Death Rides Again in Pretty Deadly #2

After a successful debut, Image Comics’ supernatural western Pretty Deadly returns for its second issue from writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Emily Rios. Here we see the strange world of Deathface Ginny continue to unfold, seen through the eyes of Sissy as she and Fox ride to escape Big Alice. As their friends suffer at the hands of Alice and her men, Sissy must deal with the consequences of stealing from Johnny Coyote as Ginny arrives to balance the scales. Working together seamlessly, DeConnick and Rios further develop their spellbinding world of revenge and spirits through the strength of their collaborative efforts, making for a unique and engaging read.

Bones Bunny and Butterfly return as our narrators, the eerie keepers of this tale, to open the issue to catch up with Johnny Coyote. The scoundrel is where we last left him, healing from his last run-in with Alice as the prostitute Lily tends to his wounds. During this sensuous encounter, Lily asks why Johnny let Sissy pickpocket the stolen binder, letting “her” (presumably Ginny, or another character yet to be introduced) loose to burn the world. Uncertain, Johnny admits he wasn’t sure why he let Sissy take it, but says he doesn’t care what happens.

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Meanwhile, Alice and her men arrive at Sarah’s doorstep, looking for Sissy and the binder. Far away, two sentries watch: The Night Maid, who sits by the campfire with her weapon at her side, and the Day Maid, a shriveled cloaked woman hiding in a cliff-side structure. At Sarah’s, Alice watches as men burn down the house, beating and torturing the family. Crying, Sarah’s son Cyrus begins to sing the song that Sissy taught him, calling on Deathface Ginny. Soon Ginny arrives with her gun and sword at the ready, quickly disposing of Alice’s men and rescuing the family.

Turning her attentions to Alice, the two of them square off. Here we learn that Alice is a bounty hunter sent by Death to retrieve his wayward daughter, and that Ginny has no desire to return. After a lengthy struggle, Ginny takes Alice’s sword and decapitates her, and Alice’s body transforms into a column of butterflies. Riding away from the massacre at Sarah’s, Sissy worries about Sarah and Fox tells her not to look back. She goes on to tell Fox of her encounter with whom we assume to be Ginny, whether in a dream or a memory, where Ginny gave her a key. Asking Fox what these memories mean, he tells her to sleep, and that she’ll soon have the answers she’s looking for.

Beautifully scripted with a strong command of language and imagery, DeConnick’s writing lives up to the standards she’s set for herself with this series. Without giving away any of its secrets, this issue skillfully builds upon the foundations of the first and contributes to the development of this title’s mythology. Who is Alice, and why is she represented by butterflies in death? If Ginny killed the now-skeletal Bunny in the first issue, are Butterfly and Bunny meant to represent Alice and Ginny? Questions like these leave the reader wondering. The introduction of new characters, such as the Day and Night Maids, and hinting at Sissy’s connection to Ginny, add to the growing sense of supernatural intrigue that envelops this book. This is a book that hinges on emotional subtly, and DeConnick’s natural talent for dialogue and character dynamics really flourishes here, serving as an essential counterpoint to the violence and bloodshed inherent to the story.

However, this book is nothing without its artwork. Again Rios rises to the occasion through stunning visual language and an expert sense of storytelling. She crafts a dreamy landscape populated by butterflies and dead rabbits, and ghostly figures like Alice and Ginny. Her characters are delicately rendered, their barely-there forms crafted in wispy lines and a profound sense of dynamic motion. The sense of movement throughout this book is stellar, capturing the wind-swept desert, the arching of flames, the breeze blowing through fine strands of hair, all adding to the ethereal nature of this title.

Overall, this is a solid and intriguing second issue to a compelling if somewhat offbeat series. If you’re not sold on Pretty Deadly yet, hopefully this issue will change your mind. A unique read from cover to cover, this is a visually stunning western fairytale with great writing and artwork to back up its premise.

Magen Cubed  – –  http://www.eonism.net

Captain Marvel #17: Superheroes, Classic Adventure, and a Return to Order

Addressing the fallout of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s five-part Enemy Within storyline, issue #17 of Captain Marvel sees the conclusion of Carol Danvers’ role in the Infinity event. Returning home to New York City after the massive crossover affair, Carol is still grappling with catastrophic memory loss, result of the trauma she suffered while saving the city from the Kree villain Magnitron. She’s lost her apartment in this storyline and soon Carol finds herself without a home, surrounded by the faces of friends and loved ones she no longer recognizes. With nothing to grab onto, she’s struggling to find her place in a strange world. What results is a stellar issue from writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, artist Philipe Andrade, and colorist Jordie Bellaire, serving as a successful launching point for new readers and showing the poignant side of the superhero genre with a reverence for classic action/adventure storytelling.

CAPTAINMARVEL1Kit, the young daughter of one of Carol’s neighbors, immediately emerges as a key figure in this issue. As Carol’s self-appointed sidekick, seen in previous issues as a kind of fangirl in-training, we see Kit and the neighborhood children reenacting the heroic exploits of their favorite Avengers. When a skirmish with some other children leaves Kit and her friends a bit disheartened, Carol arrives to comfort them, applauding the suit-making efforts of Kit’s friend Gilbert in his attempts to emulate Iron Man. This scene establishes Carol’s role in the neighborhood, as well as her relationship with the children, in a way readers don’t often see in comics anymore. While many heroes are far removed from the communities they protect, Carol is in her element among the common people. Walking the streets in her Captain Marvel uniform, Carol is a representative of the superhero community, in direct engagement with the regular people in her neighborhood. She protects them, but she also interacts with them in everyday social circumstances, serving as a pertinent and relatable role model to the children who admire her.

However, this scene also rings quite poignantly, as we discover that Carol is simply trying to comfort the children. She doesn’t remember much of her life before Enemy Within, and what she does remember is vague, fragmented and uncertain. Telling Gilbert that his suit was just as good as Tony Stark’s Mark I Iron Man armor is a lie, having only seen photos of it now that she no longer remembers this part of her life. Even as some of Carol’s dearest friends arrive at her apartment to help her move, she doesn’t remember them, just going through the motions. When she does reach out to Frank, urged by her romantic feelings toward him, this innate vulnerability compounds Carol’s frustration, even as Frank returns the sentiment. Carol’s struggle with identity and memory, while a reoccurring theme throughout much of her history, is made very real and intimate.

The villain subplot deals with the larger unintended social implications of Carol’s public visibility as Captain Marvel. Scorned businesswoman Grace Valentine loses an important feature in Beat Magazine to a piece on Captain Marvel, setting her down on a violent path as she lashes out at New Yorkers. Despising their naiveté for placing all their hopes in the hero, Grace orchestrates a plan to undermine and assassinate Captain Marvel during a public ceremony. While Grace’s plot is straightforward and unremarkable, as revenge is a go-to trope in superhero fiction, it serves to propel Carol back into the spotlight as Grace commandeers all the screens in Times Square to expound her plan. Even with hijacked military attack drones trained on Captain Marvel, the crowd of New Yorkers rallies behind her, refusing to back down in the face of violence, and bolstered by this support Carol puts an end to Grace’s theatrics.

The closing scene sees Carol and Kit in Carol’s new apartment in the crown of the Statue of Liberty (as it was rented to her by the city). There Carols tries to apologize to Kit for being unable to teach her how to be Captain Marvel, only to be met with Kit’s real role as her sidekick. Kit shows Carol the comic book that she made documenting Carol’s history as Captain Marvel, who she is and why she’s so important, to teach Carol everything she needs to know. As Kit sits down with Carol to read it to her, the focus shifts to Jersey City to the bedroom of Kamala Khan. A sixteen-year-old girl who, like Kit, looks up to Captain Marvel, Kamala offers the readers a hopeful glimpse of the future as Carol’s successor, taking up her old title as Ms. Marvel.

What begins as a stock superhero action story takes a step forward to become something so much more meaningful. This issue really serves as the best the genre has to offer: The hero struggling with personal obstacles, her support network coming together to buoy her along, and the community rallying behind her as a symbol of hope. DeConnick deftly balances the intimate microcosm of Carol’s injuries with the macrocosm of her role as an Avenger, and the inadvertent consequences that spring up along the way. While many books have done this throughout the history of the genre, few come to mind as recent examples of this successful kind of composed storytelling, touching on so many different issues at once with both clarity and resonance. Helping to further achieve this balance is the character Kit. In a clever decision on DeConnick’s part, Kit steps in to function in the role of the nostalgic reader, the child who grew up on superheroes and comic books. This use of the character as the self-declared sidekick, helping Carol come to terms with her memory loss, grounds the story in a sense of realism and brings Carol’s story home for the reader.

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Beyond its function in the story, the use of Kit as the sidekick is important in the history of the genre, as Captain Marvel symbolically passes the torch to a young girl. This intergenerational female hero/sidekick relationship is something not often seen in a genre populated by male heroes, who regularly transfer titles and powers to the boys and young men serving as their sidekicks and heirs. While we do see this exchange occurring in books like Hawkeye, as Clint Barton shares his title with protégé Kate Bishop, and between Batman and the numerous Batgirls, it’s rarely seen specifically between women. This is echoed in Kamala’s introduction, who we will see again when her title debuts in February, as the future successor to Carol’s old title as Ms. Marvel. It poignantly sets up a mythology for this title and hero, and invites young women to openly share in this heroic fantasy as they rarely have in the past.

If you’re not reading Captain Marvel, you should be. Issue #17 is an engaging and emotionally satisfying read from start to finish, full of heart as well as good old-fashioned superheroism. A great starting point for new readers, and a wonderful return to order for longtime fans, this title looks to have a bright future ahead of it.

Magen Cubed  – –  http://www.eonism.net

Brandon Seifert: Hellraiser, Seekers of the Weird, and Beyond

First introduced to comic book readers in 2007 for his work on The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and World War Hulk: Gamma Files from Marvel Comics, writer Brandon Seifert has made a name for himself in recent years. Brought to my attention for his issues of IDW’s Doctor Who and co-writing Boom! Studios’ Hellraiser: The Dark Watch with Clive Barker, Seifert has also garnered a dedicated following for Witch Doctor. A kind of House, M.D. meets H.P. Lovecraft, this original medical/horror series from Image Comics is illustrated by Lukas Ketner and employs an interesting blend of horror, fantasy and comedy. Known for his due diligence as a researcher, his use of fascinating imagery, and his keen attention to detail, Seifert has amassed a unique body of work, receiving its rightful share of critical praise.

With the recent announcement of his upcoming title from Marvel Comics, Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird, there’s a lot of buzz surrounding this high profile book. Created in partnership with Walt Disney Imagineering, Seekers of the Weird will serve as the launch for a series of books under the Disney Kingdoms brand, exploring the characters, worlds and attractions of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. What else is coming from this Marvel-Imagineer partnership is still unknown at the moment, but the topic is certainly stirring a lot of interest from eager fans. All of that said, I recently got a chance to catch up with Seifert, to talk about his new project, horror comics, and his plans for future books.

SeifertInterview1Q. At New York Comic Con, Marvel announced the release of your upcoming five-part series, Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird. How did you get involved in this project, and can you tell us a little bit about it?

A. I got involved in Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird because Marvel editor Bill Rosemann hit me up and asked if I wanted to be involved!

Seekers of the Weird is about two teenagers named Maxwell and Melody Keep. Their parents get kidnapped by a dark supernatural force — which leads the kids to discover that their family’s involved with something call the Museum of the Weird, a repository for the world’s most dangerous magical artifacts. The kids have seven days to find one artifact in particular in the Museum… or they’ll never see their parents again! Seekers has a bit of an Indiana Jones vibe, but also a pretty strong Harry Potter influence too. The whole project is based on the actual Museum of the Weird, which was originally going to be part of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland but got shelved when Walt Disney passed away.

Q. What has been your favorite part of working on this title so far?

A. The series artist is Karl Moline. I’ve been a fan of Karl’s work since he did Fray with Joss Whedon at Dark Horse, so I was super excited to work with him. But as good as I expected Karl’s work to be — it’s turned out to be way better! His stuff is so good that I’ve been working on “leveling up” the ideas I bring to the table, because I know if I bring an amazing idea for something like a monster or weapon to Karl, he’ll make it even more amazing when he draws it!

Q. Will this title be family-friendly, as the Disney association might imply, or did you write with a more mature audience in mind? Does this title appeal to Marvel’s action-oriented readers and Disney fans alike?

A. It’s designed to be “all-ages” in the same way as something like Doctor Who, Star Wars or the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Fun for kids — but fun for adults, too!

It’s definitely going to have a broad appeal. The project started with the Disney Imagineers. They’re very involved, and very interested in making sure we live up to the history that the project is based on. But Marvel’s also making sure it’s very much got a Marvel kind of vibe to it. I don’t know what people are expecting from this series — but I think they’re going to be really blown away when it comes out!

Q. You’re known to many readers for your issues of Doctor Who and Hellraiser: The Dark Watch, as well as your own original project Witch Doctor. As a writer, is it difficult to switch gears from genre to genre, or is Seekers of the Weird in the same thematic wheelhouse as some of your other work?

A. I dunno, I sort of think the idea of “genre” lumps together a bunch of things that don’t really go together. Some genres are all about the kinds of tropes you use — science fiction needs some kind of fictional science thing in it, whereas, like, “urban fantasy” needs magic in a city setting — a kind of trope in a specific setting. Then on the other hand, you have genres like “comedy” or “horror.” And those aren’t about the setting you use or the trappings you play with as much as they are about evoking a specific emotional response from an audience. In comedy, you’re trying to make the audience laugh. In horror, you’re trying to scare them, or disturb them. So, when you have “science fiction” — stories about fictional science — and “comedy” — stories that make you laugh — and you call them both “genres”… I dunno. That doesn’t make a huge amount of sense to me.

So if you’re doing a “genre” like “science fiction,” it’s easy to mix other genres in. Most of my favorite fiction is stuff that mixes different genres. Doctor Who is science fiction, but also action, adventure, horror, mystery, comedy, drama… it varies from episode to episode. With Witch Doctor we were doing horror and medical drama… but also comedy, action, drama, urban fantasy, lots of stuff. So doing a series like Seekers of the Weird, which also has a bunch of genres mixed into it, is a pretty easy transition. I find it a lot harder to do a book like Hellraiser, which is supposed to be pretty straight-up supernatural horror with some urban fantasy/dark fantasy stuff mixed in. I can’t do a lot of comedy in that book, or even a lot of “action genre” stuff, because it’s antithetical to what the series is supposed to be about. And since I’m someone who doesn’t like sticking to one tone in a story, that’s much harder for me.

Q. As mentioned above, you’ve had success both with franchise titles as well as your own original series. Do you find yourself looking to create more original works in the future?

A. Oh, yeah! Doing franchise work definitely has a lot of benefits you don’t get when originating a new project. For one thing, franchises like Doctor Who and Hellraiser have been big, important parts of my life, so working on them is much more of a “dream come true” thing than working on something like Witch Doctor, which I originated myself. But working on franchises has pointed out to me that I’m definitely happiest and most creatively fulfilled when I’m working on projects I made up myself. And I really do my best work on projects that I came up with. So going forward with my career, original projects are going to be more and more my focus.

Q. You’re known for your distinctive way of approaching the horror genre in your work. Do you find yourself drawn to horror in particular? If so, is that an aesthetic choice, as vehicle for other narratives, or do you feel that horror comics can be elevated?

A. Honestly, I think part of what people are finding distinctive about my work in horror is that most of my influences SeiferInterview2come from outside horror. Look at Witch Doctor, #1, that’s a good example. WD #1 is an exorcism/demonic possession story. But it’s not inspired by stuff like The Exorcist, let alone other exorcism movies. It’s inspired, on the one hand, by a whole bunch of research I did into actual exorcism and possession beliefs, especially stuff in the Vatican. I read several books about Vatican exorcists, the things they believe and the training they go through to become exorcists. So that was one side of it. The other side was, it was inspired by the whole biology metaphor we use in Witch Doctor, where we cross classic monsters with really disturbing stuff from medicine and biology. So in Witch Doctor, “demonic possession” is actually infection by the parasitic larval stage of the demon life cycle. So I did a whole bunch of research into parasitic insects, especially stuff like botflies and applied that to demons.

Really, I think horror can be “elevated” by bringing in influences from outside of horror. But that’s the same thing that’s true of every genre. Star Wars elevated science fiction at the time because it pulled in all this stuff that wasn’t being used in science fiction. Action/adventure tropes, World War 2 dogfighting movies, samurai movies, metaphysics, Joseph Campbell, Kurosawa. I’d never say I’m trying to “elevate” horror, because that implies that I think horror needs to be “elevated,” like there’s something wrong with that. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the horror genre. But I do think my approach to horror interests people because I’m not looking at horror for my inspiration — I’m looking at all kinds of other stuff.

Q. Are there any other franchises/genres you’d like to tackle someday, if given the chance?

A. Oh, lots of them! I haven’t gotten to do much science fiction, and that’s always been my big love. I also want to be doing superhero comics. They’re what got me into the medium in the first place. Besides those, there’s a bunch of other genres I’d like to do. Westerns are one. And Wuxia is another — the whole Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon strain of martial arts movies from China.

As for other franchise I’d like to do… I’m a huge fan of Marvel Comics, so there’s lots more stuff I’d like to do there. I’m also a big fan of Ghostbusters, and Aliens, and Buffy. All those are things I’d love to try writing someday.

Thanks so much to Brandon for taking the time to talk. Be on the lookout for Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird coming out in January. We hope to hear from him again soon.

Magen Cubed

http://www.eonism.net/

Graphic Novel Review: Avengers: Endless Wartime

AvengersEW1Warren Ellis returns to the Marvel Universe in this first of an all-new series of graphic novels, attempting to bridge the gap between the 616 continuity of the monthly comics and the new continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Illustrated by Mike McKone, this novel is a pan-generational mash-up of storylines, a kind of unofficial sequel to the events of the MCU films, as well as an interesting introduction for readers lured by the success of the franchise on-screen. With its intriguing reimagining of these well-known characters and blending of Asgardian magic with Ellis’ characteristic dystopic super-science, Avengers: Endless Wartime is a well-scripted adventure with plenty to offer readers both new and old.

An ancient threat rises from the past, a past more recent for some than others, hiding behind the face of American militarization. What emerges is an intersection of science and magic as Thor and Captain America realize they’ve both tousled with this once before, in different forms and at different times, drawing an interesting parallel between both characters. Mounting a response, the adventure that follows is largely well-plotted, throwing out some pointed questions about the nature of industrialized, privatized warfare. The action that buoys that novel is suitably exciting, as executed by McKone, as the team encounters hordes of formidable techno-organic baddies straight from Norse mythology. While impressive, there are some moments of disconnect from page to page during these action scenes that feel a little disjointed, ultimately culminating in a climax that suffers from this same fragmentation.

The novel is carried by the familiar MCU Avengers roster of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow and AvengersEW2Hawkeye, with the inclusion of Wolverine and Captain Marvel to round out the lineup. Ellis argues an interesting case for his characterizations, which make for a newly-formed team of heroes and all the growing pains one would expect. Even for it, this novel is neither strictly comic-verse nor movie-verse, blending them in a hybrid of timelines and interpretations that sometimes feels a little muddled. Captain America is strongly defined by his temporal displacement, distant but not unkind, still struggling as a man “living in a foreign country called the Future.” Iron Man serves as his counterpoint, tempered by a more movie-friendly handling, an introspective reflection of his father’s war-mongering as he attempts to reach out to Cap and make the team work. Thor is still very much an alien, trying to reconcile his own past with his place in the human world. The appearance of Captain Marvel (in her 616 uniform) serves as a nice touch-stone for comic book continuity, while Wolverine, influenced more by his appearances in his own movie franchises, fills an antagonistic role in questioning Cap’s authority and moral platitudes.

The Avengers aren’t the friends we’re used to from the comics, instead a collection of uneasy alliances and clashing personalities with a common goal. Informed by several stories and sources, and groomed by the MCU, these characters do stand in departure from both film and comic. While this won’t bother new fans, it will probably irk seasoned readers, who are aware they’re not the target audience of the book. For all of this friction, the formula works here, exploring interesting character dynamics despite the occasional discrepancy Ellis encounters along the way. As long as you’re willing to leave your presumptions at the door and accept this as its own separate entity, it’s a successful addition to the Marvel Universe at large.

AvengersEW4McKone sells the script in a balance of appealing splash pages and energetic action sequences. His panel transitions create useful tension with some solid page design throughout, aping cinematic framing to varying degrees of success. The repetition of static character close-ups breaks up the narrative for me more than I would like, but McKone’s sense of motion and scale during fight scenes makes up for it. From a design standpoint, the back end of the book is particularly lovely, marked by a fascinating use of techno-organic forms and dense futuristic settings. He’s very successful in rendering the baddies as otherworldly and alien, with their fluid compositions and seemingly endless ranges of movement and shape. The moody color palettes of Jason Keith with Rain Beredo make the most of these scenes, establishing an ominous tone in dark pages peppered by the light of our heroes’ gunfire or energy blasts. Overall the effect is appropriately dramatic, foreboding, and occasionally creepy, capturing the weight of Ellis’ pessimistic scenario as well the internal struggles within the team itself.

While not a perfect hybrid, Avengers: Endless Wartime is a solid graphic novel that bridges the gap between comic and film in some interesting ways. Ellis’ script sheds intriguing light on characters we know and love, exploring their ideologies when faced with a world they find themselves struggling to protect.

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McKone’s illustrations carry that burden well, and create some unique and engaging imagery along the way. If you’re new to Marvel and looking for a good read to get your feet wet, it’s definitely worth picking up. If you’re a Marvel fan looking for a well-written side adventure, I suggest you put your potential biases aside and take this book for what it is.

Magen Cubed

You could check Magen’s website at: http://www.eonism.net/ 

Pretty Deadly: A Supernatural Western with a Twist

PrettyDeadly1If you’re looking for something different – a little more mature but still steeped in mystery and magic, a grim fairy tale of a western – then look no further than Pretty Deadly #1. The much-anticipated passion project of writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Emily Rios, a pair readers will remember from their collaboration on inaugural arc of Marvel Comics’ Captain Marvel, this title takes the well-traveled path of supernatural westerns and does something unique and engaging. Don’t look for any grizzled old cowboys, vampires or zombies populating the desert here, because you won’t find anything of the sort. This book is a peculiar mix of folklore and fable, western and mystery, centered on the legend of Deathface Ginny. While it plays within the familiar framework of these genres, it successfully lays down the foundations of the strange and alluring world where Death rides on the wind as an avenging spirit. Whatever you were expecting of this book, set that aside and simply enjoy what DeConnick and Rios have to offer.

DeConnick opens the first issue on the interchange between a rabbit and a butterfly, as the rabbit meets its death at the hands of a little girl with a handgun. Serving as our narrators, the rabbit and the butterfly unfold the story of Sissy, a young girl in a vulture cloak. She and her adult companion, a seemingly blind and well-grizzled western archetype by the name of Fox, are traveling performers of sorts. Arriving in a quiet town, they set up stage to tell gathering townsfolk the tale of Deathface Ginny, the daughter of Death. After Sissy’s uncomfortable encounter with a man by the name of Johnny Coyote, she pick-pockets him for a piece of paper that puts her and Fox in the sights of Big PrettyDeadly2Alice. On the run, Fox and Sissy have to rely on old friends as Big Alice and her men close in to collect whatever Johnny owed her, and Sissy clings to Ginny’s tale.

Just what Big Alice wants with Sissy and Fox, and how this ties into the legend of Ginny, remains unclear. The issue doesn’t give the reader much context or history to grasp onto as the story begins, but DeConnick is very clever in developing these characters through intriguing scenes and well-scripted dialogue. The dynamics between her characters are tinged with subtle intimacies, despite the gruffness of their circumstances, which make their brief appearances feel very meaningful. Using the butterfly and rabbit as narrators was a fascinating choice as they hover in the peripheral of the story, introducing the fundamental mysteries of the opening issues without giving anything away yet. They create a deeper sense of mythology, really grounding the fairy tale-like quality of the plot. Also, be sure to read all the way to the back cover. DeConnick’s personal writing, as well as a one-page short story about Johnny Coyote, at the back of the issue help to provide a deeper emotional context to the premise and tease future development.

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Rios’ artwork is a stunning complement to DeConnick’s scripting, carrying the book through engaging page design and the strength of her panel composition. The wispy, barely-there quality of her lines affects a distinct dreaminess to the settings and characters, and reinforces the supernatural spirit of their world. Her sense of scope and movement is really lovely and inviting, making the most of little details such as the wind blowing in Ginny’s hair or the feathers falling from Sissy’s cloak. She also does a phenomenal job of balancing this almost ethereal presentation with the realistic detail of the animals in the book, from the rabbit and butterfly to the vulture head of the cloak. It strikes an eerie chord and sets up a lot of attractive imagery throughout. Combined with Jordie Bellaire’s understated color palettes, this book is a visual treat.

Lovely and strange, Pretty Deadly is an intriguing title with an aura of mystery and magic. How the legend of Deathface Ginny plays into Sissy’s life is unclear, but DeConnick and Rios still have a lot up their sleeves. This is a title to watch out for.

Magen Cubed

Captain America, The Odd War of Dimension Z: A Review

Rebooting after Ed Brubaker’s acclaimed run on the title, the newly rebranded Marvel NOW Captain America from writer Rick Remender and artist John Romita, Jr. recently wrapped up its first arc, The Odd War of Dimension Z. In a story that spanned ten issues and twelve years, this bold new chapter in Captain America’s enduring saga saw the rise of a surprising new status quo. Steve Rogers finds himself abducted by Armin Zola and whisked away to the bizarre wasteland of Dimension Z, with only the principles he learned from his mother Sarah to keep him going. A stark departure from that Sentinel of Liberty we know, he’s stripped of his usual power and authority, haggard and battle-scarred after over a decade on the run, without the luxury of superhero friends and A-List guest stars to bail him out. Now a single father, he’s charged with caring for his son Ian, the heir he rescued from Zola’s clutches, raising him to the best of his limited ability in the face of constant danger. Suffice to say, this is definitely not your parents’ Captain America.

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Switching gears from the typical action-adventure and espionage themes of the series, Remender takes a sharp turn into the realm of fantasy and science-fiction. He and Romita develop Dimension Z quite well, a hellish wasteland populated by strange beasts and Zola’s genetic experiments, its jagged horizon peppered by artificial structures and Zola’s looming citadel. The inks of Klaus Janson and the color palettes of Dean White flesh out this world of metal spires and spindly mountain ranges, rocky gorges and endless deserts, making for a unique read that’s visually more Arzach than Avengers. Over the course of the story, this changes Steve, a victim of Zola’s experimentation in an unpredictable wasteland of monsters and mutants. He begins to let go of the memories and experiences that had previously defined him, adapting to survive the unsettling landscape of Dimension Z. Through violence and art, warfare as well as fatherhood, Remender depicts Steve’s twelve-year evolution in fascinating ways.

Prior to his abduction, Steve had fallen into a rut. Exhausted from the endless flood of hackneyed villains and terrorist plots, he was lost under the weight of his role as Captain America, having sacrificed his own happiness and sense of identity to live up to his legendary namesake. We see that in his relationship with longtime on-again/off-again girlfriend Sharon Carter, whose marriage proposal Steve meets with a weary mixture of passiveness and obligation. Over time in Dimension Z, however, separated from everything he knows, he begins losing the Captain America identity that he’s built, the wall of service and duty that overshadows every other aspect of his life. Even as he still carries the shield, it again becomes the symbol of strength it was originally intended to be, and less the burden that’s cost him so much. Remender does something quite interesting in showing the development of Steve, and the resurgence of his fundamental identity over that of his all-encompassing alter ego.

The core of this book, the germ of Steve’s transformation, and the unifying theme throughout, is Steve’s CAP5relationship with his mother. In Remender’s version of Cap’s origin, Steve is the son of Irish immigrants during Depression-era Brooklyn, a sickly boy terrorized by his abusive alcoholic father. It’s only through watching his mother stand up to his father that a young Steve learns the moral code that would later dictate his entire ethos: Stand up to bullies wherever you find them. Never back down. Flashbacks to several key moments in Steve’s turbulent childhood are present throughout this storyline, as Sarah’s teachings keep her young son going, despite the insurmountable odds. When his mother eventually dies of pneumonia, she leaves the orphaned Steve with the strength to survive without her. The idea of having the mother impart this knowledge and strength to the son is not a convention one often encounters in superhero fiction, as this is a genre where the relationships of fathers and sons are privileged above most others. It’s an interesting emphasis in his backstory, as this unique mother-son dynamic is paralleled through Steve’s relationship with Ian.

Steve, having stumbled into parenthood, is in no way equipped to deal with raising a child, let alone by himself. Ian is a rebellious young boy with a lot of questions, about his past, his father, and the future. Their relationship is complicated, and sometimes quite messy, too. As a father, Steve wants to impart to Ian all the things that his own mother taught him, but this is a far different world than the one that he left behind. For this, Steve’s often critical of himself and his inability to meet all of these challenges the way he would like to. He makes mistakes, he has regrets, but he’s still hanging on. In this way, he’s become like his mother: Trying to instill the strength of will in his son that his mother had in him, but accepting that hiding behind his mother will only bring him more pain. Through Ian, Steve is finally shocked out of his malaise to accept that there are things larger than the heroic persona that he had forged in his mother’s memory. Ian gives him something to live for beyond his ideals and, despite his perceived shortcomings as a father, Steve conquers that emotional baggage that’s been holding him hostage all these years.

Besides Ian, one of the more fascinating characters that Steve encounters along the way is Jet Black, Zola’s daughter and Ian’s older sister. Jet is an accomplished warrior with unique powers that give her an advantage on the battlefield. When we first encounter Jet she’s just a child, a witness to Zola’s experimentation on Steve and Ian’s abduction as Steve breaks free and escapes. Soon, raised on cruelty and violence, Jet grows up the formidable successor to her father’s realm, determined to retrieve her stolen brother and kill Steve. While her initial, vaguely romantic interest in Steve feels a bit shoehorned in, Remender manages to salvage Jet and Steve’s peculiar relationship. In having Jet come around as an ally, abandoning her father’s quest for power to help Steve escape Dimension Z, Jet fills a strange new role in Steve’s life once they emerge on the other side.

CAP4The ten-issue arc comes to a head as Zola, planning to return to Steve’s dimension with an army of mutants, abducts Ian and leaves Steve for dead. Steve, already infected with the same techno-organic virus that Zola plans to unleash on Earth, storms Zola’s citadel to rescue his son, despite his ravaged condition. Steve is able to persuade Jet to his side, having seen the true extent of her father’s madness and becoming a critical player in stopping him. Ian, who’s been brainwashed into accepting Zola as his father, rejects Steve and tries to kill him. Just as Steve is finally able to get through to Ian, Sharon appears, having traveled into Dimension Z to rescue Steve. Seeing what she thinks is a hostile target, she shoots and kills Ian. Steve is completely destroyed by this, but, with no time to grieve, pulls it together long enough to take Sharon and Jet into one last battle with Zola.

Compounding Steve’s loss and grief, Sharon stays behind to destroy Zola and his citadel, buying Steve and Jet enough time to get through the quickly closing portal to Earth. Steve tries to go back for Sharon, having already lost his son, but there’s no hope. As the portal wreaks havoc on time-space in Dimension Z through the use of some intriguing imagery on Romita’s part, Jet takes Steve’s hand to lead him through the portal with her, emerging on the other side in the subway tunnels beneath Manhattan. While Steve has aged twelve years in Zola’s personal Hell, it’s only been a day since he vanished, leaving the reader with the cold realization that Steve has spent more time in Dimension Z than he has our modern world. As Jet tries to herd him to safety, surrounded by strangers in an unfamiliar place, Steve stumbles out of the subway and collapses on the sidewalk, crushed by his grief. He’s lost his son, and with him all of Steve’s hope for the future; he’s also lost Sharon, and with her his connection to the life he no longer figures into. If Steve Rogers no longer belongs to our world, what does that mean for Captain America? Who is Captain America going to fight for now?

This is an arc that posits more questions than it answers, and that’s what makes it so engaging. There are no CAP3easy conclusions or neat little bows on this one, as Steve must find a way to reconcile the last twelve years and deal with his grief. The epilogue suggests that we may not have seen the last of Dimension Z, as the war between the indigenous Phrox and Zola’s mutant army rages on in Steve’s absence. Another warrior bearing Captain America’s shield and principles emerges to lead the Phrox armies to victory. We can only assume that Ian somehow survived his apparent death, or Zola used some kind of trickery to convince Steve that Ian had betrayed him. In any case, seeing how this plays out, and what Steve would think if he knew what happened while he was away, could be quite interesting if Remender chooses to follow-up on this thread in the future.

This isn’t a perfect story, by any means. Remender’s narration and dialogue has quite a few soft softs throughout, prone to fits of overly operatic scripting that feel dated and sometimes cheesy. The artwork suffered from some inconsistencies on Romita’s part in the first few issues, especially with the cartoonish anatomy of Steve and the other neighborhood children in the flashbacks sequences. There are also a few missteps in Jet’s addition to the main plot that fail to fully explain her powers until after the conclusion of the arc, leaving the reader with a few puzzling moments through issue #11. However, given the strength of the art and storytelling, these are just a few qualms that fortunately don’t detract from an overall enjoyable reading experience.

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Pledging to change the status quo of Captain America forever, The Odd War of Dimension Z lives up to its promises. This storyline offers some unique insights into the Steve Rogers we know and love, and changes his characterization in bold and heartbreaking ways. This certainly isn’t your parents’ Cap, but I’m fascinated to see where he goes from here.

Magen Cubed

Retro Comics: The Vision and The Scarlet Witch #12, Double Sized Climax!

1986 was a busy year in the personal lives of Marvel’s vast stable of heroes, seeing everything from the birth of Cable to Scott Summers and Madelyne Pryor to the wedding of Bruce Banner and Betsy Ross. That same year Avengers alumni Scarlet Witch and Vision have their twin sons, Billy and Tommy, in the finale of The Vision and The Scarlet Witch limited series. This seeming domestic bliss, however, wouldn’t last, leading to events that would have lasting consequences in the Marvel Universe for decades to come.

As we later come to find out, Vision’s marriage to Scarlet Witch was part of Immortus’ plan to prevent Scarlet Witch from ever having children. A mutant of devastating magical ability, Wanda Maximoff is a nexus being with the power to shape her universe, and her children could very well warp the foundations of reality itself. Unaware of this plot, Wanda’s desire to have a family with her husband would cause her to unknowingly draw on dark magical forces from the demon Mephisto to have Tommy and Billy. The demon would eventually reabsorb them, snuffing them from existence, and cause a chain of events that would lead to Wanda’s madness and the cataclysms of House of M and M-Day. In this issue, however, which concludes the arc of Wanda’s pregnancy, none of that is on the horizon. Written by Steve Englehart with artwork by Richard Howell, this unique limited series ran from 1985 to 1986, and was the second series to feature this prominent couple’s extracurricular adventures.

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As the title suggests, this double-sized issue follows the day of the birth, as Vision and Wanda excitedly prepare for the arrival of their first child, a boy they plan to name him Thomas. Going into labor six days earlier than anticipated, Wanda is quickly whisked off to the hospital for much of the issue while danger looms outside. Guest appearances include Wonder Man, Magneto and Doctor Strange as supernatural complications arise in the form of Nekra, Grim Reaper and Brady Kent in a subplot centered around Nekra’s raising the dead. Both sides of the extended Vision-Maximoff family brawl outside of the hospital to stop Nekra’s plot while Strange delivers Thomas, only to realize that Wanda’s having twins in a pleasant surprise for the new parents. They name their boys Billy and Tommy, and conclude on a joyful note surrounded by friends and loved ones as the young family settles in to begin their new lives.

A highly nostalgic read, this is a story that certainly shows its age. Englehart’s script is very dated, with the kind of cheesy dialogue and over-the-top plotline you would expect from a mid-‘80s title. That said, it’s an endearing kind of cheese, appropriate for all-age readers and free of the edge and attitude that later came to consume superhero comics in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Seeing an entire limited series about the personal lives of heroes is also interesting and worth a look, if only for the kitsch factor. I’ve always been a fan of family-oriented storylines, and for that reason this series doesn’t disappoint. As far as the artwork is concerned, Howell’s pencils reflect a pretty predictable ‘80s aesthetic. While fairly average, he does offer a few visually interesting panels here and there, especially in the scenes with Doctor Strange’s solo adventure before arriving to deliver the twins.

While having read a lot of the reborn Billy and Tommy, all grown up as the heroes Wiccan and Speedster in the pages of Young Avengers, I wasn’t too familiar with the source material surrounding their origins. Going back to read this series, and especially this issue, sheds some light on their backstories and makes for a fun reading experience. While a cute and enjoyable little story, it does ring a little melancholy in retrospect, knowing how their not-births and not-deaths drive Wanda to a madness that nearly destroys reality in the future. Still, it’s an amusing read with a unique premise and lots of nostalgia value. If you’re looking for a light read and some nice backstory on this impact moment of Marvel history, The Vision and The Scarlet Witch limited series is worth digging up.

Magen Cubed

Books We’ll Miss: Journey into Mystery

JiM1While the Marvel Universe is embroiled in its share of sweeping drama this year, from the reality-crushing consequences of the Infinity event to the mutant brawling going on in Battle of the Atom, something quite sad happened. In the fray of big budget movies and multi-title tie-ins, a little book slipped under the radar and ended a beautiful run after only ten issues. The fourth and final incarnation of Journey into Mystery, helmed by writer Kathryn Immonen and artist Valerio Schiti, recently wrapped up its last issue at #655, sailing off into that good night with little pomp and circumstance. Despite rave reviews and consistently excellent content, this little book that could just couldn’t live up to the hype of other, better selling titles. Although this book is gone, the adventures of Lady Sif, as well as the amazing efforts of Immonen and Schiti in bringing her to life, won’t soon be forgotten.

The original Journey into Mystery began its life as a horror-fantasy title leftover from Marvel’s predecessor Atlas Comics, carrying into two volumes that ran intermittently between the 1950s and 1970s. Focusing principally on the adventures of Thor, this title covered much of the mystical fantasy elements of the Marvel Universe, and over time served as an introduction for many other characters in the same vein. Taken over by Kieron Gillen and Doug Braithwaite after the events of the Siege series, the focus shifted to Loki from issues #622 to #645 for a run that was praised by both critics and fans. With issue #646, the title was relaunched to coincide with its rebranding under the Marvel NOW imprint, JiM2and Immonen stepped in to bring Lady Sif into the spotlight.

For ten issues, Sif led a dynamic cast of Marvel’s most well-known Asgardians into a world of magic, mystery, humor and action, expertly developed by Schiti’s skillful pencil work.  Sif, while a major supporting character in Thor’s title, is not quite so well-known beyond the pages of his companion’s book. This made it somewhat difficult to stir a strong sales base, as many mainstream readers just weren’t as familiar with Sif as they were other, better known Asgardians. Despite its short run, Journey into Mystery covered a lot of ground. From the depths of ancient ruins to New York City, deep space to children’s fairytales, this adventure title followed Sif’s character development with poignant resonance. While taking a few cues from Gillen’s run, Immonen made this series her own, putting a unique spin on the character and the tone of the book. Every adventure was well-framed by Immonen’s strong scripting and razor-sharp dialogue, offering equal measure of heartfelt introspection and witty banter to keep things fresh and fun. Even in keeping with the expectations set by her predecessors, this title was always uniquely Sif’s.

JiM3When we first encountered Sif, she was conflicted about her role as a warrior in what she saw as a culture in decline, as Asgardia turned its back on its once-proud past. We saw this reflection throughout the series, a question of purpose in uncertain times. With regular guest appearances from many big-name hitters in the Marvel stable, Sif was always busy and had a great cast to play off of, with much success. Through her perilous journeys, first as a wayward berserker then later as the warrior we know and love, we watched Sif grow and change, forging new relationships and strengthening old ones. Over the course of the title she came to terms with her place in a changing world, and accepted Asgardia’s new role in that world as well. Her journey wasn’t easy, and it certainly didn’t always paint her in a favorable light, but she was always fascinating, relatable, and engaging to read about.

The book’s biggest strength was its visual consistency, guided by Schiti’s amazing pencils and the stellar color work of Jordie Bellaire. Issue after issue, this title was a gem with its inventive page designs and panel compositions, serving as an evocative complement to Immonen’s scripting. Bursting with energy and emotion, Schiti carried every plot through to the end with dynamic action scenes and engaging character interactions, his pages rounded out by Bellaire’s distinctive color palettes and clever background development. This visual cohesion helped to make the book so enjoyable: not only did every component of this title work well, JiM4but they worked even better together.

While this book certainly wasn’t flawless, and did have a few fumbles as it sought its footing in the opening issues, it was a highly enjoyable addition to the Marvel pantheon. Immonen and Schiti told poignant stories, full of adventure and heart, intrigue and humor. Sif was a strong protagonist with a fun supporting cast and engrossing exploits, offering a consistently satisfying reading experience month after month. So while Sif may be shelved for now, she will not soon be forgotten by her readers and fans, who got to enjoy this little gem of a book for as long as it lasted.

Magen Cubed

New X-Men – Read it and enjoy it

X-Men-v4-001-(2013)-(Digital)-(Nahga-Empire)-01Let’s see this all new X-Men title by fan favorite creators writer Brian Wood and artist Olivier Coipel along with the talented colorist Laura Martin and inker Mark Morales. There has been much anticipation for this X title due its new twist.  This time the roster consists of a full cast of X-Women Storm, Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Rachel Grey, Psylocke and Jubilee and it seems that many more will be featured and referred to from all ages of X-Men history from the youngest to the eldest.

I too anticipated with a thrill this comic because it features my favorite female heroines from all the Marvel Universe and wanted to see how Brian Wood will handle this comic. All the characters have a big history and are known for having the strongest most dynamic personalities which thankfully Chris Claremont had built a couple of decades ago. So did Brian Wood do justice to these heroines? Yes he definitely did.

Each heroine is shown strong and dynamic using their powers as an extension of their personalities.  All of them know their place on the team and how they will be more useful in achieving to save a situation from a fatal disaster.  They are well-trained heroines who take the initiative to act upon a critical moment but also know when to follow orders and listen to suggestions.  It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen such a well-organized full functional group that use methodical tactics in an almost successful way.  This does not mean that their individual personalities aren’t fleshed out.

Storm is portrayed as the ultimate confident leader, Kitty shows her usual wittiness and cheekiness, Psylocke is prv16373_pg3lethal and a strong inquisitor, Rogue has full control of her powers and is more passionate in using them; all seven of are in character to the point.  They are not weak insecure females, they do not flaunt their powers and physiques they are strong confident heroines but above all with a realistic human personality.

Brian Wood has built a strong character driven comic with a lot of emotional and action moments perfectly balanced.  He has created a story arc where the main villain is considered an extreme threat and you understand this by the terrified reaction another arch nemesis of the X-Men has when he realizes the villain is in the X-Mansion.  Also from issue one Brian Wood is weaving a new plot thread concerning the students which eventual will become a main story at some point.  Story wise it’s a great issue one promising even greater ones in the future.

X-Men-v4-001-(2013)-(Digital)-(Nahga-Empire)-16Now the art is fantastic Olivier Coipel has given his best work.  It’s beautifully drawn with an excellent storytelling and great perspective angles.  Each character is drawn with a different body language showing both attitude and personality.  Also colors by Laura Martin and inks by Mark Morales compliment the art making it a visual delight.  The art on this comic is simply brilliant its level is so high that you cannot distinguish it as something separate from the story. You have to see it to understand how good it is.

So the new X-Men title has succeeded in delivering an amazing issue one and we have to thank this brilliant creative team that has approached it with total respect both for the heroines and for the readers. It’s not about how the women of X are perceived but a team book with individuals who are shown to us in the best way; dynamic, powerful and strong-minded.  This is a comic book I strongly suggest to read because it promises a lot of thrilling moments in the future which people will be talking about for a long time with satisfaction.

Read it and enjoy it!

Con Barbatsis for eCharta

Young Avengers 1 and 2

Young Avengers 1 and 2

Young Avengers are back with two issues already published, more popular and with more hype even before issue 1 came out. You could say this is due to the creative team that consists of writer Kieron Gillen, artists Jamie McKelvie & Mike Norton, colorist Matthew Wilson and letterer Clayton Cowles. This group of creators is well acquainted and has worked together before so we can assume they can work and produce a very good comic. Which is true as we already have seen in the first two issues! But yet again this comic book has won its place and it is considered among one of the favorite superhero teams from its very first run almost a decade ago for many comic fans. So yes its popularity is a result of this too!

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As the creators are a group of friends with their individual personalities and interests which work together perfectly to make a comic, just the same Young Avengers is a group of young heroes with their own personalities and interests in life. Once they were a team and now are called together once again to deal with a new threat! Both groups real and fictional work together in the best way because they do what they love most: the creators comics and the characters super heroics! So from the combination of two great teams who already have proved to us comic fans that they can produce something awesome we get to read a comic which deserves all its hype and popularity!

YNGAVN2013001004scol-610x471In issue 1 we are reintroduced to six members three old and three new who yet haven’t been formed in a team! These six are Kate Bishop, Hulking and Wiccan and new recruits Marvel Boy, Miss America and Kid Loki. These six though are not by far the full roster as it has been revealed through the internet by issue six Speedy and Prodigy will join the team and many more will be featured in future stories! In this issue we get a glimpse of what the original members are up to and how in a remarkable and smart way the new kids interlock and become a part of their lives. All members are in their late teens and a couple a bit older but still young enough to be a part of the team! They have matured but not yet considered grown-ups and Wiccan’s action proves how young and inexperienced they are! By the end of the issue in an attempt to make Hulking feel better Wiccan uses his powers to bring back from the dead the only family he ever had: his mother! That is a big mistake and creates a whole new threat which only Kid Loki realizes and trys to stop with no success as Miss America interferes! In issue 2 the threat is revealed to both Wiccan and Hulking and both are trapped! In a brilliant visual way the artists show us how Kid Loki releases and saves them from their capturer. But they get in more trouble as Wiccan and Hulking try to force the way Kid Loki will help them solve and face the threat! So issue 2 ends yet in another great cliffhanger!

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Kieron Gillen succeeds to create wonderful dialogues making the characters all the more 3-dimensional and not at all tumblr_mh4a3xh6xZ1raikxso1_500paper cut copies! He shows aspects of the way they think and act and what they like making them individuals and all the more interesting plus there are action scenes in every two pages! You cannot ask more from a comic which has more than enough character interaction and fighting scenes in only 22 pages. It’s purely entertaining! To top it all artists McKelvie, Norton and Williams capture the story and deliver it with smart visual concepts and brilliant story telling both in spread pages and not! The art is clean with clear and understandable facial expressions and detailed pop culture references in the backgrounds!

Overall it’s a comic based in the now about kids who are living in our present and influenced by pop culture which happen to love being superheroes! If you haven’t read it yet do so! You will find it more than entertaining, it will give you a thrill you haven’t felt for superhero comics in years!

Cheers

Con Barbatsis for eCharta