REVIEW: Daredevil #18 Sheds Light On a Legend

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on September 3, 2015.

Daredevil #18 - Cover

Ending a long ongoing series is a difficult proposition in mainstream comics, especially when given a limited page count. Not every story can have an entire volume dedicated to its final installment like Fables. So when a creative team is given 20 pages to deliver a final chapter on a story that is composed of more than 1000 previous pages, they are faced with an interesting challenge. How do you balance the climactic action promised by a grand finale with the catharsis and introspection needed to make the ending feel meaningful? What is the balance between spectacle and epilogue? Daredevil #18 is an issue that understands this struggle and walks the tightrope as gracefully as its titular character swings between the rooftops of San Francisco, dividing itself into two impactful, but very different halves.

The first half of Daredevil #18 is all action. Almost everything throughout Daredevil’s time in San Francisco has helped build to this showdown with Kingpin in some way. The Owl and his daughter, Shroud, Kirsten, Foggy, and now both Ikari and Kingpin are involved. What happens here is all in service of resolving the confrontation efficiently though. Daredevil #17 was the climax of action for the series, raising the stakes and touting an incredible action sequence with Ikari and an incredible cliffhanger. Where it focused on raising adrenaline, the first half of Daredevil #18 acts more effectively as the period on a long sentence.

Daredevil and Kingpin’s fight is the centerpiece of the action. While Foggy and Julia Carpenter get some moments, it all reads like background and their fates are never really in question. Mark Waid and Chris Samnee recognize that Kingpin is the one iconic element of the Daredevil mythos they haven’t addressed until now, and make the most of this one physical encounter.

Their duel emphasizes the power and brutality locked within Kingpin’s frame, and offsets the grace and precision of the Ikari so that both stand out on their own. Kingpin’s enormous fists and face fill compact panels, seemingly applying pressure to their edges. In one sequence every punch he throws is lit in red by Matt Wilson’s coloring, putting the reader in Daredevil’s perspective with blood filling his eyes. Letterer Joe Caramagna matches these moments with some excellent sound effects of “FAM” and “KAK” that embody the pain of a fist fight.

The red coloring around Kingpin’s punches aren’t the only thing to focus on Daredevil’s perspective. Samnee and Wilson reveal his victory with more elegance, playing with individual panels to show the world as Daredevil is seeing it. Smoke is used to obscure colors, and the same thing is accomplished with Samnee’s pink-lined rader effects, both putting the focus on forms and space. Even a small panel of Daredevil smiling uses a cross-hatching effect in the background to obscure any sight beyond what the blind hero can control. Kingpin’s defeat is even more elating as a result, with Daredevil’s victory becoming the reader’s as well.

Considering the length and scope of this Daredevil saga though, this showdown feels trite. It is a fistfight over a dining room table that is ended by outside intervention. There are also a lot of key elements that are only peripherally incorporated. Shroud and the Owl family are featured in a brief cutaway, playing an important, but undramatic role. Foggy and Julia are provided moments, but they are uninspiring. Even the later inclusion of epilogue-like pages focusing on some of these characters read like perfunctory footnotes to leave no loose ends. The first half of Daredevil #18 rests entirely on the power of Daredevil and Kingpin’s brawl, and while it is a well executed action sequence, it doesn’t meet expectations set by the series that precede it.

However, this battle isn’t the finale; it’s only intended to be a resolution of the final plot in this legendary run. The second half of the issue represents the true climax of Waid and Samnee’s Daredevil, where the fireworks aren’t found in explosions and fist fights, but in a scene that digs into the conceit of this 54 issue run (give or take some annuals and digital issues). Waid makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, what he sees as being the core of the character Daredevil and his arc over the past four years in a conversation between Matt, Kirsten, and Foggy.

While much of this series has been characterized as light and fun in comparison to past Daredevil stories, that hasn’t really been the case at all. Instead, the many bright moments have served to highlight the darkness of the character. Using that bright facade, Waid and Samnee have tapped into the depression, anxiety, and rage that fuel Matt Murdock. His battle with these emotions have shown him to be a hero for his perseverance and drive, not because of a chemical accident.

Once more, Matt is found in darkness by his friends, unwilling to move from it on his own and step out into the light. The revelation of his public identity and embrace of a new life in San Francisco are shown not to be solutions, but stop gap measures preventing real confrontation. The ensuing dialogue reveals why both these two dear friends and so many readers care about Matt, and why he is a classic hero. It’s only through the wisdom and support of his friends that Matt can move from the darkness and into the light one final time.

Matt Wilson’s colors in this scene reveal so much. The darkness of an unlit room first submerges Matt, and then drapes itself across his form. Light is brought in by his companions, illuminating his own clothing as well. Together wearing shades of rose, aqua, and lime, they present a poor man’s rainbow. Slowly, the world becomes brighter until Matt walks into the light in the final panels. Samnee’s use of space, providing a bottom panel that is simply borderless and white says so much by showing nothing at all, revealing a hopeful, bright blank canvass.

Waid uses the ongoing plot point of Matt’s autobiography to express all of these ideas in the words of the hero. His voice is not expository, but thoughtful and self-deprecating. He acknowledges his own flaws in a “final” chapter, while his friends praise him. This monologue compliments, rather than overwriting or undermining Samnee and Wilson’s presentation. The two narratives compliment one another and create a coherent portrait of who Daredevil is.

And yes, this final scene is on the nose and touches upon melodrama, but it absolutely should. This version of Daredevil has always embraced being a part of the superhero genre, painting a story in bold strokes with big action and heartful drama. This moment between friends, for as quiet as it may seem, fits the tone of the series beautifully. Daredevil is a modern legend, an undying hero whose adventures teach lessons and reveal aspects of our own humanity. This finale feels appropriately legendary, revealing a character who is equal parts myth and man.

Waid, Samnee, Wilson, and all of their other collaborators have created a truly legendary version of Daredevil, and Daredevil #18 is an excellent capstone to their accomplishment. It manages to walk the fine line between spectacle and catharsis, providing a fine ending to this last adventure and, more importantly, addressing the thematic core of the series. In these final pages, Daredevillands exactly on the point of why it has mattered so much for so many comic readers, and why it’s likely to continue doing so for a long time.

Grade: A-

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ComicBook Countdown for the Week of August 31

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on August 31, 2015.

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There’s nary a week when great comics, movies, or television shows aren’t all vying for our attention. It can be hard to keep up with it all, but that’s why we’re here. Each Monday at ComicBook.Com, we take a look at the five most exciting things coming to the world of fandom to keep you in the know.

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  1. Suicide Squad Vol. 1 | DC Comics

While the first Suicide Squad movie is just under a year away, it’s already possible to experience this infamous team’s greatest adventures. DC Comics is republishing the first volume of the series from the 1980s in affordable paperbacks starting this Wednesday. This is not only the best version of the Squad ever created, but one of the best series in DC’s long and storied history. If you want to find out what all the buzz about Deadshot, Amanda Waller, Captain Boomerang, and the rest is, then this is where you need to start.

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  1. Mad Max: Fury Road on Blu-Ray | Warner Bros. Pictures

Speaking of truly great things being made available again, the best movie of 2015 so far will be available to bring home this week. Mad Max: Fury Road was the highlight of a summer filled with great blockbusters, demanding repeat showings in theaters. It may not be possible to recreate that experience in a basement, but on a big screen TV and with surround sound this movie should still blow us all away on Blu-Ray. Plus, the special features detailing George Miller’s process and the incredible practical effects will all be required viewing for fans.

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  1. Miracleman by Gaiman and Buckingham #1 | Marvel Comics

Now that Alan Moore’s (a.k.a. the Original Writer’s) Miracleman has been reprinted in its entirety, it’s time for Marvel to move on to the next phase of this legendary series. More than two decades after they began working together, iconic creators Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham will complete their Miracleman stories beginning with the republication of “The Golden Age” story here. It’s incredibly exciting to see such an important piece of comics history not only reprinted, but completed. If you haven’t been reading the Miracleman reprints, now is the time to get on board.

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  1. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain | Konami

Is there any single living and working in video games today who is as influential as Hideo Kojima? Doubtful. Kojima’s work on the Metal Gear series has been truly influential, constantly experimenting and pushing the boundaries of his chosen medium. It looks like Metal Gear Solid V will be his final entry in the series, and it is a very high note to go out on. Rave reviews are already rolling in marking this installment to be every bit as impressive as its predecessors, if not more so. Gamers should be delighted to spend a little bit more time with Solid Snake this week, seeing just what videogames are capable of in 2015.

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  1. Plutona #1 | Image Comics

Plutona #1 is one of many, many launches from Image Comics this year, but it’s also one of the most exciting. We provided an exclusive interview with Lemire and Lenox earlier this year and an advance review of Plutona #1 a couple of weeks back. It is just as good as the hype would lead you to believe. The premise of Stand By Me with superheroes is every bit as intriguing as it sounds and Lenox is an absolute discovery on art. This four-issue miniseries is bound to be the talk of your local comic store, so be sure to pick it up before it sells out this Wednesday.

What new comics, shows, and other releases are you looking forward to this week? Share in the comments below.

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Fastball Feedback: Comic Book Reviews for August 26

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on August 26, 2015.

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The word “monster” is used in a lot of different ways. There are literal monsters with horns and bulging eyes, designed to fill us with terror or awe. There are also those who are monstrous through their actions, losing their humanity and separating themselves from any attempt to empathize or understand. All of the comics in this week’s feedback have monsters in both appearance and behavior, whether they display horned heads, ghostly visages, or a complete disregard for others.

Hellboy in Hell #7

Written and Drawn by Mike Mignola

Colors by Dave Stewart

More than a year after it’s last issue, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy in Hell returns for the two-part story, “The Hounds of Pluto”. In the first issue, two doctors discover a decomposing Hellboy. They acknowledge that although Hellboy is dead, his trials have not yet come to an end. But before he can get their help in saving his soul, he is dragged into a fight that is bigger in the most literal sense.

Mignola pushes Hellboy through a wide variety of settings, starting in a dream of the world to come and concluding in an action-packed cliffhanger. The introduction is revealed in soft, lush brushstrokes, separating it from the harsh reality of hell and calming the mood. It is a beautiful scene, one that is truly unlike anything Mignola has delivered before. But when the story returns to hell, his hard-edged abstract style returns in full force. There is a density to this issue, from the anatomy of half-flayed corpses to tremendously well designed old world architecture. Even in its slowest moments, the issue pulls you in, before eventually delivering classic Hellboy action at its best.

Dave Stewart’s colors also play a dramatic role in this narrative. Hellboy’s continuing journey through hell reveals that his iconic bright red pigment has diminished to a pale gray. The consumption of his soul and attempts to recover are not just seen in Mignola’s depiction of his diminished form, but in fluctuations in his skin. This range from dull browns and grays to a glaring bright red also informs setting and action. Red only becomes prominent when  characters and events figuratively heat up. Stewart also beautifully compliments the dreamscape at the start of the issue, using vibrant golds and greens to create a welcoming mood that does not exist throughout the rest of the issue.

It is always a joy to see a new art from Mignola, and Hellboy in Hell #7 proves that rule once again. From the evocative, soft dreams at the start of this issue to the big battle at the end, every page of this issue is a treat. Hellboy’s development as a character is mirrored by Mignola and Stewart’s as artists, all of them showing their souls here.

Grade: A-

Gotham By Midnight #8

Written by Ray Fawkes

Art by Juan Ferreyra

Gotham By Midnight continues to explore the creepiest crevices of Gotham City. This month, the Midnight Shift investigates the cause behind pundit-generated riots erupting across the city. It’s a twisty, interesting idea, but one that falls flat on its face, lacking presentation or plotting that lives up to the promise.

The combination of punditry, two-party politics, and enraged viewership makes for fertile thematic ground, especially as election season looms. Unofrtunately, Ray Fawkes fails to make any of it engaging. The two newscasters are obvious stand-ins for generic right and left-wing talking points, who are shown to be equally bad mirrors in a banal statement that reads like a high school freshman’s favorite talking point. Beyond this, the members of the Night Shift are merely plot adjacent. They play no significant role in what happens during the riots or afterward. Instead, they provide exposition and watch the debacle resolve itself. The plot and characters simply run parallel, neither adding to the story or giving readers a reason to care.

Juan Ferreyra’s presentation of the violence and fury fails to add much tension or horror to the proceedings. Everything building to the finale has the feeling of a generic cop show. Even supernatural elements like the mysterious black flowers appear flat and uninteresting. Nothing separates these events outside of some well-lit, moody coloring. Ferreyra delivers on spectacle when the monster is revealed in a splash, but it is only played for a quick shock, elevating only the two pages in which it is revealed.

Gotham By Midnight #8 is clearly executed and easy to understand, but never manages to engage. From its broadest ideas to its most specific details, the issue rarely passes the bar of being passable. It is a quick horror story, with only a single stand out moment, that will be forgotten in less time than it takes to read.

Grade: C-

Written by Chris Burnham & Dennis Culver

Art by Ramon Villalobos

Colors by Ian Herring

The Battleworld tie-ins of Secret Wars find inspiration from a broad expanse of past Marvel events. Each series’ success varies, and is often related to its source material. So it’s no surprise that a comic riffing on Grant Morrison’s New X-Men is the best of the lot. E is for Extinction is packed with action, humor, and wonderfully weird ideas.

Ramon Villalobos is a worthy successor to Frank Quitely’s work on New X-Men. The dense action sequences that fill E is for Extinction #3 are lovingly crafted at every level. He never allows the foreground of a panel to remain simple. Punches and psychic attacks are conveyed with laughs, callbacks, and striking design elements. There is something about each action beat to pull readers into the story rather than simply process it. And fortunately, the lush backgrounds provide plenty of reasons to linger around. In a battle filled with almost infinite Beasts and an entire school of mutants, Villalobos packs as much as he can into this issue. The artwork has so much material to sift throgh, that an immediate second reading feels not only necessary, but also desirable.

Chris Burnham and Dennis Culver capitalize on the madcap energy and clarity of Villalobos’ artwork by taking a kitchen sink approach . E is for Extinction #3 is jam-packed with characters and ideas that makes it feel busy, but never overwhelming. From the Phoenix Egg to sentient viruses to the crisis of infinite Beasts (and even more), there’s a lot to consume here. Burnham and Culver present each new antagonist clearly however, and never over-complicate the plotting. Solutions are revealed just as evidently as their problems. And while an understanding of New X-Men may help with the issue’s enjoyment, it is not necessary. References to Battleworld and Doom are the only bits that slow this rocketship of a script at all, dropping out of nowhere before disappearing once more, all to minimal purpose.

E is for Extinction is not just one of best Battleworld miniseries so far, but one of the best X-Men comics published in years. Morrison may be the source for many of these ideas, but Burnham, Culver, and Villalobos are demonstrating a true mastery of the material. If we’re lucky, this won’t be the last time we see them all playing with the oddest superheroes in Marvel’s stable.

Grade: B+

What did you think of this week’s comics? Sound off in the comments below.

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FF VII: Entry Two: Freaking Scorpions with Freaking Laser Beams

The second round of Final Fantasy VII landed on Saturday night under the worst possible circumstances. I was half-way between fine to drive and blackout drunk (it’s a broad range) with my girlfriend and her older brother at this apartment. They are both very familiar with the game and had me airplay my experience from the iPad onto his TV for their amusement. I was at the special place where I want to rant about comics, and gave them a lecture on the merits of the final fight scene in Cosmic Odyssey #4 first, showing off panels in beautiful 60 inch glory. Normally this would be a lot of fun, but not when you’re fighting laser shooting scorpions, fleeing exploding power plants, and learning everything important about this world at once.

Did I mention there was a laser shooting scorpion? That shit is the fucking worst.

I resume play in the power plant and keep trucking. Up until this point, I have only fought guards, cats with funky tails, and evil butterflies or maybe flying jellyfish. So when I run forward to the reactor and find a robotic scorpion bigger than every Pokemon I’ve ever caught. I am understandably horrified.

And these two fuckers are squealing with delight.

Throughout this fight, I learn a few important things that I’ll just list out.

  1. Cloud can use magic. I use the D-Pad again after my previous attempt resulted in Barrett shooting Cloud in his Akria Toriyama haircut, and select “Bolt”. Lightning is super effective. It’s doing loads more damage than the sword, and I can use it really fast. Maybe there’s a longer wait? I don’t really know or care. Lightning fucks shit up.
  2. Point break is not just a Keanu Reeves movie. Barrett and Cloud both reach their breaking point and unload on Scorponok during this fight. Barrett shoots a sun at it. His gatling gun generates a sun and shoots it at people when he gets angry enough. This is cooler than lightning.
  3. Potions are helpful. Scorponok has a special move he unloads when you attack while his tail is up. That shit hurts and leaves me with two guys who are in really bad shape. But drinking makes it all better.
  4. Strategy is important. The game told me to not attack when the tail was up, but I was jamming on A like it’s a game of Street Fighter (another thing I am very bad at). I start to pay attention after getting my shit rocked the first time, but a lot is happening so of course I attack again when the tail is up. But then it goes back down. My girlfriend says this is because I got lucky. I say it’s because Barrett can shoot you in the face with a sun. It’s best not to piss him off.
  5. Having two drunk friends shouting at you throughout a boss fight is not fun. It’s kind of the worst when you already feel hopelessly confused.
  6. That victory whistle is so very sweet when everyone is low on hit points and you’ve been fighting for five minutes.

So Scorponok goes down, we set the bomb, and a timer starts. What? Why would we only set it for ten minutes? Don’t we remember how long it took to get down here? (Hint: Way longer than it should have)

I now understand why randomly generated fights are annoying, because it was raining guards the whole way out. Even when I went to save, that stupid timer was still ticking down. About halfway through, I realize that all I want is a drink, but I am too nervous to set down the controls for a minute. I managed to not have my own characters shoot one another in spite of my nervousness though, so I’ll call it a win.

And let me tell you, I lit that power plant up. That fireball should have blackened Cloud’s finely groomed blonde locks.

This is also the point where I realize we just 9/11’d Shinra. Running away, guards keep appearing and I keep knocking them down. I get surrounded after having killed close to a dozen of these guys before Cloud finally jumps off of the bridge and rejoins the crew on board of a train. This is the first moment I’ve really liked Cloud, train antics are forever cool to me and seeing him flip through the door into a moving car is bad ass.

The action is not my favorite part of this session though. That goes to everything that comes next. Interacting with the team, overhearing conversations, and learning more about why we just 9/11’d a power plant is fascinating. It’s through all of this that I realize Final Fantasy VII is really focused on conservationism and class warfare. The metaphors are so big and operatic; I love them.

There is literally a city covering up the sun by flying above another city, and there’s no clear path between the two. A corporation is literally sucking the planet dry in order to turn a profit. This is all amazing. The politics of Final Fantasy VII are fascinating and I want to learn as much as possible about them, but that’s not my favorite part of this session. That comes when we get back to the secret hideout (which is hidden beneath a pinball machine elevator (which is stupidly cool (this game totally has my number at this moment))).

Meeting Tiffa is the best part of the night. She is thoughtful, empathetic, and patient. Way more patient than Cloud deserves. Her memories of their childhood are my favorite cut scene in the game so far. And yes, I’ve only been playing for about an hour, but I like it a lot. She reminds me of Sue Storm, actually. She’s at the heart of this band of rebels, keeping tempers calm and reminding people why they’re all there. Being around makes everyone a little bit more likable and defuses all this macho tension between Cloud and Barrett.

This also makes me like Cloud for the first time. He’s oblivious to Tiffa’s feelings for him, but is at least kind to her and makes some self-deprecating comments I really appreciate. All of the tough guy bluster starts to drop around her revealing that maybe this kid is okay. Also, my immediate love for Tiffa makes me like Cloud in turn. If he makes her happy, then I’m pro-Cloud. But I swear to god, if he hurts her… I know how to make Barrett shoot Cloud.

There’s other stuff happening here. I can sleep to recover, argue with children, and buy stuff. So I get everyone in my party new bracelets and give Barrett a bigger gun. It seems like the right thing to do.

So I killed Scorponok, blew up a power plant, learned what the core themes of the game are, found a reason to care about Cloud, discovered my home base, and really been introduced to the cast. That’s way too much stuff. I’m out.

Oh… and something about Materia. My girlfriend told me to pay attention to that, but I was drinking.

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ComicBook Countdown for the Week of August 24

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on August 24, 2015.

There’s nary a week when great comics, movies, or television shows aren’t all vying for our attention. It can be hard to keep up with it all, but that’s why we’re here. Each Monday at ComicBook.Com, we take a look at the five most exciting things coming to the world of fandom to keep you in the know.

5. Hank Johnson: Agent of HYDRA #1 | Marvel Comics

This Secret Wars one-shot looks to be a lot of fun. A humorous look at the suburban life of one HYDRA agent should be able to deliver a lot of laughs tackling both an uncommon perspective in superhero stories and poking fun at middle class life. Artist Michael Walsh has an incredible knack for humorous spy capers , as proven in the most recent volume of Secret Avengers. And writer David Mandel’s work on Curb Your Enthusiasm shows just how well he can craft a joke. Get ready for some serious laughs in the midst of Secret Wars.

4. Hellboy in Hell #7 | Dark Horse Comics

Is there any creator currently working in comics who is as influential as Mike Mignola? There may be a few alternative answers, but not many. Mingola has created a style and universe of stories that are truly his own and almost rival the work of Jack Kirby, the King of Comics. So whenever a new issue of Hellboy in Hell, both written and drawn by Mignola, comes out, it is a cause for celebration. 

3. Hannibal, “The Wrath of the Lamb” | NBC

It is the end of Hannibal, for now at least. With no networks currently looking to rescue the recently-dropped series, this may be the final episode. But, at least it’s a good one to go out on. Season three has given viewers both a taste of Hannibal’s past, and a fresh interpretation of his very first story in Red Dragon.  It has consistently remained the flashiest and most beautifully shot show on the air. Ultimately, Hannibal was so good that it has done the impossible: created an atmosphere where we would not only accept a Silence of the Lambs remake, but actively demand it. Bravo.

2. Fear the Walking Dead, “Pilot” | AMC

Technically this aired last night, but I missed it on last week’s Countdown and it’s kind of a big deal. This spinoff of one of the most watched shows on television has a few big things going for it. First, it has just as good of a premise as its originating series, unlike a lot of spinoffs that just take one great element. Second, it has a ridiculous amount of goodwill to support it. And finally, it has five years of experience to learn from and hopefully deliver a zombie show where every season is strong. Catch the encore this week and prep yourself for Sunday’s second installment. 

1. New MGMT #1 | Dark Horse Comics

This one is a big deal. Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT has been one of the best comics this decade. Beautiful watercolors, experimental presentations, and a mind-bending espionage plot all show Kindt at his absolute best, a true auteur and master of American comics. Now it all comes to an end in New MGMT #1. While this may be the final chapter of Meru’s story, it’s undoubtedly not the last we will hear of Mind MGMT. It is sure to join the comics canon as a work we will all still be discussing and enjoying for decades.

What new comics, shows, and other releases are you looking forward to this week? Share in the comments below.

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FF VII: Who Needs a Second Fist?

I don’t play video games.

That’s not an absolute rule, but I generally don’t play video games. Between the day job, comics, writing, holding onto some semblance of a social life, and simply trying to survive, I just don’t have time to sit down and play a video game by myself. Yet the medium is still a big part of my life. I’ve been experiencing and enjoying video games vicariously through my significant other, Alex, for the past six years. She loves the stuff, and as a result I’ve fallen in love with a lot of the same things.

The Legend of Zelda, Pokemon, and Sonic franchises are a big part of our household. They form the soundtrack to our living room, decorate our household, and pile up around the living room. I’ve become addicted to buying amoebas (sp?) because I like toys and Super Smash Bros. is a game I can have a lot of fun with even if I’m constantly getting my ass beat. But through all of this, there has always been one game that has held the #1 spot. It’s a game that Alex adores and is seminal to her relationship with the medium, and it’s also the one that I have the least understanding of: Final Fantasy VII.

Together we’ve been to three Nobuo Uematsu concerts and the Square Enix cafe in Tokyo. I know the names of some characters (Cloud, Barrett, Sephiroth, Yuffie) and a few major plot points (a girl dies and a Phoenix Down can’t bring her back), but it has mostly remained an abstract entity. Through Alex’s passion, I’ve developed a love for this game that I know almost nothing about. I was completely fine with that, but then I saw it was being released for iOS and realized this was an opportunity for me to better understand something she loved. So last night, right before midnight, Final Fantasy VII was released for Apple products and I downloaded it to my iPad.

In order to keep me attentive and prevent me from giving up, I’m going to be free writing about my experience playing through the game. I am awful at video games, possessing almost no hand eye coordination or basic understanding of how non-Nintendo controllers are supposed to operate. I also don’t possess much patience, expecting constant narrative satisfaction; that’s probably why I’ve quit endless Pokemon games halfway through never to return. But I want to finish this one, I want to understand it, I want to engage it.

Welcome to Final Fantasy VII, Chase Magnett. Hope you survive the experience!


It is already 11:45 in the evening when the app finishes downloading, and I have to be up for work at 6:00, so I’m just going to dip my toe in and find the first save point.

I don’t click through the opening credits, don’t want to miss anything. That and Uematsu’s soundtrack is boss. I love going to this guy’s concerts. It doesn’t hurt that he’s an incredibly sweet and humble person. Watching Arnie Roth, the conductor, coach him on stage is always a lot of fun. I imagine that there are going to be a lot of tangents where I just ramble about music in the future.

There’s a lady and then a bad ass looking city. I don’t really get how people discuss graphics in video games. I technically understand that these aren’t nearly as advanced as everything we have now, but I really like the aesthetic. You can see that someone worked on this, that there’s an element of craftsmanship involved, and a struggle against limitations. That’s really cool and I like seeing how this immense city was rendered almost 20 years ago.

Music changes, cue train, and here I am. Looks like I’m part of a gang? Rebels? I get to name myself! I’m going to keep the original names so I don’t get confused, otherwise I’d just be referencing the cast of Game of Thrones after a while, and these posts would become completely unintelligible. So the kid with the blonde Goku cut and Cable shoulder pads will remain Cloud.

Cloud is a dick.

Seriously, he is giving so much attitude to Barrett, who could obviously whoop his ass. Apparently SOLDIER and whoever runs this city is destroying the planet (points for ecological themes!) in a pretty blatant fashion, but Cloud does not give a fuck. He just wants to get this mission (whatever it is) done for… reasons? Is he getting paid to help these guys out? I’m not clear why he’s tagging along when nobody likes or trusts him. Maybe he has inside knowledge because he was part of SOLDIER? Whatever, point being: Cloud is a dick. I don’t like him.

Barrett on the other hand. This guy… This guy fucks. When god was handing out fists, Barrett handed the second one back and said, “I already got one of these. How about a gatling gun instead?” He has two hands that look like over-sized cinder blocks, one of which just happens to be an enormous gun. This guy can wreck your shit in so many ways; he is a human tank. I love him.

We fight soldiers as we get inside a power facility for… reasons. Are we terrorists? There’s no tutorial on combat, but it’s pretty easy to kill these guys if you just hit A a lot whenever the time bar fills up. I imagine that at some point this will get more complicated, but right now, I can just Attack or Item, and only one of these options sounds like fun.

After getting inside we… Holy shit! Cloud just ate Barrett! Wait. Nevermind. He’s just on my team now, so we walk around like a single person. After getting inside we reach some locked doors. Everyone is just standing around so I assume I’ll need to find a key. Those mad instincts I picked up playing that Zelda game on DS are kicking in. I wonder back out and keep bumping into random soldiers, but still no keys.

New bad guys! There are claw guys* and some evil looking butterflies (moths?). With five enemies, I figure it’s time to do more than just push A. Cloud attacks the first claw dude, so I want Barrett to attack the second one. I try to move the pointer, but lose track of it. Oh fuck, they’re attacking me and my attack bar is full, I’ll tell Barrett to attack. OH FUCK! Barrett is shooting Cloud. Cloud is still a dick, but I didn’t want that to happen. Why would this game even let me do that? I continue to just push A until all the claw guys and butterflies (moths?) are dead.

I go back to the locked door frustrated that the game won’t tell me what to do. Then I push A and random party dude opens the door. Fuck. All I had to do was talk to people. These last five minutes have been my work life in a nutshell.

Climb some ladders, fight some soldiers, and then there’s a floating doohickey. It sort of looks like a rainbow question mark. When I walk into the light, it tells me this is a save point. Thank god. I can go to sleep, as soon as I figure out how to save the game.

This takes me approximately two and a half minutes.

*I have been told by someone familiar with FF VII that there are no claw guys at this point in the game. That is a fucking lie. These dudes were creepy with extended sparkly forearms that looked like knives. No soldiers look like that.

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Fastball Feedback: Comic Book Reviews for August 12

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on August 19, 2015.

Despite endless drama, awkwardness, and general anxiety, being a teenager is actually a lot of fun. You get to discover what makes you you, fall in and out of love as quickly as a pop single plays, and experience so many things for the very first time. It’s no surprise that the stories with the most fun find themselves rooted in the no man’s land between between childhood and adulthood. This week we’re checking out three  adolescent adventures set in an English university, a little American town called Riverdale, and a galaxy far, far away.

Archie #2

Written by Mark Waid

Art and Colors by Fiona Staples

The big Archie relaunch continues this month with the second issue from comics all-stars Fiona Staples and Mark Waid. Archie and Betty have broken up and Lodge Manor looms on the horizon in an issue that builds towards one of the greatest love triangles in American fiction. It’s another installment filled with classic characters, high school humor, and plenty of hijinks.

The opening chapter of this issue confirms Jughead as the series’ breakout star. Mark Waid has tapped into something new with the character; he is like Ferris Bueller, if Bueller actually possessed empathy and a conscience. His conversation with Archie and backstory reveals him to be the book’s hidden wiseman, far older than he appears or acts. Through Jughead, Waid even sneaks in a clever dig at Man of Steel. His strength consistently lies in dialogue and wordplay in this series. A lot of the gags in Archie #2 read as being very standard though. Archie’s clumsy exploits and their horrible consequences could have been pulled from an issue in the 50s or 60s. They are, in and of themselves, pat and safe.

Fiona Staples makes the humor in Archie #2 come to life though, delivering these rote jokes with style and panache. It’s exaggerated exactly enough to land with some sense of shock, and some of the faces displayed in these scenes are priceless. The acting of Staples’ characters absolutely sparkles as well. It’s no surprise the big body humor lands, but she brings the same intensity and response to close ups and dramatic pauses. A panel focused squarely on the bridge of Betty’s nose and her eyes reveals an incredible feeling of frustration and focus. A lot comes across purely through those blue eyes and brows. This is part of a makeover sequence that is the issue’s true highlight. So much detail and honesty are packed into the seemingly minor struggle of getting prepared for a party, that it is difficult to not fall in love with Betty.

Archie #2 continues to deliver on all of the best elements of the first issue. It’s accessible, fun, and an absolute visual delight. While the series is not delivering anything new, that’s never its intent. It plays it safe and executes each page of high school tomfoolery and melodrama with grace, producing a comic that is enjoyable for all ages.

Grade: B

Kanan: The Last Padawan #5

Written by Greg Weisman

Art by Pepe Larraz

Colors by David Curiel

Kanan, The Last Padawan draws to a close after a big cliffhanger left both Caleb (not yet Kanan) and his rougish companion Kasmir under the boot of Imperial troops (literally in Caleb’s case). It makes for an action-packed conclusion to this mysterious part of the Rebels’ star’s origin. That action, like much of this mini-series, is an assembly of stock parts that create a working, but uninspiring comic.

Grey and Styles, the antagonistic clone troopers, reveal just how perfunctory the story is here. The motivation behind almost every one of their actions is paper-thin, driven by the needs of the plot more than any recognizable desires. Grey has a big moment at the end that is worthy of a thorough head scratch, appearing from nowhere like a ship blinking out of hyperspace. Caleb and Kasmir are also treated like  special friends, but that relationship has been completely unearned in this series. Dig any deeper than the surface-level functions of this plot, and you’ll find a calorie-less center in this story.

The action is clearly portrayed, with a few exceptions. The opening and closing of an airlock requires readers to guess at the cause and effect of the scene with no obvious visual cues, and a final panel that could be read in two different ways. Other moments in the script are oversold and play in a fashion so melodramatic it pushes them into being silly, specifically a goodbye between two friends. Almost everything about Larraz’s storytelling is functional, but it never manages to surprise or engage except when it drops below par.

Kanan, The Last Padawan is perfectly standard franchise comics. It hits a lot of familiar territory and story beats without ever adding a new spin. It’s a story that has been done many times before both in and outside of the Star Wars universe. While not terribly executed, it hardly provides a reason for its own existence. Kanan may entertain younger fans of Rebels, but it’s unlikely to strike a spark with anyone who has read more than a few Star Wars stories.

Grade: C

Giant Days #6

Written by John Allison

Art by Lissa Treiman

Colors by Whitney Cogar

Giant Days reaches its halfway point this month. Winter has arrived and the three women at the center of this college romp are on holiday. Esther and Daisy find themselves in their friend Susan’s hometown, Northampton, and have to find her before old enemies take out longtime grudges. It all combines for another slam dunk of an issue, moving this seminal school year along and also managing to deliver a self-contained adventure filled with shenanigans.

The quality of Lissa Treiman’s character work cannot be understated. Esther, Daisy, and Susan all reveal their personalities so clearly through their designs and expressions. The effervescent Esther moves like a slip of water that’s unaware of gravity. Her wide eyes and face make her emotions pop big in every panel, and the scene where she hits the dance floor is pure magic. Each action in that scene draws the reader’s eye forward and lands a punchline with the seeming ease of the most skilled Sunday cartoonists. Most of Treiman’s pages work as self-contained episodes, creating mini-chapters within the larger structure, packed with jokes and effortless bits of characterization.

Allison balances his dialogue and jokes within the issue very well. While there’s a consistent pattern of banter between all of the characters, nothing ever feels over-written and sight gags stand on their own. Inventive little twists, like a mirroring record and comic shop are enhanced by dual clerks and commentary. Speech bubbles enhance the setting and bring forth new information, making for a comic that is driven by words and images working in tandem. It also allows Allison to deliver pages of jokes, and almost every one of them lands.

Giant Days #6 is an incredible amount of fun. It is a joy to tag along with these characters on their misadventures. And despite the generally low stakes, the issue never feels slight. Instead, it captures the whimsy and aimless propulsion of college-life, making you want to run ahead even if it’s unclear why. There are good friends and good times to be had, and that’s more than enough.

Grade: B+

What did you think of this week’s comics? Sound off in the comments below.

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Robert Venditti Discusses the Future of X-O Manowar

X-O Manowar #39

Robert Venditti and X-O Manowar have been an integral part of Valiant Entertainment since its relaunch in 2012. For more than three years, Venditti has written X-O Manowar and two of the company’s big crossover events. As the company’s longest-running writer, Venditti begins X-O’s next major story in X-O Manowar #39 with  “Exodus”. It is both an excellent jumping on point, and the beginning of what will lead to the titanic X-O Manowar #50. We had a chance to sit down with Venditti and discuss how far X-O Manowar has come in 39 issues, his importance to the Valiant universe, and what the future may hold.

Be sure to check out an exclusive preview of X-O Manowar #40, and a wide selection of upcoming covers, after the interview.

Chase Magnett for ComicBook.Com: In the current market for superhero comics, it’s uncommon to see a writer work on a single character as long as you have on X-O Manowar. Issue 39 is out, and there are already plans to go to #50. This gives you the rare opportunity to do an in-depth character study and bring the hero, Aric, through multiple arcs. What about Aric keeps you engaged?

Robert Venditti: I think the key to a long run with a character is to maintain the core things about them. For Aric, it’s that he’s a man-out-of-time who comes from a different era. He was abducted by aliens and then found himself in the modern day with a highly advanced suit of sentient armor. He had no opportunity to evolve with society, to see how ethics or warfare are different, or even how the concept of being a leader or hero is now different.

You can show him grow in the modern world, but still preserve those man-out-of-time aspects of him as well. Those pop up in smaller moments like observing running water inside of your house. You don’t want the character to feel stagnant over the course of 40 issues. I do feel super fortunate to put a long run like that together, especially with this being the first ongoing series I ever did. I want to see Aric continue to grow and change, but make it believable in a way that is still true to him.

Even though Aric is a man-out-of-time, we’ve never shown him as being buffoonish. He’s not Encino Man; he’s Maximus fromGladiator set in the modern day. Whether Maximus is alive in ancient Rome or alive today, he’s still going to be noble, good, and heroic, but it’s going to change based on the way the world is now.

Magnett: I like that Maximus comparison because in Gladiator he reflects a point of view that relates to many of those around him, but is entirely unique. In X-O Manowar #39, the start of “Exodus”, Aric finds himself trapped between three different sides: the United States, the Visigoths, and the Vine. Yet, his perspective merges aspects from all three.

Venditti: He finds himself as a leader of two people. How do you choose? Aric understands where both sides [the United States military and Vine immigrants] are coming from and why they’re doing what they’re doing. He is a character whose response used to be to take out his sword and try to lop someone’s head off. Now he’s caught between two armies who are trying to lop each other’s heads off, and he’s trying to keep the peace.

That shows how he has evolved as a character over these 40 issues. He has changed, grown, and learned some lessons, but there are still some things he doesn’t know how to grapple with and he’s finding himself in one of those situations.

Magnett: I’ve heard a lot of readers compare the character to Superman, and I think this story shows why that comparison is unfair. Aric is steeped in a military background and manner of thinking that makes his character arc and conflicts unique. This also allows X-O Manowar to explore some interesting topics, like an active soldier struggling with PTSD.

Venditti: I don’t know if there’s a character I would compare him to less than Superman. They’re wildly different in their backgrounds, perspectives, and what drives them. Superman is one of my favorite characters, but they’re very different.

I don’t think that Superman would think that Aric had any morality. He might look at him and think he’s a maniac. He might not even be able to understand why Aric is doing what he’s doing, which is how the Unity team responded to him at the beginning ofUnity when he came down and tried to conquer Romania. The trick is that we as readers can understand and relate to what he is doing. He’s sympathetic to us.

It’s like the pilot you mentioned before, where he’s seen by those around him as a hero. But there are these unseen scars that have been left on him and those come out at the worst possible time. We sympathize with him and understand that he’s not a villain trying to start World War III, not even a bad guy. Everyone in this issue – whether it’s the humans trying to defend their land or the aliens trying to find a new world or Aric who’s caught between the two or the pilot who thinks he’s fighting another alien invasion – everyone has a noble motive, but they find themselves at odds with one another.

That’s where the driving force of this arc comes from and it’s something I wanted to do as a challenge for myself. Can I tell a story with all of these different sides where everybody is right, but they’re all opposed to one another?

Magnett: That’s one thing I think you did very well in X-O Manowar #39. The issue opens on the pilot and presents him as a good father and husband, but also someone struggling with PTSD. So when he initiates this conflict, you’re not so much angry at him as you are at the situation and circumstances that led to it.

Venditti: Very much so, and I think it’s fascinating to put a character like Aric in that situation. He comes from a world where morality was black and white, and it really was back then. The Visigoths were on the inside of the circled wagons and the Romans were on the outside. Things could not possibly be any more different in how these sides saw in and wanted for one another. There were clear good guys and bad guys. That makes things nice and easy.

Aric is in a position now where he doesn’t have that. That’s the challenge, and it shows him as someone who used to be a hothead being able to recognize that change, and it’s a huge growth in character. I hope that as he continues to deal with these situations, we’ll see even more of that growth.

Magnett: I think the scale of the conflicts and issues Aric deals with, like this, shows that X-O Manowar has the greatest scope of any series in the Valiant universe. How do you envision the role of the series within the greater shared world?

Venditti: He is always going to be an essential character to the Valiant universe. Not just because he was always one of the more popular characters from the start, but because he is one of the truly global characters. I mean that in every sense of the word. Since he has come back to Earth, he has realized the people he needs to protect are not just Visigoths circling the wagons in Romania, but the entire planet of Earth. The Earth is inside the wagons and the Roman empire is the rest of the universe.

He sees himself as someone who has to do what he is able to do, not by choice but because of the power he has been granted. The enemies are sometimes only here on the planet causing a problem because of him, so he has to do what he can to defend against them. All of that is part of the core concept as I see it. I don’t know how you make X-O Manowar a peripheral or small character. He’s a key piece to the universe and Valiant certainly plans to keep him that way.

Magnett: I like the metaphor that Aric focuses on what is inside his circle of wagons. As he continues, that circle continues to widen and accept more people who he feels the need to protect. Here we see him bringing Vine refugees in, when they were once his mortal enemy.

Venditti: He has become completely cultured. He started in a place with a very narrow point of view, but has traveled the universe now. He has been to other worlds and had the mothers of alien children die in his arms on battlefields that the Visigoths here on Earth have no concept of. In some ways he’s the only one who really understands all of the pieces that are in play. To be able to grapple with that and recognize there’s a discussion that needs to be had, shows a level of intelligence and integrity that surpasses even those characters we consider to be the super-geniuses of the Valiant universe. For all the intelligence that someone like [Toyo] Harada or Ninjak has, they don’t have the knowledge that Aric possesses from his experience traveling the stars. In his own unique way, he’s the smartest guy the Valiant universe has in certain situations.

Magnett: You pointed to a specific experience, having this mother die in his arms, that is brought up again in this issue as a reason why Aric has grown. It’s something we as readers experience as well in X-O Manowar #39, becoming familiar with a specific pilot’s life before he commits a tragic mistake. How important is it to keep growing the supporting cast and perspectives?

Venditti: We’ve certainly done. There have been consistent Vine characters like the High Priest or Dalgan. Seeing that even though they are aliens, they’re still mothers and fathers, and they have children who get broken arms allows us to relate to them. We are going to continue and see more of that. We are also going to see the return of some alien characters who have been there from the very beginning, but we haven’t seen in a very long time.

Magnett: Is this all part of the master plan leading to the big anniversary issue X-O Manowar #50?

Venditti: Definitely so. If you go back through the entire run and you look through issues #1-14, you’ll see the big story of Aric returning to Earth and defeating the Vine antagonist, that we divided into smaller arcs. Then we went into the long Armor Hunters arc. Through #50 we’re taking on a new arc that will become apparent at the end, divided into smaller stories.

Magnett: Are you working with Rafa Sandoval for all of this arc, or can we expect to see some other pencilers coming in as well?

Venditti: I’m not sure right now. Rafa has done #38, 39, and 40, but I don’t know what his schedule is. There’s always the chance you’ll have someone help with a fill-in issue. My hope is that he stays on the book; he’s phenomenal to work with. When you see X-O Manowar #39, you can see how well suited he is for this widescreen sort of a tale with big action set pieces. He can draw ships, he can draw aliens, he can draw Visigoths, he can draw action, he can draw conversations, he can draw men, he can draw women, he can draw kids. There’s nothing this guy can’t do well, and that’s such a great asset to have when you have a character with so much versatility; he can be so many different things. I’m really pleased to be working with him, Jordi Tarragona the inker, and Brian Reber the colorist. I feel like as a team we are really clicking and I would love to see that happen for as long as possible.

Magnett: One thing I really liked about Sandoval’s art in X-O Manowar #39 is his use of these expansive panels that cover the bleed and fill in behind other panels in action sequences. It gives you a real sense of the size and scope of the action.

Venditti: The thing I appreciate about him the most is the emotion he is able to convey in the character’s faces. This entire issue completely rested in Rafa’s ability to show the fear and panic in the pilot’s eyes when he is firing upon the aliens. You can’t get there with dialogue or captions. You have to see it in his eyes and see the sweat on his forehead. You have to feel him trembling. He communicated all of that so beautifully and the entire issue rests on the shoulders of that work.

Magnett: One last question: As you start the next big story arc with X-O Manowar #39, do you see this as a jumping on point? How will it appeal to readers who haven’t checked it out X-O Manowar yet?

Venditti: We work super hard on every issue and doubly so on the first issue of a new arc because we realize these are characters that aren’t immediately familiar to reader. X-O Manowar #39 is a good entry point for that because, even though it may sound otherworldly with aliens and Visigoths, it’s based in a real world situation that we can relate to in our own way. The fear of outside forces and how far you will go to protect your home from things you don’t understand. I think that it’s a good entry point, and hopefully readers will agree.

You can go here to check out exclusive covers and a preview of X-O Manowar #40.

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ADVANCE REVIEW: House of M #1

 

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on August 17, 2015.House of M #1

Secret Wars has presented a unique opportunity for all of its tie-ins. Rather than mandating a core plot to which every mini-series must relate, it provides a setting that allows for a wide variety of unique superhero tales. In that way, it’s a lot like a previous Marvel event: House of M. So it only seem appropriate that the House of M tie-in takes full advantage of this potential.

The first issue dives right into this domain of Battleworld, presenting a wide cast of characters and a diversity of conflicts in a fast-paced introduction. Writer Dennis Hopeless takes advantage of having a cast and concept that are well known to the target audience. He introduces the core premise in an efficient pair of pages, which also helps readers jump into the mind of Magneto. There is so much happening in House of M #1, that most sequences wind up being plot-driven with characters and circumstances quickly changing on every page. But even amidst all this swirling action, Magneto remains the story’s heart.

It is a balancing act that Hopeless manages well for the most part. Most of House of M #1 is shock and awe. A lot is happening with various rebellions and family turmoil in the king’s home. This leaves most players as archetypes. Luke Cage is a one-note joke, albeit a funny one, and Hawkeye is more plot than man. But while their characters are diminished to talking set-pieces, their antics are thoroughly entertaining. Magneto is the soul of the book, and provides just enough pathos to make us care about what will happen to him. Hopeless taps into an interesting element of the character within the broader history of the Marvel Universe, in that he is someone who has been so defined by his battles that he never expected to actually win.

Artist Marco Failla’s presentation of King Magneto is well designed. He has a broader jaw and larger cheeks than the sharp-faced Magneto many fans have become accustomed to, and it’s an interesting change. This is a man who has been affected by both age and comfort, and it shows in his body and gestures. Failla has a lot of secondary and tertiary characters to play with as well. While many take cues from the original House of M series, others feel unique. Magneto’s children wear a variety of outfits, befitting their elite status.

While Failla’s layouts never exceed being functional, his backgrounds can often provide hidden treasures. Various mutants wandering times square make it worthwhile to pause and soak in the scene. The issue’s big action set pieces also showcases various snapshots of fights occurring beyond those in the foreground. Colorist Matt Wilson helps makes these details more noticeable as well, utilizing a wide spectrum of color schemes in costuming (although Misty Knight’s robotic arm noticeably changes colors halfway through the issue).

House of M#1 is one of the best tie-ins to come from Marvel’s big summer event. Much like Master of Kung Fu and E Is For Extinction, it stands on its own, barely recognizing the rest of the world around its own domain. In turn, its characters and plot can charge forth like a Silver Age Marvel comic, packed with detail on every page. Hopeless, Failla, and Wilson provide readers plenty of material in this solid elseworlds-style adventure.

Grade: B-

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ADVANCE REVIEW: Plutona #1 Introduces Your New Favorite Artist

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on August 17, 2015.

Plutona

I’m not going to bury the lede. You should check out Plutona #1, even if it’s just so you know who Emi Lenox is, because she is the breakout North American comics artist of 2015. Seriously, she’s really good.

Plutona is a five-part mini-series created by Lenox and Jeff Lemire that combines Stand By Me and Powers for an elevator pitch. It features five neighborhood kids, without very much in common, who discover the body of one of their world’s greatest superheroes in the woods. While superheroes exist in this comic, it’s definitely not a superhero book. Instead, they provide a bit of fantastic flavor to what is really a story about childhood. The titular character (read: dead body) doesn’t even arrive until the final page. But that’s not really a spoiler, because this comic is all about character.

That’s where Lenox shines. In a comic that features one of the most popular, flashiest genres in American pop culture today, she draws your focus and concern to the mundane and human. Who needs laser vision and freeze breath when you have five characters who live and breathe in every panel they occupy? The manner in which she summons Teddy, Diane, Mei, Mike, and Ray to life makes Plutona #1 one of my favorite debut issues of 2015.

The opening sequence of the book beautifully juxtaposes these five characters against the adventure promised in the premise. On the very first page, Plutona’s body is shown lying battered and broken in the woods in a series of close ups. Small details like a foot pointing in the wrong direction, or a single fly resting on her forehead, make the page feel disconcerting. The stillness of each moment, along with a pallid color scheme make it clear this person is dead. It acts as a brief prologue, a promise of what will inevitably affect the living in Plutona.

That beginning comes in the most obvious of starts, as a sunrise is presented in a spread. It washes across the small town and massive forest, which holds the secret at the heart of this story. There is a contrast to the darkness of the previous page as the imagery is lifted far above the forest floor. Jordie Bellaire colors the sky in light blues and lilacs that roam the atmosphere, realizing the potential of a fresh day, as do each of the characters in the four pages to follow.

Each of the following pages opens with a close-up on one of the children and an introduction to their lives. These are one-page plays, making the personality and circumstances of each character clear through a few concise choices. The placement of parents, or lack thereof, reveals the freedom these children experience and where they are coming from. Their attitudes toward minor morning struggles help readers connect or, at least, sympathize with who they are. It’s small stuff, like the frustration at babysitting a younger sibling or taking care of a new puppy, that makes these scenes connect.

Those opening seven pages and their succinct structure build the world of Plutona incredibly well. The hook of the plot is clearly set, the setting is established, and the characters have all been clearly established. Clear presentation and an awareness of what is most important to the story makes these opening pages irresistible, an example of excellent comics craftsmanship. Sometimes it takes creators an entire arc to really connect with readers, but Lenox and Lemire have accomplished the feat by page 8.

Watching all five of these children act on the page is a joy. Every encounter and interaction is dense with information. Facial expressions and body language is purposefully poised in each panel. Even when characters are not at the forefront of a situation, they are responding to it in the background. This level of focus allows readers to quickly form impressions and an understanding of the cast. They’re consistent visual characterization makes them breathe on the page. Consistent, subtle cues like downward glances and avoiding eye contact (Diane) or quick shifts in expression and tight lips (Ray) make the subtext in these “performances” clear and more easily understood.

Lenox provides a lot of information without making these characters  act, respond, or think though. The fashion found amongst children is diverse and reflective both of personal abilities and life circumstances. Diane’s makeup and outfit reveal her to be a careful, meticulous person who puts great care into herself. Ray, on the other hand, evidences the opposite effect with hair and clothes that both look like they haven’t been washed in a couple of days. Given their age, this not only provides clues about their personalities, but the homes they come from as well.

Lemire has shown a knack for presenting children realistically in the past in comics like Essex County and Sweet Tooth, and continues to do so here. There is nothing infantile or diminutive about how these five interact with one another. Instead, they feel like real people aware of their world, but lacking in experience and sometimes empathy. He effects the minor cruelties of childhood in a way that is both saddening and sympathetic. The juvenile manner in which Ray lashes out at others reveals a great deal about himself. Mei’s use of and attitude towards Diane’s hand-crafted jacket feels saddening because of how realistically it connects with the smallest injustices and dismissals we all experience as children.

Plutona is a comic about childhood. The inclusion of superheroes feels like garnishment in the first issue, saved for a page of prologue and final reveal. The heart of this one issue is the five children at its core. Lenox and Lemire put all of their efforts into bringing them to life on the page, and the results speak for themselves. In these five children, both of the world and in many way innocent of it, it is possible to see reflections of the people we once were and wished to be. They all live on the crucial moment before adolescence when every choice could mean the world and the world could mean anything. The stakes of Plutona are high, not just because they reflect the perspective of children, but because the potential found within each of them feels truly limitless, if only for this one moment.

You can pick up Plutona #1 in comic stores and on Comixology on September 2, 2015. Also be sure to check out the exclusive ComicBook.Com interview with Lenox and Lemire from the books Image Expo announcement here.

Grade: A-

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