Outcast: 'A Darkness Surrounds Him' Review

Robert Kirkman's latest show gets off to a flawed start.

Confirmed: John Boyega to Star in 'Pacific Rim 2'

Boyega joins the sequel hot off the success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Box Office: Ninja Turtles 2 Suffers in Anti-Sequel Summer

TMNT 2 is the latest sequel to bring in some disappointing numbers.

Review: Eye in the Sky

Gavin Hood's military drama is an impressive achievement.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Review: The Almighties #0

Indie comic creator Sam Johnson collaborates with fellow writer Mike Gagnon for this latest offering, The lmighties #0. The book is Actuality Press' deranged answer to super-team comics and contains numerous fun moments although isn't without its flaws. As most zero issues are, this book is mostly concerned with set-up and introduction; we get to meet each of the key team members, learn about their origins and get a hint as to where the plot of this book may go in future issues. Johnson and Gagnon hit all their plot threads with efficiency, although admittedly there's little new about this approach of introducing team members one by one. Its been done many times before and is somewhat formulaic.

That being said the issue is engaging, and although the characters are mostly obvious parodies of well-known super-heroes they show promise to come into their own as this series progresses. The most compelling is probably Ms. F who seems more grounded than her wackier team-mates making her easier to connect with, and her current situation which sees her struggling to find a place in the world after leaving a long, unhappy marriage is something I'm sure many people could relate to. The relationship between her and retired super-hero The Kruncher is genuinely believable, making these two characters quite possibly the standouts of this debut.

The Almighties is as you would expect a comedy book and indeed there is some fun quipping to be had here and a bizarre final page reveal which is very much reflective of this book's tongue-in-cheek nature. That being said not all the jokes hit the mark and some don't land quite as well as they were intended, particularly those in the Wayne Winston segment of the issue. Winston is The Almighties answer to Deadpool and so naturally has the strangest origin story and scenes in this book. I felt like Johnson and Gagnon were really working hard to sell this character to me, but by the issue's end I still feel apprehensive about accepting yet another Deadpool parody. The market for Deadpool-esque characters just feels saturated at the moment, and I'm not sure if there's much here to set Winston apart from other eccentric mercenaries currently trying to make names for themselves.

Although Actuality's comic-book universe is very young, it does have a lived-in feel to it which is nice. Events and characters are referenced which help build a history for this world without making it feel bogged down in continuity. While I felt the Wayne Winston segment of this book was one of the weaker parts, I did like the idea of Subterrannea: the underground world which he and his family call home. The nature of the environment and its creepy inhabitants were a fun addition to the Actuality world, one that I hope develops and comes into play again further down the line as there's a lot of potential for cool stories to take place there.

The issue is illustrated by five different artists - Pablo Zambrano, Eleonora Kortsarz, Ron Gravelle, Fran Jung and Graham Pearce - with each doing a solid job even if some were stronger than others. The panel layouts weren't the most original I've ever seen however I'm aware that only so much can be done on an indie comic budget. Generally I enjoyed the art, and felt that the different styles were well-suited to their respective characters e.g. a more realistic style for the grounded Ms. F, a more cartoonish style for the insanity of Wayne Winston. It was a nice touch which helped establish separate identities for each of Johnson and Gagnon's characters.

Overall, The Almighties #0 was a solid debut for Actuality Press' new team of heroes. It wasn't a flawless opening chapter with some flat punchlines here and there, and some characters that require more fleshing out. That being said this series does have a lot of potential, and I'm interested to see where it goes next. You can check out some preview pages below.

The Almighties #0 Wayne Winston Variant Edition is out now - along with a chance for newcomers to catch up on the team's debut adventure in The Almighties #1 2nd Printing – both available at www.almightiesamass.com

Preview: The Almighties #0

(click to enlarge)

Superman: American Alien #1 - What The Critics Are Saying

Superman: American Alien #1 is the first issue in a seven-part mini-series written by screenwriter Max Landis, which explores who Clark Kent is at seven different points in his life. The series is to have a new artist for each installment, with Nick Dragotta fulfilling art duties for issue one and the likes of Jock, Francis Manapul and Jae Lee stepping in for future issues. The series has been surrounded by a significant level of hype due mainly to Landis' passionate opinions about Superman which he has voiced online in several YouTube videos. The first issue finally saw release last Wednesday and this is what critics around the Internet had to say:

The Writing
The first issue of American Alien centers on Clark's attempts to master his flying abilities, while exploring the emotional consequences of being so wildly different from those you're surrounded by. Generally, most critics agreed that this issue was executed engagingly in spite of the fact it takes place during a time in Clark's life which has been featured heavily in previous stories. This is summed up in a review by IGN's Jesse Schedeen who believes that Landis has found "another novel approach" to telling stories about Superman's formative years. Most frequently praised was Landis' characterization of staple figures from the Superman mythos, with Jordan Richards of Adventures in Poor Taste saying in his review that "the characterization is on point for everyone, even Johnathan Kent (who I was a bit worried about early on), and it leads to a lot of tenderness throughout the book, which feels genuine and believable." Multiversity Comics' Keith Dooley agrees claiming Landis, "makes iconic and very familiar characters like Clark, Martha and Johnathan his own by exploring their thoughts through dialogue, action and a particularly powerful final two pages."

Indeed, this story appears to be a character driven tale - something not wholly surprising when considered Landis made it clear in one of his Superman YouTube videos 'Regarding Clark' that, "plot has never really fascinated me, character does." However, this focus on character over story hasn't pleased everyone and there were some critics who felt dissatisfied by Landis' latest comic-book offering. Oz Longworth over at Black Nerd Problems claimed the story carried through this issue boils down to, "Clark is scared of flight and then he's not." Newsarama's Pierce Lydon also felt this issue left something to be desired describing the character moments as "cutesy fluff", and claiming the book suffered as so much has already been said about this part of Clark's life that there's little else new to bring to the table. Lydon goes on to say that, "There's no way for Landis to surprise us. We know he'll learn to fly, and Landis is only able to give us a poorly conceived conflict at a drive-in movie to inject some kind of stakes into the book." This point is countered by Comic Book Resources who claim that the book is "not about believing a boy can fly; it's about why he doesn't want to."

The Art
The artwork in this issue has been provided by Nick Dragotta and Alex Guimaraes, to a mixed response from critics. Many praised this art team for their work here with Dragotta singled out for packing his characters with emotion which made them easy to connect with. IGN explain in their review that he "perfectly captures Clark's early attempts at flying and the raw emotion at play as Johnathan and Martha struggle to keep their son safe and deal with his unusual condition." Multiversity Comics echoes this opinion, saying that "Dragotta wrings emotions from the characters that are visceral and oftentimes heartbreaking in their execution." In the same review Guimaraes' colors received acclaim, with writer Keith Dooley praising him for his decision not to "intrude on the art with gaudy colors," and instead highlight "the emotional symbolism and beats of the story." Comic Book Resources were also a fan of Guimaraes work, singling him out for immersing Smallville in "lush pastels for a timeless sense of idyllic Americana." Black Nerd Problems also praised the work of this art team as "unquestionably gorgeous."
However, the art was not to everyone's liking with Dragotta's style taking criticism from some review sites. Adventures in Poor Taste said in their review that, "his characters can look a bit too cartoonish and exaggerated for their own good," with Newsarama agreeing that the stylized nature of Dragotta's characters meant that when Clark has an emotional outburst it's, "that much harder to take him seriously."

General Consensus:
Superman: American Alien #1 is definitely worth trying for those interested in getting inside Clark Kent's head and attempting to understand the mind of a young Man of Steel. However, those who prefer a grand in scope story as opposed to a more intimate character study may find themselves disappointed by Max Landis' latest comic-book offering. The artwork by Nick Dragotta and Alex Guimaraes also proved to be divisive, with some fans taking issue with the stylized design choices made by this creative team. Although, it is worth noting that others were quite enamored with these changes and so ultimately your opinion on the look of this book may come down simply to personal preference.

Friday, 13 November 2015

All-New All-Different Avengers #1: What The Critics Are Saying

Perhaps the most high profile book of the post-Secret Wars Marvel relaunch, All-New All-Different Avengers #1 teams superstar writer Mark Waid with artists Adam Kubert and Mahmud Asrar. The book revolves around a newly formed Avengers team that includes Thor, Captain America and Iron Man, alongside the younger more inexperienced heroes Nova, Ms Marvel and Miles Morales aka Spider-Man. With a strong creative team at the helm and a cast of popular characters, this book has a lot of potential to be a hit with readers: but what was the verdict when it hit shelves on Wednesday?

The Writing
All-New All-Different Avengers #1 is comprised of two stories, a main and a back-up. The main storyline centres on the new Avengers team as it begins to form, coming together in the wake of an attack by a Chitauri warlord. The main story drew some criticism for feeling somewhat formulaic especially for a book with the words "all-new" in the title. Indeed, Adventures in Poor Taste writer Jordan Richards said that the "only real problem with this story is that the entirety of the issue is pretty much just set up with little excitement." This was a verdict shared by some critics, with Newsarama's Justin Partridge agreeing that it was unfortunate that the book "adheres to the team-building trope of not bringing the team together just yet." Other critics expressed disappointment that some of the characters on Alex Ross' stunning cover don't end up making an appearance in this issue. The most volatile reaction to this decision may have come from Comic Book Revolution where the book received its most negative review, with writer Rokk showing dissatisfaction at the possibility of "one of those dull four to eight issue story arcs where we have to sit through the hackneyed opening story arc approach of assembling the team."

However, while some people did find the execution of this opening issue to be less than original, it should be stressed that this book received much praise in other areas - for example, its characterisation. Comicosity's Allen Thomas commended Mark Waid for understanding his characters "in a very deep, introspective way," and for "bringing out the unique aspects," of each member of his cast. Comic Book Resources' Jim Johnson agreed that "the consistency of characterization is a refreshing effort on Waid's part, as he respects the events of the characters' main titles while still bringing his own skill and style to the issue." This dedication to respecting plot threads from titles across the Marvel relaunch was brought up in a few reviews in a mostly positive context, however IGN writer Jeff Lake did raise the issue that as, "we're still in the infancy of this post Secret Wars world, not all of these plot threads line up quite as easily as others."

The light-hearted back-up story featuring Nova and Ms. Marvel titled "You're A Jerk," received a warm reception from many critics - in some cases, warmer than that which the main story received. Indeed, Multiversity Comics writer Stephenson Ardern-Sodje wrote in his review that the back-up story, "definitely interested me more, even though the story seems largely detached from the main narrative." Waid was widely praised for making the awkward first meeting of Sam Alexander and Kamala Khan feel genuine, and filling it with humorous and relatable moments. Comic Book Resources explained that this "hilariously painful dynamic" made the story a "wonderful" read, while IGN declared that it was "social awkwardness at its finest." That being said, as has already been mentioned the story has relatively little to do with the main plot of this book, and this led some to wonder whether it was the best decision to include it here. Multiversity Comics said "its inclusion feels as though it's stealing pages from the 'main' narrative," an opinion shared by IGN who claimed that the addition of this back-up left the main story "feeling surprisingly brisk for such a marquee launch."

The Art
The art in this book is completed by two separate creative teams, with the main story by Adam Kubert and Sonia Obak and the back-up by Mahmud Asrar and Dave McCaig. Both teams were given much praise in reviews for this opening issue. Adventures in Poor Taste said in their review that Kubert's "layouts are easy to read and flow well," with the artist being called out most for his work on an opening sequence in which Captain America saves a family whose vehicle was plummeting off the Queensboro Bridge. Comicosity described these panels as "incredibly dynamic" while Comic Book Resources thought Kubert's work gave the "opening sequence a cinematic quality." But Kubert seemingly kept a high level of quality even when the action died down, as Multiversity Comics explain that "his panelling is inventive enough to flit between conversations in cars and high-impact laser assaults and switch gears accordingly."

Asrar also garnered much acclaim for his work in the back-up story, with Adventures in Poor Taste going as far to say that Asrar's art was "even better" than Kubert's. Critics were most fond of Asrar's portrayal of Nova and Ms Marvel's more subtle expressions and body language, with IGN saying that his "pitch perfect facial cues align wonderfully with Waid's increasingly awkward introspection." Meanwhile, Multiversity Comics also praised this aspect of Asrar's art, pointing out that "the deftness of his micro-expressions makes for a truly awkward exchange between Sam and Kamala that is funny and tense in equal measure."

General Consensus:

While anchored by some strong character moments, the story in All-New All-Different Avengers #1 feels somewhat by-the numbers and could perhaps have used more space to develop - space taken up in this issue by a fun if inconsequential back-up story featuring Nova and Ms. Marvel. However, most critics saw potential for this series to come into its own in future issues, and the artwork by Adam Kubert and Mahmud Asrar was met with universal acclaim.