REVIEW: Artifacts #0 FCBD

Writer: Ron Marz
Artist: Stjepan Sejic
Letterer: Troy Peteri
Editor: Filip Sablick & Phil Smith
Publisher: Top Cow

Top Cow begins its first year-long event with this Free Comic Book Day special.  For the incredible price of FREE readers can jump on board at the beginning and hang on to what looks to be a very long and exciting road ahead.  From this point, new and old readers alike are on a level playing field and all you have to do is sit back and enjoy.

Top Cow has been gearing up for the Artifacts series for quite some time.  I would be misleading you if I didn’t let you know up front I’m a bias fanboy who has been reading Top Cow comics since the very first issue of Cyberforce back in 1992.  To say that I’m excited is a bit of an understatement, but I say it with reserve judgment as well.  With the last few years filled with events and crossovers from the Big Two, can Top Cow put together a yearlong event that won’t put reader off or wondering “why?”  I can only say as a fan – I hope not.

This particular issue sets the stage for the upcoming 13-issue series by introducing readers to Aphrodite IV. If you’re a long time Top Cow reader, you know her.  If not, this issue gives you just enough about her to let you know her qualifications for the mission that is being presented to her in this issue.  On top of that, readers are told the name of the thirteen artifacts that will be the focus of the event.  Again, those readers who have been following along for the last year or so know some of these items, but all readers are given a quick overview of each artifact which I feel is a great addition to this book.

If you have been wavering back and forth on trying out Top Cow for the first time, I think this FREE comic book is a perfect jumping on point.  So, Saturaday – May 1, get out to a local comic book shop and find a copy of this and read it.  If you’re curious about getting a little more back story pick up the Broken Trinity: Pandora’s Box miniseries that’s currently out.  Other than that, I think you’ll be just fine.  Enjoy!

REVIEW: Random Acts of Violence GN

Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Artist: Giancarlo Caracuzzo
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: Bill Tortolini
Publisher: Image Comics

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock the last couple of months you’ve heard about Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray’s new graphic novel – Random Acts of Violence.  Without a doubt – this book lives up to its name and definitely left me wondering about the stuff Gray and Palmiotti decided to leave out.  I’ll say this up front that this is an extremely graphic book both in story and in art, so keep it away from the ‘less mature’ audiences.

Two friends decide that they want to make a comic book.  They decide that one will write it and the other draws it.  The book is called “Slasherman” and it’s a pure gore-fest of a slasher comic.  The book becomes a sensation and the two creators hit the road to promote the book, meet their fans, and discover that sometimes life imitates art a little too much.  That is basically Random Acts of Violence in a nutshell.  Believe me, there’s much more to the book than what I’ve said, and I think I should leave it that way.

Palmiotti and Gray have put together one crazy ride in just 70 pages.  This book hits all of those suspense beats so well it just makes you want to keep reading.  I don’t think this was a pure horror book because there wasn’t that sense of horror in it and I hope I wasn’t misreading that.  I think there are a lot of shock and awe moments where it looked like our writers were just trying to gross you out from the scene.  If that’s what they were going for – gold stars all around!

I think one of the best things about this book isn’t the Slasherman aspect of the book, but the way the world is introduced to the character – as a comic book character.  The way this story unfolds and some of those little touches, like the Mark Waid story that is told, are great moments that really make the book enjoyable on a variety of levels.

The art in this book by Giancarlo Caracuzzo, Paul Mounts, and Bill Tortolini is something to behold!  I first saw Caracuzzo’s art in the pages of Last Resort, another Palmiotti and Gray penned book from IDW Publishing and I just wanted to see more of his work.  It’s hard to say that I like one book over the other, but I think Random Acts is such a great overall piece.  Mounts’s colors really are muddied and provide so a dark mood and then you turn the page and there’s a lot of bold and striking colors that provide such a punch to the pencils and inks.  Much like Last Resort, Random Acts makes me want to see more from this artistic team for sure!

Overall, Random Acts of Violence is not all blood and gore.  There’s a solid story in it about two friends working hard to fulfill a dream of making comics.  They get lucky and create something that really takes a hold of the industry.  Their only problem, it takes a hold of some people a little more serious than others.  I think this is a great book and should definitely be checked out, but it is definitely a ‘mature reader only’ book due to the graphic nature of the story.

REVIEW: Soulfire, Vol.2 #4

Story: J.T. Krul
Pencils: Marcus To
Inks: Saleem Crawford
Colors: Beth Sotelo
Letters: Josh Reed
Editor: Vince Hernandez
Publisher: Aspen MLT
Created by Michael Turner

In this issue of Soulfire, Grace and Seph chase after Blackjack and Rainer’s men as they attempt to free the hatching Blackjack stole from the dragon Marigold.  Benoist, PJ, and Dylan attempt to deal with their attackers on the Eight Continent, and Malikai may have just gotten in over his head as he attempts to show Jayden how to use her new found abilities.

At the end of the first volume of Soulfire, I really wondered if the new creative team on the series could hold the same level of energy that the first volume provided as well as really carry out an expansion vision for these characters.  From the very first issue of this second volume, J.T. Krul has done just that and more by being reverent to what has come before and then building upon it so many more layers.  Fans of the first volume that, for whatever reason, decided not to continue on with this new volume should be kicking themselves now for missing out.

Krul is balancing three different storylines with this series, and so far each has been well written and entertaining.  There really hasn’t been an awkward balance or forced storytelling in any of these issues thus far.  Like with previous issues, Krul continues doing what he does best and providing readers with a great story with great characters.  I think my favorite part of all of this has been Beniost and the Eighth Continent.  There’s not a lot of expansive storytelling, and it’s been a lot of action, but there’s a heart in the story that I think we really didn’t get to see in the previous volume with Benoist and it really rounds out his character.

The art in this issue by Marcus To, Saleem Crawford, Beth Sotelo, and Josh Reed is so good!  Every issue has pages I wish I could own because they’re so gorgeous to look at.  I think the world that these amazing artists have created really is extremely vibrant and exciting.

Soulfire continues to be in my personal top ten each and every month and I’m always excited to see a new issue.  I can say without hesitation that this series is well worth looking for at your local comic shop and picking up.

REVIEW: Mindfield #0

“Head Games”

Story & Creator: J.T. Krul
Illustrations: Alex Konat
Inks: Saleem Crawford
Colors: John Starr
Letters: Josh Reed
Editors: Vince Hernandex and Frank Mastromauro
Publisher: Aspen Comics

J.T. Krul offers up a new creator owned series whose premise revolves around a group of CIA operatives that are telepaths.  This zero issue really only scratches the surface for readers and serves as an introduction to the world in which these operatives operate.

The first issue of this series doesn’t hit the shelves until later in June, but I think grabbing this issue really is something readers should do who are curious about this series, or even just wanting to see what Krul can do when he’s doing his own thing.  Krul’s always been a really solid writer, and now that he’s getting more exposure with his work at DC Comics.  There’s always some carry over of a creator’s audience when they start new projects, and I think plenty of Krul’s fans who only know of his DC work who will really get a kick out of Mindfield.

There’s not a lot to go on as far as the story in this issue.  I think it serves up as a nice character introduction and provides some history of those agents that are in charge of the Project Cobalt.  The reveal that none of the operatives that are in the project are able to pass a psychological evaluation is interesting enough to provide some mystery to the telepathic agents.  We don’t really know why they haven’t passed the evaluations, and that could open up to some intriguing stories.  Then again – it could just be a red herring Krul’s throwing in this issue.

The art by Alex Konat is really good in this issue.  Konat hasn’t done a lot of work that I have found other than some work on some Batman stories at DC, but that’s part of the discovery factor in this issue.  Konat is definitely an artist to look out for in the future, and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes in future issues of Mindfield.

Wrapping up here, I think people should give this zero issue a try.  Aspen did a really good job with the $2.50 cover price and a variety of variant covers for people to pick from.  I think J.T. Krul has a lot of potential with this series and some really interesting stories to tell, and seeing Alex Konat’s art depicting those stories is just awesome.

REVIEW: Black Widow #1

Writer: Marjorie Liu
Artist: Daniel Acuña
Letterer: Blambot’s Nate Piekos
Production: Jacob Chabot
Assistant Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Published by Marvel Comics

I have always been a fan of strong characters.  I don’t think you’ll find a comic book fan that isn’t.  I think it goes without saying that over the years Black Widow has been one of those strong characters that has always been lurking in the background as a supporting character that really hasn’t had a decent ongoing series all to her own – until now.

At some point or another I have read a lot of Avengers and Daredevil and Black Widow was a mainstay in both of those titles from the 1970s through the 1990s and even into the last decade and I think it’s safe to say that Natasha is one of my favorite characters.  It’s easy to say that if you’re just looking at the surface of the character, but when you get beyond the long red hair and black, skin-tight costume there is a great character that has never been a push over by any stretch of the imagination.  Marvel’s decision to give Black Widow her own ongoing series right about the time she makes her big screen debut in Iron Man 2 may be a marketing effort, but you won’t find me complaining.

The writing chore on this new series is being handled by Marjorie Liu who I think is a rising star at Marvel.  Her work on Dark Wolverine with Daniel Way has been really strong, and you can really see her influence on the series.  I think Liu’s work on this first issue is really good and sets things up for things to come.  Her use of secondary characters like Black Rose, Tony Stark, James Barnes, and Logan are really well placed and used well within their character.

I enjoyed the way Liu portrayed Natasha throughout the issue as a well-trained spy, but also as a woman and not just a card board cut out of a person with no real emotions. I think the scenes like when she’s talking to James on the phone, or while they’re at dinner, or even while in the operation room.  So much emotional range and Liu knocks them out of the park!

The art in this issue by Daniel Acuña is just superb.  I know Acuña’s art style isn’t for everyone, but this issue is a much more subdued Acuña that I’m use to seeing, and I love it!  I think Acuña’s style works well for this issue and I’m very curious to see how he and Liu work with one another as this series progresses.

If you’re at all interested in the Black Widow as a character I highly recommend this first issue.  Don’t dismiss it as just a movie-tie in series, despite it might just be that.  Marjorie Liu and Daniel Acuña have put together a great first issue that deserves your attention.

REVIEW: Avengers: the Origin #1

“the Necessary Evil”

Writer: Joe Casey
Artist: Phil Noto
Letterer: RS & Comicraft’s Albert Deschesne
Production: Taylor Esposito
Associate Editor: Lauren Sankovitch
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics

There have been a number of times that Marvel has retold the origin of the Avengers.  I think there are very few comic fans that currently read anything from Marvel that doesn’t have a basic understanding of how the team came together all thanks to the Norse god Loki and his need to vanquish his half-brother – Thor.  I have a problem with an origin story being retold and even retooled a bit, in order to give the new generation of readers something of a history lesson.  I think as long as there is a solid story along with solid artwork there are no losers.

Joe Casey isn’t new to the Avengers.  He’s stated in a number of interviews his love for this team.  If you look back, he has written two Earth’s Mightiest Heroes series and now Avengers: the Origin.  This new miniseries is set to expand on the events in the original Avengers #1, and I think Casey is the guy who can really do a great job with this.  I think I’d put Joe Casey right next to Kurt Busiek as the writers I’d feel the most comfortable handling ‘classic’ Avengers storytelling.  Casey’s work in this issue is as strong as I’ve come to expect from Casey over the years.  There are great lines of dialogue, and strong characterization.  I think the opening sequence with Loki is a great example of this.

I do have some gripes about this issue from a story point of view though.  One question I have is why wasn’t there a little more introduction to Rick Jones and his group?  Sure, long time readers, or readers who have done some research, know who these guys are, especially Rick Jones, but if you don’t you’re left possibly wonder.  Also, I said this story was a retooling or the origin story, and I’m good with that.  But if this is a more modern day telling of the story, why would someone like Tony Stark be presenting the blueprints of the Hellicarrier, as advance as it is, and be wearing the bulky Iron Man armor from the original story and not something more advance?  Maybe it’s just a continuity nerd question, but still – I just wonder.

The art in this issue is awesome.  I have been a long time fan of Phil Noto and anything the man draws ends up being beautiful.  It’s hard to say anything other than that about Noto.  And while I did complain about the golden Iron Man armor, Noto really does a great job with it, as he does with all of the characters in this issue.

Overall, this is a really good first issue to this miniseries.  Sure, I’ve got some nit-pick problems with it, but it’s an enjoyable comic book that I think people who have never read the origin of the Avengers will really have a good time reading.

REVIEW: Codebreakers #1

Writer: Carey Malloy
Artist: Scott Godlewski
Colorist: Stephen Downer
Letterer: Johnny Lowe
Cover Artists: Julian Totino Tedesco (Cover A) and Brett Weldele (Cover B)
Editor: Dafna Pleban
Created by Ross Riche
Publisher: Boom! Studios

I a big fan of spandex super-heroes, but give me something that’s a little more grounded in the real world, throw in some strong personalities with the lead characters, and make it full of suspense and I’m one happy comic book reader! Codebreakers does that!

Boom! Studio has another interesting new series in the form of Codebreakers.  The premise behind this book is that the F.B.I. has an elite cryptanalysis unit that consists of a group of people that are the top in their field.  These people are the ones that are called in to decode or decipher ciphers, codes, encryption, passwords, etc.  The twist is that what if one of these people were being held against their will by the ‘bad guys’ and forced to do all of that for a terrorist organization or some other person or persons out to cause a lot of damage with the information one of these cryptanalysis could discover.

Carey Malloy really gets things rolling in this issue with a nice opening pace that eventually escalates when a member of the cryptanalysis unit is thought to have committed suicide, but the unit’s leader isn’t so sure and makes some startling discoveries that lead him to think someone has kidnapped one of his people.  The pacing is good, and the dialogue is pretty interesting. While there is some code talk in between the characters, you should expect that, it isn’t so much that you’re just wading through until you get to some dialogue you understand.  Malloy does a nice balancing act and I think the reader will appreciate that as the story progresses.  The characters need to be believable, but not over bearing.

If there’s a complaint I have it’s the quick turnaround on the fake suicide/kidnapping plot.  I don’t feel I’m spoiling anything because all of this is explained about the halfway point in this issue.  I realize this series may be a miniseries and Malloy wants to get things moving to get to the meat of the story, but I think there would have been a bit more suspense on the reader’s part if the truth of this revelation would have been hidden until at least the next issue.  I’m all for the unit’s leader, Donald Foster, to think that Stanley’s suicide was suspicious and therefore moving him to find out if its true or not, but it keeps us second guessing Foster for a little while longer.  Again, this is a small complain because the overall the execution is done well, I’m just a nit-picker.

The art in this issue provided by Scott Godlewski and Stephen Downer is top notch.  Boom Studios has done a great job finding great artists to work on their titles whose art styles don’t create a “house style” for the company and keeps each title unique looking.  The page where Foster looks over Stanely’s apartment and begins to decipher what happened is a great piece of work from a layout point of view and coloring.

Codebreakers has a strong beginning with this issue and I’m looking forward to how this story unfolds.  I will definitely be recommending this series to everyone I talk to.