A TMNT Universe #1 Review – “Your First Step into a Larger World.”

TMNT Universe #1, Freddie E. Williams II, coverTITLE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe #1
AUTHORS: Paul Allor, Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow, Tom Waltz
PENCILLERS: Damian Couceiro, Bill Sienkiewicz, Eastman. Cover by Freddie E. Williams II.
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: August 31, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Bobby Curnow, Tom Waltz, and the crew at IDW have been creating good to great TMNT comics for several years now. This new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe series opens the door for even more. If this freshman issue is an indicator of things to come, we’ve got mostly good things ahead of us.

The Turtles and April O’Neil are hoping they can make an ally of Baxter Stockman. But Agent Bishop and the Earth Protection Force are in hot pursuit of the boys in green. Our heroes will soon find themselves in a fight to survive. Then in our back-up story, Leo faces off against the Foot Clan by himself. Despite his skills, he may be hopelessly outnumbered.

Paul Allor is no stranger to the Turtles, having written a number of their adventures for IDW. His experience is evident here, as he writes a damn good opening page. We get a glimpse into Bishop’s psyche, and why he opposes mutants the way he does. It’s a misguided, though relatable sentiment.

TMNT Universe #1, sonic weaponAllor uses this first issue to remind us that the Turtles, and mutants in general, are isolated and at times hated. Though Bishop’s motivation, while villainous, is relatable in its own way. As one might expect, the most emotional reaction we get comes from Raphael, and it’s used effectively to close the issue.

Allor also isn’t bad with the repartee between the Turtles. Panels like the one above aren’t exactly dripping with wit. But they’ve got a nice charm to them that we don’t always have time for in the main TMNT series.

Couceiro, who’s on both the pen and inks for this issue, is a solid fit for the Turtles. He’s got a really nice command of light and shadow, which obviously bodes well for our shadow-bound heroes. He also doesn’t draw their bandanas too large, which I tend to chide Mateus Santolouco, and more recently Dave Watcher for. I do, however, have one thing to nitpick: His Turtles are very toothy. He draws toothy Turtles. Panels like the ones below actually take me out of the story, as I can’t help but stare at their teeth. On the plus side, they’re very white. Splinter must have gotten the boys good dental insurance.

TMNT Universe #1, back-up, LeonardoOur back-up story is about Leo trailing a Foot ninja, who as it turns out, has some friends. A lot of friends. When I initially read this story, I thought it was scripted by Kevin Eastman. Leo’s inner monologue reads like one of the original Mirage books. He seems more like an easy going teenager, and less like the disciplined leader we usually see. But the issue credits Tom Waltz for the script. I’m not sure why Leo is so casual here. It almost strikes me as out of character.

This is also a premise that’s been done to perfection in both the original Eastman and Laird series, and the IDW series. It’s Leo against a bunch of foot ninjas. This story is set to continue next issue, so hopefully they do something with this concept we haven’t seen before. Eastman handles the page layouts, slowing the pace a bit to take us into the action. Bill Sienkiewicz and colorist Tomi Varga are a good fit for the Turtles, providing the gritty, street-level feel the story needs.

Like many things in life, this issue reminds me of a line from Star Wars. In the original 1977 film, Obi-Wan says to Luke: “You’ve taken your first step into a larger world.” In a sense, that’s what Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe #1 is. Chances are good that this series will really enrich what IDW has created for the Turtles. Dare I say, cowabunga?

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A Star Wars: Poe Dameron #5 Review – Droid Martial Arts

Star Wars: Poe Dameron #5, 2016, coverTITLE: Star Wars: Poe Dameron #5
AUTHOR: Charles Soule
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: August 17, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve curbed my expectations when it comes to this Poe Dameron series. I’m no longer looking for info regarding the state of the galaxy before The Force Awakens. This is simply an action-adventure title, which is fair enough. What I didn’t expect coming into issue #5 was for BB-8 to steal the show.

Poe, Black Squadron, and Agent Terex of the First Order remain trapped in Megalox Beta, a deadly prison run by the slippery and devilishly clever Grakkus the Hutt. Grakkus has struck a bargain with Poe and Terex: Whoever can break him out the fastest gets the location of Lor San Tekka, the man who reportedly knows the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker. Terex definitely has connections that Poe doesn’t. But Poe also has friends in high places…

BB-8 becomes the hero in this issue, leading the other Black Squadron astromech droids on a mission to compromise the prison’s security system. What follows is essentially Mission Impossible meets “Duel of he Droids.” The astromechs hide from guards, until we get what can only be described as a bit of droid martial arts (shown below). It’s a lot of fun, and very reminiscent of the BB-8 we saw in The Force Awakens.

Poe Dameron #5, 2016, droid martial artsSoule and Noto also do a tremendous job of capturing the charm and heart Oscar Issac put into the Poe character. He’s one for sarcastic quips, obviously. But he’s also a born leader. He’s compassionate and empathetic toward his teammates, and he stays positive even in the most dire scenarios. Soule gets Poe Dameron.

Phil Noto is pretty good at drawing him, too. Handling the pencils, inks, and colors on this series, Noto makes each setting in this issue very distinct. A sickly yellow haze hangs over Megalox Beta. Terex finds his way into a dingy and dimly lit cantina, not unlike the one we saw at Mos Eisley. The hangar the droids initially find themselves in is very calm, and has an almost relaxing quality to it with different shades of grayish blue. A stark contrast to the chaos they’re about to cause. And it all feels very familiar, very Star Wars. Noto also gives us a great cliffhanger shot, with the camera down on BB-8’s level as he looks up at a sizable new adversary.

Poe Dameron isn’t the book I wanted it to be. But the last two issues have been more fun, adventurous, and exciting than most of the Star Wars content Marvel has put out since it got the license back. It’s tough to sling mud at something like that.

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A Review of Darth Vader #24 – The End is Near

TITLE: Star Wars: Darth Vader #24Darth Vader #24, 2016, cover, Salvador Larroca
Kieron Gillen
PENCILLER: Salvador Larroca
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: August 10, 2016

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The penultimate issue of Star Wars: Darth Vader invites Salvador Larroca to do something he does too much of for my taste: Draw stills from the movies. But in his defense, if there was ever an issue to do that, it’s this one.

The cybernetics in Darth Vader’s suit have been shut down by Cylo-V. His respirator having (presumably) been deactivated, Vader’s life flashes before him. His mind takes him back to Mustafar, and questions arise. What if Obi-Wan had killed him? What would Anakin Skywalker think of Darth Vader? What if he were to simply surrender and die…?

I’m a sucker for issues where Vader reminisces and agonizes about the events of the prequels. So I couldn’t help but be sucked in when Vader imagined an alternate Revenge of the Sith where Obi-Wan throws the amputee Anakin into the lava, and the man in the black suit emerges. From there, we go into pure fan service as we get an Anakin vs. Vader lightsaber fight. Larrocca gives us a striking near-full page shot of Anakin, and while brief, the fight is a thrill. Particularly poignant is the moment where Skywalker yells “I hate you!” at his future self. Less poignant, however, is the moment where Vader says he’s well-versed in killing children.

Darth Vader #24, 2016, PadmeWe then go into many a Star Wars fan’s worst nightmare: A Padme scene. Kieron Gillen keeps this one pretty simple, though. Anakin’s dead wife represents the temptation of surrender. A temptation I’d have thought would be greater. That relationship longed for depth and substance. But boy did Anakin love Padme. If the implication here is that they can be together in death, you’d think he’d just give in.

But Vader’s choice here is powerful, and telling as to just how far into the darkness he’s gone. Instead of going with his wife, Vader summons his anger and hatred to will himself into a comeback. To their credit, Gillen, Larroca, and the Darth Vader team made me believe Anakin Skywalker was dead.

HIs rendering of movie stills notwithstanding, Larroca does deliver some great imagery with Vader. Early the issue, as the dark lord is motionless and vulnerable, we get a shot of Cylo with his hand on Vader’s helmet. Someone being able to lay a hand on him like that is…unsettling. It’s certainly not something we’re used to seeing. Also, In the Mustafar sequence we see Darth Vader emerge from the lava like a black phoenix. Lightsaber in hand, of course.

This story also sets the stage for a confrontation in our final issue between Darth Vader and Doctor Aphra, which is what the ending should be. I maintain this series doesn’t have to end. For obvious reasons, a Darth Vader book will always have an audience. But 25 issues is a good run, and it’ll be good to see Gillen and Larroca finish what they started.

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A Star Wars #20 Review – You’ve Upset the Wookie!

Star Wars #20, coverTITLE: Star Wars #20
AUTHOR: Jason Aaron
PENCILLER: Mike Mayhew
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: June 15, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Jason Aaron really came across something cool with these “Journals of Old Ben Kenobi” issues. It’s a great breather from the events of the ongoing series, and Obi-Wan’s time in exile hasn’t necessarily gotten the attention it deserves from storytellers. Having Mike Mayhew take a crack at it is, more often than not, a joy.

A short time after we last saw this younger Ben Kenobi and an even younger Luke Skywalker, the bounty hunter Black Krrsantan has returned to Tatooine to collect the price on Kenobi’s head. When Owen Lars gets caught in the crosshairs, Ben finds himself in a fight for both their lives.

I criticized Mayhew for getting a little too cartoony in Star Wars #15. I’m happy to say he’s scaled that back here. That’s not to say our characters aren’t expressive. But at no point during this issue did I roll my eyes. For obvious reasons, that’s important. And it makes this issue an improvement over its predecessor.

Star Wars #20, 2016, Mike Mayhew, LukeMayhew’s rendering of a young Luke has been the highlight of his two issues. That youthful exuberance radiates off the page. It instills you with the sense that this kid is important and we need to protect him at all costs. Because, of course, that’s really what Obi-Wan is fighting this wookie for. Yes, he wants to save Owen. But in the end, he can’t this monster find his way to Luke. That’s almost said outright during the fight. But it doesn’t need to be.

This version of Obi-Wan is interesting to look at. Not only have we never seen the character look quite this way before, but Mayhew’s photorealism makes it look like he’s being played by a new actor. An actor who not gives a fairly versatile performance, but (as I’ve said before) conveys both the charm of Ewan McGregor and the wisdom of Alec Guinness. That’s a lofty task for a comic book. But Mayhew pulls it off.

In reading these journal issues, I’ve found myself wondering just how old Obi-Wan is at this point. In this issue he talks about age wearing him down. But his age has always been somewhat ambiguous, hasn’t it? Wookiepedia indicates he was born 57 years before A New Hope. Luke looks to be 7 or 8 years old here….which would put this issue about 11 years before A New Hope…which would make Obi-Wan about…46? I’ll buy that.

Obi-Wan, Star Wars #20, Mike MayhewI’m not sure how many issues Jason Aaron has left in him. But if for some reason he were to leave Star Wars tomorrow, Marvel might consider keeping him around to do an Obi-Wan miniseries, ideally with Mayhew. These flashback issues have been the highlight of the series thus far.

Images from author’s collection.

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A Star Wars: Han Solo #1 Review – The Panel Duplication Effect

Star Wars: Han Solo #1, 2016TITLE: Star Wars: Han Solo #1
AUTHOR: Marjorie Liu
PENCILLER: Mark Brooks. Cover by Lee Bermejo.
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: June 15, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Why it took so long for us to get a Han Solo miniseries from Marvel is a mystery to me. You’d think he’d have been one of the first characters they took a swing at. It seems like a lay-up. They could do a whole series on Han if they wanted to. Hell, I’d buy it.

In any event, here we are. In an attempt to flush out a mole in the Rebel Alliance, Princess Leia recruits Han and Chewbacca to fly the Millennium Falcon in a race that would put him into contact with the turncoat. But the race takes an unexpected and deadly turn…

Lee Bermejo’s covers are a nice selling point for this title. It’s fun to see him playing in this universe again. Though it must be said: His Han Solo doesn’t look much like Harrison Ford. His work on issue #2 isn’t much better, though it looks like by issue #3 he starts to get the hang of it. His Princess Leia, however, is spot on.

Han Solo #1, panel duplicateMark Brooks, however, does a pretty good Han Solo. The presentation we get here is very clean, and the colors by Sonia Oback pop in a way that really fits this universe.

Let’s talk about what I’ll call panel duplication, i.e. the process of using the exact same image Han Solo #1, panel duplication #2for two consecutive panels. Full disclosure: I’m not an artist. And I understand what deadlines are. But as a reader, this trick always feels cheap to me. By no means is Brooks the only perpetrator in the industry, and I don’t want to take anything away from his talent. But he did it twice in this issue. So I’m going to call him on it.

Typically, this trick is done to indicate the passing of a beat or two for comedic effect. But in the first instance, in which Han is talking to another bounty hunter, there’s no pay off for it. It’s just an image of Han and the alien dude staring off into space. At least in the second case, we get Han leaning into frame. But look at the renderings of Leia and General Cracken (Unleash the Cracken!). They’re the same as the ones in the previous panel. I can’t help but be jerked right out of the story.

We also see Han with a pretty bad case of puppy dog eyes (shown below). Brooks got a little too animated on that one. He even looks right into the camera.

Han and Leia, Han Solo #1Our story looks promising. Han and Chewie flying around in the Falcon, meeting different aliens and getting into trouble. It’s tough to ask for more than that. This issue is essentially a big pointer scene, where we find out where our heroes are going, what their goals are, etc. But it looks like the action will pick up next issue.

I’m hopeful this is the first of several Han Solo stories we have coming our way. I’m sure there are no shortage of creators looking for a crack at the galaxy’s most notorious smuggler. This one has its ups and downs thus far. But it’s a decent read, and will be worthwhile for Star Wars fans.

Images from author’s collection.

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A Darth Vader #21 Review – The Hunt For Aphra Continues

Darth Vader #21 (2016)TITLE: Darth Vader #21
AUTHOR: Kieron Gillen
PENCILLER: Salvador Larroca
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: June 8, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I was really surprised to hear Darth Vader is ending at issue #25. The series isn’t quite what it was when it began. But it’s got a solid cast in Doctor Aphra, Triple-Zero & BT-1, and of course, Darth Vader himself. It’s still very much worth picking up. But apparently Gillen is done. That’s fair enough. But I’m not sure why Marvel wouldn’t hand this series off to another writer. I guarantee you that’ll be the case when Jason Aaron is done with Star Wars. So why not here?

In any event, things aren’t looking good for Aphra, as the droids have been tasked with hunting her down. Meanwhile, the Emperor has tasked Vader with bringing an end to Cylo, a former servant of the Empire. But neither Cylo or his “abominations” will go down without a fight.

I’ve been turned off by Salvador Larocca’s art lately, particularly his drawing of the characters from the movies. At certain points it’s painfully obvious he’s rendering them based on specific shots and moments in the films. He’s hardly the only artist to have done this. But that doesn’t make it better. At this point, my favorite Darth Vader issues are the ones that don’t feature any classic characters other than Vader. The only instance of what I’ll call “movie rendering” in this issue is a shot of Vader in his TIE Fighter (shown below).

Darth Vader #21, Salvador Larroca, movie renderingI don’t consider this panel a major offense. I’m such a stickler on the rendering of the Darth Vader mask that I’m just happy to see it done this well. Plus, it’s the exact same cockpit we saw in A New Hope. There’s only so much Larroca could change.

On a happier note, Larocca’s work on Aphra is very endearing here. She looks tired, beaten down, and ready to give up. As if being hunted by the Empire isn’t enough, readers of the Star Wars ongoing know Aphra just narrowly escaped death at a prison. She’s not a sympathetic character per se. But you feel for her here.

Triple-Zero and BT-1 are great here, as usual, as they lead a battalion of Vader’s battle droids in search of Aphra. Triple-Zero’s dialogue is always the riot, as you can’t help but hear it in a prim and proper accent. He’s ever the diplomatic protocol droid with a delightful violent streak. His best line this month is: “I’m afraid we’re going to have to hunt you down like the human meatbag you are, Mistress Aphra.”

Darth Vader #21, Doctor Aphra, Salvador Larroca

Our final page also sets up a pretty epic fight for next issue. I won’t spoil it. But Vader must feel like he’s back in Jabba’s palace

Darth Vader may be ending, but I’m hoping the characters that were created in this book can cross over into other books in the future. Though it’s looking Doctor Aphra may not survive much longer. That’s what happens when you make a deal with the devil.

Images from author’s collection.

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Blatant Insubordination: “What’s Star Wars About?”

Captain Kirk, You haven't seen Star Wars?By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

“What’s Star Wars about?”

A young lady asked me this at work the other day without a hint of snark. She’s an outdoorsy girl without much use for movies. But still, it’s easy to just assume everybody knows what Star Wars is. You’d think people would inevitably see the original simply by virtue of being alive.

But I think that’s a geek bias seeping through. After I got this question I put the above meme (Get it?) on my Facebook. One of the comments I got read: “I’ve never seen a Star Wars movie. Thought about getting the DVD and starting from the beginning, but I’m not sure where it starts.”

I don’t push Star Wars, or anything else I love, on other people. But if people are curious about this kind of thing, I’m happy to offer my opinions. And this idea of explaining what Star Wars is about intrigues me. How do you offer a simple explanation of something that’s come to encompass so much?

Star Wars, trioFor whatever reason, when I got this question I thought of Kyle Gnepper over at Unshaven Comics. I’ve seen Kyle and the Unshaven crew a bunch of times at Chicago area comic conventions over the years. When he’s hyping a new comic series, he’s always got a one-sentence pitch to hook you in. Something to catch your interest and intrigue you. I won’t try to directly quote him for fear of butchering his words. But for instance, he might hype Unshaven’s The Samurnauts by saying: “It’s about a group of samurai astronauts led by an immortal Kung Fu warrior monkey.”

At that point you’ve got to at least look, right?

So what would a similar pitch be for Star Wars? And by Star Wars, I mean the original 1977 film. The young lady I spoke to was shocked to hear there were seven movies in all, with more on the way. But Episode IV: A New Hope is how the world at large was introduced to this strange universe, and it obviously served as the basis for everything else. That’s where newbs should start.

Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Star Wars: A New HopeI figure simplicity and conciseness is important when you begin to explain something like this. Don’t start by trying to explain who Darth Vader is, or what a Jedi is, or how the Skywalkers are all related to each other. You’ll lose them if you try to explain all that stuff.

Here’s the “Gnepperfied” Star Wars synopsis that I came up with: “It’s about a galactic dictatorship with a weapon that can destroy a planet, and the rebel heroes fighting against them.”

Some might argue it’s too simple or generic. But that’s the point, isn’t it? You lure them in with the broad strokes, and then explore the intricacies as you get closer. Once you’re past the simple explanations, you can get into how the Empire works, who the iconic characters are, etc.

On the subject of those iconic characters, I’ve recently started wearing character socks to work. Star Wars, superheroes, etc. Because, you know, that’s what cool people do. One such pair features little images of C-3PO. This girl in question sees the socks, her eyes pop and she asks: “Are those Minions on your socks?”

We can only do so much.

Click here for more Blatant Insubordination.

Image 2 from usatoday.com. Image 3 from digitalspy.com.

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