A One Trick Pony Review – Nathan Hale’s Apocalypse Tale

TITLE: One Trick Pony
AUTHOR: Nathan Hale
PUBLISHER: Amulet Books
PRICE: $14.95
RELEASED: March 14, 2017

***WARNING: Minor spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

You know how I can tell I’m becoming a crotchety old man? I’m getting angry at teenagers for being on their smartphones too much. The other day I actually coined the term, “screen-craving mouth-breathers.”

So yeah, Nathan Hale’s One Trick Pony was up my alley.

My first exposure to Nathan Hale came at this year’s annual Children’s Literature Breakfast held by Anderson’s Bookshop in suburban Chicago. He did a very funny presentation about the power that pictures and visual content can have in the learning process. Using an overhead projector and a marker, he told us all his animated version of the Lewis and Clark story. It was very much in the vein of his Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series of graphic novels for kids, which take the same sort of look at history. If you get the chance to see him, I highly recommend it.

One Trick Pony is something different. It’s an original, post-apocalyptic graphic novel about a world where electronics are scarce. An alien race, which humans call “Pipers,” have stripped the Earth of its machines. As such, the world has reverted back to horses and spears. Our main character, a young girl named Strata, lives with a mobile caravan collecting and preserving technology. One day, on a routine hunt for tech, Strata and her brothers find a golden mechanical Pony called Kleidi. But the Pipers are always lurking, and Kleidi is literally a giant golden target.

I can’t find a lot of bad things to say about this book. It’s sort of like War of the Worlds meets The Hunger Games meets…whatever you’d consider a modern popular cartoon to be. I’ll say The Simpsons for lack of a better example. It’s witty and plainly spoken. It also has a nice moral in there about paying the piper for the luxuries we have, ergo the creatures (shown right) being called “Pipers.” I like the idea of these alien invaders having a moralistic agenda. In the end, we find out that’s not entirely the case. But I appreciate this story being given to youngsters.

Hale’s style is very simple, with a “sketchy” feel to it. But he’s more than capable of being a rock star on the pencil, especially when he gets to draw the caravan that’s carrying all the hidden tech. All the little details are awesome. It’s almost a contrast to the way he draws the human characters.

The story is presented mostly in grayscale. The exceptions are shades of yellow, a tiny bit of brown for skin tones, and deep gold, the latter we see on the Pipers and Kleidi. The sky is almost always a faded yellow, which with the gray gives us a very desolate feel.

Oddly enough, the element in this story that seems the most forced is Kleidi, the titular robotic horse. Kleidi and Strata have a boy-and-his-dog sort of bond, which I guess I can buy. But Kleidi being a robot thins out that premise, especially since we never find out exactly what this robot is or where it comes from. So our ending, which directly involves Kleidi, loses some of its edge because she’s almost more of a vessel than a character.

To use a Star Wars analogy, it’s like Han Solo’s relationship with the Millennium Falcon. He cares about it. But not in the same way he cares about, say…Chewbacca. Kleidi feels like Han and the Falcon, and I think it wants to feel like Han and Chewie.

What’s more, the world Hale creates is so much more interesting than the Strata/Kleidi dynamic. So interesting that I was actually disappointed when the story ended with the loose ends tied up, and a nice little bow on it. I was hoping we’d get a sequel to Kleidi. Especially considering things end rather abruptly. I’m not an advocate of every story being stretched into an epic trilogy. But there could have been more to explore here.

But perhaps I’m being too critical. Kleidi is a very good read, and hopefully the start of a new path for Nathan Hale. He’s a great history teacher. But he’s also got a knack for writing some history of his own.

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A Mae, Vol. 1 Review – Beautifully Frustrating

Mae, Vol. 1TITLE: Mae, Vol. 1:
AUTHORS: Gene Ha, Danny Busiek, 
PENCILLERS: 
Ha, Paulina Ganucheau, Sally Jane Thompson
PUBLISHER: Dark Horse Comics
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: January 25, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I would call Mae a blend of Doctor Who and The Wizard of Oz, with a little Harry Potter sprinkled on top. Our creator/writer/artist Gene Ha makes a point to name drop all three in the pages of Mae, Vol. 1. So I imagine he’d be okay with that statement.

What’s more, Mae has a lot in common with those stories. It takes a seemingly average young person and thrusts them into a world of fantasy and adventure. Nine years after Mae’s sister Abbie mysteriously vanishes, she abruptly reappears telling stories about another world. Monsters, talking cats, and a price on her head from the House Zemetrasi. To Mae, it’s all beyond belief. But Abbie has been followed, and their father is soon kidnapped. Now Mae must follow her sister into a place unlike any she’s ever known, and become the hero she never knew she could be.

It’s always fun whenever an artist, much less one the caliber of Gene Ha, gets to just cut loose and create. The most appealing aspect of Mae, for my money, is seeing all the eccentric fantasy elements and characters Ha designs. The robotic, and very tall Rytir Kazisvet, who kidnaps Mae and Abbie’s father, is tremendous. I’m also rather fond of the fuzzy little creature in a hoodie that comes after Abbie early in the story (shown below). And then you’ve got the Dukes, four human heads which all share the same robotic body. It all feels like we’re just scratching the surface, and future issues could bring us anything.

There’s something to be said for the way Abbie and Mae are dressed. Both outfits are very distinct, and in a broad sense allow you to get their characters almost instantly. Abbie’s outfit consists of a fez and a Napoleonic War style outfit. It feels very adventurous, and the fez seems very much like a nod to Matt Smith’s time on Doctor Who. Mae, on the other hand, is wearing a scarf (a nod to the Fourth Doctor?), glasses, hat, and coat. It’s a look for a modern woman who’s well-read, and isn’t afraid to flaunt her geekiness.

It’s refreshing that Mae is our title character and main hero here. She’s a fangirl, but she’s not depicted as social awkward or an oddball. In essence, she’s just an average girl who happens to love her some Doctor Who and Harry Potter. While her lines about such things usually come off contrived, she feels like the most genuine and real character in the book.

Initially, I couldn’t figure out why this book reminded me so much of Toy Story. You can argue it evokes memories of the human-centric Pixar movies in general, a la The Incredibles. But Toy Story was what came to mind for me. Then when you look closer, you realize Ha’s pencilling, shading, and inking make the figures pop to the point that they look three-dimensional. This effect also does wonders for the creatures Ha designs. Under someone else’s pencil, that little fuzzy guy with the sunglasses might look like fairly generic fantasy character. But drawn by Ha, he almost looks lively enough to be one of the Muppets. Albeit, a fairly violent Muppet.

On the downside, there are a few points where characters look static, and the image feels artificial as a result. The best example in the book can be seen in the lower lefthand portion of the image at right. Abbie, as she’s laughing, looks detached and unnatural. Though I will say the adjacent panels look lovely.

Mae marks one of Gene Ha’s only stints as a writer. To say the least, it’s ambitious. These are his characters and his vision, which he actually raised the funds for on Kickstarter. The world he’s created has a lot of depth, and has a sort of Oz quality to it. But a times it’s a struggle to figure out exactly how it works. It’s clearly influenced by bits and pieces of our world, or “old Earth” as they call it.

Ha starts small, first setting the story in the girls’ home in small-town Indiana. We then spend an issue in a city in our fantasy world, before we expand and find out what sort of politics drive it. In issue #4, Mae and Abbie sneak into the castle of the House Zemetrasi, searching for  Rytir Kazisvet and their father. There’s talk of a war with someone called the “Obruoni,” and a quest for the “technology of the ancients.” It’s all very vague. Who are these people? And what do they want? And why? It’s not that there’s a lack of interest, just a lack of comprehension. Heck, does this fantasyland even have a name?

In the bonus material included for this book, Ha says he avoided exploring the setting and the alternate history because it got in the way of the larger adventure. But there’s always something to be said for context. There’s some quality adventuring on these pages, but it feels like a piece of this story is missing.

Mae also presents a challenge I’ve never come across before: The names of certain people and places are hard to pronounce. It’s tough to even sound them out mentally. The Dukes are collectively called “Nehynouci Vojvodove.” And the city they visit is called “Krunyrves.” I get the idea that another world is going to have a different sort of dialect. But at least words like Oz, Gallifrey, and Hogwarts are easy to wrap your mind around.

Paulina Ganucheau tags in for issue #6, giving us a standalone Abbie story. Our supplemental material also includes a nice little tale from Mae’s school days by Danny Busiek and Sally Jane Thompson. Neither advance the primary narrative, but they offer an intriguing look at the world of Mae through an alternate lens. The same can be said for the series of pin-ups we get from the likes of Amanda Conner, Philip Tan, and Yanick Paquette. Gene Ha obviously has plenty of friends on the comic book A-list.

In the end, I’d call this first volume of Mae as “beautifully frustrating.” Gene Ha’s art is gorgeous, and it’s fascinating to see what he creates here. We’ve also got two delightfully strong female leads. But it feels like our story is incomplete. Still, perhaps the biggest compliment I can give Ha is that despite my frustrations, I’m still interested to see what’s next for our young heroines. I’m hopeful they have many more adventures to come.

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

A Suicide Squad: The Black Vault Review – Squad vs. Zod

suicide-squad_-the-black-vaut-jim-lee-coverTITLE: Suicide Squad, Vol. 1: The Black Vault
AUTHOR: Rob Williams
PENCILLERS: Jim Lee, Philip Tan, Jason Fabok, Gary Frank, Ivan Reis
COLLECTS: Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1Suicide Squad #1-6
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: February 28, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

If The Black Vault isn’t the most important and most notable Suicide Squad book DC has ever published, then it’s absolutely in the top two. This is the biggest that Suicide Squad has ever felt, and may be the best its ever looked.

Thanks to the movie, the Suicide Squad “brand” has never had more eyes on it. The Black Vault features almost all of the characters from the movie, including a few pages of the Joker. So it’s bursting with crossover appeal for casual moviegoers. With this in mind, DC loaded the book up with A-list artists, most notably Jim Lee. Indeed, the master of the modern superhero epic is drawing characters like Rick Flag, Captain Boomerang, and the Enchantress. Talk about something you don’t see every day…

Task Force X, a.k.a. the Suicide Squad, is a black ops group assembled by government agent Amanda Waller. Comprised primarily of imprisoned supervillains, the team is sent on covert missions. They serve as both soldiers, and built-in patsies. Should they refuse an order or become compromised, Waller detonates a nanite bomb in their skulls. Like the movie, in The Black Vault our team consists of Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, and the Enchantress. They’re accompanied by Colonel Rick Flagg and Katana.

suicide-squad_-the-black-vault-harley-quinn-jim-leeTheir latest mission sees our heroes sent to a secret Russian prison to neutralize a secret doorway to the Phantom Zone. In the process, the team meets none other than General Zod.

People can say what they want about Jim Lee’s influence, for better or worse, on DC’s “house style” right now. But when he’s in his element, he’s one of the all-time greats. Lee is at home with the dynamic and the awe-inspiring. As such, it seems like Lee’s work on the book starts out rather slow. He starts on issue #1 and has to re-tread some of the ground covered in the Rebirth issue, specifically Waller’s motivations. He takes us from the team’s home base at Belle Reve Penitentiary to the Russian facility, giving us a few cool shots in the process. He and Rob Williams also have a really fun take on Belle Reve, where the prison cells are plucked and moved by a giant claw arm.

But once Zod enters the story at the end of issue #2, Lee gets to flex his muscles. He makes Zod surprisingly large, literally twice the size of the other characters (save for Croc). But the ultra powerful Kryptonian against these mostly street-level characters makes for a fun fight, particularly when the big guy goes against Katana. At the end of issue #3, we bring in a few other characters to oppose the Squad. But the good stuff is with the general himself. Issue #4 gives us a cool interaction between Zod and Croc, and a nice climactic moment involving Rick Flagg. It’s not Lee’s best work. But it’s still pretty damn awesome.

suicide-squad, Joker, Harley Quinn, Gary FrankThe notoriously deadline-challenged Lee was massaged into Suicide Squad‘s a bi-weekly format with a reduced workload. He only had to produce 12 pages per issue, with the rest going to an oversized back-up story spotlighting a particular team member. I suspect most fans will find Gary Frank’s look at Harley Quinn the most enjoyable. While on a mission with Flag, she struggles with some of her more villainous impulses. These are personified, of course, by the Joker. I’m not in love with Frank’s rendering of Mr. J. But his Harley is delightfully expressive in a way that’s exaggerated, but not quite cartoony. Naturally, this compliments both her character and Williams’ script.

But artistically, Philip Tan gets “Best in Show” as far as these back-ups are concerned. In addition to the Rebirth issue, he does the Katana story for issue #3. Tan shows off his versatility with an anime-inspired look at her origin. The script isn’t the strongest, but Tan and colorist Elmer Santos provide visuals that range from haunting to downright heart-breaking.

Rick Flag gets a lot of quality page time here. The Rebirth issue is essentially about him. Williams writes him as unwaveringly loyal, even to his own detriment. He’s the conscience of the team. A good guy tasked with leading all these bad guys. Flag is easy to root for and empathize with. Considering he’s the least flamboyant and colorful character in this book, that’s a good thing.

General Zod, Suicide Squad #2, Jim LeeOn the other end of the spectrum, Zod is an oversized caricature of himself, spouting lines like…

– “Prostrate yourself before your general, sub-creatures!”
– “I will boil and eat your magic!”
– “I have incinerated your human flesh and reveled in it’s pungent stench!”

I understand humor is a valuable component here. But c’mon, really? You’ve got Harley for that. You’ve got Boomerang for that. We don’t need Zod for that.

On the subject of weird comedy, this book has a recurring bit about Killer Croc throwing up. Oddly enough, it works. Can’t say I ever imagined Jim Lee drawing that.

The Black Vault represents the first time Suicide Squad has been elevated to a top-tier title with A-list talent. That alone makes it one of the most noteworthy stories in the team’s history. And while this isn’t the best scripting I’ve ever seen, Rob Williams knows how to put together a good Suicide Squad story. One can argue the book has never been in better hands.

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A Green Arrow, Vol. 1 Review – Ollie’s Greatest Hits

Green Arrow, Vol. 1: The Life and Death of Oliver QueenTITLE: Green Arrow, Vol. 1: The Life and Death of Oliver Queen
AUTHOR: Benjamin Percy
PENCILLER: Otto Schmidt, Juan Ferreyra. Cover by Ferreyra.
COLLECTS: Green Arrow: Rebirth #1Green Arrow #15.
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: January 4, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The Life and Death of Oliver Queen gives us a lot we’ve seen before. But it’s wrapped in a fresh package, and frankly some of this stuff was sorely missed. So it works out, and makes for a fun book.

A human trafficking case in Seattle brings Green Arrow and Black Canary together, in more ways than one. But what they end up fighting is something much larger, and closer to Queen Industries than Oliver could ever imagine. As such, new alliances will be forged, and older ones will be tested. Our heroes are about to meet the Ninth Circle.

To an extent, this book feels like “Ollie’s Greatest Hits.” Green Arrow and Black Canary are one of the classic couples in DC Comics lore, and they’re back together here. We’ve got him losing his fortune, which famously happened during the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams run of the ’70s. Percy also plays up the more political, social justice elements of Green Arrow, which is another hallmark of the O’Neil era. And then you’ve got the return of John Diggle, a character that originated on the Arrow TV show.

green-arrow rebirth #1, title pageWhen you put it all in a list like that, this book looks vderivative and unoriginal. But for a longtime fan like yours truly, it feel like a homecoming. I enjoyed much of what was done with the New 52 Green Arrow book. But this feels like the return of the genuine article. Of course, that’s what they were going for.

This book establishes that Ollie and Dinah are acquainted with one another, but don’t know each other very well. Obviously that changes here as they become romantically involved. But here’s my question: From cover to cover, how much time is supposed to have passed here? When we get to the end of Life and Death, the implication is that Ollie cares about Dinah as much as anything in his life. But the two haven’t been together long enough to justify such a connection, have they? Obviously they like each other. But there’s nothing in this book that justifies such a deep-rooted love from either of them. It might have been more advisable to use the events of this book to plant the foundation for their relationship. That way readers feel like they’ve been in the loop from the start.

That being said, the chemistry is there between the two. They have that familiar volatile affection for one another. Dinah challenges Ollie, pointing out the inconsistencies in his approach as Green Arrow. Ollie accepts her challenges and returns in kind. But in the end their fondness for one another is undeniable. They’re fun to read.

The Ninth Circle are a group of villains using a weapon that’s truly timeless: Money. Our heroes come across them while taking down a human trafficking ring, and as Ollie painfully finds out, they have their claws deep into Queen Industries. They’re perfect villains for Green Arrow, exemplifying the kind of corruption the character has fought against for decades, and should absolutely be fighting today.

green-arrow-black-canary-otto-schmidtOllie’s relationship with his half-sister Emiko is of particular importance here. We learn who her mother is, and we get an apparent heel turn from her. I was concerned about her development as the book went on. But without spoiling things, I’ll say Percy leaves things in a satisfying place by the time we close the book.

Artistically, the star of this Life and Death is Otto Schmidt. Sadly, he’s only around for about half the book. But his style is a terrific fit for Green Arrow, and superhero comics in general. It’s expressive, it’s animated, the line work is beautiful, and it’s got a tremendous energy to it.  It’s also very conducive to action, the Canary Cry in particular (shown right). Schmidt, who serves as penciller, inker, and colorist on his issues, renders them simply, but colorfully. Like most of Schmidt’s work on this book, it’s very charming.

The second half of the book is drawn and colored by Juan Ferreyra, who is also the cover artist. His work has an almost airbrush-like texture to it that’s interesting, and he’s very good at drawing the disfigured members of the Ninth Circle. His colors are wonderfully rich, and at times intense. But with all due respect to Ferreyra, it’s just not quite as fun as what Schmidt gives us.

DC needs a good Green Arrow book right now. Just like they need a good Wonder Woman book, a good Flash book, a good Supergirl book, etc. With the emergence of the DC Extended Universe, as well as the “CWverse,” there’s so much potential for new fans to crossover into comics. I would argue that for a long time, DC failed to capitalize on that. With the DC Rebirth line, they’ve given themselves a valuable chance for a fresh start. And that’s what they have here with Green Arrow. While it’s not perfect, it’s something for fans old and new to latch on to.

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

A Review of The Flash: Lightning Strikes Twice – Teacher and Student(s)

The Flash: Lightning Strikes TwiceTITLE: The Flash, Vol. 1: Lightning Strikes Twice
AUTHOR: Joshua Williamson
PENCILLERS: Carmine Di Giandomenico, Neil Googe, Felipe Watanabe. Cover by Karl Kerschl.
COLLECTS: The Flash #1-8
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: January 18, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Barry Allen got his powers from a bolt of lightning, and the Speed Force has always been somewhat electric in nature. So it’s natural that at certain points the Flash crackles with energy. But that doesn’t mean he should constantly look like a lightning rod in a storm. But that’s how our main artist draws him in this first volume of The Flash under the DC Rebirth banner. At certain points it’s cool, but it eventually becomes a distraction that drags the entire book down. Which is a shame. From a story standpoint, Lightning Strikes Twice is pretty good.

We open the book with the events of DC Universe: Rebirth #1, this time seen from Barry’s point of view. A short time later, numerous citizens of Central City are struck by lightning bolts just like Barry was, and are imbued with the power of the Speed Force. Now our hero must not only mentor those who would use their powers for good, but corral those who abuse them. All the while, a mysterious killer calling himself Godspeed is killing off these new speedsters. Thankfully he’ll have help from not only Iris West, but a young man who’ll soon call himself the new Kid Flash.

The Flash: Rebirth #1, Carmine Di GiandomenicoThat classic Carmine Infantino Flash costume is so sleek and cool. Many consider it the best costume redesign in history. It’s one of those things I wish they wouldn’t tinker with. Granted, artistic tweaks are always gong to be part of he industry. But drawing lightning all over the Flash in every panel is overindulgent, not to mention redundant and annoying. We go over Barry’s origin at the beginning of the book, and the whole story is about people getting hit by Speed Force lightning. We get it. He’s electric. (Boogie woogie, woogie.)

I like the idea of Barry being a teacher or a mentor. It’s almost part and parcel to the superhero concept. Sidekicks, inspiring people to do good, etc. First he finds a new partner in fellow scientist August Heart. Then the Speed Force lightning storm gives him several new trainees. Of course, it all culminates in Wally West becoming the new Kid Flash. (That’s the New 52 Wally West, not the pre-Crisis one that just came back. Thank God that’s not confusing.) It all ties nicely together with the original Wally West’s return, and it’s cool to see the gratification Barry gets from it.

the-flash-8-dc-comics-rebirth-spoilers-new-kid-flash-5I can appreciate that when he got his powers, young Wally wasn’t immediately thrust into the Kid Flash role. We all knew that’s where he’d end up anyway. But Williamson does a fine job taking him from a kid who’s content to sit on the sidelines and help out occasionally, to a hero who realizes he can’t be on the sidelines. It gives him that much more depth.

As for the other Wally, the first issue in this collection, The Flash: Rebirth #1, gives us a little bit of follow up on the events of DC Universe: Rebirth #1. The reunion continues, as Wally tells Barry about Linda Park, and we see how they part ways. We also get a very brief corroboration between the Flash and Batman. But that plot thread is mostly dropped for the remainder of the book. It’s obviously a larger story for down the road. We do, however, get a very interesting reference to what happened to Barry in Crisis on Infinite Earths. That’s obviously out-of-sync with what they set up in the New 52. It’s a little reminder that they haven’t dropped that story. It’s just a slow build.

On paper, the identity of Godspeed shouldn’t be hard to figure out. But I’ll admit: They got me. The character’s motivations are believable, and they spend a good amount of time building them up. Godspeed represents Flash’s darker impulses. The ones he doesn’t allow himself to follow. The character asks some classic questions about why those impulses shouldn’t be followed. It more or less boils down to “Why doesn’t Batman just kill the Joker?” Or in this case, why doesn’t Barry just kill Zoom? They leave the door open for him to come back, and there’s potential for some more interesting stuff with him.

the-flash-6-carmine di diandomenicoI’ve avoided picking up The Flash on a monthly basis, largely because of Di Giandomenico. The whole lightning thing aside, he knows how to convey the speed and energy of a character like the Flash. The characters hit most of the right emotional notes, and I’m into the story. But the line work is so dark and heavy that it ends up weighing down the impact of the art. It’s almost like you have to look through all the senewy lines to register what’s going on. When Neil Googe tags in for issue #4, and Felipe Watanabe for issue #5, it’s a welcome break.

With the CW TV series still going strong, Wally West’s return, and Barry being linked to what’s sure to be DC’s next big event comic, It’s a pretty good time to be a Flash fan. If we could find an artist that fit the book a little better, it’d be downright amazing. But for now, we’ll have to settle for pretty good.

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A Green Lanterns: Rage Planet Review – A New Chapter Begins

Green Lanterns, Vol. 1: Rage PlanetTITLE: Green Lanterns, Vol. 1: Rage Planet
AUTHORS: Sam Humphries, Geoff Johns
PENCILLERS: Robson Rocha, Ed Benes, Ethan Van Sciver, Tom Derenick, Jack Herbert, Neil Edwards, Eduardo Pansica.
COLLECTS: Green Lanterns: Rebirth #1Green Lanterns #16.
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASE DATE:
January 25, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Green Lanterns almost makes me sad that there are human ring-slingers besides Jessica Cruz, Simon Baz, and Hal Jordan. This feels like such a natural next chapter in the Green Lantern saga. The next generation learns to overcome fear, while Jordan mentors them from afar. Makes perfect sense to me.

Rage Planet sees Earth’s newest Green Lanterns, Simon and Jessica, become co-protectors of Sector 2814. But Simon isn’t convinced he needs a partner, and Jessica is plagued by her crippling anxiety. Not exactly ideal circumstances. Especially when Atrocitus and the Red Lantern Corps are about to bring “Red Dawn” to Earth. Simon and Jessica will soon have no choice but to work as a team.

Green Lanterns has its share of problems. It feels a little bit padded to fill the six-issue main story, has a revolving door of artists, and essentially features a stock story about reluctant partners. But Sam Humphries does some terrific character work in this book, particularly when it comes to Jessica Cruz.

green-lanterns-5, Jessica CruzA Green Lantern who suffers from clinical anxiety seems like such a natural development that I’m surprised it’s taken this long for us to get one. The entire mythology revolves around the idea of overcoming fear, after all. But Humphries makes up for lost time by taking us inside Jessica’s head and perfectly conveying her anxiety. The constant second-guessing, the belief that she’s not good enough, the panic attacks, the isolation (she didn’t leave her apartment for three years prior to becoming a Lantern). Hokey as it may sound, as someone who has dealt with anxiety myself, Jessica makes me feel represented. She’s a tremendous addition to the Green Lantern mythos.

This series gets us recaquainted with Simon Baz, who in many ways fell to the wayside prior to the Rebirth relaunch. His character can be tough to nail down, as he’s stubborn and distrustful. But also overly confident at times. I’ve always thought him carrying a gun despite wearing a Green Lantern ring was silly. I understand the need to distinguish him from the other Lanterns, as there are so many of them. But logically, that’s like keeping a pocket knife with you in case your chainsaw breaks down. Still, he and Jessica make a good buddy cop duo. I’m hoping Humphries resists making them a couple.

On a surface level, the Red Lantern stuff makes for a fine first arc. But there’s not much to it. It’s essentially Atrocitus wanting to make Earth a giant ball of pulsating rage.  It’s not nearly as interesting as the Phantom Lantern material, which really gets moving in the next volume. But fans generally know who/what the Red Lanterns are, and they have a little mainstream recognition from different TV shows and video games. So it makes sense from an attention-grabbing perspective. The book’s most interesting moment with the Red Lanterns involves Simon temporarily relieving Bleez of her rage. It’s a nice “What have I done?” moment.

Ethan Van Sciver, Green Lanterns Rebirth #1, 2016Ethan Van Sciver tags in, and then quickly tags out again on the pencil for the initial Rebirth issue. There’s been tremendous value in his work on these characters since he did the original Green Lantern: Rebirth story in the early 2000s. I’m always impressed by his attention to little details. His images never look real, per se. But there are often enough little details to evoke a feeling of realism, even when he draws weird aliens. Case in point: Our little blue friend in the image above. Look at the little details in his helmet, his five o’clock shadow, the wrinkles in his sleeves. You don’t necessarily notice things like this at first. But go a long way in making Van Sciver stand out.

Various artists start and stop in this book. But the one with the most page time is Robson Rocha. Like Van Sciver, his work is very detailed. His facial work isn’t exactly subtle, but it makes an impact. Jumping ahead a bit, that’s part of what made his work on Green Lanterns #9 so good. His rage-possessed civilians look downright beastly. So much that at certain points he nearly veers into comedic territory. He also draws Jessica and Bleez a little too sexy at times. But by and large, he’s a solid fit for this series.

This book doesn’t break a lot of new ground in terms of the Green Lantern mythos. But the buddy cop format is charming as hell, and the characterization of Jessica Cruz is terrific. Relative to some of DC’s other offerings, Green Lanterns isn’t making a lot of noise in terms of sales. But it’s bound to be a pleasant discovery for readers.

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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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