Epic Awesome!

JUAN's personal blog

My name is Juan de Joya, and I’m a Computer Science major at the University of California, Berkeley. This is my personal blog about comics, video games, music, and other things that are pretty relevant to my what I'm interested in.

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My 10 Comics for 03/28/12
I’m unfortunately playing catch up for the last two weeks, so I can’t provide description in terms of why I chose these comics as my top ten comics of that week. Suffice to say, you’ll have to agree with my top pick right? Below are my one-to-two sentence opinions of the following titles:

(1) Daredevil #10: The strongest Mark Waid-penned Daredevil issue in a run that’s been consistently one of the best in years. Paolo Rivera’s work is stunning, as always.

(2) Avengers vs. X-Men #0: Caught me off guard by how much depth the characterizations were given, atypical for a crossover. High hopes for the crossover as a whole.

(3) Atomic Robo Real Science Adventures #1: Reviewers keep championing this series, and I am totally onboard with this issue. Doctor Dinosaur is just great.

(4) All-Star Western #7: Moving the series to New Orleans temporarily opens up new and exciting scenarios for Hex, Arkham, Nighthawk, and Cinnamon to thrive in. Can’t wait for the promised gladiatorial fight next issue.

(5) The New Deadwardians #1: A really innovative way to parallel the relationship between the upper and lower classes of the Edwardian era through vampires and zombies.

(6) Aquaman #7: Exciting to see Black Manta back in action. Looking forward to seeing more of “The Others” and how they tie in with Atlantis.

(7) The Flash #7: Francis Manapul’s artwork is what catapults this superhero title to being a must-buy. Flash remains one of the most (if not the most) visually engaging titles on the market, as it should be.

(8) I, Vampire #7: Decent crossover with Justice League Dark and the physical absence of Andrew Bennett is a bit of a detraction, but this is made up by the sudden turn of events in the issue. Andrea Sorrentino’s art is a great fit for the book, bringing out the moody and gritty darkness that distinguishes the title even in what is effectively a big, flashy, supernatural throwdown.

(9) BPRD Hell on Earth: The Pickens County Horror #1: The return of vampires into the world of BPRD, albeit with a strange connection to current events in that series. Not what I was expecting, but still pretty good.

(10) Avengers #24.1: A spotlight on Vision that seeks to make us relate to the character after his log absence. It works for the most part, but is falls a bit flat when Vision deals with Magneto over the whereabouts of the Scarlet Witch.

My 10 Comics for 03/21/12

As most of you may or may not, I’ve been gone for Spring Break for the past week doing my best to recover from my hectic “midterms-and-projects” lifestyle that I’ve somehow managed to cultivate this semester. It’s not a bad semester, mind you, but I really needed the break. That being said, I’m back, and I’m going to posting my picks for the last two weeks shortly before I start picking my choices for this week.


(1) Batman #7

Batman’s been a consistently excellent read since Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo came on board, but I believe this issue’s revelations about the nature of the Talons and their ties nearly just about trumps his previous issues (with the exception of the mind-bending Labyrinth issue), and brings about satisfying closure to the first arc of the series while paving the way for the highly anticipated Night of the Owls crossover. To be honest, I was a bit skeptical about the kind of secrets the Court of Owls were hiding; Both Snyder and Nightwing co-writer Kyle Higgins pointed out that the Court had ties with the ancestors of well-known Bat-characters, so I was already expecting something along those lines. The main revelation of the issue definitely plays off of that, but is much more rewarding when framed in the relationship and the history that Batman has with the character in question. The reason I think the secret works so well is that it’s not necessarily earth-shattering or breaks from previously established continuity; rather, it plays with the widely known history of the character and it enriches it by adding more context to his relationship with the Bat. 

I initially felt that the first arc of Batman would end up being just an extended prologue to the Night of the Owls crossover, and while that’s definitely still the case I’m glad that the story feels very self-contained without sacrificing its story beats in favor of the greater arc unfolding in the Bat-Universe. While the war with the Court of Owls is far from over, the first seven issues of Batman are as a whole a far more compelling read that’s definitely a must-have for anyone interested in the Dark Knight.

Incidentally, who here’s excited to have Catwoman make an analogy about “cats eating owls/birds” during the Night of the Owls? It’s gonna happen. 


(2) Wonder Woman #7

Just like Batman,  Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s work Wonder Woman continues to be deeply engaging. Every issue feels like it’s packed with meaty intrigue about the Greek Pantheon and the nature of their influence of the mortal realm, and Wonder Woman’s dealings with her extended family and the lack of super villains definitely gives the title a distinct Vertigo-esque vibe that it hasn’t had before. That’s completely fine to me: I think its her history and established mythology that sets Wonder Woman apart from the rest of the New 52 characters/titles out there, and its strong emphasis definitely makes her a lot more edgier than she’s been. Mythology isn’t something that’s new to the title — George Perez’s and Greg Rucka’s runs both played with elements of these before to much success — but Azzarello/Chiang’s Wonder Woman is heavily ingrained in its own universe that it feels like a much more introspective and personal odyssey that’s coated in the context of gods and monsters rather than, say, the story of a super heroine who just happens to be a Greek demigod.

(3) Uncanny X-Men #9

This issue of Uncanny X-Men was a great read, in no small part to Carlos Pacheco’s contributions to the art for this arc. I’ve actually been wondering about why my interest in the title waned over the last few issues; “Tabula Rasa” didn’t pack as much punch as the opening arc featuring Mr. Sinister and the Celestials, which is disappointing because I was excited about its ties with the Dark Angel Saga over at Uncanny X-Force. Part of the reason is definitely because of Greg Land’s art, which feels really stiff and lacks the dynamism the the story required. That being said, Pacheco’s artwork is a welcome change of pace that brings the title closer to the level of action and fun that its sister book Wolverine and the X-Men has been riding on since its debut. 

Kieron Gillen’s writing benefits from the change in art, mostly because I can actually enjoy reading the title without getting distracted or becoming disinterested by said art. This issue introduces some new villains, chief among which is Unit, a mysterious alien criminal who on the onset seems nigh-unstoppable and terrifying in his lack of compassion. We also get a pre-AvX Avengers/X-Men team-up that plays with a lot of fun ideas, which is commendable given that it’s only been given a few panels to expand upon (though I’m betting that the plot thread is there to seed more confrontation between the two teams, given that Hope is the central target of Unit by the end of the story). The panels that are there do show a lot of really interesting team-ups that I would actually pay for the creative team to expand on; who wouldn’t want to see Magneto and Spider-Man team up and play off of each other? It’s nowadays rare to see the two teams interacting, so I’m hoping that AvX definitely delivers the same level of inventive and wildly creative fun that’s exhibited in these pages. 


(4) Ragemoor #1

Now this was a comic that I didn’t know was coming out, so I ended up purchasing it because two things: Richard Corben’s doing the art, and it’s got an awesome cover that feels somehow reminiscent of old horror movies. The latter is probably intentional, as the interiors themselves come off like an old Hammer horror film. The detailed art matches the impressively depressing Gothicatmosphere of the story, with the use of chiaroscuro and negative lending a level of depth to the artwork that’s unmatched. Jan Strand’s given history for the Castle Ragemoor also drew me in; the tone reminds me a bit of Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls” with disquieting horror and dark supernatural secrets hidden in the castle’s foundations. 

I’m a sucker for these types of stories, so I’m really excited to see a title like this out in the stands; I’m hoping that the rest of the issues pack the same disquieting horror as this first issue, because there’s not a like like it out there. UPDATE: I just bought two copies of this, because it’s pretty awesome.

(5) Amazing Spider-Man #682

The first chapter of the hyped “Ends of the Earth” arc begins here, and immediately Dan Slott manages to throw a curveball to the entire proceeding that makes the story much more interesting than I initially expected it to be. Rather than treating the return of Doctor Octopus and the Sinister Six as another straightforward super villain threat, Slott adds in a strangely altruistic (yet potentially sinister) wrinkle to the proceedings that makes Spider-Man and his allies question how to proceed in dealing with the Six. The thing I really like about this is that normally Spider-Man is painted as the good guy; and while I’m sure that that’s certainly still the case here (and I’m assuming it still will be by the end of the arc), the complexity of the turn of events makes his reactions to it more refreshing in comparison. Yes, the Sinister Six are bad guys at heart, and their call for attention to get what they want certainly smacks of super villainy, but the fact that Peter must now contend with his own experience with these villains in the face of a greater good that they could potentially provide a lot of great conflict between him and his friends in the upcoming issues. Much to look forward to.

(6) BPRD Hell on Earth: The Long Death #2

I haven’t been following BPRD in a very long time, so it surprised me that they’ve finally started addressing Ben Daimio’s status quo that was established a long way back in the Killing Ground miniseries. It’s also interesting to see that Johann’s own quest for vengeance against his former friend play out, and how that’s affected the team; I never Johann would be given the opportunity to evolve the way he has, so I’m curious to see how the miniseries will play out in the end. BPRD/Hellboy universe has continually evolved its storyline to the point where the status quo is more often than not changing, and I’m hoping that at the very least Johann will come out of this issue for the better (though I highly doubt it, given the brutal nature of his fights with Daimio).


(7) Thunderbolts #171

This is the issue that Songbird finally gets a spotlight issue of her own, and it’s so well-deserved. Songbird is one of the very few mainstays on the title since its inception, and she’s the character on the team that I’ve always rooted for (especially after it’s revealed that she would possibly join the Avengers in Kurt Busiek/Carlos Pacheco’s Avengers Forever). While her story could have come off as exploitative in this issue, Jeff Parker handles her capture and treatment in the hands of the invasively creepy Dr. Dorcas well enough to highlight the character’s resilience in the face of a situation that, in under any circumstances, is justifiably scary. While the change in power sets the character undergoes throughout the issue doesn’t is the probably drastic physical change a character can undergo, I’m hoping that the emotional experience of being captured by Dorcas strengthens the character and makes her more kick-ass. Here’s hoping Songbird plays a bigger role within the Marvel Universe after this issue, especially as the title makes the transition to “Dark Avengers” within three months.


(8) The Sixth Gun #20

This issue of the Sixth Gun finally sees some resolution between the conflict between the two factions in the town of Penance as well as providing more context and history to the town’s existence, and the relationship between Drake Sinclair and the Knights of Solomon. While I’ve not been too much of a fan of the arc so far (the first three arcs were more magical and atmospheric in comparison), I did enjoy the lore-building that Cullen Bunn’s exacted with the inclusion of the Knights of Solomon. The grisly nature of Drake’s torture scene is unsettling, but it does help paint a picture of the world at large that’s established in the series. Becky’s story doesn’t grab me as much as Drake’s, even though it has more action and character development than the latter. I do think it’s because the nature of her story at this point is more physically visceral and less steeped in the lore of the series, which is the big draw for me. Granted, we do learn more about the Sixth Gun and what happens when someone other than its owner draws it, but I would love to see more of the mythology and mysticism come into play by the end of the arc.

(9) Nightwing #7

It’s really exciting to go back and read the first seven issues of Nightwing a second time, especially after the reveal that both its story arc and Batman’s were intertwined from the get go: that was highly unexpected, but it definitely explains the similarities between Saiko and the Talons. The revelation of the nature of Haly’s Circus in this issue is the highlight of the series so far, which has been more about Dick’s journey to touch base with his roots; he definitely found what he was looking for, and got more than he bargained for in the end. What’s really interesting to note is that although the series ties into Batman (it even shares one scene with that issue which, if you’ve read Batman first, potentially spoils a good chunk of the surprise of this issue), Dick’s reactions to the revelations are healthier in comparison to Bruce’s obsession with the Court of Owls; it shows how much he’s grown as a character, to the point where he isn’t weighed down by his supposed true role in Gotham City.


(10) X-Factor #233

I’ve been waiting for Havok and Polaris to step up and have a chance to shine since it was announced that they would return under Peter David’s pen. While this is issue in itself is pretty much a jumping point for new readers, it’s enough to see the whole team interacting and working together after the Madrox-centric issues these past few months. Not that those issues were bad (because they were pretty good!), but I was literally waiting for Madrox to get back in the game and react to his former leaders’ inclusion into his team.

Max Payne 3 Design and Technology Series: “Visual Effects and Cinematics”
Man, I’m really looking forward to Max Payne 3 thanks this trailer on the game’s visual effects and cinematics. The physics engine employed is pretty impressive — look at the destructible environments featured in the game, and the flame/fluid simulations! I dare say they rival those simulated in the Uncharted series. The dynamic cinematic presentation is also exciting to watch, and is in line with the comic book trappings of the previous games while at the same time adding more visual cues to engage the players into the narrative.

Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows Trailer
Well. The level of camp in this trailer was unexpected…but then again, we’re talking the creative forces behind Beetlejuice, Mars Attacks!, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, so this was in some ways expected to happen. Seriously, the only word that really comes to mind is CAMP, in all-caps glory. From the 1970s setting and soundtrack, the selectively saturated colors, and quirky characters, I keep thinking about how ridiculous the movie could get…and how ridiculously awesome it’s going to be. Finally! Another movie where Johnny Depp CAMPS it up!

It’s good to note that aside from the inclusion of Depp and Helena Bonham Carter (Burton staples, of course), we have some really strong talent involved, including the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, and Chloe Moretz.

My 10 Comics for 03/14/12
I made a little promise to myself that I’d make myself scarce on Tumblr/Twitter for the past few days to focus on my work, so imagine my surprise that that’s when the internet decided to break in half over the Mass Effect 3 ending. I haven’t had time to finish it myself so I honestly don’t know what to say about it yet, but I can imagine why people are upset.

Suffice to say, this week’s been crazy on both the video game and comics front. Marvel’s just released a set of teasers set to be revealed at Wondercon this weekend, and there’s no doubt other companies have some really big announcements tucked in their sleeves (DC’s Third Wave, anyone? A Tridal Wave, perhaps?).

While I’m unfortunately missing out Wondercon this year, I’m not missing out on all the great comics that came out this week. And, man, my pull for this week is a bit ridiculous — it’s arguably the most comics I’ve gotten in a week. With that being said, you’d think that picking my ten comics for this week’s list would be a pain in the ass, right?

Right.

I’ve got to say, there are a couple of standouts this week, most notably my top pick of the week. Okay, so this one’s a bit of a no-brainer, but what’s surprising is that nearly the first half of this list are not Marvel/DC books.

Now, if you’ve been following the “My 10” posts so far, you know that I more often than not end up picking a non-DC/Marvel title as my top pick. That isn’t for show or for promoting a certain book for sake of being cool (though it’d be nice to be cool): every week I try to rate how much I really enjoyed the titles I’m reading and how much a title sticks out in my mind after, and those titles more often than not tend to be creator-owned works. Maybe it’s because the creators do have some vested interest in what they’re doing, but I’ve always found the ones I’ve picked to be (at least) great reads. That isn’t to say DC or Marvel’s putting out less exciting stuff, since they’ve got some really great writers trying to take their characters towards new and exciting directions, but I definitely think the strength of creator-owned work and the level of polish that creative teams are now bringing to their non-creator-owned work is sparking a trend where readers are now following creators rather than titles. I think that’s actually going to be a good thing: it encourages creators to pursue their own passion projects that will allow them to take story-telling risks that cannot be done with company-owned properties, and it encourages companies to pursue strong creative teams to man their titles. I think it’s a win-win.


(1) Saga #1
Saga marks the return of Brian K. Vaughan to comics, and you know what? I never realized how much I missed his work until I finished the final page of this issue. He has a great sense for pacing, and the banter he builds between his two main characters is endearing and humorous (albeit reminiscent of Y: The Last Man, but since that’s a great title in its own right we’ll let it slide).

Saga’s been described as a Sci-Fi epic or “Romeo and Juliet in Star Wars”, but to be honest I felt that at its core it’s a story about two people who love each other and want to raise their child together. In spite of all the fantastic elements at play and the great cosmic war that the story is set in, the relationship that the characters Alana and Marko have are what truly drew me in. These are characters that you want to root for by the end of the final page, and though we know that through the narration that they do succeed in raising their child to adulthood (well, at least the child does grow to be an adult — we don’t know whether Alana or Marko survive to be there along the way yet), it’s their journey together to that point that’ll make Saga a powerful read.

It should be pointed out that Fiona Staples’ work on Saga is likewise as beautiful as the words BKV is penning for the title. I previously heard of her via her work on North 40 (the TPB of which I had her sign at Image Expo), but the amount of work she put in Saga is vastly superior in comparison. Is it weird for me to say that there’s something raw and emotional about the art? Because there is.

I heard Saga might be longer than Y: The Last Man, and I’m really hoping that it is. BKV and Fiona have created something really special, and I really want to be part of the journey all the way until the end.


(2) Locke & Key: Clockworks #5
Speaking of journeys, Locke & Key is close to ending its own. The title has been stellar under the creative pens of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, and this issue sees the penultimate issue in the arc that finally unravels the history of the Keepers of the Key and the series antagonist Dodge. For fans of the series who’ve been teased about the origins of Dodge and what happened in the Drowning Cave, this and the last issue holds almost all the answers you’ve been waiting for. Just the same, we’ve only got until the next two weeks to see the finale, which promises more answers, and a whole lot of blood shed.

Man, I wish this was still under development as a television show. It would have been amazing. With only eight more issues until the finale, it would’ve been nice to find some way to continue the series in another form.


(3) Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #3
Lobster Johnson has been a blast so far. I really enjoy thrilling pulp action, and that’s exactly what the title delivers in Spades. The setting and cultural climate certainly feels right, and lends itself a unique atmosphere that’s otherwise unfound in a lot of comics.

The one thing that’s really gotten me curious, it’s the inclusion of the black flame-wielding nemesis (who I’m assuming is the reason why this miniseries is entitled “The Burning Hand”). Is it just me, or is he going to be tied into the Black Flame, a menace who hounded the B.P.R.D. in the previous “War on Frogs”/”The Black Flame” mini-series. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.


(4) Conan the Barbarian #2
As you may have inferred in a previous post, I’m really digging Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s take on Conan. It’s really refreshing to see a younger Conan who isn’t all about the violence he’s ready to inflict (although this issue clearly shows that he’s not afraid to do so in a battle to the death) just as it is to hear his own inner thoughts as the battle rages between the Argus and the Tigris. Becky Cloonan’s art is likewise as refreshing, as each panel belies really strong composition and a strong sense for design, especially when it comes to Belit and her Kushite crew. Now, okay, some people may find the Kushite crew portrayed as inhuman a bit too much, but I’m pretty sure it’s just for the effect of the battle; beyond that, I’m hoping they are presented as more human in a non-violent context.  Regardless, I’m waiting to see where the next issue takes us.


(5) Wolverine and the X-Men #7
While I thought it was a pretty fun read, the last issue didn’t make my top ten picks because I felt a bit overwhelmed by how many plot threads I had to follow. Now, I love the X-Men franchise a lot, and Wolverine and the X-Men is arguably the most fun title to come out of Regenesis, but at some point it was getting hard to follow the plot threads between Wolverine/Quentin Quire in space, aliens attacking the school, Kitty pregnant with Brood, X-Men in Kitty’s body, Broo being involved, etc., etc., etc. I knew they were all interconnected, but I didn’t feel a sense of resolution from being left hanging at the end of the issue.

Having some resolution to all these plots is EXACTLY what rockets this issue of Wolverine and the X-Men to the spot that it’s in. I like knowing exactly why Professor Xanto Starblood was after Broo, and I like how the story is more about Broo’s character arc than it is about “HEY, LOOK AT ALL THE WACKY THINGS WOLVERINE’S X-MEN HAVE TO GO THROUGH EVERYDAY, WHY DOES IT HAPPEN ALL AT THE SAME TIME”, which it could easily devolve to under less capable hands. It’s nice to know that Jason Aaron is consistently able to make all these fun concepts work in context, because they really make the book more engaging. Nick Bradshaw should also stay on as an artist indefinitely; his art is fantastic for the type of hijinks Aaron has the characters running, and I really can’t imagine what the title would be like without him.


(6) X-Men Legacy #263
The thing I really like about the resolution of the Exodus arc is not the fact that they managed to beat the villain back with their powers, but that the philosophical ramifications of Schism were addressed in a multi-faceted manner. The appearance of the younger X-Men from Cyclops’ side of the fence really gave an opportunity for Wolverine’s team (and the readers) to hear about their ideology from their perspective, which honestly makes a lot of sense…in the way that the truth makes sense, even when it presents contradicting perspectives on the same thing. The argument on whether or not the kids are safer at Utopia or the school is given more context and weight than the actual Schism event by allowing the idea some room to breathe and be discussed by the characters. The issue also presents a deeper look into Rogue’s own reasonings for calling the Utopia team, and introduces some really strong dramatic curveballs from the ramifications thereof.


(7) Adventure Time #2
"ON IT, Princess. What time is it??" "Time to escape this bag!"

Oh, Adventure Time. You never cease to amuse. I’ve been excited for this comic ever since it was first announced, and I’m really glad they chose Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics to handle the stories; he’s got a touch of randomness that is in synch with the humor of the show. I personally think that this issue truly benefits from the inclusion of my two favorite characters from the show, Marceline and Lumpy Space Princess. Okay, I’ll admit, I’m a little biased about the two, but only because the episodes they’re in are more often than not the funnier ones. It’s also interesting to see that the comic’s continuing the Lich storyline, which was one of the serious stories in the show. The fact that they still managed to make the story pretty funny even in the midst of the land of Ooo’s destruction at his hands is pretty impressive; I remember not laughing as much during those episodes. The small mini-stories at the bottom of the pages are also a fun touch, and the inclusion of the short b-stories are also pretty enjoyable thanks to the indie talent involved. It’s really cool of the team to get cartoonists from the indie and web comics scene involved, as that’s something that’s not really done a lot in the mainstream, let alone in a book that does have a younger fan base. I especially like that they do give a small bio for said artists as well as links to their own works. That’s pretty cool of them, and I’d really want to support comics that leaves me with a sense that the cartoonist/comic community is helping each other out in some way. Kudos for that.


(8) The Shade #6
Javier Pulido’s art is clearly the main draw for this issue (as it was in the last), as his ability to balance clean, minimalist art and a keen attention to detail lend itself well to the Shade’s adventures in Barcelona. I continue to enjoy James Robinson’s characterization of the titular character and his somewhat protege La Sangre, as they work with local superhero Montpellier to corner the Inquisitor, a villain formerly pronounced dead but who may now be something more. The series has so far been as much about world-building as it is about the Shade, given the introduction of all these new characters within the span of six issues, but it works in the sense that it really adds more to the character’s history than detracts from it.


(9) Batman and Robin #7
This issue of Batman and Robin brings a definitive end to the Nobody arc, one that is full of really strong Batman moments thanks to Patrick Gleason’s art. I mean, wow. The splash pages he’s drawn in this issue are jaw-dropping, and the energy he brings to his work rivals that of Greg Capullo on Batman. Peter Tomasi’s final pages also serve to remind us how different Batman and Robin are, and the actions taken at the end both a shocking and logical development as to where things would go. It’s definitely made me excited and nervous as to where the Bat-department’s going to take Damian after the events of this issue. I personally hope that there’s still a chance for him — the last thing we need is another semi-villainous/renegade Robin running loose. If anything, they really could have used Jason Todd as a reminder to Batman that Damian could go down the same path…and how that would hurt him more if that happened. Imagine how the other Robins would feel about that realization, too. There’s so many opportunities for stories in that alone.


(10) Thief of Thieves #2
The thing I’m beginning to realize about Thief of Thieves is that it’s not the concept that makes it interesting (let’s face it, the summary they gave on the cover? It’s been done before): it’s the character moments. In this issue we’re introduced to Redmond’s wife Audrey, who’s past with the character and motivations for leaving him are at the heart of what makes this issue a solid read. The only problem I have is that I’m not sure where the series is going:  Nick Spencer’s writing is definitely the biggest reason I’ve stuck around, but once he leaves (and that’s a given, since the series is structured like a television series, with a different writer on the team handling each arc) I don’t know whether there’ll be enough material to keep me invested in the series.

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