Usagi Yojimbo #141 Review

By Chuck Suffel

Usagi Yojimbo #141 Created, Written & Illustrated by Stan Sakai

This issue is quite a milestone as it marks the two hundredth appearance of Usagi in his own comic illustrated by Stan Sakai. I’ve read this title once or twice in the past but until this issue I don’t think I ever gave it the chance it deserved. Sakai drafts a simple yet compelling story one we think we’ve read before, it feels so familiar, but in lending it his voice he changes it, makes it mean something different. It’s a very personal and symbolic issue and one I’m sure it felt wonderful to write.

For the un-indoctrinated Miyamoto Usagi is a Ronin (masterless samurai), traveling the “warriors pilgrimage” as yojimbo (bodyguard for hire). He is also an anthropomorphic rabbit. As I said the story is quite familiar, a town being terrorized by a
gang. A gang who takes what they want and kills whomever they wish. We all know how those stories play out, there’s a girl to save and her father. There were several interesting differences this time, the supporting character Masa a stone carver who has set himself to the task of carving 200 statues of Jizo (a deity who relieves suffering) in order to rid his village of this blight. And his daughter, Tomiko who despite being a beautiful damsel in distress does not become the hero’s love interest. Another interesting shift in the story away from the formula is how the bad guy gets his comeuppance. I won’t spoil it here but lets say it was more satisfying than a straight dual would have been. When you finish this issue you realize that this story has been a tribute by Sakai. To his fans to Usagi to the craft. Masa is asked if when he reaches his goal will he continue to carve his reply? “Of course– Until my hands can no longer hold the tools of my craft.” I hope that’s true Sakai because you are a master of the craft and I hope you continue it for many years to come.

Check out Stan Sakai on Facebook here  and his website here

Also a quick bio on Stan:

Name: Stan Sakai
Born: May 25th, 1953 – Kyoto, Japan. Age of two, family moved to Hawaii where he lived for the next 22 years.
Current Residence: Pasadena, California
Occupation: Cartoonist/Letterer
Training: University of Hawaii, B.F.A.; Art Center College of Design
Credits: Art/Story – Usagi Yojimbo, Nilson Groundthumper, Space Usagi, Ten Little Critters. Lettering – Groo The Wanderer, The Legend of Kamui, Spider-man Sunday Strips
Favorite Pen: Kohinoor Art Pen
Favorite Movie: Satomi Hakkenden
Major Influences: Steve Ditko, Sergio Aragones, Milo Manara, Moebius, Jack Kirby, Bill Stout, Walt Kelly, Carl Barks, and (of course) Akira Kurosawa.
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Star Wars Crimson Empire III – Empire Lost

Star Wars Crimson Empire 3 is a series that started a long, long time ago. The story was pitched in 1983 but at the time Lucasfilm didn’t  want to do any stories about the Empire’s Royal Guards. So, it was ultimately rejected.  After publishing some other Star Wars comics, in 1997 Lucasfilm finally approved the Crimson Empire Trilogy.   This book is the first of a six part series that will conclude that story.  For the final series Dark Horse brought back the original creative team to finish the job.

The Crimson Empire starts off explaining that Emperor Palpatine is dead and the last surviving clone body guard, Kir Kanos is out out to avenge his death.  We start off with The New Republic (led by Leia Organa Solo) tracking down a ship that looks to be landing on a seemingly inhabitant plant… but nothing is as it seems and it ends in a nice action panel.  We then switch to Kir Kanos being ambushed in a town which ends in confrontation and the introduction of an old friend in the Star Wars Universe.

I have to say that the pacing of this comic is nicely done in that there is a small setup,an action scene and then cuts to another part of the universe.   The transitions between each of these different aspects are the story are quite nice.  In one of the final stories, we cut to Leia being warned of impending rebellion, but she is distracted by her kids (with Han Solo) and the scene ends with Leia seemingly not taking the threat seriously.  The issue ends with Mirith Sinn (Leia’s bodyguard) trying to hand in her resignation, something that Leia rejects.  Mirith has a connection to Kia Kanos who is looking for revenge on Leia and Luke (who also makes and appearance training  young Jedi’s). So it will be interesting seeing where this story goes.

The end panel shows Kia Kanos and sets up the story for issue two. This book has everything any Star Wars fan would want and is bound to introduce characters you know and love. This series lives up to the Star Wars name.  My only criticism, so far, is that we have Luke and Leia, but even though he is mentioned, we haven’t seen Han Solo yet.(a comic book without the universe’s greatest smuggler is like Sand people not walking single file!).  I Can’t wait for his appearance in the series and will pick up issue 2 as soon as it is released.

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Bendis and Bagley’s Brilliant

Multiple Time Eisner Award Winner Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley are working on an ambitious new comic called “Brilliant”.  It is an interesting concept in that some super intelligent college kids who have cracked the code and developed superpowers.

We start off with “Amadeus” one of the college kids walking in a bank to test out his superpowers by him hypnotizing the teller into giving him all the money in the bank.  He gets the money but really has to use his powers when the bank security guard shoots him and the bullet is deflected off his cheek.  After getting shot again Amadeus retaliates and we see alarms and a “hear” the guard cry out for help.  The attack happens off screen, so I am not sure what exactly happened but it can’t be good.

We are then introduced to a dude returning to school  (after a break) called Albert.  It is Albert’s birthday and all he really wants to do is go in and relax.  Albert’s friends have other plans and are having a party for him, and we are introduced to Kindred, Izzy, Marie, and of course Amadues.

The rest of the party panels seem like just filler and really didn’t do much for me.  There is a scene where two guys in robot costumes fight that just seems really out of place and pop culture references galore from Blade Runner, Wall Street, Apple, Barbarella, which was all just kinda distracting and didn’t add much to the story.  On the plus side, even the filler panels are drawn very well.

Overall this comic is just OK,and has been compared to “Kick Ass” with college kids but with them actually having superpowers.  Good concept and I will give it another try in issue two, but when you title your book “Brilliant” you are really setting yourself up for high expectations.. and so far this book didn’t hit the mark for me.  That said, Brian Michael Bendis is highly praised.. and at least has me interesting in his other work.   I will probably search out his earlier work “Powers”,  until the next issue of “Brilliant” hits stands.   But I really hope the next issues lives up to the title.

Issue 1 is out now and issues 2 is expected to be released Nov. 23rd.

B.P.R.D – Hell On Earth Russia # 2

By BIll Liston

Even though I am a huge fan of the Hellboy franchise,with my love of the films and animation. I am fairly new to the Hellboy Series as a whole.With this issue being my first book that I have read in the B.P.R.D series.The introduction page does a great job of brining you up to speed on the story thus far . Hellboy has quit the B.P.R.D, Abe Sapien has been shot and is in a coma and Liz Sherman has gone into hiding. The issue quickly picks up where issue 1 left off, with Kate Corrigan & Johann Kraus in Russia for a meeting with IOSIF.

IOSIF needs to speak with Kraus to discuss some “business”. We get a couple of pages bringing the reader  in the know about IOSIF’s background and are then introduced to a man who is being tied up and examined in a holding cell. Apparently IOSIF needs Kraus’s help with this mystery man.

Overall, it is an enjoyable book and the ending of it definitely makes me want more. Without knowing the back story leaves a new reader a little confused about what is  going on.. or if I should have read some back issues to get fully up to speed (This is what back issues are for!).

My only big criticism is the art work. There are only a few panels that really stand out. leaving you wanted more.  Regardless, I am still looking forward to issue 3 and continue with my introduction to the HellBoy Universe.

You can preview the issue here

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The Thing – The Northman Nightmare

By Bill Liston

Well the prequel of “The Thing” opened this past weekend.

I haven’t seen it yet,as I am not a big fan of the John Carpenter version. I figure it is a movie I can wait for on DVD. I recently saw that Dark Horse and Universal wrote a prequel to the new movie. I figured I would give it a try and read it.

It is set in 1121 AD in Greenland and follows a group of Vikings who’s boat is stuck in ice and they need to find shelter at a nearby village. When they arrive at the village, they discover it in shambles and only the women are around and in typical “Thing” style chaos will surely follow.

Overall this three part series is pretty good. It has an awesome cover, solid  art that fits the style that we come to expect from Dark Horse comics.And a story that actually makes me want to see the movie in the theater. The series also has great stopping points which build up into the next issue. I highly recommend you read it (especially if you are a Thing fan)

The best news is that you can read it online for free by signing up for a Dark Horse account.

Check it out here

Issue 1,    Issue 2    Issue 3

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“Movies never read this good!”

Haunted City: Welcome to New York,the biggest haunted house in the world.


When people come to New York City, they bring with them their hopes & dreams. Sometimes more than not, they also bring their nightmares.   This “world of nightmares” is where Haunted City begins.

We follow the story of Tom Whalen, a stung out and corrupt cop, who was shot in the head during a drug deal gone wrong.   Whalen is in big trouble with internal affairs and needs to find a way out of his trouble.

Enter Peter Hopkins & Catherine Gray who are part of “Witchfinder General” a glorified tasked force that protects the city from all the things that go bump in the night (nightmares.)   One nightmare is the spirit Morrigan the Goddess of Strife, Fertility & Death.  Morrigan is on a rampage taking the lives of children and she must be stopped.

After being shot, it seems that Whalen can see ghosts and other spirits.  He could be very useful to Peter Hopkins in stopping Morrigan, and Hopkins could help Whalen get out of the jam with Internal Affairs.   Will they help each other out?  Who knows…but this is shaping up to be a good series with a lot of potential.

The story is just starting to pick up and I am really looking forward to see where this adventure is headed.  On top of that, the art work is second to none.  Specifically the spirits, the attention to detail makes them look pretty awesome as demonstrated by the cover and the panel to the right.  I just added this title to my pull list and am really eager to read Issue #2 and really hope it is able to deliver on the huge potential it delivers in Issue #1.

Haunted City: created by Chap Taylor with the story by Chap Taylor and Peter Johnson (known for producing Chuck, Nikita, Human Target & Supernatural).   It is being published by Aspen Comics and is the first comic from its partnership with Director/Producer McG’s Wonderland Sound and Vision studio.  There are rumors going around that the comic could make its way to TV and Movies and well as be a Comic and based on the initial issue I would see it capitalizing all those mediums.

Alternative Mindz will be at NY Comic Con and so will Aspen Comics.  While it does not appear that they will be talking about Haunted City, they will be talking about Fathom, Soulfire, Lady Mechanika, Executive Assistant Iris, Charismagic.

Check out their schedule here

 

 

 

Driver: Crossing the Line

Review by Bill Liston

In the years before getting into Comic Books,  I had a video game diversion.  First it was my Commodore 64, then my Intellivision, and then the whole Nintendo line of game systems.  I took a break for a bit, but was reintroduced to gaming when my little brother introduced me to the Playstation 1 and a little game called “Driver”.   From the opening cut scene  I was hooked.    I admit I haven’t played the games much after the first installment, But when I got my Xbox 360… It was the first game I wished I could play again.

I was really excited when “Driver: San Francisco” was announced for the Xbox 360 and PS3 and a prequel would be released on the Wii.  I haven’t picked it up yet but will when I finish up the every growing stack of console games piling up by my TV.

On my (now usual) Wednesday ritual of picking up my comics, I figured I would take a look through the store to pick up something new or something that caught my eye.  That’s when I saw “Driver: Crossing the Line” a one shot from DC written by David Lapham with art by Greg Scott.  On the cover it makes a note that this is the “Official Comic Book” which was odd to me as it uses the same font and imagery that the new game is using.  I am curious if there are other “Driver” books passing themselves off as the real deal?

Anyway, this book picks up with a flashback scene of the main character Tanner waking up after being pronounced dead from an intense shootout with his killer “Jericho”.  Tanner is an undercover cop who specializes in being a “balls to the wall” Driver.  His goal is to go back undercover and take Jericho out.

Flash forward to present day (two years from his death).  After working undercover for nine months and getting very close to Jericho’s inner circle. Tanner must make a choice, Does he partake in murder (with Jericho’s number two)and keep his cover or ruin all his work and save the life of a worthless drug dealer?

I know this Comic is really only a fluff piece to help promote the game, but it just barely does the job. It didn’t make me super excited about the game (or the New 52 that is heavily advertised within its pages.)  It was just passable, Offering no new story or any amazing panel work.  But I guess I shouldn’t be expecting much from a glorified advertisement.

On a plus side, the game has to be better than the Comic right… right?

Vision Machine – Good Vision but now it is up to you

Review by Bill Liston

Vision Machine is a comic written by Greg Pak (Planet Hulk, Astonishing X-Men and “Dead Man’s Run) & penciller R.B. Silva (“Jimmy Olsen“).  This sci-fi epic tale takes place in the year 2061 when Sprout Computers releases the “iEye” which allows you to edit what you see, and to share the videos with users around the world.

Three film grad friends Buddy, Dave & Jane are all in to take advantage of this new technology.   Buddy uses the technology to cause panic and scandals for politicians.  Dave uses his to create a documentary about people spending a week walking in their enemies’ shoes.  Jane has the highest rated/most hits for her show from Spout Computers.  She has the unique ability to record whatever she dreams.

Skip to part two … copyright concerns abound and the former CEO of Sprout Computers (Dr.Evers) tries to prove that Sprout is violating Privacy Protections.  Essentially Sprout owns all of your memories.  Dr. Evers, with help from the OOTON (Off of the official network) rebels, enlists the help of Buddy to crack down on Sprout’s tracking of users.  Sprout, on the other hand, enlists Jane with helping take down the OOTON Network.

 

I don’t want to give the ending away but the Vision Machine is a nicely drawn graphic novel (loved the page below, the imagery is mind blowing).  It also has an interesting commentary on the power of technology and how it changes our lives.   Vision Machine is a solid read, sometimes I felt it was a little too focused on the political, copyright and privacy aspects rather than focusing on the characters development.

Additionally, I think the concept was pretty fun and has potential of being a bigger more interesting story.  Unfortunately it stopped short of taking the fun concept to another level.

Luckily there is good news.  The Vision Machine is distributed under the Creative Commons license.  That means you can create non-commercial comics based on these characters and concepts, share the comic, and download them in PDF format.

You can follow the following link to download the free comic and then “download/remix/ and share” your creations.  I think it is a really cool concept and look forward to seeing if anyone else has other ideas on how to take Greg Pak’s “Vision” to the next level.

Please note, you have to credit Pak Man Productions and license your creations under Creative Commons. 

AlternativeMindz & The Pop Culture Network will be at NY Comic Con.  Greg Pak will be there as well for some panels & Signings.   Here is his schedule (so far)

Saturday, October 15

10:45- 11:45 am – Aspen Comics Panel

3:30 – 4:30 pm – Signing with Fred Van Lente at the Hero Initiative Booth, #1059

Sunday, October 16

3:30 – 4:30 pm – Marvel: X-Men Regenesis Panel

Non Comic Book Guy’s Journey into Comic Book Reading!

Ok… this is probably going to be a strange column.  My name is Bill and did not grow up on comic books, so for most of my life I considered myself a “non comic book guy”.  That’s not to say I didn’t like comic books, but never really became a reader until recently.

Probably about 25-30 years too late.

I grew up in a small town in upstate New York and as a kid during the 70’s and 80’s I couldn’t even tell you where the nearest comic book store was. Doing a search (even now as an adult) the closest comic book store was about 25 miles away from my hometown.  But, at least now you can buy comics on the internet and more conventional retailers.

My introduction to comic books came in high school. Two friends of mine, Andrew (known by the nickname Spyder) and Chris were the two biggest comic book guys at my school. I didn’t know how into comics they were but they were truly ahead of the pack.  We were all interested in the same type of 80’s music (New Order, The Smiths, and The Cure) and it was though our common music interest that I learned of their interest in comics.

Their comic of choice was a really weird comic called “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”  Clearly Spyder and Chris were on to something big as they had first printings of all the Turtles stuff, which would soon explode into mainstream culture in TV shows, Movies and merchandise. Looking back, I wish I had borrowed an issue in study hall to read; maybe I’d be more into comics. However, getting decent (well not even decent .. just passing ) grades came hard to me and my study halls needed to focus on school so I didn’t have time to dedicate to comics.  My diversion was 80’s music and 80’s movies and just trying to stay in school.

Oh well, I would get my comics fix later… much later about 20 years later.

Fast forward to 2001, after being out of work for a year I finally landed a job in security at a large Manhattan building.  On the outside, It was a pretty average building, but on the inside this building had character.

a lot of “characters”

I would soon become one of those characters and it would change my life forever.   It is also here where I met Rob Base and would be introduced to comics in a big way. Rob and I worked in the loading dock area and it is here were we had conversations about life, work, family, music, wrestling and eventually comics.  We became fast friends and I consider Rob and his family part of my family.

By this time, my music interests were still the same. Still loving the 80’s music and still followed some of the biggest acts in the 80’s. My mainstream music interest was Prince (or the artist formerly known as Prince)  It is interesting to me now that my music interests in high school introduced me to the Turtle and Rob (knowing my interest in Prince) got me interested in comics.  He picked me up “Prince & the New Power Generation – Three Chains of Gold.”  While I don’t remember much about the comic, I do remember it was based on one of his songs.  I also remember that it was decent and opened my mind to read other comics.

Last year, I did some coverage for Alternative Mindz and Pop Culture Network at the New York Comic Con.  While covering, I went to the Image Comics Panel and got really interested in a lot of their latest projects.  Of them.. I am currently reading Morning Glories, Infinite Vacation, Damou, and Memoir (among other comics). Working with Rob has really gotten me into the scene, and Rob soon lent me 100 Bullets, Preacher and some other comics that I missed out on for the last 20 years.

I remember the moment I was hooked on comics.  I was leaving a comic book store in Manhattan with about $40 of comics, I texted Rob “I think I have a problem” and he asked what it was. I responded that I think I am addicted to Comics and told him what I bought.  He said that reading comics was a good problem to have, and I have to say I agree.

Over the next few weeks, I am going to post some reviews of some of the comics I am reading  as well as the “old classics” I missed.   I will also be reading DC’s Relaunch of “The New 52” since I shouldn’t need to know any of the back story for any of these titles.  I will post “Newbie Reviews”  of all these titles and anything else that catches my eye.

That said, I will probably have some stupid or amateur questions. I am hoping you bear with me and If I am not “getting it” or “attack” your favorite comic please help me out. I really am trying to come around and be a “comic book guy”so if you could help keep your comments constructive and help me get educated and more interested in the value of comic books, I would greatly appreciate it.

OK,I have to get reading.. Till Next time.  Bill