This time on Heroes and Villains, we’ll be looking at a variety of comics out this week and last, from a variety of genres. Meet me after the jump for my thoughts on Divided States of Hysteria #2, Golden Voices: Frank Sinatra, Planet of the Apes/Green Lantern #6, War for the Planet of the Apes #1, Mage: The Hero Denied #0, Groo: Play of the Gods #1, Youngblood #3, and Back Issue #98… be warned, there may be spoilers… and a mature content warning as well…
The comic Divided States of Hysteria, and its creator Howard Chaykin, have stirred up quite a bit of controversy of late, and we even covered a bit of it from the front line on The GAR! Podcast right here, but this review will be about content, rather than controversy, or politics, sexual or religious. Let’s play safe with this one, and actually look at the comic itself, specifically issue #2. Howard Chaykin has always run hot and cold for me, for instance I loved his Iron Wolf and Avengers 1959, but his Blackhawk and especially American Flagg did nothing for me, and I’m a big Blackhawks fan. I suspect we are in Flagg territory with this one.
We open in the wake of a monstrous terrorist attack, New York City has been nuked and gassed, killing millions with the death toll rising. Chaykin tells the horrific tale with intensity, and I was sucked in almost immediately, keeping in mind I had not read the first issue, and was reading this in media res. That may be part of the problem. What comes after is distinctly disconnected to the rest of the story. And the string of epithets that cross the page at subliminal intervals are more annoying than insulting. I wish I could see the art and read the story through them.
Divided States held my interest only mildly after the first few pages, and then I was bombarded simultaneously by some great art coupled with coarse language, graphic hyper-violence, and a surprising political agenda. I found the sensation equal to petting a kitten while being beaten with a club. It’s Suicide Squad dialed up to eleven, with all the good parts edited out and extra offensive sex and violence added in. I didn’t like it. Not recommended.
We also talked about this one on The GAR! Podcast, and if you can still get it on ComiXology, I recommend you do, because it rocks. The story behind this one is almost as interesting as the story in this comic. Matthew Petz wanted to work for a certain comic book company who does those music bio titles, and was rejected, so he put out his own comic, in their style, with his own style, or shall we say, twist. We do indeed get the biography of the legendary Frank Sinatra, but then the tale takes a decidedly sinister turn. If you love Lovecraft, you will dig this tune, daddy-o. I love this book, and hope Matt Petz gets work for better comics companies, as I’m sure he will. Highly recommended, but not for the weak of heart.
Planet of the Apes
Today is Apes day, not just because War for the Planet of the Apes hits theaters today in some locations, but also because we get two new PotA comics on the shelves as well. The first is the final issue of the Apes/Green Lantern crossover I had reviewed an issue of before, and it ends with a bang and a twist, which seems to be a theme this week. Green Lanterns war with Red Lanterns over the Planet of the Apes, which in itself is cool, but there’s also Grodd, and an ending fitting of the PotA franchise. I loved this, it’s fun, it’s action-packed, and it stays true to the characters involved – everything this type of crossover should be. Recommended.
Then there’s War for the Planet of the Apes #1, which may or may not be a comic version of the movie. Am I the only one who misses comic book adaptations of films? Anyway, this is a good and engaging story, and if it is a version of the movie, it’s a good one as it does what those sorts of things should do, offer new additions to the story. One of those things we get in the comic that I am sure is not in the movie would be the communication between the apes. This battle between humans and apes in the ruins of San Francisco is another must read, great stuff.
And, if you’d like to experience the Apes on a different media level, AMC Theatres has a deal today for the release of the newest movie in the franchise, War. Today at select theaters, they are showing all three of the new series films in order starting at 4 PM. First you can see Rise of the Planet of the Apes, then at 6:30 Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and finally at 9 PM War of the Planet of the Apes. Details on this swinging triple feature can be found here.
For the rest of this entry of Heroes and Villains it feels as if we’ll be turning back the clock, as the last three reviews are callbacks to the 1980s and 1990s. Before Matt Wagner was famous for Sandman Mystery Theatre and Grendel, his claim to fame was a cult favorite and critical darling called Mage. First subtitled The Hero Discovered, and the second edition The Hero Defined came a decade later, and now, after some rights issues, Image Comics presents The Hero Denied. I read the originals and remember digging Discovered, but not being able to get into Defined, perhaps it’s time I take another look.
Mage is the saga of Kevin Matchstick, and an exploration and updating of the Hero’s Journey as told with both superhero and mythological archtypes. Above all that of course it’s damned entertaining and makes the reader think, that last thing might be what Howard Chaykin was after in Hysteria, but failed ultimately. This zero issue has kevin hunting an enemy and he crosses paths with very 1990s Image-type hero, almost a parody, and it was quite readable and fun. I may have to not only give Defined another shot, but also pick this new series up as well.
To celebrate the release of Denied, Image has also released this week, the trade collection of Mage: The Hero Discovered, so if you need to catch up, or have never experienced Mage before, pick this up.
Before I was able to read, I loved Sergio Aragones. From his cartoons in the margins of Mad magazine to the paperbacks full of folks ‘mad about’ something, I loved his stuff. It rocked my world however when he came out with a barbarian comic during my college days, I grooved on Groo the Wanderer. First created in 1978, Groo now continues on with its fifth publisher, Dark Horse. The Wanderer gets around.
In Groo: Play of the Gods, Aragones continues the tale of the cartoonish barbarian and his dog, with Mark Evanier doing whatever it is he has always done with the feature (I kid, translation and co-writing is the gig). It has been a while since I read this character but I slide back into its groove easily and happily. After a couple great gags, Groo unwittingly stumbles into not only a holy war, but a clash of gods, and cheese dip too, of course. And again, I can’t help but note that another comic bests Hysteria, this one with a discussion of religion, albeit couched in laughs. Groo is always recommended.
I was never a fan of Rob Liefeld, and when Image Comics was on the rise, and over-muscled superheroes with giant guns on their shoulders were in vogue, I was retreating comics. I saw shelves full of psychotic Batman, dead Superman, reborn Avengers, and unrecognizable X-Men, and I bailed. Only things like Starman and the aforementioned Sandman Mystery Theatre brought me back into the fold. So I was gone from the world of comics when things like Youngblood showed up the first time. I can barely believe that enough time has passed that one of the foundations of Image is making a comeback already. I’m old.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of its introduction of Image, this newest incarnation of Youngblood is a new team rising from the ashes of the old, created to rescue a hero gone missing. The charm of Youngblood was the concept of superheroes treated as celebrities, and that vibe isn’t lost in the new version. And while it’s a new team, there is also the whole getting-the-band-back-together thing going on as well. It’s not bad, and that’s coming from someone with no emotional or nostalgic attachment to these characters or concept, but I’m sure it’s a hit for folks who dug the original. Buy or not, your mileage may vary.
The latest issue of TwoMorrows’ Back Issue is definitely worth a look this month. Among the goodies inside this one are features on some of the cool DC Comics of the 1980s like the sadly forgotten Electric Warrior, the amazing comic unrelated to Michael Jackson Thriller (a favorite, and one of the best, underappreciated comics of the time), the Secret Origins series that helped re-organize the post-Crisis heroes and villains of the DC Universe, and the weekly anthology version of Action Comics, a grand experiment that was blasted by critics, but contained some very cool stories. Also in this issue, there’s a look at DC Challenge, that is seeing some play today in the current Kamandi Challenge, check it out!