Sunday, November 27, 2016

Legends of RED SONJA by Gail Simone Vol. 1

I have no idea who Red Sonja is, to be honest, and that means I had to go online to research about the character's origin and publication history as a comic book series. From what I understand overall, she was a character created by Marvel Comics around 1973 when she first appeared in a Conan the Barbarian issue. There was also a movie about her at some point. She's the quintessential pin-up fantasy heroine from comics. What made me want to read this more recent Dynamite comics title is because Gail Simone (from DC's Batgirl) is the writer of this particular line-up. Also, there is something nostalgic about warrior women for me. I did after all grow up to Xena: the Warrior Princess (but I was nine and I don’t remember specific things about that show except that Lucy Lawless rocked and kicked ass). And so reading Red Sonja definitely gave me that kind of nostalgia.

The first volume of this revamped version from 2010 to 2012 entitled Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues reads more of an anthology with a sideline linear narrative. According to what I researched, this Red Sonja is a distant relative for the original She-Devil with a sword. Knowing this premise actually helped demystify some elements for this volume that seemed shaky and suspicious. Nevertheless, reading this collection had been enjoyable because of its action-packed moments and interesting blend of tall tales, feminist insight and sometimes clever subversion of tropes.

A group of warriors named Grey Riders are the 'protagonists' of this story as they are on a quest to capture or slay Red Sonja whose reputation and deeds make her very larger-than-life if not almost mythical. For every issue, the Grey Riders have to interrogate an array of colorful side characters who have a tale or two to spare about the legendary She-Devil with a Sword. And that's how this volume reads and develops as an anthology because of the interwoven separate an standalone stories that the Grey Riders have to hear and often have to figure out whether or not these tales are authentic. A lot of the stories emphasize the badassery and cunning of Red Sonja. Some are exaggerated to the point of absurd while a few are designed to inspire paranoia or discourage the Grey Riders on their quest to seek out the infamous fire-kissed warrior who seems to keep eluding them throughout the journey.

Simone has worked with many fantastic artists for this volume and the variety and quality of the artworks and illustrations are truly a feast for the eyes and a feat of the imagination. What stands out easily when it comes to the depiction of Red Sonja is her iconic bikini-style armor. It is so utterly gorgeous and in one issue Simone even had a self-aware flashback that acknowledges the deadly allure of a formidable fighter who happens to be a scantily dressed woman--and what that can do to unsuspecting fiends and rivals.

I had a great fucking time reading this volume. It's ridiculous yet witty, infectiously daring and unafraid in its exploits and small doses of dark humor, and visually interesting with the multiple collaborations of artists working together. The first volume included a script for one of the issues as well as gallery for the concept art. This is something that can be consumed by novice and veteran comics readers alike. So if you like your women fierce and written by a female writer, you can’t go wrong with Gail Simone and her work for the Legend of Red Sonja.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Rachel Rising by Terry Moore

The last graphic novel I reviewed just a week ago is about a woman who cannot be killed (Lazarus), and now I'm doing another one about yet another female character who is resurrected from the dead. It's a playful coincidence. The two stories have nothing much in common except that basic premise, however, and if I'm to be honest I think I much enjoyed Lazarus although that doesn't actually mean that Terry Moore's Rachel Rising doesn't hold up well as a series. If the first volume is any indication of how certifiably creepy and atmospheric everything is, then I will surely pick up the second volume someday.

Rachel Rising is about the titular female character who was strangled and left for dead as she was buried in a shallow grave next to what seemed to be implied as a land where witches used to live and do evil stuff? It's all speculative for now. The very first pages opened with Rachel walking out of said grave with fragmented memories as well as possessing literally bloodshot eyes and very discernible rope marks around her throat. Moore's illustrations are minimalist and drawn in black and white. The panels certainly make you feel as if you could be reading this on a Sunday paper, in spite of the macabre and gore that would be happening next as the chapters progress.

The story for the first volume The Shadow of Death unfolds in two ways. We have Rachel's side of the plot on one hand and this little girl character named Zoe on the other. Rachel sought the help of her aunt, Johnny, who is a mortician and her childhood friend Jet, to find out about her attacker and how and why in the fuck did she even get resurrected from death. Her character story as the heroine crosses with that of the secondary character Zoe's version of the events. Her side of the story is the more disturbing, filled with gruesome deaths. A malignant force in shape of a mysterious woman had taken control over Zoe's actions, making her do very bad things while she is still much aware of the deeds as she is committing them. At a crucial point in the narrative Zoe and Rachel finally cross paths but another awful tragedy strikes that would claim more lives than either of them could possibly imagine.

I like this series so far. The story is still half-baked and often shaky at best. Most of the time the evasive dialogue and lack of real action aside from people getting killed could get tiresome real fast, but just when the pacing and momentum feel like it's slowing down, Moore leaves readers with just enough incentive to keep them reading anyway, eager to solve the mystery surrounding Rachel's resurrection and whatever evil is about to spread in her hometown brought about by ritualistic sacrifices that heavily imply that this has all been a set-up for now and there is a storm that is about to come. Things may pick up by then.

I think I would recommend Rachel Rising to anyone who is looking for something gothic and enticingly creepy. It's digestible enough if not momentarily baffling in some places. It's still missing a real hook for me which is why I'm giving it a safe rating.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

LAZARUS by Greg Rucka Volume 1

Comprised of the series first four issues, this debut volume written by Greg Rucka, and illustrated by Michael Lark with the colors done by Santi Arcas, is a dystopian science fiction story that definitely holds promises. 

I actually liked it even if it's only a hundred pages long. My review for this graphic novel collection is positive enough although I can't say yet what is in store for the rest of the series, seeing as the four issues of Lazarus felt like watching a pilot for a TV show. With that comparison, I believe these issues hold enough weight on their own both as separate installments and as a singular story that unfolds efficiently well. Action-packed and well-balanced when it comes to exposition and dialogue, Lazarus: Family is something readers can easily consume in one sitting but it's also a substantial serving which would make them come back for more.

Speaking of TV pilots, this series might actually be adapted for a television show, and based from what I have seen so far, I think it would work well. The plot of the story focuses on a futuristic setting where capitalism is the dominating status quo that had abolished real governments across the world. The wealthy and privileged reign as supreme rulers and each city in the states is governed by a 'Family' while the rest are deemed as Waste (not even kidding, it's that blunt). Essentially, the modern world reverted back to a brutal age when elitist rich families are considered the most valuable while everyone else are cattle and slaves. How demeaning is it that after that much progress humans societies have made throughout history that the shift of power had only moved back from what was once considered ancient and barbaric? But I digress. I can actually see this future happening someday because of frighteningly good reasons when you consider the widening chasm and disparity growing between the rich and the poor even to this day.

Now the heart of this socio-political is our protagonist Forever Carlyle, who serves as the 'Lazarus' of the Carlyle family. As the namesake implies, she can never die and can come back from any method of killing or death. She's reserved and obedient, but also quite inquisitive and kind. Forever (or Eve) had started asking questions about her purpose and calling which is something her 'siblings' and the man she calls 'father' are not so thrilled about. The first four issues delved in the beginnings of Rucka's world-building where the Carlyle family has some strained relationships with other feuding families from across the state lines and within their own parameters of territory. There is enough betrayal and deceit to go around with, and characters who will become main players for the narrative are fleshed-out enough to compel readers to look forward to their roles and participation in the future.

I get this vibe that Lazarus will have the sensibilities of The Sopranos and Game of Thrones since it is about the privileged families who are also engaged in organized crime. I think it's not a bad direction to go for, and I'd be interested to learn how Rucka would pull it off in the next installments. Lark's illustrations are detailed and particularly enjoyable to look at especially with scenes that have a weight of importance. I like the way each panels are positioned not only during action sequences but also during the quieter moments. Colorist Arcas had employed rather dark colors for his palette, but they worked exceptionally well to deliver the atmosphere of prejudice and power struggle which the characters are engaged in.

Overall, this is an impressive debut series with a satisfying first arc and a tantalizing heroine to match it. I definitely look forward to the other volumes in the series!


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Webcomics Watch: CUCUMBER QUEST by Gigi D.G

There are a lot of wonderful adventure-fantasy webcomics out there, both popular and obscure, and some of them are long-running series that stretched out for years already that keeping track of their multiple arcs can be a hassle especially if you are more of a casual reader (and more so if you barely get internet access). This ongoing fluff yet sublime webcomics story written and drawn by Gigi D.G is still in the earlier stages of its hopefully long run in years to come, so there is definitely more time to catch up and get yourselves invested in the amusingly enjoyable characters and the literal candy-colored worlds of Cucumber Quest

The collected printed volumes for this webcomics has the Prologue and Chapter 0 as the first volume, Chapters 1 as its second, and Chapter 2 as its third. Currently, the fourth chapter online is about to be concluded. I managed to finish until the third chapter last night, and man it has been such an utter delight. The good thing about Cucumber Quest is that it's truly for light reading and very easy on the eyes. Gigi D.G's simplistic art style shines well because of her extravagant choices of colors. Bright and often with rainbow layers in coloring plus adorably draw bunny-eared characters being entertaining and funny, each page for this webcomics is a pleasant feast for the eyes, and it certainly did remind me of children's books in the best way possible. There is never a dull moment for the chapters of this series because Gigi D.G's enthusiasm and passion shows in the way she balances the pacing, humor and heartwarming moments of each arc, and hence she makes readers eager for more installments concerning Cucumber and the gang as they move forward to face their outlandish villains and visit/get stranded in various candy-colored landscapes that readers would squeal over because of how pretty they are. I know I sure did, and I guarantee that you will too!

In retrospect, Cucumber Quest can just be taken as a straightforward adventure story starring the bookish and socially reserved Cucumber who only wants to go to magic school but is plagued with the prophesy that he's supposed to be a legendary hero. He's neither outdoorsy or skilled in combat, but it's his 'destiny' to defeat the Disaster Masters and the infamous Nightmare Knight. It seems basic but the storytelling chops of Gigi D.G is anything but generic because, on the other hand, Cucumber Quest is also subversion of certain quest tropes with a minimalist approach that never dares to take itself seriously as a deconstruction, and that is what makes it fun and compelling to go through. It never had to be dark or radical that would border on pretentious; what you see is what you get, and what it offers are well-balanced elements of recognizable tropes coupled with fantastic chemistry among its chief cast. This series can be comparable and may have been inspired by Adventure Time animation series, but it's also entirely unique as its own brand of quirky self-awareness and shenanigans. 

Joining Cucumber in his reluctant quest to save the kingdoms and put a stop to the evil queen Cordelia's master plan and also defeat the Nightmare Knight whom she summoned, are his sister Almond who is more or less the one who is more eager to become a monster-slaying adventurer; Sir Carrot, the often cowardly yet endearing knight who loves to do chores, and later by the frustratingly eternal optimist Princess Nautilus of the Ripple Kingdom. The villains they face are the ridiculous named trio of Sir Tomato, Bacon and Lettuce, the witch Peridot (who has a nemesis /girl-crush situation with Almond) and the array of Disaster Masters for each kingdom they visit. Fun times and hilarity ensue as Cucumber is still being forced to participate in all of this while making astute  if not meta observations of how suspicious everything about the famed prophesy and the roles they must take to fulfill it. 

Let's take a look of some lovely art so you guys will get a taste of what I mean when I said that it's literal candy. Here are some of the pages that I enjoyed both for art and content:

It's only by the second chapter (third volume) that things get more explored and given a heftier substance and depth. Cucumber's suspicions are slowly being confirmed the more evasive their supposedly appointed guide Dream Oracle becomes if not outright being aggressively dismissive of Cucumber's questions. The Big Bad villain Nightmare Knight also begins to show his true colors which may not be as vile or dark as everyone believes it to be especially the more he interacts with the captive princess Parfait. Even the Disaster Masters themselves don't seem that willing to keep fighting, and Almond is really the only one who is enjoying this quest while Sir Carrot is more concerned about getting back to his sweetheart Parfait. Still, the humor is entertaining particularly when it's centered around Princess Nautilus who really acts as the charming ditz of the narrative, that is until you get on her bad side. Other extra characters like the thief Saturday, the creepy inventor Cosmo , that alien caped crusader and the Limbo/Pizza gang also provide comic relief in small doses.

In a nutshell, Cucumber Quest is a worthy webcomics series that has enough mass appeal for even the most casual reader to get into and enjoy. Gigi D.G is also beginning to develop the characters in interesting ways as well as drop hints and bread crumbs every installment as to what is the real deal with this supposed 'hero quest' that Cucumber must keep enduring, and why the Dream Oracle is being curiously vague regarding what is going on. 

I will keep reading to find out and you should too!