Sunday, July 15, 2018

Astro City: Family Album

Astro City, Vol. 3: Family AlbumAstro City, Vol. 3: Family Album by Kurt Busiek
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Junkman wants to prove he's still a good criminal even though he's old. Astra Furst wants a chance to be an ordinary kid. Jack in the Box meets versions of his future son. And Loony Leo, the cartoon come to life, is down on his luck. All of this and more in Family Album, the third Astro City collection!

Here we are, the third Astro City volume. It's real and it's spectacular. Busiek continues to focus on the human aspects of life in Astro City. The first tale is about a family that moves to Astro City to start a new life and gets a good look at what that entails. It was a nice slice of life tale.

The second story was my favorite of the collection. Astra Furst, third generation member of the First Family, decides she wants to try out being an ordinary kid. It nearly brought a tear to my eye and made me wish Kurt Busiek would be given free reign on the Fantastic Four. The First Family is what the Fantastic Four could be if they were ever allowed to progress, multiple generations of super heroes.

The fourth story featured a criminal called The Junkman and was about getting older in Astro City. I'm amazed at how easily Busiek made me a fan of The Junkman, who will probably never be featured in another story.

The fifth tale was of The Jack in the Box, Astro City's Batman/Daredevil hero. Super heroing his hard but what about having kids? I would gladly read more about Jack in the Box. And the First Family, for that matter.

I wasn't crazy about the sixth tale when I realized it was about a cartoon lion brought to life but it wound up being really good. Poor Loony Leo.

Kurt Busiek's love for the super hero genre shines through in each story. As with the last two volumes, Astro City feels like it has decades of history prior to this book that I haven't read yet. Brent Anderson and Will Blyberg did a great job bringing his vision to life. Once again, I'm irritated that it took me two decades to get interested in Astro City. I'm not sure I'd put it in the same league as Starman just yet but it's really great. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Appleseed volume four - The Promethean Balance

Appleseed: The Promethean Balance (Appleseed, #4)Appleseed: The Promethean Balance by Masamune Shirow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Munma terrorists are building a giant landmate to use against Aegis. Or are they? Will Olympus fall from within? And will Deunan and Briareos let it?

Here we area already, the concluding Appleseed volume. There is a lot of political maneuvering in this one on the part of Imperial Americana, the Munma terrorists, Aegis, and even corrupt elements of ESWAT. Of course, Deunan and Briareos are caught in the middle.

The art was great, of course, and the story was a lot easier to follow than in the previous two books. A giant mech is being built and ESWAT has to stop it. Naturally, Briareos and Deunan play a big part in that. Also, Deunan gets injured during training and has to wear an eyepatch.

This volume was mostly action and blew by pretty quickly. The ending wasn't what I expected. I was hoping for some closure but it was pretty open ended. I'm not sure if I'll grab the Appleseed Data book or Appleseed ID, though. In retrospect, the series probably should have ended with book 2. Everything since has largely felt like an extended epilogue of Briareos and Deunan adjusting to life after Gaia.

While I'm glad I took it on and like the saga as a whole, the second half was a little underwhelming compared to the first. Three stars for this volume, four for the series overall.

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Appleseed volume three: The Scales of Prometheus

Appleseed: The Scales of Prometheus (Appleseed, #3)Appleseed: The Scales of Prometheus by Masamune Shirow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Deunan and Briareos continue to struggle with life in utopia despite being in a relationship. A rogue bioroid is on the loose and tensions are running high in Aegis.

As Deunan and Briareos see life in Olympus isn't all it's cracked up to be, relations between the humans and bioroids continue to deteriorate. I have a feeling Arugess is going to wind up being the big bad in the final volume. I'm glad Deunan and Briareos are finally together.

The art continues to amaze me, from the cityscapes to the mech designs. The auto-bugs remind me of the Invid from the third Robotech series. I found the art much easier to follow than in earlier volumes. The feeling that things were lost in translation continues.

While it was action packed, this was my least favorite volume of the series so far. The action scenes were great and I like the characters but I've officially lost track of the story beyond Deunan and Briareos being together and Artemis being some kind of wolf-human hybrid bioroid. Three out of five stars.

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Appleseed volume 2: Prometheus Unbound

Appleseed: Prometheus Unbound (Appleseed, #2)Appleseed: Prometheus Unbound by Masamune Shirow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While Briareos convalesces in the hospital and Deunan kicks ass in an ESWAT unit, the struggles behind the scenes of Olympus threaten to tear the city apart...

The second Appleseed volume takes seeds planted in the first volume and runs with them. Spider-like walkers are in the works to police the city. Factions behind the scenes debate humanity's future in utopia. Hitomi and Yoshi are taken into custody. Deunan and Briareos both know something is up.

I found the story easier to follow this time. Maybe I'm just getting used to it since the same people did the translation in this volume. There are some philosophical debates about the future of the human race that I found interesting. There were some dead spots but there were also some action packed scenes. Hitomi made me laugh a few times and I really like where things are going between Briareos and Deunan.

The art is spectacular. I interrupted my wife's reading of The Handmaid's Tale to show her some great uses of perspective in the city scenes. I thought the art was clearer in this volume. Maybe other people voiced the same criticisms I did when the first volume was originally released. Anyway, it's easier to differentiate the mechs and the visuals weren't as confusing during the action scenes.

The bit with the spider-walkers attacking the city was tense! While I was pretty sure Deunan and Briareos would survive, I wasn't sure about any of the other characters. Also, I'm glad I know why the series is called Appleseed now.

So what happens when utopia gets derailed? I guess I"ll find out in the next volume. Four out of five stars.

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Saturday, July 14, 2018

Appleseed, Vol. 1: The Promethean Challenge

Appleseed, Vol. 1: The Promethean ChallengeAppleseed, Vol. 1: The Promethean Challenge by Masamune Shirow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the aftermath of a world war, Deunan and her cyborg companion Briareos are living in a deserted, ruined city until Hitomi, a woman from Olympus, brings them to her city on behalf of the Central Management Bureau. Olympus is a utopia at first glance but there's a power struggle brewing in the shadows and Deunan and Briareos are about to be dragged into the middle of it...

Manga was really hard to come by in those hazy times before the internet. I read a few issues of Appleseed back in the day but lost track of it. Mail order was a bitch. Anyway, Dark Horse reprinted Appleseed a few years ago so I figured it was time to catch up.

Utopia isn't all its cracked up to be is the central message of Appleseed. Deunan and Briareos come to Olympus and find maybe the wastelands weren't so bad. There aren't a lot of jobs for people from the badlands and Hitomi, their host, is clearly up to something. The cyborgs running the city have their own game going, as does Athena, one of the brass from the Central Management Bureau.

That's what I gather, anyway. I have to think some things were lost in translation.

Anyway, the art is great. The backgrounds are hyper detailed at times, as are the landmates, the mecha of the series. Briareos, with his rabbit ears, had to be part of the inspiration for the Commissioner Gordon Batman during Scott Snyder's run.

Shirow has a knack for drawing action, although it was a little unclear at times which landmate was which, partly due to the gray tones. I realize manga aren't usually in color but some color would have cleared things up a bit.

I found Deunan and Briareos to be sympathetic characters, finally having arrived at paradise but finding out they don't really fit in there. By the time shit hit the fan, I was pretty attached to them. It was somewhat cathartic when Deunan climbed into her landmate and started kicking ass.

While I wasn't sure what was going on some of the time, The Promethean Challenge was very enjoyable experience. I'm glad I have the other three volumes on deck. Four out of five stars.

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Atomic Robo: Everything Explodes Collection

Atomic Robo: The Everything Explodes CollectionAtomic Robo: The Everything Explodes Collection by Brian Clevinger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Atomic Robo: The Everything Explodes collection is a collection of the first three Atomic Robo collections: Atomic Robo and the Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne, Atomic Robo and the Dogs of War, and Atomic Robo and the Shadow from Beyond Time.

Since I'm a fan of robots and this thing has been nominated for numerous awards, I decided to take the plunge once I found it cheaply enough.

I love the artwork and the concept. Atomic Robo was created by Tesla in the early 20th century and has been fighting Nazis and supernatural menaces ever since. The artwork reminds me of Chew with a more science fiction bend and suits the tales very much.

I enjoyed the book at times but it felt very shallow for the most part. All the quips by Atomic Robo and his scientist chums robbed the stories of a lot of the sense of threat or urgency. The humor took away from the stories a lot of times, in my opinion.

The Shadow from Beyond Time saved the rest of the collection from a two-star rating and showed me what the series could be. Atomic Robo vs. a Lovecraftian beastie who exists simultaneously in four time periods? Damn right! With Charles Fort and HPL as characters? Double damn right! I also liked seeing Atomic Robo interacting with Carl Sagan and his rivalry with Stephen Hawking.

While I didn't see what all the fuss was about, I thought the Shadow From Beyond Time was great. Atomic Robo is a fun adventure pulp character with a lot of potential. While I wasn't in love with most of this collection, I'll be reading more Atomic Robo adventures in the future. Three out of five stars.

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Sunday, July 8, 2018

Avengers Forever

Avengers ForeverAvengers Forever by Kurt Busiek
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Immortus wants Rick Jones dead. The Kree Supreme Intelligence empowers Rick to summon an all-star team of Avengers from throughout time to stop them. But will even Hawkeye, Giant-Man, Wasp, Yellowjacket, Captain America, Captain Marvel, and Songbird be enough to stop Immortus, even with Kang on their side?

There are rumors that Avengers Forever will be the basis for the fourth Avengers movie so I snapped this up on the cheap when I stumbled upon it at MightyCon a few weeks ago. It was easily worth my ten bucks.

Avengers Forever feels a lot like one of the episodes of Doctor Who when multiple Doctors team up or a Michael Moorcock book when aspects of the Eternal Champion meet. In short, serious shit is brewing and it takes a specific crew to settle things. Yellowjacket is snatched before he marries the Wasp. Hawkeye is plucked from just after the Kree-Skrull War. Captain Marvel and Songbird are from points in the future. Captain America is from just after witnessing the Secret Empire head kill himself in the White House. Giant-Man and the Wasp are from a point after their divorce when Wasp is leading the team.

I thought it was weird having two versions of Hank Pym on the team but I was confident Kurt Busiek would show me the way. The scribe of Astro City has recently risen quite a bit in my esteem. Anyway, a lot of timey-wimey stuff goes down. The Avengers are scattered across three time periods and encounter Skrulls, Space Phantoms, and betrayal by one of their own before saving the day.

It turns out Immortus has been manipulating the Avengers quite a bit since their inception, which serves to iron out some weird loopholes and paradoxes in Avengers history, like Iron Man turning heel in the 1990s and being replaced by a teenage version of himself, and whether or not Vision was created from the original Human Torch's body. It also sorts out some of the continuity of Rama Tut, Kang, and Immortus' appearances in 50 years of Marvel history at that point.

The ending was pretty satisfying, a battle royal featuring thousands of Avengers. It also served to launch Peter David's Captain Marvel series and bring the 1950s Avengers into canon as the Agents of Atlas. My only real gripe is that it wound up being more of a Kang vs. Immortus story rather than an Avengers story. Still, it was a lot of fun and some of the better straight-up super hero comics of the time period. Four out of five stars.

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Astro City volume 2: The Confessor

Astro City, Vol. 2: ConfessionAstro City, Vol. 2: Confession by Kurt Busiek
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Brian King goes to Astro City to become a hero, he falls under the wing of The Confessor. But what is the Confessor's secret? Who is killing people on Shadow Hill? And why is Astro City turning against the very heroes that protect it? That's what Brian, The Altar Boy, means to find out...

After loving the first volume, I knew I was in for the long haul. Fortunately, I was able to find Astro City volume 2 on eBay for less than an arm and a leg. How the hell is part of this series out of print?

Anyway, the second volume of Astro City is more focused than the first. A single character is used as the point of view character. Brian King heads to the big city to make a difference and quickly finds himself working for The Confessor. The Confessor molds Brian into a detective, just as the relationship between Astro City and its heroes becomes toxic.

While the story is about super heroes and an alien invasion on the surface, it's really about how easy it is for public opinion to shift and for people to become nasty. When the mayor outlaws super heroes, things get ugly in a hurry. Parts of it felt like Marvel's Civil War event ten years before the event.

Using the powerless Altar Boy as the point of view character worked really well. He was a super hero but still enough of an outsider to make it work. The origin of the Confessor was great, although Wizard spoiled it not long after the storyline concluded back in the day. The truth behind why the city turned on the super heroes made a hell of a lot more sense than Marvel's Civil War at any rate.

While you can feel the reverence Kurt Busiek and company have for the whole concept of super heroes, it doesn't feel like they're constrained by the concept. Focusing on the humans in the middle of the super hero conflicts gives the stories a much more personal touch.

As I said when I read Astro City, Vol. 1: Life in the Big City, I didn't really get Astro City when it first came out. Now, a couple decades later, I totally get it. The best super hero stories are the ones that aren't hamstrung by decades of continuity and aren't forced to maintain the status quo: Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and later Astro City. Five out of five stars.

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Saturday, July 7, 2018

Mech Cadet Yu volume 1

Mech Cadet Yu Vol. 1Mech Cadet Yu Vol. 1 by Greg Pak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every four years, three Robo descend to earth and bond with three Mech Cadets. What happens when one of them accidentally bonds with Stanford Yu, the janitor's son? Will Stanford Yu and his mech, Buddy, be able to measure up with the other cadets when the Sharg attack?

Like a lot of guys my age, I have fond memories of watching Voltron, Robotech, and other Americanized anime featuring giant robots when I was a kid. Hell, I've still got Voltron and a Shogun Warrior on a shelf in my basement. My first glimpses of Mech Cadet Yu rekindled the spark in me so I had to give it a shot.

Mech Cadet Yu is a fun, kinda cute book. It feels like it's destined to be a cartoon someday. Stanford Yu is a janitor at the Mech academy when he accidentally bonds with a damaged Robo and patches him up. From there, it's training, conflict with the other cadets, and an attack by the Sharg, the enemy Earth has been using the Mechs to combat for sixty years.

I really like what Greg Pak has done here. First of, I have to mention the pace. I complain about decompression in today's comics but I didn't notice it here. The issues were satisfying on their own. Also, I really like the way the relationship between Stanford and his Mech, Buddy, was portrayed. It's going to be a tear jerker if Buddy ever gets destroyed. The conflict between Stanford and Park is all too believable.

The artwork is pretty sweet. It looks manga-inspired, as befits the story, but has a life of its own. The Mech designs have a little Iron Giant, and a little Iron Man in them. The balloons showing the faces of the Mech cadets inside their Mechs while the action is going on is a nice touch, a good way to convey emotion when giant robots are fighting equally giant monsters.

Mech Cadet Yu is a really fun book. I'm in for the long haul. Four out of five stars.

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Black Hammer volume 2 - The Event

Black Hammer, Vol. 2: The EventBlack Hammer, Vol. 2: The Event by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lucy Weber, The Black Hammer's daughter, starts trying to piece together the mystery of The Farm and the town of Rockwood but someone doesn't want her to find the answers she's looking for...

Black Hammer volume 2 has fallen into my hands and it's a whopper.

The tale of the Black Hammer is finally told and it's an homage to a slew of Jack Kirby creations like Thor, the New Gods, and the Inhumans. Talky-Walky's origin is also revealed, another Mystery in Space type of adventure, just as something sinister happens to Talky-Walky back on the farm.

More of Golden Gail's past is reveals, as it the nature of the Event that led to the heroes arriving at The Farm to begin with. More of Abraham Slam and Barbalien's pasts are also revealed. Lucy unravels the mystery of Rockwood and meets her destiny. What the hell are Madam Dragonfly and Colonel Weird up to?

Yeah, a lot of shit went down in this volume and it has me salivating for the next one. I love the depth Lemire has achieved in such a short number of issues. The world of the Black Hammer feels like it's been around for decades. The mystery surrounding Rockwood and the Farm is tantalizing and I'm ready to find out just what the hell is going on. Dean Ormstrom's moody, Mignola-esque art is perfect for the series.

I really don't have any bad things to say about The Black Hammer. The slow burning mystery of what the hell is the deal with the Farm and Rockwood has me hooked. I'll be sad to see the series end in the next volume, if that's what happens. Four out of five stars.

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