Comic Book Review – Jupiter’s Legacy Volume 2 (2017)

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I’ve been reading comics for over thirty years and I like them as much now as I did when I was kid. But as my knowledge of art, drama, history, geography, cinema and psychology has grown, my expectations for mainstream entertainment and superhero comics have soared.

Some of my favorite books have been about the unilateral grasp for power by the world’s most powerful and the capes that arise in opposition. A quick list: Squadron Supreme (86), Watchmen, Kingdom Come, Civil War (06 – I understand I am loose in putting it on this list), and the dazzling Rising Stars (especially the first two volumes). The Jupiter series (Circle and Legacy) honors and possible surpasses all of those (a few of you might think Garth Ennis’s “The Boys” should go on this list, but that is mostly a dark and violent satire of the genre).

The work that Mr. Millar and Mr. Quitely have performed in this book is astonishing. Frank Quitely’s art is truly spectacular and dynamic – from facial expressions to movements to backgrounds to splash pages. His skills have only improved with the years.

Mark Millar’s plotting and dialogue are superb in this volume, and he builds the anticipation for the conflict deftly. The so-called heroes are the villains and vice-versa: the world seems upside down, which is a scathingly blatant critique of the current social, economic and political climates of the Western world (particularly the USA), though if you blink you’ll miss them. The arrogance, stupidity and knee-jerk actions of the leadership is both eerie and funny at the same time. The motivations of the rebels (villains/heroes that have been in hiding) are both personal and globally altruistic – and they are consistent and logical. This is truly a wonderful feat of writing. There were many moments where I paused as I caught myself smiling and shaking my head at both the content and the style.

The action in issues 5 and 6 in this volume could have been spread out a little more, but I’m only whinging about it because I liked this story so much. The other irritant is that it took Millar and Quitely 2 1/2 years to offer this up after the glorious first volume. If the last page is to be believed, then we won’t see “Jupiter’s Requiem” until 2019. Brutal.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Jupiter’s Legacy Volume 1 (2015)

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This book doesn’t break any new ground or offer the angst filled edgy drama which can come to be expected of comic books since the 90s. Instead the topics covered here are familiar but Jupiter’s Legacy is to the point, fulfilling and provoking in it’s simplicity. The uncomplicated but characterful artwork is appealing and quickly weaves a tale like dominoes falling before the reader’s eyes. Frank Quitely’s artwork and subdued colors set a tone which stands apart while remaining effortless and lasting.

Millar doesn’t waste time with his pacing. Each scene has a point which quickly established its purpose. If you are sick of the soap operas often found in Western comics and entire issues of “powering up” in Eastern comics, you will find this story very refreshing. The characters get right to business and often find original ways to assert their goals which confound the conventional comic book moaning and groaning on morality. When the villains kill someone, they do it quickly, efficiently and ruthlessly, and it’s displayed in almost sickening detail. The book leaves no chance of a moment growing stale or character becoming tedious, leaving the reader hungry for more time with each of the actors on these pages.

My one criticism is that this work comes across with some possibly unintentional conservative propaganda. Chloe and Brandon are Millennials who drink, party, have unwed sex and their actions are the fall of their family line. If only everyone had listened to their father Sheldon’s warnings about staying the path and keeping traditional American values then none of this tragedy would have unfolded. Only when Chloe embraces a conventional relationship does her life start to come together. Was this Millar’s intention? I can’t say but while this theme is the one major failing of these books it does not detract from what is otherwise a very rich and interesting story.

Overall I would recommend this book to anyone who is familiar with comic book themes but fairly new to reading them. Even those who have read many graphic novels will appreciate this reflection of the comic world.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Miracleman Book Three: Olympus (2015)

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The fantastic conclusion to one of Alan Moore’s first on-going comics is finally back in print. “Miracleman – Book 3: Olympus” has been one of the most expensive out-of-print graphic novels for many years now. The hardcover version being frequently posted for sale for insane amounts of money (think 4 figures). So, it’s a blessed relief for fans and newcomers alike that there is now a more affordable option for enjoying the finale to Moore’s 8 year opus.

Much has been written about Moore (aka “The Original Writer”) and John Totleben’s work on Miracleman, but needless to say that it’s more than a fitting resolution to all the sub-plots introduced in Books 1 and 2. Told via flashback in a utopian 1987/1988, Miracleman writes the “official” account of late 1982 to his present day. He narrates being reunited with Miraclewoman, meeting the Warpsmiths, the loss of much of his personal life, and the horrific return of Kid Miracleman in 1985. At the end of the book, Miracleman saves the day “for good”, but at what cost?

Moore presents some fascinating themes and realistic consequences of the existence of actual super heroes. Unlike in “Watchmen”, where all the masked heroes were regular people for the most part, Olympus confronts head on how alien the main characters are. From Miraclewoman’s detached attitude to her sexual abuse by Dr. Gargunza; Kid Miracleman’s effortless massacre, slaughtering half the population of London creatively in a matter of hours; to Miracleman’s own personal transformation as he desperately tries to hold onto his humanity, before slipping into other world benevolence.

The conclusion will definitely divide your thoughts and opinions if you see morality in anything but black and white. An apparent utopia is achieved, but are the humans in Miracleman’s fantastical society really free? It’s a very complex ending to the comic, with Miracleman himself unsure about his actions and the future of the world that he’s created.

Totleben illustrates all of these scenarios magnificently, and Book 3 is, by far, the most beautiful of the three volumes. This is incredibly high praise considering Garry Leach’s highly detailed work on the first book, but the consistency of Book 3 really takes it above and beyond. The art really imbibes the mythological tone of Moore’s writing, with Totleben drawing breathtaking imagery seemingly every other page. And when I say breathtaking, I mean in multiple different ways. But these descriptions do not do Totleben’s craft justice – no amount of words probably could. Please, buy this book and experience it yourself. The artwork is worth the price alone.

Moore’s writing in this book far surpasses Watchmen or any of his other work and Totleben’s striking line art seems to be sharper and more detailed in this new edition. Steve Oliff’s new digital colouring also does a good job of matching the quality of Sam Parson’s original traditional colouring and everything appears to be much more vibrant, but not at the expense of compromising the dark atmosphere of the book. This is by far the best chapter in my favourite comic of all time, and it is as fresh and striking today as it was in 1990.

Highly recommended.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Miracleman Book Two: The Red King Syndrome (2014)

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Even though it took 6 issues to tell and filled over 100 pages, Miracleman, Book Two: The Red King Syndrome really isn’t about much. The gist of the plot is this: Dr. Gargunza (Miracleman’s arch enemy from the 50s and 60s) has kidnapped Mike Moran’s wife Liz and Miracleman must save her. That’s it. Six issues. A hundred pages. Right there.

There is more to it, of course, there’s Dr. Gargunza’s origin, how he came to the position he held, how he created Miracleman after studying a downed spacecraft and its dead pilot, how his only hope in creating this legend was that it might breed and Dr. Gargunza could use that child, imprint his consciousness on it and live forever. It’s about five months since the end of Book One and Miracleman and Mike Moran are slowly growing apart (“I don’t trust Moran in a crisis” Miracleman says at one point) as the hero is slowly becoming more godlike in his powers and behavior.

Liz gives birth to Miracleman’s daughter in what’s probably the most graphically rendered birthing scene ever to appear in a comic book. And two mysterious beings appear toward the end of the book in search of . . . well, I’m not really sure WHAT they were searching for. No, that’s not true, I do know what they were looking for, but there’s no way to explain it without giving you the entire history on how Dr. Gargunza created Miracleman, and that would take some time. Suffice it to say, Mike Moran and Miracleman ARE two different beings even though, genetically, they share the same DNA and memories.

The title of Book Two, “The Red King Syndrome”, is taken from Alice in Wonderland. Dr. Gargunza asks his assistant one day when it seems the Miracles are about to wake up from their hypnotic slumber, “Tell me, Dr. Fabian…have you ever read ‘Alice in Wonderland’? You have? Do you remember the Red King? He slept and dreamed, and no-one dared wake him. They were afraid, you see, that they were all part of his dream, and that were he to wake the whole of existence would simply vanish.” If you remember from Book One, Miracleman’s entire history was nothing more than a computer-generated dream he and the other two heroes, Young Miracleman and Kid Miracleman, were having, created by Dr. Gargunza in the Project Zarathustra labs and Gargunza realizes one day that if these three were to wake up, considering they’re the most powerful creatures on the planet, things could get very bad for him.

Alan Moore’s writing is still, in Book Two, just as poetic and beautiful as in Book One, funny in places, terrifying in others. The art is split once again, Alan Davis in the beginning, then taken over by Chuck Austen, then Rick Veitch. I found none of them to be particularly dazzling, even though I’ve always like Alan Davis. His work in here just seemed kind of average, considering how good I know he is. But Miracleman was originally published in the early 80s, so maybe he just hadn’t reached his peak yet. The way the stories are told, the layouts of each issue, seemed very purposeful and I’d be willing to bet that had a lot to do with Moore’s script; I love his attention to that kind of detail at times.

Considering the character development as well as what’s happened in the plot–especially the birth of Winter who, at only a few weeks old, doesn’t cry, but said “Ma-ma” five minutes after being born and has a full set of teeth and eats four tins of solid food at a time–I can’t wait to get into Book Three and see what happens next.

Miracleman is just what I’d hoped it would be, amazing. I read these stories originally 25 years ago, probably longer, and was just hoping they were still as great as I’d remembered. They’re even better. I was right all those years when I said Miracleman was the best comic book ever created.

Alan Moore is often imitated but never duplicated and Miracleman was written at the peak of his skills. This should be required reading for comic book fans.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying (2014)

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Before inspired stories like Swamp Thing, Watchmen, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Tom Strong solidified Alan Moore as arguably the best comic book writer of his generation, two important early works of his – Miracleman (formerly Marvelman in the UK) and V For Vendetta – were seminal works in establishing his reputation. Back in the early ’80s, I had never come across anything like Miracleman, it was so unlike any other comic I’d been collecting up to that point. Alan Moore created these impactful stories that were dark and subversive and up-ended the superhero mythos. I wasn’t around in the early ’60s and so had missed out on Stan Lee and Jack Kirby creating their brand. So, for me, Miracleman was THE gamechanger; the start of the British invasion into mainstream American comics which completely transformed the industry in the mid-80s.

Here’s a bit of backstory: Back in the 1940s DC (then National Comics) sued Fawcett Comics, believing that Fawcett’s flagship superhero, Captain Marvel, was a knockoff of Superman. Fawcett ended up discontinuing the Captain Marvel title in the 1950s. This also resulted in the termination of Captain Marvel reprints in the UK. In 1954 Mick Anglo created a British counterpart to Captain Marvel, named Marvelman, to fill in the gap. The Marvelman comic book had a lengthy nine-year run, ending in 1963, at which point the world forgot him. Until Alan Moore came along and resurrected the character.

Mick Anglo didn’t even try to be covert about his mimicking of Captain Marvel. Like the Big Red Cheese, young journalist Micky Moran invokes a magic word to transform himself into a near invincible superhero. Marvelman would also have sidekicks, Dicky Dauntless (a.k.a. Young Marvelman) and Johnny Bates (a.k.a. Kid Marvelman). His nemesis, Dr. Gargunza, was very reminiscent of Dr. Sivana. The Marvelman family’s exploits would be fairly innocuous and standard to superhero storytelling circa the 1950’s.

In 1982, in a UK anthology comic book magazine titled Warrior, Alan Moore presented a worn down, middle-aged Mike Moran, freelance journalist and chronic victim of bizarre dreams and excruciating migraines. Moran had been grasping for years at things beyond his ken, seeking a forgotten word, dreaming of flight. The revelation comes when Moran is endangered during the terrorist take-over of a nuclear facility. It’s when he reacquires that one word which is the key harmonic to the universe. And he returns to godhood. It’s a basic superhero set-up. But it’s only the start. Alan Moore is about to shake up the establishment in earthquake proportions.

So, before Watchmen was even created, Moore had already redefined the superhero genre, had already had his way with the grim post-modern deconstruction of the superhero character. It’s a given that Marvel Comics’ mutantdom is universally feared by ordinary humans. And Spider-man has a running love/hate relationship with the public. Moore, however, made the public’s dread of superheroes a palpable, logical thing. Alan Moore gave us the real ramifications of super beings walking in our midst. It’s scary stuff.

I remember my excitement at Moore’s inaugural story arc. It had elements of sublime horror that foreshadowed Moore’s stint at Swamp Thing. The story unfolds with an escalating sense of dread and oppressiveness. It’s adult storytelling that firmly shies away from kiddish tropes. In light of this, it’s hard not to snicker at that astrophysicist with the inside track on the key harmonic to the universe (so crucial to Marvelman’s 1950’s origin). The main villain of Moore’s first arc is straight up terrifying including the life this villain has been leading while Mike has been trapped in this near-amnesiac state. Moore also introduces a disturbing triangle amongst Moran, his wife Liz, and Miracleman. The wedge-driving question surfaces as to whether Moran and his alter ego are the same person after all.

We also learn of the Spookshow, a branch of the British Air Force Intelligence that is perhaps intimately tied to the Miracleman family. As a nod to the cheesy comic book tropes he’d been subverting, Moore introduces Big Ben, the bowler-hatted Man with No Time for Crime. Big Ben, on the surface, seems a fun if flaky character. But the plot digs deeper and lays bare his tragic underpinnings.

The artists are Garry Leach and Alan Davis, and their contributions to visualising the story are as instrumental as Moore in conveying that sense of realism; Leach and Davis draw characters that look like real people. Miracleman isn’t musclebound, isn’t ever caught in familiar over-the-top heroic poses. The naturalness of his gestures and movements captures how effortless it is for him to do these amazing things and gives you an inkling, without beating you over the head, of how powerful he truly is. The spectacular action beats are staged seamlessly in convincing low-keyed backdrops, and this allows you to buy into the improbable. I do prefer Leach’s work by a smidge. His stuff is more gritty, plants you more solidly in reality. Davis’ is more stylish. Word is that Davis took over from Leach because Leach was such a perfectionist he was jeopardizing the comic’s scheduling release.

How’s this for irony? Marvelman became Miracleman, thanks to Marvel Comics getting antsy and crying name infringement. But at the 2009 San Diego ComicCon, Marvel announced that it had purchased the rights to Marvelman. I’d been in an extended sulk over all the infighting within the industry that cast Miracleman in decades of legal limbo, but that’s done now. Even though I own Eclipse’s 1990 trade (also titled Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying), I’m happy to own this Marvel trade, as well. Mainly, because it’s a promise to you and me that this series will continue on and that Neil Gaiman, now unmuzzled, can finally finish off the story he started with his run on the book. This volume from Marvel Comics reprints Miracleman issues #1-4, (which in turn reprinted stories from Warrior #1-11). New contents include 3 or 4 back-up stories. “The Yesterday Gambit” (originally published in Warrior #4) features a temporal leap forward with Miracleman and a Warpsmith. “Cold War, Cold Warrior” (Warrior #9-10) and “Ghost Dance” (A1 #1) feature the Warpsmiths – an aloof, cosmic, peacekeeping, teleporting alien species – who would figure much later in Miracleman’s Olympus arc. I can’t remember if “Saturday Morning Pictures” – originally used in Quality’s Marvelman Special #1 – was included in Eclipse’s 1990 trade. It’s in this one, though, and acts as a coda to Moore’s “A Dream of Flying” arc. In this story, cleaning personnel tidy up the ruins of the Project Zarathustra bunker and end up viewing video tapes about the Miracleman family. It’s essentially a framing device that Quality’s Marvelman Special #1 used to reprint material from Mick Anglo’s original run.

This is easily one of the best comic books I’ve ever read, and is one of the reasons why I fell in love with not only the medium but the stories inside.

5 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Superman Unchained (2013 – 2014): Deluxe Edition (The New 52)

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After enjoying Superman’s crazed 1950’s high speculative fiction (SF) watermark—including every shade of Kryptonite—in terms of “re-boots,” I’m a huge fan of the Superman in action in Dennis O’Neil and Curt Swan’s 1971 “The Sandman Saga,” running across Superman (Vol. 1) issues: #233 – 235, 237 – 238, and 240 – 242, and edited by the magnificent Julius Schwartz.

But even Grant Morrison struggled to give us a clear distillation of New 52-era Superman, ramping up ample thematic tropes from creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s original “Fanfare for the Common Man” ethos, born and bred somewhat in Philip Wylie’s 1930 potboiler, “Gladiator.” But I still felt little kinship to the current take on the Man of Steel—that is until Batman scribe Scott Snyder (fair enough: he redefined the Dark Knight for our era in a way that genuinely works, and it appears Tom King is following up quite nicely) breathed life into a quickly flagging New 52 vision by penning an unconventional, completely cinematic buddy action film pairing Superman with Wraith, an ultra-powerful alien who, at first, gives Big Blue a run for his money as a rival.

Wraith has an actual “world view,” one completely opposed to that of the Man of Steel, as Wraith sees his having been co-opted by the government as better for the world, and Superman as the naïve new flash in the pan sailing through the skies. Wraith wants nothing of fame. He’s been performing black-ops for United States government with abandon for years. Rather than mere mid-air fisticuffs, the reader gets genuine ideologies in conflict, as the two ultra-powerful beings clearly have different things in mind in terms of what it means to protect the earth—even if that means an occasional genuflection in opposition force General Lane’s direction.

Author Scott Snyder hurls many a plot-thread into the air, and Jim Lee illustrates each with gusto, even managing to make the character design on Wraith rise above, say, the mere Mongul homage it could have been. Collected as a nice stand-alone book, the story is filled with funny asides that work, such as Lana Lang’s comment to Lois Lane, regarding Wonder woman: “Did you know they’re dating?” Between that and Wraith acting as an only marginally accepted mentor as the two ultimately have to team, forging Superman’s best outing since Kurt Buseik’s all-too-brief run.

 

4 out of 5 stars

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FanExpo Toronto 2018 – Cosplayers – Part 1

FAN EXPO Canada is the largest Comics, Sci-Fi, Horror, Anime, and Gaming event in Canada and the 3rd largest Pop Culture event in North America.

Celebrating its 24th year, FAN EXPO Canada has grown from a small comic book convention attracting 1,500 fans into a multi-faceted, 4-day citywide event that attracts over 129,000 people from around the world.

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