Wish I'd saved Genius for this update. Oh, well. Who knew? Included this time: Anna Mercury 2, Tales of the Starlight Drive In, Robin 174, Robin/Spoiler Special 1, Devi 20, Checkmate volume 3, Rogue Angel 4.

Also, I use the word "awesome" a lot. It's that kind of set of reviews.

Cut here because, WOW, is this thing LONG. )
DC Universe 0 (Morrison/Johns/A raft of artists):
...So I ... and that ... I mean ... what the hell was that hot mess, anyway? It was billed as a big status quo explanation that would be a perfect jumping-on spot for new readers, but it explained so little that unless you read one hell of a lot in the DC universe, you had no idea what was going on.

It was meant at least in part also to be marketing and a teaser for the upcoming Final Crisis and its many many many many many many many many tie-in stories, and it managed to persuade me to read ... nothing I wasn't already reading. I mean, I'll probably do Batman RIP, because I read Batman peripatetically and Detective consistently, and despite the fact that "The Resurrection of Ra's Al-Ghul" crossover, after a great first issue or two, sucked like a sucking thing of suckitude making a giant sucking sound of suckiness. (In other words, it was very very bad.) I'll read "Whom gods forsake", because I read Wonder Woman, and because I've been waiting for the choice she had to make to rescue her mother to have consequences -- although a raft of Spartans about to attack the world because she's a woman who couldn't save it in fact has absolutely nothing to do with that choice. (Don't ask me why they're Spartans, either.) I was already planning to read "Final Crisis: Revelations", because it's Rucka writing Renee Montoya, and it's going to be a teamup with Crispus Allen/the Spectre, and there's no way on EARTH I'd want to miss that. I could give a rat's ass about "Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds: Prime Evil" in which various and sundry Legions try to beat down Superboy ... er, pardon, SuperMAN Prime. (How many colons does a title need, anyway?) I could give a rat's ass about "Green Lantern: Blackest Night Prelude: The Dead Shall Rise". Which is apparently a prequel to their major DEAR GOD YES THIS IS THE END OF ALL CRISES TO BEAT ALL CRISES crossover for next year, anyway. And I could care less about "Final Crisis" itself.

The other thing that baffles me is why DC spent so much time planting information in the media about the Big Event That Happens in the story ... especially since it kind of doesn't really happen. I will note, however, that I was vastly amused that the multiverse literally precipitates fallen heroes when it needs them, just assembling them and raining them out of the sky when it wants them, like sentient magma, judging from what we do see. Granted, it makes a sort of sense, given how he died, but still, it was terribly funny to see them actually do something that silly. That said, the ending graphic is, just barely, subtle enough that if DC hadn't been clanging that anvil, dropping said anvil on the heads of anyone who'd stand still long enough, and then shouting from the rooftops after that, a lot of people would have missed it entirely. Or assumed that the multiverse was precipitating a stripper, which would have been kind of perfect, really.

Anyway, a story that managed to actually not be worth the 50 cents they charged for it. Who knew?

Devi 19 (Mohapatra/Chandrasekhar; Virgin): basically, an issue long fight between Devi and the abruptly resurrected and body-jumping Daanvi, although it also contains flashes to activity going on underneath Sitapur in the lost city of Candara. Some tourists/archaeologists have most unfortunately gotten themselves mixed up with the darinde, who have plans for them. Aside from Tara getting a forced, and thankfully brief, review of her sister's life, not a lot happens in the main storyline -- issue long fight sequences tend to have that effect. Chandrasekhar's artwork is very nice, as always. It turns out that reminding us that Candara exists is also relevant to...

Witchblade/Devi (Ron Marz/Eric Basaloua; Top Cow/Virgin): a profoundly unnecessary, but oddly interesting crossover. It starts with us watching the original team-up between a very early holder of the Witchblade and an early Devi incarnation, teeing off against Tama, Bala and Iyam. (Familiar names? Why, yes, they are!) The artwork for the earlier Devi incarnation is sincerely problematic; we're explicitly told that Tara is the first living human to contain the Devi goddess -- the first incarnation that we see in the original Devi series is actually blue, for heaven's sake -- and yet this person appears to be exactly that. She's also wearing nothing more than the Devi crown and strategically placed fire. Anyway, Sara Pezzini wakes up from her dream of the Witchblade/Devi teamup, gets guided about Sitapur by Rahul, who is helping to investigate a murder in which the murderers killed in New York and ran away to Sitapur, and then gets attacked by darinde when she tries to sleep. She drives them off, and then has a lovely meet-ugly with Tara/Devi. The story, as mentioned, is unnecessary but fun, although it's clear that it's going to get on an express train for the Devi/Witchblade issue from Virgin/Top Cow next month; it's got places to go, and it's nowhere near there yet. Basaloua's artwork, on the other hand, is wildly inconsistent. At times it's much too simply drawn -- Sara's face in particular suffers from a lack of detail and expression and she almost always has her mouth half-open -- and at times it's really well detailed -- Candara and the darinde in particular are very well done. An enjoyable read if you normally pick up Devi; I have no idea how this works for readers of Witchblade.

Abyss 4 of 4 for the first story arc (Rubio/Maragon; Red 5): in which the big fight to which we've been building up finally takes place! At a comics convention! And it's much much shorter than you were expecting! ... because it turns out that we only thought this issue was building up to the big fight. It was actually building up to what comes after that. (No, I'm not telling.) Artwork is very nice, and it's going to be interesting to see what they do with this setup, now that they've got it. Eric with a superteam is most unexpected, I have to say.

Proof 7 (Grecian/Rossmo/Staples; Image): In which the big guy unleashes a bit of whoopass -- if only a bit -- Ginger and Elvis find and try to rescue the baby brontosaurus, and all the traitors are revealed. And ... not a lot else happens, actually, but it happens very interestingly. Highly recommended.

Jack of Fables 22 (Willingham/Sturges/Akins/Pepoy; DC/Vertigo): In which we're introduced, quite abruptly and seemingly unattached to the current storyline, to Jack in his past. Unlike the present, in which he's a very self-involved criminal but still somehow charming, the Jack of 1883 is a brutal, vicious murderer. He's so bad that Fabletown decides something must be done, and sends Bigby out after him. It's going to be interesting to see how Willingham and Sturges manage to maintain this arc, and how long they take it. Jack really was a borderline sociopath already; pushing him into full-fledged serial killer/spree murderer/robber/thug may be a bit more than the audience can stand for too long.

Caliber: First Canon of Justice 1 (Sam Sarkar/Garrie Gastonny; Radical Comics): One of the first issues of a new title from a new company. I read the issue and then saw some publicity elsewhere; only then did I discover that Caliber is meant to be a revisioning of the King Arthur legend. It's incredibly easy to miss if you're not paying the right sort of attention. (Though paying the right sort of attention makes it a terribly puzzling story indeed.) In the role of Merlin stands Jean Michel, son of a French trader and a Nez Perce shaman's daughter. In what appears to be the conflated role of Morgaine and Nimue stands Morgan, Jean Michel's lover. Captain Pendergon, commander of the town fort, appears to be standing in for Uther Pendragon -- his wife, standing in for Ygraine, dies during the story. And, of course, there's Arthur, the captain's son. And standing in for Excalibur is ... well, it's the old west. What would you think Excaliber would be? Knowing what the story is meant to be helps you understand a bit of what's going on ... if only a bit. For example, Jean Michel makes a critical mistake, because the spirits that speak to him to tell him what to do -- and we do hear the spirits along with him -- are profoundly unspecific, even though it seems as though they're being responsive. In any event, it may be interesting to see how this story goes. (Against that is the fact that I kind of hate Westerns, although a western with fantastical elements is pretty much something I may be able to deal with.) The art work ... well. Part of me wants to say that Gastonny's artwork is magnificent, because what we can actually see is well drawn and very detailed. The rest of me wants to say that it's incredibly muddy and dark, and it desperately needs to be lightened so that we can see what's going on. A good and intriguing beginning, anyway.

Hercules: The Thracian Wars 1 of 5 (Steve Moore/ Admira Wijay; Radical): ...yeah. OK, take a bunch of heroes, most of whom seem fairly dislikeable anyway. Stick them in a situation where they get insulted and pushed and pushed and pushed. Add a quite dislikeable Hercules. Have the insulting Thracians insult some more. Set Herc to blenderize. You wind up with a quite quite gory story, with nothing about it making me want to pay any attention in the slightest to issue 2. Not recommended.

Helen Killer #1 (Andrew Kreisberg/Matthew JLD Rice; Arcana):

First, the title is NOT a typo.

Second, this story may be the most bizarrely awesome thing I've seen in a while.

In real life, Helen Keller was blind and deaf, and an incredibly accomplished woman. She met all sorts of luminaries of her day, including Frederick Douglass and Alexander Graham Bell.

In this story, her early life is the same, including meeting Anne Sullivan, who helps her retire her "Phantom", the personality she thought herself to be when she was locked into her dark and silent world. Anne and Helen are walking home from a college lecture when they're set upon by thugs. Cornered, and unsure where Anne is or if she might be hurt, Helen reaches up to touch a switch on her large, clunky dark glasses ... and suddenly she can see and hear. Moreover, it turns out that being able to see and hear allows her to tap into something that fills her with a wondrous rage and an awesome physical power. It turns out that Alexander Graham Bell has fashioned something in those glasses that uses a carrier wave into her brain that allows Helen to see and hear and to tap into that rage and power as an unintended side effect. It also turns out that she's being recruited by the secret service to ... well, that would be telling. Seriously, this is the sort of setup that's so audacious that it's clearly headed for either incredible success or awesome failure. Rice's black and white artwork is very very good, conveying character and expression very well. Kreisberg's and Rice's story ... works, so far, is all I can say. It's very good and very strange. Highly recommended.
Tall Tales of Vishnu Sharma: Panchantra #1 (Samit Basu/Ashish Badelekar; Virgin)

Virgin has, it seems, signed up for this year's Free Comic Book Day. Due to the brouhaha with The Salon and apparently one or two other titles, the people in charge of FCBD have declared that all titles offered should be all-ages appropriate. Virgin has been, shall we say, notably lacking in all-ages titles until this year. "Tall Tales" would appear to be one of their two attempts -- Dan Dare being the other -- to do an actual all-ages title, and this is an attempt at an all-ages story doing what Virgin does, retelling and updating traditional Indian stories. That said ... I wouldn't recommend this for anyone under the age of 12 or so.

We start out inside the book of the Panchantra. Chapter 1, verse 18, apparently. An old man is arguing with two beautiful women, because he doesn't want to do what he's supposed to do. Eventually, they talk him into it, and he transforms into a tortoise while the women transform into swans. A magician leading a horde of orcs, or something like, comes over the hill, slaughter the geese and the tortoise, and eat them and drink their blood. This disrupts the narrative of the story, which is vitally important to the flow of things in the world.

Jump to modern day Mumbai. Vishnu, a teenager, is grousing to a friend over the phone because his grandfather died and all he got was a book, the Panchantra, a kid's book of tales. He opens the door to his home to discover a talking lion, ox, and monkey, trying to convince him to take up his grandfather's mantle as world-guardian. After a very bad start, they kind of convince him that they're real, that the stories are real (for certain values of "real"), and that they need to go to his grandfather's house to find the world-guardian's weapons. The orcs have followed. Mayhem in midtown Mumbai ensues, including orcs getting shot point-blank in the eyes and having throats slashed.

The artwork works for the sort of modern day fable that the story is aiming for, and the story itself is a fascinating blend of the traditional story and a modern tale, and gruesome fun. It's just not really an all-ages story. Recommended; just not for children.

Oddly enough, Tall Tales appears to be on a seriously compressed publication schedule. Either that, or Virgin's given Amazon a seriously mistaken publication date for the trade, which is also entirely possible.

76 (B. Clay Moore/Ed Tadem for "Jackie Karma"; Seth Peck/Tigh Walker for "Cool"; Image)

I don't know ... I just don't know.

"Jackie Karma": a man comes to New York to find Bobby Horner, a drugged out, burned out drunk living in an alley. Bobby doesn't remember the man, although they've met, but the man tells him that he's about to start something, and he doesn't want any interference from "you kung fu motherfuckers." Howler gets a message to John Carmichael, attorney at law, about what's happened. Somewhere in there, some guy gets his head cut off. Not knowing about that, John tells his wife that he's got to settle up some business from the old days. He hauls out the old leather jacket, puts on the lion's head belt and the extreme bell bottoms, and then goes out on to the street, causing everyone in a five-mile radius to curse and pray because Jackie Karma's back in town!

"Cool": a much more involved story so far. Pete and Leon work for Smitty the bail bondsman, and they're out pursuing Sheldon Abramowitz, wanted for mail fraud. (Sheldon happens to be the size of a small house. Smitty neglected to tell them that.) After a bit more trouble than they were expecting, Sheldon is subdued. Meanwhile, elsewhere in LA, Mark Reed brings his girlfriend cum stripper, Cherry Baum, along with him to make a drop, unwise though that is. Turns out that the person he was making the exchange with had instructions to kill Mark, which he does. Cherry, not wanting to become deceased herself, hits the murderer with the car and drives away. Meanwhile, back at the bail bondsman's office, Pete and Leon get their next assignment ... to find Cherry Baum. Meanwhile, back at the murderer's employer -- said employer happening to be a porn mogul, former porn star, and little person -- Logan is confessing that he killed Mark but didn't know about the person in the car until too late.

The idea behind "76" is that it's telling the same sorts of exploitation/action stories that you saw in movies in 1976. And, on the one hand, the authors and illustrators successfully evoke those sorts of stories -- including, unfortunately, the utter lack of sense to some parts. (Seriously, once you discover that the people you were worried about are either druggies or out of the vigilante business, why would you bother them? Why would you deliberately get their attention?) Thing is, these stories strike me as the type of thing that you're probably going to really like if you were actually around in 1976 and old enough to see and understand them, or else it completely sails over your head if you weren't. The black and white artwork is clean, distinctive, easy to distinguish characters and more or less works for the story. I just can't quite figure out who the audience is. As far as I can tell, it's meant to be an ongoing, rather than a mini, so I hope they can figure that out.

Afterburn 1 of 4 (Scott Chitwood, Paul Ens/Wayne Nichols; Red 5): The concept is that a massive solar flare blasts half the planet, to wit: "Scandinavia, Europe, Africa, Russia, the Middle East, Asia". (Scandinavia apparently not being part of Europe, and Russia and the Middle East being neither European nor Asian, apparently.) The Americas kinda sorta being the only surviving part, they quickly realize that the rest of the world is open to plunder, which is also kind of necessary, what with needing to reinvent industrial economies without much oil. We follow the main character Jake on a couple of the plunder runs, done for private clients; on the first, his team takes the Mona Lisa from the Louvre (because plundering the Louvre, once people realized that there was plunder to be had, wouldn't have been one of the first things done. Right.) On the second, they're doing something at the behest of "the Chinese embassy" -- apparently the embassies abroad cobbled together a government, though what it is that they're governing is entirely unclear, since China itself is a land of floods and mutants. Peculiar geography aside, this is the sort of story that feels very much as though it should have been a movie in the first place -- not because it would have been better visually (I suspect it would have been nearly impossible to make, given the extensive CGI needed to represent the flooded planet), but because you can make this sort of film move fast enough that people don't have time to think about it. It's also the sort of story that's probably going to grab people better if if it's more dynamic and kinetic. As it stands, we've got the situation, but we don't really have characters. Everyone is basically an action-adventure cipher right now. It might improve, but given how busy the story is already, I can't see where it's going to get the time.

Devi 16-17 (Mohapatra/Chandrasekhar; Virgin):
In which the second real story arc finally gets underway. Oddly, we get an (impressively brief but informative) recap from one of the villains, as though they expected a long publication gap that didn't happen. In any event, having told us what just happened, said villain and his gang are killed by person or persons unknown. Rahul, having recovered from his recent possession by a celestial enforcer, investigates, and finds signs that lead him to believe that Tara/Devi might have committed these murders. (Strangely, stray police have noproblems with finding darinde, supernatural creatures in the shape of men except for being very green, murdered on site. Anyway, Rahul questions Tara, who knows nothing about the murders. (Incidentally, Tara seems to have gotten back to living her non-goddess life. Not so incidentally, the writers appear to have clean forgot just exactly what that was, or how difficult it should be to just fit back in after being away for more than a month.) Tara also discovers that she may have a sister, who winds up staying with her while Tara tries to validate that claim. In the meantime, more murders make the local political situation go completely pear shaped, and Rahul's investigation to try to clear Tara winds up implicating her.

I have to admit, I wish I knew more about the source Devi legend. In Bombaby, the graphic novel version of the Devi tale done by Antony Mazzotta, her sister also winds up playing an important role, as a sort of tiger-avatar of the goddess. Anyway, this second arc looks like it's going to be less "world ending soon, pay attention" and more focused on how being Devi affects Tara's life, which looks to make an interesting change.
Including: Devi 10, Sadhu 6, Buffy 3, Dark Xena 1, Hunter's Moon 1 and so on.

And I'm going to try, and no doubt fail, to do actual sort of capsule reviews with pretensions of shortness.

So, let's get started, shall we? )
Somehow, I'm not at all surprised. (Well, OK, about Cage, yes, because when you think strong-thewed British heroic type, Nicolas Cage is, of course, the first person to come to mind. But not that this is happening so soon.)

Cage Eyes Chopra-Scripted Superhero - Deepak Chopra will script - Zap2it: Virgin Comics is looking to adapted "The Sadhu" into a feature vehicle for noted comic enthusiast Nicolas Cage. "The Sadhu" was created by Gotham Chopra, chief creative officer of the Richard Branson-financed Virgin Comics and, according to Variety, Gotham's daddy Deepak will script the project. Cage could play James Jenson, a soldier who time-travels back to colonial India and becomes a spiritual warrior.

Cage is all wrapped up in Virgin Comics' business. Early this year the company made a deal to publish "Enigma," a comic developed by Cage and the actor's 15-year-old son Weston. The thriller, which will be published as a five-part miniseries starting in March, could also be a potential film vehicle for the "Leaving Las Vegas" star. Steven Johnson's "Ghost Rider," another comic-based Cage offering, will premiere early next year.

I will say that Sadhu is one of the two Virgin titles about which I've so far changed my mind. Initially, I thought that Snakewoman was maybe the most interesting, and Sadhu was the least, and by issue 3 of both titles, I'd reversed position. Partly because Snakewoman's premise is somewhat more problematic than it had initially seemed -- in order to redeem herself and her past (don't ask), the Snakewoman will have to become an almost unparalleled serial killer. The question will be how she manages this, and what she does when she discovers that some of the people she has to kill aren't what they used to be -- and I can't say more than that without giving major spoilers. Snakewoman also had the heroine go passive in her own early story, due to drugged unconsciousness, for slightly more than an issue, broken over issues 3 and 4. It's not that such passivity is a bad thing per se; it's just that when it happens early in a title, it makes it more difficult to care about a character or their story.

Sadhu, on the other hand, after surviving an unrelentingly bleak and violent few weeks in which he lost his family and his position, is now faced with discovering these miraculous powers that he has -- which he apparently came back in time to tell a friend to tell him that he had. The premise has gotten interestingly twisty. Additionally, there's the question, still unanswered but distinctly not unasked, as to why the Indian gods have favored this white devil with these miraculous abilities. There's also the political and personal situation that led to the murder of his family still hanging out there. For twisty intrigue, it's the most interesting of the Virgin titles, so far.

Devi #5: In which Tara awakes -- at LAST! And man, is she pissed off. To nobody's surprise -- at least, nobody who's paid attention to the covers of Tara/Devi and the depictions of the Devi spirit from issue 1 -- the good(ish) monk's plan works, and Tara becomes the Devi incarnate. To the surprise of nobody intelligent, it doesn't quite work the way he thinks it will, although that Tara would be angry was a surprise. After all, we didn't really know her at all before she became Devi, so who knew that she'd be understandably a bit ticked about the way things had happened.

I'm guessing that at some point, she may need to backtrack on the offers she refused, because at this point, she only knows just so much. The gods (including one named Interface, of all things) could only put so much into her head and body.

I think it's going to be interesting to see how all this plays out. I really wish I knew if Virgin planned to issue trades of their titles, though. I think that Sadhu and Ramayan will work best in trades; they have the look of finite stories that might even be collected in just one really big book. Not sure about Devi or Seven Brothers, and not necessarily caring all that much about Snakewoman at this point, but it would be nice to know.
VOA News - Comics Drawing on Indian Mythology Are a Hit in US:
Comic books are not just for kids anymore. Young adults buy thousands of comics and related products. And tens-of-thousands of fans gather each year for comic conventions to celebrate heroes like Spiderman, Wonder Woman and Supergirl.

Now, British-based company Virgin wants to introduce comic readers to Snake Woman, the heroine of one of its new comic books, inspired by Indian mythology. The books went on sale a few weeks ago in the United States, and have made a big impression already. Reader Geremy Hartwik says the comics combine good writing and fresh ideas. "I can see the Indian elements especially in the character names and everything,” he says. “But I didn't think they seemed only accessible, if you know anything about Indian culture. I think they seemed very accessible because the story is very well written."

Virgin is producing the new comics in Bangalore, India, where it has a facility with 50 artists and writers. The firm says it wants to mine the rich history and mythology of India and other parts of Asia to produce new stories that appeal to American comic book fans. One of Virgin's first comic book hits, Snake Woman, is about a quiet young woman working as a waitress in Los Angeles, California, who suddenly discovers predatory instincts that seem to possess her. It is based on an ancient legend, in which the spirit of a serpent is born into a young woman. Other new titles include Devi and Sadhu, which include stories of Indian mystics and female super heroes. Aspects of the books should be familiar to all comic fans. They include plenty of action, adventure and stories about people struggling to do the right thing and help others....

So, after their first few months, of publishing, how does Virgin Comics itself and its titles look?

Take a look behind the curtain to see... )


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