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Modern Classic Review: Grimm Fairy Tales Volume 1

Written by Joe Tyler & Ralph Tedesco
Art by Josh Medors, John Toledo, H. G. Young, Alexandre Benhossi, Aluisio De Souza, Joe Dodd

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One of the many free happy hours comics from Comixology this SXSW weekend was Grimm Fairy Tales Volume 1 (issues 1 – 6). I have never read any of this series, but I do know of its success and have on many occasions noticed the voluptuously half-naked women regularly appearing on the cover. This title is also given a “17+” rating on Comixology and those two things together led me to believe that I was about to read a mature retelling that may be filled with gratuitous sex, violence, and language. What I ended up reading was a tale that with the proper marketing and different covers could have become a read popular with teenage girls

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I’m not going to comment on whether it should have been gratuitous in its violence, sex, and language because I feel it may have been slightly better due to the lack of those things. While this is not a comic for children, I believe a mature rating is based merely off the sexuality of the cover vixens and not the actual content behind the cover. While some of the characters are draw with possibly excessive cleavage, and there are a few pages which toy with violence and gore, over all the stories are just slightly pensive retellings of Grimm Fairy Tales. The dialogue is not atrocious at all, but occasionally the paneling of the story feels clunky and tripping over itself. As the start of a new series by what was at the time a somewhat independent company I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that this was just part of the learning curve and they eventually got better, which they do ever so slight each issue.

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The art in the volume fluctuates at best between the best over sexualized art from the 90s to at worst flat and lifeless figures. Often the characters have little expression on their face and if they do it would be difficult to place exactly what they are supposed to be feeling if not for following the story. Occasionally there are pages and panels which show the potential genius in the artists, but the vast majority do not lift the story beyond the dialogue.

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Over all, if this series toned down the covers and the cleavage this is a potential hit with teenage girls. The marketing of a mature series makes this series appear much weaker than it actually is. I would have a hard time recommending this to a grown man, which even if it was filled with actual mature content I would most likely still have a hard time encouraging this as a read. This is not a read that I personally enjoyed and after reading it I do have a difficult time understanding the appeal which has spawned many years and spin-offs from this series. There is obviously a large fan base that would disagree with me.

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2.5 out of 5

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2013: Comic Books in Review

2013 brought us Marvel Now, the second full year of DC’s New 52, Mike Mignola back at it with Hellboy, and more expanded media (movie, TV, video games, etc) comic book outages than in probably any other year prior. But with all of the hype and marketing, what about the thing we love the most: comic books? So many exciting things happened to expand the worlds we love, but what about the basic continuities we enjoy? The complex tales of morality which have become a borderline religion to so many had a great year, at least I think, and so here is my list of the hits. No list about the misses, because it is almost a new year, so let’s forget the bad!

Two quick things: One is that this list is in no particular order and two, to help me remember just everything that came out this I used the website www.comiclist.com and their fantastic backlist database by release date.

To start off the year in comics I’m going to talk about a book that both came out late in the year and I also thought I would not like at all: Afterlife With Archie. I can’t remember the last time I read an Archie book, but it has to have been before I watched Chasing Amy. The past few years, the internet has been inundated with old covers from the series which with our perverted modern minds make for hilarious memes. But I hadn’t considered this kid friendly series anything that could hold my attention since before Kurt Cobain became famous and then hated the fame and then was murdered by Courtney Love (yea, I’m one of those people). But on a whim I picked up Afterlife With Archie and I was pleasantly surprised by the story and the art. It had a mature tone without feeling like a mature title from Vertigo or Image. It captured a touch of the humor and lightheartedness of the main Archie series to not take itself too seriously, but the writer and artist obviously took it seriously enough to deliver a serious story with odes to the classic tales which inspired them.

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Next, let’s talk about a series which has undoubtedly become one of the hottest new series of 2013 and probably my favorite of the year: Sex Criminals. With the first issue’s fourth print cover being revealed late last week, this brand new series became a huge hit fairly immediately, and with a title as such, the controversies surrounding the series probably didn’t hurt its indie credibility. The story of a woman and man who can freeze time during sex and decide to rob banks with this new found power sounds like a really stupid concept. And maybe it kinda is. But Fraction and Zdarsky teamed up to create a humorous, endearing, and sometimes sweet look at something that could’ve easily be exploitive, pornographic, and worthless. I have high hopes not only for this series in 2014, but for the future collaborative efforts by this team.

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While some looked down on DC’s Villain Month as a way to bore hardcore readers for a month and to try to bring back everything awful about comics in 90s, I personally enjoyed most of the stories I read. And let’s be honest about the ridiculous marketing experience that was Villain’s Month, did you expect it toned down after earlier in February DC released 50 variant covers to Justice League of America #1? Some of the stories were not impactful on a level which I would deem them collectable unless that’s just your favorite villain, but overall it was some light fun reading. “Light and fun” may not be the best term to use, but the general insight into some of these villains helped me have a newfound respect for DC and their characters and because of this I’ve gone back and started reading several of the New 52 series from the beginning. Also, Matt Kindt became a breakout star for me from his writing on this event. I’ve began to follow his past and future endeavors hoping to see more from him.

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If you’ve read this blog then you know I think the Punisher two issue miniseries from this year is possibly the best thing Marvel has put out this year. Guggenheim knocked it out of the park in a War Journal style courtroom drama surrounding the Punisher which I’ve already reread far too many times trying to deconstruct and reverse engineer how he wrote the script for those almost 50 pages of story. While he typically sticks to DC and the Green Arrow TV show, I hope for more quick miniseries from him on Marvel characters in the future.

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Also from Marvel this year, Jonathan Hickman created a sophisticated and serious look into the secret heads of the Marvel Universe in the latest New Avengers series. In the third volume of the title (and the first time not under Bendis) Hickman explores the Illuminati and the destruction of the multiverse centered in the 616. This dense read is not for the easily confused as Hickman is notorious about giving you just enough information to feel just not lost enough to continue reading. And while his Avengers core series has some of that characteristic, the New Avengers is characterized by this. Potentially the best part of the series comes from Namor’s and T’Challa’s interactions following the events of Avengers vs X-Men from 2012. All-in-all the series is a great sophisticated examination of the hierarchy of the superhero world and the difficult moral choices faced by those heroes.

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In a move that both heartbroke and enraged fans, in 2012 Dan Slott murdered everyone’s favorite man behind the mask, Peter Parker. With this turn brought about the mind/soul of Otto Octavius taking over the mantle of Spider-Man and trying his best to be a hero his way. After a year with bi-monthly publications we are still stuck with this continuity and with the sales and popularity of this title those of us who wept for Parker have had to either admit defeat and jump on board or just send Slott more death threats. Since I’m not one for death threats, I’ve jumped on board with this series and really hate to admit how well it is written, but it is really good. It still breaks my heart as I read it and still pray to a god I don’t believe in that one day Peter Parker will come back to us, but until then…it’s a pretty good comic.

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A few short months after Disney bought the rights to Star Wars and those of us not in the know assumed Marvel would start their own Star Wars series again Dark Horse comes out with Brian Wood’s Star Wars #1 and we knew 2013 was going to be a great year for Star Wars in comics. And it has been. By taking an untold-tales approach to the series, Wood reintroduces us to the cast of characters we really love and care for and tells us their struggles between the films. Somehow, even though we all know how it ends, he is able to still make us fret over their conflicts and distress. This is definitely the best licensed series of the year. All you bronies can go to hell.

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And since Grant Morrison is use to only kill characters we liked, in Batman Inc #8 this year he used the opportunity to kill someone I wanted dead and in the act make me actually want him to take it back. While I’m not a fan of Damian or this series, this turned out to be a huge issue this year and a potentially defining moment for the Dark Knight for years to come. Now, if only the other writers will jump on board and deal with it we can really make it mean something.

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In an attempt this year to confuse readers this year, Marvel published Age of Ultron which featured a surprising lack of Ultron and some of the most laborious dialogue ever written by Bendis. Yet, I actually enjoyed it. All was forgotten though several months later when Marvel released its second (real?) event for the year: Infinity. To the cynical Infinity may appear to be a way to simply introduce a character that is the son of Thanos but an Inhuman with the powers of the leader of X-Men 2099, but only a cynic would think that. Although I was slightly unimpressed with the finale of the series, overall this action packed event had some of the greatest moments in comics from this year with the greatest possibly being Thor throwing his hammer around a sun before it crashes through the chest of a Builder. While we can all find fault in any overhyped series, both were solid entries in Marvel’s cavalcade of events.

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This year as in all year before, there is always a handful of comic series that are canceled and writers and artists that must find new work. Also every canceled series is also one that people somewhere enjoyed, apparently just not enough of them. And with the main companies throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks, Marvel and DC rounded out this year with more cancellations together than I can think of in many recent years. Here are a few, some are about to be rebooted while others are gone for good: Scarlet Spider, Dial H, X-Factor, Winter Soldier, Venom, Red She-Hulk, Age of Apocalypse, Demon Knight, Legion of Superheroes, Threshold, Deathstroke, Fury of the Firestorm, The Savage Hawkman, Sword of Sorcery, Team 7, I, Vampire, Fearless Defenders

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Let me know what I you think I missed in my year in review. Due to size and length I can promise you I already know what a few are. Now it is almost time for 2014 and twelve new months of our favorite drama and adventure stories. Get your pull lists ready!

Modern Classics Review: The Flash #4

Written by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Art by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato

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I know. I know. I haven’t post anything in a while, so for those one or two of you who actually enjoy reading my ignorant opinion: This One’s For You! So I’ve decided to bring back this blog with a review of a comic I think deserves the title of “Modern Classic.” This starts with The Flash #4 from DC’s still fairly recent New 52 relaunch.

The first arc of the Flash relaunch is collected as the first seven issues in the first trade collection for the Flash, yet it is important to note that the first true arc in the Flash is the first five issues. It is an eager and dense start in hopes of getting new and old fans on-board this new Flash series, but the creators together bring a wonderful indie (yet still mainstream) feel this reboot. While this is not a great point for someone to jump on who has never heard of the Flash (who are these people?), it is a wonderful point for someone who has never read the Flash or anyone looking to leap from small publishers to one of the big two in the same way Hawkeye or Superior Foes of Spider-Man does for Marvel.

The story is almost an anti-superhero tale with no true supervillain antagonist of which to speak, just the Flash faced against physical, mental, and emotional odds which force him to be pushed to entirely new level. The usual cast is around the Flash, but if you weren’t too aware, the story tellers do a good job of introducing each character without creating tedium for lifelong fans.

ImageParticularly for issue four, the Flash is actually absent for most of this issue, and this is more about his friend, Manuel Lago, who has had experiments performed on him to make him into a powerful assassin for the CIA. One of those experiments basically gives him an almost lizard like ability to grow back limbs that are cut off. Unknown to him those is that the limbs themselves reproduce and create clones of him. They sadly have a genetic flaw which is causing them to die at an accelerated rate so the clones (calling themselves Mob Rule) continually try to kidnap Manuel so they can do experiments to figure out how to save their lives. They aren’t particularly evil, they just want to live.

While the situation is far fetched as are most superhero comics, the storytellers do a fantastic job of drawing you in on an emotionally relatable way of having one man regretting the choices he has made while another group is just seeking a way to stay alive.

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The true genius of this comic, and the real reason why I consider this issue as a stand alone to be a modern classic is simply the layouts of the pages. This sounds simple and silly, but as a medium if in comics you can find new and inventive ways to convey a story beyond just the basic art and words, but really transform the narrative in an entirely new way, that really is what so many comic creators these days are trying to achieve. And Francis Manapul has figured out a way to do this. His soft lines and Brian Buccellato soft colors also help transport this away from just another Jim-Lee-clone-of-a-superhero book into a great emotional story that becomes one of those reasons why we all stay comic book fans.

ImageSure, watching Superman or Thor slug it out with some monster is fun, but the resonating emotional tales are why we are life long fans. And that is what this first volume, mainly this issue, of the new Flash series does.

5 out of 5

Review: Punisher: Trial of the Punisher #2

Written by Marc Guggenheim
Art by Leinil Yu

ImageThis issue (in conjunction with the previous issue) is efficiently written and expertly penciled. All-in-all, these two issues are fantastic examples of comics at their best. The story told within is crafted perfectly for the tale being told and the execution of this story also hits the mark. This story is a great example of the types of stories that can be told perfectly in comics, but not as well in any other medium.

ImageWhile this story may fall under some radars, if you are a fan of the punisher or court room dramas I cannot insist you pick this up more. The whole story paints a great portrait of who Frank Castle really is. All along the notion that he is mentally ill is constantly thrown around, but by the end you realize not only is he perfectly sane, but he may also be one of the smartest people in the room.

ImageGuggenheim tells this narrative through a War Journal perspective that gives great insight into the Punisher’s thought process while not giving away the end game. Guggenheim draws the reader in by throwing them off balance with presumably obscure and coincidental bits of information. He also makes the obvious move of bringing Matt Murdock into a court room drama set in the Marvel Universe. Having his lawyer perspective played out in the scene gives snippets of their relationship away while also being a great cameo for those of us that love the Marvel continuity. I can honestly say that there was no part of the writing of this issue that I didn’t love. It was so well done, that when I was finished with issue one I wanted to go back and reread both issues immediately. If anything, issue two feels slightly better written than issue one, but it is fairly nominal in difference.

ImageI believe this issue may contain some of Leinil Yu’s best ark work I’ve seen in comics he’s drawn. He steps up his already great game and delivers not only some of his best work, but also crafts a well told story through his art. Some artist can get too obsessed with working outside of conventional paneling that they can lose focus on the story they are trying to tell. Yu brings in just enough traditional panel work along with nontraditional schemes to make a court room drama actually seem exciting. If I could fault any one detail, there is a panel where Matt Murdock is smiling that makes him looks villainous. It actually works, but that one panel stumped me for a second and I had to read that page again.

ImageI cannot stress how much I recommend this issue (and the first one in this two issue series). The lack of a Punisher series right now has created a vacuum, and these two issues have filled it. After Rucka’s run and Guggenheim’s two miniseries, Nathan Edmondson has a very high bar set for him. For those whose last Punisher series was Frankencastle, not so high a bar.

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Review: Pretty Deadly #1

Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art by Emma Rios

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Although I thought as a culture comics had become a more acceptable form of both literary and artistic expression, it still appears in our closed subculture of comic book fans we have yet to see it this way. Still, as writers and artist take their work more seriously, words like pretentious and babble get thrown around. If you pay attention to any comic news page on the internet, you probably know what I’m referring. And while I think there is valid criticism for this issue (which there is for virtually any issue of any comic by any creative team), taking itself seriously is not one.

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All the pretentious comics I read usually have double-taking animals.
When making art the goal is to move people emotionally, and the creative team appears to have done that with a mixture of the highest praise and deepest hate. Personally for me, this comic was a little  middle of the road. I will say that unless I find a book worthless (like Crossed #1) or absolutely boring, I try to read the first three issues if I read the first issue. Some writers are great at jumping into a story and creating an exciting start to a series, while others (and this may be also because of the story they are telling) draw out the tale and sometimes leave the first issue apparently lacking, yet when you go back and read the series as a whole it makes sense. After reading, I hope it is the latter.

ImageThe narrative that DeConnick is telling is interesting and feels original. I don’t feel that it is too difficult to follow, but some may take issue (or have taken issue far enough to rip up the comic in a child-like tantrum) with the way it is told. The dialogue is often poetic and told in vague thoughts. The introduction is an esoteric conversation between Bunny and Butterfly, whom are either exactly what their name implies given the art work on the pages, or something deeper which will come to fruition later. If that sentence above irritates you then this may not be a book for you. There are writers like Jonathan Hickman who leave large ambiguities and holes in the narrative, but it is done in a philosophical way, while DeConnick does it in a poetic sense. (If that sentence bothers you, you’re probably not alone.) So it really comes done to taste on how the narrative is actually expounded upon in the book. I know this is probably the crappiest way to review something, but you seriously may just have to read it to find out if it is a writing style you like. It is just unique enough that I find it difficult to critique. I can see why some may call the writing “self-important” or “pretentious” but I think DeConnick is just trying to find an original method to tell this, and she accomplishes that.

ImageEmma Rios’ art works for this story. I’m not terribly familiar with her work prior to this, but her characters are wispy and seem to float on the wind. Her lines appear to be thrown down quickly and efficiently, and for all intents and purposes I have no issues with what she’s done. There are certain artists that you wouldn’t want to see drawing your favorite mainstream superheroes, and she may be one, but that doesn’t mean she is not a talented comic book artist. She just has such a strong style, and I don’t see it working (for my taste) with established material. But I enjoyed what she did here. I don’t find it so amazing that it alone is reason enough to pick up the book, but I can’t really find anything about it that would detract from anyone wishing to read.

ImageI strongly believe that this is an issue that after several other issues are published and read could be rated higher or lower. Once a few more issues come out, and some of the confusion is cleaned up you may come back to this book and love it even more. But on the flip-side, you may find that if answers are not flushed out in the next several issues this one may be a large slap in your face. Overall, everyone in the project did their jobs and did them well. It may not be up your alley, but I sincerely think it is worth a shot.

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Rating 3.5 out of 5

Review: Sex Criminals #2

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Chip Zdarsky

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*Warning: Adult subject matter ahead, kiddies!*
The second issue focuses on the past (or origins) of Jon. So what happens when a teenage boy realizes that time stops when he masturbates? Well, you hang out in porn stores. What else? While the first issue had a sweet and sorrowful context around a young girl trying to understand what was happening to her, the second dives head long into the humor misadventures of a kid with a glowing penis. The two issues together make a great contour of the differences between teenage boys and girls and their views (along with societal views) on sex. But with the great humor laid throughout the book by both Matt and Chip, it is easy to get lost from a potential heavy meaning, and instead you just find yourself enjoying the comic. I’ve read this four times so far, and I still laugh out loud at certain points. Because of that, I’m not going to do some traditional review (at least for me) and instead I’m just going to encourage you to read this book. It is definitely for adults who can handle mature subject matter, but, really, compare to a Punisher book which has people regularly getting decapitated and maimed, what’s the big deal in seeing a nipple? Chip and Matt find the reader’s g-spot in this second issue.

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*Best Family Circus reference ever!
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*Luckily, they made the Watchmen already, so the technology is there when this movie gets greenlit.

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*note: I’m still wondering how Anal Queens and The Story of Oprah are both non-erotic.

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*This is the from the letters page, and isn’t even the best letter/reply.

Rating: Read This Book!

Hickman in Infinity (part 2)

*Warning: Spoilers Ahead*

A few weeks ago after issue 2 of the Infinity limited series by Marvel, I posted an analysis of my thoughts on the covers and the possible themes that may be tied to each one based on the colors of the Infinity Gems. With issue four coming out about two weeks ago, there has been more data given by the issues to possibly drive my hypothesis that Jonathan Hickman is using a power from each Infinity Gem to guide the theme or plot in each of these issues correlating to the color of the cover. From this we may be able to understand where he plans to go in the final two issues, and what the overall fallout from this series may be. That is, additional fallout given the events of Issue three and four.

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Issue one has a blue themed cover which corresponds to the Mind Gem. The Mind Gem grants its owner psychic abilities along with the ability to control others’ thoughts. The obvious use of this in the first issue is the Outrider’s use of tactile telepathy (reading minds by touching someone) to gain access to Black Bolt’s memories in order to find what Thanos desired.

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Issue two has a red themed cover which corresponds to the Power Gem. The power gem is fairly self-explanatory. During the Avengers’ first battle with the Builders, they are able to achieve their first victory, but in a final act of power, the Builders send an Aleph down to the planet below where the battle raged and had it commit suicide. This act obliterated the planet, and although some of the inhabitants were rescued, a world died. Even as powerful as the Avengers were that they were able to win in a battle against the Builders, they still felt the sting of defeat against a single Aleph taking their own life. This is also mirrored at the beginning of the issue as Corvus Glaive confronts Black Bolt. Corvus Glaive shows power over Medusa’s threats by having the Outriders in his company kill themselves to show their lack of fear. How do you gain power over enemies who are not fearful of death?

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Issue three has a yellow or golden themed cover which corresponds to the Reality Gem. This is slightly more difficult to justify, but as I looked at the first two covers and the third, I found that not only did the covers correspond to plot points and themes based on the color, but I felt that the image on the cover also had a corresponding notion with the color. The cover of issue three had Black Bolt with Attilan breaking. But how does this correspond to reality? As I thought  I found a possibly farfetched idea. The destruction of Attilan is also the catalyst for the release of the Terrigen Mist. While the actually release occurs in issue four, this is starting point for that release, which as we have started to see in solicitations in the future Inhumans (who are created by the Terrigen Mist, of course) appear to be the new popular superhuman beings at Marvel. So the events at the end of issue three can be seen as the shift in reality for the entire Marvel Universe. Yes, that is farfetched, but if I have learned nothing else from science it is that if the data doesn’t fit your hypothesis make it fit.

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Issue four has a green themed cover which corresponds to the Soul Gem. This is another difficult one where as I looked at it the bending of definitions may make this fit the best. One of the Soul Gem’s powers is to prevent soul-based attacks. This could also be said as a spirit-based attack or even an attack on morale (see how far I’m stretching it). But when it is looked at this way it is easy to draw that thought to Thor’s tide changing stand against a Builder. His confrontation and epic victory have led to the Accusers rallying alongside the Avengers in what will most likely be an intense battle in the next two issues. It is important to note that Thor only killed one, but that one alone had brought the Kree race to their knees. Now that they see even a god can die, this has encouraged their spirits and embolden them to fight and win.

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Issue five will have a purple themed cover which corresponds to the Space Gem. This is generally a gem set aside for teleportation, so unless Hickman is using the name literally for an epic space battle or if Manifold is going to play another key role in the victory over the Builders, we will have to wait and see.

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Issue six currently still has a blanked out cover, but we can assume this is going to be an orange themed cover to correspond to the Time Gem. After the events of the Age of Ultron and the overwhelming use of time travel stories in continuity today, I am wondering if this issue is the one that will fix everything. The use of this motif over the past year as part of Marvel Now may be over with the New Marvel Now starting in January, when the Inhuman motif is most likely going to take over. Good or bad, I have a feeling that issue six is going to correct the massive disaster that has become the space/time continuum in Marvel Comics over the past year. The Time Gem is also the only Infinity Gem still in existence, and with the series titled Infinity and a total lack of any other Infinity Gem it would only make sense that the physical Time Gem itself is going to become a key component in the final issue. With Hickman’s writing and with all the tie-ins with Avengers and New Avengers, it is going to be exciting to watch him finish this out because I have a feeling it is going to be fairly unpredictable if not epic.