December’s comic book pick of the month: Witch Doctor: Malpractice

Witch Doctor: Malpractice #1

These last few weeks in December are great for sorting through tons of books, comics, television shows, etc., that you missed throughout the year. And it’s almost 2013 now! Better hurry. We all have a lot to catch up on, and this is one title you don’t want to skip.

If you read my open call for comics back in April, then you know I’ll be spotlighting current comic book series (in addition to my graphic novel reviews) every month or so to inspire discussion. I’m also taking requests, so please — leave a comment or drop me an email.

Check out November’s review of WHITE DEVIL.

I didn’t read the WITCH DOCTOR four-issue miniseries (plus the few extras that came out) when creators Brandon Seifert (writer, SPIRIT OF THE LAW, DOCTOR WHO, HELLRAISER) and Lukas Ketner released it last year. Actually, I had never even heard of it until the first issue of WITCH DOCTOR: MALPRACTICE hit last month. But I do know about the company behind it: Skybound Entertainment, an imprint of indie comics publisher Image, is owned by Robert Kirkman. He’s a pretty famous guy in the industry — known for creating THE WALKING DEAD, the zombie comic series that inspired the popular AMC TV show and some games.

Witch Doctor: Malpractice #2

The name Skybound itself doesn’t guarantee quality, but give MALPRACTICE a shot and you’ll find it has a certain The Monstrumologist vibe that’s irresistible. I can only imagine that Dr. Vincent Morrow’s (the eccentric occult physician and lead character in the comic) laboratory and all the gruesome experiments that go on there are as ghastly as they would appear in Yancey’s young adult book if it were a graphic novel.

Continue reading December’s comic book pick of the month: Witch Doctor: Malpractice

Beneath the surface: a review of The Underwater Welder

The waves are high and the sunset’s red. So now it’s time to go to bed.

The tide is up and the wind does rip. But worry not, ’cause we’ll never tip.

We’fe far at sea, days from land. But if you’re scared just take my hand.

Just hold on tight, boy-o-mine. In my arms you’ll be just fine.

The moon is full, the sea is deep.

We rock and rock and rock to sleep.

The Underwater Welder by Jeff LemireJeff Lemire has become one of the most popular comics creators in recent years, working with DC Comics to write and illustrate titles like SWEET TOOTH and the new ANIMAL MAN. This year’s The Underwater Welder (from Top Shelf Productions) is a graphic novel entirely of his own invention, and Lemire’s keen moral sense of character and thorough understanding of happiness and sorrow, and of success and failure, translate wonderfully into this standalone tale.

Lemire has a knack for balancing simplicity and complexity with equal grace. Divided into four parts, The Underwater Welder is about a man named Jack who’s about to start a family with his wife Susan, but before he can move forward, he must come to terms with the past. He dives deep into the cold, dark sea every day not in search of riches or sunken treasure but answers. Years ago, when Jack was still a child, his father jumped into the ocean and never returned, leaving him and his mother alone.

Now, as he’s on the verge of becoming a father to a baby boy, Jack’s fears and doubts bubble to the surface. Was his dad really the hero that he idolizes, or has he been ignoring his loved ones’ advice and forgetting about countless disappointments? Susan is worried that Jack will turn into his no-good father at a time when she needs him most, and he almost disappears altogether — just like his dad did. To shoulder the responsibility of parenthood, Jack must understand his father not as a child does, but as an adult can. Fathers are human beings, with real moments of strength and weakness, and Jack must figure out what kind of man his was. But there’s a possibility that he’s searching for a truth he’ll never find.

Continue reading Beneath the surface: a review of The Underwater Welder

Past demons and giant problems: a review of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Vol. 1: The Long Way Home

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8, Vol. 1: The Long Way Home

I recently picked up the first volume of the Dark Horse Comics series Buffy the Vampire Slayer at Half-Price Books. :)

Warning: SPOILERS!

Continue reading Past demons and giant problems: a review of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Vol. 1: The Long Way Home

August’s comic book pick of the month: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

If you read my open call for comics back in April, then you know I’ll be spotlighting current comic book series (in addition to my graphic novel reviews) every month or so to inspire discussion. I’m also taking requests, so please — leave a comment or drop me an email!

Check out last month’s review of HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE #1.

A lot of you are probably fans of Joss Whedon. From The Avengers to Firefly, he rules a modest corner of the geek world. You’re also probably familiar with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but have you seen past season seven? If not, then you’re missing out on plenty of new stories that await beyond the television screen and on the pages of Dark Horse Comics. Their Buffy adaptation is no small secret in the Whedonverse.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER SEASON 8, as it’s called, was an extended run of the comics that lasted for 40 issues over four years. There were Angel and Spike books over at IDW Publishing, but now everyone’s favorite puppy-eyed and peroxide-headed vampires have relocated to Dark Horse, the home sweet home for all things Buffy in the shows’ afterlives. Faith is there, too — and even Drusilla and Harmony.

The latest run, SEASON 9, is already 12 issues deep, and can I just say … I love this cover!

Buffy Season 9 #12

Andrew Chambliss writes the return of Wolfram and Hart, the evil corporation that Angel toiled in Los Angeles to stop. Since Buffy broke the Seed, emptying the magic from the world, the demon-serving lawyers should be shut away in their own pocket of hell. But now that Buffy’s a Slayer-slash-bodyguard for the rich and powerful, she has an inside scoop on the business world — and one Internet billionaire is telling her the opposite. Wolfram and Hart wants him dead.

It’s cyber terrorism on a whole new level — well, dimension. To seal away Wolfram and Hart for good, Buffy and company must battle a Teuth demon and find which of startup Tincan’s servers to fry. But keeping the connection open could mean a last link to restoring Earth’s magic … or to righting wrongs with Buffy’s friends, including Kennedy and Willow.

Michelle Madsen provides colors, and Georges Jeanty (who designed the cover above) is on pencils. The combination is an artistic style that’s become iconic to the BUFFY series. But what’s best about this series is how believably the creators translate real-life actors in the television medium to cartoon figures in print, and how they turn near hour-long stories across 24-episode seasons into serial, bite-sized issues released across a much longer span of time. If you haven’t started reading these, now’s the time to get on board. You won’t be disappointed.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER SEASON 9 #12 (by writer Andrew Chambliss and penciller Georges Jeanty) hit stands on Wednesday, August 8.

July’s comic book pick of the month: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

If you read my open call for comics back in April, then you know I’ll be spotlighting current comic book series (in addition to my graphic novel reviews) every month or so to inspire discussion. I’m also taking requests, so please — leave a comment or drop me an email!

The ’80s are still alive, baby! New to DC Comics, HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE #1 is a blast from your childhood past.

Imagine my surprise when I opened my mail and found a radiantly glowing HE-MAN comic book hiding in my pile of new issues. And by writer James Robinson, no less! Do you know who that is? He’s only one of the coolest writers ever — he modernized STARMAN and turned it into one of my favorite long-running series. So good.

Aside from the gorgeous cover by Philip Tan and Dave Wilkins (a great eye-catcher), the first issue brings back the classic cartoon in style. Look past the first page, which poses He-Man in an awkward running stance, and you’ll fall in love with Philip Tan’s art and Richard and Tanya Horie’s and Carrie Strachan’s colors (on their respective pages).

He-Man won’t be shouting “I have the power!” anytime soon — at least not in this issue. Adam is a woodsman, “and that is all.” He dreams of swords and beasts and heroes, but when he wakes he’s back in the forest, chopping wood and caring for his senile father, who thinks he lives in a royal palace. Whatever reality has become for Adam and those around him, it’s not the stuff of legend. Robinson has given the comic a kind of FABLES vibe.

But the world is trying to make him remember. First a blue and orange falcon — Zoar. Then a monster that confronts him as soon as he leaves his home. His axe becomes a weapon; the woods his battle ground.

It might be different, but the comic still feels like the classic tale. The scene at the end, where Skeletor says “Adam must be stopped, and quickly!” is reminiscent of the cheesy kids’ cartoon. Robinson’s HE-MAN feels like a bridge between two eras … and I hope it’s here to stay for more than just six issues.

Happy 30th anniversary, He-Man.

HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE #1 (by writer James Robinson and penciller Philip Tan) hits stands Wednesday, July 4.

June’s comic book pick of the month: Adventure Time

If you read my open call for comics back in April, then you know I’ll be reviewing current comic book series (in addition to writing graphic novel reviews) every month or so to inspire discussion. I’m also taking requests, so please — leave a comment or drop me an email!

Did you know comics require a lot more brainpower to read? The right side of your brain processes pictures, while the left interprets words. Okay, moving on!

I know what you’re thinking: “Adventure Time is a show, silly!” Whoa-hoahh, hold on a sec. It’s also a relatively new comic book series from BOOM! Studios. Before you groan and turn away, believe me, I understand any misgivings you might have. Like with any crossing of mediums, television-to-comic adaptations don’t usually work so well.

ADVENTURE TIME does.

Ryan North (creator of Dinosaur Comics) pens the issues, and Shelli Paroline typically handles art. Paroline is amazing. I know actual human likenesses are harder to authentically portray in illustration, but her work rivals Georges Jeanty’s on the BUFFY line (Dark Horse Comics). I can’t tell the difference between show and comic here, honestly.

(Also, I love her reproduction of Avatar: The Last Airbender.)

I’m a strong believer that the more recognizable a comic is to its original source, the more successful it can be — especially if it has talented writers working on it. Thankfully, North captures the humor and essence of Adventure Time without missing a beat.

In some cases, it’s better. (Gasp!) While music has always been a fundamental part of the show, I know some people are turned off by all the singing. I don’t particularly care for it myself except in episodes like “What Was Missing” (and I’m not even going to go into the weird controversy there).

ADVENTURE TIME #4 is my favorite yet. It’s amazing how effortlessly North and Paroline can recreate the unique characteristics of the show in still form. Here’s a quick recap: Recently Finn and Jake and co. defeated the Lich and reformed the world, only the desert kingdom isn’t quite where it’s supposed to be. This issue calls upon some princess power to set things right again.

The secondary stories placed in the back end act as fun side adventures that feature different contributing writers and artists. And for those who like variant covers, the incentive ones for ADVENTURE TIME are rather popular. Mike “Gabe” Krahulik of Penny Arcade even prepared one for issue #5. Talk about awesome!

You can preview and buy ADVENTURE TIME #4 online at ComiXology or your local comic shop.

ADVENTURE TIME #4 (by writer Ryan North and artists Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline) released on Wednesday, May 30. Issue #5 is now available.

Update time! I’m now community manager for Z.

Hey, everyone!

If you’re big into zombies, love anything card or board game related, or are passionate about comics and cosplay, please take a moment to check out Z. — a digital trading card game on Kickstarter. Think of it as Magic: The Gathering meets The Walking Dead. I’m involved with the project as community manager, so we have 25 days and counting to make this thing happen!

We need to spread the word as much as possible, so if you could pass the link around or post an announcement on your blog, we’d appreciate every bit of help! You can also contact me exclusively at stephanie.carmichael@downwardviral.com for pics and more info.

If you’re interested in contributing to the cause, donating will get you tons of goodies (including a limited box edition). You can learn more about the rewards on our Kickstarter page.

Be sure to tell all the zombie lovers you know! And remember: Keep those shotguns handy.

Want to know more? Glad you asked!

  • Choose your side: zombies or survivors?
  • Original photography and gruesome horror effects used for every card
  • MMO-esque equipment sets, progressive card bonuses, and killstreaks!
  • An episodic story using live-action cutscenes produced by the team behind the Left 4 Dead short film
  • Created with gamers, for gamers! Get in on the dev process and vote on new cards and features, or be a card yourself!
  • LOTS of guest characters, with Tex Murphy already being announced as the first!
  • We’re doing one major update a day, showing off the different aspects of the game and Kickstarter process
  • Tons of swag for backers, including a collectors edition boxed set that is exclusive to this Kickstarter campaign!

Deaths in the family: reviews of Identity Crisis and Batman: The Court of Owls

I read two great graphic novels recently. Both deal with death and new beginnings.

Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer (writer), Rags Morales (penciller), and Michael Bair (inker)

Few comics can take a story about a superhero group and make it about a superhero family. Identity Crisis, which appeared in 2004, boiled the Justice League down to its most human, setting the powers aside. When the spouse of a League member is murdered, everyone, both heroes and villains, are in danger of falling apart. They cry and they fight, violently in the streets, both together and in opposition.

Writer Brad Meltzer is very good at taking larger-than-life characters and making them small, in more ways than one. The whole murder mystery, which picks off the JLA’s loved ones at random and without mercy, undeniably kicks them when they’re down, and Rags Morales shows us these characters at their most vulnerable — creating a picture of raw emotion, not always pretty. The Elongated Man nearly loses his form. Robin sobs, only just a boy.

Identity Crisis has many meanings, but it comes down to two things: First, finding yourself when all is lost and taken from you, and second, learning your role within a family. These superheros and super villains alike are families. They know the mask doesn’t protect them, but rather the people they care about, and when tragedy strikes, they help one another. The events of Identity Crisis do a lot to threaten that bond, but somehow, they persevere. They take care of their own, for better or worse. They hear and see what they want to, to keep peace among their numbers. They make sacrifices. They lose on both sides, and then win by surviving hardship.

The twist — the person holding the smoking gun in the end — was a little silly, but it’s more a vehicle to telling this story than the crux of it. If you can look past that part, then Identity Crisis is the perfect glimpse into the daily lives of superheroes and their foes, both the ones that are costumed and those that lie within us all.

Batman, Vol. 1: The Court of Owls by Scott Snyder (writer) and Greg Capullo (penciller)

When you start a character and his universe from scratch, to make him stand out from his peers in an initiative like the “New 52,” you have to think big. More specifically, you have to build his city grander than before, cast his shadow longer, and give him a foe unlike any other he’s ever faced.

The Court of Owls is the perfect new beginning for Gotham’s watchful guardian because it challenges his right to that title. There are some secrets, it seems, that even Batman doesn’t know. He, the master of stealth and disguise, has been fooled by those who’ve hidden in darkness far longer: a secret society that dates back to his great, great grandfather, Alan Wayne.

Bruce wants to construct “a better, brighter Gotham” — but to do so, Batman must sink into unknown depths, both literally and metaphorically. When the Court of Owls trap him, a feat accomplished by only the fiercest foes, Batman degenerates in look, in health — horribly, like a monster, thanks to the artistic talent of Greg Capullo. What appeared to be another costumed wannabe, a fanatic with too much time on his hands, turned out to be a deadly threat and, yet, only a pawn — and thus starts the new chapter of evil in Gotham. The Court of Owls is only the preface to the story, and a dark omen to the darker days that lie ahead — a living challenge to the brighter world Bruce Wayne hopes to achieve.

Picking a freak at random is easy, but Scott Snyder tricks us into thinking any lunatic in mask and suit is a warm-up compared to the classic villains — that only the Joker and other timeless rogues like him can do harm. It’s not long before he shows us otherwise — that the new can be as powerful as the old, and that sometimes, they’re one in the same.

An excellent precursor to the new age of Batman.

Reading the game: all about Batman: Arkham City

I recently took to the sprawling streets and city structures of Batman: Arkham City, a game that came out for PS3 (what I played on), Xbox 360, and PC last year. It’s the follow-up to the widely praised Batman: Arkham Asylum, which I beat twice in its opening weekend … you know, back when I had actual free time.

Arkham City features an overarching narrative that’s broken up by side missions and other sandbox-style attractions, but what makes the game truly special are its cameos. Spotlighting recognizable characters is a trick you can’t do in a lot of games because they don’t have years and years of established cannon. But since Batman lives outside of video games in comics and movies and television shows, the developers were able to give fans a bit more.

Below are a few books that make excellent companions to Batman: Arkham City.

Missed my previous “Reading the Game” features? Check out Mortal Kombat and Uncharted.

Batman: Knightfall, Vol. 1 by Chuck Dixon and Doug Moench
Publisher: DC Comics
Paperback: 640 pages
Publication Date: April 25, 2012

Peppering Arkham City with cameos emphasizes just how much responsibility has fallen onto Batman’s shoulders. He’s playing clean-up all across town. We see the same kind of complex chaos in Batman: Knightfall, in which the rogues break out of Arkham, leaving the Caped Crusader to round them up one by one. The Knightfall storyline is famous for Bane, a villain who bided his time until Batman was exhausted and then threw him off a rooftop, breaking his back.

DC Comics published a brand new edition of the 1993 original in April, no doubt because of Bane’s resurgence in Christopher Nolan’s upcoming film, The Dark Knight Rises, which hits theaters on July 20.

The Starman Omnibus, Vol. 3 by James Robinson (writer) and Tony Harris (artist)
Publisher: DC Comics
Hardcover: 432 pages
Publication Date: June 17, 2009

One thing that disappointed me about Batman: Arkham City was its treatment of Solomon Grundy, who’s chocked up to little more than a violent monster—a zombie. The fascinating adventures of modern day Starman Jack Knight taught me otherwise. Grundy’s actually been known to be a gentle and emotional creature, as seen in the early Starman omnibuses and the third volume, in which Knight teams up with Batman to save Grundy’s life.

A proper Solomon Grundy education is a must for every Arkham City player.

Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm
Publisher: DC Comics
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publication Date: August 31, 2011

Most fans threw a fit when they learned voice actress Tara Strong would be replacing Arleen Sorkin, who helped define and popularize the character Harley Quinn. I was upset at first, too, but honestly, halfway through the game I didn’t even care—or notice the difference.

Harley herself plays a big role in Arkham City through the new DLC, “Harley Quinn’s Revenge.” If you want to learn more about the former psychiatrist and how she fell head over heels for her “puddin'” the Joker, read Mad Love and Other Stories. The comic recaptures some classic episodes from the highly regarded Batman: The Animated Series television show and pays particular attention to Harley and her adoration for the Joker.

What books would you recommend?

A call for comics! April’s pick of the month

As some of you have probably guessed, I’m a big reader of books … and that includes comics! The good thing about comics is that not only are they a fantastic medium for prose and visual storytelling combined, but they’re also much easier to get into than you might think. There’s something for all tastes.

While we can’t always read the same books at the same time (read-alongs are a nice idea, but they’re up there with book clubs: not always practical), we can read the same comics on a regular basis. They’re not as much of a time sink. That’s why I wanted to reach out to my fellow lovers of comics and anyone who’s interested in learning more about them with this proposal: What are your favorite series currently on sale? Recommend them to me! And would you like my suggestions? Together we can expand our familiarity with genres and talented writers and artists.

Before you say no, keep in mind that you don’t have to understand decades of a comic’s history to enjoy it—and not every series has years to its name. New books are always coming out, and for the ones that have been on shelves longer, many writers make “cannon” a very accessible, non-scary word. Plus, you can now buy comics digitally as well as in print (if you can find a local comic shop).

I’d even be up for discussion! What do you say?

My first pick is THE LI’L DEPRESSED BOY from publisher Image Comics. “LDB,” as he’s called for short, isn’t so much a boy as he is a young adult who doesn’t fit in. The comic is an accurate depiction of the shyness and self-doubt that accompanies cases of depression. “What,” you say, “like the mental illness?” Yes! Comics deal with real life issues! Awesome, right? Even the fantastical can be grounded in the realistic … not that every comic is unrealistic.

Everything seems to go wrong for LDB when he’s at his lowest, and for anyone who’s ever been down, you know that when one bad thing happens, it seems like your whole world starts to fall apart. Although LDB might not always feel included, he’s surrounded by people who care about him—and a few people who don’t quite understand his needs, like his crush Jazmin, who seemed to reciprocate that affection until she revealed she had a boyfriend.

One of the major recurring themes in LI’L DEPRESSED BOY is music, which can be used to enhance any situation. Sometimes we see LDB listening and then leaving a crowd. Other times music is a source of empowerment and positivity. The language of music is very personal, especially for LDB, and a good many of us are familiar with the contrasting effects music can have on mood.

For me, the most singular aspect about LDB is that he is literally a blank slate—a doll figure without any remarkable features. For a depressed character like LDB, that self-reflective attribute is spot-on. Credit to artist Sina Grace for making it so visually convincing.

What do you think? Have you read LI’L DEPRESSED BOY before? Would you like to? Let me know in the comments whether you’re interested in more of these features and if you’d like to join the conversation. Feel free to hop over to the digital service ComiXology to make a purchase.

LI’L DEPRESSED BOY #10 hit stands yesterday, on Wednesday—new comics day!