Saturday, 28 September 2013

Beast Wars: The Ascending *updated*

Don't worry, you'll loose track
of these characters, easy.
Beast Wars: The Ascending

Writer: Simon Furman

Artist: Don Figueroa

Owned as Trade Paperback

Please Note: I currently do not own the first volume in this series. Everywhere I look, it seems to be out of print. *sigh*

Background Information:

I half feel like this book needs a "you know you were a kid in the 90s" meme attached to it.

See, Beast Wars was my Transformers. I loved it to the point where you could compare it to a junkie's love for heroine. The series featured one of the best franchise storylines to date, and it (as well as Beast Machines... urgh) was really the last time fans of the 80s Transformers cartoon would ever see of the “G1” continuity before it gave way to multiple reboots. The series featured the Maximals and the Predacons- future descendants of the Autobots and Decepticons, as they battled on prehistoric earth for the preservation of 80s cartoon events. It was the kind of storyline that welcomed new fans without alienating old ones and it worked a treat.

Simon Furman may be the closest thing that Transformers fandom have to an actual god. He wrote most of Marvel’s 80s Transformers comics, as well as the highly popular The War Within series for Dreamwave. For fans of Beast Wars, he’s also the dude who wrote the final episode of the series. Yep, we have him to blame for Tigahawk’s short lifespan (though thankfully not for Beast Machines- I got your back Transformers community).

Furman couldn't have chosed a better time to start work on the Beast Wars series; 2006 marked the 10th anniversary of Beast Wars: Transformers, and, well, IDW thought that was worth commemorating. In that spirit, the company hired Simon Furman to write Beast Wars: The Gathering- a story set parallel to the cartoon’s storyline featuring characters that, until now, had only appeared in the toyline and fan fiction. The series had such an effect that series hero Razorbeast saw his toy price on EBay reach insane figures (and this is for a character that transforms into a pig, something that doesn’t exactly inspire ‘coolness’ in the eyes of children).

Fast forward to 2007-2008 and it’s time to continue the story of characters that we never initially cared about with Beast Wars: The Ascending. This volume does things a little differently, not content to be restricted to toy characters, The Ascending branches out to include characters from the two Japanese spin-off cartoons, Beast Wars the Second and Beast Wars Neo.

The story is fairly simple: Magmatron, the big bad from The Gathering is stuck between time periods following the events of the previous volume. He sees a future Cybertron that is torn to shreds and decides he needs to do something about it. That something involves manipulating the timestream in order to bring the warring Maximals and Predacons of earth together to fight the evil Shokaract- a twisted robot who seems to have a sadistic god-complex going on.

And that’s really as much about the story as I can reveal to you without ruining it, because the story is simple even by Transformers standards. It thrashes anything Micheal Bay may produce, but that doesn’t mean it’s Shakespeare. At its best, The Ascending is a massive battle scene played out over four issues- which seems to be Furman’s foray. It’s an awesome battle scene, don’t get me wrong, but if you’re looking for depth in storyline, I suggest you go somewhere else.

The story’s biggest strength is its massive cast of characters: toy-only characters like Wolfang, B’boom and Snarl appear alongside lesser-known Japanese characters like Lio Convoy, Big Convoy and Longrack. Unfortunately, this cast is also the books biggest weakness; Furman seems so caught-up in trying to include as many characters as possible that he develops none of them in the process. As such, when a character dies, you don’t really care. There are some forty-something others to barrack for.

The art in The Ascending is pretty standard fare. Bright colours bring out the best in characters and Figueroa seems to have a real talent for using lighting and shadow in a way that emphasises dramatic moments. But by far the best thing about the art is seeing all of those characters on the page in a wild flurry of action. Unlike the TV show, this feels like a real beast WAR with multiple casualties and all the horror to boot.

I think the trick to enjoying The Ascending is to treat it like a nostalgic romp; a nice moment where you can temporarily revisit your childhood and experience the excitement of a favourite cartoon from the 90s. The Ascending gets four out of five robotic toys.


+ Lots of characters to look at.

+Great action.

+Nostalgia value through the roof.

-Fairly shallow.

-Next to no character development.

Alternate Pick: Beast Wars: The Gathering

If you can find it; good on you. You may be less confused than if you start on the second volume.

Batman: Battle for the Cowl

Batman: Battle for the Cowl

Writer and artist: Tony S. Daniel

Nononononononono... BATMAN!

Background Information:

This book may be obselete now. With DC's revamped New 52 universe, a lot of the old continuity has been stripped away. The events in this book, however, have been referenced in the New 52's Nightwing #1. DC hasn't made it clear on whether this exact book is still relevent to the new universe or not (they have so far replaced some previously canon stories, like Batman's Year One), but lacking any evidence to the contrary, we can assume that this story still happened.


I really wanted to love Battle for the Cowl: it’s a big moment in the old DCU that collects all of the major robins and has them play off each other quite well. But those good things, unfortunately, don’t refute the problems that abound in this trade.

The book’s premise is captivating enough: with Batman presumed dead, Gotham’s criminal types are rising to the occasion; redrawing gang turf maps, and raising hell wherever possible.  In response, Nightwing and Oracle have called together a group of allies known as “The Network”. It’s a semi-successful strategy, but even the combined power of Nightwing, Robin, Knight, Squire, The Birds of Prey, Wildcat , and others are no substitute for the sheer symbolic power of Batman’s presence. Even the presence of a gun-toting crazy Batman isn’t quite the same. So the question that is filled out over three issues is pretty simple: Who should be Batman?

If some of you were scratching your heads earlier, let me assure you, that wasn’t a mistake: the main story of this trade is only three issues long. That wouldn’t be so bad in most cases, but the result is that Battle for the Cowl honestly feels too rushed.  In the process, the story actually loses a large amount of depth. This isn’t helped by the fact that the story’s superb prologue isn’t even included in the trade (you’ll need to buy Long Shadows for that). What rubs salt in the wound is the absolutely boring Gotham Gazette supplement that makes up the last two chapters. Exactly who thought this was a good idea is not for me to say- especially since there were a whole bunch of tie-in issues to Battle for the Cowl that would have made a lot more sense.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not poorly written. This collection has been written with big, dramatic action in mind. The problem is that there were so many loose ends throughout the series. I understand that comics require a little bit of uncertainty throughout their stories (particularly in the case of Batman), but I would have liked to see more people trying to claim the mantle of Batman and less fat guys in pig masks.

So how does a story that sees a new Batman emerge read so poorly? My theory is that it all has to do with the creative team that went into it. See, Tony S. Daniel is the guy behind both the artwork and the story. That, to me, spells trouble. The only outcome of this can be:

a)      Either the story or the art somehow loses out, or

b)      both suffer tremendously.

Thankfully option A occurred. Yes, the story lacked the depth and breadth that Battle for the Cowl really should have had, but the artwork was spot on- perfectly portraying a Gotham that had fallen into anarchy for lack of a caped crusader. The action is bloody and portrays a real sense of pain, and the colours are dark and mysterious.

It’s hard to recommend Battle for the Cowl to anyone but those who loved the Batman: Reborn stories. That said, though you’re probably better off reading those if you really want to see what a different Batman is like. Battle for the Cowl gets 3 ½ out of five fat guys in pig masks.

*** ½

+ Decently written.

+ Dramatic art.

-Way too short.

-Supplemented by the awful Gotham Gazette.

-Too many unanswered questions; even for a comic.

Alternate Pick: Batman: Long Shadows

Actually tells a similar story, but does a much better job at doing so.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Nightwing Vol 1: Traps and Trapezes (The New 52) *Updated*

Nightwing Volume 1: Traps and Trapezes (The New 52)
What says dangerous? Hard liquorice sticks!
The Facts:

Writer: Kyle Higgins

Artist: Eddy Barrows

Owned as trade paperback.
Background information:
Nightwing (or Dick Grayson by day) has a pretty expansive history in the DC universe. We first got to know him as Robin: the orphaned circus boy adopted by Bruce Wayne to become his sidekick in his battle against crime. When Dick came of age, he graduated from the red, yellow and green costume to become Nightwing. He's led a group of young heroes known as the Teen Titans, and has frequently served as the rational side to Batman's occasional psychotic mindset. The character became such a important part of the Batman mythos, that when Bruce Wayne went missing for a year in the old DC universe, Dick was the one to take the mantle of the bat, defending Gotham with Bruce's son as Robin.

In 2011, DC essentially rebooted their entire universe in a movement called the New 52; a proactive bid to draw in new readers who would have otherwise been lost in the sixty-year mythology of certain characters. This means that now is a pretty good time to get involved in DC comics, as you're likely to know as much as anyone else does about the new DC universe.

Okay so there’s a few things you need to know about the new Nightwing. Firstly, it’s written by Kyle Higgins, who until now has been known for two things: his work on the Deathstroke comic series (also part of the New 52) and introducing the character of Nightrunner to the Batman universe; which gained controversy on account of the character’s Arab heritage. Regardless of your opinion on either of those characters, it’s pretty clear that Higgins has a firm grip on the kind of stories that surround the Bat-Family.

Secondly, the artwork is by Eddy Barrows, who has also had enough time to get his feet wet in some pretty solid DC titles: in titles like Superman: Grounded, Barrows showed us that he could draw real emotion in characters- the kind that actually gives us a look into the souls of DC characters. He also did work on the absolutely stellar 52 event/series/whatever-it-is-it-took-four-paperbacks-to-collect. And he carries that skill over to Nightwing’s stories. The panels ooze with personality and the action is paced near-perfectly (with one exception, really).

Thirdly, being a New 52 trade, you really don’t need much in the way of background knowledge to get into this one. Traps and Trapezes gives you just enough background story to get you familiar with Nightwing, without having us go through another origin story (and really, doing Nighwing’s origin story up to this point would be a loooooonnnnnnngggggg one).

And I think it’s that lack of origin story that made Traps and Trapezes fun for a new reader like me. This is the first DC trade I’ve ever really bought (the second trade that I’ve bought, period) and at no point did I feel like there was something cooler happening before I picked this up; which is nice when you’re new to a series. What’s even better, because this book didn’t waste too much time on Nightwing’s origins (take notes, please, hollywood) I found myself feeling like I was actually reading the story that the series had been leading up to- an awesome way to hook readers into the story.
So about that story; after returning to his guise as Nightwing, Dick Grayson decides to visit Haly’s Circus while it’s in Gotham. That’s a big moment for Dick, as he hasn’t really seen them in Gotham since his parents were murdered there. Not long after seeing them, he’s attack by a killer named Saiko- A Wolverinish-looking (by that, I mean he has claws) assassin who calls him the fiercest killer in all of Gotham. Hence the stage is set for a mystery that finds Nightwing digging deeper into his own history, as well as that of the circus.

The whole story plays out like a weekly crime drama: one big overarching story with the occasional distraction in each issue. It’s an entertaining structure that sadly fails to deliver occasionally (see the issue entitled Til Death Do Us Part for an example), but for the majority, it’s an interesting romp; if for no other reason than each issue reveals something new about the Saiko mystery.

And at that point, I can mention probably my only real criticism of the story: the villains. There’s nobody here that really stands out as iconic; Saiko’s no Deathstroke, and supporting villains like Feedback, Spinebender and the straight-up weird Acheron don’t look like they’ll be making any big splashes soon. Reading the trade, you find yourself begging for Nightwing’s own Joker, or Lex Luthor. That’s not to say that any of these villains are bad (well, except maybe Acheron) but there is definitely no sense of awe in this rogues gallery.

Be that as it may, there’s plenty to enjoy here with New 52 Nightwing. And the end leaves you with a cliffhanger that will likely make you desperate to read the second volume.
Nightwing gets a total of 4 out of 5 long origin stories.


+ Great story structure

+ Art captures the essence of Dick Grayson and the supporting cast

+ No origin story.

- The villains don’t scream iconic

- Til Death Do Us Part is pretty sub-par

Alternate Pick: Nightwing: Year One

Another Nightwing story that takes Dick Grayson back to the circus (okay, so it’s only for a little while, but what do you do?).

Scarlet Spider Vol 1: Life After Death *Updated*

Conisder this the official hello!

Although I've always loved pop culture and superhero stories, reading the comics is a fairly new hobby to me. I know that's going to make me sound a little naive on this subject, but hear me out. My goal in this blog is not to promote comics to the hardened comic reader. Rather, I aim to give new readers some handy reviews that may help them get their feet wet.

With that said, let's start with the first trade paperback I have bought. And that's this little number from Marvel;

Scarlet Spider Volume 1: Life After Death

In case you can't tell, he's kinda got a
connection to Spiderman.
The Facts:

Writer: Christopher Yost

Artist: Ryan Stegman/Neil Edwards

Owned as Trade Paperback

Background Information:

In the 90s, Marvel published a Spider-Man event that would live forever in infamy. That event would be known as the Clone Saga. The premise was fairly simple; a villian known as the Jackal attempted to clone Peter Parker. It sounds like a story that should have only lasted a few issues.

Yeah, try a few years, actually.

Along with everyone's favourite web-slinger, the event followed two clones of Parker; one, by name of Kain, was a monstrous-looking, defective clone who generally went crazy; becoming more the spider than the man (which somehow translated to killing everyone he knew as he went through the process of slowly dying). The other, taking the name Ben Riley, began swinging through the streets of New York as the Scarlet Spider.

The former survived to change his ways, and the latter, put simply, died.


So now we have 2012's Scarlet Spider, which focuses not on a resurrected Ben Riley, but on Kain, the man who was formally a monster.
And that formally thing is a big deal here. If you read 2011's Spider Island in, you’ll no doubt know that Kain has been more or less cured of the genetic defects that he had beforehand and now looks a lot more like a regular human being. On top of that, Kain’s no longer dying. So what do you do with this new lease on life?

Why, move to Mexico, of course.

If that doesn’t sound very hero-ey, it’s because it isn’t. But that’s what makes this story written by Christopher Yost (X-Force, Red Robin and, apparently, Thor: Dark World) so interesting. Yost has taken some pains to point out to us that this isn’t Peter Parker. In fact, Kain’s kinda’ a jerk. He starts off with no heroic intentions at all- all of the power, but none of the responsibility, as the jacket blurb tells us- and winds up in Houston where he gets a little sidetracked after rescuing an immigrant girl named Aracely who seems to have some sort of mysterious history (enough to attract the fire-throwing Salamander). Making Houston at least his temporary residence, Kain finds that he has attracted a slew of enemies that force him to choose between heroism and selfishness, ultimately allowing heroism to win.

And that’s the genius of Yost’s storyline: it’s not a story that focuses on one “big” bad guy. Rather, the focus is on Kain’s internal struggle, and the result is actually pretty satisfying. Yost writes this character well. Kain’s no Peter Parker; he often finds himself using scare tactics on some crooks and barely resisting the urge to brutally kill others. He interrogates using physical pain (read; using bone-like “stingers” to pierce a gunman’s arm) and doesn’t straight-up “like” anybody he comes into contact with. At the same time, though, Yost realises that Kain is still Parker’s clone- and no Parker can be completely humourless. There are moderately funny lines here. Lines like “This guy has some nice ink but what really grabs my attention is that he’s throwing fire... This may take more than a few minutes”. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny like what you may read in Spider Island, but they definitely put us right back in the spider-community.

But for all that Yost does right, there is plenty he gets wrong. Excluding Kain’s personal journey toward becoming a hero, only two of the issues in this volume have much of a connection to each other. In fact, if you were to read them as single issues, I imagine the story might even be better. What’s more the last issue in the story-arc is just too anti-climatic to really satisfy readers (and yes, I have a basic understanding of the events in Grim Hunt and still wasn’t all that impressed). The whole trade gives hints of cool things that may happen later in the series without actually doing that many cool things itself. It’s enough to get you to take up the series, but honestly, you could probably start at a later volume without missing out on too much.

And it doesn’t really help that the art is pretty average. It works, but it’s standard comic book fare, and sometimes fails to communicate the darkness of Kain’s character. That said though, it does portray some entertaining action. Each scene is simple enough to follow and at no point are you left wondering what happened between panels.

Life After Death is an interesting title that gives us a deep look into the psychology of an anti-hero turned hero and gets 3.5 out of 5 tickets to Mexico.

*** ½

+ Clever look at the psyche of a hero.

+ Yost’s Kain has plenty of depth.

- Art a little light for a character like Kain.

- Issues don’t work as well together as they could.

Alternate Pick: Venom, Volume 1

Not one that I’ve read (yet), but if this is anywhere near as good as his parts in Spider Island, you’ve got a winner here.