Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Part 3
Created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, Written by Gene Luen Yang, Art by Gurihiru
Dark Horse Comics, 80 pp
Rating: 10 +
The first Avatar: The Last Airbender comic series comes to a close with it’s third installment. Fire Lord Zuko and Earth King Kuei have marshaled their respective forces and march on Yu Dao, and caught in the middle is Aang. Will the world fall into war once more? Can Aang resolve the issue of Yu Dao before it’s too late, and if he can what will be the cost? Gene Luen Yang, Gurihiru and the rest of the team bring the series to it’s conclusion!
This third volume is the pay off we’ve been waiting for. With the showdown between the two armies all the various strands which have popped up come together in a surprisingly introspective and thought provoking conclusion. Yang does a fantastic job at capturing several of the characters and their personalities here, but beyond that he does a wonderful job at twisting the story and turning it into a generational saga and one of transition and change, both of individual rulers and Avatars and of cultures in general.
Gurihiru’s artwork is gorgeous to behold and does a fantastic job at capturing every character’s likeness while making sure that any new characters fit in seamlessly to the shows aesthetic. The action sequences are solid, if not spectacular, and are easy to follow. In addition to the action and the likenesses, Gurihiru’s seemingly mastered body language and facial expressions to a degree that put most of the “big name” American comics artists to shame. The characters are expressive both facially and in their use of body language, with both nicely echoing the original characters mannerisms in the cartoon.
Honestly, this series has been something of a surprise. Often times continuations and media spin off series can be of questionably quality but that’s not the case with Avatar: The Last Airbender. This is a fantastic expansion to the original series and feels faithful and true to the spirit of the original while setting up plot points and ideas that will eventually bare fruit in Avatar: The Legend of Korra. Gene Luen Yang and Gurhiru have done an amazing job with the series and I eagerly look forward to the next series slated for release in 2013. If you’re a fan of the Avatar cartoon series then you owe it to yourself to give this spin off a look.
Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Part 3 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.
Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Part 2
Created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, Written by Gene Luen Yang, Art by Gurihiru
Dark Horse Comics, 80 pp
Rating: 10 +
The second part in the Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise series has arrived courtesy of the Gene Luen Yan and Gurihiru! The situation with the Fire Nation Colonies is quickly reaching a tipping point! Meanwhile Toph and her metal bending academy finds themselves dealing with some of the ramifications of the Harmony Plan as the schools former occupants, a class of firebenders, seek to move back in.
Gene Luen Yan does a wonderful job at continuing to show the difficulties of ending one hundred years of occupation through a variety of smaller stories interwoven within the larger one. Toph’s metal bending academy is a lovely example. While it might not initially seem connected to the main plot, the fact that she’s occupying something that belonged to a fire bending school for decades if not longer is just one manifestation of the tangled web the occupation created. In addition the fantastic glimpse we get into the life of Zuko’s would be assassin show’s the situation in a more nuanced light, giving us a glimpse into the life of some of the people against de-colonization. While Toph’s subplot seems a bit more black and white, the assassins life and her complex web of familial and romantic relationships shows just how complex the situation can be. At the same time all this seems like it’s clearly laying the foundation for things seen in the recently concluded Avatar: The Legend of Korra series. Aang and Katara’s story is still present but takes a bit of a back seat and seems like it’s there solely for comedic relief.
Gurihiru’s artwork continues to be solid and evocative of the original series while introducing new characters, designs and locations that fit in seamlessly with the world the cartoon created. Gurihiru does a great job at capturing the likenesses of the various characters and their physical mannerisms as well. The action sequences are solid but short and quick. Still, they’re fun and interesting to look at and often contain clever little tweaks and twists that expand on various ways bending can be used in combat. Zuko’s would be assassin springs immediately to mind in her use of a stone ball and chain, something that’s both interesting visually and also suggests an interesting use of her earth bending skills. Plus the stone ball covered in metal spikes just looks cool too.
With one volume left is seems unlikely that they’ll be able to wrap up everything they’ve set in motion and while the announcement of a second trilogy focusing on Zuko’s search is welcome and anticipated, I do wonder if the ending to this series will be satisfying. Despite any fears I have regarding the climax I can’t deny that so far it’s managed to be a solid and entertaining read that any fan of the original series will probably find to be an enjoyable addition to the Avatar world.
Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Part 2 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.
Empowered, Vol. 7
By Adam Warren
Dark Horse, 208 pp.
Rating: 16 +
After a nearly two year wait Adam Warren’s Empowered returns! For the first time this volume sees the focus shift off of Emp and onto her hard drinking, ninja princess buddy Ninjette as we delve into her past and learn more of her ninja clan!
The volume focuses heavily on Ninjette, though all your favorite cast members return and have their own individual arcs continued and pushed forward a little as well. The volume alternates between flashbacks involving Ninjette, Empowered and friends and a brutal fight scene set in the “present” involving Ninjette and a squad of ninjas sent to bring her in. The flashback sequences are where most of the other cast appear as we see everyone dealing with the continued fallout from the Willy Pete incident and now the fallout from Emp’s confrontation with Deathmonger from the last volume. Adam Warren continues to do a fantastic job at giving the characters heart in what’s ostensibly a sexy, superhero comedy and delves into the various aspects of their lives. Everyone in the series is flawed in some way and it’s really these insecurities and the genuineness of them that gives the book it’s heart.
Adam Warren’s artwork is fantastic as is to be expected and looks even better then ever thanks to the new glossy paper stock used in the volume. The huge ninja fight scene, something I was really looking forward to with this volume, is solid and entertaining but somehow felt a little underwhelming. In fairness that could be due to built up expectations. After a two year absence and hearing how the fight scene was initially intended to be nearly 100 pages your expectations tend to be raised. Still, it’s intense and clear with some incredibly clever moments. In addition the book continues to show off Adam Warren’s skill at depicting everything from violent battles to quiet intimate moments and more. His character designs are creative and range from the memorable and stylish to the weird, hideous and downright silly.
All in all this remains one of my favorite American comic series at the moment and is probably the best superhero series out there right now. With lovely art, creative action scenes, well written and well rounded believable characters Adam Warren’s continues to put most other American superhero comics to shame.
Empowered, Vol. 7 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.
Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Part 1
Created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, Scripted by Gene Luen Yang, Art by Gurihiru
Dark Horse Comics, 80 pp
Rating: 10 +
Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Part 1 comes to us courtesy of Avatar co-creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, with co-writer Gene Luen Yang, creator of American Born Chinese and artwork from Gurihiru. This comic is set shortly after the end of the original Avatar: The Last Airbender TV series and continues the stories of Aang, Zuko and the rest of the cast as they attempt to rebuild the world following the TV series conclusion. Unfortunately things aren’t quite as clear cut as they had hoped and our heroes quickly find themselves butting heads with each other, old allies and new enemies alike.
The series is the next logical step with regards to the TV series plot line. Yes, the big bad is defeated and it’s time to rebuild but 100 years of war and death tends to leave an impression. You have people who are very unhappy with the Fire Nation still and looking for justice and revenge. The primary issue in this volume is Aang and Zuko’s attempts to put an end to the Fire Nation colonies in the Earth Kingdom, the realm which suffered the most from the war with the Fire Nation. Unfortunately after a century of occupation things aren’t as clear cut as our heroes might like. In some cases Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom families are entwined, making separation rather difficult, to say nothing of the Fire Nation citizens who were born, raised and never knew any other home other than those of the colonies. It’s from these issues that the conflict and story is built. The story manages to move the plot forward in a completely logical manner and also manages to maintain many of the characters and their personalities from the original TV series.
Visually the book is fantastic. Gurihiru does a bang up job of aping the TV series visual style, even nailing some of the movements used in bending. The fight scene’s are short and few but they’re crisp and resemble those from the TV series. The cast of characters all look like their TV counterparts with costuming, facial expressions and more all being true to the source material. The few new characters who are introduced also fit seamlessly into the world and look like something you’d expect to see in the cartoon. All in all, it’s a fine looking book!
I have to admit that I was a little nervous about how this would turn out. Dark Horse has done continuations of fan favorite TV shows before with mixed results, but I’m glad to say that Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise is a solid addition to the Avatar mythos. It looks and feels like an extension to the original series while taking the story in a new direction without feeling untrue or radically different from the source material. From what I understand the series is slated to run about 5 volumes and frankly, if they’re able to continuously deliver this level of quality then I’ll be on board for all of them!
Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Part 1 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.
Northlanders, Vol. 6: Thor’s Daughter and Other Stories is the latest volume in Brian Wood’s historical fiction series, Northlanders, and consists of three short stories. It opens with the three part “The Siege of Paris”, focusing on a siege gone horribly wrong from the point of view of a professional soldier for hire. The second story, “The Hunt”, follows a solitary hunter who’s lost everything, his children, his wife, his family as he refuses to lose his current prey regardless of the cost. And rounding out the volume is the titular “Thor’s Daughter” which gives us a glimpse of a young girl named Birna forced into adulthood following the death of her father at the hands of rivals.
The three stories, like nearly every other story in the Northlanders series, are stand alone tales and require no previous knowledge of the world, the characters or anything else. This means that despite being volume six in the series, the stories are just as accessible and new reader friendly as the first volume was. All three of the stories were very entertaining but at the same time I was surprised by their length. “The Hunt”, for me, is the stand out. Wood does a fantastic job at getting across the desperation of the hunter. His need to succeed and prove that he’s still capable of providing for himself was palpable. “Thor’s Daughter”, oddly enough, was probably my least favorite. The idea and the concept are sound and left me wanting to see more of Birna and how her story played out and it almost felt like the first chapter in a longer tale. I was definitely left wanting more from it. “The Siege of Paris” was an interesting tale and I enjoyed how the lead character had an almost man out of time feel to him. His desires clashed with those in power who were willing to settle wars through political discourse and money, something that was almost a personal affront to his raiding and pillaging sensibility. The fact that Wood was able to make a character who was looking to slaughter and loot a city sympathetic and enjoyable is a bit of a testament to his skills as a writer.
The artwork for the volume is a little hit and miss in places. While Marian Churchland does an absolutely fantastic job with “Thor’s Daughter” and Matthew Woodson’s work on “The Hunt” is equally lovely, something about Simone Gane’s work in “The Siege of Paris” just didn’t click for me. It was rough and ugly, certainly fitting for a story about a three month long siege from the grunt’s point of view, but at the same time there was an awkwardness and cartoonishness to it that undercut some of the epic moments and some of the emotional impact of certain scenes.
Northlanders, Vol. 6: Thor’s Daughter and Other Stories probably wasn’t my favorite of the Northlanders series, but it was still an enjoyable and entertaining read. The short story nature of the volume means you get a good cross section of the kind of tales that Brian Wood is trying to tell with the series; massive historical war epics, more intimate tales of humanity and loss, and stories about people finding themselves and struggling with situations not of their making. It might not be the greatest introduction to the series, but it’s still far better than much of what’s coming out of the American comic book industry at the minute and is worth a look.
Northlanders, Vol. 6: Thor’s Daughter and Other Stories is available now from Vertigo Comics.
Monkey King, Vol. 1, the first release from new publish JR Comics, is an adaption of the classic Chinese tale, Journey to the West courtesy of Wei Dong Cheng and Chao Peng. The opening volume kicks off with the birth and origins of the Monkey King, Sun Wu Kong, and chronicles some of his earlier exploits.
Monkey King’s story is incredibly fast paced, breezing along from one tale of Sun Wu Kong’s trouble making ways to another. It barely stops to breath and at times it feels very plot driven. Despite being the main character not a whole lot of time is given to exploring the ins and outs of Sun Wu Kong’s personality in this first volume. Events that seem like they’re meant to motivate and drive him are often depicted but then abandoned in favor of depicting more of his antics. The result is that there’s a lack of emotional resonance with these events. We see them occur but so little time is given to examining their affects upon Sun Wu Kong that it’s left up to the readers to fill in the blanks. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but going from tragedy to a silly scene of Sun Wu Kong causing chaos seems to undercut the emotional impact they’re meant to have on him. It’s possible that these will be brought up and discussed at greater length in the future, but right now they just seem to lack the oomph that they should have.
Visually the book is pretty solid. Chao Peng does a fantastic job at illustrating the various gods, demons and mystics that populate the story. The action scenes aren’t as decompressed as those of similar manga and most fights are over in a matter of pages. Peng does a great job at avoiding the pitfalls of making characters look too much alike and is quite good at conveying expressions and emotions through the faces of his characters. The backgrounds are always fleshed out and the book’s in full color to boot, making it a bit of a visual treat with plenty of interesting things to look at and get absorbed into.
Monkey King is an interesting creature. I haven’t really seen an attempt at getting Chinese comics published in the US since the ComicsOne days so it’s nice to see someone trying again. That said I’m not sure if this is the right way to go about doing it. It’s a fairly entertaining read but something about it is just lacking the “it” factor to really make it stand out from what else is on the shelves now a days. Still, it seems like a solid adaption of a Chinese classic and I’m tempted to hunt down another volume or two in the future.
Monkey King, Vol.1 is published by JR Comics and is available now.
Set in the fictional town of Midnight, Massachuesetts, Midnight, Mass is a eight issue series depicting the exploits of Adam and Julia Kadmon, a married couple who also happen to be the greatest paranormal investigators in the world. From John Rozum, the mind behind Xombi, comes this forgotten gem from 2002.
Midnight, Mass is something of an oddity. It was originally solicited and hyped as an ongoing series, only to be cut down to an eight issue mini-series between the time of the initial announcement and it’s actual publication. Rumor has it that creator John Rozum apparently found this out rather late into the game and as a result the eight issues don’t tell a single story arc. Instead it’s comprised of a single issue tale, a two parter, a three issue arc and another two parter which attempts to give the mini-series some sense of closure. Despite this the series is still a very enjoyable ride showcasing much of what made Xombi such a delight while allowing Rozum to portray something that’s rarely seen in American comics.. a happily married couple who enjoy their work. It’s such a refreshing change of pace, particularly in this day and age when American comics seem hellbent on breaking up every long term couple and peppering their supernatural characters with a heavy load of angst and grimness. While Adam and Julia do fight and argue, it’s not done out of bitterness or anger at their lot in life. It’s done out of worry and concern for each other and a certain fear of letting each other down in a life and death situation, but at no point is there a sense that either has to shoulder these problems or troubles alone. If a healthy couple isn’t enough, there’s also a slight inversion of conventional tropes for this genre. Adam’s the mage with an encyclopedic brain but no combat skills and Julia provides the brawn and weapon skills.
This was my first exposure to the artwork of Jesus Saiz and he’s not bad, but I don’t think he was the best fit for this series. Personally I thought one of his weakest points was his depiction Adam and Julia. The couple is described as glamorous and we’re told they’ve made Peoples 50 Most Beautiful People list several times in a row, but Julia doesn’t look that more beautiful then any other woman in the series and Adam doesn’t come off as terribly handsome either. Part of this seems to be his handling of their clothing. In the first issue Adam’s modern jacket is ruined and he changes into an older jacket that’s referred to as looking out of fashion, moth eaten and shabby but it really didn’t look that different from the first jacket he was wearing. Still, his work is clean, clear and easy to follow. Also some of his creature designs are fairly memorable, particularly the assassin in the first issue. For the most part though, he seems to lack a certain sense of mood and ambiance that the series called for. It’s serviceable if an odd and unspectacular fit.
Despite the lack of an overarching story due to behind the scenes weirdness and the average artwork, I still really enjoyed Midnight, Mass and would gladly pay to read more of the Kadmon’s exploits. Any fans of the recent Xombi series looking for similar work from Rozum would do well to give this series a loo as it shares many traits with that series. Unfortunately it might be a bit hard to come by as it’s never been collected, despite doing well enough to warrant a second mini-series Midnight, Mass: Here There Be Monsters. Still, those who can track down the single issues should find Midnight, Mass to be an enjoyable and fun read.
Midnight, Mass was published by Vertigo.
From creators Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson comes Beasts of Burden, a fantastic horror series from Dark Horse Comics. Sporting just the right balance of comedy, adventure and horror elements Dorkin and Thompson deliver an incredibly amusing, gripping and moving read as they detail the exploits of a group of supernatural investigators with a twist… they’re all animals.
Beasts of Burden is quite possibly one of the best American comics of the last few years. It’s a series that is able to shift between incredibly cute and adorable to deeply disturbing and horrific in almost no time at all and does so in a way that feels completely natural. Dorkin and Thompson craft lovable anthropomorphized dogs and cats but do so without ever letting us forget that they’re not human. They do this through a variety of methods ranging from cute nervous tics such as butt sniffing, to dialogue full of animal related slang and insults and more. The interaction between the various pets that make up the cast is wonderful to read and will undoubtably elicit some laughs as you read it. But it’s not just dialogue and scripts that are fantastic but the setting and situations as well. Throughout the series, without huge info dumps, Dorkin paints a picture of an animal world that’s fully developed with it’s own beliefs, magic and protectors. Hints of a Council of Wise Dogs, mentions of the Great Dog and the Black Dog feel completely natural and need little explanation when they appear in scenes and help give the sense of a world that’s larger than the town of Burden and decades, if not centuries, of history behind it. Add in reoccurring characters in minor roles and you get the sense that things are happening outside of the main characters circle, that there are other groups of dogs and cats having their own adventures and conflicts. Dorkin also gives us several twists on conventional horror tropes, including the opening story which is a fun take on the haunted house tale and in a later chapter a ghost story that’s absolutely chilling and haunting as it touches upon real life animal issues.
It’s hard to imagine Beasts of Burden without the absolutely gorgeous, water color artwork from Jill Thompson. Under her talented hands the series is quite possibly the best looking American comic on the market. She manages to capture the body language of the dogs and cats perfectly, imbuing them with just enough humanity to make expressions recognizable while still looking completely natural on the faces of dogs or cats. Whether it’s the cowering before a ghost or leaping in joy as they chase frogs, all the characters physically move and behave like the animals they are and body language plays a large part in conveying the individual animals characters and personalities. Thompson also gets a chance to display her range as she renders the lighter and more disturbing moments with equal skill. Much like Dorkin’s writing, her artwork lures you in with the cute and adorable animals, only to slam you in the face with a truly horrific and disturbing scene when you turn the page, some of which may stick with you for days after having put the book down.
Honestly, I don’t think I can sing the praises of this collection enough. For $20 you get an oversized, full color hardcover collecting the five short stories and the four issue mini-series, plus a sketch book section and a cover gallery. It’s a fantastic price tag for an equally fantastic series that gets more enjoyable with each new reading. If there’s any negative about Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites, it’s that it’s not enough. After reading this collection you’ll be left wanting more and sadly, outside of a one shot cross over with Hellboy, there isn’t a whole lot more out there.
Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites is available from Dark Horse Comics.
By Dan Brereton
Originally published by DC Comics, TPB published by Image Comics
Rating: Not Rated
In 1999 a mysterious event resulted in the eruption of the long dormant Mt. Diablo in the San Francisco valley. The enormous eruption wiped out several surrounding communities and what followed would wipe out even more. For reasons unknown the destruction and volcanic ash clouds would spread and change, becoming dangerously corrosive and toxic to human beings and from within this no-man’s land would come the giant monsters. Writer/artist Dan Brereton, creator of the The Nocturnals, brings us the tale of humanities only hope in it’s battle against the giant monsters Giantkiller.
Giantkiller has a very straightforward story, with the arrival of the giant monster comes the need to create weapons which can battle them. Sadly due to the corrosive nature of the environment following the initial volcanic eruption conventional arms don’t last long. So the US government turns to genetic engineering and attempts to create a super soldier using scavenged DNA from monster scales, blood and the like. The result is Yochu, aka. Jack, aka. Giantkiller. From there things unfold about how you’d expect them to as the series essentially boils down to Jack vs. the monsters. Unfortunately, while Jack is visually striking, he doesn’t have much a personality beyond hating the monsters. There’s some attempt to flesh him out a bit towards the end of the series as Brereton has Jack questioning what he’s doing and whether or not he should be killing creatures that he has more in common with than humanity, but it comes just a little too late to make him more than a cool looking, bad ass monster killer. Thankfully Jack’s not the only character and his co-star, Jill Sleet, makes up for Jack’s lack of a personality. Her story takes her from being a selfish rogue who only looks out for herself, to someone who finds something worth fighting for and hanging onto in this world thanks to her relationship with Jack. Furthermore it’s only through Jack’s relationship with Jill that he gains anything resembling a realistic motivation and sadly that only comes at the very end of the series.
The series is a love song to the monster movies of the 50s and 60s, both domestically and abroad and this is perhaps most noticeable in the series artwork. While Brereton’s style is a bit of an acquired taste and isn’t to everyone’s liking it works beautifully here. Several of the monster designs look like they walked off the set of a Tsuburaya production, while others bring to mind the works of Lovecraft, and yet another bares a striking resemblance to Vincent Price. Then of course you have Giantkiller himself, a remarkably memorable yet simple design, tall, pitch black with red bits here and there. Toss in a long tail that ends in a lobster claw and a few fins and tufts of hair and you’ve got one very cool looking character. It’s not all roses though and sadly the action scenes tend to be rather short and can feel stiff and awkward at times. At other times the artwork fails to convey the sense of speed, power and rage that some of the dialogue or captions attempt to convey. Still it’s hard to deny that this is some lovely eye candy and that’s highlighted in Giantkiller A to Z: A Field Guide to Big Monsters. The book was a supplement to the main series and it’s essentially an art gallery featuring 26 monsters, some of whom never appeared in the series itself, in full page art pieces from Brereton.
While it was far from perfect Giantkiller was still an incredibly fun and enjoyable read thanks to Brereton’s lovely looking artwork and what feels like a genuine enjoyment of the giant monster movie genre. The series was originally published by DC in 1999 and was collected in 2006 by Image Comics. The TPB includes the original series and field guide so there’s no worry about missing anything if you chose to grab the TPB instead of spending hours attempting to track down the single issues.
Written by Gary Russell, Art by Nick Roche, Jose Maria Berdy, Steffano Martino and Marco Pierfederici
IDW, 144 pp.
Rating: Teens (13 +)
Doctor Who: Agent Provocateur comes courtesy of Gary Russel and a bevy of artists, including Nick Roche of Doctor Who: The Forgotten. It’s a long, convoluted tale of the Doctor and Martha as they’re roped into a scheme to defeat some ancient, evil being from beyond our reality.
This story is a bit of a mess. It starts off with a one shot that seems to have no connection to the overall arc of the book, only the framing sequences give it any sort of the connection to the rest of the series. From there, very slowly, a large story begins to emerge but it does so at a snails pace. Essentially The Doctor and Martha find themselves sucked into a plan concocted by a group known as The Pantheon to defeat an ancient, nameless evil. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it’s the way the plan unfolds that leaves you scratching your head. Why the elaborate ruse? Why all the intrigue? To make matters worse, The Pantheon is given zero personality beyond this plot, and only one member has anything vaguely resembling a regular talking role. Instead a lot of time is given over to one off adventures until the final few chapters, at which point all is revealed and the story careens head first to a conclusion that comes so quickly and suddenly that it feels terribly anti-climatic. Also, while the Doctor and Martha are more or less themselves, something about Russel’s writing and dialogue feels a bit off.
The artwork doesn’t help much as it’s all over the place due to the number of artists involved. I was rather keen on the later artwork, which I believe was done by Martino and Pierfederici though I’m not sure since there aren’t any specific chapter breaks in this collection. They seemed to do a fantastic job at catching Martha and The Doctor’s likenesses while keeping a nice amount of detail to the rest of the art as well. The earlier chapters are a bit too cartoony, which is odd since some where done by Nick Roche and I had no problems with his art in Doctor Who: The Forgotten.
Honestly, I think Doctor Who: Agent Provocateur is a bit of a mess. It feels like it could have been streamlined immensely to make the story a much easier, less convoluted read and probably would have cleaned up some of the head scratchingly obvious plot holes to boot. It certainly tried to be incredibly epic, spanning several time periods and planets, but in the end it just felt a bit silly and fairly forgettable.