Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Monkey Man Unleashed

What Is It?: Monkey Man Unleashed 1-3 by Brian Lynch. (NOTE: You can find 'em on EBay. I did.)

Timing: Sometime at some point in Monkey Man's life.

REVIEW: Pretty much, think of the most bonkers story you can imagine, and you've got this. "Monkey Man Unleashed" is basically the comic form of a cartoon that should be on Adult Swim, yet it's way better than the stuff they're currently airing. The story is basically about a monkey who was experimented on by scientists and has transformed into the ass-kicking Monkey Man, his little brother Money Boy who isn't retarded but is pretty much "the biggest genius in the world only the opposite of that," a geek named The Geek, and an ass-headed alien named Nigel 7 who doesn't know he's an ass-headed alien but thinks he's just an... erm... ass-headed guy. With green skin. The plot includes Monkey Man being captured and abandoning his life's mission of defending his geeky friends to A) star in a movie and B) chill with Poppy, who is life-mission-abandoning worthy. At the same time, The Geek and Nigel 7 are being chased by who they once thought would be Nigel 7's dream girl... turns out, not so much.

Like Brian's work in "Everybody's Dead" and the latter issues of "Shadow Puppets," each of these pages is loaded, and I mean filled to the tippy top, with jokes and references. Not all of them work as good as others, but when you've got so, so much material here (29 pages of comic per issue, in addition to funny opening dedications with a running joke, as well as illustrations in the back, and an advice column run by Monkey Man himself) it doesn't matter if a few gags fall flat because there will be a laugh-out-loud moment right after it. Some of the best moments from from references to pop culture, especially the appearance of the O'Doyle Rules! dudes from "Billy Madison." That was freaking awesome. Not to mention a certain panel that includes Dawn, Buffy, and Spike, which Brian Lynch has said was his first time writing Spike!

The story is trippy, hilarious, and outright fun. There is so much material in each issue, on each freaking page, that it'll take you quite a while to get through each issue. I wish this would be made into a nice thick trade to put next to my "Everybody's Dead" collection when they comes out, but at the moment I'm just happy I was able to pick these up. After reading these, I'll surely be checking out the rest of Brian's Monkey Man webcomics. Overall, it's not as entertaining or grasping as "Everybody's Dead," but it's still a comic that is very, very deserving of a read.

Art: The art is wonky and perfectly fits the mood of the story. It's in black & white, which I usually bitch about, but again it really works well here. It's kinda Futurama and kinda something-else-entirely, but every panel, even the chaotic fight scenes, are so well done with such sharp and clear images that nothing ever looks crowded or confusing. Nicely done work, DJ Coffman.

Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Everybody's Dead #4

My review for Angel #9 was posted earlier today. Read here.

Non-Buffyverse Related

What Is It?: Everybody's Dead #4 (written by Brian Lynch)

Timing: Directly after "Everybody's Dead" #3

REVIEW: You know how you can tell that a book is really good? When it feels like forever and a day since you read the last issue, but it's only been a month. When I looked back and saw that it was only May 14th since I read "Everybody's Dead" #3, I was shocked. Felt like it had at least been since April. I was aching for some Westerberg, Jack, Mosby, Doug, and co. (in a story kinda way, not man-love kinda way), and I was beyond amped when I saw that we'd be getting both ANGEL #9 and this today.

This directly continues from #3, with Doug and Jack still at the military base; Westerberg and Aurora reeling from Greta's death while dealing with a high, munchie-having Nuk (as well as the ever dim-witted Sam); and Mosby presently trying to get Internet connection while being bothered by Kristen in various stages of dress/un-dress. Kristen and Westerberg are awesome in this issue, with the former making me laugh every time she opens her mouth and the latter making me sympathize with him. Especially after seeing Aurora's new boyfriend, who--oh yeah--we get to meet in this issue.

There was some emotional stuff at work here, especially in the last pages, but Brian Lynch is ever quick-witted and manages to pack each page with jokes and references without making it seem stuffed. I loved that certain characters (who I'll leave secret for now) assumed--ahem, convinced themselves--that it wasn't a zombie but a VAMPIRE invasion. That was hilarious. Overall, it's a solid book that really drives the story forward, keeping both the humor and the heart (and it has a lot) at high, high levels.

Can't wait for the conclusion next month!

Art: Like I said before, Dave Crosland isn't what I usually like to see in comics, but his style of art really, really works for this. His character designs are great, giving each character wonky details so they stand apart from everyone else. The scene was Doug and Jack was particularly well done, and I think it's great how Crosland can go from skillfully drawing the battle scenes (the military stuff), to the horror (the zombie stuff and the final bloody pages), to the mundane (Mosby trying to get internet connection and falling off the roof).

Rating: 8/10

Non-Buffyverse Related

Some of the Best Stuff We've Seen (as well as some of the not-so-best stuff we've seen)

What Is It?: Angel- After the Fall: Issue #9 (written by Brian Lynch, plotted by Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch.)

Timing: Directly after "After the Fall #5"

Warning: The bigger spoilers will be written in black text. Simply highlight to read. As this is a review, there will be some minor "spoilers" sprinkled throughout the text that don't warrant being hidden. If you have not read the issue and don't want to know anything about the plot, don't read this. Spoilers for previous issues will obviously not be covered.

REVIEW: The writing here was really good. It was a bit more uneven than issues #1, #2, and #5 (which are the best of the series, in my opinion), but it was overall a solid and well-written book. There were certain scenes that were as good as anything from those "10/10" issues that I mentioned, but the only thing that takes away from it was that the writing wasn't consistent, in that one scene would be great and the next would feel off.

The major plot of the issue is great. It covers--you guessed it--Angel and co. fighting the Champions of the LA Lords. A lot of stuff gets paid off in this issue such as...

1) How the hell is Angel going to survive this?
2) Wouldn't the Angel we know have a better plan than just challenging a bunch of demons, especially now that he has no super strength? (Hint: He has a bit more up his sleeve than rash actions /hint)

3) What's up with Spider anyway? What is she?
4) What is going on with Fred? How much does Spike know?
5) Those hagan shafts? What's good with them?
6) Fred/Illyria /Wesley? How is THAT going to work out?
7) Confirmation on whether or not the Connor/Gwen speculators were right to think they've been sharing googly eyes

With a lesser writer, this issue could have went the way of "Auld Lang Syne #3" and just been an all out twenty-two page brawl. But Brian Lynch knows the things that makes the show (and now the comic) work, and he fills these pages with nods to past events, a bit of foreshadowing, a load of humor, and more than a little bit of romance... topped off with a load of creepy. The highlight of the issue was the end, where Illyria (or Fred?) and Wesley have a heart to heart... in which three great things happen, which are minorly, minorly spoilery. (SPOILER:) First, Wesley tells Illyria something that he did, that will make fans of the former female lead of ANGEL very happy. No, not saying her name even though this is in spoiler text, just read the damn book. Second, we get sort of a mirror image/nod to of the best scene in the history of television (Wesley's death). Lastly, Illyria starts to let her (and Fred's) emotions show how she really feels about a former/now-current fuddy-duddyesque dressed bespectacled man. End sorta-spoilers.

So far, that sounds like all praise. And don't be fooled by this next paragraph, there is a LOT to praise here. But there are also a few not-so-solid things that I have to mention. There is a panel where Angel says "Bippity boppity... and boo." And it was during a moment that could have/should have been as epic as "Recompense," which in itself was nearly as epic as "Let's go to work," which again was as epic as "Well, personally..." You get the picture. But Angel's silly "Bippity boppity" (along with his facial expression, which I'll mention in the art section) totally ripped me out of the story for that moment and ruined the scene for me. Little thing, I know, but it's just something that Angel wouldn't say, and while it was a bit funny, it felt like that it was putting humor over character for a moment. It just didn't work for me. Neither did the rest of that entire page. It seems really light-hearted, and I get that the crowd and everyone in it would be lighthearted after such a great thing happens (won't spoil that, kiddies), but what Wesley says and then what Connor says... it's just a bit too silly. I'm all for witty banter and the character's acting silly (I love that stuff, I mean some of the silliest stuff in "After the Fall" is some of the best stuff) but this entire page, from "bippity boppity" to "Game face, Angel!" didn't work for me at all. That page was my only real issue with the writing, though I have one more minor quibble: Where did Nina go? Wasn't she supposed to come through with a huge like tank or something? I also remember her scratching a champion from #5... but she was MIA here. Probably just because she was a side character, but I would have liked to at least see her fighting in a panel or something.

That felt really complainy, but I do think that issue with the page is valid. The rest of the book is great, though, especially where everyone goes *after* the battle. Ah, man. Any fan of the show is going to have major, climatic moments of payoff during this issue. It, like #5, will make you cheer. Hell, last page will probably make you tear. Those complaining that each issue ends with a reveal (which is an invalid complaint, because this is COMICS! that's how it works!) will love the way this book ended. Hell, anyone who likes ANGEL will love how this issue ended.

Overall, it's a nearly perfect book with a oddly off-game page that throws the story a bit off course. But the "home" scene as well as the Wes/Illyria end totally gets it back on track. Hell, it doesn't only get it back on track, it gets back on track, paints the track gold, and plants a garden around the track.

Art: I'm not going to beast out too hard on Runge for a few reasons. A) Brian said his artwork in #10 and #11 is way better. B) Brian also that Runge himself wanted to redo some of the artwork here, so at least he recognizes that a lot of this was sloppy, so it was more a time issue than a half-assing it issue. C) The artwork problems aren't all Runge's fault. And finally, D) there is some good stuff here. Let's get into it.

NICK RUNGE (penciller): Hit or miss. I'm still a bit peeved that the dude turned over a perfect short for "Wesley" and then gives us such an uneven book here, but I understand the time constraints. A twenty-two page book is a lot more work than a short, but some of this feels really sketchy at best. Wesley suffers a bit from lack of detail, as does Fred. God, especially Fred. Fred looks awful in the first few pages, and that's pretty hard to make someone with Amy Acker's face look awful. However, the first few pages are child's play compared to the second half of the issue, which Runge steps up his game majorly on. From when Spike comes through wit Spider and his ladies (an iconic image if there ever was one), the art is pretty much consistently great. The Wesley scene (both his exchanges with Illyria, who looks PERFECT here--a earth-crushing improvement over how Fred looked earlier on) was a great piece of work.

ART LYON (colorist): Not bad. Lyon is clearly experienced, and he clearly put a lot of work into making the colors jump off the page... but he also made Spider strawberry-blonde. Spider, for five issues, had dark brown hair. Maybe she got some hair dye between armoring up and going to the battle, but I think her hair is something that should be amended in the TPB of this, as well as further issues. Overall, good job on colors.

Covers: Holy wow there is a lot. We've got Alex Garner's first ANGEL cover, and it's a beauty. In fact, it's the best cover we've seen so far, and that's saying a hell of a lot, because we've seen a hell of a lot. The only one that comes close to topping this is Runge's cover for #12 (which, again, proves Brian's point that Runge got better as the series went on), but Garner's #9 is frameworthy. Runge's cover for this one... not so much. It's a great image, but the thing is that it's simply traced from an Angel promo shot. Still, I bought the cover because the background is well done, but I think when he tries, Runge is good enough at likenesses to not rely on promo shots like he did here. I mean, check out how he nails Wesley (heh hehe) on page 21. Mooney's cover is a cool image, and says a lot about the issue and the friendship of all our heroes, but there's anoter coloring mistake. The colorist must have not read #5, because she colored Spike's jacket red, as if he were still wearing his PJs at this point... but Stephen drew it to be his duster, so it looks a bit awkward. The TFAW photo cover is great, as is the foil incentive Fred/Illyria cover, which is freaking AWESOME. The regular cover is Illyria, you open it up and there's Fred. Beautifully done, IDW.

Characters We Know: Spike, Fred, Angel, Wesley, Illyria, Groosalugg, Gunn, Connor, Gwen, Spider, Lorne, Loan Shark, and all the LA Lords and Champions

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

First Night Comes to an End

What Is It?: Angel: After the Fall #8- First Night, part 3 (written by Brian Lynch (with one story co-scripted by Scott Tipton, plotted by Brian Lynch and Joss Whedon.)

Timeline: Betta George's storyline seems to take place during Issue 5. The other three stories take place right after "Not Fade Away."

Warning: The bigger spoilers will be written in black text. Simply highlight to read. As this is a review, there will be some minor "spoilers" sprinkled throughout the text that don't warrant being hidden. If you have not read the issue and don't want to know anything about the plot, don't read this. Spoilers for previous issues will obviously not be covered.

REVIEW (and art): Since each story has a different artist, I'll bunch these two categories together.

1. Betta George: Oh. Well, okay. After two issues of Betta George introducing and concluding each issue, this issue only has one George page at the beginning, which doesn't really conclude anything or really solidify the George stuff as it's own story. But I guess, in the end, it never was meant to be its own tale. What it does do is, by showing George's desperate situation, nail home the idea that "We're all on our own" on the first night, which is especially significant for how the Gwen and Civilians story (and, in a different way, the Gunn story) ends.

Rating: 7/10

2. Gwen: I pretty much liked the Gwen story. The idea behind it is perfect, though, so that's worth mentioning. We've seen how being in Hell has had effects on supernatural creatures before this (Nina is stuck between being a human and a werewolf, vampires feel euphoric and bursting-into-flames at the same time, Illyria is time-slipping again which makes HER shift back in time to when Fred was occupying that 'shell,' which makes her able to be the REAL Fred at times, and Connor is suddenly able to remember things that happened when he was in the womb and an infant), so it only makes sense that Gwen's powers would go wonky as well. The short story pretty much shows how LA-gone-to-Hell effects her while she's on a date, so Brian Lynch took the opportunity to show where Gwen's mind is at since we last saw her in Angel: Season Four, where she acquired a device that enabled her to touch people without frying them. The very sexual touching scenes work here well, mostly because of Gwen's history and how Brian utilizes that. I like the story, and I might have really liked it, had it not been for the last page. Gwen talks to herself (SPOILER:) and the dead body of the man she accidentally roasted for the entire page, which just reads really awkward. Spike's shouting at the sun in #6 worked because a) Spike would do that, and b) Spike was in a triumphant kinda mood. But here, Gwen's monologue doesn't work at all. It's weird, because if this story used internal thoughts like most of the other "First Night" stories did, that Gwenxposition could have been delivered through captions and would have read very smoothly. Which, I feel weird saying, because I took points away from #3 because it relied too much on internal thought captions, so I recognize how hard it is to decide when a story needs captions, how many captions it would need, and when a story should just rely on dialogue. But I just can't picture Gwen talking like she did in that scene. However, on a positive note, Brian's improved massively on mastering Gwen's voice. Her dialogue in #2 was strained and sounded more like Faith than Gwen, but Gwen's dialogue here sounds like it's coming right out of Alexa Davalos's mouth. The art is good. Gwen looks perfect, though I would have liked if Nate (her date) had been a bit more consistent. This is minor, because the focus of the story was Gwen, but in one panel it seems like he has a chocolate-milk mustache. But overall, the art is good and impressed me more than I thought, because I was iffy about it when I saw the preview. But it's really good, particularly the tight-shots on Gwen's face and the colors. The colors are nothing short of stunning.
Rating: 8/10

3. Civilians: Very, very interesting. I wasn't sure I'd like this, but after reading it, I'm glad that Brian included this story. It's about a homeless man who has been rattling on about how "The End is Near" in front of a movie theatre for a long time (since he found a ladder in his alley, which he took as a signal from the Powers That Be to get to work, which was a nice--and hilarious--touch). A woman who works at the movie theatre provides for the main conflict of this story. There's a nice little plot here where the homeless man calls everyone who doesn't believe him (especially the girl) stupid, only to have his crazy beliefs confirmed when LA actually does go to Hell. Seeing how his inner thoughts reveal a sense of loneliness is cool, but my favorite part of this was how much Brian's sense of humor comes through this character. Lines like "I hope I'll be able to hear you over the sound of me eating soup and the world ending" make me really happy, as does most of the dialogue in this story. It's not as exciting, per say, as seeing what happened to the main characters of "ANGEL," but it's something very worth reading. The art is interesting, and not really what I usually dig, but I really liked it. It was something different, and had a lot of cool details and funky facial expressions.
Rating: 8/10

4. Gunn: Okay, now. This, along with the Wesley and Spike story, is what we've been waiting for. As far as how the story turns out... I love it. Love it. Theories of "WHO SIRED GUNN" has been bouncing through the forums since Gunn was revealed to be a vampire in November 2007, so it's such a great pay-off to finally know who did the deed. Most people thought, myself included, thought it would be Harmony, based on the character having no where to go and no one to go with... but turns out Brian had a different--better--idea. Reading the story is a very emotional experience, so I won't reveal how it was done or what Gunn's response was (though, honestly, that was the least shocking thing ever--if you know Gunn, you know how he'll react to getting turned into a freaking vampire), because it's a very emotional experience for a fan of "Angel." We get more pages of the alley fight here than we have before, and we finally see get the grisly details. At this point, we know exactly how all the characters (except Nina, which was unfortunate) got to the point they're at now, which is the highest function that "First Night" could have served. The Gunn story is a great bookend to the series, and is just dark and heart-string-plucking enough to lead into the best character arc Gunn has ever had ("After the Fall.") The art is great for the Gunn scenes, and probably the best we've seen in "First Night" after Runge's Wesley story. The alley scenes were okay, but they pale in comparison to the scenes of Gunn in the hospital bed, because those are just phenomenal.
Rating: 9/10

(X. Preview for #9: This won't have an effect on the overall rating, because it's really just not part of the story. It's really cool that they gave us a preview of #9 in this issue, because really, online previews aren't nearly as cool as having the pages in your hands. And, forget what I say here, because I'm still way excited for #9 to get back to the main arc... but I hate the art. The art is terrible. The art on these two pages are worse than anything we've seen since IDW started the Angel line, except perhaps the Gunn story from the "ANGEL: Spotlight" miniseries. When I opened up to this page, I literally had to go back to my copy of #7 to make sure that Nick Runge was really the dude that pencilled the "Wesley," story, which is mind-bogglingly the best art I've seen from IDW. The idea I'm getting from this art is that Runge had more time for the "Wesley" story, so gave it his all... but had only a bit of time here so just churned out these pages. I hope the rest of #9 is more detailed and frankly better pencilled than this, because these two pages are simply awful. I hate to give such bad reviews, because I love the writing of the series and have loved the art so far, and I'll probably love #9 (if for nothing but the writing), but I can't help but be shocked by the difference in quality between these two pages and Runge's "Wesley" story. I mean, take the panel when Wesley gets his new duds. Compare it to the same image of IncorpoWesley in the first page of preview. How can that be done by the same artist? I hope, and trust (because, after what we've seen, how could we not trust Brian Lynch and Chris Ryall?) that the rest of the pages will be markedly better than this.
Rating: My main thoughts are uh-oh, but again, just re-reading some of Lynch's work so far just makes me cross my fingers and hope that the rest of the issue is better.)

Covers: Astounding. The David Messina cover is his best work. Comparing Messina's great work on the "SPIKE" story from #6 shows how much dude is improving, and again, comparing THIS cover to that again shows an amazing jump in quality. Hell, take Messina's cover to #1. Not good by anyone standards. But this? Freaking frame-worthy. This is the first time I bought a Virgin cover along with the regular covers, and hell, it was worth it. Brian Miller provides a cover featuring the homeless dude from "Civilians" as well as the movie working chick, and the cover is just a really attractive image. One would think a cover with no Angel characters (though Angel's face can be see in the background) wouldn't be as interesting as one with, say Gwen, on it... but damn if this isn't in the top 10 covers we've seen from "After the Fall" so far. Mooney's SlayAlive cover is also great, as he provides an image of Gunn and Gwen that at once gives a nod to their former 'relationship,' and also shows what Gunn has become.

Self-Promotion (I Suck): Please check out TV THAT DOESNT SUCK later on tonight. I'm doing an entry on Diablo Cody's new HBO show coming this Fall, so check it out. I get paid. Which, in a way, has to do with this comic, because if I get enough money, I'll a) be able to buy these comics and b) won't be like the dude from "Civilians."

Characters We Know: Betta George, Douche Lackey, Gwen, Gunn, Angel, Spike, Illyria

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Best Conclusion to an Arc

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #15: Wolves at the Gate Part IV (written by Drew Goddard)

Timing: BtVS, Season Eight. Directly after "Wolves at the Gate Part III."

Me Being a Dick: Probably a bit dick of me to insert this here, but please check out my other blog and comment. I get paid for it, so yay me. Plus, if you like reading this, you'll like reading that. So yeah, sorry. On with the Buffy goodness.

REVIEW: Easily the best conclusion to an arc so far, which alone justifies the rating I'm going to give it. But there is so much more at work in this book that just makes it a really stellar end to a good story.

We get an inside look at Renee's final thoughts with the first few pages, which leads right into the big clash of the Slayers and the Japanese vampires. The tragedy of the thing really hits home for those pages, but we're only given a moment to digest it. The huge battle kicks into gear right then, which sort of felt surreal to me, much like the climax of Serenity. We're hit with the Big Wash Death, then expected to be attentive enough for a heart-stopping battle. It's such an amazing writing technique, and it worked to a T here.

What I thought was admirable, and very true to the nature of the show, was that the book didn't lose the comedy in the midst of all the tragedy and intensity. There was a particularly funny moment with Giant Dawn battling a huge "Mecha" Dawn robot, which could have been the biggest flop of all time. Hell, when I saw it, I was ready to throw the comic across the room. Buffy can be and has been purposely campy, but please. A freaking Giant vs. Robot fight? They can't possibly make that work? But see they did. Seeing the robot imitate Dawn ("I like blue jeans. And irony.") was quite possibly the funniest moment of Season Eight. And Andrew, knowledgeable as he is in the field, coached Dawn through the entire thing. Gold.

And speaking of ______est moments, Dracula showing Toru what's really good was by far and away, no holds barred, what-the-f**k-are-you-kidding me, the most BAD-ASS moment of any Buffyverse comic we've seen so far. I'm not saying the outcome, but not only does that moment (and the one that follows) (and hell the entire issue) totally sell Dracula as a character I'd be glad to see recurring, it just is an amazing scene. Talk about taking an arc to the next level at the eleventh hour.

There's a lot more too. I'm purposely not really delving into much of what happens in the issue, because that's something you'll need to see on your own. Just some stuff to look forward to:

+ We finally find out a little about WTF was up with Snake Lady Jones from #10, as in what her name is and a bit about the roll she'll play in all of this

+ A very Buffy-like end, that definitely would have a song playing over it (think the end of "Seeing Red")

+ Xander growing as a character

+ Vampire slayage

At least as good as "Anywhere But Here," maybe as good as "A Beautiful Sunset." As near to perfect writing as we've seen. Great, great issue.

Art: Jeanty, at times, feels a bit too comfortable here. I feel like the likenesses are coming a lot easier to him, so he feels that he can kind of blur past them in the action scenes. Comparing the facial detail in the battle scenes here to that of, for instance, Buffy #4, Jeanty is obviously not trying as hard. However, in the moments that truly matter--the emotional impacty scenes, which this issue overflows with--Jeanty hits it out of the park. He still does a good job, and the only other little complaint that I have is that I wish he'd made an effort to make Dracula and Toru look a little different. They're both pale vampires with long dark hair, so it's quite easy to confuse them if you're looking at anything but their clothing.

Covers: This is Foster's best effort since #12 and is a marked improvement over most of his other covers. Dark Horse, however, decided to give this issue the exact same border colors as #14. I was searching for this in the comic store, picked it up, thought it was #14, and put it back. Looked like an idiot in the comic shop. C'mon. Give us a bit of variety. The variant cover here is Jeanty's best. 'Nuff said. After those attractive but consciously-campy covers with nearly flourescent colors in issues 13-14, it's very fitting that this emotional end would have such a solemn cover. Plus, the state of the sky kinda ties into the Twilight theme of the season.

Characters We Know: Xander, Willow, Buffy, Renee, Leah, Satsu, Rowena, Dracula, Dawn, Andrew

Season Eight Recurring Characters: Raidon, Kumiko, Toru, Saga Vasuki (snake lady from #10)

Rating: 10/10


Review for #15 (as well as a review for the "No Future for You" TPB) will be up by tonight. Busy day.

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