November 20th, 2009

Writer: Jason Aaron
Illustrator: Tony Moore
Genre: Superhero
Publisher: Marvel Comics

The Caretaker (alive, left) and her predecessor/grandfather (dead, right).Danny Ketch and his demons.
Johnny Blaze, not taking any shit.Believe it or not, it gets better.

The Caretaker is dead, his granddaughter has taken up his mantle, and Johnny Blaze has had a revelation: he is not a weapon of Hell, but of Heaven. He is an agent of the rogue angel Zadkiel, as are his brother Danny Ketch and the other Spirits of Vengeance. Despite their intervention, Zadkiel and his host have sieged Heaven, sending reverberations felt throughout the world. Following their battle with the Divine, Blaze, Ketch, and the new Caretaker have parted ways, and the stories in Ghost Rider: Trials and Tribulations follows each of them as they try to find their way alone.

It’s rare that I buy the collected edition of any story arc, much less one from a main-universe on-going book from Marvel or DC, but Trials and Tribulations includes Ghost Rider #35, my favorite single issue of 2009. I have all of the issues, but the collected edition makes it easier to revisit Tony Moore’s twisted art and the brash swagger of Jason Aaron’s writing.

October 1st, 2009

Writer: Garth Ennis
Illustrator: Carlos Ezquerra
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment

The preface.Dead weight.
Cock oops and revelations.Certain doom.

The Tankies is the bloodiest of Garth Ennis’ Battlefields trilogy, but it’s not without substance. Just as it’s about armored infantry and war, so is it about classism and comradery. The Tankies is the story of a novice crew of British tank operators (“tankies”) in the Battle of Normandy. They’ve been left prostrate on the battlefield as their commander, Lt. Archie Wingate, has just been relieved of his head by an artillery shell. Cpl. Stiles, an ill-tempered veteran with a Geordie accent, has been assigned to replace Lt. Wingate. To a bunch of green Londoners, he’s not the ideal leader, but he’s their only hope of navigating the Normandy woodlands and making their rendezvous. Still, worse than the unaccommodating terrain and the indecipherable speech of Cpl. Stiles, is the threat of German Tiger tanks. Cpl. Stiles himself describes them saying, “Shite, man, the armor’s foor fookin’ inches thick, an’ the goon’ll slice through ‘owt we’ve got. That eighty-eight, that’s been Jerry’s trump card since nineteen bloody forty.” Compared with a Tiger, their Churchill is just as slow and has decent armor, but it’s outmatched in terms of firepower. If they are to survive the day, the tankies must avoid these goliaths at all costs. But, really, how likely is that? Not bloody.

August 27th, 2009

Writer: Mike Carey
Illustrator: Peter Gross
Genre: Fantasy, Thriller
Publisher: Vertigo (DC Comics)

Cover of The Unwritten #1Tommy Taylor saving the day.
Tom signing his dad's books at Tommy-Con; getting hassled by douchebags at Tommy-Con.Ha ha, okay crazy person. Just don't try to kidnap me and blow me up inside the Globe Theatre.

Wilson Taylor has fathered two people in his life: Tommy Taylor, the boy wizard protagonist of his popular series of fantasy novels, and Tom Taylor, his flesh-and-blood son upon whom his books’ protagonist is based. Thirteen books and a despondent son later, Wilson Taylor disappeared.

The Unwritten’s story begins over ten years later; Wilson’s son Tom is now a grown man and has become a minor celebrity. Tom has made a living by running the Tommy Taylor convention circuit under the guidance of Rupert Swoop, his father’s former manager. Although being paid to smile, sign his name, and answer some questions may sound like he’s living on easy street, Tom feels like a sellout. His absentee father and the fame he never asked for are objects of regret and resentment; living in Tommy Taylor’s shadow has robbed him of an identity. Then there’s the ravenous fans, conspiracy websites, and attempts at his life by stalkers dressed as villains from the Tommy Taylor books. It’s all become too much for him to handle now that his legal identity has fallen under scrutiny. With the seed of doubt planted, Tom has begun to reconsider everything he thought he knew about himself, about Tommy Taylor, and above all, about his father Wilson. These doubts, coupled with a cryptic trail of literary breadcrumbs left by his father, incite Tom to embark on a personal quest for truth. But the truth may be better left unknown, for each nugget Tom uncovers further obfuscates his perception of what is reality and what is fiction.

I mean to compliment Peter Gross’ ability as an artist when I say that I don’t notice his art. Likewise, I don’t notice Mike Carey’s script, and this is to be commended as well. Their work, as a whole, is exceptional; Carey and Gross have coalesced their crafts to achieve what I believe all comic creators aspire to: storytelling harmony.

August 6th, 2009
One gag order, coming up (From Secret Six #3)Cat catches Bat (From Secret Six #2)
Unlike other men (From Secret Six #4)Ah geez (From Secret Six #9)

Secret Six is the first on-going series in a string of supervillain team comic books written by Gail Simone, with pencils by Nicola Scott. Just as the mini-series that predate it (Villains United, Secret Six), Secret Six takes place in the main DC Universe.

Secret Six is a freelance team of six supervillains. The team was originally formed out of necessity when they refused to join and subsequently opposed Lex Luthor’s Secrey Society of Super Villains (see: Villains United). The Secret Six henceforth operate as a neutral team-for-hire, willing to take on jobs of any nature in the name of mutual self interest. Over the group’s history, its mainstay members have been Catman, Deadshot, Scandal Savage, and Ragdoll. The remaining spots on the team have been… fluid, to say the least. Former tenants include Cheschire, Knockout, a Parademon, Mad Hatter, Doctor Psycho, Fiddler, and Harley Quinn. The current team’s cast, however, is comprised of the aforementioned mainstays in addition to Bane (the supervillain who famously broke Batman’s back), and Jeannette (a Simone / Scott creation).

Make no mistake: every member of Secret Six is a miscreant. Some of them enjoy killing more than others, but not one of them is innocent; they’ve all got demons. None of them will lose sleep over a few dead bodies, if a situation calls for some. But due to Gail Simone’s unrivaled ability to understand and bring to the forefront the character within a character, you will sympathize with every one of them.

July 2nd, 2009

You read it backwards!!Official Casebook Vol. 2: The Miles Edgeworth Files is the second entry to the Del Rey-published manga series based on Capcom’s Ace Attorney video game franchise. Over a dozen creators contributed stories to The Miles Edgeworth Files. It was released in the US in February of 2009.

Just as The Phoenix Wright Files was chocked with fan-service and silliness involving fan-favorite characters from the Ace Attorney games, so is The Miles Edgeworth Files. If you aren’t prepared for absurdity such as Edgeworth going to extreme lengths to keep Pearl Fey from being exposed to the sad ending of a TV movie, or seeing Edgeworth fight a bear while armed only with Pink Princess Chocolate bars, look elsewhere. Or just skip those stories, because there’s plenty more where they came from. Over twenty, in fact! Many of which have obviously been written with the swooning fan-girl in mind, but any fan of Ace Attorney should still be able to appreciate even the most frilly stories. Not every entry in The Mile Edgeworth Files is a stranger to seriousness, though; the very first tale in the manga concerns Edgeworth considering ending his career in prosecution. The legendary “frienemy” relationship between Miles and Phoenix is also spotlighted throughout the book.

That is to say, if you’re a fan of Ace Attorney — and especially if you’re looking forward to the upcoming Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth game — you should definitely pick up Official Casebook Vol. 2: The Miles Edgeworth Files.

June 17th, 2009

It would seem that, thankfully, Jonathan Hickman hasn’t been completely devoured by his new Marvel overlords, and eight months since issue #2 shipped, A Red Mass For Mars #3 is finally coming out — TODAY! My copy won’t arrive until next week, but I thought I’d throw out a reminder. If you aren’t familiar with A Red Mass For Mars, I first wrote about it for Comic Tips almost a year ago, before Comic Tips was even a thing.

June 4th, 2009
The immaculate cover of House of Mystery #1A page from House of Mystery #1
A page from House of Mystery #2A page from House of Mystery #6

House of Mystery is an occult-horror comic published by DC Comics under the Vertigo label. Originally appearing in the 1950s and then again in the 1980s, House of Mystery laid dormant for years until writers Matthew Sturges (Shadowpact, Blue Beetle) and Bill Willingham (Fables) revived the series once again in 2008.

The House of Mystery is a place filled with interesting people. These are people from all walks of life, from all times — and timelines. Bethany “Fig” Keeler is one such person. She, like The House’s other residents, would like nothing more than to go back to their previous lives, but she is trapped. There are attempts at escaping made, but the harsh truth is that their only means of egress is when a mysterious man simply called “The Coachman” arrives at the front gates, in his own timing, to take them away. So the occupants of The House of Mystery, along with The House’s numerous visitors, must resign themselves to drinking their days and nights away in the bar room, where the drinks are free, so long as you have a story to share. And herein lies what makes The House of Mystery, as a comic book, so special: the stories. Sturges, Willingham, and/or the occasional guest writer, treat us to an average of two sub-stories per issues. Representing genres including fantasy, horror, science fiction, or sometimes even autobiographical accounts of events in the various characters’ lives, these stories have the capacity to disgust, frighten, fascinate, sadden, and warm the hearts of readers.

Though there is much history behind the House of Mystery series to which I am, regrettably, largely ignorant, I’ve absolutely loved each and every issue of this latest incarnation. The over-arching storyline is almost completely auxiliary to the sub-stories told by the characters in each issue, though that’s not to say I find the pages in between uninteresting. The whole book is magical. Even the paper used in printing feels right; I only hope that it’s also being used in the trade paperback collections being published, of which there are two, so far. “Room and Boredom” collects issues #1 – 5 while “Love Stories for Dead People” collects #6 – 10.