Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Top Cows’ Artifacts Volume 1 is the start of a great epic

The fate of the world balances on thirteen weapons and items of immense power spread around the world and held by a diverse group of people. In the first act of Top Cow Production’s Artifacts series, a mysterious being sets out to collect the thirteen artifacts that will give him complete power over the world. Artifacts Volume 1 by Ron Marz and Michael Broussard collects the first four issues of the Artifacts series of the biggest event in the near twenty year history of Top Cow Productions.

The story begins with the kidnapping of the daughter of two of the artifact bearers. The kidnapping kicks off a recruitment drive as the possessors of the artifacts are drawn into the opposing sides of the oncoming conflict. There is the side of good, who know the danger in the thirteen artifacts being brought together and there is the side of evil, who serve the mysterious figure that set this battle in motion.

With a large cast of characters spanning the entirety of the Top Cow Comics Universe, writer Ron Marz has taken great care to make Artifacts accessible to new readers as well as bring in the history of the characters to add fun story elements for longtime fans. Marz tells the story at a rapid pace while keeping you on the edge of your seat and getting you invested in the heroes of the story. The heroes are not your garden variety, flashy colored super heroes they are real people that have been given extraordinary powers. Marz shows why you should care about these people as they go through life altering changes.

In the introduction to this collection, Top Cow Founder Marc Silvestri says artist Michael Broussard deserves his position in the awe inspiring list of artists who have worked for Top Cow Productions. Given the legendary status of Top Cow’s talent this is not feint praise. Broussard’s art in this series is stunning. The detailed pencil work is gorgeous as he captures the look and feel of the real world while transforming it into a world full of fantasy. The art is embellished by a talented group of inkers: Rick Basalda, Sal Regla, Joe Weems, Dulce Brassea and Jason Gorder. The varied group of inkers is able to keep the book’s look consistent and allow Broussard’s pencil work and design to shine on each page.

The decision: Artifacts Volume 1 by Ron Marz and Michael Broussard is an excellent way to jump into the Top Cow Universe. A good story should make you want to learn more about the characters, not be fearful of their history. Marz does just that but allow you to read the story without prior knowledge of the characters. After reading this you will want to read more about Witchblade and the Darkness. The collection kicks off with a prologue that outlines what is known about the thirteen artifacts. The book then jumps into an enjoyable, fast paced story of adventure. The series is a lot of fun as powerful super teams are formed to begin a war over the artifacts.

This collection is capped off with an extensive cover gallery showcasing the various covers for the individual issues by stellar artists like Dale Keown and Ryan Sook. The book is finished with a commentary by Marz, Broussard and Top Cow Publisher Filip Sablik about the story.

Nate Cosby & Chris Eliopoulos show that justice has no age in Cow Boy

Boyd Linney is a precocious 10-year-old bounty hunter. He rides into town on a horse that is not his, carrying his custom built rifle. This is not fun and games for him, he is dead serious about collecting his bounty. Don’t let his age fool you he is one tough cowboy.

Boyd Linney’s adventures are chronicled in the new comic titled Cow Boy. Cow Boy debuts for free this week at The series is by writer Nate Cosby and artist Chris Eliopoulos. In March the entire series will be collected by Hollywood based graphic novel publisher Archaia Entertainment in hardcover format.

Writer Nate Cosby writes fun dialogue that without the pictures you would think you were reading a Clint Eastwood western movie script. The tough guy no nonsense attitude of Boyd gives the series its charm. Cosby keeps the back story of Boyd light when he tells the basics of his story, “I got born, I stirred trouble, I got beat . . . Mama liked to say I got too much’a my Daddy in me. I pray that ain’t true.”

The solemn Boyd travels with his horse which is a custom made rifle that looks like a toy horse on a stick. Boyd works on the side of justice and his mission is to round up his outlaw family collecting the bounties on each of their heads.

The artwork of Chris Eliopoulos resembles comic strip greats like Bill Waterson’s Calvin and Hobbes and Charles Schultz’s Peanuts. The comic feels like the Sunday comics in the newspaper, but the longer form of storytelling allowed by the graphic novel format makes this series so much more entertaining.

Eliopoulos creates rich detail on each page. Each panel tells you something about the story and its star Boyd. The story flows from panel to panel and from page to page telling the narrative brilliantly. The artwork is stylized making each page fun.

The decision: Cow Boy is a lot of fun and is a comic that can be read and enjoyed by everyone. A delightful story of a 10-year-old boy who knows no fear and goes about his way like a hardened cow boy should. The dialogue is clever and loaded with bits about who Boyd is. Cosby and Eliopoulos have created a fantastic story with an entertaining lead character.

You can start reading Cow Boy at COWBOYCOMIC.NET now. This week is Cow Boy Week and new pages will be posted every day. Then for the next nine weeks new pages will be posted on Tuesdays and Thursdays until they are collected in hardcover in March by Archaia Entertainment. You can pre-order the hardcover direct from the Archaia Store or by contacting your local comic shop.

Escaping the melancholy of winter with the Shade

The Shade is a man of means. He is an immortal man of means living in Opal City, a strangely haunted city in a fictional city. But this proper English gentleman has come awash in melancholy. Depressed by the calendar’s turn to October, Shade finds himself looking for cheering up from his usual consortium. He sits for tea with a good friend and enjoys the company of his girlfriend but still he is not quite there. The Shade needs to find an adventure, but in The Shade #1 from DC Comics by James Robinson and Cully Hamner the adventure finds him.

The Shade is a supporting character from the 1990s comic series Starman also written by James Robinson. Now Robinson is shining the spotlight on this murky villain who has grown a conscience and become a hero. This issue is the first of a twelve part story putting the Shade into the New DC Universe. Robinson takes his time to set up where the Shade is now from where he left off in the Starman series. The Shade begins the story by saying that he is usually at his most depressed point in October which is the time of year he was born. But he is reluctant to tell just how he was born. The Shade thinks better of sharing those horrors.

Robinson shows a lot about who the character is from the conversations he has within the first issue. The Shade is a likeable character with an arrogant demeanor that comes off as charming. His friends appreciate him and his villains have had enough of him. The final page should be an ending to the series so where Robinson is heading for the next eleven issues will be a fun ride.

Cully Hamner has a clean and clear line in his art that has just enough weight to it that makes you feel the energy of the story. Hamner’s faces are rounded with exaggerated features that add a unique style to the story. The action sequence in the middle of the story featuring William Von Hammer is quite stunning as Hamner draws a six on one gunfight with rocket packs. It is action like this that balances out the character driven meetings of the Shade.

The decision: In The Shade #1, James Robinson has returned to the Shade, a character he developed and defined. Despite the long history between the writer and the character there is no need for any knowledge of what has gone on before to enjoy this story. Robinson establishes the tone of the story from the get go and then jumps the story into high gear with some fast paced action and a lethal confrontation. Cully Hamner’s art is a treat that gives a designed feel to the story and gives the Shade a look all his own.

Aspen Comics’ Broken Pieces shatters the world

Broken Pieces is the new series from Aspen Comics that explores the world of the future where bio chemical weapons have changed the way we live. Written by Mark Rozlan with art by Micah Kaneshiro the story of Broken Pieces has everything a sci-fi series should have: a world disaster, a manipulative corporation, a love story and a monster. The series kicks off with plenty of mystery and exciting areas for stories to grow.

In the year 2032 a bio-bomb will be detonated near the Gulf of Mexico irradiating the South of the United States creating a pandemic more devastating than the Black Plague. People are unable to breathe the air and must live in fear of developing harmful mutations. Corporations have developed artificial body parts to help people to survive in the new environment but it is no substitute for the real thing.

In Broken Pieces #1, Trinion Industries has found the solution to the plagues of the year 2033, rejuvenation. Lead Director of Trinion Damon Ludas has recruited Dr. Gabriella Adams to create a natural way for the body to repair itself. Dr. Adams’ research and work will change the world forever. But when she discovers the truth about Trinion she realizes their goals are not as altruistic as they might seem.

Mark Rozlan writes believable characters in a world that has fallen apart. This is not a dystopian future but the characters are facing real problems that may never be cured. They are living their lives with a cloud over their heads, but aren’t panicking about the end of the world. These are real people behaving in a real manner and the story feels natural. Rozlan has raised questions about this world that you want to learn more about. The hook of the story grabs you from the start.

Micah Kaneshiro’s art is beautiful with stunning page design and layouts. His art is lifelike and the characters look and act true. The designs of Kaneshiro show a world that is only a little more advanced than our world today. His work highlights a society twenty years into the future without using special effects and settings that would make you question the timeframe of the story.

The decision: Broken Pieces #1 is a great first act of an exciting science fiction story. Mark Rozlan and Micah Kaneshiro introduce new concepts and themes to the story. The setting and events of the story are possibilities which ground the sci-fi story with a realistic base. There is plenty of science fiction and fantasy in the story to get you excited and hook reader for the entire series.

Avengers Academy where character drives the story

The mutant clone of the X-Man Wolverine, X-23 joins the Avengers Academy in issue 23 of the ongoing Avengers Academy series from Marvel Comics by Christos Gage and Tom Raney. While this may be the biggest news to come out of this issue the story is packed with strong character development and intriguing subplots that will hook in any reader.

Writer Christos Gage crafts an intricate plot with themes and ideas running in and out of each other. The themes are the basic concept of this series, young heroes with astonishing powers who are not sure how to use their powers. The ideas do not always play out in the use of their abilities. Gage writes teenage emotion in this series while avoiding teen angst and melodrama. The characters are relatable and believable.

The mutant X-23 joins the Academy with this issue. Instead of inserting her into the story or having her jump into some super powered melee, Gage shows the violence she is capable of and then has her explain to the others who she is. X-23 believes her past and her abilities will keep her from being accepted by the rest of the Academy. Each member of the students understands what it is like to be manipulated for evil purposes and they open their arms to X-23, welcoming her into the school.

The most poignant moment of the story is when Striker comes out of the closet to Lightspeed. The two heroes discuss what it means to be a gay hero and how that they are people not political statements. The conversation is well written and reveals a lot more about who these characters are not as heroes but as people.

The storyline that weaves throughout this issue focuses on the story’s narrator, Reptil. Reptil has had his mind replaced by his older self who came back in time not to alter the future but to make sure things happen the way they originally did. Gage uses this plot to unite all the various side plots into a cohesive story. By the end of this issue Reptil’s actions have a horrifying conclusion for the school.

The artwork of Tom Raney is beautiful with a clean line and lots of detail. This issue is focused on dialogue with only a few pages devoted to action. Raney uses the body language of the characters to tell the story with the pictures. The artwork adds a great deal to the narrative of the story.

The decision: Avengers Academy #23 is one of the quieter issues in the series. Christos Gage takes this opportunity to make you care more about the characters by adding personality to each member of the cast. The teenagers feel real with feelings of confusion, jealousy and abandonment all mixed with their desires to belong. The story and dialogue never feels forced.

This issue will be the last issue of Avengers Academy for artist Tom Raney as he moves onto other projects with Marvel Comics. His art has played a large part in defining what the Academy is and how it fits into the Marvel Universe. As adept as he is with the quieter moments his art has always made the action burst of the pages. This issue really shows his skill as an artist mixing strong characters with extraordinary detail.

Will the Incredible Hulk ever find peace?

Since he was created in the heart of a gamma bomb explosion the Incredible Hulk has wanted only to be left alone, but his split personality would not allow it. The Hulk has always been about the dichotomy of Bruce Banner and the monstrous personality of the Hulk. There is a constant struggle between the two of them for control. In Marvel Comics’ Incredible Hulk #1 by Jason Aaron and Marc Silvestri the Hulk is separated from Bruce Banner and the fallout is surprising.

For a long time the Hulk has been seen as both a monster and a savior. He has been constantly hunted by men who don’t understand him. Now separated from Bruce Banner, who the Hulk thinks made him afraid of people, he is able to find peace in his life. But the peace is short lived when the United States sends a special operations paramilitary unit to recruit him to stop a new menace threatening the Earth, Bruce Banner.

Writer Jason Aaron knows the Hulk has always been his own yin to his own yang, two contrasting and opposite forces working against each other. The Hulk is a hero and a savage, a world breaker and the hunted. The green skinned behemoth has been searching for his identity but has never been able to find it. Aaron writes the Hulk at peace and shows what that does to him. At peace the Hulk is good and does not need to fight. Aaron has made the Hulk the good side of the equation with Banner the antagonist. This new dynamic has the potential for some great stories. The interior monologue of the Hulk that Aaron uses gives insight into who he is at this point in time.

Legendary comic book artist Marc Silvestri brings his highly detailed style to the pages of the Hulk. The art has a lot of texture and a rough look to it that fits the setting of the story beautifully. Silvestri has designed a barbaric look for the Hulk with long hair and a beard. It is a good look that separates the version of the Hulk from how he has been portrayed before. The barbaric look also works to show a more relaxed and satisfied Hulk.

The decision: The story in Incredible Hulk #1 is a new direction for the Hulk that raises some very interesting questions. Why is the Hulk separate from Bruce Banner? Why is Banner acting evil? Has the Hulk been the good aspect of the spilt personality all this time, held in check by Banner? Will the Hulk ever find the peace he so desires? Jason Aaron is exploring new ground when it comes to the Hulk and this issue kicks it off with a bang. Marc Silvestri’s art is gorgeous in its detail that tells the story with pictures that boost the story Aaron is telling.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dead Man’s Run by Pak and Parker build a prison that delivers the ultimate justice

Captain Romero is the head of security at Andrew Jackson Federal Corrections Facility. By his own admission he is not a good man. Captain Romero is a highly decorated former soldier with a dark past of killing people he shouldn’t have. In Dead Man’s Run #0 from Aspen Comics by Greg Pak and Tony Parker, Romero will lead his team of guards into the fires of Hell.

Andrew Jackson Federal Corrections Facility is not just a prison it is literally Hell. Captain Romero’s mandate has been to keep whatever is in there from reaching the surface and getting out. The mandate changes and he must charge into the fires of Hell where corruption and temptation reign supreme.

Writer Greg Pak is defining a new kind of Hell. It is a place where the ultimate justice is served. Instead of a mythological place ruled by a man with a pitchfork, this Hell is a prison in the California desert.

The characters Pak introduces are compelling. In this first story he sets up the personality of three major players in the world of Dead Man's Run. Captain Romero is the hardened combat veteran with an unspeakable past. Sam Tinker has fewer miles on him than Romero and shows a sense of innocence which will come in handy in Hell. Then there is the mysterious Warden who operates the prison from below the surface, in the very pits of Hell. Pak gives all of them an interesting personality that makes you want to read more.

Artist Tony Parker’s depiction of the prison both above and below the surface is outstanding. On the surface he draws a standard maximum security prison, but once the guards descend down their ropes into the City of Corruption, the fires of Hell come up to meet them. The twisted nightmare world is shown on the pages as the guards engage the denizens of this world in a fire fight.

The decision: Dead Man's Run is setting up to be the ultimate in prison break serialized fiction. Issue 0 builds the Hellish prison as a character in the story like Captain Romero or Sam Tinker. Pak sets the stage of the ongoing series by introducing interesting characters and an intriguing mystery to keep you hooked. Parker’s art is beautiful and highly detailed which gives the story its gravitas and instantly makes the world recognizable.