Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Hero: Book One by David Rubin

The Hero: Book One by David Rubin.

dark horse,The Hero,david rubin


The Hero: Book One
Written and Illustrated by David Rubin. 
Translated into English and reprinted by Dark Horse Comics. 

David Rubin has crafted something so fresh and unique out of such an incredibly old tale that it just shouldn't be possible not to mention as much fun as it is to experience.  The Hero: Book One is here nonetheless, and it deserves to be recognized as the fantastic work that it is.   

Rubin's art stands out to me from just about everything else on the shelf, with bold lines, bright colors, and boundless energy. Honestly, the cartooning in this book is some of my personal favorite of all time. When I sit around the house procrastinating/daydreaming about being an artist, even my daydreamed art isn't as wonderful as the work Rubin is putting down. I know he was tapped by Paul Pope to be a contributor for the continuation of his Battling Boy world of books, and a lot of comic readers are already familiar with his work, but unfortunately I haven't gotten around to reading those yet and so I was sort of unprepared for the artistic assault that this book contained. His lines are clean but brushed boldly giving it a sense of awe and depth in those lines.  If forced,  I simply couldn't find a page in this particular work that wasn't gorgeous. The book is also immaculately designed and begins the story of our protagonist on the very first endpaper with an illustration of Heracles still in utero, his destiny still in flux, and gives you the feeling that Rubin just cannot wait to get the story started. 

Book one opens with the destiny of Heracles and Eurystheus being foretold. One of them is destined to be a sadistic tyrant, and while the other will be destined to be a hero of great renown, he will also be forced to be the servant of the tyrant. The consequences of Heracles not obeying Eurystheus are shown early on as he's hit from on high with a lightning bolt for seemingly only contemplating disobedience. 

Just as Rubin's art style rides the line between dark and light the story he is reimagining and his portrayal of the characters does the same.  Eurystheus is portrayed as a murderous and demented sociopath but one who is himself being manipulated by the gods, maybe so much that he is incapable of being any other way. Heracles is shown as a natural hero, thinking of the problems of others before himself, but unable to be as effective as he could be due to his bond to Eurystheus. 

Rubin doesn't hit you over the head with the themes he's exploring, but they are there; what it means to be a hero, free will vs. destiny, faith in higher powers, and how being destined to be a hero is a lot like being cursed in how the Heracles story pans out. 

The setting for the story is classical and modern in the same breath, a retro punk retelling of Greek Gods in modern day clothing advertisements. A world where Cell phones, airplanes, computers, and motorcycles all exist in the same world as the Greek pantheon. Whether we are being told a story of ancient Greece with modern technologies or some strange modern era that is home to an actual pantheon of gods is left up to our interpretation. 

There's also a risqué cameo from a certain Amazon that is NSFW and graphic depictions of violence but given the source material I don't think anyone should be shocked. 

The only thing that struck me as a little bit odd was Rubin's portrayal of Poseidon, who looks like a muppet Cthulhu via Futurama instead of the way he's been illustrated every other time I've ever seen. But it's a fun scene and still manages to match the overall style of the book.  You can tell the creator has a deep appreciation of the classic myths but he isn't letting those old tales tie his hands. He's still able to weave beats of humor and surprise into what could easily be referred to as a tired tale. 

This book was so much fun to read it seemed to fly by in seconds  and I honestly can't wait to read it again or to dive into Book Two. So the only warning any reader really needs is to try not to cut your fingers on those pages while you're racing to the back cover.  

Stay calm. 
Don't panic. 
Heracles is the hero you need to read. 

Ultraman Volumes 1 & 2 by Tomohiro Shimoguchi and Eiichi Shimizu

Ultraman Volumes 1 & 2 by Tomohiro Shimoguchi and Eiichi Shimizu

Ultraman Volumes 1 & 2
Written by Tomohiro Shimoguchi
Illustrated by Eiichi Shimizu
Published by Viz

I know we're all being sold a billion different "new" or reimagined versions of every single thing we ever loved, as well as everything we slightly remember due to those early morning sleep deprivation experiments that were Saturday Morning Cartoons.  And because they know we loved that stuff so much there are now unintelligible live-action Transformers movies, semi-animated Scooby-Doo films, and The Real Housewives of Gilligan's Island.  It's a minefield.

I get it. I understand.  I'm one of you too.  Someone who craves all the new things I didn't even know I was missing out on, someone who despises the very idea of new ideas coming in second place.

But not everything is aiming to suckerpunch you right in the nostalgia.  There are few things that are simply amazing and deserving of our attention.  Naoki Urasawa's retelling of Astroboy in his Pluto manga immediately jumps out to me as a great example of why it's a good idea to make that initial leap sometimes.  Knowing that kind of work is possible and out there under the guise of a reworked older property made it all the easier to pick up Ultraman Volume 1 by Shimoguchi and Shimizu.

I have lots of fond memories of watching the old Ultraman television show when I was a kid, but I honestly don't remember much about the whole mythos.  I remember he got big, fought kaiju, and had some sweet kung fu laser beam action.  And with that, I've already told you more than you need to know to enjoy this first volume, which will take those foggy memories (if you have them) and pull you right back in to a world where giant robot dudes fight surprisingly sneaky giant reptile kaiju. I don't believe this will disappoint anyone who might be on the fence. 

Shimizu's line work is incredible, dynamic, and it lends itself really well to black and white. There are scenes in these first two volumes reminiscent of some of the biggest action-oriented science fiction manga series I've ever read. This isn't on the same level with Domu or even Blame!, but it's a hell of a lot of fun. Shimoguchi also has a nice mystery going so far in regards to the origins of Ultraman, the main character's origin, and the previous adventures of the earlier Ultraman which makes the decision to keep coming back a no brainier for me. 

In lesser hands this book could be a silly Power Rangers nonsensical mess, but that is not what this is. This is the good stuff. 

So if Saturday morning serials have a fond place in your heart, if "your" Godzilla is a guy in a rubber suit, or if you're just in the mood for some giant monster Kung fu action, this is worth picking up and diving in to. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Princess Ugg

Princess Ugg 
Written and Illustraded by Ted Naifeh
Colored and Lettered by Warren Wucinich
Published by Oni Press

Ulga, her parent's "bonny wee berzerker", is nervous.  Not because she's about to go into battle with frost giants, she's already killed six herself, but because she's about to leave her homeland in the north and go off to school.  Not just any school, but Princess School just like her own mother when she was a child.  And she's not happy about it.  Not at all.

Princess Ugg is a tale of "high adventure and higher education" starring Ulga, who is not your typical storybook princess by any means.  She's a princess but she's also a fierce warrior, and already quite accomplished in her homeland.  Picture a small, tweenage, vaguely Gaelic Conan who just happens to have a pet wooly mammoth named Snorri.  Now send that little girl off to a school very much like Hogwart's, but for princesses.  Are you onboard yet?

Early on in the first issue we're introduced to Ulga's father Odin, but it's intentionally left unclear as to his godhood.  In this story so far he's only a caring father who doesn't want his daughter to leave him and go down among the lowlanders.  It's a touching enough scene and I appreciate that his character isn't rudimentary, and like every other depiction of Odin in comics.  I've seen enough of that guy.

We're also introduced to Julifer, Princess of Atraesca, early on, as she is being awoke by a servant, surrounded by a luxurious bedroom, complete with servants to wait on her every need.  If that isn't enough on it's own to make you dislike her there's even a servant there to hold her tissue when she blows her nose.  This little gag works, and you're immediately rolling your eyes at her and her dim-witted dialogue.  Juxtapose this with a scene in which Ulga is woken up by her wooly mammoth dumping ice water on her, then diving into a frozen lake to bathe and it's instantly clear that these two characters are from the opposite ends of the princess spectrum.

Ulga, on her way to the Princess School, is whipped by one of Julifer's servants for not getting out of the way quick enough and is incensed enough to dish out a little education of her own on the guards.  It's a good scene and at the end of it, Julifer finds herself exactly where she needs to be.  There's a real sense of just desserts in that scene that I enjoyed a lot more than I would have expected.  It just works for me in a very saturday morning cartoon kinda way.  Julifer would make a pitch-perfect evil stepsister.

At the end of the first issue Julifer and Ulga are assigned as each other's roomates at the school and while I saw that plot point from a mile off, it wasn't something that I didn't want to see play out.  I think there's a lot of mileage there for future stories and I'd honestly like to read them.  I've read up to issue #2 now and the quality carries over.  If you liked number one, then keep on reading as I think it's going to continue to meet your expectations.

My only complaint would be that the school itself needs to be fleshed out a little more for my liking, along with the teachers.  The other princesses could also stand to be given more time in the spotlight, but this might just me being impatient.  "Daughters of kings turn up here to learn all sorts of things" is an interesting motto and I'd like to see the stories in Princess Ugg go off the rails a little and deal with some of those.

This book was a lot of fun to read. and while there's a lot to compare it to, I feel like it  totally stands up as something unique in the comics medium.  I feel like I'm constantly hearing how there are not enough comics for kids in the market, but this title is not only great for kids (so far) it is absolutely fantastic for girls who might not be into Disney princesses or reading about female characters who just wait around to be rescued.  I think Ulga is a fantastic introduction to a different way of thinking about princesses, and something that I will definitely get into the hands of my own daughters... After I read them of course.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Heroic Dose update!

A couple things have happened, and directly relate to the frequency I've been able to update Heroic Dose.  I thought I'd share, so here goes.

My youngest daughter Lily, who is 13 months old, has been diagnosed with CVI, or Cortical Vision Impairment and it's taken a front seat to the everyday happenings here at Rancho Relaxo.  It's at the top of my brain on a daily basis.

But we're at a good place now, and I should be writing some more very soon.  Nothing like the "once a week" or every other week I was shooting for, but hey... life.

There's also another very good reason why I might not be posting as often as I'd like here:  I'm writing for Panel Patter!  I'm very excited to be contributing to their site, as it seems like it's populated by some great comic-lovers who all just want to sing comic praises and spread the gospel.  The comic gospel, I wouldn't know anything about the other gospel.  So I'm psyched!  I should be writing for them 2 or 3 times a month and I'd like to do the same here.

There might be a little cross pollination going on as well because I want these rambling reviews to get out to the most people as possible.  But if you want to read some great reviews from a great group of people who love comics just as much as me... Panel Patter is where it's at people.

So there's my update!
Come follow along at Panel Patter for some really great reviews, and spread the word, it's really worth your time.  And there's cookies!

Gratuitous photo of summer shenanigans!
No babies were harmed in this photo.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Three Fingers - Written and Illustrated by Rich Koslowski

Comic fanboys across the intertubes are straight trippin'.

Comixology's decision to do away with in-app purchases on iOS devices such as the iPad, iPhone, iPad mini, and the iToilet (after their recent acquisition by Amazon) has the digital fanboys in a tizzy.  I personally think it's a shame because those are the devices I use even though I have a Kindle Fire HD available to me.  I just don't use that Kindle Fire HD because it's clunky as hell, and the iPad puts it to shame, straight up.  There's really no competition in my mind between the two devices or any other tablet I've experienced.  Apple products just work like I want them to, without hassles or crashes.

I prefer iOS,  I prefer Apple products in general, and I will never, ever buy another PC.  Guess that makes me a Mac fanboy.  Whatever.  I'm fine with that.  Debate it amongst yourselves without me, I've got comics to read.

Back on topic!

ADD is a real thing, people, sorry.

So while everyone else is busy complaining, and posting their angry see-ya-later's to Comixology's Facebook page, I took the 5 bucks they credited to every customer's account ("to help ease the transition") and bought something nice for myself... for free.  I highly recommend it.

I had heard the guys on the 11 o'clock Comics podcast talk about Three Fingers by Rich Koslowski a week or so ago and it sounded very interesting.  I'd never seen any of Koslowski's art or read any of his work, so I made a note to check it out.  And I'm glad I took the chance and did.

Personally, some "underground" or "indy" comics can be pretty hard for me to get into.  I'm not an exclusive capes & cowls comic reader by any means, but some autobiographical comics make me want to implode into a depression ball just like the ones their authors seem to live in.  I say this fully aware that I'm a Harvey Pekar fan.  I'm complicated.  I have layers.  I'm a big ole onion.

So anyway, I decided to spend that free money Comixology ponied up on Koslowski's Three Fingers, using up every penny except one, for what turned out to be 134 pages of genuine comic book genius.  For $4.99 this is a no-brainer.  This needs to be read, and at that price you're just silly for not having it on your digital bookshelf.

The premise is simple, it's written and drawn in a documentary style that is very familiar if you're a fan of that particular film genre.  Think pastiche, not parody.  Most of the story, which basically skirts around a mystery of sorts, is told as characters answer unheard questions from an "off screen" interviewer.  This mystery is the origin of why most popular cartoon characters only have three fingers and a thumb.  And it's completely, totally fascinating to watch the story unfold in this book.  It really is engrossing, and should cause you to ease through it in one enjoyable sitting just like I did.  Me, Saturday morning, a great graphic novel like Three Fingers, and a big cup of good coffee.  Nothing better.

Koslowski's art style for this particular book is pitch perfect, riding the line between cartoony and a more realistic style.  It's cartoons imagined as real people, without makeup, showing all their age after a long career in Hollywood, and all their insecurities and foibles.  And again, these characters are the ones spinning the tale for our entertainment through first-hand recollections.

After reading this book, there is absolutely nothing you can do to keep me away from rushing right out and experiencing more from Rich Koslowski.  You should follow suit.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Gyakushu by Dan Hipp

Now for something a little more obscure...

Odds are Gyakushu, pronouced "Gahhh-Phhbbbblll'tttishu'paphfooie", is probably something that you've never seen or heard of before.  And that's a shame because it's definitely something that your eyes need bathing in.

You need to drink in the awesome goodness that is Dan Hipp's GYAKUSHU!

At it's core, Gyakushu is a take on a classic kung-fu fantasy style mashup revenge tale.  It would sit nicely beside some of my personal favorite revenge flicks such as Kill Bill Vols 1&2, Oldboy, Memento, and The Outlaw Josey Wales, but what sets Gyakushu apart, aside from the horrible name which I've already made fun of (and can't seem to stop), is the shear confidence and master-class artwork dropped onto the page like a slap in the face from Dan Hipp.

I just can't stop looking at it.  Staring at it.  Living inside those panels.  They're so full of drama and emotional resonance and balls-to-the-wall action that they're impossible to just breeze by them.  You want to spend time with them, to make yourself slow down and appreciate just what you're seeing, and not rush to the end like the average comic.  The art is just kinda perfect.  Usually I could nit-pick something about an artist's work like any other jerk, and say there is something they do that I'd prefer that they give up immediately (like Skottie Young drawing super babies), but there is absolutely nothing that Hipp does that doesn't strike me as brilliant.

Hipp's style is definitely manga influenced but I would say it is equally influenced by cartoon/anime/cell animations.  It just seems an inch away from popping off the page and coming to life as animation.

And Hipp isn't your typical comic book artist either, his style is so dissimilar to just about everyone else out there working that I can't think of a mainstream comic he'd likely fit on without mass fanboy suicide, but I'm sure he would crush whatever character or characters anyone gave to him. I'd pay my $3.99 to see this guy draw Sonic Adventures if that's what he wanted. That being said, I would definitely prefer Hipp do something that was creator-owned and original, something like Gyakushu, something straight out of his noggin with no filter.
I first came upon Hipp and Mark Andrew Smith’s Amazing Joy Buzzards graphic novel one day at my LCS, killing time in-between classes, and very quickly decided I had to have it.  To this day I don’t remember much about the story in Joy Buzzards, aside from a Yeti joke, but I DO remember the art.  So when I joined up and started an account with Comixology one of the first things I did was search for some of my favorite artists and writers - for books I might not be familiar with.  Turns out this was immensely easier than diving into comic book back issue boxes or even a google search PLUS I found Gyakushu by Dan Hipp!

The action delivered in this book is wicked, intense, and will leave you breathless.  It will drag you in, and not let you go until you wanna dress your head in bandages like the main protagonist and carry a sword down to the Quick-E-Mart on the corner just looking for trouble. The main character, and all the characters for that matter, look amazing - with an extra heaping of badassery poured into the bandaged protagonist. He's equal parts thief, samurai, ninja, and The Man With No Name. He is the ultimate anti-hero, a thief who was disfigured and left for dead, his family murdered, and who only craves revenge.
The dialogue however, is greatly lacking. Not the actual story mind you, the story is fine but sometimes when characters speak they just come off as very two-dimensional tropes. I actually prefer it when the characters don't speak. I only say this because it's kind of jarring at first, but either Hipp gets better at it as the three volumes come to a close, or by that time you're just desensitized to it. Either way, it feels like he gets better as it goes on, and that's all that counts in my opinion. The real draw here, is the art.
The villains again are very cookie-cutter, faceless ninja types but they're completely forgivable as encounters with these guys lead to kick-ass action sequences. I suppose there's an analogy to be made between Gyakushu and popcorn action movies, although not the horrible shakey-cam visual abortions that are becoming vogue. I mean good popcorn flicks like The Rock or Pitch Black. Something you can just sit back and experience. And there is nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with this book either.
As far as I'm concerned, this book is a classic.
Give it a try! As of this time it's only $5.99 for the first volume on Comixology and it seems like the only place you can actually get the 3rd volume, which never saw print and was released as a digital exclusive. If digital isn't your thing then the first two volumes are very easy to find via Amazon or eBay and the prices for them are very similar to the digital versions. Personally, I read it digitally on an iPad and it was an excellent experience. Guided view, along with storage issues for physical issues, is why I read 99% of everything digitally. I'll jump on a european work, as I know that's not usually happening for me digitally, but just about everything else I tend to read on an iPad, a Kindle Fire HD, or even my iPhone if I'm bored enough. And I never have to bag or board another comic. It's a win/win, and so is Gyakushu.

So check it out, and let me know what you think! Am I way off? Is it better than I said? I want to know! Also, if you enjoy my ramblings then please spread the word about this little bloggy blog so we can get some new readers and even some new writers! If you're interested in writing for the blog then please get in touch and we'll see what's what!
'Til next time!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Amazing Spider-Man OGN Family Business by Mark Waid, James Robinson,Gabriele Dell Otto, and Werther Dell Edera

Confession time:  Spider-Man is my all-time favorite superhero.  Not just my favorite Marvel Comics superhero, but my all-time, all-inclusive superhero.  And he has been since I bought my first Spider-Man comic: The Amazing Spider-Man 261.

Another confession: I didn't really buy it.  Not with my own money.
But I DID beg for it sufficiently enough to warrant my father giving in and then shelling out a hard-earned 60 cents.  Was that really a lot of money back then?
Back then, with 60 cents, you could probably buy a better kid than me.  Maybe two of them.  Odds are at least one if them wouldn't whine about mowing the yard.

But I digress.

Spider-Man: Family Business is not only very easy on the eyes, but it is an incredible read.

There was a time, not too long ago it seems to me, that I wouldn't have identified myself as a Mark Waid fan.  He had written some things I'd liked, but just liked, not loved.  I liked his run on Flash.  I thought his Captain America was pretty good.  Kingdom Come was amazing.  Fluke?  Out of all those Crossgen titles I tried, Waid's Ruse was my favorite, but still not enough to really make me think of myself as a fan. L.E.G.I.O.N., Ka-Zar, Impulse... nothing seemed to stick out and say look at me. They were just "ok" comics in my opinion.  And there was nothing wrong with that, it just wasn't enough for me to include him in my favorite writers list.  Don't act like I'm the only one who has a list like that living in your head.

Then I read his Fantastic Four with Mike Weringo on art and remember being really impressed.  At the time the FF was a place where creators, stories and art went to be unnoticed.  It was the anti-flagship Marvel title despite being it's first.  Still, I couldn't, or wouldn't, give this dude his props.  I chalked up my affinity for his FF run to the amazing talents of Weringo.  (I've reread that series recently and boy was I wrong... it was truly FANTASTIC.)

Then I read Waid's Empire series.  The one where the villain analog of Dr. Doom won, and took over the world?  I think I might have been one of the few reading it, but this is where Waid started to become one of my favorite writers.  That book was amazing, and definitely needs to be read by you if you haven't had the opportunity.  Then came Irredeemable, and Daredevil, and Incorruptible, and Indestructible Hulk, and The Incredibles, Rocketeer, The Unknown, his work on Amazing Spider-Man, Superman: Birthright, and the immense undertaking of 52.  After so many incredible stories Mark Waid is sitting pretty high on my list of great writers, and deservedly so.

So this book was an immediate purchase for me just for Waid's name on the cover.  I've only ever really enjoyed James Robinson writing his series The Golden Age and Starman.  Everything else I've read of his has fallen short for me, making me wish for more Starman, or for a creator-owned project from him.  I think I might just be mad at Robinson for not giving me more Starman.  It seems personal to me.

The art in this book is stunning.  Dell'Otto is a beast!  The guy's artwork just exudes such a fantastic cinematic flair that makes it easy to trick your mind into believing you're watching a great film.  It's deep.  It has this great depth to it, that allows you to feel like it lets you in... like you're watching from inside the panels, and not holding a book or a tablet.

This is what I love about comics!  The writer comes up with the dialogue and pacing, the artist shows you the panels, the perspective, the beats of the story, but a big portion of the work in telling that story is still your responsibility!  All the action transpiring between the panels, the actions that tie the story together, that only takes place in your head.  Along with giving a voice to those characters, makes the act of reading a comic a bit of a creepy, intimate experience, and one that has always made comics my absolute favorite medium.

The actual story within Family Business revolves around Peter Parker's family: his S.H.I.E.L.D. super-spy parents, and another estranged member of the Parker clan.  I won't spoil it, but it seems like a "oh no they shouldn't do this" kind of moment and storyline, and not something I usually enjoy, but it just works here in this story.  It works because Waid makes you feel empathy for the new character, for Peter, and for their situation.  It works on every level.  By the end of the book I wanted more, and that's the best compliment for a story I can think of.

Also, to be clear, this is a Peter Parker story.  The actual Peter Parker, not ole Doc Oc, and it feels great to read a story featuring Peter again after the lengthy break we've had.  I'm really enjoying this Superior Spider-Man arc and I don't really feel like it needs to end this soon, but... it was nice to see Peter again.

I give the Spider-Man: Family Business OGN my highest recommendation.  It's made for Spider-Man fans, Marvel Zombies, fans of comics in general, and fans, like myself, of Mark Waid.