Comics You Should Read: Doctor Strange: Into Shamballa

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Doctor Strange has always been a fascinating character. His dealings with Marvel’s magical menaces are trippy, bombastic, and impressive. But in Doctor Strange: Into Shamballa, the good doctor faces much more than that. In this book, Strange must face himself.
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With a script by J.M. Dematteis and beautiful painted art by Dan Green, Into Shamballa takes us on a trip (in more ways than one) on a journey of Strange’s self-discovery. Far from a typical superhero tale, Into Shamballa follows Stephen Strange on a pilgrimage into the Himalayas to honor the late Ancient One and his subsequent journey to enlightenment.
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The second-person perspective this book takes is certainly not something done often in superhero comics, and it puts you firmly into Stephen’s shoes. The book reads more like a story book than a comic, and while the approach is interesting, it may be a turnoff for some.
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But what I think we can all agree on is Dan Green’s amazing artwork. The paintings all throughout the book evoke a dreamlike quality not unlike what you’d see in a Sandman book. Every page, every small detail feels like it just breezes through you yet feels so real as if in a dream.
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While those looking for more straightforward actiony Doctor Strange stories are better suited reading Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin’s excellent The Oath or Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo’s current Doctor Strange run, Into Shamballa offers something different for those looking for a weighty read. This is a book that’ll make you think and maybe do a little self-reflection after putting it down. It’s well worth a read.
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The Night Is Darkest Before Dawn – Dark Night: A True Batman Story Review

 

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I know I speak for a lot of people when I say Batman: The Animated Series was one of the best animated series of our time. For me, it was one of my first forays into DC, way before I started reading their comics. For the comics world and pop culture as a whole, its influence still lasts even now. Take Harley Quinn, for instance. One of the characters headlining August’s Suicide Squad had her roots not in the comics, but in the animated series. It was there that she became so popular she was imported into the comics.
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Alongside Bruce Timm’s distinctive art styles, it was writer Paul Dini, among others, who brought the colorful characters of Gotham to life. And now DC, through its Vertigo imprint, published Dark Night: A True Batman Story, written by Dini and illustrated by Eduardo Risso.
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While the title might lead you to believe the graphic novel is a Batman story, it isn’t. Or at least not in its traditional sense. Dark Night is as much a Paul Dini story as it is a Batman story. The book follows snippets of Dini’s life, from his early childhood to his days as writer on Batman: TAS. But most prominently, the book deals with Dini’s personal dissatisfaction and loneliness despite his success, the 1993 mugging in which he nearly died, and how Batman (along with his supporting cast) helped him cope and take him to a brighter place afterwards.
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On its own, the story is a heart-wrenching one that Dini himself said took a long time to finally tell, but what really sold it for me was its presentation. Risso’s art nails every single beat. The depiction of every ‘chapter’ has its own ‘feel’, with different coloring and slightly varying styles as well. Every single page is a treat for the eyes.
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The blurring of the lines between autobiographical work and superhero comic in Dark Night is what truly makes this book one of a kind. Dini and Risso manages to show us how fiction can either plunge us into the darkest depths, or help inspire and lift us up into the light. As a bonus, the book has a pitch for a Batman: TAS episode featuring Neil Gaiman’s Endless that sadly didn’t come to be. But the thought of it alone makes me giddy.
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Dark Knight: A True Batman Story isn’t just a memoir or a Batman comic, it’s much more than the sum of its parts. It’s Paul Dini baring his soul for all of us to see in a grim, sometimes darkly humorous, but ultimately uplifting tale of healing and redemption. It’s also a damn good comic.

Opinion: On Fan Reactions

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Yesterday was quite the eventful day for the comics world as a whole. The amazing The Flash season finale. Minds being blown by DC Rebirth. And of course, the newest craze to hit comics Twitter, Steve Rogers being a Hydra mole all along. But that’s not what I’m here for today. It’s the reactions that made me want to write this.

Now while reactions are obviously part and parcel of comics and being a fan in general, I can’t help but feel the fandom has been overly toxic in reacting to this. The requisite death threats to writer Nick Spencer is there, of course, even some misdirected venom to longtime Captain America writer Ed Brubaker who hasn’t touched a Captain America book in years. And in that, I am disappointed at the fandom as a whole.

It’s okay to react negatively. I was upset when I first found out, too. The All-American hero we’ve been looking up to the past few decades was secretly Hydra scum all along, how could you not? But that’s what a story does. It makes you feel, it makes you react, it makes you either want to hug the creators and treat them for a drink of the story or rip their heads off and piss down their necks. And it’s perfectly fine!

What isn’t, however, is to send overly venomous threats to the persons involved in the story and misaiming vitriol to the people not even involved. Yes, we’re fans. We spend countless years and dollars to experience the latest adventures of our favourite heroes, only for him to turn his back on us like this? While it may be upsetting, there is something important to remember. In comics, Status Quo Is God. Look at the reviled changes in superhero comics history. Superior Spidey, Teen Tony, Heroes Reborn, even the New 52, they all come undone in time and the heroes we know and love eventually come back. And this too, shall pass.

There is also this disturbing trend of combining the canons of the movies and the comics together. One tweet I saw says that if this was true, then Steve was complicit in Bucky’s brainwashing into the Winter Soldier. No. The comic Winter Soldier is a Soviet creation without a Hydra hand in it. At the very least, check your facts before coming into social media whinging about things that are neither here nor there. Don’t be that guy/girl.

Also there’s a long game to consider, a scheme the writers have in mind that will make sense in time. Take a look at what Jonathan Hickman’s built up since his initia run on Fantastic Four, culminating in Secret Wars. Or what Larry Hama has built in his 200+ issues of G.I. Joe. Hell, even Spencer himself, revealing Mockingbird as an AIM sleeper agent in his Secret Avengers arc with Ales Kot, To M.A.I.M. A Mockingbird. These are the stories that might upset you at first, but will end up with you saying ‘you crafty bastard’ when you finish, and walk out with a newfound appreciation of the creators.

While we are fans and we have attachments to the characters that we know and love, just keep in mind that these characters are fictional and sending death threats to the REAL people creating these stories isn’t something Steve Rogers, Hydra or otherwise, would do. The only thing Marvel is at fault here is cheap shock value marketing, the comics equivalent of clickbait to drive up sales. While it’s a somewhat questionable tactic, it’s not worth sending death threats over.

The next time you encounter something like this again, I implore you to take a second, take a breath, and think before you fire off a nasty tweet to the person who came up with it. Things aren’t always what they seem to be at first.

When all else fails…just listen to this song.

(credit to Shaun/@RedRoomWriter for the Secret Avengers bit)

Cobra Rules – G.I. Joe Deviations Review

“G.I. Joe is the codename for America’s daring highly-trained special mission force. Its purpose: To defend human freedom from Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world.”

We’ve all heard of it, I’m sure most of us know it by heart. And we all root for the Joes to kick Cobra ass time and time again. But what if they fail? That’s the question G.I. Joe Deviations is trying to answer.

G.I. Joe scribe Paul Allor and artist Corey Lewis answers this question the in the best way possible. Cobra somehow manages to successfully put their weather machine to good use and destroyed G.I. Joe, ushering in a planet that is COBRA.

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“And knowing is half the–BOOM”? I’m sure it doesn’t go like that.

So you’ve ruled the world, what next?

And that, is the next question. Cobra is an organization determined to /rule/ the world, not /run/ the world. Cobra Commander is even more so. The New Cobra Order has no place for harebrained schemes and ridonkulous doomsday weapons. What it has, however, is massive boredom for everyone in the Cobra inner circle. And so, Commander hatches the most ridiculous of ridiculous schemes: Give what’s left of G.I. Joe the means to rise up and fight the power.

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I’d wear a Cobra Commander design.

And this concept proves to be a winner. You’d think this concept would be played extremely seriously, but Allor plays this humorously, complete with some nods to the old eighties cartoon series. The action alternates between funny and awesome in a heartbeat, then back again. The Cobra inner circle, in particular, have their skills put to other uses like corporate espionage, IT support, and even restarting Cold Slither.

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Or going home and becoming a family man.

Walker’s art fits the whole vibe of the book well, being cartoony but with a slight edge reminiscent of Jim Mahfood. Besides the sprinkling of nice little visual gags throughout the comic, the action scenes are great, albeit short. My favourite would be Jinx and Snake Eyes (now sporting trainers and a Hawaiian shirt instead of full ninja gear) going up against Croc Master, but the other action sequences are highlights of their own. The real winner here are the redesigns Walker made to the cast, including aforementioned Snake Eyes and the almost Trigon-like Cobra Commander. And who knew Scarlett would look cute with a buzzcut?

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Maybe the shirt is in honor of Chuckles?

All in all, this is a Deviation I’d like to see more of. As it is, the book is a very fun ride from start to finish. You eagle-eyed Street Fighter fans might be in for a treat, too. Just saying.

Super Issue 2 Turbo HD Remix – Street Fighter X G.I. Joe #2 Review

Street Fighter X G.I. Joe #2, as before, provides one of the best fight-based stories outside of professional wrestling. On the card this time:

  • Major Guile, master of the Sonic Boom and renowned family man takes on Ragin’ Cajun Joe Gung-Ho
  • Butt of a thousand jokes and the only guy who can look good in a pink gi Dan Hibiki up against Interpol agent and owner of the best legs in the franchise Chun-Li
  • The Phoenix Master, Storm Shadow, wrestling Gator Master Croc Master and his alligator
  • Shadaloo head and not the boxer guy M. Bison will fight his own former puppet, Cammy
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So American you’d grow eagle feathers just by looking at it.

Sitterson doesn’t waste any time getting into the fights, establishing a little more of the plot as it goes. As it turns out, some of the Street Fighters are in league to take down Bison, and some fighters are not as innocent as they seem. And Bison? You thought he put himself in the tourney for kicks? Of course not.

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More like a No-douken, amirite?

Writing and art in this series is almost inseparable. With that in mind, Emilio Laiso and David Garcia Cruz’s art shines in making every fight look as great as possible. Yes, even the squash matches. My personal favourite out of this one was the Gung-Ho vs Guile fight. As short as it was, the idea of a knock-down drag-out brawl between these two bruisers is something I’d really like to see. Bonus points to the Storm Shadow vs Croc Master fight, because ninjas vs crocodiles.

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That’s one apex predator crossed off the list. Storm Shadow vs Randy Orton when?

While the whole thing feels a little more ‘thin’ than the previous issue, SF X Joe #2 still manages to be one of the most fun books out right now. It’s still the dream crossover no one saw coming, after all.

A Real World Warrior – Street Fighter x G.I. Joe #1 Review

As much as I suck at it, the Street Fighter franchise has been quite the mainstay of my life, having been one of my first video games I ever played. And although I’ve only gotten into G.I. Joe the past few years or so, it quickly became one of my favorite franchises. When the news broke that these two great franchises with decades of history would cross over, I, along with I’m sure a lot of fans all over the world, rejoiced.

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Aubrey Sitterson (Former Marvel editor, host of wrestling podcast Straight Shoot), Emilio Laiso (Hack/Slash), David Garcia Cruz (G.I. Joe), and Robbie Robbins (The Authority) bring us Street Fighter X G.I. Joe, a fight comic crossover between the World Warriors and the Real American Heroes. The central concept is simple enough, a fight tournament between the characters of both franchises. As simple as the concept was, it’s the execution that shines through.

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The secret art of Arashikage Limbo in action

The fight-based storytelling that Sitterson has talked about in his interviews regarding the series is put in full effect in the comic, which almost exclusively consists of fight scenes. As cool as these fight scenes are, they also serve to deliver the main meat of the plot. Fans of either (or both) franchises will love seeing the characters’ voices (or lack thereof) being nailed perfectly by Sitterson, despite some of them having a very limited screentime. The brisk pacing that throws us from fight to fight sometimes with less than a page between KO’s happening and the next fight recalls the format of Street Fighter’s Arcade modes, being thrown from one fight to the next with only a little breather. Despite the tournament bracket being shown at the start, get ready to have your predictions thrown out the window as Sitterson isn’t afraid to have the underdogs win (as this issue has demonstrated).

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Talk about no holds barred

Of course, these fights won’t be any fun without Laiso’s art, combined with Cruz’s colors. The kinetic flow of actions from panel to panel is like watching a Street Fighter match unfold, with no dull moments to be found. The cartoony style also meshes well with both sides of the crossover, looking almost like as if Capcom made an actual Street Fighter X G.I. Joe game (Get on it, Capcom!). The colors especially shine at the special attacks. Seeing Ryu pull out the Hadouken dropped my jaw at how awesome it looked. Robbins’ letters also deserves a special mention here, especially whenever the fight starts and ends. You can just hear the announcer yelling ‘FIGHT!’ and the ‘K O!’ at the end, along with the loser’s echoing screams. Art-wise, this series cannot get any better.

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Jinx is a shoto confirmed?

The extra stuff for readers didn’t disappoint either. This issue featured a short recap of what happened in the qualifying rounds and could be an explanation for why some of your favorites didn’t make it into the tournament. Reading some of these, I’d read the hell out of a spinoff one-shot that shows the qualifying rounds. The Street Fighter characters featured in this issue also received Joe-style filecards, which is a nice bonus.

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And knowing is half the battle!

For fans of either (or both) franchises, this is a must-read. Despite a few issues, like the absence of several mainstays like Duke and Scarlett even in the qualifiers (I know, nitpicking), this is a great start to a great tournament, and I can’t wait to see the next issue.

10 Years of Nextwave: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Beyond©

If you’ve known me for any length of time, then you all might be aware of my obsession–passion for a little comic from 2006 called Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. Now that it’s supposedly the comic’s tenth birthday (according to Marvel.com, but I was late by two days because I’m an idiot. It’s supposedly the 25th of January), I think a few words might be in order.

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THEY KICK YOUR FACE

For the uninitiated, Nextwave is a 12-issue comic from Marvel written by Warren Ellis, pencilled by Stuart Immonen, inked by Wade von Grawbadger, colored by Dave McCaig, and lettered by Chris Eliopoulos. Nextwave’s main concept is basically obscure superheroes fight their terrorist-funded former employers. Awesomely.
Former Avengers chair (if you didn’t know, she’ll tell you) Monica Rambeau, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Avengers reservist Aaron Stack the Machine Man, Buffy-alike British badass Elsa Bloodstone, nineties fashion victim and ex-X-Forcer Tabitha Smith, and brand new Ellis creation The Captain make up the Nextwave Anti-Terrorism Squad, a team ironically created by the terrorist-funded H.A.T.E. led by cut-rate Nick Fury and Bruce Campbell-lookalike Dirk Anger. Together they fight whatever crazy weapon H.A.T.E. comes up with, from hiring Dormammu’s idiot cousin to summon Mindless Ones, rabid koalas dropped from the skies, to weaponized broccoli.
Why do I love Nextwave, you ask? I’ll let these speak for themselves.

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Nextwave is the very definition of a pure superhero popcorn comic. It’s like a Michael Bay movie turned into a comic, only with better dialogue and memorable characters. Nextwave is wall-to-wall awesome moment after awesome moment, sprinkled with wittily witty banter and at times deep Character Moments. Which are subsequently played for laughs and promised never to happen again. While some may argue that Nextwave changes the personalities of their cast drastically, this only seems to revitalize these characters from obscurity, most of them (The Captain excluded) going on to star and be in supporting roles in future comics with their Nextwave looks and personalities.

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Nextwave commits to page some of the weirdest baddies ever seen in a Marvel book by the amazing hands of Immonen, von Grawbadger, and McCaig, including but not limited to: Giant ape dressed as Wolverine, Stephen Hawking clones with eye lasers riding Spartan wheelchairs, and Siamese twin samurais. To string them together, Ellis has crafted a plotline that works in two-issue stretches, forming six story arcs during the 12-issue run. Each arc drops the team in increasingly crazy situations and never stops being crazy from the first page.
Don’t expect serious superheroics in Nextwave, as Warren Ellis’ writing leaves no room for seriousness. But he does have more than enough room for crazy superhero antics, over-the-top characters bantering with each other, and side-splittingly inane dialogue. Every corner of the Marvel Universe is mined for a gag, from the Celestials to the Mindless Ones.
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Celestials: Actual teenage giant space creatures

The art in this book is simply amazing. Immonen, von Grawbadger, and McCaig work perfectly to create one of the best-looking comics ever published. The slightly cartoony style fits its less-than-serious tone and at one point, Immonen even apes some other artists’ styles for one of the best sequences in the comic. And the very next issue is loaded with splash pages that is easily the high point of Nextwave. Chris Eliopoulos provides the lettering and also invented the now-legendary ‘☠☠☠☠’censors.
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That couldn’t have been family-friendly uncensored.

Not just the comic proper, things that in other books seem like an afterthought are also mined for comedic value. The letters column, manned by Letter-Matic® 7053 is easily the best letters column I’ve ever read in comics. Featuring letters from various historical figures and Lettermatic’s musings about Toto’s 1982 hit song Africa, how could it not be? Besides that, the recap pages for each issue feature humorous Q&A sessions, a format that made its triumphant return in AvX: VS and A+X. But hands-down, the best thing about Nextwave is that it has its own theme song by editor Nick Lowe’s band Thunder Thighs.
Seriously. Here it is.
Bottom line, Nextwave is one of the most fun comics to ever hit the stands. No need to know anything about anyone or read up on decades of continuity, everyone can jump straight in and have fun. The cover of issue 11 is right, they really do need more love.
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It’s true. They need love.

I wouldn’t mind a Nextwave adaptation in any shape or form, Marvel. And neither would a lot of people.