Tag Archives: Ardian Syaf

An X-Men Gold, Vol. 1 Review – Noobs Enter Here

TITLE: X-Men Gold, Vol. 1: Back to Basics
AUTHOR: Marc Guggenheim
PENCILLERS: Ardian Syaf, R.B. Silva
COLLECTS: X-Men Gold #16
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $15.99
RELEASED: August 23, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m a continuity buff. It’s a fool’s errand, considering how often timelines change in American superhero comics. But for me, half the fun of getting into superhero books was going back and reading all the major stories, seeing how things progressed, etc. That being said, I’ve long since given up on deciphering X-Men continuity. Between all the different characters that have come on and off the team, died and come back, travelled through time, the ones with dopplegangers from other time periods, and all such insanity, it’s just too much. Considering how amazing and iconic some of these characters are, getting tangled up in all the plot threads becomes horribly frustrating.

That’s why I’ve been waiting awhile for a series like X-Men Gold, a book that not only serves as a jumping on point for new readers, but as the title says, brings the concept “back to basics.” This title gives us heroes we recognize fighting for mutants and humans alike. In making Kitty Pryde the team leader, we’ve advanced to the next chapter in the story while remembering what so many loved about it in the first place. It acknowledges the X-Men mythology, but tells its own story. If you’re a new reader or someone looking to jump back into things (as I was), that’s what you want.

In addition to Kitty, our team consists of Old Man Logan, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Rachel Grey (now called Prestige), with Gambit being added in issue #4. The most glaring “Huh?” moment will likely involve Logan. The operative question being, “Why is Wolverine an old man?” The book lets us know this is a character from another world, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with it. The dynamic between old flames Kitty and Peter (Colossus), which goes back decades, is also a focal point of the book. That’s obviously enhanced if you know their history. But what the book gives you is enough.

By making her the team leader, X-Men Gold shines a really nice spotlight on Kitty’s evolution as a character. In contrast to the younger version that more casual readers are familiar with. The Kity we see here is battle tested. She’s comfortable calling plays in the field. Her teammates, most of whom are older and more experienced, follow her lead without question. As the mutant community works to rebuild its image after the events of Inhumans vs. X-Men, we see her step up and serve as an ambassador. She’s as much a main character here as she’s ever been.

Guggenheim was wise to spend quality time on Rachel Grey here. She’s the one on this team that most casual fans won’t know about. We get a subplot in issues #4-6 about her being afraid to use her powers to their fullest extent, for fear of losing control like her mother Jean Grey. Or worse, going bad like her father Cyclops. She even gets little scenes with psychic projections of both. It’s a nice character snapshot that sets the table for stories to come.

The bad guys in this book are classic X-Men villains with a new coat of paint. We see the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, a group we’ve most notably seen led by Magneto. In the background, we have a political pundit trying to rally the public against mutants. She’s clearly an analogue for a Fox News type figure. Later on, Gambit is caught in the middle of an accident that sees a “smart swarm” of nanites mix with Sentinel tech. This creates an entirely new breed of mechanical menace for our heroes. None of this is terribly original or new. But it falls in line with the book’s “back to basics” approach. So it works.

Our penciller for the first three issues is Ardian Syaf. His art has a weight to it that fits the dramatic moments in this story very well. Whether it’s the two-page spread in issue #1 (shown above), or the understated “ra ra” moment at the end of issue #3 (partially shown below). Our opening action sequence with the team facing Terrax is also suitably epic.

I assume the plan was for Syaf to stick around after issue #3. One way or another, that didn’t happen. Subtle anti-Christian and anti-Semetic messages were found in the pencils for issue #1, and Syaf was fired. How ironic, in a series that’s ultimately meant to be about tolerance. I don’t want to dive into the politics of what Syaf did. But obviously this is the wrong forum, with the wrong audience.

R.B. Silva tags in for the remainder of the book. He and inker Adriano Di Benedetto give the book a softer aesthetic that objectively is fine. But being the second artist in a collection like this is always challenging. The tone has been set, and now you’re deviating from it. But Silva draws awesome Sentinels, and his Gambit isn’t too shabby either. Sadly, he doesn’t stick around for subsequent issues.

Occasionally someone will ask me, “Where should I start reading [insert character name]?” That’s always been a fairly hard question with the X-Men books. Historically, I’ve pointed people to Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men run. But X-Men Gold might just become my new answer. Or at least one of my answers. I won’t compare it to the Whedon/Cassaday stuff in terms of quality. But it’s about as accessible as any X-Men story I’ve read. It’s a great doorway into the saga’s modern era, while still advancing the characters for longtime readers.

Bottom line? Start here noobs.

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A Batman & Robin: Death of the Family Review – Heart and Horror

Batman & Robin, Vol. 3: Death of the FamilyTITLE: Batman & Robin, Vol. 3: Death of the Family
AUTHORS: Peter Tomasi, Scott Snyder
PENCILLER: Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Greg Capullo
COLLECTS: Batman & Robin #1517, Batman & Robin Annual #1, Batman #17
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASED: November 17, 2013

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Batman & Robin, Vol. 3 is our last stop before this series reaches a major turning point. One might even call it the end of an era. This book contains the last issues Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason get to work with the Damian Wayne before…*ehem*

The reason that’s so significant is because since the New 52 began, Batman & Robin has been primarily a book about Damian, his relationship with his father, his life as a hero, and his inner conflicts with his murderous instincts. That direction has made for some of the best Batman content in recent memory. But after this book, drastic change takes hold.

But this era ends with a hell of a bang. As the book’s title obviously indicates, Batman & Robin, Vol. 3: Death of the Family ties in with the big crossover involving the Joker, and his attempts to take out Batman’s extended family. As such, Robin and the Harlequin of Hell come face-to-flappy-face. And as Batman fans know, bad things happen to Robins when the Joker is in town.

Batman #17, 2014, Greg Capullo, table sceneNaturally, much of the praise and criticism I directed at Death of the Family as a whole will apply here. That criticism isn’t necessarily directed at Tomasi or Gleason, as they were working with source material from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s work on Batman. But it’s worth noting, especially because Batman #17 is collected here. I’ll sum up what applies to Batman & Robin, Vol. 3 in two quick bullets…

– While the Joker’s voice remains consistent across all the tie-ins I’ve read, and definitely fits with his character, the whole “repairman who cuts his face off” thing goes a little too far in the horror direction for my taste. And the Joker’s explanation for surgically removing his face, which we get in Batman #17, doesn’t do much for me.

– DC gave us too much of a good thing by having Joker appear in too many Death of the Family tie-ins. In addition to appearing in Batman and Batman & Robin, the character either appeared in, or influenced events that occurred in Detective Comics, Batgirl, Nightwing, Catwoman, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Teen Titans, and Suicide Squad. It’s unclear to me how much time elapses during the entire Death of the Family story arc, but it all seems to occur fairly quickly. Even in a world of super powers and colorful heroes, it seems a bit unlikely the Joker could accomplish so much in such a short span of time.

– Having noted those criticisms, Batman #17 is, for the most part, a very satisfying issue. I loved the scene between Bruce Wayne and the Joker at Arkham. Also, Greg Capullo’s art is damn close to perfect.

Robin, Joker, Patrick GleasonIn Batman & Robin, Joker lures Damian to the Gotham City Zoo by leaving traces of hyena urine at Wayne Manor. My question here is, how did the Joker know it would be Robin who found that particular clue? We find out in Batman #17 that he doesn’t actually know who Bruce, Damian, or any of Batman’s crew really are. So did he know Damian would be at Wayne Manor? Couldn’t it just as easily have been someone else who picked up that trail? Is this a plot hole, or am I missing something? Either way, my suspension of disbelief was shaken.

The stuff between the Joker and Damian is, for the most part, very satisfying. But again, it’s pretty high on the horror/gross-out element. Our young hero gets a nasty dose of one of the Joker’s toxins and dropped inside a sanctuary filled with countless dead birds, including of course, robins. A short time later the Clown Prince tops it off by dropping a massive assortment of ”only the best beetles, grubs, earthworms, fruits, berries, caterpillars and grasshoppers” on the Boy Wonder. In a word…ew. Still, unlike the whole sawing your own face off thing, I get the perverse joke here. Dead Robin, dead birds, bird food, etc. I get the horror angle here.

In retrospect, this exchange made it pretty obvious that the Joker didn’t know the Bat-Family’s true identities. He doesn’t talk about the fact that he’s standing there with Batman’s friggin’ son. It’s all about Robin’s connection to Batman, as opposed to Damian’s connection to Bruce. But from that standpoint, Joker still manages to hit Damian with some intense “insights” of his own unique variety. At the risk of overusing my bulletpoints, my two favorites were…

– “Oh, I bet one night among the gargoyles he said, ‘One day, you, too, can be the best Batman ever.” Well guess what — no, you can’t — there’s only one Batman and he doesn’t need you — any of you…” (This would have been an interesting one to hear back when Battle for the Cowl was being published.)

Batman & Robin #17, Death of the Family, Patrick Gleason– “…Robin’s greatest fear is being responsible for Batman’s death, and Batman’s greatest fear is being responsible for Robin’s death!” (Particularly poignant, coming from the man who killed Jason Todd.)

The face-off progresses in a fight to the death between Robin and a “Jokerized” Batman imposter, who Damian believes to be the genuine article. This wonderfully ties not only into the death of Batman/death of Robin angle, but a theme Tomasi and Gleason have maintained since the beginning of the series: Damian’s inner conflict. As wants more than anything to make his father proud, but he also wants to go his own way, and sometimes struggles with the desire to give into his more deadly instincts. It all culminates in a really passionate, emotional character moment for Damian. As such, he came out of Death of the Family looking better than most, if not all of his Bat-Family peers.

Of course, Batman & Robin, Vol. 3 isn’t all bugs and clowns. We also get more of Tomasi and Gleason’s take on the Bruce/Damian relationship in issue #17, which takes us into the dreams of Bruce, Damian, and Alfred as well. It’s a fairly effective issue. Oddly enough, the dream sequence I found the most touching was Alfred’s, which ended on a rather comedic note. It gives us an absolutely perfect (albeit violent) snapshot of Alfred’s nurturing, protective nature. He’s a surrogate father not only to Bruce and Damian, but to the entire extended Bat-family, and I loved what Tomasi and Gleason did to illustrate that. The issue also ends on a touching father/son moment between Batman and Robin.

Batman & Robin Annual #1, DamianThis book also collects Batman & Robin Annual #1, in which Ardian Syaf takes the pencil. Damian sends his father on something of a Wayne family scavenger hunt across the globe, so that he can have the streets of Gotham to himself for a few nights. He dresses in a miniaturized version of the Batman #666 costume, a cutesy move that’s a bit uncharacteristic, but not unwelcome. I came away from this issue once again marveling at the unique father/son dynamic between Bruce and Damian.

In the end, it’s that added heart that’s made Batman & Robin stand out so much from the other Bat-books. Tomasi and Gleason capture the human element better than any other team at DC right now. And while Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham handled Damian’s fate quite well in the pages of Batman Incorporated (as Damian’s co-creator, Morrison had every right to that story), I can’t help but wonder how Tomasi and Gleason would have handled it. It’s rare for me to get choked up while reading a comic book. But I’ll betcha bucks to Batarangs they could have done it.

RATING: 8.5/10

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A Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection Review – Walking Tall

Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Darkest ReflectionTITLE: Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection
AUTHOR: Gail Simone
PENCILLER: Ardian Syaf. Cover by Adam Hughes.
COLLECTS: Batgirl #1-6
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASED: July 8, 2012

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Man, I miss Stephanie Brown.

Yep, good ol’ Spoiler. She was Batgirl for just two short years before the New 52 apparently retconned her out of existence. *sigh* She was such a fun, flawed character to read. And then she was just…poof. Gone. Full disclosure: It’s really hard for me not to compare Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection to Bryan Q. Miller’s books with Stephanie, even though this book does feature the return of the iconic Batgirl, Barbara Gordon. But I’m going to try my best to be unbiased here.

At least I’m not the only one who feels a bit iffy about this book. Babs’ return as Batgirl via the New 52 reboot came at the expense of her run as Oracle, the DCU’s post-The Killing Joke wheelchair bound tech guru and queen of the information superhighway. Jill Pantozzi over at Newsarama wrote an awesome piece about this change that I won’t even attempt to top. But in short, a lot of fans feel that giving Barbara her legs back took away an extremely compelling, and at times inspirational aspect of her character.

Batgirl, wheelchairThe Darkest Reflection realizes what a radical and controversial character shift this is, and as such we spend most of the book dealing with it. Our first villain is Mirror, a character who sees miracles as God’s mistakes, and sets out correct them. We also meet Gretel, a mind control villainess who Barbara sees a bit of herself in. All the while, our heroine must come to terms with the fact that she can walk again, and what it means for her as both Barbara and Batgirl. Then later, amidst all of this, the last person in the world Barbara expected to see again comes back into her life!

The book explains Barbara’s return to her feet with a couple of lines about a clinic in South Africa that performed a “neural replacement” operation on her. I suppose this is as good an explanation as any. The less we spend on the pseudoscience of Barbara getting her legs back, the better. I imagine it’s more comfortable for people that way….

From a writing standpoint this story is tricky. Barbara is dealing with a change most people can’t relate to. As a reader it’s sometimes tough to project yourself on to her. But there’s no way they could have gotten away with not telling this story. DC wanted to meet Oracle fans halfway by keeping her in continuity, and they had to have a transition story of sorts. In addition to setting up a new status quo for Barbara and planting some seeds for future stories, that’s basically what this book is. In that sense, the book does its job. We see Barbara’s survivor’s guilt, we see her uncertainty in the field, and we see Batman and Nightwing work with her again. It’s not nearly as fun as Gail Simone’s work on Birds of Prey, or any of the stuff Stephanie Brown did as Batgirl (sorry!), but it’s what we need to see to get us to the next part of Barbara’s story.

Batgirl #3, Nightwing, Ardian SyafIssue #3, which examines Barbara’s relationship with Dick Grayson/Nightwing, sees Dick ask Barbara a pretty heavy question: “Come on, Babs, you’re recovering…I’ve seen the records, Barbara. Do you want to be back in that wheelchair? Is that what this is all about?” Commissioner Gordon also brings up the question of whether Barbara is doing too much too soon, and he (presumably) doesn’t even know about the her superhero career. The book tells us that Barbara learned about the neural replacement procedure about a year before these events play out. Which means she’s been back on her feet less than a year. Even when you take her previous experience into account, that makes for a pretty quick return to swinging from rooftops, trading blows with homicidal maniacs and jumping on to speeding trains. I’m wondering if placing more emphasis on Babs’ quick return to action might have made it a little easier for readers to identify with her plight. Most people know how it feels to sit on the sidelines due to sickness or injury, and want to get back in the game as soon as possible. Seeing Barbara in a position like that, albeit in an exaggerated manner, might have helped play up the returning underdog angle a little better.

Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection, MirrorThat said, Mirror is a great villain for Barbara in this book. His M.O. about miracles being mistakes of the Divine make him the perfect opponent for the returning Batgirl. He’s got a really great look to him as well. His hooded costume mixed with the mirrors give him a Grim Reaper vibe that works really well. Since the reboot, DC has made a point to put their heroes up against all new villains, and Mirror was one of the best ones they came up with. Kudos to Ardian Syaf for making him, and the rest of the book look great.

The second villain, Gretel, is essentially a throwaway character who got her mind control powers in a way that’s never really explained. I understand why she’s there, but she’s obviously filler.

I’m not convinced that The Darkest Reflection is ultimately as good as it could have been. Gail Simone is certainly no stranger to Barbara, but I think she handled the character much better as part of a group dynamic in Birds of Prey. Now that Barbara’s return is out of the way, hopefully we can look forward to bigger and better things.

RATING: 6.5/10

Image 1 from christopherbowsman.blogspot.com. Image 2 http://eddiedangeroncomics.blogspot.com. Image 3 from booknerdreviews.com.

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A Brightest Day, Vol. 3 Review – Prelude to a New Dawn

Brightest Day, Vol. 3TITLE: Brightest Day, Vol. 3
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns, Peter Tomasi
PENCILLERS: Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Joe Prado
COLLECTS: Brightest Day #17-24
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $29.99
RELEASED: September 7, 2011

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

So here we have it: The third and final Brightest Day collection, which ties everything together, and lets us know who Earth’s ultimate champion is. I’m going to stay spoiler free here, but I talked at length about the big reveals at the end when Brightest Day #24 was originally published. So that’ll be your fix for spoilers on this one.

When we open the book, all the characters are in the middle of their respective storylines. Boston Brand (Deadman) reunites with his only living relative, Hawkman and Hawkgirl do battle alongside Star Sapphire in space, Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch race to save Ronnie’s father and Professor Stein, Martian Manhunter continues to be tormented by a most unexpectd foe, and Aquaman and the new Aqualad prepare for what may be the battle of their lives. All the while, the entity that resides within the mysterious White Lantern is becoming more aggressive in preparation for a moment that may decide the fate of the world.

Deadman, Brightest Day #22Until we get to our big reveal at the end, this book is pretty good. In all fairness, while I wasn’t a big fan of the ending, it did make sense given what had been established in Blackest Night and other stories. I found myself wanting to see more from the Deadman story arc, but it’s likely best that things turned out the way they did. If they overdid it, the arc could have been tainted. The Hawkman/Hawgirl story never really did it for me, but it ends on an interesting enough note.

Aquaman and his cast of characters get a nice spotlight in this particular book, as the “Aquawar” story within a story played out. Particularly strong were the moments between Aquaman and Black Manta, two rivals whose contempt for one another rivals that of Batman and The Joker (yep, I said it). Aquaman and the new Aqualad, Jackson Hyde, also have a few interesting moments together, which leads me to believe the two will have an interesting partnership.

This book has what some would consider to be an all-star team of artists. Ivan Reis’ work with Johns has been well publicized, and he delivers yet again here. Ardian Syaf continues to have strong showings (despite his talent being wasted on that damn Grounded story). Those two turn in the strongest performances here in my opinion, though the art is great all around.

Brightest Day #24 (2011), Hawk & Dove, DeadmanI’m interested to see if this entire story remains in continuity with the New 52. Apparently, the romance between Dove and Deadman will still be in continuity. And as our mystery savior at the end is getting his own book as well, one can conclude his arc is canon. Firestorm may be as well. To an extent, one can only speculate.

In any event, Brightest Day certainly created a decent amount of momentum for its stars, which may be evidenced by most of the stars getting their own ongoing books this month. Deadman will also be featured in the first story arc of DC Universe Presents. From my perspective, this final volume saw the quality dip a bit, but not much. Brightest Day is a worthwhile venture.

RATING: 7.5/10

Image 1 from x-mensupreme.blogspot.com. Image 2 from panelxpanelcomics.wordpress.com.

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