Okay, we’re gonna go about things a little differently here. Since I’ve decided to strike out on my own – updates forthcoming – I don’t necessarily have the time or the funds to read every comic and write the fairly long, detail-oriented reviews I did in the past. That doesn’t mean, however, that I’m shirking my analytical duties of reviewing comic books. It just means these reviews are going to be much shorter.

What’s the approach? Your standard pull list of comics for the week and my thoughts on why you should read them with a specific Spotlight position set aside for what I think was a standout issue. There’s also room for highlighting new books from smaller publishers or collected graphic novels and such. Pretty much whatever I think is worth your time, which means – obviously – that this will be heavily biased to my tastes. In all likelihood, some of you may or may not agree with my picks and that’s fine. If anything, it leaves us open for discussion about what you think were the best books of the week and to make recommendations of your own.

Sound good?

I’ll take your silence as a sign of agreement. To the list!

 

C.O.W.L. #5 – Image Comics

COWL_05-1Written by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel with Art by Rod Reis, the first arc of the series comes to a close with the dissolution of C.O.W.L. Or does it? Higgins, Siegel, and Reis started their story of the first labor union for superheroes at the beginning of the end, but everyone knows that the end is only the beginning. In tumultuous post-WWII, Cold War era Chicago tensions have finally escalated to the point of strikes and rioting with the city content to wash its hands clean of C.O.W.L. Not that the heroes are too broken up about it, at least most of them. While the world of C.O.W.L. has been slowly built within the era of equal rights, paranoia, and disillusionment, one man’s story has been cutting through the narrative: Geoffrey Warner, C.O.W.L.’s Chief formerly known as The Grey Raven. From the beginning of the book, Geoffrey has been trying every tactic possible to keep C.O.W.L. alive only to see it crumble before his eyes. It’s his desperation that makes his actions at the end of the issue – the last panel in fact – all the more shocking. Does Chicago need heroes? Geoffrey thinks it does and he’s willing to do anything to prove how necessary C.O.W.L. is to the Chicago, if not the world.

 

Low #3 – Image Comics

low03_coverWritten by Rick Remender with Art by Greg Tocchini, Low #3 is a beautiful cacophony of juxtaposing images and ideas set against what is ostensibly the end of the human race. While most of the people inhabiting the undersea city of Salus are set on counting down the days until they’re done for, Stel Caine holds on to the hope that humanity can be saved. The appearance of a long forgotten probe that may have found a planet suitable for human habitation prompts her to confront the decadent and corrupt councilmen who, like most people, see Stel’s optimism as some sort of disease. No one believes this more than her son Marik who, after being arrested for corruption and the death of a hooker, tries to kill himself because he can’t imagine his life could get any lower. Luckily, Stel manages to save him, which is debatable if you’re Marik, and takes him with her to find the probe. The issue mostly consists of a huge argument between Stel and Marik, a mother and son who’ve both experienced tremendous loss and have dealt with it in very different ways. But in this issue, there’s finally some catharsis and Tocchini’s art gorgeously captures the beauty and wonder of the ocean that Marik sees for the first time.

 

Wayward #2 – Image Comics

Wayward_02-1Written by Jim Zub with Art by Steven Cummings, John Rauch, and Zub, Rori’s fresh start in Japan hasn’t exactly gone very smooth. What with the pressures of being in a new city, reconnecting with your mother, discovering you have strange powers that allow you to see monsters and getting saved by a cat-person – wait, what? Seriously, the worst thing that could happen after that is starting at a new school where you’re treated like an idiot and judged for your appearance while trying not to be a burden to the one parent you don’t want to hate you. Which is why that’s exactly what happens. Though I’ve never been to school in Japan, Zub finds a way to make Rori’s circumstances relatable despite the cultural shift. We can all sympathize with feeling like an outcast or a loner as well as the intense pressure that comes with being a student. Heighten that with the intense nature of Japanese schools and we see just how stressful Rori’s world has become. How she copes with that stress, however, left me gasping out loud. The art continues to be a lush and vibrant world of anime and manga influences. Even in the darkest settings, the colors still pop off the page as Rori tries to make sense and connect the dots especially when it comes to one of her new schoolmates.

 

Storm #3 – Marvel Comics

Storm-003Written by Greg Pak with Art by Matteo Buffagni, Storm’s solo book is only three issues in and, on the surface, the stories feel like vignettes in Ororo Munroe’s life between the myriad events going on in the X-Men universe. But what Greg Pak has been doing is taking the reader back to her roots, showcasing exactly what makes the former goddess and Queen of Wakanda tick, which inevitably leads her back to Africa; specifically Kenya where she was once worshipped because of her powers over the weather. After meeting the locals, she also finds herself confronted with another part of her past when Forge is revealed to be the one behind bringing her back so he can create a method of weather control so the local villagers can grow their crops. Unfortunately, Forge’s machine is too unstable and the leader of the village is a little too eager to harness the power of a god. Through the lessons she learned from being falsely worshipped as well as her time being de-powered and betrayed, Storm shows what makes her a true leader as she shows the wisdom necessary to strike a balance between Forge and the village. Neither are ready to move on, so she makes sure they find a way to do so together.

 

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #5-6 – DC Comics

sensation5Written by Ivan Cohen with Art by Marcus To these two chapters serve as a full story that sees Diana’s belief in the gods challenged when she supposedly loses her powers. The writers and artists involved with Sensation Comics have been doing a stellar job of showcasing the various aspects of Wonder Woman and Ivan Cohen pushes the concept of belief into the forefront. Diana is a paragon of justice, truth, honor, and compassion, but even in this day and age her origins involving the Greek pantheon give people pause when she’s also wrapped up in the stars and stripes. The brilliance of this story, however, is Diana’s cleverness in sussing out who the true villain is and besting him through the sheer force of belief in one thing and one thing alone: herself. Without that she’s nothing and it makes all the difference.

 

Spotlight: Saga #23 – Image Comics

Saga23OneAs if there was any doubt! Saga is an ongoing emotional roller coaster and, as always, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples still manage to pull the rug out from under the reader. The penultimate issue of the current arc finds Marko nearly giving into his feelings for Ginny after Alana kicked him out and Alana continuing to turn to drugs to cope with how miserable she is, but our favorite married couple find that even the greatest temptations can’t completely pull them away from each other. Oddly enough, it isn’t the calming and placating platitudes from Ginny to Marko or the story of lost love from Izabel to Alana that snaps everything into place, it’s Hazel’s toy Ponk Konk. Marko knows how much his daughter loves the toy and it spurs him to return to his home. Alana, on the other hand, sees how much she’s been missing out on by working the Open Circuit and getting high while Marko practically raises their daughter without her. Unfortunately, Dengo and the princeling show up before the family can reunite, fulfilling Hazel’s earlier statement that this is indeed the story of how her parents split up when Alana activates their rocket ship tree to blastoff, leaving the planet and Marko behind as a means of stopping Dengo. At the issue’s end, Marko is stranded, unable to reach his family, but he’s not the only father desperate to get to his family.

 

So those are my picks for the week. Please feel free to comment below and tell me what comics you’d highlight, either as regular pulls or new comics people should check out.

Oh yeah, I’m gonna spoil some stuff on this one. If any of you are familiar with my reviews, then you know I analyze these books to within an inch of their life and Pretty Deadly is definitely a book that requires deeper analysis. This is the end of the first arc and there’s plenty to unpack, which makes someone like me delightfully giddy to dive into what is, in my opinion, one of the most pretty-deadly-05ambitious and challenging works of literature I’ve read in a while. Which is also my way of saying that I’m smiling like an idiot as I write this because this is fun for me.

Right, you’ve been warned. Spoilers ahead!

In Pretty Deadly #5 Deathface Ginny, Fox, Sissy, Molly Raven, Johnny Coyote, and Sarah confront Big Alice at the entrance to the Underworld. Alice and Ginny have another go at each other before Johnny gets the better of Alice and scatters her butterfly form to the winds. Upon entering the Underworld, the group is confronted by the Shield Maids, the divided guards of Death’s realm who’re the last line of defense between the world of the living and the neglected garden where souls have passed under Death’s care. Ginny is denied passage, but Sissy asks to be let through. She’s the Ascendant, the one who will replace Death, and in accepting her role in the story, she unites the Shield Maids and rejuvenates the Soul of the World, which Death need only destroy in order to stop death from ever happening again. Death and some of his followers confront the group and everything seems lost, even for Ginny, until her mother, the great Beauty desired by Fox and Death, ends her captor’s existence and allows Sissy to assume her place as the new Master of Death’s Domain.

Johnny and AliceLike I said, there’s a lot to unpack here. Though Kelly Sue DeConnick often refers to Pretty Deadly as a “weird little book”, the themes of the story are as old as the genres of fantasy and the western. In the case of this story, those themes of love, obsession, defiance, sacrifice, and redemption are just steeped in a new mythology and symbols.

Death, in the world of Pretty Deadly, is not a single entity that rules for all eternity. In this world Death is a position taken on by someone so that the garden of souls is always maintained. It establishes that death is a part of the natural order of the world, but Death is a finite job, one that has a clear ending before someone else takes over. It’s implied that those who take on the role understand their place, but when Death falls in love with Beauty during her captivity by the Mason/Fox, he begins to warp the natural order. Like Fox, Death’s love turns to obsession and he puts a plan in motion to ensure that no one will ever die, including him, thus ensuring he’ll always be with the woman he loves.

It’s through Fox’s redemption, however, that the world is actually saved. Though his obsessive love ultimately led to Beauty’s death, his inability to keep his end of the bargain with Death to see his love one last time results in Sissy remaining alive, preventing Death from putting his plan into place. Fox is a man who sees the error of his ways and devotes the rest of his life to taking care of Sissy, knowing full well that his life is forfeit to Deathface Ginny when she comes to get her revenge on the man who destroyed her mother in life. But Fox doesn’t fight against his ultimate fate, instead he fights to remain alive so that Sissy can reestablish the natural order. Fox comes to terms with what he’s done and knows that what he did to Beauty was an unjust act, one that denied a woman her freedom all for his own pleasure. Death, however, takes his obsession to an entirely different level, if not a heightened parallel to Fox’s actions. He’s willing to defy nature and end death, all to be with Beauty for eternity, but at the cost of millions of souls who would still experience suffering and pain without the release of death to carry their souls to a final resting point.Death of Bunny

But at the heart of this story are three women: Beauty, Ginny, and Sissy; each with their own role to play. Beauty is, for the most part, a passive character. She was a prisoner to the Mason’s obsession and remains a prisoner to Death because neither could let go of her. It isn’t until the end, when she stabs Death in the back, that she gets her revenge while also acting as a protective mother not just to Ginny but to Sissy. In freeing her own soul she saves the Soul of the World and ushers in a new Master of Death who respects the natural order, someone who has told her story her entire life and learned from it.

Ginny, on the other hand, is a woman dead set on avenging her mother. She’s a Reaper committed to revenge. At first, we believe her goal is to kill Fox, but as the story progresses, there’s more to Ginny’s vengeance than just killing the man who imprisoned her mother while she was alive. In the first issue, the opening sequence showed a young Ginny coming across a bunny and shooting it in the head. While the fear in her eyes is palpable, her actions seem to take on greater meaning within the context of the completed narrative. Yes, it sparks the story within a story between the dead Bunny and Butterfly, but was there more to what Ginny was doing than we Death and Beautyrealize? Is it purely coincidence that Ginny kills a rabbit and her father’s form as Death is the skull of a rabbit? One could interpret the scene as a child exerting their curiosity about death or it could be an angry young girl taking out her aggression on an animal that represents her father who has also imprisoned her mother’s soul.

Sissy is obviously the connecting thread as it’s her role as the Ascendant that ends Death’s reign and saves the Soul of the World. From the moment we meet her we know there’s something different about her. Her different colored eyes and vulture cloak immediately invoke other-worldliness as she bounds around telling the story of Beauty and Deathface Ginny. But she’s still a little girl, one who finds out her place in the world is much bigger than she ever thought. When she finally learns about her origin, she fears that she’s a “monster”, equating herself to the monstrosity that Death has become. It’s a child’s perspective of death as a concept, something to be feared, but by the end of the story Sissy has matured to the point that she understands how crucial her role is and what that means for the rest of the world. When she asks to be let through by the Shield Maids, she still fears becoming a monster, but sees that this commitment will give her purpose and a place to call home. For the first time, she accepts death as a concept and her lot in life.Underworld

Even with all of this analysis, it still feels like I’ve only scratched the surface of Pretty Deadly, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that’s the best thing you could ask for from a work of art. It forces you to think about things over and over again. DeConnick weaves a complex, and as I said before, ambitious story that still leaves us with questions yet to be answered. Ambitious, however, doesn’t begin to describe Emma Rios’ art. More like epic. The two-page spreads are as complex as they are beautiful with Rios flipping the art on certain pages as our heroes enter the Underworld, forcing the reader to either change the angle of the book or accept the altered reality on the page. Rios’ signature frenetic and flowing style seamlessly blends the story together as she defines the reality created by DeConnick. I especially love the way she draws Sissy, but all of the characters have a way of melding with the environment as if emphasizing the connection between them and the world they inhabit.

Rating – 10/10

Final Thoughts: Ginny in the world of the living might aim to misbehave. Can’t wait.

Previously published at Word of the Nerd.

I’m not the biggest fan of variant covers, at least not ones that are purposefully used so the publishers can up the price on a comic by delving into the portion of our lizard brains that has a desire for collecting and hoarding EVERYTHING that ever existed of the thing we love most. In this case, it’s not unusual for readers to spend an awful lot of money getting variant covers for books they wouldn’t normally read because the artwork or the subject matter speaks to them.

I’ve been pretty lucky to not fall into that sinkhole…until now.DC-Trinity-Darwyn-Cooke

In December, DC Comics will release their books with variant covers by none other than Darwyn Cooke. The master writer and artist behind books like the Harvey, Eisner, and Shuster award-winning DC: The New Frontier, Batman: Ego and Other Tales, Catwoman, The Spirit, the graphic novel adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker series, and a storyboard artist for Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, and the opening animation for Batman Beyond, Cooke is most well-known for his signature retro style of art that harkens back to the Golden and Silver Ages of comics. He puts the “mod” is modern is what I’m saying. Cooke also has a way with composition and color. He frequently uses black but he’s not shy about using bright, bold colors to set the tone of a scene. Cooke creates worlds where dark subject matters can exist in the light and vice versa. There’s also a hopeful, inspirational quality to the way he draws his subjects, especially the characters of DC Comics.

Full confession, I didn’t start reading comics until I was in college. The first book I read was DC: The New Frontier and it remains my favorite book to reread or revisit over and over again. As a history major, it’s a beautiful time capsule of the changing society and politics from the 40s to the 60s, and as a comic book fan it’s an obvious love letter from a man to the heroes of his childhood who also went through huge transitions from the Golden to the Silver ages. Cooke makes the heroes of DC relevant by sticking them right in the middle of political and social uprisings, imagining and bringing to life how a world full of superheroes would deal with matters like racism, the Red Scare, and the Space Race. Plus, dinosaurs, and ancient alien monoliths. Though the animated adaptation, Justice League: The New Frontier, captures some of the same magic, it barely scratches the surface of what’s on the page, which shows how vital Cooke is as both an artist and a writer. He makes the heroes of DC look and act heroic without sacrificing their integrity or stooping to the lowest common denominator of storytelling.

So, to make a long story short (too late!), DC finally done good in featuring Cooke’s art on 23 of their titles in December. Luckily, if you’re not all that keen on spending a lot of money on variant covers so you can buy your family the holiday gifts they always wanted, all of the variants have been released online on various websites like Comic Vine, Comics Alliance, Comic Book Resources, Hit Fix, and Newsarama. And what kind of Cooke fanatic would I be if I didn’t show you pretty much all of them?

For my money’s worth, any time Cooke draws the trinity of Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman is fine by me. Hell, I wish they’d just give Cooke an ongoing title at DC to do whatever he wanted: one-shots, ongoings, minis, I don’t care. But I must confess to having a soft spot for Catwoman whenever Cooke draws her. It was his redesign that took Selina out of the overly dramatic costumes and put her in a more practical, yet stylish catsuit (pun more than likely intended). One thing you’ll notice about most of the variants is that the characters appear to be happy, an emotion that’s been sorely missed in the DC Universe right now. God forbid the heroes crack a smile but, in Cooke’s version of the DCU, heroes are stoked to be saving lives, flying through space, and even being chased by cops with bullets flying at them.

Which one is your favorite?

 

Action Comics

Action Comics

Aquaman

Aquaman

Batgirl

Batgirl

Batman #37

Batman

Batman and Robin

Batman and Robin

Batman/Superman

Batman/Superman

Catwoman

Catwoman

The Flash

The Flash

Grayson

Grayson

Green Lantern Corp

Green Lantern Corp

Green Lantern

Green Lantern

Justice League

Justice League

Justice League United

Justice League United

Sinestro

Sinestro

Supergirl

Supergirl

Superman

Superman

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman

checkmate_coverIt’s here, it’s here, it’s finally here. You may recall some time back that I announced my authoring of a story, “Checkmate”, for the KILLER QUEEN Anthology from Red Stylo Media based on the discography of Queen. The song I chose to base my story on was “White Queen (As it Began)” off of the Queen II album from 1974. Orignally, I’d planned for a Sergio Leone style western, but after a few email exchanges with my editor, Enrica Jang, I made the decision to transfer this tale of revenge to the noir genre and I am so pleased with the result!

Here’s the description for “Checkmate”:

Taylor is a hardened detective with blood on his hands. He tries to be a good cop, but he’s forever haunted by the one case he failed to protect those in most need of his help. When a beautiful killer resurfaces, ready to settle old scores, Taylor is reminded that right and wrong can’t always be black and white!

 

Intrigued? Maybe a preview of the art by Bobby Breed with lettering done by Mark Mullaney is in order as well?

 

checkmate_page1checkmate_page2checkmate_page3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There we go. That should seal the deal! Well, if you feel so inclined, you can purchase the individual story here or you can pre-order the full KILLER QUEEN Anthology when it goes to print in October. Do yourself a favor and bring a little Queen into your life. It’ll do ya good! And if you’re so kind as to purchase my story, any feedback is most appreciated.

 

After an oddly unprecedented summer full of mostly sunshine, the first day of Bumbershoot, one of the largest music and arts festivals in America, kicked off with weather more familiar to the citizens of Seattle, Washington: rain. Undeterred, people were ready and prepared for the three-day event with jackets, plastic ponchos, and, yes, even umbrellas so as not to miss any of the music, comedy, and art spread out over the Seattle Center in the shadow of the Space Needle.bumbershoot-2014

In many ways, Bumbershoot is indicative of Seattle’s cultural vibe. Have an eclectic taste in music, well there are several stages set up with musical acts ranging from up-and-coming artists to established acts topping the Billboard charts to veterans who show no signs of stopping. Traveling from one end of the Seattle Center to the other I heard new artist, and winner of the Experience Music Project’s (EMP) Sound Off!!, Otieno Terry perform a beautiful cover of The Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams” only to have the music eventually taper off until the heavy beats of Sam Lachow‘s hiphop set took over at Fisher Pavillion. This is a festival where Bootsy Collins gets driven around in a golf cart and everyone watches him drive by and goes, “Yup, there goes Bootsy Collins!” And I consider myself a winner on all levels when I can sit outside and eat a Skillet burger while members of The Presidents of the United States of America, plus some male audience members, shake their butts on stage as Luscious Jackson sings “#1 Bum”. I also understand that a lot of this is filled with local references, but maybe that’ll just entice you to make your way to Seattle one of these days.

"Finger Power" by LET'S

“Finger Power” by LET’S

The arts are also heavily emphasized at Bumbershoot, which says something when you consider the amazing talent brought in from the musical acts alone. Peppered throughout the grounds were booths from local and out-of-town artists selling hand-crafted jewelry, clothing, and ephemera. The great thing about walking the grounds and hopping from booth to booth were the varied conversations people were having with the artists and sellers over their wares. Even if they didn’t buy anything, people were genuinely interested in how the artists created their products. The level of engagement between artists and festival-goers is, in my opinion, what really makes Bumbershoot stand out. Not only are there the outdoor booths, but several art installments were inside various buildings. Flatstock is a staple of the festival with artists gathered who mostly specialize in creating posters for many of the bands and comedy acts featured. But there are also several interactive art exhibits that truly required the full engagement of those participating. Seth David Friedman’s “Black Poem” requires viewers to create a narrative by feeling their way along a series of oblong sculptures without the use of sight. And “Finger Power” by the Seattle art collective LET’S encourages people to interact with the piece by controlling lights, sounds, and video. And because Seattle is ensconced in a region well versed in technology, the Bumbercade offered several games that engaged the senses and morality of the people playing. The most touching exhibit, however, was the tribute to photographer Jini Dellaccio who passed away in July. Selected photographs were displayed to show Dellaccio’s ability to produce striking images through the faces of her subjects. In many of the photographs it’s the eyes that draw you in as if you’re meeting the person face to face.

To top it all off, Bumbershoot pulls in a staggering lineup of comedic acts as well as shows that play on the traditions of storytelling, variety acts, and civil interrogation. The Words and Ideas section of the grounds featured a wide array of performers who, like the musical acts and artists, relied on engaging the public to emphasize the greater meaning of community and the shared experience of those in attendance. One such show, The Failure Variety Show, featured several performers sharing stories of how they failed – whether through relationships, jobs, or reliving past failures from childhood – while two technicians attempted to build a Rube-Goldberg machine for the grand finale. The irony being that the machine wasn’t finished by the allotted time and the technicians madly scrambled around the stage triggering sections one-by-one. Whether intentional or not, the failed attempt at building the machine brought the audience together through laughter and the knowledge that failure isn’t the end of the world and good things can happen as a byproduct of failure.

Paul F. Tompkins and Rory Scovel

Paul F. Tompkins and Rory Scovel

And as far as the comedic acts go, it’s hard to fail with solid performers like Paul F. Tompkins, Janeane Garofalo, Pete Holmes, Rory Scovel, Michelle Buteau, and Doug Benson, just to name a few. Even if you’re not familiar with their standup, going to see one of the comedy shows can quickly create new fans. I got to witness such an event at the first Dead Author’s podcast where H.G. Wells, as played by Paul F. Tompkins, spoke with Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, as played by Rory Scovel. Watching the improvised interplay between the two kept the audience, if not the performers, on the edge of their seats. Or literally out of their seats as Scovel’s Carroll wandered the stage in fear of the tablet Tompkins’ Wells used to record a promo for the podcast.

Three days just doesn’t seem like enough time to cover everything Bumbershoot has to offer, but luckily there’s so much to explore and discover. Even when you think you’ve done everything, something or someone surprises you with something they’re selling, a joke told with perfect timing, or an old song played with as much passion now as it was when you first heard it. One visit to Bumbershoot will never be enough. By the end of the weekend a year almost seems too long to wait for the next festival.

And here are some more photos for you to check out!

Typical Day in Seattle

Typical Day in Seattle

Neighbor Girl by Jini Dellaccio

Neighbor Girl by Jini Dellaccio

The Failure Variety Show

The Failure Variety Show

Flatstock

Flatstock

Me and Rory Scovel

Me and Rory Scovel

Me and Janeane Garofalo

Me and Janeane Garofalo

Me and Pete Holmes

Me and Pete Holmes

It’s the end of Nailbiter‘s first arc, but the story is anything but over as Crane and Finch discover there’s more to Buckaroo, and the people who live there, than they ever imagined.Nailbiter_05-1

Sounds vague, right? But that’s kind of the point. Books in the horror and mystery genres, especially those that intend to be ongoing narratives, have a couple of options when it comes to the impact of their ending-but-not-an-ending. They can either go out with a bang, which usually includes a huge revelation or a disturbing splash page guaranteed to sear itself into the darker recesses of your mind. Or, they can go for the more subdued, contemplative ending that’s more about speculation on the whole rather than the sum. Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson opt to go for an alternative way of ending Nailbiter that has a little bit of Columns A and B.

The high tension of Nailbiter has been present since the first pages where we saw the capture of Edward Charles Warren, aka The Nailbiter, by police with bodies strewn about the room in various stages of death and decay while Warren chomped down on some fresh fingers. The amped up energy continued with the introduction of Nicholas Finch ready to put a bullet through his head before he’s stopped by a call from his friend Elliot Carroll to hightail it to Buckaroo, Oregon, birthplace of no less than sixteen serial killers, including the recently released Nailbiter. Upon arriving in Buckaroo, Carroll appears to be missing so Finch aligns with Sheriff Shannon Crane to find Carroll just as a series of murders occur and a new Buckaroo Butcher is revealed.

Like any good mystery, a few things get wrapped up in order to satisfy the reader. Carroll’s disappearance and obsession with the Buckaroo Butchers was the impetus for getting Finch to the town, so thankfully Nailbiter has no plans of turning into Season Two of The Walking Dead and the endless, unsatisfying search for Sophia. I say thankful in the sense that Carroll is found, though I’m sure the character would think otherwise given the state he was discovered by Finch and Crane in the previous issue. It’s through Carroll, however, that we get some more insight into Warren and the overarching mystery of the book. Why are so many serial killers originating from Buckaroo? Is it coincidence? Were all of these killers born this way? Or is there something more sinister going on? In fantastically paced flashback, Warren and Carroll square off over the hows and whys of Warren’s transformation into The Nailbiter. There’s no rhyme or reason to Warren’s sudden need to kill, he was, for all intents and purposes, a good kid until he disappeared after prom night. And yet there’s something about the way Warren talks about his killer calling card, his description of image__Image_Comics_Nailbiter_5_preview_01how a person knows the taste of their own blood out of instinct and his own desire to know if other people’s blood tasted different, that keeps the plausibility of Warren just being your run-of-the-mill serial killer alive. He’s clearly disturbed, but as is later revealed pretty much everyone in Buckaroo has some issues.

Like I said, Nailbiter wraps up the smaller mysteries – Carroll’s disappearance, Warren’s possible involvement in the recent murders – in order to clear up space for what’s yet to come. The first arc was all about setting the mood and tone, giving the reader a sense of the environment. It’s a creepy little town in the Pacific Northwest, there’s a cemetery devoted to just the Buckaroo Butchers, a Murder Store cashes in on the spectacle of the macabre, and even the ordinary citizens look like they’re ready to snap at any time. Granted, there was plenty of action and the creep factor was always high, but this arc needed to ground the reality of Buckaroo and the characters. A lot of this was accomplished through Warren, the most unlikely of characters. And yet it makes a lot of sense. We had to believe in Warren’s unsettling nature but we also had to buy him as a person and his connection to the town so his turnaround didn’t come completely out of nowhere. He’s still creepy, don’t get me wrong, but Williamson and Henderson have done a brilliant job of making him a well-rounded character. There’s more to him than we thought and there’s definitely more to Buckaroo as well.

Final Thoughts: Whoever’s pulling the strings in Buckaroo, hopefully Crane, Finch, and maybe Alice, can figure it out.

Okay, I’ve had the weekend to mull over how I feel about the Season Three finale of The Legend of Korra and Season Three in general.

Here goes…

 

 WooHoo

 

OHMYGOD! That was amazing. Not only was the finale – a one hour block consisted of episodes 12, “Enter the Void”, and 13, “Venom of the Red Lotus” – one of the strongest, most action-packed, and gut-wrenching pieces of animation produced by the series creators and Studio Mir, it’s proof that Korra will indeed live up to her title, experiencing the trials and errors, and Pyrrhic victories of being a legend.legend-korra

For starters, a little background.

If I’m being honest, and I usually am, Book One: Air and Book Two: Spirits suffered from uneven storytelling, which happens on any series. Certainly Avatar: The Last Airbender wasn’t perfect either; highs and lows occurred throughout all three seasons. And while Air was a great introduction to Korra and the societal unrest of Republic City, Spirits meandered for the first half of the season as it tried to recover from the rushed ending and last-minute pickup from the network. Thankfully, Book Two recovered at mid-season, ending on Korra’s game-changing decision to keep the spirit portals open and reunite humans and spirits once again. The consequences of her decision, however, fueled all of Book Three, the aptly named Change.

By keeping the spirit portals open after Harmonic Convergence, the unintended byproduct was the creation of new airbenders. Committed to helping Tenzin rebuild the Air Nation, Korra and company travel to the Earth Kingdom to find other airbenders. Unfortunately, one of the new airbenders is Zaheer, leader of the Red Lotus. Imprisoned for trying to kidnap Korra as a child along with his three equally powerful cohorts, combustionbender P’Li, armless waterbender Ming-Hua, and lavabender Ghazan, the group escapes and sets about completing the plan they’d attempted thirteen years ago: kill the Avatar and restore the world to its natural order of chaos.

Okay, now for the awesome stuff!

The-Legend-of-Korra-Book-3-Team-AvatarThis has been one of the best uses of an ensemble cast since the first season. Even while we were introduced to new characters like the members of the Red Lotus, Lin Beifong’s half-sister Su, leader of the Metal Clan, and the return of an old friend in the elderly Lord Zuko, the season never felt overcrowded. Each character got a chance to shine in his or her own way, not just through their fighting styles and bending abilities, but as emotionally maturing people. As much as the show is focused on Korra, her friends and enemies are fully realized and there was never a moment where while watching one group I wished I was watching someone else. I especially loved how Team Korra became a stronger unit. Sure there was awkwardness because of Mako’s failed relationships with Asami and Korra, but the two girls showed great maturity by becoming friends, teaming up and kicking butt like they’d been at it forever. Yes, there was still squabbling, but it felt more like a family than petty in-fighting. Everyone was engaging and entertaining, showing the combined strength of the writers, directors, and animators to deliver a fantastic third season.

The villains, by far, are some of the best to come out of the world of Avatar. The members of the Red Lotus are charismatic, thoughtful, clever, funny, and none of them slack on the fighting. For crying out loud, Ming-Hua is an armless waterbender. An armless. Waterbender. How they show her utilizing her abilities is nothing short of brilliant. All of the Red Lotus are formidable on their own, but together they’re a force to be reckoned with. At the same time, the philosophical blueprint that Zaheer follows makes for a mature look at how a “villain” can perceive theirRed_Lotus own actions as heroic. He’s definitely the smartest opponent Korra’s faced and its that intelligence and skill that keeps your eyes glued to the screen. You want to like the villains this time around. Actually, you do like the villains and you understand their point-of-view. Like Zuko or Azula, a little part of you is rooting for the bad guys. Then you realize they wanted to poison and kill a four-year-old. Yeah…But, hey, they’re still awesome and I’m not even kidding when I say that Zaheer and P’Li’s romance was genuinely touching and tragic.

Lastly, the animation, all done by Studio Mir, is top-notch. It’s why something like Avatar and Korra can never be completely replicated in live action. The animated environment is more expansive, more fantastical, than anything that can be captured on film with actors backed by CGI. None of the fights felt wasted or superfluous. It wasn’t bending for the sake of bending, it was bending for the sake of storytelling. Lin and Su’s fight over their unresolved issues, the release of each member of the Red Lotus, and the training of the new airbenders all facilitated character development. And they definitely saved the best for last. The finale features the best fights of the season. Korra, with platinum cuffs on her wrists and ankles, still shows how skilled she is even while hindered. When her father shows up to help, it’s an effective team-up complete with leapfrog bending attacks. And the end fight between Zaheer and Korra in the poisoned Avatar State is unlike anything that’s been used in the series thus far and shows how much more sophisticated animation has become. The different perspectives achieved as Korra and Zaheer fly around and battle each other is breathtaking in its scope and scale. I can only imagine what’s cooking for next season.

 

Animation

 

And now for the analytical stuff!

From the beginning of Book Three there was a feeling of purpose and focus for Korra, the series and the character. After the battle with Vaatu and Unalaq in Book Two, Korra lost the connection to her past lives, making her the first Avatar since Wan to lack guidance from her predecessors. Instead, Korra had to draw from her own experiences – and the advice of her friends and mentors – to make decisions based on what she believed was something the Avatar would do. Understandably, making decisions as the Avatar comes with its own insecurities and worries about whether one is doing the right thing and, as the series has shown, Korra’s biggest fear is failure. This is a girl who, from the age of Strong Korrafour, had practically mastered bending water, fire, and earth. Her struggle to master airbending in Book One and her lack of a spiritual connection in Book Two exposed her fears of failing to live up to Aang’s legacy as well as the legacy of the Avatar. Her need to fulfill the primary of duty of restoring balance thematically ran through the entire season and, surprisingly, managed to incorporate the plots of the previous seasons in a way that actually feels organic.

In a very strange way, it looks as if everything really has been leading to this point. After giving herself up to Zaheer in order to save the airbenders from being wiped out, Korra is poisoned so she’ll go into the Avatar State as a means of protecting herself and give the Red Lotus the opportunity to end the Avatar cycle by killing her. As she fights off falling into the Avatar State, she begins to hallucinate Amon, Unalaq, and Vaatu. Her previous foes taunt her, repeatedly telling her that the world doesn’t need an Avatar and she should just “let go”. Thankfully this didn’t turn into another Frozen parody, but the writers tapped into Korra’s longest-running opponent: the very world she’s trying to bring balance to. All three seasons have, in some way, stressed that not only is the Avatar unnecessary but that Korra has failed every step of the way. And in Korra’s mind, yes, those failures are real. She barely managed to stop Amon, she lost her connection to the past Avatars, the President of Republic City kicked her out because she couldn’t stop the infiltrating spirits, Ba Sing Se is in chaos, and as far as she knows the airbenders and her father are all dead. Instead of rebuilding, her actions have created more problems.Tear

It’s why I feel that the ending of this season, when Korra sheds a single tear when Jinora is made an airbending master, is about Korra believing that, as the Avatar, she’s a failure. Korra has always prided herself on being strong, something she sees as a positive asset for the Avatar, but after facing off with the Red Lotus she’s left physically and spiritually depleted. It’s made even more obvious when she has to witness Jinora’s ceremony from a wheelchair. Though I imagine Korra is happy for Jinora, she’s essentially watching the young girl who has a stronger connection to the spirit world, who helped her find Raava when she thought the spirit of light had been lost to Vaatu, and showed tremendous bravery and leadership in saving Korra from Zaheer become a leader among her culture as Tenzin vows that the new Air Nation will help Korra by acting as surrogates to restore balance while she recovers. Though well intended, Tenzin’s commitment to helping the Avatar practically reinforces what Korra dreads – she’s not necessary or needed.

So what can we expect from Book Four? Well, as far as I’m concerned, they should call it Balance. Both Korra and the world are in disarray and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the next season showed Korra dealing with some sort of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Other than that, I’m just looking forward to what they do next.

The only thing I want to know is: WHAT HAPPENED TO SOKKA AND SUKI?

Ghosted begins its latest arc by bringing back the past. Not only does Oliver King, the skeptic turned believer of the first arc return, but we also get the notorious white room last seen in the Trask Mansion, plus a new character with an unexpected connection to Jackson’s deceased friend. While this set-up seems all well and good for Ghosted, Jackson is the wildcard for ghosted_12the first time. His involvement in previous heists were either through coercion or…nope, pretty much everything after the Spirit Casino debacle has been about coercion. This time though, Jackson is all out of fucks to give as the government tries to recruit him for a new mission that further expands the supernatural world of Ghosted.

Starting almost immediately after the events with the Brotherhood of the Closed Book and the appearance of King with the FBI, Jackson and Nina Bloodcrow are released from prison so King can introduce them to Agent Creed. Jackson is of particular interest to Creed. He seems to know everything about him (including what happened in New Orleans, which I’m sure we’ll find out about in the future) and he wants to “offer him a job” going after the proliferation of ghosts and spirits that have come out of the woodwork for reasons that appear to be unexplained. Jackson, however, is having none of it. He could care less about what’s happening outside of his personal bubble of anger and guilt and the alternative options of prison or death sound better than helping the feds. It isn’t until Creed reveals the man who may be involved in the recent uptick in spiritual activity is the late Trick’s son and introduces Jackson to his “fan” that the con man is finally interested in what Creed has to say.

What continues to impress me about Ghosted are the many ways in which the supernatural is treated and interpreted. It’s like a check list of horror cliches only Joshua Williamson manages to make them feel fresh within the context of the world he’s created. Haunted mansion? Check. Cults and possession? Got it! Rednecks dealing in candles made of virgin blood? Ch – okay, that’s not on the list, but it oughta be! The success of these scenarios, however, is how they’re filtered through Jackson and his involvement. He’s the connecting thread but with the beginning of this new arc, we’re seeing him begin to unravel. Thematically, Ghosted has its roots in the idea of the past haunting us in ways we can’t expect. The bookends of this issue illustrate that perfectly. A woman’s stalker kills himself and while the woman is happy to move on with her life, the ghost of R2nDrEx-ghosted_12_3the stalker lingers, hovering around her and letting her know that she’s not as free of him as she thought. Jackson has a similar predicament, but his demons are less visible to the naked eye. Instead, he literally bears the scars of his haunted past, one that everyone wants to exploit to get him to do their dirty work. The loss of Trick, however, has affected Jackson tremendously. If he had even a tenuous hold on staying alive, Trick’s death has finally pushed Jackson to the breaking point. His previous attempts at goading people into killing him seem trivial compared to the anger-induced provocation of Creed when the man has a gun pointed at him. The only person keeping him somewhat anchored is Nina.

Once again, Davide Gianfelice’s art works so well within the world of Ghosted. The sketch-like quality of his art instills movement in scenes that could easily look static. Like the previous arc, Gianfelice handles the horror with a deft hand, making spirits and possessed people look grotesque yet intriguing at the same time. The ghost of the stalker is especially chilling due to the minimal dialogue as the young woman goes about her nightly routine all while the deceased hovers nearby, his blank expression made all the creepier by the gaping would in his skull. The colors from Miroslav Mrva present an interesting contrast between the living world and the dead. For most of the issue, the colors are brighter, even in the prison facility where Jackson and Nina are being held, but when a ghost is featured in a scene they’re marked by a noticeable color shift that draws the eye immediately. It’s a fantastic way of highlighting the combined efforts of writer, artist, and colorist.

Final Thoughts: New story + new characters = a very excited Sam!

Robin Williams

There are no words that I can muster to truly encapsulate how influential and inspiring Robin Williams was to me growing up. Like so many others I was shocked to learn of his passing today from an apparent suicide brought on by depression, which the actor had been suffering from most of his life. Williams was by no means a perfect human being, but he was a manic ball of light and energy, a performer who never seemed to have an off switch and we loved him for it.

Audiences first met Williams in the guest role of Mork from Ork, an alien bent on abducting Richie Cunningham, on Happy Days, which later produced a spinoff show, Mork and Mindy, that ran from 1979 to 1982. From there Williams went on to create a mosaic filmography that included such diverse movies like Popeye (1980), Cadillac Man (1990), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1991), Hook (1991), Dead Poet’s Society (1989), Awakenings (1990), Aladdin (1992), The Birdcage (1996), The Fisher King (1991), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Good Will Hunting (1997), which won him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, Death to Smoochy (2002), and the Night at the Museum films. Williams understood that comedy and drama were not mutually exclusive and he took roles that allowed him to do both. In the process he produced a powerful body of work that has and will continue to influence movie lovers and comedians alike. The two movies that influenced me most were Dead Poet’s Society and Aladdin. They’re as different as any two movies can be, but in both films Williams displays the broad range of a gifted and talented actor. His Mr. Keating made us long for passionate teachers ready to challenge us with prose and the Genie proved that a being with PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWERS!!! could unite the magic of animation with the equally as powerful The Geniemagic of laughter.

Comedy truly was his forte. His legendary ad libbing prowess is one that few can replicate, nor can they seem to match the frenzy of his performances. Williams was a comedic Rumpelstiltskin, spinning gold from a brief turn of phrase or a simple prop and latching on to it until it was no longer useful. He was quotable, accessible, all while exuding a quiet humility and intelligence. Robin Williams loved comedy, he loved to play, and the only thing left to say is that he will forever remain the great spark of creativity and comedic brilliance that we and subsequent generations will look to in our darkest moments. Comedy saved my life and I wish it could have done the same for him.

Rest in Peace, Robin Williams. The pain of your absence will never go away.

In a quiet moment during the second act of An Evening with Groucho, Frank Ferrante, now in his 30th year portraying the great Groucho Marx, recounts the meeting between a woman and Groucho.groucho

“You’re him, aren’t you? Groucho,” she says. Putting her hand gently on his arm she then says the most powerful words a person can demand of a comedian: “Never die.”

Sadly, it’s been thirty-seven years since the passing of Groucho Marx, the leader and acerbically witty frontman of the Marx Brothers. But in his absence we have Frank Ferrante carrying on his spirit, acting as a living monument and comedic historian for one of the great comedy teams to come out of vaudeville and hit the silver screen. The one man show – technically a two-man show if you count musical accompanist Mark Rabe – is a celebration of the wit, physical dexterity, and hilarity of Groucho and his brothers Chico, Harpo, Gummo, and Zeppo, chronicling their early years (including the origin of their stage names, though Ferrante easily sidesteps a definitive answer for the eponymous Groucho) through their rise to fame in film and television. The struggles, the hardships, but more importantly, the laughs, are all present as Ferrante serves up Groucho’s somewhat linear body of work with an extra side of ham as is befitting of the man responsible for Captain Spaulding, Otis B. Driftwood, and Rufus T. Firefly.

Ferrante begins the show sans makeup, addressing the audience as a man who was forever changed as a child, a shy one at that, when he first saw the rambunctious, free-spirited Marx Brothers in movies like Horse Feathers, Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, A Day at the Races, Duck Soup, and A Night at the Opera. His love letter to Groucho truly begins when he transforms on stage, donning the universally recognized visage of Groucho Marx: grease paint mustache and eyebrows, cigar, glasses, and wild curly hair. It’s Groucho as he was in his prime, alive and breathing through Ferrante as he holds court over the audience.

Groucho_on_couchBut don’t expect Ferrante to remain tied to the stage. Oh no! Audience participation is highly encouraged. And by highly encouraged I mean mandatory. Ferrante leaps and bounds about the sparsely decorated yet homey stage, but it takes only a moment’s glance for him to descend the small staircase into the crowd. His laser focus and razor-sharp wit puts Ferrante at the advantage of improvising, almost effortlessly, with any audience member he singles out. It’s also a testament to Rabe’s abilities as a musician that he can follow Ferrante from song to improv and barely miss a note. He proved himself during the first official show of An Evening with Groucho‘s three-week stint at the ACT Theater in Seattle, Washington as Ferrante frequently broke in an out of song to poke fun at a woman slouching in her chair.

And while Ferrante showcases the jokes, puns, and overall wordplay that made Groucho the unflappable performer, he’s just as adept at singing some of Groucho’s famous songs including “Hooray for Captain Spaulding”, “Hello, I Must Be Going”, “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It”, and “Lydia the Tattooed Lady”. But it’s through one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s songs from The Mikado, “Tit-willow”, a song the real Groucho sang when he performed as the Lord High Executioner in a production of the musical, that we see the softer, more contemplative Groucho. Here is Groucho the romantic, Groucho the intellectual. The man who regularly conversed with poet T.S. Eliot despite only having a sixth grade education. Ferrante presents a three-dimensional Groucho Marx, a man who was much more than his famous persona. And as each generation becomes more and more removed from the Marx Brothers, though interest in them ebbs and flows, An Evening with Groucho allows us to glimpse, for a brief ninety minutes, a man who was and always will be a comedic icon. Ferrante keeps him alive and vibrant, fully realizing the immortality of comedy and comedians through the passion and love of their fans.

Me and Groucho

To find where Frank will be performing An Evening with Groucho, you can go to his website, or check out his Facebook page and An Evening with Groucho‘s page for updates.