and somehow makes him likable. The art by Davide Gianfelice is AMAZING, though, and the two of them work miracles together with this series. A guy at the comic store recommended this to me along with Helheim and I’m glad he did. I will definitely be picking up the second volume when I can.

If you like Viking lore or medieval fantasy or action, you need to give this a try. It’s great.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Here’s a sample page from Northlanders: Sven The Returned

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