Thursday, May 31, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Shadowhawk Chronicles Volume 1

Image Comics has certainly had an interesting history since it made its way from the early 90's into today. In the 90's, comics took a bit of an odd turning point. Anti-heroes became the norm, everything was dark, and there wasn't usually any kind of deep or complex storyline involved; just anti-heroes kicking a lot of ass, with character proportions defying every law of physics known to man. Before Chew and The Walking Dead, we had a very different type of juggernaut on our hands. Along with the creators of Spawn, Youngblood, The Savage Dragon, and WildC.A.T.S., Jim Valentino created a series called Shawdowhawk. This title didn't originally succeed quite as well as the aforementioned. When I first saw a picture of what the character actually looked like, I immediately wondered if the lesser sales figures were actually justified. I mean, seriously; look at the guy.

You could say his appearance is like a cross between Wolverine and Batman, but it'd be hard to label that as a bad thing all the same. Most characters in the early days of Image Comics were very similar to the creators' works with previous companies like DC and Marvel. Being an Image Comics title from the 90's, I was expecting cheesy one-liners, an average story with some decent fight scenes, and maybe even one or two twists I wouldn't see coming. I'd say I ended up getting a little more out of this title than I expected to. This book collects Shadowhawk #1-4, Shadowhawk II #1-3, Shadowhawk III #1-4, Shadowhawk #12-18 (don't even ask about the format...), his first appearance in Youngblood #2, and a few other bonus issues, exerts and sketches. One thing to note however, is that the reason they were able to fit all of these issues into one book for the $19.99 retail price (I got it for less than half of that), was the decision to reprint the issues in black and white format. I didn't feel I'd be missing out much without the colors in this case, especially since this was for a series that I didn't even know if I was going to like or not.

The first thing that interested me about Shadowhawk upon starting, was the fact that we don't actually learn his true identity until about 6 or 7 issues in. This was a very ballsy move on Valentino's part, and I'm actually kind of glad he did things in this style. The first immediate hook for me was to keep reading and find out just who this guy was, and why he went out every night, breaking the spine of every street thug he encountered.

Even more credit is due to Valentino here, as once I finally found out who the masked vigilante was, I was even more engrossed to find out about his past. I've heard just about every superhero origin story to the point where nothing really impresses me much anymore. I have to say that the back story of this character deviated just a little bit from the norm, and actually made me even more fascinated by his motivations for justice. While I'm not going to spoil any of these details, I will point out the fact that this guy is far from "super." He is as human as human can get, with human flaws and emotions, as well as human weaknesses. I actually found myself feeling sorry for the man quite a few times before getting to the end of this volume.

This series is far from perfect however. I understand the idea of writing to make your characters appear to talk the way it would sound in real life (Brian Michael Bendis comes to mind), but some of the bad grammar was just too much for my eyes. I also thought that the cameos from other Image Comic titles could have used some work, especially Spawn's appearance. This may have been one of the most pointless guest appearances I've ever seen in a comic book, as he literally just stood there the whole time, uttered a few words to Shawdowhawk about protecting the city, and then left. It would have been one thing if any of the dialogue here was memorable. No such luck. At least when Savage Dragon made an appearance, we got to see an awesome fight between the two of them, and for a reason that wasn't completely stupid or forced on the reader. This title also suffers a lot of the same tropes as most comics from Image did at the time. The human anatomy is disconcerting, the dialogue is sometimes laughable when trying to sound serious, some fight scenes are incomprehensible, and not many other things aside from what I mentioned in the opening paragraphs really separate it from the rest.

If we had to make a scale of how I would rate this series, I'd put it above the likes of titles like Youngblood and maybe even WildC.A.T.S. I still put Spawn and Savage Dragon above this one however. All in all, I'm glad I got to finally read these earlier stories in a format that was affordable. It may have not aged particularly well for its time, but with the early Image Comics titles, you know what to expect, and I think for once, that's more of a service to this than a disservice. I'm not generally a fan of many 90's comics, so relaying that I got some enjoyment out of this title is really saying something in my particular case. The fact is I didn't want to put it down until I was finished. I can't argue with that.

7 Broken Spines Out Of 10

Saturday, May 26, 2012

AnimeNEXT Is In Two Weeks!

After deciding not to go to last year's AnimeNEXT convention (which is literally five minutes from my house since they moved from Secaucus), I realized how much I miss it, and was more than happy to register again for this year's. It's coming up from June 8th-10th, and there's plenty going on this time. One of the reasons I didn't feel the need to go last year was the lack of new people/things going on, and my overall frustration with the way some of the staff treated me and many others the year before last. (Understand I'm a ridiculously polite person most of the time. If I say someone's being rude, it takes a lot.)

I've heard things were fixed up overall on that end, and saw for myself that all kinds of new industry guests and voice actors/actresses would also be there. Hoping to meet some more great people and cosplayers, as well as find some nice and unique things through panels and the dealers' room. And maybe I'll even watch a few shows/movies if they're playing anything worthwhile. Either way, I'll try to get some awesome pictures (though I doubt I'll be able to top the one I took with LittleKuriboh last time, heh). I've actually lost track of how many times I've gone to this con now (I think I started going every year after 2003 or 04), but that's only because this one's so timeless to me in general. I hope to see a bunch of friends there again myself.

And I figure it's never too early to plan... Since I'm not cosplaying this year, does anyone have any ideas for next year? I have a few dream ideas that I know I'd love to try, but a lot of them will likely never happen. Hell, are there any anime characters people think I look like? I already did Shinji my first year, so that's likely out of the question again. :P

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Free Comic Book Day 2012 (My Top 5)

Following last weekend's ridiculously awesome geek weekend of epic proportions, I finally took the time to sit down throughout the week and finish going through all of the comics I picked up for Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) 2012. Most stores limit you to pick 1-3 books per person..., so I went to 2 stores and got a majority of the rest of them from the Midtown Comics website (don't worry, other than a handling fee of a couple cents, they didn't cost anything, so it was totally worth it!). I figured instead of dedicating a lot of space and time to talk about issues I thought were awful and not worth reading, I'd focus my attention on listing the top 5 FCBD releases that ARE worth your time and give you all better, more detailed descriptions on each. So without further ado, let's get this party started with #5!

5. Moomin Color Special

People are going to call me crazy for this one, but I don't care. Part of the spirit of FCBD is about getting kids into comic books, and this is a great way to do it. Memories from titles like these are the things you look back on as you get older, and say "Aw man, I remember that! Wow, those were the days..." This little special illustrates that emotion perfectly, as does the little "Anna & Froga" story thrown in. Absolutely charming and essential, especially in today's world.

4. DC Comics The New 52 Special Edition

If you've been keeping up with DC's New 52 as of late, this book will most likely make you pretty happy. Half of the book consists of a preview for DC's next big event (not including "Before Watchmen;" that's a whole other story). The mysterious "woman in red" who first appeared in Flashpoint takes center stage in this upcoming story. You also get a preview for further issues of Batman Incorporated amongst others. I'm just glad DC decided to put out new material this time instead of just reprinting the same old stories again and again.

3. Transformers #80.5

I was a tad psyched for this one, as the original Generation 1 Transformers comics first ended with Marvel in issue #80. This issue is here to be a bridge gap between issue #80 and the upcoming issue #81. This is marking the first return to the first generation of Transformers since the title's cancellation in 1991. There's not that much new material going on (as the events in this issue are mostly recapping previous story arcs), but the little bit of boost on what's coming make it all the more worthwhile. It may be a bit confusing for new readers however.

2. Atomic Robo & Friends

You pretty much can't have a FCBD list without Atomic Robo in your top 5. Otherwise, you probably just didn't read it altogether! Atomic Robo is a great way to pull people into comics that simply don't read them normally. The stories are always humorous, always creative, and most importantly, always fun. The two other preview stories also give off the sense of adventure and humor that are worth checking out. This is one of those books you simply can't go wrong with.

1. Mouse Guard, Labyrinth, & More HC

This one easily takes the cake. Not only is this a beautiful hardcover volume, but the stories contained are all quite excellent once again. This is another one that's great for all ages, but I believe adults will find even more things to love here. Mouse Guard, Dapper Men, and Rust are the winning stories, each one representing Archaia at their best. The other two remaining stories are worth a look as well. By making it a small hardcover, Archaia turned this into not only the best FCBD title to read this year, but to display on your shelf with pride.

Other things you should still read:

Star Wars/Serenity: A nice trek back into the universes of Star Wars with Han and Chewie, and the universe of Firefly/Serenity with Mal Reynolds. The artwork could have been a little better (especially in Serenity's case), but the stories themselves hold out. Serenity's in particular is right on the money, and both stories happen to be written by Zack Whedon himself. And no, this is not a crossover event, as amazing as that would have been...

Worlds of Aspen 2012: A great look into a new upcoming series called "Homecoming," as well as other great previews and pieces of artwork. As a Lady Mechanika fan, I absolutely love the pull-out poster they threw in.

Censored Howard Cruse: Funny, funny, FUNNY! Even censored, you'll probably end up at the very least chuckling, if not laughing out loud more often than not. Even better is the knowledge that the graphic novel will not have the little black censor boxes when it comes out.

Image 20: While none of the stores included here actually stand out so much, it's nice to see Image still going strong and it's good to see what kinds of new directions they'll be taking for the future. I might keep my eye on a few of these titles as they come out, just to see where they're going. Who knows? You may find another "Invincible" or "Walking Dead" among the bunch.

Hope you've enjoyed this little romp of mine and had fun this weekend as well. And hey, if you missed out and live near me, feel free to let me know and maybe I'll lend you a few. Cheers my fellow geeks!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Music Review: Storm Corrosion - Storm Corrosion (2012)

When I had first heard announcement of a collaboration project between Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt and Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson, I had to pause for a minute just to think about what such a fusion could possibly manifest. Many right off the bat assumed it was going to be in the veins of a “progressive rock super group,” which would have made sense to those who frequent the material usually put out by these two. As time and interviews about the project went on, we learned that these two artists would not only be going in a completely different direction, but that the sound would encompass more of an ambient folk and rock experimental tone, rather than anything in the progressive direction. Wilson even stated that he felt this collaboration was unlike anything put out by him or Åkerfeldt up until now. This project was originally announced back in 2006, though it wasn’t until 2010 that the two began working together, and 2011 that the project’s title “Storm Corrosion” was finally announced. There were all sorts of theories as to what their work together could sound like. Many figured the Opeth album “Damnation” would give some hints due to Wilson’s contributions, but not many would have likely predicted the actual result here.

Let’s get some quick facts out of the way before I delve into the heart of this release. The first thing to note is that there is very limited use of drums in the album (Wilson said the drums made up about 15-20% of the album, give or take, and it is very noticeable). There is also barely anything in the album that can even be construed as progressive rock/metal. If you’re looking for any of the above items, this album likely won’t be your cup of tea. This project is about as experimental as experimental can get. They made it to explore their own musical tastes and try out new themes and directions. With that said, let’s move on to what we actually are getting instead of what we are not.

The sound in this album can best be described as a “dream-like” atmosphere, with many ambient sound effects, orchestrations, acoustics, organ, and many other bells and whistles. You’ll hear influences to baroque and many 70’s folk groups of the past, while still getting a much more unique vibe with each listen. It’s not to say that the theory has never been put out there before, but I don’t have much recollection of it ever sounding quite like this at the same time. Åkerfeldt takes care of the guitar work and some vocal work, while Wilson handled the keyboards and arrangements of the songs, while also contributing his vocals quite a bit as well. Those familiar with some of Wilson’s solo work may feel a little more at home with this release (as he experiments as an artist quite often, with multiple projects), while those coming from the Opeth bandwagon may or may not find this album as easy to digest (due to the departure from their original sound, similar to the reaction of their latest album, “Heritage”). While there are only six cuts on this entire album, I would argue in favor of this count, as they are each quite unique and magnificent in their own ways. I’d much rather pay for six songs that I loved than 12 songs that I got less general fulfillment out of.

In order to truly get the most enjoyment out of this album (depending on what type of music fan you are), you may be better off going into this with little to no expectations at all. There is no reason to create false hype for something that isn’t coming. What better way to go into an album like this, than with a completely open mind and a yearning for something different and unique, even if this includes the occasional small misstep?

Now, I will say again, that this album is not going to be everyone’s forte, and that is understandable, given the fan base of Åkerfeldt and Wilson’s past projects. I believe that the biggest reason that I myself enjoy this debut release is due to my musical tastes extending into very broad territories that can sometimes go over other people’s heads, who may focus more on one or two specific genres. Knowing this, I do however urge everyone to give this album a try. In a current economy where many other creative minds are too afraid to do anything other than “play it safe” over an underlying fear of commercial failure, it is beyond refreshing to see a project like this come to form. Due to the different sounds and emotions conveyed in each track, it is likely you’ll find more than you were expecting, regardless of which camp you were coming from.

If there is anything I feel I can even knock this release for, it is that sometimes the experimentation levels can go a little far even for these two artists, to the point where a bit of redundancy can step in during sections of a few tracks. I also have to note however, that this does not really occur more than once or twice between the multiple listens I have now given this LP, and even then, these little hiccups do not last for very long or pull from the experience. It is no more a complaint than something that can be said for many improvisational jazz pieces and the like, which I also happen to take a liking to.

To sum everything up here, I am happy to state that while this album is a radical departure from what many fans will come to expect, I also feel that this project is a success in that it manages to demonstrate new bounds that many might not have believed these two songwriters were capable of. I think what may hurt this album more than anything is the background that these two artists came from, and the fan following that resulted, whom of which are likely to feel divided here. Experimentation can be dangerous in this very sense, but I am happy to say that I feel it paid off in a very large way. Repeated listening only allowed it to grow on me further, as I’m sure it will for many of those who give it a fair chance. I implore all music fans, regardless of your backgrounds, to give this album a try and see what I’m talking about for yourself. You may even surprise yourselves with your reactions, especially after multiple listens. This is a hauntingly immersive journey and a beautiful representation of true art in music today.

9 Out Of 10

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Deadpool's Mighty Review Of The Avengers Movie!

The time is upon us fellow losers! Our waiting and waiting has finally paid off! This weekend has been our time of reckoning! The time to finally leave our dark caverns and enter out into the world once more, only to enter another dark room and watch a movie about superheroes! But this isn’t just any old superhero movie true believers; oh no! This is the Avengers we’re talking about! Exclamation mark!!! O_O

Odds are you’ve already seen it, but I know that’s not why you read these cute little reviews of mine in the first place, so I’ll get right down to the punch lines, fourth wall breaking, and nudity as always… Wait, one of those isn’t like the other… Anyhoo, continuing where every other Marvel movie EVER left off, we return to find Nick “Mothaf@#king” Fury trying to get some “Mothaf@#king” research done on the “Mothaf@#king” Tesseract from the last two “Mothaf@#king” movies. This is all fine and good until Loki, Thor’s brother (You saw that movie, RIGHT!?), escapes from the Tesseract, and declares war on our world with Asgard. He also enslaves a bunch of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents of Fury’s with his staff, to aid him (one of which includes Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye for the people who have a life and wouldn’t have known who that is otherwise) and makes off with the Tesseract. Nick Fury is now pissed. And if there is one actor you do not piss off, it is Samuel L. Jackson son! Fury proceeds to locate all the heroes of the last few movies (that have no relation to X-Men, hence why I’m still in the shadows… for now! >_>) and gets them to join up with him and the Black Widow to save the Earth from Loki’s evil scheme.

All the heroes are exactly as you left them (except for Hulk, who is now played by Mark Allen Ruffalo for an interesting change of pace). Black Widow and the gang head out to locate the remaining heroes for the fight (Cap, Iron Man, and Hulk), and don’t really bother with Thor; being in another dimension and all that. Things get pretty crazy pretty quickly, and we start to learn a little more about the dynamics of teamwork, as well as a much longer lesson in how NOT to do it! Nick Fury withholding secrets from his group? Tony Stark and Bruce Banner hacking the place to know exactly what Fury is doing? Causing Steve Rogers (Captain America) to doubt everyone and everything he’s working with? And they wonder why I work alone!! *shines bazooka*

But no no, they all come together eventually. Even Thor manages to drag his Asgardian ass back into things. And not a moment too soon, as the action is beyond insane. Not only will Michael Bay be jealous of the explosions and general effects involved with this movie, but he should also be jealous over the fact that they were done with an entertaining plot to back it up! (Oooooooooooh… I’m going to be sued for that one… but it was sooo worth it… ^-^)

This movie has just about everything you could possibly want in a summer action blockbuster (with the exception of my sexy man-bod). It has a great plot that actually fleshes out each character’s development properly, comedy that will make you actually laugh out loud because it actually is THAT funny, and action to bring it all together and make you smile like an idiot. There’s not much else that really needs to be said without giving away any spoiler details. Though I will say that the after credits sequence (not the one two minutes in, but the REAL after credits sequence!!!) is the best in movie history. That’s it. Period. If you think differently, you’re wrong. You’re just wrong. Nope. Nu uh! Not listening! Wrong!!! LALALALALALA!!!

Just about the only thing I could find wrong with this film is a few inconsistencies, though nothing generally large. Nerd rant incoming in 3… 2…

What the hell was up with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s base of operations in the sky!? You mean to tell me that their ship can detect things through any satellite in the entire WORLD, but that Hawkeye can just come flying in on his little stealth ship AND shoot an arrow into it WITHOUT BEING DETECTED!? I believe that qualifies as an OH HELL NAW!!! Phew, calm down Deadpool. It’s over now… It’s over… *takes off nerd goggles*

This is in my humble, honest, and awesome opinion, the best movie to come out so far this year. Can the Dark Knight take on this mother of a film!? See you next time folks; same Deadpool time, same Deadpool blog. Deadpool, owt!

9.5 Puny Gods Out Of 10

Now go see it already, so we can talk about the two after credit scenes and be like “OMG IT’S THE GREATEST EVAR! WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THE INEVITABLE SEQUEL THAT WE HAVE NO IDEA ABOUT HOW IT WILL FLESH OUT!!!” And while we’re on the topic of sequels, where’s MY movie Marvel!? And what have you done with Ryan Reynolds!? :'(

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Great Weekend To Be A Geek!

This first weekend of May is really something for comic fans of the world. Not only did the Avengers movie premiere this Friday, but today we got treated to Free Comic Book Day as well!

For those who don't know, Free Comic Book Day was a project started in order to reinvigorate both old and new fans alike to the comic book medium. To do this, multiple publishers put out all kinds of titles, some new and some old/classic to bring back that spirit every year. The other thing that makes this great is that the age content ranges just as much as the genres themselves, so there is literally something for just about everybody here; even those who don't really read any comic books in this day and age. You've got titles from DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Image, Fantagraphics, Viz, and many more big (and not so big) publishers.

I'd love to write an Avengers movie review (from the perspective of our loveable Deadpool of course!) and talk about the free comics that came out this year. I'm trying to decide whether to make mini-reviews for each book I read, or simply write a top 5 with little descriptions of each. I'll gladly take suggestions for either at the moment.

All in all, I hope everyone else is having as fun of a weekend as I am, and that you can all share in the joys of these activities with me too. Keep reading for more very soon. :)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Music Review: Brendon Small's Galaktikon

Brendon Small's name is no secret to anyone who's ever been a fan of such cartoons as Home Movies, and the now more popular Metalocalypse. He is the creator of both, as well as the writer of it's music. Fans of the virtual death metal band Dethklok will likely be the biggest audience that this latest release will grab. Interestingly enough however, the sound on this album may surprise those who were looking for another death metal romp, as the songs here lean more towards standard power/progressive metal and hard rock than anything else, accompanied by melodic vocals instead of growls. Equipped with bassist Bryan Beller and drummer Gene Hoglan once again, we get a project that feels about the same, yet different.

One thing to note before going into my actual thoughts of the album, is the reason it was created and the premise behind it (as I actually think it's kind of a funny story). Brendon had just gotten Beller and Hoglan ready in order to start creating the second Dethalbum. Unfortunately, there were some legal negotiation issues, due to the actual negotiator going on a vacation. Instead of giving up or staying too mad, Brendon decided to write a solo album with Beller and Hoglan's help; thus, Galaktikon was born.

Small describes the album as an "audio comic book," and when you listen to the lyrics, it's not too hard to see why. This has got to be one of the cheesiest sci-fi plots I've read/listened to in quite some time, but I'd be lying if I said that didn't add to the album's appeal. The story centers around protagonist Triton, recently going through a painful divorce. He flies off into space to clear his head, where he finds a therapist who has a vision where she foresees danger in Triton's future. She warns him it will involve his ex-wife, and that he shouldn't try to save her, should the opportunity come. After this, his ex-wife gets kidnapped (of course) by Triton's old nemesis and Triton sets out to save her (of course!). Things get crazy once Triton finds out his ex-wife is actually dating the story's antagonist. Cue Triton getting kidnapped, getting into a crazy gladiator fight with a giant worm, and saving his ex once more, before saying his last goodbyes.

Now on to the actual music. If you are a true 'metalhead,' and basically eat, sleep, and breathe the style, then you won't really find much of anything new here. That does not make it bad however, as one may recall this is pretty much how every "Dethalbum" written to this point has gone. You don't find anything re-inventing the genre here, but you do get a nice dose of what makes that genre so enthralling in the first place. Guitar licks, raw bass action, and pulse pounding drums round off a project that one can simply refer to as "fun," without having to delve into something overly complex (while I admit, I am fan of both the former and the latter myself).

I would also like to make note of my two personal favorite tracks, "On My Way," the album's finisher and "Dangertits," apparently the best named song ever. I believe "On My Way" happens to also be the main single that was put out for the album, and I don't blame Brendon for it. You get a crazy fast shred-fest opener, a catchy hard rock pre-chorus melody, and a fast and heavy chorus/refrain to keep things moving. The bridge actually goes into more complex time signature patterns, putting the song in a similar category to the direction Iron Maiden took when they released "Brand New World" back in 2000. The other song "Dangertits," is an instrumental, and in my opinion, sort of a spiritual sequel to Small's Dethklok hit, "Thunderhorse." It follows a very similar structure of songwriting with some of the craziest arpeggios and shredding on the entire album. Small described this song as a tribute to guitarists like Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Steve Morse according to an interview. I'd say if you take any songs from the album, these would be the keepers.

In closing, I am happy to say that my reaction to this album was overall very positive. I wasn't expecting anything new, but was hoping for something cheesy and heavy to jam to (like Small's other works). I can confirm that this is exactly what you'll get with Galaktikon; no more and no less. I think I may even like the melodic vocals here more than the ones seen in the Dethklok releases. Brendon's voice actually sounds quite good with this type of music backing it up. This is a solid release, regardless of your preference.

8 Giant Gladiator Worms Out Of 10