Categories
Action

X-Men: Mutant Empire Trilogy (1997) Review

I didn’t fancy Christopher Golden’s X-Men: Codename Wolverine (1998) that much (which actually takes place after this trilogy) but his X-Men: Mutant Empire Trilogy (1997) was simply awesome! You’ll like it if you’re a comics fan but you’ll love it if you’re an admirer of the 90s X-Men Animated Series. I felt like I was watching an arc of the show when I was reading these three entertaining stories.

The plot was amazing, the characterisation was top-notch and the only difference that I had noted between these novels and the show was that the former were more adult-orientated as of course it wasn’t a cartoon designed for kids.

There were two flaws that I found both with Book #2 Sanctuary and Book #3 Salvation. One was that there were too many characters. Secondly, there was an overabundance of side plots. I felt that these aspects would have been handled better in the graphic format.

Nevertheless, Christopher Golden’s X-Men Mutant Empire Trilogy is a must-read especially for enthusiasts of the comics. It’s just sad that the last two entries were not perfect like their predecessor, again, due to having an excessive number of individuals and an inordinate amount of subplots.

Categories
Action Adventure Fantasy Horror Science-Fiction Thriller

Top 5 Recently Read Graphic-Novels (2017)

Despite being introduced to comics this year I was already familiar with many of the characters, and a portion of the storylines, due to being a frequent watcher of their film, TV and videogame adaptations. Both Marvel and DC have excelled in all these afore-mentioned mediums, but just like there can be no proper comparison between a book and its movie, the case is the same for comics to live-action versions. I’ve played the campaigns for both Injustice and Injustice 2 but I’ve also heard that the series it’s based upon expands on the storyline in a way no other art-form possibly can. Therefore, the verdict is in: Nothing can beat the source material.

This article features the list of my Top 5 Recently Read Graphic-Novels. Four are from DC while only one is Marvel-owned. I have to admit that even though the Marvel one I read was brilliant, there is something about DC’s comics that make them unputdownable. They have heroes ranging to those who aren’t superpowered to those who are larger than life. I can’t make a comparison between Marvel and DC now as I’ve only read one limited-collection of the former. But I won’t be surprised if that list would be written by me before this year has concluded. Without further ado, I’d like to assign the rankings:

  1. Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985): 

The plot and subplots featured in this limited collection are as huge in proportion to its title. As a fan of The CW’s The Flash, I was already aware of the infinite universes present in the DC-verse. What I didn’t know was that there was a maxiseries featuring almost, or most probably, all of DC’s heroes and villains. Add to that we have more than one Superman and also more than one Lex Luthor, and so on. Yes, it’s confusing and I don’t think any reader would ever be able to explain the full story of Infinite Earths to a potential reader. Yet, writer Marv Wolfman was brilliant in handling, which I think, is the highest number of characters illustrated in a DC Comics feature. The artist, George Perez, was equally astonishing with the penciling job.

When you start COIE, you’ll definitely feel that this is an 80s graphic-novel. The artwork, especially the landscape designs, reminded me a bit of 1986’s Watchmen though the main artist there was Dave Gibbons. Also, the storylines couldn’t have been more distinct. I also liked the introduction of new individuals such as the good Monitor and his evil counterpart, The Anti-Monitor. The best aspect of Crisis are the characters especially the afore-mentioned ones. The most mysterious figure was undoubtedly Pariah, an individual who seemingly appears out of nowhere to witness universes being destroyed.

Although, the middle portion and the ending of Crisis are both top-notch, I felt the start to be too muddled up. The use of a narrative voice to explain the majority of primary events taking place in the series was clever, but at times, and especially in the beginning, it’s quite annoying. The issues’ motto should’ve been “show not tell” but most of the times the opposite will be occurring.

The biggest downfall for Infinite Earths is being a turn-off for newbie readers. If this was my first-ever graphic novel I might’ve stopped reading comics entirely. This is due to the presence of characters outweighing the potential of the storyline. Instead of being introduced to different Earth versions of a hero or villain, it would’ve been better for Wolfman to have concentrated on the comprehensive storyline.

In the end, Crisis on Infinite Earths redeems itself with a fantastic ending. It might not be the best DC graphic novel but it certainly is the only one I’ve completed which shows a fantastic handling of a universe-sized roster of characters and an out-of-this-universe narrative.

  1. Kingdom Come (1996): 

The co-writer of this miniseries, Alex Ross, was inspired by Alan Moore’s Watchmen to make a similar storyline featuring the major protagonists and antagonists of DC Comics. Despite Watchmen being quite superior to KC, the latter still exceeds in many areas where Infinite Earths failed. Firstly, it also has characters galore, yet all have different motives and changed personalities. For example, Wonder Woman has been shunned by her fellow Amazonians, Bruce Wayne monitors crime through the Batcave without personally taking care of Gotham, and last but not the least, Superman has retired to become a Kansas farmer.

Out of all these what-if subplots, I found Superman’s the most interesting. He even refuses to be called Clark Kent and prefers being referred to by his birthname throughout the entirety of the issues. He retired due to some tragic event involving a vigilante and one of the most infamous Batman villains. I thought this was a brilliant showcase for Superman throughout the length of the venture, as we see a different kind of Superman. I wouldn’t have been surprised if this graphic-novel was titled as “Superman Returns” (I hate the movie, but still) due to the renewed heroics of the most popular superhero ever created. I also favored the indifference shown to him by Wonder Woman, who has a soft spot for the Last Son of Krypton, but repeatedly takes her anger of being cast out, on the Man of Steel.

Lex Luthor is as evil as ever and has created the villains’ group, Mankind Liberation Front, featuring majority of figures from Batman’s rogues gallery such as The Riddler and Catwoman. If Superman’s Justice League and Luthor’s MLF weren’t enough, there is also the inclusion of Batman’s The Outsiders as well. The Outsiders are the most interesting line-up as you won’t be able to guess which side they’re on as in one part, Batman teams up with Lex Luthor against Superman, while also being aware of what or who Lex Luthor’s trump card is.

KC matches Watchmen in story only with most of the traditional heroes being retired, and a group of young vigilantes (some who are descendants of the original protagonists), have taken over the world. But instead of fighting crime they increase it by either battling each other openly, or killing victims, both in the vicinity of innocent bystanders.

To end with, Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come lives up to its title by finishing with a demolished political system and starting with a revitalized hope. As it is published under DC’s Elseworlds imprint you’ll find it reminiscent of Superman: Red Son, but only in two ways that Superman is the primary protagonist, and that the what-if tone is in a constant state throughout the four issues. KC concludes as a short-but-superpowered miniseries

  1. Wolverine: Old Man Logan (2008): 

Despite Wolverine being my second favorite superhero (Superman is the first, of course) I was reluctant of reading a graphic-novel of whose cinematic adaptation I’d seen three times (Logan). But in truth, I’d heard of the vast disparity between the source material and the theatrical version. Both do accomplish one similar feat: of showcasing Wolverine at his finest. As a plus, it’s written by Mark Millar, of whose Superman: Red Son I’ll always be in awe of.

As the title suggests, the story follows an alternative future universe featuring an old-and-retired Wolverine who only prefers to go by the name of Logan. He has become a farmer and bought a land on rent where he lives in a farmhouse with his wife and kids. The area they are living in belongs to Bruce Banner and his insane offspring. One day Logan is short on a month’s rent and he gets beaten up by members of the Hulk Gang. He finds refuge in the company of an old-and-blind Hawkeye who has a job with a paycheck that might set Logan and his family for life. Logan accepts on the condition that he will act only as an escort and will not fight alongside Hawkeye even if the opportunity arises. Logan has not pulled out his claws for decades and he wants to hold on to that record.

The most favorable point about Old Man Logan is the desolate world he is residing in. The United States of America has been conquered and divided amongst supervillains, with Red Skull being the President of the USA. Majority of Marvel’s heroes have been killed, retired or are being held captive by the antagonists. I’ve never seen this level of dystopia in the Marvel universe (although this was my first time reading a Marvel graphic-novel). I reckon that I felt similar desolation while viewing Logan and also X-Men: Days of Future Past. But this takes it to a whole new level.

Wolverine: Old Man Logan fails to stay unpredictable throughout the length of its issues. It didn’t make as much of its what-if scenario the way Superman: Red Son did. Maybe the writer killed off too many heroes or just didn’t balance the characterizations with suitable dramatization. However, OML is a treat to both Wolverine and X-Men fans though it might not be the best read for Marvel fans in general. Steve McNiven’s artwork is one of the best I’ve seen regardless of it being Marvel or DC-published.

  1. Batman: The Long Halloween (1996): 

I’ve seen many of the classical noire movies of Hollywood, as well some of the 21st century films which pay homage to this once-colossal movie genre, such as Sin City. I sometimes imagined how Batman would look in noire (a Joker origin story based in the 1980s is currently in development by Hollywood so I guess that’s going to be my wish granted on celluloid, in a twisted kind of way). Batman: The Long Halloween has answered my request on paper.

To start with, the artwork is phenomenal. Maybe not in a universal sense but it accomplishes what the cover promises, a take on Batman in almost completely black-and-white issues. I almost lost track of the story by being lost in the images created by Tim Sale. But  Jeph Loeb’s storytelling is on par with the artwork. It’s a by-the-numbers murder mystery but it’s totally unpredictable in the category of who the perpetrator is. In one sense, I wouldn’t have been surprised if this maxiseries has been titled, Batman: The Godfather as it included so many subplots of mob families plotting against each other, and also the depiction of each family member’s internal conflicts with one another.

The story takes place during the beginning of Batman’s crime-fighting career, and is a sequel to Batman: Year One by Frank Miller. The plot follows a mysterious killer known as Holiday, who murders people on holidays, one each month. Batman races against the calendar by working alongside familiar figures such as Harvey Dent and James Gordon to unmask the fiend once and for all.

The only problem I had with The Long Halloween was that some panels were confusing to read. I don’t know if this was due to the monochrome layout but the showcase of the murders was exceptionally difficult to decipher, and I could only gather what had actually occurred after multiple re-reads of a single page. Overall, Batman: The Long Halloween achieves its goal by being the epitome of a Batman graphic-novel. It’s dark and the longer you stare into the abyss… you all know the quote. Also, the compilation of fatal events is titled as The Long Halloween, due to the first killing having taken place on the 31st of October.

  1. Batman: Hush (2003): 

Written by none other than Jeph Loeb, who also penned the previously-ranked, “Batman: The Long Halloween”, on this list, Batman: Hush comes across as the best graphic-novel I’ve read since Alan Moore’s Watchmen. It’s unpredictable, has a variety of characters who are intriguing to both look at and read about, and the artwork is catchy in a modern sense (penciled by the great Jim Lee, no doubt there).

The plot follows a mysterious stalker of Batman known only as Hush. It seems that he is responsible for being the perpetrator of various events happening not only in Gotham City, but in Metropolis as well (Superman has a guest appearance). There are cameos by other well-known characters as well such as Killer Croc, Lois Lane, etc.

The paramount factor of the maxiseries is substance over style. Of course, I loved Jim Lee’s artistry and have never seen Batman or his rogues gallery being depicted better on paper, than in this limited-collection, but the story by Loeb is super unpredictable. The inclusion of past events, such as those between young Bruce Wayne and his childhood friend, Thomas Elliot, also make the mystery further more indecipherable.

The third subplot included is the Batman-and-Catwoman romance aspect. I have to admit that whereas the major plot of Hush’s identity and motives remained the driving factor in the complete 12 issues, the Batman/Catwoman angle kept me distracted from the primary plot at times. Hush would’ve become monotonous without these two side-plots, especially without the inclusion of the masked lovers’ story.

In conclusion, Batman: Hush is the second-best graphic-novel I’ve read yet, and even though it can’t beat Watchmen,  it’s certainly Batman’s finest tale depicted to date. The story does outshine the drawings but no one could’ve matched Jim Lee’s talent for execution. And without the latter’s talent, Hush would’ve looked like a second-rate maxiseries at best.

 

That’s it for my Top 5 Recently Read Graphic-Novels. If you’d like to list your own recently read limited-collections, you can do so in the comments below. I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I had writing it.

Categories
Action Science-Fiction Thriller

Who Watches the Watchmen?

I had as much fun reading this maxiseries as much as I had writing this review. Going through Alan Moore’s Watchmen (1986) is one of life’s most memorable experiences. I would also count it as a preferred one-time pleasure as re-reading the series wasn’t as eye-opening as the initial experience. Still, Watchmen has frequently been hailed as the greatest graphic-novel ever written, year after year, by both readers and critics alike. So, after watching Zack Snyder’s 2009 adaptation I found that many crucial elements weren’t elaborated on—and this was what made the source material better than the screen-version, as every character and subplot was profoundly expanded upon.

DC’s Watchmen follows the murder of a government-hired superhero, The Comedian, and the subsequent investigation by two of his former allies. Due to this killing, most of the former heroes come out of retirement to get to the bottom of Rorschach’s Mask-Killer theory (that someone or a group of people are fatally targeting former superheroes and supervillains).

What I adored most about Watchmen was the balanced amount of time given to each and every major character. Some issues are almost entirely devoted to both the backstory and current predicaments of a particular hero, whereas others feature tales of all the figures connected to each in other in a certain subplot. In some parts, Watchmen features a non-linear story structure whereas in others it is composed completely in procedural form. This does lead to confusion in some instances, but just like Christopher Nolan’s movies connect the dots at the very end, so does Moore masterfully let the pieces fit together perfectly in the conclusion.

I also liked how the five heroes couldn’t have been depicted with personalities that are furthest apart from each other. The Silk Spectre is the only one of them who is female and has many mommy issues (her mom was the first Silk Spectre and she brought her into the crimefighter career quite early on). Ozymandias (named after the poem by Perce Bryce Shelley) is regarded as the world’s smartest man. The Comedian is an antihero who is more of a patriotic mercenary than anything else. Nite Owl is the most traditional of them all, owning Batman-like gadgets and a vehicle to rival the Batmobile, with a suit like the Dark Knight as well. One quality which he and Bruce Wayne don’t share is the former’s optimistic mindset, and though the name implies darkness, Nite Owl is one of the most forward-looking of DC’s superheroes. Doctor Manhattan is a being with godlike powers and the only hero in the series to have actual superpowers. Rorschach is the group’s realist who is the epitome of anti-hero. He is a brilliant detective with an investigative intellect rivaling that of the Dark Knight, albeit without the technology and wealthy background, but most importantly, he lacks the morality of “Thou shalt not kill”.

I have to say that the antagonists featured were either weak, retired or had died after the Keene Act had been passed in 1977—which banned costumed vigilantism except that done by government-owned individuals such as The Comedian and Dr Manhattan. Knowing that there’s no way to confront the latter, the supervillains cease to operate as well. Two of the heroes are the second iterations of Watchmen’s golden-age roster such as Silk Spectre (as previously mentioned) and Nite Owl (who took over when the original crusader, who was also his inspiration, retired from crimefighting).

At this point, majority of this review’s readers would be curious how the past events were told without ruining the momentum of the present storyline. This is done by one of the most unique aspects I’ve ever witnessed in any graphic-novel: Attaching news-pieces, letters, book chapters, etc. at the end of every chapter save for the final one. Sometimes we get a newspaper article about one of the past events briefly discussed in an issue, and at other times, biographical information comes from letters, journals, books or any other material written by our heroes, both the old and the current ones. So four to five pages of these makes up for a separate ten pages to tell a tale. Also, it brings a fresh perspective to the current chapter before you begin the next one.

Watchmen, like Mark Millar’s Superman: Red Son (2003), also incorporates a prominent political theme. This alternate take on American history of the 50s to 80s showcases that with the aid of Doctor Manhattan, America has won the Vietnam war, and the Watergate Scandal never occurred. Also, without a clear antagonist, most of the readers’ time is spent dealing with the psychology of the protagonists, who at second glance, don’t seem so righteous after all.

However, Watchmen had one notable flaw and that was the depiction of Doctor Manhattan and Ozymandias. Both characters are larger in life and in fiction that isn’t a bad thing. But both figures’ personalities are quite irksome. Manhattan’s lectures about nihilism and Ozymandias’ homage to Alexander the Great do well to make the figures distinct, but at times both the actions and dialogues of these heroes are quite vexing. They didn’t have to be likeable but should’ve been at least illustrated as comprehensible. Nevertheless, the finale makes up for these tiny distractions, culminating in the best comic-book closure I’ve ever witnessed.

All in all, Watchmen is an adult-story of war, betrayal, love, freedom and almost everything that makes us human. It discusses so many philosophies that I can’t count most of them. Dave Gibbons’ artwork is incomparable as he also intertwines the main storyline with that of another comic, Tales of the Black Freighter, which a secondary character reads. So, it’s sort of a comic-inception; a comic within a comic. I also commend Gibbons for portraying both love and hate, in the form of sex and crime, so brilliantly that it forms an unparalleled juxtaposition of fictional elements showcased in a limited edition. If you haven’t read Watchmen, you have missed the finest graphic-novel ever written.