An X-Men Gold, Vol. 2 Review – Old Flames Reignited

TITLE: X-Men Gold, Vol. 2: Evil Empires
AUTHOR: Marc Guggenheim
PENCILLER: Ken Lashley, Lan Medina, Luke Ross
COLLECTS: X-Men Gold #712
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: November 15, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

X-Men Gold is a feel-good book in a lot of ways. It’s got a warm, fuzzy, nostalgic feel to it while still having its feet planted in the modern era. That was the case in the first volume, and it continues here in the second.

Evil Empires sees our heroes face a mutant serial killer, Congress, and Russian gangsters backed up by Omega Red. That’s variety for you. All the while, romances old and new start to blossom. Rachel Grey discovers Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler’s feelings for her, as Kitty and Peter slowly move closer to resurrecting their relationship. Plus, what secrets lay in the journey that the alien Kologoth took to Earth? We saw him work with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. But where does he go from here?

Kitty and Peter are the emotional core of Evil Empires as a reunion between the two becomes more and more tempting. It’s so obvious where they’re going that the romantic scenes between the two lose some of their edge. But there’s an obvious feel-good quality to it, considering these two have grown up together. That they joined the team so young and are now in leadership roles makes the book feel like the natural continuation of the X-Men legacy.

Kitty herself is the personification of that idea. In the span of a few issues, we see her delegate tasks for her team during a crisis, go one-on-one with a mutant serial killer in the school, and testify before Congress against an act that would deport all mutants. Not half bad. It also doesn’t hurt that Ken Lashley drew a hell of a fight scene in issue #8, with a sword-wielding Pryde facing our serial killer. Great dim lighting in that scene too, which is a credit to tremendous coloring by Frank Martin and Andrew Crossley.

Our killer is a new version of the X-Cutioner. He’s more or less a S.W.A.T. guy with a LOT of extra toys. But he’s got a fairly sympathetic backstory, and we find out he’s got a pretty good reason to dislike mutants. He’s simply taken it too far. The way Guggenheim writes his confrontation with Kitty is a great snapshot of the world the X-Men live in. The stigma that mutants live with isn’t always the result of blind prejudice. That doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t justify violence. But it’s not always as simple as people being afraid of people that are different.

Full disclosure: I know next to nothing about Rachel’s relationship with Kurt prior to X-Men Gold. But there’s a shy sweetness to it that’s, dare I say, cute. They approach the idea of being together with reasonable caution, but there’s obviously a good amount of chemistry there. Rachel and Kurt hardly have the spotlight in this book, but what we get is enough to make you want more. 

So we’ve got iconic and interesting characters who have a cozy, family-like dynamic with one another. We see them on the baseball field when we open the book, and then later playing cards. Again, it’s kind of cute. The problem is once we get past issue #9, we lose a lot of intrigue. Issues #10 and #11 are about Russian gangsters trying to resurrect Omega Red, using Peter’s sister Illyana (a.k.a. Magik) as a power source. Outside of the novelty of seeing Omega Red and Illyana, for the most part there’s not much to sink your teeth into.

I remember skipping out on issue #12 when I saw it at my local comic shop. The exploration of Kologoth’s backstory and this whole alien world felt like a sharp turn, despite a brief set-up for it early on. It’s all meant to pay off in later issues (#16 and #17 specifically). But for the time being I was struggling to care, and as such the book ends on a whimper.

All that being said, the book is very well illustrated. The art actually holds the book up in the second half as its story deteriorates. Ken Lashley is our cover artist, and does the pencils and inks for issues #7-9. Lashley excels in giving his work a sense of motion, which is why his fight sequences work so well. And not just the one with the X-Cutioner. Whiplash (see Iron Man 2) crashes Kitty’s appearance in front of Congress, which causes a brief but intense fight. He also gives us a pretty cool layout with Nightcrawler in issue #7 (shown left).

We shift to Chris Medina’s more detailed style for issues #10 and #11. While I was hardly enamored with the story about Peter’s uncle, Medina did give him a very distinct face. During his scenes you feel like you’re looking at a real person. The quieter, more intimate moments between Kitty and Peter also mean a bit more with Medina at the pencil. His style offers them a little more heart.

Luke Ross gets tagged in for issue #12. I’ll say this much: He draws a hell of a reptilian alien in Kologoth. Really nice texture on the skin and teeth, plus the ominous red eyes.  So little about the issue is memorable. But Ross’ rendering of the monster itself stands out. Frank Martin goes solo on the colors here, and gets to play with a pretty expansive palette. Especially early on, when we get a look at Kologoth’s home world.

X-Men Gold, Vol. 2 underperforms in its second volume, despite delivering some solid character work and good action early on. But as a reader, it still has my attention. There’s still a lot of value in this back to basics approach, and a great stories than can still be told.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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A Justice League Review – Lessons Learned

TITLE: Justice League
STARRING: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
STUDIOS: Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Films, RatPac Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual Films
RATED: PG-13
RUN-TIME:
 120 min
RELEASED: November 17, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Justice League is a standard superhero popcorn flick. It’s nowhere near as dark, dreary, and generally abysmal as Batman v Superman. But it also doesn’t accomplish anything remotely special. It’s about a team of heroes coming together to fight a villain with a doomsday plan. Been there, done that. Several times, actually. So what we get comes off completely and utterly average.

After all these years, the first Justice League feature film is just average. What an awful, heartbreaking waste…

The plot is basic enough to surmise from the advertising. As the world continues to mourn the death of Superman, we’ve got a new big bad in town. Steppenwolf, a tyrant from the hellscape world of Apokalips, has returned to Earth after thousands of years with his army of Parademons in tow. He aims to conquer the world using the immense power of three “Mother Boxes.” Batman and Wonder Woman prepare to meet this invasion head on by assembling a team of super-powered heroes. The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman are all called to action. But in the end, they won’t be enough. For this new team to triumph, Superman must return…

Trust me, it’s a lot more exciting on paper than it is on screen.

Justice League is the culmination of the years-long comedy of errors that is the “DC Extended Universe.” Man of Steel was an adequate start, flawed as it was with it’s dreary look and overindulgent third act. It was followed by the downright dour Batman v Superman, which robbed its characters of almost any charm, heart, or likability. Suicide Squad wasted arguably pop culture’s most iconic supervillain in the Joker, but managed to be fun in a mindless hot mess sort of way. Wonder Woman was the exception that made the rule. It felt like a single vision, with purpose, heart, and passion put into it.

And so, on one the most rickety foundations in cinematic history, Justice League was built. Like Suicide Squad before it, this movie feels like a melting pot of visions, voices, and priorities clumped together to form a viable commercial product. Our director is once again Zack Snyder. But with their confidence shaken from the backlash to Batman v Superman, Warner Bros. brought in Avengers director Joss Whedon to reshape the script. Thus, we have a Joss Whedon superhero movie taking place in Zack Snyder’s grim DC Universe, under the management of a studio desperate to compete with Marvel at the box office. Hot damn! Sign me up!

One of the major missteps in Justice League is it’s choice of villain. DC Comics lore is full of baddies worthy of challenging Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Darkseid is the obvious choice. But you’ve also got big cosmic villains like Brainiac, Mongul, and Despero. Professor Ivo and the Amazo android could have made for an interesting story. Hell, team Lex Luthor up with the Joker! It sure as hell beats Steppenwolf…

Yes, Steppenwolf. A second-rate, paper-thin, poorly rendered Darkseid stand-in with an army of space bugs, a silly name, and a generic doomsday plot. This is who they came up with to face the Justice League in their debut feature film. Strictly from a cynical marketing standpoint, how the hell to you pass up slapping Darkseid, Brainiac, or Lex Luthor on t-shirts and posters, and instead opt for someone called Steppenwolf?

Justice League cost a whopping $300 million to make. That’s astounding, considering our CGI-rendered Steppenwolf looks like he was done in the late ’90s. It’s not just him, either. It’s been well documented that reshoots were done with a mustached Henry Cavill. The movie’s opening sequence wasn’t even over before Mrs. Primary Ignition turned to me and asked, “What’s up with Superman’s mouth?” Certain shots in Batman’s introduction are also extremely fake looking. Makes you wonder what the hell happened to good old fashioned stunt doubles and prosthetic make up…

Superman has a certain aura of reverence in this movie. Had that been earned or established in Man of Steel or Batman v Superman, that would have been fantastic. I’ve always been a proponent of Superman being the center, or at least part of the center, of the DC Universe. He’s certainly its moral backbone. But all this mourning we see over Superman doesn’t match the controversial figure we saw in Batman v Superman. Yes, some people loved him. But he was also the subject of protests and a congressional hearing. Lois Lane, Batman, Wonder Woman, and those who knew Superman have a reason to miss him. But based on what we saw before, there’d be a large contingent of people who’d be glad Superman died.

So now that I’ve sufficiently ripped Justice League apart, what’s there to like? What did they get right? Believe it or not, all was not lost from the get go…

Unlike in Batman v. Superman, almost all of our heroes are likable. Superman knows how to smile. Wonder Woman is compassionate, but still fierce. I’ve never needed a lot of selling on Ben Affleck’s Batman. Joss Whedon’s influence in the movie is obvious when the Dark Knight gets in a quip or two. Ezra Miller plays a socially inept Flash, who provides much of the comic relief. His costume looks absolutely ridiculous. But there’s a certain charm to him. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is surprisingly okay as a dude bro. For a team flick, it works fine. Granted it’s not the approach I would have gone with, and they’ll obviously need to deepen his character for the Aquaman solo movie. Assuming that’s still in the pipeline after all this.

As much as this movie fell short of what it could have been, there is a certain warm and fuzzy quality to seeing these characters on the big screen together. Most of them aren’t true to the essence of the iconic characters they’re based on. But at the very least it’s cool on a superficial level to see Batman is standing next to Wonder Woman. Superman is running next to the Flash! Aquaman is in Atlantis! It’s a highly tarnished version of what we should be getting. But at least we’re getting it in some form. That counts for something.

And so, four years into the DC Extended Universe, what have we learned? What has the road to Justice League taught us? More than anything, it’s this: Darkness doesn’t equate to quality. At least not to larger audiences.

Some people point to darker tales like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen as the pinnacle of the superhero genre. But while they pushed the boundaries of how these stories and characters could work and be seen, they weren’t simply dark for the sake of darkness. The Dark Knight Returns isn’t just about an older and grittier Batman getting to punch Superman in the face. It’s about a hero returning to face a world that’s changed in his absence. Watchmen isn’t about Rorschach beating people up. It’s a look at superheroes from a different, more grounded angle. The dark tones fit the stories and the characters, not the other way around.

We also need to remember that at the end of the day these characters are meant for children. That doesn’t mean we can’t love them as adults. We don’t need to dumb them down for kids, but we can’t keep them all for ourselves either. If DC and Warner Bros. should have learned one thing from Disney and Marvel, it wasn’t the cinematic universe element. It’s that these movies can be accessible to viewers of all ages. They can be mature without being meant for mature audiences.

The blame Justice League‘s failures, creative and otherwise, falls primarily on the studio higher-ups. But the finger also needs to be pointed at Zack Snyder. He’s got a devoted fanbase that will filet me for saying so. But if Batman v Superman didn’t convince you, the fact that the first Justice League movie didn’t outperform the third Thor movie should say it all. Snyder must be kept far away from any and all future DC films. I shudder to think what this movie would have looked like without Joss Whedon’s influence. 

Superhero movies can be thrilling, emotional, and surprisingly versatile. But at their core, they aren’t complicated. Give us a hero worth rooting for, a villain worth rooting against, and a reason for them to fight. We don’t need to see a bad guy get his neck snapped, a bomb inside a jar of piss, or a city destroyed to compensate for a lack of emotional connection with the audience. 

Lessons learned. Six years and millions of dollars too late. But lessons learned…

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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A Doomsday Clock #1 Review – I Have a Bad Feeling About This…

TITLE: Doomsday Clock #1
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
PENCILLER: Gary Frank
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEAED: November 22, 2017

***WARNING: Full on spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Doomsday Clock #1 is a pretty good first chapter. Assuming you have an off switch for your conscience.

By now I really thought I’d be calloused to the idea of DC doing a sequel to Watchmen without the approval or involvement of author Alan Moore or artist Dave Gibbons. Not that they need it. They own the rights to the story and characters, and have been milking them ever since. Naturally, Moore has been sore about it for decades. Years ago the company even published several character-centric Before Watchmen prequel stories. So Doomsday Clock is hardly unprecedented. Throw in all the bits and pieces of Watchmen lore DC has sprinkled around since the Rebirth story began, and you’d think I’d be ready for this…

But Doomsday Clock #1 feels dirty just like Before Watchmen felt dirty. Realities of the publishing industry notwithstanding, this reeks of DC taking toys out of someone else’s sandbox. If you can ignore that side of things, I imagine Doomsday Clock simply becomes the latest Geoff Johns epic. But for many of us in the know, there’s a discomfort level to all this that isn’t going away.

Set several years after the events of Watchmen, we see that Adrian Veidt’s hoax to bring about world peace was only a short term success. Global tensions are at an all time high, as is the threat of nuclear war. Amidst all of this, Rorschach, or rather someone assuming the Rorschach identity, breaks two former supervillains out of prison to aid he and Veldt in setting the world right again. To do that, Doctor Manhattan must be found. But as we’ve seen, the former Jonathan Osterman has been busy making waves in the DC Universe. Worlds are about to collide.

When you come back somewhere after a long time away, you’re naturally curious to see what changed in your absence. Despite what you might call it’s lack of authenticity, parts of Doomsday Clock are intriguing from a world-building perspective. How exactly do things change after a giant alien squid is supposedly dropped on New York City? Not that much, apparently. The world we’re met with is very similar to the one we left. Distress over the airwaves, violence in the streets. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Even our narrator is the same, more or less…

Indeed, there’s a new Rorschach in town. We don’t know much about who he is, other than he works with Veldt, and has brown skin (shown above). I initially rolled my eyes at the idea of Rorschach being a “legacy character.” It’s a tried and true tool in the world of superhero comics. Have a dead hero? Just make a new one with the same M.O. But Rorschach had such a unique and distinct voice that it’s almost cringeworthy to use that trick with him.

But did they even have a choice? Rorschach is such a gigantic and integral part of Watchmen. We saw so much of that world through his eyes. You almost can’t revisit it without him. Plus, Watchmen had legacy characters. Like Doomsday Clock itself, I can see why you’d want to create another Rorschach, but something about it feels really wrong. And no, it’s got nothing to do with his race. Having him be black is fine. It doesn’t add or subtract anything, outside of making for a clever reveal.

Watchmen was never big on humor, per se. You can find things to chuckle about, but very little (if anything) is played for straight up laughs. That’s not the case with Doomsday Clock. There are a handful of funny lines and one full-on gag, most of which revolve around the ultra-serious Rorschach reacting to things. While the humor works, this isn’t a world we’re used to laughing at. Watchmen was big on darkness and despair. We see a rape, the murder of a pregnant woman, dogs being murdered with a meat cleaver, etc. So while it’s funny to see a character called the Mime pull imaginary weapons out of a prison locker (shown below), the tone shift takes some getting used to.

Technologically, the comic book industry has come a long way since Watchmen. The story had a pulpy aesthetic to it that was ultimately part of its charm. Doomsday Clock doesn’t try to replicate that. But I give artist Gary Frank and colorist Brad Anderson a lot of credit for making this look and feel like a story set in the same universe. The colors have a lot more depth and richness. But there’s nevertheless something familiar about those city streets we open up on, or the dark and dank feel of the prison. Letterer Rob Leigh even nailed Rorschach’s handwriting for the caption boxes. (Even though this isn’t the same Rorschach anymore. So does that even make sense?) Comparatively, Doomsday Clock is almost like switching your television from standard to high definition, with the one drawback being the loss of the pulp look.

Tacked on at the end of all this is none other than Superman. We flash back via dream sequence to Ma and Pa Kent driving a young Clark to senior prom. We’re reminded just how lonesome and isolated Clark’s secret can make him as he watches the other kids dance. We then see the tragic accident that killed his adoptive parents.

Oddly enough, this strikes me as a scene about Doctor Manhattan. Doomsday Clock is meant to be about a conflict between hope and cynicism. With the DC Universe representing hope, and Watchmen cynicism. Superman is, of course, an ever present symbol of hope and optimism. A man raised by loving parents who instilled him with a set of values and ideals. In contrast, Jonathan Osterman lost his mother at a young age, and was forced by his father to pursue a career in nuclear physics. Later, Doctor Manhattan’s powers left him increasingly isolated. He eventually regarded human life itself as insignificant. These are to men on polar opposite ends of a spectrum. Yet under different circumstances, Clark Kent could have become Doctor Manhattan. With a better upbringing, Jon Osterman could have been a symbol of hope…

With all this talk of hope and cynicism, Doomsday Clock has the potential to be very poignant, given the era we’re living in. But good or bad, it’s destined to have an asterisk next to it because of the circumstances with Watchmen and its creators. Much can be said about what rights creators should or shouldn’t have, as well as Moore’s less than sunny disposition. But what I keep coming back to is this: If I’d put my time, my energy, and my heart into making this world and these characters, and a big company was in a position to make a lot of money off them, I’d want to be listened to. I’d like to think certain things outweigh the importance of money. Like respect. Dignity. Integrity.

Perhaps that’s just blind hope.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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A Darth Vader, Vol. 1: Imperial Machine Review – Year One, Day One

TITLE: Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith, Vol. 1 – Imperial Machine
AUTHOR: 
Charles Soule
PENCILLER: Giuseppe Camuncoli. Cover by Jim Cheung and Matthew Wilson.
COLLECTS: Darth Vader #16
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: 
November 22, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Can we talk about the lightsaber for a minute? Because to be honest, I’m getting sick of them. Specifically, their overblown importance.

I’ve talked previously about how I subscribe to what I’ll call the Red Letter Media theory on lightsaber use. Generally, the less we see of them, the more impactful it is when someone finally ignites one. This becomes apparent when watching the prequel trilogy. But in recent years, lightsabers have been getting a strange in-universe reverence. Not just as cool or dangerous weapons, but artifacts with an increasing amount of personal and spiritual symbolism. They’re almost characters unto themselves. I understand this from a marketing standpoint, as a lightsaber is a fanboy’s wet dream. But to me it makes little sense from an in-story perspective.

Mind you, there is a certain precedent for it. Lightsabers act as an instantly recognizable symbol for the Jedi Order. Obi-Wan gives Luke his father’s lightsaber, which later plays a prominent role in The Force Awakens. Luke builds his own lightsaber, which we see in Return of the Jedi. General Grievous collected lightsabers like trophies from fallen Jedi. So let’s not go so far as to say they have no significance at all.

But while I appreciated the use of Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber in The Force Awakens as a link to the past, and a sort of symbol of for the Skywalker family, the notion that the weapon itself “calls to” Rey was a little much for me. What the weapon symbolizes is one thing. Giving it special powers is another.

Rarely will you find a better example of this strange lightsaber reverence than in Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith, Vol. 1 – Imperial Machine. Immediately after the events of Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine sends Vader on a mission to obtain a new lightsaber for himself. “I have very high hopes for what we might achieve together,” the Emperor says. “But first…you will need your lightsaber.” Vader must take a lightsaber from a surviving Jedi and use the dark side to corrupt the kyber crystal inside. Make it “bleed.” Obtaining this new weapon won’t be easy. But it is the first trial the former Anakin Skywalker must now face as a dark lord of the Sith.

So because the kyber crystals are “alive” in their own way, Sith lords use their anger to make them “bleed,” thus the red lightsaber. The idea itself is actually pretty neat. But did it merit an entire story based around it? Did Darth Vader’s lightsaber really need an origin story?  I don’t think so.

This strikes me as the kind of thing they could have explained in a scene before Vader goes off on his first big mission. Or maybe a one-shot where Palpatine gives Vader a kyber crystal, and shows him how to corrupt it. At first Vader has trouble, but he conjures up images of Obi-Wan and Padme and gets the job done. It didn’t need to be the motivation for an entire story arc.

More interesting than Vader’s quest to steal a lightsaber is the surviving Jedi he’s tasked with taking it from. Kirak Infil’a has taken the “Barash Vow.” Under said vow, the individual in question must cut themselves off from Jedi affairs, living only for the Force. It sounds suspiciously like what Luke is doing when Rey finds him on Ahch-To. Kirak also has his hair pulled back in two braids, just as Rey’s is in the Last Jedi footage we’ve seen. Coincidence? Probably. But you never know…

It’s almost always interesting to see Vader’s agony at the loss of Padme, the state of his body, and all that’s come as a result of his actions. It’s a glimpse into the hellish reality his existence has become. We see surprisingly little of that in Imperial Machine, given how soon this is after Revenge of the Sith. It is touched on effectively, however, in issue #5. As Vader is trying to bend the crystal to his will, a scenario plays out in his mind in which he turns on Palpatine and re-unites with Obi-Wan. He’s fantasizing about making things right, and perhaps atoning for his actions. In theory, that’s a path he can take. But of course, he doesn’t. Not yet, at least.

I spent a good amount of time ragging on Salvador Larroca for some of the work he did on the previous Darth Vader book. Namely drawing certain characters based off still shots from the various movies. The upside to this approach, however, is that Larroca draws a picture-perfect Vader. For me, if you can get that mask right then half the battle is won.

Giuseppe Camuncoli gives us a different kind of Darth Vader. It’s hardly picture-perfect. For instance, I’m not a fan of the panel at left. But I nevertheless find Camuncoli’s version more artistically pure. He’s creating of his own mind, and at no point do I feel taken out of this book when I see a familiar image of Vader or Palpatine, pulled from a movie still. That’s a trade I’m willing to make.

Camuncoli, along with inker Cam Smith and colorist David Curiel, waste little time in ripping up Vader’s iconic suit. It’s already in tatters by issue #2. Things only get worse when we get into the fight with Kirak Infil’a. We end up with a partially skeletonized version of Vader’s suit, which he pieces together using droid parts after being incapacitated and effectively broken in combat. In the opening pages of issue #4 we see him using the Force to put all the little pieces into place so he can haul himself to his feet. It’s an awesome visual, and a fun callback to Anakin’s expertise with machines. It’s later followed up on in issue #6, when Vader gets to repair the suit to his liking.

Issue #6 takes us into the next arc, which will feature the Inquisitors we saw in Star Wars: Rebels. We get a confrontation between Vader and the Grand Inquisitor in the Jedi Temple, which is pretty decent. Fittingly, Vader’s next target will be someone Star Wars fans recognize as a face from the Jedi Temple…

I maintain there was no need to end the previous Darth Vader book. We all knew Marvel would come back to the character eventually. There’s no shortage of creators to work on the life and times of the dark lord. While I have a major gripe with a lightsaber being Vader’s motivation in this story, Imperial Machine is still a solid read with mostly good art. Star Wars fans who aren’t as finicky as I am will enjoy it.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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A Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Vol. 4 Review – When Zordon Steals the Show

TITLE: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Vol. 4
AUTHORS: Kyle Higgins, Ryan Ferrier
PENCILLERS: Hendry Prasetya, Bachan, Daniel Bayliss. Cover by Goni Montes.
COLLECTS: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #13-16
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: BOOM! Studios
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: 
October 25, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The first act in the larger story of Lord Drakkon comes to an end in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Vol. 4. Tommy’s evil doppleganger looks great here, and we also get an awesome character spotlight. Overall, this MMPR series still has a big up side. But once we get into issue #16, particularly the last few pages, things start to get rocky.

When we open the book, Tommy and Billy are still trapped in an alternate universe where the Green Ranger remained with Rita Repulsa after the events of “Green With Evil.” This turn of events led to the destruction of the Power Rangers, and Tommy’s rise as the evil Lord Drakkon. Now the Tommy and Billy that we know must join up with a resistance force (led  by familiar faces) to bring Drakkon down. Meanwhile, Jason and the others face Rita and her minions with reduced powers, and without Zordon. And where is Zordon anyway?

We get the answer to that last question in issue #15, and it’s the creative highlight of the book. Zordon has been absent for several issues at this point, so it’s obviously good to check in with him. But this issue goes above and beyond, following him into a rift between the dimensions. We see him meet his counterpart from Drakkon’s world, and how Zordon has continued to play a role in the conflict despite current predicament. More importantly, after witnessing how events have unfolded in this alternate reality, we see him speak from a place of uncertainty. We aren’t always shown that perspective from a wise old sage character like this. It’s an intriguing change up, which in the end cuts to the very heart of who Zordon is.

Daniel Bayliss hits a home run with the pencils, inks, and colors. His renderings of a full-bodied Zordon interacting with the time warp around him, and later his other self, are compelling, gorgeous, and hit the mark emotionally. He also gets to play around with some of the the war sequences we’ve seen in previous issues. We get some familiar images of Rita’s forces in Washington, Drakkon holding the Red Ranger helmet, and a few glorious shots of the Thunderzords. Bayliss can’t come back to the Rangers soon enough.

We closed the previous volume with the reveal of Trini, Bulk, and Aisha (who we know as the future Yellow Ranger) as members of the resistance. Having Aisha show up is a nice bit of fan service. But that’s all it amounts to. I won’t complain about that, considering how much griping I’ve already done about Tommy and Billy seeing things from their future.

For whatever reason, this series is bound and determined to cast the fun-loving Zack as a brooder. We get more of that here. But it’s an alternate version of Zack, who has lost nearly everything and become the leader of the resistance. Given how dark the world around him has grown, I’m alright with this version of Zack being more dour. It even makes for a cool little moment with the canonical Zack toward the end.

This volume also sees Finster create Goldar clones of all builds and sizes to fight against the Rangers. I love this idea. It makes sense. Goldar has failed Rita time and again, so she has Finster “improve” on him. This might have worked as an idea for the show, time and costumes permitting. We even get to see Goldar without his armor on the very first page. I didn’t even know he could take the armor off.

Kyle Higgins deserves a lot of the credit for the more sinister Finster we’ve gotten from the BOOM! books. The crowning example is what we got from Trey Moore and Frazer Irving in the 2017 annual. But the Finster we get in this book has a nice underlying creepiness to him. By comparison, the Finster we got on the show was almost a kind old man at times.

One of the subplots we get in this book involves the Trini of Drakkon’s world coming to grips with seeing Billy, as the Billy of her world died saving her life. If Higgins and Hendry Prasetya are playing at an eventual Billy/Trini romance, they’re doing it in a very subtle manner. The potential romance between Billy and Trini thing is something some of us have been talking about since we were kids. They almost have to address it at some point. Even if it’s just an issue about how they don’t have those kind of feelings for each other. Matters aren’t helped when you consider Prasetya’s strengths are the super-powered action scenes, and not the quiet interpersonal stuff. So one can argue that material isn’t fully maximized.

On the flip side, Prasetya’s fight sequences with a morphed Lord Drakkon are epic in the inevitable good Tommy vs. evil Tommy fight. This is obviously the first time we’ve gotten to see that costume in action. It’s very evocative of classic Power Rangers. The costume is obviously visually similar to the White Ranger suit. Darken is even holding Saba for much of the battle. You can easily hear Jason David Frank’s cheesy “evil” voice when reading some of Drakkon’s dialogue. (“Hello again, Tommy.”)  There’s also a teamwork theme in effect here, which is something that’s remained present for the entire series.

The Yellow Ranger also gets a Battlizer of sorts in issue #16. It comes out of nowhere, but looks cool enough. I also appreciate that it’s Trini who gets it. She was always the most underdeveloped character on the show, and remains that way in the comics. So this is a cool moment for her.

At this point we’ve built this Lord Drakkon story up for four books. Everything has built to this confrontation between the two Tommys, and the Power Rangers finally striking back against Rita’s forces. The ending makes sense. But when I read issue #16 during it’s initial release, I was disappointed. We’d built to those big showdowns for so long, only for them to pass fairly quickly. This felt like it should have been a big, epic finale. The Megazord makes a big comeback against the Goldar clones, and Tommy and Drakkon make some kind of startling discovery about each other that leads into the next phase of the story. Instead the resolution, particularly the bit with the teens back at school, feels very rushed and slapped together. All the right ingredients are there. But we aren’t given enough time with them.

However, I will say that what happens to Drakkon at the very end has the potential to be very interesting…

Our Bulk and Skull back-up stories are no more, now replaced by “The Ongoing Misadventures of Squatt & Baboo.” Like their predecessors, these stories were fairly benign additions to each single issue that are now collected long form. Ryan Ferrier and Bachan set a similar goofy tone. But while the Bulk and Skull stories got old after just a few issues, I somehow find Squatt and Baboo’s adventures a little more palatable. Perhaps it’s because they got a fraction of the screen time Bulk and Skull did, so there’s a refreshing quality to them getting the spotlight here. The collective story is about them visiting an alternate dimension and running into Goldar. It’s mildly amusing, and Bachan has a cool take on our “heroes.”

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Vol. 4 has a few more problems than the previous volumes do. But all the elements that make the series great are still there. Namely, Higgins’ willingness to write an objectively silly concept in a more serious and dramatic voice, Hendry Prasetya’s awesome work on the words and costumes, and the added depth injected into the characters. For Power Rangers fans young and old, this series remains a must-read.

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A Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #20 Review – Summer of ’69

TITLE: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #20
AUTHORS: Kyle Higgins, Ryan Ferrier
PENCILLERS: Daniele Di Nicuolo, Bachan. Cover by Jamal Campbell.
PUBLISHER: BOOM! Studios
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: October 25, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

One thing you can’t take away from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #20? It knows how the moon works.

Throughout the show’s history, Power Rangers has had a really weird take on the moon. The most notable example is probably the iconic “Forever Red” episode, where we see 10 years worth of Red Rangers fighting unmorphed on the lunar surface. They can breathe freely, and the gravity is the same as on Earth. The entire sequence looks suspiciously like it takes place in California somewhere…

That’s not the moon we get here. This is the genuine article. How do we know? Because the issue opens with the moon landing in 1969. In true Power Rangers fashion, our astronauts accidentally unleash an alien threat. And so, decades before Jason and the others take up arms against Rita Repulsa, Zordon must choose a team of heroes to protect the Earth. They are Earth’s first Power Rangers, and their story isn’t quite as happy as that of their successors.

I initially frowned upon the idea of Jason’s team not having the distinction of being the “original” Rangers of Earth. But transplanting the Power Rangers concept into the ’60s is too good an idea to pass up. It’s just a shame we don’t have time to flesh it out. Everything gets crammed into this one issue, and certain elements suffer as a result.

Our leader and Red Ranger is Grace Sterling, whose older self we’ve met in previous issues. She’s a secretary at the PR equivalent of NASA, with dreams of going into space. At her side are a British rock musician, a Russian communist, a Vietnam War veteran, and an idealistic youngster. Obviously these characters are written to clash. The problem is making it believable and organic in such a short time. For instance, there’s an exchange between the Pink and Yellow Rangers about whether the war is right or wrong. But they’re on the moon! Plus, because we know so little about these people, and the conflict only lasts about two panels, it’s almost not even worth it. In a perfect world, giving this story three or four issues would have granted it much-needed breathing room.

As this MMPR series has progressed, we’ve seen Kyle Higgins cherry pick elements and ideas from around the Power Rangers timeline. He does that here with the use of Psycho Green, a villain spinning out of the evil Psycho Ranger team from Power Rangers in Space.  I’ve gotten on Higgins’ back for muddying the pre-established continuity, but this is harmless enough. It’s a nice little tribute to PRiS. Interestingly enough, Psycho Green is apparently the right hand to another PRiS villain, Dark Specter.

MMPR: Pink artist Daniele Di Nicuolo is back for this issue, and is also solicited for issue #21. Di Nicuolo does well in the Power Rangers universe. But I was a little caught off guard by how jacked the male Rangers looked in morphed form. It’s fairly consistent with what he gave us in Pink. Maybe the alternate costumes distracted from it?

Either way, Di Nicuolo draws an awesome Psycho Green. The gender swap element in this book is also interesting to look at. Our Red and Black rangers are women, while our Yellow and Pink Rangers are men. That’s a nice little twist on things.

The scene with our five new Rangers in the Command Center is an issue highlight for me. Zordon has been absent for much of this series (the amazing issue #15 notwithstanding), so it’s great to spend a little time with him. It’s also the only time we get to see our unmorphed heroes interact with one another. Di Nicuolo gets to play with facial expressions, body language, etc.

“The Ongoing Misadventures of Squatt and Baboo” continue as well. For whatever reason, I’ve found these a little more palatable than the Bulk and Skull stories we got in earlier issues. Squatt and Baboo fight the Megazord this issue, which goes about as well as you’d imagine.

Considering how much hype MMPR #20 was given, not spending more time with this 1969 team seems like a wasted opportunity. Obviously what we saw here will factor into the coming issues, as Grace continues to interact with the Rangers. So in all fairness, we don’t have the whole story yet. But my immediate reaction is that they could have done so much more with this idea. But I’ll credit the BOOM! Studios crew for at least making it a reality. It’s a nice bit of world-building, in a series that’s already given so much to the Power Rangers mythos.

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A Go Go Power Rangers #4 Review – The Mystery of Salad Girl

TITLE: Go Go Power Rangers #4
AUTHOR: Ryan Parrott
PENCILLER: Dan Mora
PUBLISHER: BOOM! Studios
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: October 18, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Go Go Power Rangers #4 opens with a flashback to what I’ll call the “Salad Girl scene.” It’s a story from Kimberly and Zack’s recent past that’s been referenced a bunch of times in the series. Until now, when a character would mention “Salad Girl,” I had no idea if I was missing a joke or a plot detail. So if this issue accomplishes nothing else, it at least solves the mystery of Salad Girl.

Thankfully, there’s more to Go Go Power Rangers #4, as the book wraps up its first arc, while still leaving a plot thread hanging for next time. As Rita begins her second attack on Angel Grove, Kimberly is in a tough spot. She must choose between saving her boyfriend Matt, and protecting the city at large as the Pink Ranger. Meanwhile, Jason is also on the sidelines for fear of being exposed as the Red Ranger. Our heroes once again have their backs against the wall!

Dan Mora and colorist Raul Angulo have a very distinct energy they bring to the Power Rangers universe. Thus far, that’s been best exemplified in their sequences with the zords. They opened the series on a high note with their brief take on the climactic fight from “Day of the Dumpster.” They recapture that magic here, as we see the individual zords in action, followed by the Megazord. Mora somehow has a knack for drawing comic book style destruction on a grand scale. Part of it is that he’s awesome with action sequences (see the Jason/Trini sparring session from issue #2). But there’s something immensely satisfying about how these giant machines kick up debris when they’re summoned, or how the action lines wonderfully convey the speed and impact of certain blows. It also doesn’t hurt that this book has an almost regal take on the Megazord. One of the highlights of the issue is a splash page showing us the Megazord formation.

Incidentally, Mora and Angulo also give us a terrific version of our resident school principal, Mr. Caplan (shown above). His shtick on the show was that he wore a toupee. I think we can safely say they nailed that one.

On the writing front, things still look pretty good. Although late in the issue, we get a scene that seems to come out of nowhere. Zack shows up in the Command Center alone, and asks Zordon why he wasn’t chosen as team leader. He cites Jason’s absences from two recent conflicts, and in all fairness he does have a point given how early this is in their run as heroes. Parrott did plant a seed for this back in issue #2. But this still feels very sudden. Thankfully, Zordon gives him a good answer.

It’s not necessarily a good use of one’s time to apply logic to content created for young children two decades ago. But seeing as I’ve already made a habit of it, let’s go ahead. We get a trademark Rita Repulsa move here, as she uses her big wand to make her monster grow giant-sized. Standing at her side, her henchman and monster-maker Finster asks why she’d do this. This is what she says…

“We must see every skirmish to its conclusion. It’s been this way on countless worlds. Every move, every battle, every monster is a wound. Individually, each cut may miss the mark. But eventually, with enough cuts, one will strike the target…”

She’s essentially saying it’s a numbers game. If you throw the dart enough times, you’re bound to hit the bull’s eye sooner or later. I’m not in love with this approach. It almost makes it seem like Rita is resigned to a certain amount of failure from the start. Given how short-tempered she always was on the show, it feels like a contradiction. I will, however, credit the book for trying to make some kind of sense out of it. At least if you separate the strategy from the character, it works.

Nitpicks notwithstanding, we’re only four issues in, and I adore this series every bit as much as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, if not more. Part of this book’s concept is that we get to spend a little more personal time with Jason and the others. It’s a strategy that’s paying off, and that isn’t a surprise. It’s been 25 years, but people still remember these characters, and the qualities the actors were able to inject them with. As it turns out, Ryan Parrott, Dan Mora, and the BOOM! Studios crew are bringing some pretty Morphenominal stuff to the table as well.

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