Saturday, January 19, 2013

5 Most Anticipated Movies and Games of 2013


So I’d say that 2012 was a pretty solid year for entertainment overall, at least enough so that I didn’t have any trouble filling up four lists of my favorite things from it.  And I’m always looking forward to the next year.  Here’s the movies and games I’m looking forward to in 2013.

Movies:

5. The Great Gatsby: Baz Luhrmann’s unique visual style, along with Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, is enough to get me interested in this.  The fact that it was pushed from Christmas season to May has me worried, and I wasn’t a fan of Luhrmann’s last movie, Australia, but I still have high hopes for this one.

4. Man of Steel: I’m still disappointed in DC’s refusal to turn most of their characters into a movie (Wonder Woman?  Flash?  I’ll even take Ambush Bug), but this new Superman movie looks, if nothing else, to be distinguishing itself from the legacy of the original quadrilogy.  I did love Superman Returns, but it’s also nice to see something truly different done to the franchise.

3. Star Trek: Into Darkness: It seems to me that they’ve wasted most of the momentum since JJ Abrams’ franchise reboot, with the only things of note being the comics and Star Trek Online.  I loved the previous one, so hopefully this can break the Star Trek sequel curse and make a solid addition to the franchise.

2. (tie) Iron Man 3 & Thor: The Dark World: Phase One of Marvel’s movie series is done.  So of course I’m excited to see what’s next in Phase Two.  With confirmations that these are going to set themselves apart from leading up to Avengers 2, new creative teams, and in the case of IM3 the addition of the villain we’ve been waiting for, The Mandarin, it’s going to be exciting.

1. The World’s End: Edgar Wright has made nothing but excellent movies.  The World’s End is set to be the finale to the “Blood and Ice Cream” thematic trilogy that was started with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.  Details are still sparse and I’m pretty sure that a trailer isn’t even out, but Edgar Wright alone is enough to top this list.

Video Games:

5. Dragon Age III: Inquisition: People HATED Dragon Age II.  I loved it.  Oh it was flawed as hell, but I also found the change in story and focus on grey-and-grey morality fascinating, along with it just being more accessible for me.  I’m expecting this one to be just as controversial, and I’m hoping that I’ll love it just as much.

4. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon: The oddball Gamecube launch title has gotten nods in the decade since it came out, but Nintendo’s avoided doing anything more with it…which has only helped to build it up more as a cult title.  And it’s always nice to see a cult title finally get the sequel it deserves.

3. Pikmin 3: I think the Wii U sounds really cool.  The features are awesome, what it does for gaming will be interesting, and it doesn’t have a single game I would buy the system for.  It’s not only nice to see Pikmin come back, but it should be a perfect fit for the gamepad and get me really interested in getting a Wii U.

2. South Park: The Stick of Truth: I can’t remember the last time I watched South Park.  The Stick of Truth looks like it will be a funny and interesting RPG that captures the visual style of the show.  Obsidian does good if imperfect work, and I fully expect this to be buggy and I’ll love every hour of it.

1. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time: The latter two Sly games are some of my favorite games ever…so where has Sly been?  Its contemporaries, Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank, got PSP spin-offs and, in the case of the latter, is still continuing today, while Sly got nothing.  And while having a new developer on the franchise is always scary, as long as there’s cool heists, plenty of variety in gameplay, and a story that can be silly and serious, I’m in.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Think Tank



Written by Matt Hawkins
Art by Rahsan Ekedal

            At the top of this collection of the first four issues of Think Tank is the tagline “DANGER: Reading this book will make you smarter”.  As far as big promises and intriguing statements go, that fits both perfectly.  And while some books couldn’t handle that, Think Tank manages to live up to it.
            David Loren fits the bill of insufferable genius.  He’s the kind of person that skips every day of a class, and then takes the test and passes it.  His current job as a scientist in DARPA’s think tank (which he got chosen for at 14) is cozy enough, but he’s also starting to get nightmares of the death and destruction that he’s causing.  So he breaks out of it.
            The first two issues of this series manage to set the scene perfectly.  David Loren is the kind of person you both love and hate at the same time.  You hate him because he’s a jerk and he constantly uses and abuses his military superiors and his fellow scientists.  You love him for much the same reason.  He’s clever, smirking as he manages to escape the base and uses his mind reading technology to pick up girls.  If he was a real person, I would absolutely hate him.  As a comic character, I just want to see what he does next, what mischief he causes.  And he does have the soul of a good person.  We see examples of the military technology, his own fears of what it could do.  This isn’t a violent book throughout,  which makes Ekedal’s black-and-white art during these segments that much more shocking, and manages to raise big questions about the uses of military technology.
            It’s the latter two issues that really hooked me, though.  I love elaborate plans, like heists or, in this case, a break-out.  It has to work, it has to be exciting, and it has to be like the hero has planned it out to a T but anything could go wrong.  Everything works here.  Every piece of technology we’ve seen gets used, every Chekhov’s gun that’s been loaded gets fired.  You have to keep reading just to find out what the next part of the plan is, what insane thing he’s going to do next.  It never feels like he wins because the guards are being stupid, he just wins because he’s smarter than they are.  And then at the very last moment, it hits you with a twist that changes everything.  I can’t wait for the next issue to see where it goes.
            The special features are a cover gallery (sigh) and, in something I’ve never seen before, Hawkins citing all the technology.  It separates the fact from the fiction, and the incredible part is that far less of it is fiction than I initially thought.  There’s pictures of everything from its showing in the book, Hawkins talks about the real-world applications next to what he thought of what it could do for the story, and he even puts in websites to go to so you can learn more.  It’s extensive and immediately became a feature I want to see in other comics.
            Think Tank is clever, exciting, and, naturally, intelligent.  It only dashes on science fiction compared to its realistic premise and technology, and brings up fascinating questions about the real scientists and military that drives the book.

Top 5 Comic Series of 2012


I am still woefully behind on comics.  I haven’t read Death of the Family.  I haven’t even read Night of the Owls.  I don’t know what’s going on in pretty much any major mainstream comic besides Spider-Man.  Nevertheless, thanks to the digital landscape of comics, I’ve managed to read a few of 2012’s series.  Here’s my favorites.

5. Revival: Revival’s zombie-comic-without-zombies got me hooked by concept alone, but it’s the execution that makes it work.  It’s thoughtful and character-focused, as much about how the event affects the people of the town as it is about the event itself.  But it still has several central mysteries that I am excited to find out more about in the coming volumes.

4. Ame-Comi Girls: The digital-first Ame-Comi Girls is meant to sell collectible figures.  Now that we’ve got that out of the way, Ame-Comi Girls is also absolutely awesome.  It’s a version of the DC Universe where both heroes and villains are all female.  Getting to see the new takes on the characters (Duella Dent is particularly great) is fun, it doesn’t indulge in too much cheesecake, and it still has a great plot that is as good as its print cousins.  Considering how under-represented female heroes are in comics, getting a series that’s nothing but is worth the price of admission.

3. Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison: I already raved about Ghost Prison fairly recently, but here it is again.  Great art.  Interesting characters.  A plot that peels back new layers on the state of the Empire before A New Hope.  And a great use of Darth Vader that reveals pieces, but still leaves him as the imposing mystery that we loved from the original trilogy.  If you’re a Star Wars fan, this has to be part of your collection.

2. X-O Manowar: Apparently Valiant Comics were a big deal back in the day.  Honestly, before their reboot this year, all I knew was that they had Turok and they went out of business after an awful crossover with Image.  After reading this reboot, I get the excitement.  A Visigoth soldier gets captured by aliens, ends up in the possession of a super-suit that the aliens worship, and then returns to Earth…only it’s modern day.  It’s interesting, exciting, has plenty of super-heroic action, and well worth your time.  Valiant seems to constantly be making their series on sale on Comixology.com, so keep an eye for when their next sale is and pick this one up.

 1. Batman: Li’l Gotham: I thought the cancellation of Batman: The Brave and the Bold was DC’s sign that the fun side of Batman was over.  Indeed, with the comics featuring Joker wearing his own face, the movies showing one of the most realistic images of Batman, and the new animated series featuring a gun-toting Alfred, is there really a place for the Batman the whole family can enjoy?  Yes.  That place is in the digital series Li’l Gotham.  Adorable art welcomes you in to a version of Gotham that’s distilled fun.  Reading it just makes me smile at its fun portrayals of characters while still keeping them in-character.  The stories are equal combinations of funny and sweet, along with keeping a good deal of action.  Its one crime is that it’s only releasing on holidays.  February’s got two issues coming up.  Put $2 aside now for something that will just make you feel good. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Top 10 TV Episodes of 2012


You know what?  I was excited when I talked about 2012 in movies and games.  It’s harder to act excited about TV.  30 Rock is ending, Community is getting screwed over, Cartoon Network threw DC Nation up in the air so fast that episodes got shown on iTunes before they aired on TV.  And some great new shows got cancelled.  Nevertheless, I can easily find 10 great episodes that aired.

10 (tie). The finales of MasterChef Season 3 and Amazing Race Season 21: Reality shows are a guilty pleasure of mine, but when I like the contestants and the challenges enough, they do become genuinely good, and sometimes surprisingly inspiring.  In MasterChef, Christine had the disability of being blind, but still managed to come out on top.  And Amazing Race had a season full of backstabbing and stupid alliances, but the Beekmans came from being at the back of the pack several times to winning it, and they had fun the entire time.

9. Modern Family, “Bringing Up Baby”: This is one of those odd cases where I want to praise the 4th season of Modern Family, but there’s no great episode I can pinpoint for it.  Its season premiere, though, easily set up some of the big changes for the show, with Gloria pregnant again and Haley going have to college.  The unique set-up of actually starting at the end of the 3rd season and only time-skipping ahead at the end of the episode was also a nice touch, and a solid start to a hilarious season.

8. Gravity Falls, “Double Dipper”: Disney’s animated programming has long been head and shoulders above its live action, and Gravity Falls is the latest in shows that appeal to kids of all ages.  This episode provides both a nice example of the sci-fi/fantasy that drives the show, with Dipper cloning himself using a magic copier with results that go wrong as it gets lampshaded all the way.  And there’s also Mabel meeting her rival, only Mabel is completely oblivious to that fact.  Using the standard animated plot set-ups while also playing with them is what makes Gravity Falls so fun.

7. Arrow, “Lone Gunmen”: Leave it to DC to constantly just twiddle their thumbs in the movie division, and then deliver some awesome TV shows.  Arrow’s take on Green Arrow balances being a show of millionaire playboys and the standard drama that entails with plenty of heroic action.  Lone Gunmen introduces a nice take on Deadshot, has some great action sequences, and it answers the question of “When is his bodyguard going to learn his identity?” with “RIGHT NOW” when some shows would’ve dragged that out for a full season.  This is a show that moves and keeps you excited.

6. Community, “Virtual Systems Analysis”: Curses to NBC.  Season 4 of Community still hasn’t started yet, and most of my favorite Season 3 episodes were back in 2011.  It would be a shame to leave it off this list, though, and while its parodies of video games, heist films, and Ken Burns documentaries are all tempting, Analysis is what makes the list for me.  Abed and Annie go inside the Dreamtorium and constantly switch between acting out as the various cast members, but it’s the scene of Abed in the locker that reminds me why this show is great: for all its cartoonish comedy, it suddenly turns around and hits you with an emotional moment.  It’s a silly show that still makes you feel for the characters.

5. Once Upon a Time, “Skin Deep”: Speaking of making you feel for the characters, OUAT is a show that makes you feel for the villains.  Just when you think a character is truly evil, it suddenly dives into their backstory and changes everything.  Skin Deep goes back to Rumpelstiltskin in the fairy tale world and shows a twist on the tale when Belle is captured in his castle and forced to work for him.  The tale as old as time is still happens, and ends up not only adds new twists to the show, but also gives the quirky, giggling trickster another level of depth.

4. Last Resort, “Eight Bells”: I was not surprised at all when Last Resort was cancelled.  Disappointed, yes, but did anybody really think an intelligent, politically charged thriller was going to last?  And while the dense plotlines are what gets this show its praise, Eight Bells is a great example of its thrills, as the submarine crew have to pull off a dangerous mission in order to save their captured members.  It’s tense and doesn’t have the perfect happy ending, which makes it all the better.

3. Bob’s Burgers, “Tina-rannosaurus Wrecks”: In a block controlled by Simpsons and Seth MacFarlane, Bob’s Burgers ends up being the choice cut.  Its sometimes realistic, sometimes absurd plots come together here when a driving lesson for awkward daughter Tina ends with her hitting the only other car in an empty parking lot.  From there, the family gets roped into an insurance fraud scheme, they completely fail at faking the kids’ deaths, and the show proves that nothing is too ridiculous for them, while still feeling strangely grounded next to its contemporaries.

2. Bunheads, “Movie Truck”: At first I assumed Bunheads was the kind of show my mom would watch on her own.  By the third episode I was watching thanks to it just being purely hilarious.  Its hour-long comedy format lets it set up scenes and just have them run until they are damn sure every joke has been done.  When thinking of the episode to put on this list, I wanted to chop them up and put together the scenes of Michelle in the coffee shop and the awful play Blank Up It’s Time and everything.  But I had to keep going back to Movie Truck.  It features some great moments like the girls trying to get the perfect seating arrangement in the movie truck and Michelle and her friends passing around a bottle of alcohol, only to reveal that one of them has just been spitting back in it.  Three words get it on this list, though: Mountain of Arms.  It’s the B-movie fan in me that reveled in the characters’ descriptions of this movie where a killer cuts off people’s arms to make a mountain of arms, with the final ironic twist that he has to chop off his own arms to finish the mountain.  Perfect.

1. Awake, “Turtles All the Way Down”: Awake tried its best to balance its fairly normal cop show premise of solving crimes each week, with its high concept that the main character keeps switching between two alternate universes depending on whether his son or his wife died in a car crash.  Apparently this was too much for audiences, since the show didn’t even get a full season.  Each episode is excellent, building up new twists to the conspiracy that caused the main character’s crash while also adding rules for how the worlds work.  Series finale Turtles is the masterpiece.  The conspiracy goes into high gear, characters die, and the two worlds fall apart completely.  Everything the show said about how things work was apparently done just to create moment after moment of “Wait, what?!”  It’s trippy.  It’s unique.  It’s perfect. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Top 10 Games of 2012


2012 featured some significant leaps for gaming, for better or worse.  The release of the Wii U and the Vita had some huge leaps forward, while also raising major questions and not delivering on games.  Storytelling in games took a major step toward increasing the argument of whether or not games are art.  And we got the standard run of sequels and company closures.  Here’s my favorite games of 2012.

(Note: As always, there’s plenty of major releases this year I haven’t played.  This list is simply the best of what I have played.)

10. Kinect Party: The main reason this is at the bottom of the list is that I only spent one (rather lengthy) session with the game, so maybe it’s not the best to judge.  The reason this is on the list at all is because that session was pure fun, taking another person and I on a journey from jungles to a bathtub as we got dressed up in funny costumes, cloned ourselves, and danced in a dubstep video.  You never know what’s coming next, but it’s always equal parts weird and hilarious.

9. Gotham City Impostors: I’m generally not one for multiplayer games, but GCI’s nice take off of Team Fortress 2 provided plenty of fun.  It’s a battle between Batman and Joker impostors, who gun each other down and use homemade gadgets, all of which is extensively customizable by the player.  There’s also the game’s emphasis on vertical movement gave it plenty of life, as people fly around and use spring shoes, bringing a new dimension that makes the game awesome.

8. Max Payne 3: The sequel to Max Payne’s adventures was so long delayed that, for the longest time, most people assumed it was quietly cancelled.  It wasn’t, and while this sequel took Max to a new location and shaved his head, it still kept the exciting gunplay, interesting story, and Max’s deadpan detective monologues that made the original two so great.  While not quite at the level of the originals, Max Payne 3 is a worthy successor, and enough fun to justify its place here.

7. Rock Band Blitz: Blitz is not Rock Band 4.  Instead, Blitz is purely addictive, a throwback to Harmonix’s own Amplitude and Frequency that takes your entire Rock Band library and gives it a new light.  The emphasis on social gaming, including Facebook connectivity, also works well here, boldly sacrificing direct multiplayer in favor of the everlasting quest to beat your friends’ scores.  Coincidentally, it’s also on sale this week (1/15-1/21), so whether you have a sizable library or you haven’t played a rhythm game in your life, it’s a great time to get it.

6. Angry Birds Star Wars: Angry Birds’ first crossover, Rio, didn’t really add much to the game, and I expected much the same out of Star Wars.  But Rovio didn’t just dress the birds up and let them fly again, they gave them new powers like blasters and Force push that actually change how you play the game.  Once again, it’s one of the most addictive mobile games out there, all for the low price of $1.

5. Assassin’s Creed III: Consider this an unfortunate tradition of putting a game I haven’t yet finished on my top games list.  Unfortunate, but necessary, for after Revelations made me think that AC was just digging into a hole, III reminds me why I fell in love with the franchise.  Plenty of things to do that don’t break out of the traditional gameplay, while still adding in new features like ship combat, and new environments.  While I was wary of the Frontier, it’s a great change of pace that shows the franchise will still be around for a while yet.

4. Borderlands 2: Half the reason Borderlands 2 is here is because of its improvement on all of its gameplay.  A good deal tougher, with more variety in environments and more objectives rather than just killing things, as you continue to loot-and-shoot your way through Pandora.  The other half is the writing.  Where the first game couldn’t decide whether it was a comedy or a serious plot, 2 is full-on black comedy, with classic moments like Claptrap’s birthday party and the mission “Shoot This Guy in the Face”.  Where somebody asks you to shoot him in the face.  And you get an achievement for it.  Comedic writing in games doesn’t get much better than this.

3. Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes: The Lego games have just been chugging along for a while, not seeing much reason to change formula.  DC Super Heroes shows how one change can bring new life to the franchise.  The full open world of Gotham is unpolished, but that doesn’t stop it from being awesome.  Take the Batmobile for a spin.  Turn into your favorite villain and cause havoc.  Change into Superman, at the best he’s ever been in a game, and take off as the John Williams theme backs you up.  Add in the standard fun gameplay, and it’s a great experience.

2. Journey: Journey is only technically a game.  You do pick up a controller and you do play it, but there’s not really a way to lose, it lasts around an hour, and very little, if any, actual skill is required.  Journey is an experience.  Playing as a mysterious robed figure with only a loose destination, you traverse through beautiful deserts and snowy mountains on your way to your goal, with a story told through no dialogue.  If you’re connected to the internet, you’ll find another person in the game, but there’s no way to communicate with them and you can freely leave them behind if you wish.  And yet it is that other person that enhances the experience, makes you really feel like you’re sharing a connection with someone you know nothing about.  And across the mere hour of play comes an incredible story that affects your emotions and makes you want to take another journey (which the game actually encourages).

1. The Walking Dead: I’ve loved almost all of Telltale’s games.  And while I’ve felt for the main characters in their games before, never have I gotten as attached to a character as I have with Lee and Clementine.  Lee is the reflection of the player.  Clementine is the game reacting to the player.  You quickly realize that you want to please Clementine, that every decision you’re making is what’s best for her.  You realize that there’s only so much you can do, that some things are uncontrollable.  That the members of your team of survivors are likely to drop dead in a few seconds, that every decision is delaying the inevitable.  The Walking Dead is a pinnacle is storytelling, one that gives the player a hard decision with no right answer and the mere seconds you have to figure out what you want to do are never enough to justify whichever choice you make. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Top 10 Movies of 2012


2012 was a pretty big year for movies.  The start of The Hunger Games, the finales to Marvel’s Phase One, the Dark Knight Saga and Twilight (hooray!), three stop-motion movies, along with big news like Disney buying Lucasfilm.  Here’s my top 10 favorite movies of 2012 (and links to my reviews when applicable).

(Note: I have not seen a good deal of the big movies this year, including most of the Best Picture nominations, and I probably won’t see them for a while.  This is just my list for what I enjoyed most of what I’ve seen)

10. 21 JumpStreet: The often haphazard premise of taking old TV shows and turning them into movies produced gold here, mainly thanks to its playing with tropes in the car chase, a humorous look at what was serious subject matter, and a comedic turn by Channing Tatum.  The directorial team of Lord and Miller have proved that they know how to do absurdity well.

9. The Secret World of Arietty: Studio Ghibli’s release this year may be one of the last times we’ll see Amy Poehler and Will Arnett as a couple.  This just adds to the movie’s surprisingly dark and melancholy tone, trading out magical worlds of past features with quiet reality of a family that ends up forced out of their home, the one twist being that they’re tiny and face danger at every turn.  For all of Ghibli’s unrelenting fantasy, this is a nice reminder that they can also deliver solid drama.

8. The Dark Knight Rises: The finale of Nolan’s epic trilogy did have its share of problems that are still being discussed.  With a movie of this stature and hype, though, it was inevitable.  In the end, Nolan did one thing perfectly: closing the book on his interpretation of Batman with a movie that’s emotionally satisfying and thrilling, all with a fantastic performance by Anne Hathaway as Catwoman that I hope to see again.

7. Life of Pi: If you want to see how Ang Lee’s Hulk should’ve looked, simply watch Richard Parker, the tiger that Pi Patel gets trapped on a boat with.  The impressive CGI throughout is added with some fantastic cinematography that transports and fascinates, even when 80% of the movie takes place on a boat in the middle of the ocean.  Along the way, there’s a fascinating story about religion that doesn’t necessarily overtake the movie for non-religious viewers, and an incredible acting job by what I believe is a snubbed Suraj Sharma.

6. Skyfall: After Quantum of Solace, the future of Bond was worrying.  After Skyfall, I’m ready for another 50 years.  Recapturing the fun that looked lost in the move to Craig-Bond would be good enough, but it adds in serious themes about old age and loss that manage to elevate the movie.  Strong performances by Judi Dench and Javier Bardem and impressive directing truly put this on the list.

5. ParaNorman: Between this, Frankenweenie, and Pirates!, stop-motion made a huge comeback…at least, for the people that actually saw the movies.  ParaNorman is the one that makes the list, though, with its inventive twist on the zombie genre that makes it kid-friendly while also creating dark adult themes.  It was also one of the best-looking 3D movies of the year (I admit to not seeing Life of Pi in 3D, though), and its gorgeous character design and impressive effects are the reason.

4. TheAmazing Spider-Man: The biggest fear with Amazing was that it was simply too soon to be rebooting the franchise.  Amazing overcame the potential plot problems to actually create a different take on the franchise, one that takes its time to build up emotional scenes.  At the same time, we get the wise-cracking Spider-Man back and a villain that gives him an even match both in power and smarts.

3. TheCabin in the Woods: The much-delayed collaboration between Joss Whedon and Cloverfield’s Drew Goddard paid off big.  A horror movie that ends up not only ripping apart every horror movie trope it comes across, it also shatters the fourth wall with its look at the relationship between characters, creators, and audience.  As gory and scary as it is hilarious, if you’re tired of found footage movies and clich├ęs, it’s the perfect horror movie for you.

2. Wreck-ItRalph:  A movie that threatened to be overtaken by cameos instead proved to be an emotional love-letter to video games and outcasts.  Ralph’s big brother relationship with Vanellope is the real drive of this movie, and the strong voice work by John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman gives them life.  They apparently improvised off of each other, and it shows.  Wreck-It Ralph is funny and heartwarming, easily the best Disney Animation movie since Bolt.

1. TheAvengers: I think you could probably guess this was coming.  Avengers showed Joss Whedon flexing his directorial and writing muscles, creating a movie that was fun while still intelligent, action-packed but with plenty humor, filled with characters without being overly complicated.  A movie so big that it could’ve collapsed in on itself and instead just managed to branch out to everybody, from comics fans to people who don’t know a Skrull from a Kree.  No, it’s not going to win any Oscars.  But when I think of the movies on this list I’d most want to rewatch, this is the one that will always come in first.

Mars Attacks Volume 1: Attack from Space



Written by John Layman
Art by John McCrea

            Mars Attacks is one of my favorite Tim Burton movies.  Oh, it’s definitely unpolished, to be sure.  It’s also hilarious, star-studded, and just all-around dark fun.  And I was excited for the announcement of a new comic series with Chew writer John Layman at the helm.  And the results are…well, a little unpolished, but interesting, to be sure.
            The Martian invasion begins in this volume when in the 60s, Zar and a small group of Martians land near a small town and Zar gets taken to the county fair, where he’s scarred.  When the other Martians try to rescue him, it explodes into a massacre, with Zar being the only Martian survivor.  Now, Zar is General Zar and is at the head of the Martian fleet that only has one purpose: wipe out humanity.
            One of the more interesting things this comic does is actually making the Martians kind of sympathetic.  The movie and, as far as I know, the original trading cards, just had the Martians being destructive for destruction’s sake.  They almost seem misunderstood in the movie…and then they return to killing.  Here, it’s clearly shown that the Martians have a reason for thinking of humanity as nothing more than an aggressive race, and we find out that the Martians have visited Earth several times before and just been killed.  It gives them just a little more depth, and the narration gives us some insight into the vengeful Zar not necessarily being the pinnacle of the Martians.  On the other hand, this kind of leaves the humans out of it.  We get our heroic group of humans, but I didn’t really have much reason to care about them.  It looks like the next arc (and I’ll say my reason for “looks like” in a bit) is going to be more focused in that aspect.
            What this series really does well is gore.  If you don’t care for gore, this is not the series for you.  If you do, then John McCrea’s art is going to appeal to you.  Full of people being blasted, Martians getting stabbed, giant insects decapitating people.  It leans towards more dark-humor-gore, but it’s still a violent series.  The art also does some nice nods to the original trading cards.  Throughout, some of the panels will be the cards, complete with a number and a caption like “The Martians Invade!”  It adds a nice bit of fun to this series.
            Which I guess is my biggest problem with the book.  It doesn’t go into full fun.  It flirts with it, and there’s some dark humor throughout, but I guess it doesn’t have the wackiness/campiness that I was expecting after the Tim Burton film.  I still enjoyed the series, but it just wasn’t as hilarious as I was expecting.  And on another note, my review copy contained the first 5-issue arc…along with the 6th issue, which starts a new arc.  I’ve never read a collection before that just leaves something hanging like that, and I can only assume it was a mix-up in the review copy.
            Mars Attacks isn’t great, but it is an interesting start to the new series, especially for those who revel in violence and destruction.  I’ll keep reading it, but I hope things get kicked up in the future. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison



Written by Haden Blackman
Art by Agustin Alessio

            Everybody loves the Empire.  Oh sure, we all root for Luke and Han and the Rebels to win the day on the surface.  But some of the most prominent images of Star Wars are Darth Vader, stormtroopers, TIE fighters, and the Emperor, and it’s because we love to see them be evil.  Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison not only gives us a pure look at the bad guys, but it also has a fresh take on things.
            Taking place between Episodes III and IV, Ghost Prison is from the point of view of Laurita Tohm, an Imperial cadet who’s just graduated when a terrorist attack is launched on Coruscant and the Emperor by other Imperials.  It turns out that not everybody in the Empire is happy with the Emperor’s rule.  Tohm joins up with Moff Trachta and, of course, Darth Vader as they protect the wounded Emperor and find refuge in the titular ghost prison.
            The prison is not haunted (no Star Wars horror comic today), but is instead a secret Jedi prison, hidden so well that even the fall of the Republic protected it, and it turns out to be filled with war prisoners, many of whom were captured by Anakin Skywalker.  This tie to Darth Vader’s past works to give him just a touch of backstory and anger at his past.  Despite being in the title of the book, Darth Vader really isn’t the focus.  A lot of the emotion comes from Laurita and Trachta.  However, this makes Vader that much stronger.  By having Laurita narrate instead of Vader, we see him as this brutal, imposing figure.  He kills without mercy, he flies into rages.  He is not as tragic and sympathetic as we know he is, but a force of terror.
            And we want him to win.  We want them to take back Coruscant and defeat the traitors.  Which is interesting in its own right for several reasons.  For one, the traitors are shown to have a completely good cause, reasons for doing what they’ve done and quite a few sympathies.  We see reflections of these in Laurita, but as he comes under Vader’s tutelage, these get wiped out.  This is a story of a good, idealist soldier who happens to learn under the wrong person, and it’s fascinating to watch.  The other reason the story is interesting is that we know who’s going to win.  Well, yeah, the traitors aren’t going to succeed in taking over Coruscant and killing the Emperor because we’ve seen what happens.  This doesn’t mean the book isn’t filled with plenty of suspense and exciting action sequences.
            Alessio’s art must be praised.  It’s absolutely gorgeous.  The detailing on the characters is incredible, and he makes the prison comes to life.  It feels like a dark and forgotten place in the Star Wars universe.  The action sequences are also perfectly done.  As lightsabers fly and blasters…blast, he just captures it.
            A great Star Wars book all around.  I don’t dip into the Expanded Universe much, but this is an enthralling tale of darkness against light that makes us cheer for the dark.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Revival Volume 1: You're Among Friends




Written by Tim Seeley
Art by Mike Norton

The zombie genre has well run its course at this point.  It's been parodied, deconstructed, reconstructed, and so on until it seems like there's nothing left to do.  Revival makes a big change: taking the zombies out of the genre.
Revival takes place in a small Wisconsin town, where about 25 recently deceased people have come back to life.    Instead of being zombies, they're just normal people who are just returning to whatever they were doing before.  The first arc is mainly focused on a policewoman whose job is adjusting with the revival, along with a mysterious creature that's also appeared.
While there are main characters here, Revival is really an ensemble piece, focused on everybody in the town and their reactions.  We see the police, teachers, students, upper class, lower class, and even the CDC.  Everybody is affected, and this is a story as much about the basic drama of a small town as it is about an incredible event happening.  We still get plenty of mysteries going, including the central one of "How did this happen?" but we also get to know the people and the place.
One of the things that can easily go wrong with a concept like this is a failure to explain the rules.  But they're perfectly explained from the outset.  People will still die, and the revivers will keep coming back.  This is not a horror comic necessarily, but it does have some pretty horrific scenes, particularly as one person keeps pulling out her teeth as they keep growing back.  Norton's art is perfect for both the scenes of gore and the simple conversations that really drive the book.
Revival is fascinating, mysterious, and unique.  Definitely worth picking up for anybody who wants something different.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Hoax Hunters Book 1: Murder, Death, and the Devil



Written by Michael Moreci and Steve Seeley
Art by JM Ringuet, Axel Medellin, and Emilio Laiso

            I don’t quite know what the appeal of shows like Ghost Hunters or Searching for Bigfoot or whatever is.  Clearly if there was anything interesting, it would be shown on something other than a SyFy show.  Or, as Hoax Hunters’ premise goes, maybe not.
            The Hoax Hunters are Jack, Regan, and Ken, who set out to disprove various urban legends and videos that seem to be showing the supernatural.  At least that’s what they are on the surface.  In reality, they’re hired by the government to investigate these events and make sure that the public believes nothing happened.  In this first arc, the team investigates a Louisiana swamp where mass groups of animals are turning up dead, and the answer has to do with the disappearance of Jack’s father.  The arc’s four issues are bookended by standalone issues, with issue 0 about an astronaut suit filled with crows, and #5 having to do with a past case of Jack’s father.
            The concept of the book is the real hook here.  The idea that things like Bigfoot and the Jersey Devil being real is always interesting, and having a group cover it up and then showing it as “reality TV” is great.  I also like what we really get to know about the group.  At one point we find out that Regan, who has psychic powers, was originally shown on a daytime talk show before joining the group.  It’s a bit of bald exposition, but it’s also a very interesting moment that makes me want to know more about the characters’ pasts.  It’s the world that really has me hooked here, and it’s likely what’ll keep me reading, since I found this first arc…not weak, necessarily.  It’s not a weak arc.  In fact, it’s a very strong arc that propels the overall story of the book into overdrive.  And that’s part of my problem.  I tend to like it when the first arc of a comic is just getting us into the world and bringing us in, and then later things can really start going.  I guess it’s a case of “too much too fast” for me.  Which is likely why I appreciate the standalone issues more since they help build the world.  The final issue in particular really gives us an idea of what the creatures act like in the world.
            The art is fine throughout.  My one problem is that issue 0 has some very stylized art from Ringuet, only to go into Medellin’s more realistic art.  There was a moment of having to flip back and realize that Ken and Regan were still the same characters, because the two artists draw them differently enough.  The creature art definitely excels throughout.  Whether it’s a classic monster or something new, it’s that combination of terrifying and unique.
            The collection has a good amount of special features.  The cover gallery is unnecessary.  I’ve complained about cover galleries before, and considering how cool some of these covers are, I really wish they were next to the issues.  There’s also some apparently promotional images for the series, which are nice.  A single sketchbook page for the creation of Murder, the crow-astronaut, is a nice insight into character development, since he was apparently considered for several other series before being used in this one.  The real star here, though, is a short story about the Mothman, done in the style of a kids comic, which I loved.  It doesn’t feature the Hunters at all, but it does flesh out the world and what the creatures are like, which is fine with me.
            If future arcs of Hoax Hunters focus a little more on the world before getting back into the big plot, I think it could be a series worth watching.  This is still a good comic, but it’s just that tiny step away from being a great comic.