2016 Graphic novel challenge

I joined the 9th Annual comic reading challenge with the lowest level, 12 books for Modern Age. I ended up reviewing 38 comics and so got up one level, to the Bronze Age.

Comic book based on the TV-show, collects issues 1-4.

Writers: Scott Tipton, David Tipton
Artists: Fabio Mantovani, Emanuela Lupacchino, Franscesco Lo Storto

The comic is set after Sisko was promoted to captain but before Worf’s arrival to the station.

All has been quiet on the station for a few weeks but now more and more people are coming to the station. Odo isn’t happy about it because he thinks the newcomers are unsavory types, to the say the least but apparently the Bajoran board of commerce is happy about the increased business and so is Captain Sisko. However, Major Kira agrees with Odo and, Chief O’Brian realizes that someone has been literally ripping the station apart. Now Kira and Odo have to find out just what is going on.

This was a fun comic and catches the mood of the show well. It could have been a short, light-hearted secondary plot in an episode. I really liked the beginning of the comic where two unsavory characters come to the station and in just a couple of pages we see Odo, Kira, O’Brian, Nog, and Doctor Bashier just going along their business. Great way to start the story. From there the story rolled smoothly, if predictably, along.

It was great to revisit the characters and this is clearly written for people already familiar with the show. I liked it even though I could have done without the Kira butt shots.

Comic book based on the TV-show, collects issues 1-4. Alternate future with Borgs!

Writers: Brannon Braga, Terry Matalas, Travis Fickett
Artists: Joe Corroney, Matt Fillbach, Shawn Fillbach

Set after the end of TNG series with Riker and Troi aboard U.S.S. Titan and Data destroyed.

The story starts 500 years in the future where the Borg Queen and Locutus have just destroyed the last bit of Federation resistance. But some part of Picard still remains inside Locutus and he decides to destroy the Queen. He reminisces about the past and how he and Seven of Nine were reassimilated into the Collective.

In the “Now” part of the story, Picard is hearing the Borg in his head and then Federation sees increased Borg activity in several sectors. But this time the Borg have come to ask for help. It seems that they’ve gone to other dimensions but have brought back an enemy who is a threat to both the Borg and everyone else. So, they ask Picard for help. A couple of years ago, Seven agreed to infiltrate the Borg as a double agent and now she’s to work with the humans in order to neutralize the new threat. But can the Borg be trusted?

The story moves along fast and furious. Picard’s terror of the Borgs is almost the only character moment as the story focuses more on action. The action is exciting and we get time travel, too, which is usually a plus on my books.

Unfortunately, I had some issues with the storyline. It mixed some familiar concepts but doesn’t bring anything new; I pretty much knew how the story would end. Also, some of the characters have moved on from Enterprise-E but here they’re back in their familiar positions: Riker’s ship is damaged and he steps smoothly back into the shoes of Picard’s first officer (we don’t even see who his current first officer is), and Worf is back, too. We see only a glimpse of Seven and Picard together, even though it makes a lot of sense that as former Borgs they would bond over their shared experiences which others can’t understand. I would have loved to see more of them together and to see how their implied friendship developed. I also hugely disliked the ending.

So, Hive isn’t a perfect story but it’s a fun bit of fluff with the Borg.

Collects Rat Queens issues 6-10.

Writer: Kurtis J. Wiebe
Artist: Roc Upchurch, Stephan Sejic

This first collection is just as much fun as the first one. However, I recommend reading the first collection first because the characters and the situation they’re in aren’t introduced at all and the storyline continues from the first.

The story starts the next morning from where the previous collection ended. The Rat Queens are in a situation which seems somewhat unusual for them: they were part of the group that saved the city of Palisade. But the mayor isn’t willing to trust the women completed: he sends them out of the city and searching for a caravan which has been presumably attacked. Meanwhile, Sawyer the captain of the city guard and Hannah’s on-again off-gain boyfriend, is looking for a missing elf woman and finds out a lot more.

This time we get to know a bit more about our heroines. We get a glimpse of Violet’s past among the other dwarfs, Hannah’s parents and her earlier friendship with a fellow wizard Lizzie, and Dee’s past comes calling. None of them have easy pasts but that’s no surprise.

I enjoyed this one, too. There’s even more sex, humor, swearing, and desperate battles than in the first volume! The last two issues have a different artist so they look quite a bit different, but I didn’t mind it. The collection does end in a cliffhanger, though.

Collects CSI: Crime Investigation – Serial issues 1-5.

Writer: Max Allan Collins
Artist: Gabriel Rodriquez, Ashely Wood
Forensic Research, Plot Assist: Matthew V. Clemens
Publisher: Titan Books
Publishing year: 2004

This is a comics miniseries based on the original CSI TV-show. It uses most of the same techniques as the show and has the same characters: Gil Grissom, Catherine Willows, Nick Stoakes, Sara Sidle, Warrick Brown, and Captain Brass. Set in Las Vegas, the comic starts with philosophical musing about Vegas. Like in the show, the comic has two plots.

In the primary plot, someone is killing prostitutes and on the second grisly crime scene Gil realizes that the killer is imitating Jack the Ripper. Unfortunately, there’s a Ripper convention going on, so there’s no shortage of suspects. In the second plot, a young woman’s body is found in a dumpster behind the Majestic casino. Sara and Warren investigate that.

The comic focuses on the cases and the characters get no real chance to shine. The most humor is found on the scenes where Warrick and Sara have to go through garbage and compare the killers to human garbage. The Ripper con could have given a chance to interview several suspects but that’s not used. The con is mostly an excuse to show cleavage shots.

The art is ok. The murder flashbacks are painted in a different and startling style from the rest. The collection has also interviews from three actors on the show.

An ok read aimed, of course, for the fans.

Collects Nightcrawler issues 7-12.

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artists: Todd Nauck

First up, is the aftermath to Wolverine’s death. Logan and Kurt have been friends for a long time and Kurt mourns for him.

Then the Crimson Pirates return. Bloody Bess contacts Kurt telepathically, asking for help, and Kurt teleports to her. The Pirates have unleashed an old X-Man enemy who has taken over them, except Bess. She’s had a change of heart and now is attracted to Kurt. It’s Bess and Kurt against the Pirates! Then the X-Men (Beast, Storm, Colossus, Rachel Grey, Iceman, Psylocke) follow and it’s the telepathically enslaved X-Men against Kurt! I rather enjoyed this story, except for the rather abrupt ending and Bess’ strange and inexplicable change of heart.

In the aftermath, the Pirates kidnap Kurt’s new sidekicks, Rico and Ziggy. In the last two issues, Kurt and Bloody Bess follow the students to another dimension and take the fight to the Pirate’s boss, Tullamore Voge. Kurt also has to decide if he will just rescue the two youngsters or attempt a far more difficult operation and free all the children taken to the slavers’ block.

This is classic Claremont and aimed at people who enjoyed the X-Men during his long run on the series. The X-Men are (again) significant secondary characters and by the end of the series, Kurt has three new sidekicks. I really enjoyed these stories; high adventure, despicable villains and noble heroes.

Collects Rat Queens issues 1-5.

Writer: Kurtis J. Wiebe
Artist: Roc Upchurch

This was loads of fun! I’m a long-time pen and paper RPG player and this hit all the spots for me.

The setting is fantasy and the characters are “Hannah the Rockabilly Elven Mage, Violet the Hipster Dwarven Fighter, Dee the Atheist Human Cleric, and Betty the Hippy Smidgen Thief”. Yup, an adventuring party with a pretty standard characters. Except that these swearing and booze drinking women are anything but standard in modern comics. They could be usual in a gaming group, though.

So, four adventuring groups are looking for work and in the meantime they get drunk and destroy pubs and other places in their brawls. Perhaps not surprisingly, the mayor and other citizens are concerned about the situation. Every group is given a quest which takes them out of the city of Palisade. The Rat Queens aren’t too happy about their quest which is to clear out goblins from a cave but at least it’s not toilet cleaning which one of the groups gets.

At the cave, our heroes are attacked by an assassin and a giant. Some of the four are hurt badly but they manage to all survive. But soon they find out that the other adventurer groups were also attacked and some of them weren’t as lucky. Also, the quests were just a way to lure them to the assassins. So, who is trying to kill them all and why?

The comic starts in the middle of things and doesn’t bother to explain anything or introduce anyone. However, people who have gamed (or read I guess) fantasy will have expectations. Some will be turned on their ear. The stories have lots of funny moments and dialog. However, they focus on fighting and not so much on character development. But before the end, each main character has gotten her own personality and a few quirks, too.

Highly recommended for people familiar with fantasy and not bothered by lots of swearing.

Collects Amazing X-Men issues 13-19, Annual 1.

Writers: James Tynion IV, Chris Yost, Monty Nero
Artists: Jorge Jiménez, Carlo Barberi, Iban Coello, Walden Wong, Jorge Fornes, Kris Anka, Salvator Larroca

The first issue is a one-shot where one of the students at the Jean Grey school is missing. He’s gone on a date for the first time but chickened out. Then he runs into Lady Mastermind who uses his insecurities against him. Nightcrawler and Northstar investigate and perhaps get to know each other a little better.

Next up is an Axis crossover, where good guys are bad and bad guys are good. In this case, Nightcrawler has gone to Germany and he’s after the blood of the priest who taught fear and hate to his parish and therefore is partly responsible for the attitudes of the men who first tried to kill Kurt when he was a child. Mystique is going after Kurt, to stop him from murdering anyone. This was a nice flip.

Then the five-part Juggernaut story starts. The gem which gives the Juggernaut his (or her) power has returned to Earth. It calls for specific strong and violent people but also the former hosts can hear the call. One of them is Colossus who is now at the Jean Grey school. He sees a dream about the gem and tells about it to Storm. He expects to be part of the team which will go after the gem. Instead, he’s told that he can’t be trusted and he needs to stay put. Storm, Nightcrawler, Firestar, Marvel girl, Rockslide, and Iceman go after the gem… and find a large, angry demon guarding it. Some other people are coming for the gem, too, and they’re not nice. Several fights break out, of course. Colossus persuades Pixie to teleport him there, too, and the X-Men might need him against the demon, Man-Killer, Crossbones, and Jinn.

This story arch has surprisingly lot of humor, especially near the end. I still don’t care for the bickering much but I liked the way the X-Men didn’t just rush off into a fight. I particularly don’t like the way that they constantly put down Rockslide – feels like bullying to me and coming from people who are supposed to be very inclusive it’s very distasteful. However, it was great that Firestar got to shine, again. She might be new to the X-Men but she’s an Avenger and pretty experienced one, too. In this story, we get to know Colossus a bit better. The poor guy has gone through a lot of changes and he seems to be regretting some of them. Apparently, he’s sleeping with Domino, now. When did that happen?? Cain Marko also gets a little bit of character development and then it, apparently, goes away.

The annual is a one-shot exploring Ororo’s past. It turns out that she still has family: cousins and aunts. One of them has been kidnapped by a new supervillain who has murdered other people. Storm, Wolverine, Firestar, the Beast, and Nightcrawler fly to Africa to investigate. The story is about revenge and it’s pretty forgettable except that we get to see Storm in full fury which is always awesome.

Collects Amazing X-Men issues 7-12.

Writers: Kathryn Immonen, Craig Kyle, Christ Yost
Artists: Kris Anka, Juan Vlansco, Ed McGuinness. Mark Farmer, Carlo Barberi, Iban Costello, Walden Wong, Marc Deering

The first issue is a one-shot where Iceman and Firestar meet up unexpectedly with Spider-Man who has an alien baby with him. At first, Angelica and Bobby don’t know it’s an alien and try to defend it from Spidey. It’s supposed to be funny but didn’t really work for me and the plot doesn’t really make sense, either.

The Wendigo storyline takes the rest of the collection. Apparently, Wolverine has lost his healing factor and that’s why Storm has ordered him to stay at the school. However, when he wants to go to Canada, he goes to Canada. Unfortunately for him, a human body is ground into food and that starts a Wendigo curse which spreads over Canada because the Wendigos infect people with their touch!

Mac (Guardian of Alpha Flight) has gone missing and Heather and Logan are looking for him – going right into the small town where almost everyone has been turned into a Wendigo. The X-Men (Storm, Northstar, Nightcrawler, Marvel Girl, Colossus, Firestar, Iceman, and Rockslide) follow but not before the Wendigos have spread into several towns and now there are thousands of them. One of the X-Men turns into a Wendigo! Then Alpha Flight comes to help.

This was pretty intense storyline, even though I didn’t believe for a moment that the scratched X-Man would stay a Wendigo. Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America are glimpsed fighting the Wendigos at the USA/Canada border, trying to save the Canadians who have turned and protect other people from them. Meanwhile, the magic users who should be able to turn the monsters back to humans are shown to be incapacitated so the heroes need another way to stop the curse.

We don’t get much in the way of character development. In fact, while this could be a fun adventure, it’s pretty forgettable. Northstar doesn’t appear happy to see his sister and former teammates, but he did mellow out a little because of a little girl he saved several times. Then again, he and Aurora snipped at each other previously, too, so I guess it’s in character

On the other hand, I didn’t really care for the humor; the characters mostly bickered like teenagers. Also, it was really strange how Rockslide just suddenly popped up from Blackbird’s toilet during the third issue. It felt like the writers suddenly realized that they needed him and just yanked him there. Weird, because he didn’t do much until near the end. For such a supposedly epic storyline (and epic ending!) I’m pretty sure none of the characters will ever refer to it again.

Collects Amazing X-Men 1-6.

Writer: Jason Aaron
Artists: Ed McGuinness

Kurt is back! Nightcrawler has long been one of my favorite characters and I’ve missed him. But now, he’s back!

The story starts with Kurt in heaven. But he’s not enjoying his rest, but is longing to return. However, strange things start to happen: pirates raid souls from heaven. Naturally, Kurt has to defend the innocents – with a sword!

Meanwhile, Angelica Jones (Firestar) comes to the Jean Grey school for the first time. She’s going to be a teacher. But first she’s confronted by the various goings on at the school. She finds out that Beast is being pestered by Bamfs, small creatures that look like Nightcrawler plush toys. Apparently, they’ve been a problem for a while in the school but now they’ve crossed the line: they’ve stolen Beast’s coffeemaker. But they seem to be luring the X-Men to a portal which transports Storm, Beast, Firestar, Northstar, Iceman, and Wolverine to other realms. Wolverine and Northstar end into Heaven and Beast onto a pirate ship in an icy river while the rest of the team are transported to Hell itself. Of course, they have to fight their way out.

It turns out that Kurt’s father Azazel is behind the attacks: he’s trying to carve out his own kingdom in the afterlife – and apparently nobody can stop him and his army of evil Bamfs and other wicked souls except the X-Men.

In the final issue in the collection, the X-Men celebrate Kurt’s return but he’s melancholy because of his biological family. Then Mystique shows up and it’s a family reunion straight from Kurt’s nightmares.

This was quite a silly adventure, memorable only because of Kurt’s return. The Bamfs were always quite ridiculous concept and I just couldn’t take them seriously as combatants. The other wicked souls are more menacing. We also get a glimpse of another dead X-Man. But Firestar, Storm, and Nightcrawler are awesome. Beast, Wolverine, and Iceman get their own chances to shine, too. Northstar is the only one who doesn’t have much to do here.

There’s also a downside to this otherwise cheery romp: Kurt has made a deal in order to get back to Earth and a dead man has only one thing to trade. It remains to be seen how that affects him in the future. Azazel and Mystique will no doubt plague him and the X-Men before long.

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