Comic Book Reviews (March)

I’m currently following three comics. Seeing as they land the same week, I’ve decided to cross post all three reviews at once. I could devote a whole week to comics every month, but I’m always reading other stuff I want to talk about and I’ve been writing a lot as well, which limits posting time. I might make this a monthly feature instead.

Because I always remember to post monthly features.

(I am going to post a Reading Challenge Update this week.)

On with the reviews!

MEFND9CoverMass Effect: Foundation #9 by Mac Walters and Tony Parker

Mass Effect: Foundation is a series of comics exploring the back stories of the companions available to the player character Shepard in the trilogy of video games, ‘Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3’. With issue nine, we return to the formula established early on, which is both good and bad.

After a brief check in with Agent Rasa where we learn she is recovering from the poison, we dive off the deep end into another seemingly disconnected story. I can only assume what follows is a ‘re-enactment’ of events, much like the episode where we explored Kaidan Alenko’s past. This time, we’re looking in on Dr. Mordin Solus, famed Salarian biologist…and more. Mordin is a fascinating character and I looked forward to learning more about him. None of the issues thus far has really told us anything we didn’t already know however or could not have surmised from the clues hidden in every companion conversation throughout the three games. The point of these comics seems to be to illustrate moments rather than add to canon.

mefnd9p3Mordin is tasked with developing a new strain of the genophage, a bio-engineered plague that was used to sterilize the war-like Krogan in an effort to stop them from breeding destruction. A month or so later, Mordin travels to Tuchanka to conduct tests. This is where we get a glimpse of the beginnings of the remorse Mordin so obliquely expresses in-game. He makes note of the architecture and ruins and comments that he was not aware the Krogan were capable of such feats. He also ponders the purpose of his work. Both are observations we encounter later, in ‘Mass Effect 3’.

Mordin and his team encounter a Krogan female and a fight ensues. We get to see our favourite salarian kicking ass and taking names, which is both gratifying and somewhat uncomfortable, given the nature of his work.

Mordin’s voice is captured perfectly in this comic. I could hear him in my head, which is exactly how it should be when reading characters you’ve heard/seen elsewhere. The salarians, in general, acted as salarians do, bickering and fighting. The time frame confused me. From the game, I got the impression the salarians were on Tuchanka for a lot longer than the comic indicated. Maybe this episode recalls a different visit?

No particular comments on the artwork this time ‘round. It did what it was supposed to do. I can’t say as Mordin was completely recognisable, but his distinct ‘voice’ separated him from the other salarians well enough.

P3CoverPariah #2 by Aron Warner, Philip Gelatt and Brett Weldele.

The cover of issue two of ‘Pariah’ makes me giggle. It’s so very teen-age. Inside, we have skipped forward forty-three days since the Vitros (genetically modified humans – intelligent and precocious) have been launched into orbit on a derelict space station. Between looking for more booby traps, the Vitros are scavenging local space junk. Brandon, our narrator for this issue calls his group ‘orbital dumpster divers’, which he thinks makes a great band name. I agree.

Samantha has become the lead ‘science person’ or as Brandon prefers, their science officer. I love this observation. It feels very human and age appropriate, though I’d likely make the same comment and I’m a lot older than the Vitros. Also, he has a crush on her, which is adorable. His girlfriend, Lila, probably wouldn’t agree. His observations regarding Lila are bittersweet. She’s obsessed with returning to Earth and has been spending a lot of time with Hyde. The pair are, quote: Thick as thieves.

Marks discovers a data feed coming from the station. The content seems like an attempt to unsettle Earth. Lila blames Brandon for not keeping tabs on such things. They have the sort of fight that plagues degrading relationships. Regardless, Brandon sets out to find the source of the data feed.

pariah2p4Sam suggests he poke around the underdecks. She also suggests next time they visit they talk about something more interesting. She’s obviously flirting and it’s obviously geeky. The rest of his search confirms only one thing, Lila is probably right about the group needing strong leadership.

Along with Robert Maudsley, Brandon tracks down the culprit and one of Samantha’s ‘fixes’ helps disable the kid. The problem is solved, but Brandon and Lila’s relationship is not resolved. She has a secret she won’t share and even youngsters in love know that’s just not a good thing.

I really enjoyed Brandon’s headspace. His point of view is so young male and the perfect tone for this chapter. He feels despondent, which matches the passage of time and the undercurrent of the entire group. They’re alive, but they’re not going anywhere. The group is fracturing into small cliques, some of which are doing useful things, some of which are not, unless you call a working still useful. I would.

The reveal at the end of the issue feels somewhat hopeful and sinister at the same time. I also think that catching up with Maudsley is about more than the authors remembering he’s there. I’ve been wondering what he’s up to and hoping for another issue from his creepy point of view.

As always, the art continues to compliment the tale of stranded teenagers perfectly. The washed-out colours in this issue also reflected Brandon’s despondency. I really like the way each issue encapsulates a slice of time for these kids while advancing the overall story. The comic feels truly episodic, rather than a book that’s been broken up into parts.

As always, I’m looking forward to the next issue.

SerenityLTWCoverSerenity: Leaves on the Wind #3 by Zach Whedon and Georges Jeanty (Dos Santos cover)

I waited until after release day for this review so I could say more than ‘hey, this is a great comic, go buy it’. Still, I prefer not to give away spoilers in my reviews, so what I have here is the briefest outline and another recommendation that you go out and buy these comics.

Issue three of ‘Leaves on the Wind’ picks up the story right where we left off. River is dreaming. She is holding the position of observer in her own dream, which is a really neat effect. Works well in this format. When she gets overly restless, Simon tries to wake her up but is interrupted by an unexpected visitor. Jubal.

Meanwhile, Mal and Inara are talking about practical matters, like how Mal is trying to worry for everyone. No amount of worry will fill their bellies, though, it’s time to break into the emergency rations he has hidden away in Inara’s shuttle. Jubal meets him there.

Jayne attempts to commiserate with Bea, but he’s just not the touchy-feely type. Chastising himself, he leaves her for a bit. When Bea next looks up, she has another guest in the kitchen. Not realising Jubal is not part of the crew, she introduces herself and offers him coffee.

So, Jubal has trussed up half the ship. Inara and Jayne are locked in their rooms. Now it’s time to interrogate his prisoners. He asks after the rest of the crew – Shephard, Wash and Zoe – and Mal delivers news of their various fates in as few words as possible.

“It’s been a tough couple of years for you guys, hasn’t it?”

“It’s had it’s ups and downs.”

serenlw3p3Understatements of the century, and typical of the dialogue I’d expect from this series. Jubal certainly finds it amusing. Just as he realises he’s forgotten someone, Kaylee makes her appearance. It’s a pretty sweet moment.

With Jubal chained to a chair and quaking from Kaylee’s threats, the crew reconvene to see if River remembers anything. She does. You’ll need to read the comic to see what she has to say. Her revelation alters the course of Zoe’s rescue, however, and inspires Mal to look up another old friend.

This is another great issue of the comic. The story is tight. There is plenty of fan service on top of a strong plot delivery. The art continues to capture action and emotional nuance, even if the faces sometimes take a moment to process. I think this would be less of a problem in the collected editions where the reader can skip from one chapter to the next. The dialogue is firming up and as I’ve already mentioned, the story needs no work whatsoever. I’m hooked.

 

All reviews written for SFCrowsnest.

 

Review: Mass Effect Foundation (#8)

MEFND8CoverThe beginning of the eighth issue of Mass Effect: Foundation deals with the aftermath of Kai Leng and Agent Rasa’s failure to capture Jack in the previous issue. The tension between them seems worse than the repercussions of their failure. Kai Leng’s facial expressions here are so well drawn! Between that and his posture, his fury is clearly evident and somewhat reminiscent of the Kai Leng fans will remember from later in the game.

The pair return to the Minuteman Station where Leng is ordered to depart again, right away, to attend a summons by the Illusive Man. Rasa is introduced to the Lazarus Project where she learns the value of the intel she has gathered on Commander Shepard.

We get a glimpse of Shepard here, and it’s not pretty, neither is the suggestion about how they restored his body. In order to complete the project, however, they need more information. Agent Rasa is dispatched to the Citadel to steal classified records from the Spectre’s offices. The assignment is one of an all but impossible nature and it turns out to be as difficult as she expected. With a little help from a mysterious drell assassin, she might survive.

mefnd8p2
Preview the comic at Dark Horse.

This is my favourite issue so far. The flagging momentum as the pieces of the story are collected in previous issues really picks up as we learn the purpose of Agent Rasa’s research. Her own difficulties–the rivalry with Kai Leng and the mission to the Citadel–kick the story into high gear. The hint regarding Shepard’s recovery delivers an emotional punch.

The art didn’t distract me this time, either. There are a few panels where I had a hard time figuring out what was going on, but in general, the action is portrayed well and there are lots of lovely close ups of emotional expressions that are very nicely done.

With only three issues remaining, Mass Effect: Foundation is finally delivering on its promise. Now they just have to keep the momentum going.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

Review: Mass Effect: Foundation (#7)

MEFndtn7CoverFinally, it’s the of ‘Mass Effect: Foundation‘ comic I have been waiting for. Number seven, or Jack’s issue. Jack is a companion and possible love interest for the main character, Commander Shepard, in the game Mass Effect 2. She also appears in Mass Effect 3.

Jack, formerly known as Subject Zero, is a powerful biotic with a tortured past. She was ‘acquired’ as a child by Cerberus and subjected to terrible experiments aimed at producing a human biotic with exceptional power. A biotic has an element in their bloodstream that allows them to move matter with a gesture and a thought.

In the comic, Jack breaks into a Cerberus training facility. After dealing with the administrator, she attempts to liberate the students, most of whom believe they are orphans. Given Cerberus’ tactics, they probably are. Jack shares a snippet of her past in order to motivate the students to move.

Kai Leng and Agent Rasa are dispatched by the Illusive Man to pick her up. Rasa notes the Blue Suns have been sent in as backup, which seems unusual, until she discovers exactly what she is up against with Subject Zero. In Mass Effect 2, Kai Leng proves a difficult (and annoying) foe. In this comic, Jack tosses him around like a toy and there’s a certain sense of satisfaction to be gained from seeing it.

I’m not sure how this snippet of Jack’s past ties in with the over all story arc of the series. Perhaps there will be some mention in a later issue.

On to the art. I like the cover, but the first image of Jack inside makes me cringe. She looks too baby-faced and unless you know her torso is covered in tattoos, you’d think she’s wearing a chaotically patterned jumpsuit. Granted, her tattoos are hard to draw and quite often throughout the comic, artist Garry Brown suggests rather than paints. That seems indicative of his style, in fact. A lot of the panels lack details such as faces and attitude engraved with thicker lines. I don’t mind the style; it suits the busier panels and with the features of so many characters being less distinct, there is less fault to find.

Over all, this is one of the least satisfying issues in the series, thus far. I learned nothing new about my favourite companion, Jack, and the adventure did not advance the greater story arc. Still, I will doggedly continue with issue number eight in the hopes my persistence will pay off.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

New York Comic Con 2013

Me auditioning as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.

My mission this year at the New York Comicon was to meet Greg Capullo. I failed miserably, in part due to the NYCC mobile app being all but useless and because there were 125,000 people pressed hip to shoulder inside the Javits Center. Navigating the crowd became the featured activity, seconded by finding an empty piece of wall to slump against for a few minutes. Waiting in line for the restroom was the third. But, that’s a convention. The crowds are part and parcel of the experience. If you’re averse to being sandwiched between strangers for longer than a minute or being poked in the eye by someone’s homemade sword, a con isn’t for you. A convention has a lot more to offer than a lethal cocktail of body odour, though. Continue reading “New York Comic Con 2013”

Review: East of West Volume 1: The Promise

East of West, Vol. 1: The Promise by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta

I love post-apocalyptic fiction, all kinds. Examined, it’s not the healthiest obsession, but I seem to share it with a good portion of the population. Stories of the end of the world, the cataclysm (all kinds) and after, are everywhere. The New York Times Bestseller list, at the movies, on TV and in the hands of children. A recent browse of the YA shelf at the library showed a serious bend toward dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction. Vampires still get a look in, but their uglier cousins, the zombies, are having their day.

Our fascination with the end of the world goes a long way back, so it’s hardly surprising gruesome tales of our end continue to capture the imagination, or that some of the most enduring stories continue to be reworked. One of the best known and popular tales of the apocalypse is found in the bible. Revelations. The Four Horseman and the Beast. It’s terrifying stuff! I remember being convinced as a child that the Horsemen would ride in my life time. I may have just watched The Omen when I came to this conclusion. Unfortunately for my parents, I got a hold of a bible and read Revelations to my younger sister. I wasn’t allowed to baby sit for some time after that.

Continue reading “Review: East of West Volume 1: The Promise”