Review: Star Wars #9-Operation Starlight: The Ancient Relic

Writer: Charles Soule

Artist: Jan Bazaldua

Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg

Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles

Publisher: Marvel

Synopsis: The heroic Rebel Alliance is scattered and on the run from the evil Galactic Empire after losing the Battle of Hoth.

But the Empire’s cunning Commander Zahra has broken Rebel security codes and will stop at nothing to crush the Rebellion once and for all.

Princess Leia attempts to rally her friends before all hope is lost….

Warning Spoilers Below:

Star Wars #9 continues after the events from the battle in last issue where although the Rebel Alliance sent the ruthless Commander Zahra and the Empire packing, they are not out of the woods yet. Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, and the Rebels start commencing Operation Starlight which is the mission to unite all the remaining Rebel cells. However, the Imperials have cracked the Rebellion’s secret encryption codes which leaves them vulnerable if they decide to communicate the other surviving cells.  Luckily for the Rebels, everyone’s favorite golden protocol droid C-3PO comes up with an idea to solve their dilemma. Threepio tells the Rebels of an ancient droid that can speak a forgotten language called Trawak which could help replace the previous codes. However, the protocol droid tells the Rebels that the droid is located in a museum in the heart of the Empire: Coruscant.  Leia tasks Des Dameron (Poe Dameron’s father) and his Pathfinders to fly to Coruscant, with the help of a reluctant Lando Calrissian and his friend/droid Lobot, and steal the droid. And who better to help pull off a heist than the former Baron Administrator of Cloud City?

Courtesy of Marvel and Lucasfilm

When I read this issue, I felt that it was an issue that placed the focus on Lando, Lobot, Des, and the Pathfinders. And since this issue is the commencement of Operation Starlight, Soule decided to place a heist as the first mission for the ragtag rebels.  When I read this issue, I wondered how the Millennium Falcon was able to slip through Coruscant. Sure, even though the Falcon is indeed a smuggler ship, isn’t Darth Vader still in search of that ship? And if so, wouldn’t that put the Pathfinders in some danger? After all, Vader is still searching for Luke, especially after revealing that he is his father.

I was surprised by the pace of this issue in which the Pathfinders were able to easily steal the ancient droid from the Imperial Museum. Lando and the Panthfinders are able to infiltrate the Imperial Museum and break into the curator’s office without getting spotted. However, the curator sentences one of the Panthfinders, Needle, a Quermian to death for protesting a work of art native to his species. Needle’s protest was used to distract the curator and his guards while Dameron and fellow Pathfinde Frell sneak into the curator’s office to steal the droid.  However, the issue is thrown a swerve that shows while the mission was completed, the ancient droid has malfunctioned due to a corrupted memory bank. Des questions Threepio on what they are going to do but droid responds that he does not know.

Courtesy of Marvel and Lucasfilm

One of the things that I enjoyed about the comic was that it shifted the focus on other characters. Des Dameron and his Pathfinders were portrayed as brave and capable soldiers of the Rebellion. We also see more of Lando Calrissian and his slow road to becoming an eventual official member of the Rebellion though he does not know that yet.  

The curator was a filler character that was flamboyant. The unnamed curator sat on a chair with legs which I felt was a call back to the prequel trilogy in which Palpatine’s hologram projector walked on legs. He also had a monocle and a Victorian Era moustache that I feel symbolizes the Empire’s wealth, power, and rather growing complacency which probably explains why the Rebels were able to slip past a world that the Empire was supposed to have on lockdown.

The one thing I wanted to see is the psychological effect that Zahra had on Leai after their scuffle. In the last issue, Zahra has taken residence in Leia’s mind after almost killing her. However, in this issue, Leia seemed unfazed, probably due to focusing on gathering the remaining Rebel cells. We will see Leai questioning her confidence in the next issue? And will the Imperial firebrand Zahra be thorn at her side as Operation Starlight continues?

Courtesy of Marvel and Lucasfilm

Speaking of Imperials, I liked that this story took place on Coruscant which was another call back to the prequels and a reminder that the planet is the center of galactic power in Star Wars. But the Rebels sneaking in the giant city-wide with very little effort made the setting of the Republic-turned Imperial world appear weak.  Like Frell, I was expecting this to be more of a challenge with the Imperials, granted the guards were not stormtroopers and they were guarding a museum. And I have to remember that Needle sacrificed himself to help his comrades steal a droid that was malfunctioning. But it would have also been cool to see how the Millennium Falcon slipped through Coruscant with Vader knowing about the YT-1300 freighter.

Overall, I am enjoying Soules run on Star Wars and I am excited to see what the Operation Starlight arc brings.

Star Wars #9 is out now and can be purchased at your local comic book store.

Review: GRIT #1 – 3

Publisher: Scout Comics

Writer: Brian Wickman

Penciler: Kevin Castaniero

Letterer: Micah Myers

Colorist: Simon Gough

Scout Editor: James Pruett

Scout Production: David Byrne

When I was introduced to GRIT, I decided to give it a read. The comic centers around Old Man Barrow, an “ageing monster hunter” who is very brutal in his monster hunting methods with the use of his axe. As the comic progresses, Barrow unexpectedly joins forces with Ari, “a hot-headed young witch dead set on breaking him of his ultra-violent habits.”  When I read the first two issues following issue #3, several things made me a fan of the comic.

Courtesy of Scout Comics

The first thing that got me glued to the comic was the character dynamic between Barrow and Ari. The protagonist Barrow is a loner who hates people and witches. He spends most of his time hunting mythical creatures. He is a cleaner of the land hired by the local townspeople to hunt monsters. Barrows is also a hack and slash monsters first and asking questions later character.  But we learn that this monster hunter has a unique past that involves his mother doing horrible things.

Next, we are introduced to Ari, who is a firebrand witch that disapproves of Barrow’s brutal methods. Ari is seen as foil to the more calm but savage Barrow. As a witch, Ari can cast spells. In addition, she loves nature and is able to communicate with animals. She also is more methodical and strategic as seen in Issue#3 when she and Barrow take on the blood demon at Black Dog Bottom. Throughout the series, the two characters are hilariously almost at each other’s throats with Ari calling Barrow names and criticizing his violent behavior while Barrow, annoyed with the witch, tells her the nature of his job as a monster hunter. It is towards the end of Issue #3 that Ari’s view about his methods towards other creatures seem to have some effect on Barrow as he is seen giving up his sword to a man crying for help because monsters in his attic.  

Courtesy of Scout Comics

Another thing I liked about the comic was that both Wickman’s writing and Kevin Castaniero’s art help to create a unique world that was a fusion between fantasy and “southern-fried” wit. This is a fantasy story told in an almost Western theme. When I read Barrow’s dialogue, I can hear a deep Southern accent, almost like Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Walking Dead) or maybe Sam Elliot voice (The Hulk, Ghost Rider). As for Ari, I can only hear Monica Rial’s (Dragon Ball Super) voice which made me realize that it had a bit of a hilarious North vs South vibe in a fantasy world. Or maybe a millennial vs baby boomer vibe.  To me the art is a little reminiscent of anime or manga art when the facial reactions are used to express emotions, like Samurai Champloo. The way the characters and creatures are drawn by Castaniero and colored by Simon Gough give the comic a noir and rustic style. And I definitely cannot forget how awesome lettering done by Micah Myers was in this series, especially with the explosion scene in Issue #3 in which was caused by Ari.

Courtesy of Scout Comics

I wonder if we will be seeing more of the misadventures of Barrow and his unique relationship with Ari. Issue #3 cannot mean the end of his monster hunting ways forever. And what about Ari? What is her story? And will she become someone who will become the closest thing Barrow has to a friend or family? I am looking forward to see how the gritty fantasy of worthy of the name GRIT unfolds.

Review: Black Cotton

Black Cotton

Publisher: Scout Comics

Writers: Patrick Foreman and Brian Hawkins

Art: Marco Perugini

Letters: Francisco Zamora

Patrick Foreman’s and Brian Hawkins’ (Don’t Ever Blink) latest comic Black Cotton is set an alternate universe where the black race is the majority and the white race is the minority. The story centers around the Cottons, a powerful and wealthy black family who owns Black Cotton Ventures, a successful business that has roots dating back 400 years in America’s history. The elite family’s world is rocked when the news of a black police officer shooting a young minority white woman hits the airwaves. That police officer is Zion Cotton, the son of Black Cotton mogul and Elijah Cotton.  As a result, a furious Elijah puts his daughter, and Zion’s sister, Qia up to the task of cleaning up the family’s image while the entire country becomes embroiled with protest from white minorities.  

Courtesy of Scout Comics

When I read this comic, it took me to a parallel universe that is a mirror of our world. This comic portrays an alternate reality where minorities are still affected by the presence of the majority. Only difference is that the majority is a different skin color. In a sense, this alternate reality is a character in the comic. And like our world, it has been teetering on the edge of division caused by political and discriminatory strife.

One of things I enjoyed about the comic is that it shows that had the roles been reverse, society would mostly be the same. If a shooting from a cop, who is of the majority race, on a minority were to occur, protests and riots from minorities would still be triggered. Police officers, especially ones from elite families, would be marked by the media and protests.

Courtesy of Scout Comics

When I read the scene where the news of Zion shooting of the young white woman begins reaching the door step of the Cotton family business, I began to think back to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, two African-Americans murdered by the very people sworn to protect and serve: the police officers. Like the murder of Floyd and Taylor, the murder of the young white woman at the hands of Zion has sparked protests from white minorities. We see the organization the minorities protesting under “White Lives Matter” signs in front of Zion’s apartment. And we also see that the matriarch of Black Cotton, Zion and Qia’s mother, is willing to give money to the white woman’s family to brush everything under the rug.  

Courtesy of Scout Comics

With the familiar themes of racism and privilege, this comic’s writing does an amazing job of having the reader ask questions about this world that seems, again, similar to our own. Were whites subjugated to slavery like African Americans in real life history were? Did the Civil War end in a different way? Were the Native Americans treated any different? And I know that these questions will be answered with the help of Zion and Qia’s brother, Xavier who is tasked with doing a school project on the history that his family has been a part of for 400 years.

Courtesy of Scout Comics

The comic art along with the pacing of the panels compliments the writing. The panels from the first scene had me asking why Zion was chasing the young white woman. A part of me almost feels that there was more to the story as to why Zion shot the white woman. I also liked how the comic ended on Qia and Zion’s mother asking the family on how much she would give the Nightingale’s, the white woman’s family which the panel was used as a cliffhanger.

I am looking forward to learning how the relationship between Elijah and Zion became strained. Did Zion believe he had a bigger calling that taking over the family business? Does Qia enjoy working for Black Cotton? And what secrets will Xavier find out? Scout Comics will launch Black Cotton on February 2021 and it is on my list of comics to read.

 As many of the characters would say: Black Cotton.

Review-Star Wars #8-The Will of Tarkin: Prey

Writer: Charles Soule

Artist: Ramon Rosanas

Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg

Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Warning Spoilers Ahead:

Star Wars #8 continues the Will of Tarkin arc that began on issue #7. Imperial Commander Zahra is on a mission to kill Princess Leia and crush the Rebel Alliance which is still reeling from the defeat at Hoth. We learn from the last issue that Zahra had a mentor-like relationship with the ruthless Grand Moff Tarkin. We also learn that Zahra is taking part in this mission to avenge Tarkin and to get back at the Rebels for taking away her opportunity to redeem herself to her mentor.

Courtesy of Marvel and Disney

At the beginning of the comic, we are taken to several flashback panels where Darth Vader, via hologram, tasks Zahra with hunting down the Rebels. The former Anakin Skywalker refused to take part in the mission as ordered by Emperor Palptine since he is still fixated on his personal mission to find his son Luke Skywalker after the duel on Cloud City.

We are taken to the present where the Fourth and Seventh Rebel Fleets have the Imperials trapped in a pincer maneuver. However, Zahra plans on boarding the battleship ship Leia is on and kill the princess. Zahra is able to successfully board Leia’s ship and easily kill the Rebel Troopers try to contain her. Zahra hacks into the comm systems and threatens to destroy the ship from within unless she confronts Leia.

Courtesy of Marvel and Disney

Leia and Zahra come face to face as the ship’s interior is darkened. The Imperial Commander relates to Leia as she mentions that they are both orphans. Zahra mentions how her parents were killed by rebel terrorist and she joined the Empire to save little girls from the same experience she went through. She also mentions that Tarkin mentored and made her who she is. While talking with Leia, Zahra swiftly injures the princess with a sword that resembles a kitana. Then the Imperial commander blames Leia for orchestrating the attack on the Death Star which led to Tarkin dying “thinking that she was a failure” and that the Rebels took away her opportunity to redeem herself.  Zahra concludes that the only thing she can do is avenge her mentor but Luke, with the new yellow-bladed lightsaber he acquired from the previous issue comes in the nick of time to save the day. The Imperial escapes along with the retreating Imperial fleet.

During a Rebel briefing and while recovering from her wounds, Leia tells Luke that she saw something in Zahra’s eyes that told her that the Imperial wanted to hurt her and feel her pain. Leia concludes that Zahra was expressing darkness and hated.  

The comic ends with Zahra, in pure ruthless Tarkin fashion, boasting how Leia bleeding from her sword was a good day for her. She tells her lieutenant that she won’t stop going after Leia and vows to use her blade to finally kill her. She also boasts that she planted seeds of fear in Leia’s head so that she would be unable to galvanize the Rebel Alliance.

Courtesy of Marvel and Disney

Charles Soule’s writing continues to remind me that he knows how to write Star Wars. His notable work on Darth Vader in 2017, which explored Vader’s early days in the Empire and running the Inquistorious, was an enjoyable run.

The art done by Ramon Rosanas and Rachelle Rosenberg in this issue was also reeked of Star Wars. There were some favorite panels in the comic which included Vader recruiting Zahra to hunt down the Rebel Fleet, the Splash that showed Wedge Antilles leading a squadron of Rebel Star Fighters, and Leia’s showdown with Zahra.  The meeting between Vader and Zahra reminded me a lot of the prequel films in which the holograms were used frequently. Even in holographic form, Vader looks intimidating. The starfighter scene was just a reminder that the Rebel Alliance is always ready to fight even against seemingly insurmountable odds. The scene between Leia and Zahra parallels Luke and Vader’s duel in the carbon freezing chamber with the light vs dark themes and shadows being used.

However, the one thing I scratched my head on was why Soule added Luke into the scene between Leia and Zahra. I felt that this was Leia and Zahra’s fight, even though Luke too was responsible for blowing up the Death Star and killing Tarkin. I guess Luke was added probably to make this scene a teaser to the real fight between Leia and Zahra. In my opinion, however, Princess Leia is capable of taking care of herself and probably would have put up fight against the passionate Imperial. Luke probably would have come after Leia and Zahra exchanging blows against each other with the latter surviving but not without having injuries. It would have further planted more seeds of doubt in Leia and to start changing her perspective on her tactics against the Empire.

Overall, I am enjoying the Will of Tarkin arc as well as Soule’s run. I am looking forward to see how Zarha takes residence in Leia’s head rent free. Will Luke help her regain her confidence like he had regained his? And what is in store for the unbroken Rebel Fleet?

Star Wars #8 is out and can be purchase it at your local comicbook shop.

Review: John Walker: U.S. Agent #1

Writer: Christopher Priest

Penciler: Georges Jeanty

Inker: Karl Story

Colorist: Matt Milla

Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino

Cover Artist: Marco Checchetto

Warning Contains Spoilers:

Christopher Priest’s (Black Panther, Deathstroke) John Walker: U.S.Agent #1 is a reminder that John Walker, the titular protagonist, may have carried the Captain America mantle but, he is no Steve Rogers.  And in this comic, the townspeople of Ephraim, West Virginia let that be known when they are interviewed about what had transpired when the super soldier arrived. The townspeople also talk about how a corporation called Virago was affecting the towns economy by usurping their coal mine and how the presence of U.S. Agent gave them false hope since he resembles Captain America.

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

This is seen in the splash on page 5 where the townspeople are hurling insults at U.S.Agent and his new partner, Morrie (not Bucky), a Chinese-American agent with martial art skills.

John Walker is tasked with protecting Virago which was a front for S.H.I.E.L.D and the same organization that is sucking the town dry.

After meeting Morrie and stopping a bomber posing as a pizza guy, Walker comes across a little girl on a bicycle who gives him a message “Hope not ever to see Heaven…” which is a quote derived from Dante’s Inferno. The super soldier also has a flashback of a little girl we learn is his sister when he tells the girl to “beat it sis,” only to finish the quote by saying “I have come to lead you to the other shore.” It turns out that the little girl has a message from his handler which takes him and Morrie to Ephraim. After exchanging a couple dirty jokes on the way to the small town. Walker and Morrie are attacked by a group of masked assailants. The leader of this group is revealed to be John’s sister. Katie all grown up and armed with a pistol at the super soldier’s face.

Priest’s writing in this comic has a lot of dark humor. I have read some of his run on Deathstroke and the interactions between John and Morrie are very similar to Slade Wilson and Billy Wintergreen. And it Priest’s writing that is a reminder that this is not a Captain America story, this is a U.S.Agent story. John Walker is no Steve Rogers. He is a shoot ‘em up and hotheaded version of Cap and the type of soldier that Professor Erskine warned Colonel Phillips about. In several comics, U.S.Agent sometimes would come to blows with Captain America.

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

To some readers, this is also a story about a small-town vs a giant corporation, which is also a government cover up. And to other readers, with the inclusion of Katie, it is a family or sibling rivalry story.

When I read this comic, several questions popped in my mind.  Why Ephraim of all places? Why would S.H.I.E.L.D. or the US Government, use a corporation as a covert front in a small mining town and take away the one thing that was helping the town thrive? There’s obviously more to the story here.

There were some funny moments in the comic. One notable moment was when Walker’s shield was destroyed when stopping the bomber’s car. Another was when Morrie outclassed him in hand-to-hand combat which reasserts that John Walker is not Steve Rogers. Priest, in a sense, almost makes U.S. Agent a parody of Captain America. Even a kid who Walker gives his shield to alludes this by saying that the weapon is a rip off.

The art done by Georges Jeanty frequently employs moment-to-moment and action-to-action sequences. This was notable in the panels showing U.S. Agent aiming his gun at every pizza delivery guy walking to his door step and in the panels showing him fighting Morrie.  The coloring done by Matt Milla helps to tell the story that this is U.S. Agent from the black and red uniform to his U.S. shield.

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

As I write this, I can see how the story of a corporation going into a small town and taking away the jobs of small townspeople makes for an intriguing story. One of the former coal workers even admitted that he blew up Virago’s power plants which prompted the government to call Walker which make it appear that he is there to protect the interests of Virago and the government.  Obviously, we will see what is really going down in Ephraim in the next five issues.

John Walker U.S. Agent #1 is out now and can be bought at your local comic book store.

Review: Crossover#1

Publisher: Image Comics

Writer: Donny Cates

Artist: Geoff Shaw

Colors: Dee Cunniffe

Letters & Design: John J. Hill

Story Edits: Mark Waid

Cover: Geoff Shaw w/Dave Stewart

When I read Crossover #1, I was expecting Donny Cates (God Country) to bring us something in the magnitude similar to a Crisis on Infinite Earths or a Secret Wars. I was expecting Images characters like Invincible, Mark Grayson to end up on the Walking Dead Universe and encounter Rick Grimes. Or other characters like Lil’ Depressed Boy ending up in the world of Chew. But what Cates and his team have bequeathed to us was a not just a crossover of heroes battling it out. He gave us a crossover on an alternate version of our own world in comic book form.

Courtesy of Image Comics

What was described by the unknown narrator as a “superhero summer event,” occurred above the skies of Colorado on January 11, 2017. And when the narrator said that if the cataclysmic event “was a comic, it would be the greatest selling book of all time” but “it was real,” chills went down my spine. And that was when I knew that Crossover was going to be more than just a meeting of the heroes. It was also going to be a meeting of heroes that would lead to a lot of deaths and change the lives of everyone involved forever. The result of the infighting of the heroes caused Colorado to be enveloped in a force field.  And that is when the story begins.

Courtesy of Image Comics

Since the incursion of the Crossover, the public is against comic books or anyone who worships them. Comic enthusiasts, cosplayers or comic shop employees are ostracized from the public, especially the ardently religious. At the center of this story are three characters: Ellipses, a survivor of the Crossover, a comic shop employee, and daughter of writers who are still trapped in Colorado; Otto, the owner of the comic shop Ellipses works at; Ryan Lowe, a son of a religious zealot and bully of a father and a closeted comic book enthusiast who may have some connection to Ellipses, and Ava, a comic book character that came from the force field with the help of a certain superhero.

The events in Crossover #1 implode when Ryan, albeit reluctantly, obeys his dad by throwing a Molotov cocktail onto the comic shop when Ava’s presence terrifies the store patrons. The comic’s story become more climatic when Ellipses looks at Ava’s drawing of the hero who had let her walk out of the force field. The drawing appears to be a hero with a “S” on his chest which could mean that it was Superman who let her escape.

Courtesy of Image Comics

One of my favorite parts of the story is the narration. It is very subtle since the narrator is unknown or unseen. The narrator brought up interesting comparisons between humans and the fictional characters. I also liked how he mentioned that the story of Crossover is about “believing in something when the whole world tells you that you’re wrong, about trying to find a home when the one you have feels broken or gone,” “it’s also a love story,” and “a story about hope.”

I must confess, I haven’t read anything by Donny Cates before this comic. I actually gave God Country a read which also starts off with a narrator. When I read the first issue of God Country, I became as instantly hooked to that story as I did this one.  I will probably cover God Country in another review of video in the future.

Courtesy of Image Comics

Going back to the story, I feel that one of the powerful things about this story is how it relates to our everyday lives. Ellipses is an outcast due to her love for comic books which parallels how some people to this day put down comics or graphic novels as a medium nor being serious or making young children degenerates. Speaking of that sentiment, the shirt that Otto wears to be ironic was of Fredric Wertham, a German physiatrist who believed comic books warped the morals of young children.

I am also a huge fan for Geoff Shaw’s art which I also saw in God Country. His drawings of the force field made the Crossover event in Colorado look ominous yet beautiful since you cannot have a comic book crossover without heroes battling it out. His drawing of the comic book character Ava had me react the same way Ellipses and Otto did. Ava’s comic book-like appearance had my jaw drop; she’s a little girl who resembled a comic book drawing with dots all over her face. And we definitely cannot forget about the lettering done by John J. Hill which gave the scenes depth. Notable examples were when the red neck threw a bottle at Ellipses, Otto alerting Ellipses of Ava stealing a comic, and the explosions at the comic book shop after Ryan throws the Molotov cocktail at it.

Courtesy of Image Comics

Crossover has already got me hooked and I’m already excited for what is in store for issue #2. Who is Ava and why did someone let her out of the force field? What is the relationship between Ellipses and Ryan? Will we see some familiar heroes or catch glimpses of them? And, will the force field enveloping Colorado break?

Cates and his team have created an exciting story that I feel will change how people, whether avid comic readers or not, will view comic books and graphic novels forever. Don’t believe me, just give this a read.

Crossover#1 is out now and can be purchased at your local comic book store.

Review: Don’t Ever Blink

I had the privilege of reading Don’t Ever Blink #1 which was written by Brian Hawkins, illustrated by Richard Kemp, and lettered by Guido Martinez. The graphic novel is currently being funded on Kickstarter and it is going to span for five issues.

The comic’s synopsis is “about a woman who survives a harrowing and horrific ordeal, the massacre of her fiance and his family while at a family get-together, but not without her also being scarred for life in more than one way; Tinsley Marissa Grace is found alive but her eyelids have been sewn together — a calling card of a killer that has eluded the local authorities for years, a killer that they thought was long gone.”

Regularly, I do not read too many horror comics nor do I consume anything horror. Well, the closest to horror I do read or consume is the Walking Dead (both the comics and TV show) or Bruce Campbell’s Evil Dead but that is as far as it will go for me. However, when I came across Don’t Ever Blink, I decided to give it a read.

When reading the comic, we are taken to the scene where Tinsley is recalling the events of her fiance family’s massacre to Detective Randall Johnson. The massacre takes place at the Wilcox Plantation and Tinsley is surrounded by bodies of her family. In the scene, it seems that Tinsley may have killed her fiance and family. Even as Tinsley narrates these events, it is not clear how things went down. Furthermore, we do catch a silhouette of the killer who knocks Tinsley out.

Courtesy of Brian Hawkins

After being shown these recollecting horrific panels, we are taken to a half-splash of Tinsely’s eyes literally sewn shut. That is when the story begins.

We learn that Randall and his partner Detective Vicki Lopez have been on the case involving the killer for awhile. However, the killer had not ressurfaced for over a year until Tinsley becomes the latest victim.

As I read the comic, one of the most disturbing scenes, for me, involves a kid being chased by Detective Lopez. We learn that the kid is a follower of the killer and he somehow knows Tinsley. As I read that scene, I had an eerie feeling that this killer was no one to mess with. There is also another scene that involving the kid at jail which he uses his blood to give Randall a horrific message which ends with the titular words “Don’t ever blink.”

The illustrations done by Kemp definitely complimented the narration done by Hawkin’s writing. This comic was full of closure in which it forces use to use our imagination to piece together what might have happened. In other words, the illustration and art in Don’t Ever Blink places us in a role of a third detective working alongside Randall and Lopez.

Finally, the lettering done by Martinez also gives depth to the horror. One of the notable uses of the lettering was seen as Tinsley is seemingly killing her fiance and we also see it in the jail cell with the blood-written letters on the wall ending with the titular words.

I have no doubt that as the next four issues come, we will learn more about the detectives, Tinsley, and the killer. Is Randall’s marriage in the rocks due to his job or the case? Who’s the kid and his connection to the killer? And most important question of all, who’s the killer?

Even though I am not a huge horror enthusiast, I am looking forward to reading this comic more. And even if you are not into horror, you might be in noir like me. But whether you are into horror or not, I would give this comic a read since it will leave you guessing whose really pulling the strings.

For more information on Don’t Ever Blink, you can check out the link to the kickstarter here.

Comic Review: Ax-Man

As Earth becomes populated due to advancements in technology and the assimilation of people, all seems to be good. However, disease and pandemics spread just as rapidly. And you would think that with all of the world’s improvements, these diseases would be dealt with. But, what if the diseases cannot be cured? This is where the Ax-Man comes in.  An Ax-Man is a hitman aimed at killing patient zeroes, or people who carry these rare diseases, before an outbreak can envelop the globe.

Courtesy of Plastic Sword Press

Ryan Little’s “Ax-Man” centers around Jason Burke, an Ax-Man who is tasked by a black ops department of the CDC to kill patient zeroes. As the comic progresses, we learn in Issue #1 that Jason is also a doctor when he is conversing with his colleague and friend Allison. We also learn that Jason starts to become disillusioned with his work as a hitman for the CDC and that he has a tragic past involving a plague during a school field trip.

Courtesy of Plastic Sword Press

In addition to Jason struggling with his demons, we also see some of characters, like the aforementioned Allison, and Ian, another one of Jason’s friends and colleagues, clash with Moore, the director of the CDC’s black ops wing. While Ian and Allison want to find a way to cure diseases, Moore is hellbent on weaponizing them against terrorists. We see some of Moore’s sick experiments including a “blood melon,” which is front an infected human woman who turned into a tree.

When the plagues begin to spread, Jason abandons his mission to kill more people infected with incurable disease. He, Ian, and Allison decide on a new mission to help cure rather than kill those with the incurable diseases. If anything, this may seem like n tall order for Jason. However, given his past and his inner conflict between wanting to save lives as a doctor and take them as an Ax-man, he knows someone has to do it. And who better than him and his team of doctors?

And as the reader goes into the three issues of “Ax-Man,” one may notice that Little’s writing showed Jason’s inner conflict puts into question his upholding the Hippocratic Oath which is it is to “do no harm.” Jason clearly wants to help those who are sick rather than put them down. Moore’s black ops can argue that his organization is doing no harm by killing patient zeroes so that the pandemics do not spread. But we all know that not even the Ax-Men can stop the incurable disease pandemic from spreading.

Courtesy of Plastic Sword Press

The art, done by Briane Andan and Yuri Pinzon, brilliantly gives a gritty attitude of the story. One notable scene was at the very beginning of “Ax-Man” when Jason is infiltrating the hospital. We see a self-immolated Ax-Man, an infected patient who gets killed by Jason. and the scuffle between Jason and the looters in a darkened and abandoned hospital. Another notable scene was in Issue #3 with the infected become inflammable which evokes horrors created by the growing pandemic.

In addition, we cannot forget about the lettering done by Nikki Powers which evokes the same grittiness. From the gun shots fired from Jason to a notable patient, Albert, coughing out blood, the lettering also gives depth to the graphic novel.

In conclusion, “Ax-Man” is a story about how even a technologically advanced world is not always prepared to take on a serious pandemic. Look at the events today surrounding the current Coronavirus pandemic. Many countries are handling the pandemic in so many different ways and by different means. This does not mean that the world is doomed but Ax-Man is a reminder that there is no cookie cutter or perfect way to handle a pandemic. The struggles that Jason and other characters are facing are not too dissimilar to ours.

Courtesy of Plastic Sword Press

Will the rogue Ax-Man Jason and his intrepid medical team be able to save the world one disease at a time? Or will Moore succeed in creating bio-weapons to use against the terrorist? We may never know but I am excited to find out as more issues of “Ax-Man” come out!

Ax-Man is written by Ryan Little under his publication company Plastic Sword Press. The graphic novel is illustrated by Briane Andan, colored by Yuri Pinzon and lettered by Nikki Powers. The book is being funded at Kickstarter. If you want to back the project, click here.

Batman: The Three Jokers – A Classic Villainous Sidekick Returns

Spoilers Ahead

Gaggy Returns – Photo Courtesy of DC Comics

“Batman: The Three Jokers” #1, written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by Jason Fabok had brought back several throwbacks from the Batman comics including the Hawaiian shirt Joker seen in Alan Moore’s “Batman: The Killing Joke” and Batman’s light up symbol, or “Bat-light,” on his chest. The comic also brought back an original henchman of the Joker.

Gagsworth A. Gagsworthy, or Gaggy, made his return in Three Jokers #1 to lead an army of thugs to take on Batman, Red Hood, and Batgirl in the Gotham Aquarium.

Gaggy’s Debut in Batman#186 – Photo Courtesy of DC Comics

Gaggy, who debuted in “Batman” #186, was the Joker’s court jester and the original sidekick of the Joker before Harley Quinn took on that role. The villainous and mischievous Gaggy was seen as the antithesis to the heroic Robin, Dick Grayson. The stooge hated the Boy Wonder so much, he had a Robin punching bag in which he would vent his anger out on much to Joker’s amusement. In addition, both Gaggy and Grayson were brought up in Haly’s circus.

After Batman and Robin defeated Joker and Gaggy, due to a miscommunication which involved Joker accidently clobbering his new sidekick, the villainous duo ended up in jail.

Gaggy vs Harley Quinn – Photo Courtesy of DC Comics

Gaggy is not seen again until Paul Dini’s “Gotham City Sirens” #6 where he is disguised as his former boss to lure Harley Quinn and get revenge on her for making Joker becoming psychotic. The comic has a flashback into a Gaggy’s relationship with the Joker during their time in prison after their defeat at the hands of Batman and Robin. Gaggy told Harley that he had tried to cheer Joker up but eventually, the Clown Prince of Crime was sent to Arkham Asylum and the former court jester ended up getting out of jail. After returning to the streets of Gotham, Gaggy decided to start his criminal life over and relive his past that he had with Joker. He tried to entactt his revenge on Harley but, with the help of Catowman and Poison Ivy, Harley was able to defeat Gaggy by blasting him off with a rocket from Joker’s lair. After being blasted off into a harbor, Gaggy swore revenge against Harley the next time they crossed paths.

In “Three Jokers,” Gaggy and his goons are unable to subdue Batman and his team. And the court jester seemingly ends up becoming lunch for a Joker-ized shark after the Red Hood uses his pistol to shoot an aquarium tank housing it. Although it can be assumed that the shark enjoyed his meal is “Batman: The Three Jokers” the last we have seen of Gaggy?

Joker Shark Eats Gaggy – Photo Courtesy of DC Comics

Todd McFarlane: Comic Creative, Visionary, and Rebel

When I watched Todd McFarlane’s SyFy Documentary, “Like Hell I Won’t,” I did not see just a story about a comic creator and what he does in his day-to-day. I saw a story about a man who became a creative, a visionary, and a rebel. When I think of those three words, I think of Todd McFarlane, the creator of the comic book “Spawn” and one of the founding fathers of Image Comics.

The documentary showed a McFarlane who was a creative the moment he started to grow. From doodling pictures in class to drawing amazing works of art for the love notes he gave to his girlfriend (and future wife) Wanda, he was honing his craft as a comic artist. Sure, in an alternate universe, he could have been Todd McFarlane, the baseball player (since he played some baseball) or something else but comic books became his passion. Comics was something he wanted to pursue and he had a vision.

However, he was bogged down by the notion that comic book artists were only bred in New York. However, that notion changed when he saw comic book artist John Byrne,who was working on “Uncanny X-Men,” on television saying that he was living in Calgary, Alberta, McFarlane’s hometown. And at that instant, McFarlane decided to pursue comics/ And since McFarlane wanted to work in comics so he did what any up and coming comic creator would do.

He submitted samples of his art to different publishers for years. However, he had gotten 300 rejections. He could have given up on his dream but if there is anything I learned about McFarlane, it was that he never took no for an answer.

McFarlane’s persistence reminds me of a quote from Zig Ziglar: “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” He never gave up on his goal and aimed to work in the comic book industry and eventually got his first gig from an publisher name Steve Englehart. The gig involved drawing art for the comic called “Coyote.” Although four months later, he would lose that job due to the book getting canceled, McFarlane would rebound and eventually do art for “The Incredible Hulk” under Marvel Comics and eventually would do one of his best works on “Spider-man” in the early 1990’s.

As I delved further into the documentary, I learned that the reason McFarlane’s “Spider-Man” work was the best was because he broke the rules. Marvel Comics wanted him to draw Spider-man they way the wanted him to. However, the Canadian artist did the opposite and it sold. Marvel must have been scratching their heads as to how this dude from Calgary, Alberta Canada was helping Spider-Man gain a lot of sales with his unique art. One of the things McFarlane changed out Spider-Man was the eyes on his mask and the web that came out his webshooters. McFarlane wanted more emphasis on Spider rather than just the “man.” To this day, the Spidey’s webs are still written in the highly detailed style created by McFarlane.

“Break the rules and make it look cool,” McFarlane would say. And it paid off. “Spider-Man” became one of Marvel’s highest grossing comics but it was not enough for the comic company. As a result, McFarlane and six other artists made up their minds and decided to waltz into the Marvel headquarters in New York and call it quits.

These seven comic creators would create Image Comics and it was a place where McFarlane would not be told no since he had 100 percent creative freedom. And with that freedom, he created his flagship comic book, “Spawn.”

The amazing thing I saw from the documentary was that “Spawn” is more than just a comic book story about a U.S. Marine, named Al Simmons, who sells his soul to the devil and becomes this supernatural warrior hellbent on going after those who did him wrong. Its also a love story about a wounded warrior who longs and fights to see his wife…Wanda (same name as McFarlane’s wife) once more. Some of McFarlane’s inspiration from the story comes from his love for his wife and family. And it really got deep when the artist said that he would do the same exact thing Spawn would do see his wife again.

Despite the implosion of the comic book industry back in the 1990s and facing several lawsuits (Notably from Neil Gaiman, an NHL hockey player and many other), McFarlane was (and still is to this day) tenacious when it came to working on “Spawn.” By doing so, a movie based on the comic came out in 1997 and adult toys were made (which revolutionized the adult collectible toy industry. An HBO cartoon based on “Spawn” was also made.

All of this stemmed from not only his love of comic books. But it also stemmed from wanting to be like his father while at the same time not being pushed around. McFarlane admired his father for his hard work and blue collar work ethic but was affected by how people took advantage of his father.

After working on “Spawn” for so many years, McFarlane was able to write the 300th issue for the comic book he started in the 1990’s while founding Image Comics. It is ironic how after he got 300 rejections, he was able to create 300 issues of “Spawn” because he was a creative, visionary, and a rebel. And this inspired other creators to put in that same effort into the comics. Creators like Robert Kirman (“The Walking Dead” and “Invincible”) have been inspired by McFarlane.

McFarlane’s story is nothing new. Its a story of a man who never gave up even when people told him no or when it was the eleventh hour. And because of that perseverance, he is living the best life. If McFarlane could pursue his goals and aim for them, why can’t any of us? If nothing could stop him from doing his best work creating, what is stopping you from doing yours?

If you want to watch the documentary, “Like Hell I Won’t,” you can click on this link.