Saturday, August 29, 2015

Comic book reviews: 8/26/15

Old Man Logan #4
Brian Michel Bendis, Andrea Sorrentino, and Marcelo Maiolo's fourth chapter of Old Man Logan pretty much provides more of the same: It still looks amazing, it's still pretty fun, and it's still a brief glimpse of one part of Battleword before throwing us (quite literally) into another part of Marvel's new planet.

Bendis' script has plenty of amusing action scenes and there's a surprisingly lighthearted cameo (which offers a nice balance to the horror vibe), but right now, it feels like this book is following a formula, and that leaves me feeling like the only real surprise is which part of Battleworld will appear on the final page. I'm sure Bendis will make me eat my words at some point, but right now, the book's following a noticeable pattern, and that's a little disappointing. It's definitely an entertaining journey, but the fast-paced nature of this story doesn't give us a lot to chew on. Instead, it's Sorrentino and Maiolo's absolutely stunning layouts that leaves the strongest impression, and those visuals have me coming back for more. (Okay, my love for Mark Millar and Steve McNiven's Old Man Logan doesn't hurt.) I mean, the vivid way these two handle the waves of zombies and Logan's struggle to survive? Or the immersive way they handle an intense scene towards the end? My eyes thank you, Sorrentino and Maiolo.

This book may not be pulling any surprises or delivering especially compelling material at the moment, but it consistently looks phenomenal and it's still good fun.

Ninjak #6
As someone who spends a silly amount of time discussing comic book battles with other fans, one comment seems to pop up a lot about Ninjak: "He needs his technology and gear, otherwise he's not all that great." Firstly, no. Secondly, Ninjak #6 kind of feels like Matt Kindt's response to that false statement. While the flashback (in the primary story) may not add much to the experience, Ninjak's search for - and fight with - La Barbe is well-paced and legitimately interesting. I do miss the previous artist's work (Clay Mann), but Raul Allen, Patricia Martin, and Borja Pindado's drastically different style - one which has a more animated atmosphere and large displays of one tone that tends to to attract your attention (e.g. the bright trees in Paris; the shades of blue in the forest) - produces some truly awesome action sequences. This allow us to better appreciate Ninjak's fluid motions, and the creative handling of these scenes makes it far more memorable, too. Things like watching Ninjak flip through an onomatopoeia or drones sweeping an area is surprisingly enjoyable.

This may be a jumping-on spot, but the backup story (by Kindt, Stephen Segovia, and Ulises Arreola) is really geared towards readers who have been following Valiant's (oh-so-awesome) reboot. For those missing Mann's work, you'll be happy to know the visuals here draw some pretty strong parallels to his pages. It's obviously drastically different than the pages from Ninjak vs. La Barbe, but given the fact it takes place in a totally different time, the difference really shouldn't be jarring for anyone. All in all, it's a satisfying story that's just intriguing enough to make you wonder what'll happen next and fills in just a wee bit of history with another character closely linked to Ninjak. Like I said, longtime readers will get a little more out of this one.

Ninjak #6 is one part clever spy mission, one part ninja awesomeness, and a sprinkle of origin story. If that sounds like a good time to you - and it should - do the obvious thing and give this series a shot.

Spread #9
"Think of the children!" Justin Jordan certainly has with Spread's latest story arc. In a post-apocalyptic world - one that presumably hasn't been around for that long - what would it be like for kids who are unlucky enough to grow up in this violent and horrifying place? Would they lose their humanity, or would there still be signs of it, even when they're in the cruelest conditions? We've seen how bigger societies thrive - or at least attempt to - but now Jordan, as well as  Kyle Strahm and Felipe Sobreiro, are showing us what some people are doing to in order to hold onto their lives for as long as they possibly can.

While I've grown to love No, having him out of commission was a good move. Not only does this give Jack - a seriously lovable character - more time to shine, it also gives the comic more time to flesh out the new characters who have entered the picture. One of Jordan's strengths as a writer is his ability to craft dialogue that comes off feeling natural, so that makes these new characters feel more alive instead of just random complications that are introduced just to give our leads more grief. This is a story that throws us into a post-apocalyptic scenario that's loaded with horror elements, yet what keeps me coming back are the characters. Sure, I like the premise a lot (John Carpenter's The Thing is my favorite horror film), but what has me hooked is seeing how these people - whether they're silent and collected or have totally lost it - react to this insane world and the many challenges it throws at 'em. It would have been cool if one of the new kids used a vicious looking boomerang, but maybe Jordan thought that would be too blunt of a Mad Max: The Road Warrior reference. Not that I'm complaining - there is a blatant Predator reference, after all. Bonus points for that.

As for the art, it's all in the eyes. How does the saying go? The eyes are the window to the soul, right? I'm not going to stop writing so I can google it, but I'm pretty sure that's it. In this story, Strahm allows the eyes to speak volumes. Immediately, you can tell whether someone's curious, sad, or out for blood. Hell, he even pulls it off with a bear. Through expression alone, we can see the animal go from prey to predator very, very quickly. Strahm and Sobreiro's work continues to be a perfect fit for Jordan's harsh and twisted story, and the handling of the eyes really makes these fictional beings more humanizing. The use of bold red shades will always capture your sight, too.

Roche Limit: Clandestiny #4
Michael Moreci, Kyle Charles, and Matt Battaglia's Roche Limit: Clandestiny kind of feels like a more elaborate and way more satisfying version of Prometheus (i.e. traveling to an alien world for a mission that isn't quite what it seems to be and the crew encounters more and more mysteries) - and I say that as someone who has a mostly positive opinion of Ridley Scott's movie, too! Now that we've reached chapter four - the penultimate issue - we're starting to get more answers to the several mysteries going on. Thankfully, these answers further boost my interest in this story, and it helps that it's written in a way that doesn't feel like blatant exposition. There's quite a few elements being juggled in this adventure (A.I., exploring an alien world, invasions, the human psyche), yet none of them feel overshadowed or glossed over and, somehow, this issue is also loaded with cheerworthy action. (Cole is the best, by the way.) One ridiculously over-the-top attack - one which started as a blatant parallel to Prometheus, and then went in a hilariously awesome direction - won't be forgotten any time soon. It's also really interesting seeing how these characters acted in chapter one versus how they are when they know what the odds really are... or at least what they think the odds are. And the icing on the delicious sci-fi cake? Energetic visuals that are overflowing with appropriately strong colors. This volume has delivered some excellent displays of emotion and alien landscapes, but this time around, it's the hectic action that really wows.

Overall, Roche Limit: Clandestiny is thought-provoking sci-fi which also happens to be full of action and some legitimately funny banter. It'll capture your interest, keep you guessing, and excite you with some crazy, gorgeous action. Seriously, what's not to love? Fans of Prometheus/Aliens (the first chapter has a moment that just screams "Ellen Ripley")/sci-fi in general, check it out.


A few notes:
  • I've decided not to provide scores for these quick reviews. Really, they're pretty short. I believe in your ability to read them and understand how I feel about a comic without seeing a number or letter grade.
  • If a publisher wants to use a quote, you of course have my permission to do so. Please credit as "Comic Book Babbling Blog".
  • If you're interested in having a comic reviewed, please feel free to contact me at greggkatzman@gmail.com. Or you can reach out via Twitter: @greggkatzman.
  • I didn't have time to review Rumble #6, but please, do yourself a favor and give that Image Comics series a chance. I'm not even a fantasy fan and I absolutely love it. It's fun, funny, and full of creativity. Plus, it has a giant sword called Thunderchop, so there's that.
  • One final - and very important - note: Be a good person, okay? Just give it a shot. Anyway, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #49 review

*This review is spoiler-free*

Since the very first issue, IDW's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has done an awesome job making this new take on the franchise feel fresh yet also enjoyably familiar. After several strong story arcs (and some excellent limited series, like Secret History of the Foot Clan), you can really tell a whole lot of love and planning went into crafting this new TMNT universe. And issue #49? Yeah, you can tell this one is building up anticipation for the ginormous issue #50 (it's 48 pages!), while also loosely teasing the big plans that'll step forward after the next issue (or even during it?). Oh, and the fact this chapter also manages to throw in plenty of character, exciting action, and great artwork doesn't hurt, either.
Cover by Mateus Santolouco
First and foremost, getting a look at Bludgeon and Koya during some downtime was an unexpected treat. Sure, the two mutants don't receive too much of the spotlight, but it's just enough to show even more why they're basically the polar opposite of Bebop and Rocksteady when it comes to their personalities. While Bebop and Rocksteady have this "goofy best bros" dynamic going on, Koya and Bludgeon seem to have more of a brother and sister relationship, and their personalities are far more fitting for the Foot Clan. The classic and dim-witted duo, Bebop and Rocksteady, have been given plenty of attention in this title (not that I'm complaining, of course), yet it feels like Koya and Bludgeon haven't received that much love, often only appearing in fight scenes or having small remarks here and there. So, while they may not have a standout scene, it is cool we received just a wee bit of insight into the two before we return to all of the action-packed craziness.

Since issue #50 is (presumably) all about the conflict between Shredder and Splinter, this issue wraps up Baxter Stockman's plot pretty swiftly. On one hand, it's a little disappointing his role is tossed aside so quickly - the fiend has a lot of potential, after all. But on the other hand, the conclusion does make sense for him, so it doesn't come off feeling forced or rushed. And, to be fair, the last issue did mostly revolve around the team fighting his swarm. I'd like to see more of him, but his departure here is logical.

To some, this franchise is all about cool mutants, amusing catchphrases, and ninja action. While those things did make me fall in love with the Ninja Turtles when I was younger - and they definitely help keep the stories entertaining - one element is equally important: family. Even though these stories are so surreal and sometimes even silly, this is a franchise that's really about a family who's simply trying to protect each other and the need to stand up against what's wrong. You may not know any mutated turtles who are also ninjas (or DO you?), but the sense of family and a desire to do what's right will always be relatable, and that allows this franchise to deliver some heavy doses of heart... you know, in between all of the fighting. In this issue, there's just enough of that right before a big battle begins, and it's a really satisfying moment. Splinter must be a tough character to write. In the wrong hands, Hamato Yoshi may come off too heavy-handed or corny. Luckily for us, Tom Waltz gets the character and there's a fine amount of emotion that takes place before mutants begin to flip around and dish out all sorts of violence. Without an emotional connection, action can feel meaningless because you just don't care about the combatants. (Well, unless the choreography is brilliant, like in The Raid.) Thankfully, the team behind the story - Waltz, franchise co-creator Kevin Eastman, and editor Bobby Curnow - understand these characters and have made them humanizing. Man, that was a whole lot of words just to say"there's a good family moment in here."
Cover by Kevin Eastman and Ronda Pattison
It may not be as compelling as what's going on with Splinter and his family, but it's great to see Waltz, Eastman, and Curnow decided to flesh out Karai's role even more. She's been a standout character in this series and something tells me her role is going to get even bigger after the next issue. We'll just have to wait and see if that really does happen, but one thing is clear: so far, IDW's done a good job with Karai. Let's hope she continues to capture our attention.

Sweet mother of Michelangelo, this issue has some really enjoyable fighting. Right when it feels like we've reached a cliffhanger moment and all of the popcorn entertainment will be saved for next month, we're thrown right into the madness. It's really tough to discuss this part without giving anything away, so I'll skip the details (just trust me, it's a fun scene) and instead jump to praising a very important reason why the action thrives: artist Cory Smith and colorist Ronda Pattison.

From Mateus Santolouco - who provided the attention-grabbing primary cover - to Sophie Campbell, IDW has been fortunate enough to work with several very, very, veeery talented artists. Their styles may be drastically different, but the decision to often have them work an entire arc prevented the changes in visuals from being jarring, and the distinct styles were often fitting for the story at hand. To top it off, Pattison's been around since the very first issue and doing an incredible job the whole time. Even when the anatomy, environments, and lines may be noticeably different, her attention to each and every panel has given us a feeling of consistency and brought so much more energy and emotion to these pages. Thankfully, she's still bringing it after dozens of issues and the end result is one mighty fine looking comic. The combination of Smith's strong character work, impressive handling of motion, and use of angles really pulls us into these moments, making them feel like they're actually playing out instead of being just static images. Throw in Pattison's impressively consistent coloring - I love how certain moments hit us with bright shades to sell the intensity - and it's safe to say issue #49's pages will leave most eyes feeling fulfilled. Man, I know I said I wouldn't give spoilers, but there's one double-page spread that's just begging to be turned into a poster. The "let's do it!" one also rules. Yes, I enjoyed it so much that I said it "rules." Whether it's a slow, character-driven scene or getting us pumped for action, the visual team delivers.
Cover by Jason Howard
There's one moment in here that made me really, really happy. Obviously, I won't give detail about its but I will say it was a totally unexpected surprise. I'm very excited to see how the team will utilize this new element in an already pretty crowded world - it was also a satisfying follow-up to a tease in a previous limited series. There's a lot going on right now and I'm anxious to see where the conflict with Shredder will go, but this new plot point has me thrilled. Brace yourselves, fan service is coming.

My only (relatively minor) criticism is the cliffhanger doesn't capitalize on all of the excitement nearly as much as it could have. With so many cheerworthy and interesting things going on, the final moments just isn't as gripping as what came before it. I wish I could elaborate here, but for the sake of remaining spoiler-free, let's just say the cliffhanger doesn't have me concerned or feeling like the stakes are truly high right now. But hey, it's a pretty small critique and thankfully everything before it makes up for it and then some. I also wish another dynamic was given more attention (considering something huge recently happened with the family), but maybe we'll see more of that in the next chapter - I certainly hope so.

If you've been following the series or simply love this franchise, this is a phenomenal issue. It's action-packed, has a (literally) huge surprise, and it continues to handle these characters extremely well. Based on the quality of this issue and the ones that came before it, I have a feeling the next issue - which is a whopping $7.99 - will be worth every penny. I won't conclude this review with a cheesy pun (I swear "cheesy" is an unintentional one), but I will end it on a very blunt note: it's clear IDW loves this franchise, and I absolutely love what they're doing with it. So yeah, consider this 30-year-old TMNT fan very happy. Bring on #50!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles "Tale of the Yokai" review

Last week, Season 3 of Nick's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles returned with an episode that introduced the classic time-traveling character Renet. The episode, appropriately titled "Turtles in Time", had plenty of fun and creative ways of utilizing time travel - especially when the villain, Savanti Romero, had control over it. With "Tale of the Yoaki", the show is going in a more dramatic direction as it travels more than a decade into the past - 16 years, to be exact - to flesh out the rivalry between Hamato Yoshi, a.k.a. the man who eventually becomes Splinter, and Oroku Saki, a.k.a. the man who transforms into Shredder.

"Turtles in Time" was a total blast, but this second time travel story - which is written by the show's EP/head writer Brandom Auman, and directed by Sebastian Montes - feels like the complete package. It's the kind of episode that hits you with jaw-dropping action, scatters in some legitimately hilarious moments, and has a strong overall story that's full of intrigue and, more importantly, emotion. Like Mikey even points out in the episode, this tale (briefly) shows you a different side of Shredder, and leaves us wondering quite a few things. For example, I'm left thinking about what could have happened in Tang Shen did choose Oroku. Sure, Donatello explains why that could spell doom for the future, but could Oroku have saved the planet? Would he become a hero, or would he still be destined to resurrect the Foot Clan and take a more villainous path? I'm guessing the latter is bound to happen, but with the solid handling of the story - complete with a Back to the Future nod, of course - it's fun to think about. Also, a less composed Splinter, one who occasionally shows arrogance and doesn't hold back quite as much, was definitely an interesting thing to witness.

There's plenty of great comedy in here. For me, the highlight comes from when the Ninja Turtles dish out some psychological warfare because their enemies believe they're mythical creatures called Yokai. It was a great way for the show to implement some of the horror elements its known for, while also delivering plenty of funny lines and cool visuals. Plus, baby Miwa Karai - and the way she tugs on Leo's mask - is absolutely adorable. There's just enough consistently strong humor and nods in here to balance out the dramatic and surprisingly emotional narrative between Saki and Yoshi.

Montes' handling of the action scenes is amazing. The excellent directing allowed us to appreciate the characters' swift movements and skill, as well as the overall intensity of the scenes. There's several cool bouts in here and they just get better and better. There's an especially immersive shot that's used right as Yoshi and Saki begin their final fight in the dojo. There's a lot of steady shots that allow us to enjoy the technique, but that one was especially clever. And speaking of shots, it's great and all kinds of fitting how an emotional debate between Yoshi and Shen takes place on a peaceful bridge with the bright, towering city in the background. Oh, and the slow motion block and vanish that happens in the woods? Terrific stuff.

Even though you know what's coming when Saki and Yoshi begin their heated (pun so not intentional) fight, watching it all unfold is still a surprisingly gripping and powerful experience, so that's saying a lot about just how strong the writing and direction is in this episode. IDW's comic series also brought the Ninja Turtles back to the beginning of Yoshi and Saki's conflict so it could drop a stunning twist. Thankfully, Nick offers one that's completely different yet equally mind-blowing.

Minor criticism: At the start of the episode, the team's running away from a group of ninjas, and they're pretty freaked out and intimidated by them. Yes, it's quickly revealed these ninjas are no joke, but that's something they didn't know just yet, so them fleeing like that is obviously a comedic beat. Considering all that the team has been through and the fact they just faced a ginormous, time manipulating villain who's all kinds of frightening, you'd think this challenge wouldn't send them running like that. Still, it did make me smile!

"Tale of the Yokai" is an awesome episode and it's yet another example of how this show can juggle action, laughs, and heart so well. We all know how the conflict between Shredder and Splinter began in the Nick TMNT universe, but knowing the basics of this story by no means takes away from just how exciting and compelling it is. Ninja Turtles fans, watch this episode.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Fantastic Four movie review

By now, you've probably seen a bunch of reviews treating Fox's Fantastic Four reboot like it kicked a puppy. While I haven't read those reviews just yet - I've only glanced at the harsh headlines - I can see why some people are really, really disappointed by the cinematic return of Marvel's first family. That said, the movie does get a lot right... before taking a pretty big downward spiral, that is.

The first half hour or so of this movie is solid and includes what is by far the most interesting material. It mostly revolves around Reed Richard's (Miles Teller) as we see his passion for science and discovery, his close friendship with Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), and his amusingly awkward attempt to talk with Sue Storm (Kate Mara). This humanizing approach, along with the buildup to the Negative Zone Zero Earth is handled really well. It's feels like we're watching a solid sci-fi movie - not a comic book movie - that's inspired by the first volume of Ultimate Fantastic Four. Sure, there's some silly stuff, like how "it's clobbering time" is first used and Sue casually calling Victor Von Doom "Doctor Doom", but overall, this is where the movie really shines and pulls you into a more grounded and enjoyable story.
After the team develops their powers, this is where the movie seems to lose direction. There's a clear message here about the U.S. military and how it focuses on what it needs to do to remain a dominant force, even if it means making some people miserable and callous. I mean, when there's a shot of Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson) - a guy who's clearly working with the military and treating the team like weapons - walking out of a vehicle and into a building, it has blatantly ominous music.

There's hints at character development when the powers are gained: Johnny finally feels like he's found a purpose in life, Sue doesn't want to be a weapon, Thing turned from a tough guy with a big heart into a freaking killing machine, and Reed's simply trying to find a way to fix his friends. However, none of it really goes anywhere; it kind of feels like this time is spent just to give them control over their powers instead of giving their personalities the amount of attention they should receive. I would have loved to see 20 minutes or so dedicated to some scenes that give each of them more insight; the Thing certainly could have used it. Then we're thrown into Doom's return, and unfortunately, that's when things become all kinds of predictable and silly.

Victor Von Doom is a missed opportunity, and that's a real shame because Toby Kebbell proved he's an excellent actor in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I'm fine with changes to the source material, but they have to bring something compelling to the table to justify the new direction. In this case, they attempt to make Victor more humanizing earlier on - he's still somewhat off-putting, but he's far friendlier than you'd expect him to be. Once he changes, the potential is there to have him loathe the Fantastic Four and want to rule Latveria the way he believes it should governed. Instead of that - something which would open the door to more interesting conflicts down the road and a better villain - Doom decides to unleash end of the world scenario #4,852. Look, some movies can get away with using stakes that ridiculously high, but in this movie, the sense of urgency and danger just isn't there and it all happens so quickly. Doom makes a heartless return, but the big battle plays out exactly how everyone thinks it would - and that's because we've seen stuff like this time and time again. It's just not nearly as exciting as it could be and it's very, very generic. When a movie has so much buildup, having this as the payoff is severely disappointing. (Oh, and I'm just going to assume Doom's green cloak is the U.S. flag that was left on the planet and it has been stained by the glowing resources.)
I enjoyed Teller as Richards; he captures the character's personality well and I can see him eventually becoming the team's leader and finally being able to have a strong relationship with Sue. I also liked Bell as Thing. His voice may not be as deep as you'd expect it to be but I think it worked. There was the potential for a really strong arc with him, but it doesn't get the attention it deserves. Michael B. Jordan's Johnny Storm is the last member of the team to be introduced, and while I think he does a fine job with the material he's given, the character isn't quite as uplifting and fun as he should be. He has a few moments of levity in there and the fact he's a thrill-seeker (he street races) means he'll love testing his powers, but when he does finally say "flame on", it's just a casual remark instead of embracing the fact that he can now, you know, fly! If the sequel does happen, hopefully they have his character bring more life to the movie. As for Kate Mara's Sue Storm, it feels like she's there to be a plot device instead of a complex character. There's plenty of time dedicated to her looking at computer screens or testing her powers, but it really does seem like she's there to help locate someone and then provide the team with a force field when they need it. There's a hint of character depth there - she doesn't want to be a tool for the military - but nothing really happens with it, unfortunately.

Fantastic Four begins as a legitimately interesting sci-fi, character-driven movie, but then it doesn't focus enough on what it wants to accomplish with each hero, and then things become unoriginal and disappointing when Doom is brought back into the picture. All in all, I agree with writer-producer Simon Kinberg that it's "not a disaster", but it's definitely not a good movie, either. It had the potential to be one, but then all of the movie's strongest qualities are tossed aside as it speeds towards the big boss battle with Doom. But hey, now that the team has finally bonded, maybe - just maybe - Fantastic Four 2 (if it even happens now) will be great. Until then, we can keep watching The Incredibles. That one's pretty... awesome. Bet you thought I'd say "fantastic", didn't you? Nope! You're welcome.

2/5

(There isn't a credits scene. Oh, and Thing dropping from the plane or slowly raising his fist to presumably unleash one hell of a strong punch? You know, the shots that are in many of the trailers? Those moments aren't in the movie.)