Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Crosses & Cross Bolts: A Huntress Reading List

After my recent Black Canary reading list, I’ve received a lot of requests to do a similar post for Huntress, a fan-favorite character from DC Comics who also made her big-screen debut. Now I don’t talk about her enough but I love Huntress. She’s a pretty amazing character and as an ass-kicking, crossbow-wielding heroine she’s one that not everyone may know, but definitely that everyone should love.

That being said she’s not the easiest character to get into. Something that a lot of people don’t realize when it comes to Huntress is that there are two different versions of the character, each one going by the first name Helena and both operating under the Huntress persona. So you see where the complication comes in.

In fact, the first Huntress, who debuted back in 1977 was actually Helena Wayne of Earth 2, an alternate universe in which she was the daughter of Batman and Catwoman, and eventually took on her own superhero identity. It wasn’t until her self titled series in 1989 ( which please don’t read that because it is severely outdated and grossly violent) that the Helena Bertinelli Huntress was introduced, sporting not only a new name but an entirely new personality and origin as well. Since her debut, Helena Bertinelli went on to become the mainstream Huntress. It’s this version of the character that you’ll see in animated adaptations television shows and even in the Birds of Prey movie Now I do want to do a break down for both Helena Bertinelli and Helena Wayne, along with what stories you can read to get you started as I think both identities are important for the character.

I’m gonna kick things off with Helena Bertinelli. Personally, this is the version of the character I prefer. She’s tough, ruthless, a little unstable but undoubtedly loyal to those around her. She’s also both a recurring member of the Batfamily as well as being a key member of the Birds of Prey.

Huntress Year One: Ivory Madison & Cliff Richards -  Batman, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, it feels like every major player in the DC Universe has their own Year One story. So I will say that while it’s certainly invited, it is a little strange that Huntress, who could be argued as a minor character, has a Year One story of her own. Much like Bruce Wayne, Helena Bertinelli has a tragic backstory of her own. Born into the Bertinelli crime family, one of the most powerful crime families in Gotham, 8-year-old Helena is forced to bear witness to the murder of her father, mother and older brother during a family dinner. It would be the start of the end for the Bertinelli line, as members of the family would be wiped out from Metropolis to Chicago, leaving a young Helena as the sole surviving member. From there she’s whisked away to Sicily where for years she would reside with extended family and grow a close relationship with her cousin Sal. After all "blood cries for blood" and it’s Sal who would teach her how to fight and to take back what was stolen from her. Unlike most origin stories, in Huntress Year One, Helena has practically mastered her craft. Already, she’s depicted as a skilled detective and an adept martial artist. While a lot of readers might have a problem with this it’s the one thing I find the story does particularly well. Rather than follow the same old formula of the hero finding their path, honing their skills and donning the costume, Huntress Year One gets straight to the point allowing Helena to come face to face with the men who killed her family. It also has some ridiculously gorgeous art which is another great draw to this story. My biggest complaint with Year One is some of the characterizations for some of the characters. While Helena herself is written fairly well its members of the supporting cast including characters like Catwoman and Barbara Gordon’s, Batgirl that come off as a little strange and sometimes even demeaning of the character. That all being said while not my first pick,  Year One makes for a great first introduction to if you’re new to Huntress. [Comixolgy]

Huntress: Cry for Blood - Greg Rucka & Rick Burchett  What is possibly my favorite on this list, Cry for Blood is pretty much my immediate go-to when it comes to a solid Huntress story. Being that this book is written by Greg Rucka, who has titles under his belt like Wonder Woman Hiketia and Batwoman Elegy, that should be enough to sell this title for you. Cry for Blood follows the story of Helena Bertinelli after her Huntress persona is framed for the murder of her cousin. Given her previous history with violence, as she’s one of the few in the Batfamily unafraid to kill, she’s confronted by Batman and after an altercation between him and Nightwing she’s pushed into hiding during her recovery. Here she’ll spend time with Richard Dragon, a master martial artist, along with the conspiracy theorist vigilante known as The Question. After some time away and allowing her body and mind to retrain,  she’ll return to Gotham, in an action to clear her name and to discover the clear motive for her framing. It’s in the story’s final pages that she’ll learn a dark secret that will change her life forever. While Cry for Blood isn’t considered an origin story, unlike Year One it does provide some insight and detail into Helena’s tragic backstory. We also get to see a closer look at her interactions with various members of the Batfamily along with some of the animosity towards her from characters like Batman and even Oracle. One of the reasons Cry for Blood is so prominent on this list and why I love it as much as I do is because this is really where we start to see Helena question her morality and her struggle with if it’s right to kill even with a just motive. This mini-series also served as much of the inspiration for the JLU episode Double Date (my personal favorite episode btw) not only with Huntress’s internal conflict but with her relationship with the Question as well. [Comixology]

Birds of Prey: The Battle Within - Gail Simone & Joe BennettAlongside Black Canary and Oracle, Huntress is a prominent member of the Birds of Prey. While she appeared in previous Birds of Prey comics, she didn't become a recurring character until the start of Gail Simone’s run with issue #56. Like Black Canary, I wanted to give Huntress a similar treatment and pull an arc from the famous series that I thought best represented the character. That brings us to Birds of Prey: The Battle This is another one of those pesky hard to find books long since out of print however this arc, in particular, is covered in issue #81 to #85 and can be found digitally on Comixology. After an internal conflict between Oracle and Huntress, Helena has left the Birds of Prey to form a task force of her own. In doing so she’ll have to masquerade under her own civilian persona, Helena Bertinelli, in the attempts to infiltrate a mob ring responsible for bringing one of the largest shipments of drugs into Gotham. Now there are multiple reasons why this is such a great arc for the character. The first being the fact that Helena will have to come to terms with the one thing she hates most. It's interesting to see someone with such a deep-rooted and just hatred for organized crime, suddenly take on that role, even with it being within her birthright. That aspect combined with the conflict and resolution between Helena Bertinelli and Barbara Gordon helps to further her development as a character and even her place within the  Birds of Prey, as most of what we’ve seen previously is just the hot-headed woman ready to kick in teeth. Now admittedly there’s a lot going on in this arc and a lot of moving pieces which can make it feel overwhelming for some. However, I’d like to think that Simone has done a pretty superb job at laying everything out and even manages to catch new readers up to speed making a great addition for anyone who wants to read a little more Helena Bertinelli. [Comixology]

While I’m not going to go too in-depth on it, it’s worth noting that the massive crossover arc No Man’s Land also offers some key moments for Helena Bertinelli’s Huntress, including the time that she wore the Batgirl suit before it was ripped away from Batman and given to Cassandra Cain, but being that the event spans across six different volumes at over three thousand pages that’s going to have to be one you check out for yourself.

While there are some similarities between the both Huntresses there are also a lot of differences including their costumes and contrasting personalities. Helena Wayne is now often considered as the classic Huntress and is typically only used during alternate Earth stories.

Huntress: Dark Knight Daughter - Paul Levitz & Joe Staton -  Huntress: Dark Knight Daughter which was recently reclassified as Huntress Origins is written by Paul Levitz and illustrated by Joe Staton compiles Helena’s adventures which were originally published as backup stories across various issues of Wonder Woman. In an alternate reality known as Earth 2, Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle find themselves married eventually set aside their lives as caped crusaders and criminals to start a family of their own after the birth of their daughter Helena. However, years pass and Catwoman is blackmailed into one final heist that would ultimately cost her her life. Rather than be succumbed to grief young Helena Wayne would follow in her parents' footsteps donning a vigilante costume of her own and taking on the guise of Huntress. Soon after she gets her footing she’ll join the JSA where she’ll witness the unfortunate death of her father. Even so, she’ll continue in her parents' footsteps as a heroic crime-fighting taking on everything from everyday criminals to Solomon Grundy. At one point she even goes head to head with her father’s greatest nemesis, the Joker. Helena takes on the best traits from her both her parents, as a cunning detective like her father, and a skilled and adaptive gymnast like her mother she more than lives up to the Wayne name. Paul Levitz and Joe Stanton worked to create a well-rounded character and Levitz would return later on to pen the character in multiple stories some 30 odd years later, most of which you’ll also see on this list. Huntress: Dark Knight Daughter is a classic tale and is a must-read for any fan of the character, Wayne or Bertinelli as it would be what be the starting point for the character we know and love today. While I’ll admit this one isn’t meant for everyone, as at 224 pages it can be a little overwhelming and dense it certainly marks for the defining start for the Huntress. [Comixolgy]

Huntress: Crossbow at Crossroads  -  Paul Levitz & Marcus To - It's a common misconception that Crossbow at Crossroads is a Huntress story involving Helena Bertinelli. Now that’s a very fair assumption considering it isn’t until the final pages of the series and a surprise appearance from Karen Starr, also known as Power Girl, that it's revealed that this iteration of Huntress is actually Helena Wayne, masquerading under the guise of Bertinelli,  and was mysteriously brought over from the alternate universe of Earth 2. These few pages would be a starting point that would set the New 52 and it’s alternate Earths in motion. Now that sounds super complicated but I promise it’s not actually that bad. Another story that takes the Huntress to Italy,  it’s here that Helena teams up with a pair of Italian reporters in Naples as she prepares to take down a string of Italian drug lords and human traffickers. One by one she’ll take down the men in the circle until she finally makes her way to the top bringing justice to those who deserve it once and for all.  After my recent review of the mini-series, I realized that there is a lot of symbolism and small little motifs that hint towards Helena’s actual heritage, something I personally appreciated and an aspect that encourages multiple rereads. Crossbow at Crossroads, while not the most memorable book on this list is a really great series if you want to see the Huntress in action as Marcus To, does an amazing job taking her action and movements to another level. The series also makes for another great introduction to Helena Wayne’s Huntress, especially if you’re like me and prefer modern comics over the older classics.[Comixology]

World’s Finest: Lost Daughters of Earth 2 - Paul Levitz, George Perez & Kevin Maguire - Spiraling straight out of the pages of Crossbow at Crossroads, the first pages of World’s Finest pick up right where Helena’s previous story left off. After being whisked away from the alternate Earth they call home the pair find themselves on Prime Earth. Five years have passed since Helena and Karen were dropped into a world so familiar and yet at the same so strange and the two have remained side by side ever since never once stopping in their hunt for a way back home. As the issues progress, so does our time with Helena and Karen. While the story transitions between past and present each glimpse into the girls' first moments on the current earth pass until the two timelines eventually converge. This is one of those books where while there’s action there isn’t a whole lot of plot aa majority of the story consists of Huntress and Powergirl beating down a radioactive villain. That being said what World’s Finest lacks in plot substance it makes up for in character interaction and development between our two main characters. Thanks to the zero issue also included in the trade it's worth noting Helena’s origin in World’s Finest is tweaked ever so slightly from what was previously iterated in Dark Knight Daughter. While Helena is still very much the daughter of Batman and Catwoman her superhero training in this retelling came long before the death of her parents and even donning the role of Robin for a time. It wouldn’t be until her journey to Prime Earth that she would then take on the role of Huntress. While not featured in the trade I also want to stress the importance of issues #6 & 7 of World’s Finest as these two issues serve as a nice mini-arc involving Damian Wayne the current Robin, and Helena Wayne. Given their shared lineage it leads to some interesting interactions between the two characters that make for an engaging read. [Comixolgy]

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Why I Stopped Loving the Rat Queens

The year is 2014. I’m still just dipping my toes into comics, still very unsure I'm just igniting my passion and love for the medium. I’m over eager to hit up my local comic shop the minute the doors open each and every Wednesday. At this point, I’m still pretty much exclusive to reading DC Comics, but there on the enticing ten-dollar introductory Image rack is the entire trade paperback of Rat Queens, first five issues and all. 

If you haven’t read Rat Queens, the fan favored Image Series heavily inspired by Dungeons and Dragons tropes and themes would tell the story of four eclectic women and both the escapades and misadventures they would have. While on the surface Rat Queens seemed simple, darker and more complex themes of identity would be explored throughout its issues. It even featured a prominent trans character (Braga I still love you). It was a story filled with heart along with moments and dialogue that would make you laugh out loud. 

One by one I fell in love with those girls, and I fell fast. Hannah, the Elven mage, fiercely devoted to her friends while simultaneously shutting herself off from everyone as she harbored a dark past. Dee, a human cleric, ironically identifying as an atheist, so unsure of her place in the world. Violet, the angry Dwarven warrior, and the one I personally related to the most as she rebelled against her family’s values and traditions to carve her own path. And of course, the Smidgen Betty because, well who can’t love a character like Betty, always so positive and full of fun. Together these girls would come together, each of them with their own flaws to form a family of their own. Through the good and the bad, they were always there for another. I had such a personal stake in this book and its characters. These girls felt like the sisters I never knew, and I loved and connected with each one.

I immediately found myself shoving this book into the hands of anyone who would read it. I found myself purchasing multiple copies, gifting it to friends and lending it to coworkers that would never return my book, and that was fine if it meant I got to buy another copy in support of my new favorite series.

Which made things so much harder when Rat Queens would eventually break my heart.

Unfortunately, there’s no lack of controversy when it comes to the series. Rat Queens' initial artist and co-creator Roc Upchurch would be rightfully removed from the book after allegations of domestic abuse would arise. Stjepan Sejic would take up the open position before ultimately leaving the series after only two issues and not being able to keep up with his hectic schedule. The role would ultimately fall to Tess Fowler and Tamara Bonvillain as part of the ongoing team, or so it was thought. Rumors went around that Roc Upchurch and co-creator and writer Kurtis J. Weibe were “conspiring” Roc’s ongoing involvement in the series and even a return at its helm.

Amidst a public and might I add quite heartbreaking falling out between Fowler and Weibe right in the middle of an arc it seemed like Rat Queens would cease to exist.

The series would eventually go on hiatus, with Fowler and Weibe moving onto other projects, Weibe would even going on to write a sci-fi series from Darkhorse Comics called Bounty (Despite its gorgeous art the series was awful by the way) that felt oddly reminiscent of Rat Queens. To add insult to injury the creator would publicly announce that he had no intention of returning to Rat Queens as his love and passion for the girls was extinguished. Now I’ll give Weibe credit here. On previous rereads of the series it's evident that as time would go by its the story and by extension it’s characters would weaken up until its abrupt end.

Which is why when Rat Queens would apparently receive a “reboot” a mere 3 months after Bounty’s finale that things just didn’t feel right. Rather than meet this new Rat Queens as a sweet reunion it honestly felt like a cash grab from its creator. After all, at it’s prime, Rat Queens could be argued as one of Image Comics' best new series if not at least one of it’s most talked about. I was hesitant about picking up the new first issue, but my love for these girls outweighed any uncertainty I might have had. I found myself stumbling and confused as to where our story fit within the universe. It didn’t help that Rat Queens was ever marketed as a reboot. and when I reached out to Kurtis J Weibe via Twitter out of love for this book, on where our Queens stood considering the previous series shocking finale, that I was met with a cold response (which Wiebe has since deleted after relaunching his Twitter). After confirmed said reboot I was then essentially told my opinion didn’t matter and if I didn’t like I could stop reading the book.

To be just a tad dramatic, that single tweet was devastating. I loved these girls. Violet, our stubborn headed dwarf, who I looked to as a hero inspired me with the strength and courage to fight even when it felt like I didn’t belong I had framed art I had bought from conventions hanging on my walls and at one point I had even considered getting a Rat Queens inspired tattoo. Guess I dodged that bullet.

While the response from Weibe surprised me at the same time it should have been a little expected. He didn’t love these girls anymore. That issue alone was proof enough when he blatantly replaced them with male doppelgangers making it feel like the Queens alone weren’t good enough.

I’ll be honest when I say I haven’t read a new issue since Issue one of the Rat Queens “reboot”, and returning to previous stories of the Queens feels tainted as if I’m able to watch the stories I loved decay into nothing. Reading reviews from those that have seen the story through have only confirmed it feels like things have only gone from bad to worse. From choppy and unfinished storylines to inconsistent and at times bad art it feels like a nightmare. But there is a silver lining. As of June 2019, Weibe has left the book (a little odd considering his role as a co-creator) and with issue #16 the series would be helmed by the series letterer as it’s new writer, with its original creator cutting ties with the Queens completely to create a publishing company of his own.

While this gives me hope that the Rat Queens can return to form, it leaves me even more hesitant as before. I may have taken this series more personal than most, but these girls meant the world to me and impacted my life in a way I didn't expect. I know I’ll never be able to love the Rat Queens the way I did before but I hope that one day, maybe one day I can love them again. Until then I only wish the best for Violet, Dee, Hannah, and Betty along with their new creative team.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Thanks For The Memories: Darth Vader #1 Review

 Writer: Greg Pak
Artist: Raffaele Ienco
Colorist: Neeraj Menon
Letterer: Joe Caramagna

I can’t say very often that a new release has me bouncing with excitement months in advance. Yet as was the case with the newly announced Darth Vader series from Marvel comics which would be helmed by Greg Pak (Planet Hulk, Batman/Superman) & Neeraj Menon (Batman: Sins of the Father, Postal). Now I’m always Star Wars trash, but that level of trash was only accelerated by the recently released finale Rise of Skywalker and that precedent just never went away. It also doesn’t help that I have an intense and undying love for Anakin Skywalker.

Joining the rest of the new line of Marvel Star Wars comics, Darth Vader #1 picks up upon the heels of Empire Strikes Back. The first few pages are a reflection from Vader’s perspective as he dwells upon the revelation revealed to Luke Skywalker about his parentage. In what seems like comic tradition Darth Vader is joined by a new data analysis droid named Zed Six Seven. There’s a calculated dynamic between them as Zed’s at time sarcastic dialogue acts as a foil to Darth’s stoic nature. Together the two will travel to various key locations of Anakin’s past including Tatooine and Padme’s derelict apartment on Coruscant, in an attempt to track down any and everyone hid his son from him. It’s upon the arrival to the planet known Vendaxa and a shocking revelation in the issue’s final pages that will leave you desperately wanting the next issue.

While there’s no shortage of great Darth Vader stories, especially in the Marvel mythos, I love how much this iteration of the character drives on emotion, a look beyond the mask. There's a lot at stake here as Darth Vader is torn between wanting to have to his son on his side while also being bombarded with memories of the boy's mother. Whereas Anakin thrived on his passion albeit good or bad it felt like on the surface must of that was lost when he became Darth Vader. Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader respectively, has always been a character, driven by pure raw emotion, from his turn to the Darkside to his eventual return to the light it’s nice to see that as a titular focus in the series.  Once again able to explore Vader’s relationship with the Emperor. From the films alone we’re met with this precedent that up until the final moments before Palpatine is chucked into an electrical hole that Darth Vader is unwaveringly loyal to his master. In his third solo installment, the Dark Lord of the Sith takes on a mission of his own once again allowing his drastic feelings to carve his path which more often not lead to consequences.  Greg Pak is no stranger to Star Wars and uses key scenes throughout the series that we’re familiar with. As a creative team, Pak & Ienco exploit these moments not only for us but for Vader’s anger and reigniting that classic Anakin anger fans are familiar with. The parallels between his past and present filling those tender and heartwrenching memories with characters like his mother Shmi Skywalker and wife Padme Amidala are so carefully crafted and are only moments I wish were in the mainline films.

Darth Vader #1 left me hanging on the edge of my seat and immediately wanting more. It blew away any expectations for the series. As a Star Wars fan and by extension an Anakin/Darth Vader fan it hit me with feelings I wasn’t expecting and the issue’s last page alone was enough for me to instantly add the series to my ongoing pull. Whether you’re a fan of the series, the character or just want to experience some intense emotional heartbreak make sure to pick up Darth Vader #1. [Comixology]

Monday, January 27, 2020

Scream Queen: A Black Canary Reading List

I've been wanting to make this list for a while now as Dinah Lance, the Black Canary is my favorite comic character. Period. From rockstar to interim leader of the Justice League, Black Canary is an underrated powerhouse equipped with a metahuman supersonic Canary Cry along with the top martial art skills that even put her on par with Wonder Woman. Arguably one of the best characters in the DC Universe, Black Canary often gets the preconceived notion that she's just Green Arrow's fishnet wearing girlfriend. Now my girl Dinah can be a little confusing, especially with new readers as there isn’t really a clear origin story for the character. It also doesn’t help that superheroics run in the family and that Dinah Lance’s mother also went by the superhero persona Black Canary with the only differentiating marker between the two being that one goes by Dinah Lance, and the other by Dinah Drake Lance. Typically you’ll only be reading Dinah Drake Black Canary content if you’re reading stories from the Golden age or early Silver Age or in flashbacks in modern comics. Then there was this weird time period where the two characters and their origins were merged together through alternate universe travel and wow I’m not even going to bother touching that because just thinking about it gives me severe brain pain.

What matters is that we’re here to talk about the Black Canary, so let's do just that and exactly what books you can and should be reading so that you too can fall in love with the loud-mouthed bird lady.

Black Canary: Vol 1 Kicking & Screaming - Brenden Fletcher & Annie Wu - Just from what I’ve seen from promotional teasers and trailers it seems like the Birds of Prey movie is drawing much of its inspiration from Brenden Fletcher and Annie Wu’s 2015 run on Black Canary. In fact, this is the first iteration in which Dinah takes on the role of a musician as much of her civilian life in previous stories were spent as a florist, much like her mother. Black Canary volume one written by Brenden Fletcher and illustrated by Annie Wu contains the first seven issues of the most recent Black Canary series. Flashy and fast-paced volume one follows Dinah Lance and her merry band suitably named Black Canary as they get themselves into bar brawls across the country. Trouble seems to follow the band wherever they go and when it’s revealed that the group’s young guitarist has powers of her own, it's up to Dinah to protect her newfound family from those who would want to abuse such a power.  Now I’ll admit while I think this is a great jumping-on point for new readers (in fact this is where you should definitely start) for veteran comic readers familiar with the DC Universe things can get a little tricky here. Whereas Dinah Lance is typically the mainstream Black Canary with Dinah Drake being her mother,  in this series Dinah Drake is our mainline protagonist (despite taking on much of Lance's personality and traits)  however once you get over that it's pretty much smooth sailing. This book is on another level, as Annie Wu’s cool and contemporary take on the character elevates Black Canary in a way we haven’t seen before. Now I love all the iterations on the character, and I mean all of them (even the weird 80's aerobics era) but Dinah’s style in her solo series is just drop-dead gorgeous. Brenden Fletcher, the series creator also went above and beyond going so far as to write and produce six musical tracks for the Black Canary band. All six tracks can be found on Bandcamp so make to head over and give them a listen. I hate using the word perfect, but this book is just that. It may just be my personal feelings, as this book is near and dear to my heart but I feel like this is the one Black Canary book you should be reading, especially if you’re new to the character entirely. [Comixology]

Birds of Prey: Sensei & Student -  Gail Simone & Ed Benes - There’s no denying what Gail Simone did for Black Canary or the Birds of Prey but with over sixty issues just for the Birds alone across two separate series it can be a little overwhelming, not to mention who’s got that kind of time?! If you do have the time though you should really read it because Simone truly did some legendary and iconic things for the girls that just need to be experienced. For this list I decided to pull the arc I deemed most essential for the character. The Sensei and Student storyline written by Gail Simone and illustrated by Ed Benes spans across issues #62 to #67. While the original trade can be hard to find as it has been long since out of print, DC comics is rereleasing the issues in the newly printed Gail Simone collection, or if you prefer digital they’re always available on Comixology for super cheap. Like I said before Dinah Lance is considered one of the best when it comes to martial arts. Although trained by many, when one of her former mentors known only as Sensei falls ill Dinah packs her bags for China for one final reunion. But his untimely murder sets a mysterious plot in motion and the Black Canary is forced to team up with two of her biggest rivals. This is a great first experience with other minor femme Fatales like Lady Shiva and Chesire, both of which are prevalent throughout most of the story and serve as dynamic foils for Canary's character. Dinah will be forced to set aside her differences with both of these women despite the three’s complicated past if she has any hope in bringing her teacher’s murderer to justice. There’s also an extended flashback to Dinah’s mother the original Black Canary, which surprisingly ties the whole story together really well. Now, this books suffers through some very questionable mid-2000’s art. Just be warned you’ll be a witness to our Birds in some very strange outfits complete with some even stranger proportions. While you’re at it though you should also pick up issue #68, which also appears in the collected trade. As its own one-shot, this issue follows Black Canary, Huntress and Oracle as the three take a day away from super-heroics. Without spoiling, this issue in particular features what is probably one of my favorite Black Canary moments of all time hence why I'm giving it some spotlight. [Comixology]

Black Canary/Zatanna Bloodspell - Paul Dini & Joe Quinones - Another great first step read towards the character Black Canary/Zatanna Bloodspell is an original graphic novel that is pretty much completely self-contained, making it a great pickup for anyone interested in Black Canary or even Zatanna. After unknowingly taking part in a blood pact during a previous undercover mission, the dead return, and with a vengeance. Dinah will be forced to fight magic with magic and she has a trick up her sleeve of her own. Enter the all-powerful Zatanna Zatara. This story is a whirlwind adventure between our two favorite fishnet wearing heroines and being that this book is written by Paul Dini who most famously worked on the Batman Animated Series that influence is evident across every page with fast-paced action and witty dialogue we’re familiar with. Combined with Joe Quinones who I might note is one of my favorite modern comic artists, Bloodspell is honestly a joy from start to finish and at only 144 pages you can pretty much finish this book in one sitting. One of the things I really love about Bloodspell and why it's featured so prominently on this list is that while yes it is its own stand-alone and self-contained story we also get to see flashbacks into time spent between both of these characters as the story tends to alternate between past and present storylines. It really helps to provide development for the relationship between both of these characters as theirs is a relationship that is has been eluded at in previous stories but is also something that we've only seen at face value. In Bloodspell Dinah almost takes on the role of mentor for a younger Zatanna, as she helps the young magician find confidence in herself and with her powers. We even get to see Zatanna’s first moments as she’s inducted into the Justice League. I should note that there are also some really awesome callbacks to the character's previous costumes throughout the years. If you're looking for a deep and intriguing storyline, Bloodspell, unfortunately, isn't it, but if you're looking for an enjoyable read with amusing character interaction then look no further. Besides if your comics aren’t fun then what's the point. [Comixology]

Green Arrow/Black Canary: The Wedding Album - Judd Winnick, Cliff Chiang & Amanda Connor - The Wedding Album contains the first five issues of the thirty issue run initially helmed by  Judd Winnick. It also features the monumental Green Arrow Black Canary Wedding Special, also written by Winnick and illustrated by the amazing Amanda Conner. Now if you know me you know just how much I adore Judd Winnick and his extended run on Green Arrow, but that’s an essay for another day. The Wedding album begins with the long-awaited union between Dinah Lance and Oliver Queen. (There’s also an indulgent standalone Black Canary Wedding Planner issue not included in the trade.) After literal decades of an on again off again relationship the two finally manage to tie the knot, but not without its own complications. After the fight resolves and the ceremony is able to conclude things aren’t as they seem when Black Canary is forced to kill her new husband on their wedding night in a struggle for her life. A month passes and Dinah still doesn’t believe that death for Oliver Queen has stuck, at least not this time around, and it’s off to Themyscira to rescue her husband. Here on Paradise Island,  it’s revealed that the death of the Green Arrow was merely a ploy to trick Dinah into joining the Amazons in an in the hopes that her grief would isolate her away from the rest of the world and she would be more than willing to train an elite group of warriors. I desperately need more of Dinah on Themyscira surrounded by Amazons and casually tossing around that she has lunch with Wonder Woman on a consistent basis. (Speaking of which if you want to see a radical Black Canary/Wonder Woman team-up be sure to check out Wonder Woman #34 and #35) Seeing the Black Canary stand toe to toe with Amazon warriors is never a bad thing either. This book also serves as a great introduction to other members of the Arrow family that you might not have heard of such as Mia Dearden and Connor Hawke, two characters near and dear to my heart that have since been forgotten by DC Comics. Did I mention that this book features artwork from Cliff Chiang who worked on other titles such as Wonder Woman and the indie hit Paper Girls? I love the way that Cliff illustrates superheroes, there’s such a stylistic boldness we don’t get nearly enough of anymore. To me, Black Canary/Green Arrow is a timeless classic for the characters and the first arc in particular mostly revolves around Black Canary which is why it's on this list. [Comixology]

 Birds of Prey Death of Oracle - Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes, Guillem March, & Inaki Miranda -  I told myself I was only going to include one Gail Simone Birds of Prey book but I just couldn’t help myself. While not the most essential storyline, Death of Oracle is certainly one that is often overlooked. Despite its Oracle title, there is a significance here for Black Canary’s character as key moments throughout the character’s past are illuminated and exposed to help further the plot. Originally released in Birds of Prey #7-10, Birds of Prey Death of Oracle is written by Gail Simone and illustrated by various artists. The overall premise of the story is that of Calculator a computer genius, superior strategist, and recurring villain of the Birds of Prey working to expose the identity of Oracle after the information was previously lost to him and wiped from his memory in a previous issue. That being said what makes this such a key moment for Dinah Lance is her confrontation with the villain known as Mortis, a new character at the time created by Simone. Mortis has the power to make a person relive every regret throughout their own lives often driving them to their death. So when Black Canary is exposed to such a power she’ll be forced to live through her worst moments. For a character always portrayed with a strong will and even stronger resolve its a huge change to see her at her lowest as she suffers through key moments throughout here comic history Here we’ll watch her come face to face with a number of tragedies including her torture during Longbow Hunters and the death of her niece Lian in Cry for Justice. Gail Simone has always said that Dinah is one of her favorite characters and that love is evident throughout the entirety of this story. Here Simone takes horrible trauma previously inflicted on Dinah and rather than using it as a crutch, Dinah takes her trauma head-on until it can no longer be used against her. While I love this book I wouldn’t recommend this book for anyone just getting into the character as these moments serve a far greater impact if you’ve read some of the previous stories referenced. That being said Death of Oracle certainly serves for a great read later on. If you happen to pick this one up by the trade, in favor of its single issues, the book also includes a smaller arc, initially published in Birds of Prey #14 & #15 written by Marc Andreyko that allows readers to see an adventure featuring the first Black Canary, Dinah Drake as she teams up with other classic heroines such as the Phantom Lady and Lady Blackhawk. [Comixology]

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Finger Guns #1 Advanced Review

Written by Justin Richards 
Art by Val Halvorson 
Colors by Rebecca Nalty 
Letters by Taylor Esposito

Finger Guns written by Justin Richards and illustrated by Val Halvorson is the first new series of 2020 published by Vault comics. Now if you followed me at all last year you know just how much I love this publisher. Throughout 2019, Vault was a continuous powerhouse with titles like These Savage Shores, Heist, Money Shot and Sera and the Royal Stars. Vault is fully prepared to start 2020 with a literal bang. Thanks to the kind folks over at Vault Comics I was able to get a sneak peek at the first issue of Finger Guns a month before it hits your local comic shop.

Life as a teenager is hard. With factors like school, work, friendships, and puberty it can feel almost impossible to balance. Life as a teenager with a crappy and stressful home life, well that's even harder. Enter our two protagonists. Finger Guns follows the story of two such kids following their own beaten path just trying to make it through life before converging together with what they have in common It's a coming of age story we've seen before, but with an added twist. Our two main characters can manipulate the emotions of one another with you guessed it, a single finger gun motion.

This book is absolutely gorgeous, Val Halvorson and Rebecca Nalty (the series colorist) are an absolute dream team together. In a book about elevated emotions, the theme is handled perfectly in regards to its art. The colors are gorgeous and vibrant while still tying down the fact that this book is just about everyday kids. There's also a use of texture along with the colorwork that I really appreciate, it really helps to add depth to every panel and page.

While there are a lot of similarities between our characters I also really love the contrast between them. Wes, who we're first introduced harnesses a power that seemingly elevates the emotions of others, especially those of hate and anger, while his counterpart Sadie seemingly calms and settles with the use of her own powers. This contrast can also be seen in their personal lives as well. Wes lives most of his life alone, as his absent father spends most of his time working late, while Sadie's family is quite the opposite as we learn here parents are financially struggling which only adds weight to their family. Both are feelings that almost everyone has experienced at one point or another which helps to make the series more relatable despite its magical touch.

My biggest issue with Finger Guns premiere is its pacing. Now I'll give him credit, Richards gets right down to it with our main character discovering and experimenting with his powers by page four. I like this a lot. However, from there, the rest of the issue seems rushed with scenes feeling incomplete at times. The final pages, in particular, are where we see it the worst especially in the issue's cliffhanger. I'm almost certain of where the next issue will go and how it will begin which makes its ending lacking in any weight or real "threat".  I personally feel like the final pages should have just shown the eluded action with the opening of issue two dealing with its consequences.

Overall I really enjoyed Finger Guns and am excited to see where the story will go. If you're a fan of series like We Can Never Go Home or 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank this is a seemingly no brainer pickup. Either way, make sure to pick up Finger Guns #1 and read it for yourself when the first issue drops on February 26th.  

Sunday, November 24, 2019

It's Simple: Stop Pirating Comics

Your favorite comic Aunt is back and this time here with one extremely hot take. STOP PIRATING COMICS. You heard me stop pirating comics, and support your favorite series and creators.

While it’s something I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while it’s the recent tweets from Ted Brandt, who has inking credits on titles such as Image’s Crowded & Marvel’s Unstoppable Wasp that finally rekindled the fire and inspired my call to action.

This is a serious epidemic that’s taking money away from the writers, illustrators, inkers, editors, colorists, designers and letterers that have so lovingly created these stories for you. In an industry that already doesn’t compensate it’s creators nearly enough, stealing the works that have taken them literal months to create for you only adds insult to injury. Not only that but did you know that when you pirate a series versus supporting one with sales, that runs the risk of a series being pushed to a trade format, or even worse canceled, because it is no longer deemed profitable by the publisher?

And if it wasn’t already obvious pirating comics, massively hurt your local comic book shop. Now take it from someone who previously worked at her LCS, we depend on these sales. You deciding that you’re just gonna pirate an issue, or two or three is massively hurting our business and the ability to thrive.

Now I get it, you love comics and want to read and experience all they have to offer. I also totally understand from the perspective of someone who has spent a lot of money on comics that they can be expensive as hell. And from a casual reader’s perspective that can come off as extremely intimidating. However pirating comics, is not the way to approach and fix this “issue.” There are several alternatives where you can still support a creator and their work in a legal manner without breaking the bank.

So let’s talk about some alternatives.

With streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ on the rise, did you know that there are also a few “streaming” services for comics as well? No? Well let’s talk about them.

Comixology Unlimited

As far as I’m aware Comixology is pretty much the go-to service when it comes to digital reading. Much like going to a comic shop, you can purchase individual issues and even whole graphic novels/trades and have those books right at your fingertips. Not only that but they often offer pretty killer deals nearly every week. But that’s not why we’re here, we’re here to talk about Comixology Unlimited. Comixology Unlimited is pretty much a comic book streaming service that offers, over 20,000 digital comics, graphic novels and even manga across a bunch of popular publishers including DC, Marvel, and Image. With titles like the most recent run on Batman, Archie, and one of my personal favorites, Saga, it’s honestly such a great resource for comic fans both who read on a regular basis and on a casual one. Not only can you read some of your favorite stories and characters but it’s a great way to be introduced to new stories as well without running the risk of paying for something you might not love. The best part, Comixology is free for the first 30 days and after that, it’s only $5.99 each month. It’s cheaper than both Netflix and Spotify and has about the same cost as buying two regular comic issues.

Marvel Unlimited

Marvel has its own digital library available on your smartphone or tablet. As the title suggests your are restricted to just Marvel titles, but that includes Star Wars too! Marvel boasts a catalog of over 25,000 issues ranging from those classic stories to the more modern ones. What’s great about Marvel Unlimited is that they are constantly adding new issues each week, and even have new releases readily available as soon as 6 months after they first hit your local shop. To put it into perspective, War of the Realms, a massive Marvel event that started back at the beginning of summer has it’s first issue readily available for you to read, with more soon on the way. While Marvel Unlimited is a little more expensive at $9.99 a month or $69 per year it’s honestly the perfect go to for any Marvel super fan. One of the things I personally really like about Marvel Unlimited is that they have really awesome breakdowns for popular characters, including some must reads that you might not have been aware of. It’s a really great tool for those wanting to get into comics or even to try out a character they’ve been reluctant on just because they didn’t know where to start.

DC Universe

DC Universe started a streaming service for its movies, shows, and original series but quickly moved into offering an expansive digital comic library as well. Much like Marvel Unlimited, DC Universe hosts over 20,000 comics available to you that also range from the classic to modern era. If I’m being honest DC Universe and Marvel Unlimited are both extremely similar with DC Universe instead also offering access to other classic media and content from it’s characters. DC Universe is available to you for $7.99 a month or $74.99 for an annual membership.

So maybe streaming isn’t your forte. Maybe you just don’t read enough comics to justify an annual or even a monthly membership but still want the ability to experience everything comics have to offer. Well you can love and experience those comics, while still supporting those creators without any cost to you.

It’s called your LOCAL LIBRARY!

That’s right, your local library also offers comics, typically in the form of collected graphic novels/trades. I won’t go too much into detail, (if you’re interested I wrote all about the importance of comics and the library in another post) but your local library more than likely has an excellent selection of books for you to read and enjoy. The best part about it is that while it might seem free to you, those creators are still being compensated because at the end of the day someone is still buying those comics.

The moral of the story is comics are great. I love comics more than anything in the world and I stand by the fact that comics are for everyone and should be loved and shared as such. But there’s a proper way to do it an industry where it’s creators already struggle and hustle to make ends meet. So please, for the love of everything don’t pirate these books that these people have poured all their time, love and effort into. Instead utilize the streaming services, your local library, even each other to support and share the series that you love.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Importance of Preorders at your LCBS: Advice From a Former Employee

Comics, there's a lot of them. There are literally hundreds of comics that drop each month from over a dozen publishers. These range from full-blown graphic novels, anniversary issues variant covers and of course your monthly issues. Now if you've ever been to your local comic shop I'm sure you've had someone ask if you'd like something on your pull or even if you want that special cover preordered for you. Now typically these preorders don't require any sort of deposit but instead just a commitment to pick up said book(s) upon release. To some, it may come off as abrasive or even pushy but I can assure that is not the case.  As a former employee at my local shop, there are so many reasons why we ask this of you.

Did you know that comic shops have to order their books for each week an entire month in advance? Sometimes, even more, when it comes to those fancy prestige formats from DC Black Label. Let's start off with a little comic shop terminology. FOC. Comic retailers order via one distributor and their FOC each and every week. So what is FOC? FOC stands for Final Order Cutoff. What that means is once FOC comes by those numbers are locked in. Some shops can get away with ordering a few extra issues if they're still in stock but you're probably not guaranteed those issues upon release day, but rather a few weeks after. Shops do their best to rely on the numbers from their subscribers but what about that gorgeous Artgerm variant or that new first issue everyone keeps talking about that you might pick up outside of your weekly pull. Well, you're probably not the only one thinking that and with this mindset that can lead to shops running low on a particular issue and missing out on those much-needed sales. I hate saying this but from first-hand experience, comics are a huge gamble and put small and newer shops at such a risk. It feels like more and more shops are ordering fewer copies to help curb the risk of being left with unwanted issues years later. Not everyone can be Midtown Comics and order a ton of stock.

Speaking of limited stock and the importance of preordering your comics is that you're pretty much guaranteed a particular issue or variant once you've preordered (aside from maybe some of those wild incentive variants). This means you'll no longer have to worry about rushing to your local shop first thing Wednesday morning, picking up your books at your convenience and can avoid eBay scalpers later on.  It also means you won't have to worry about missing out on a first printing of a new series or even a key issue. From a former retailer perspective, it honestly feels like Diamond (the sole distributor for comics) isn't stocking comics the way it might have used to. This means more and more comics are seeing second and even third printings. Preordering your comics helps you avoid later printings unless of course, you're into that sort of thing. Please don't feel obligated to subscribing to an entire series either especially if you don't know what you're getting into. Even if you just preorder the first issue of a new series and decide to subscribe later on it's a huge help to publishers and retailers alike.

Something I personally didn't realize until recently is that series can actually get the ax due to low orders on FOC.  Recently, Spell on Wheels 2 from Kate Leth, Megan Levens, Marissa Louise and published by Dark Horse had its single issues canceled due to low preorders and will luckily be published in an original graphic novel format instead. Publishers use the preorder numbers entered from retailers via FOC to determine how many copies of a title to publish, if at all. That being said it makes me wonder how many other smaller series and even smaller publishers were left vulnerable, and instead were just straight-up canceled. That being said these numbers affect your favorite ongoing series too! So if you love a series make sure to subscribe to keep the title going.

 So what happens when you preorder a comic. Well lots of things actually, it's kind of a domino effect. You get the books you want, and in turn not only are you supporting the demand of a particular title but you're also helping to keep a small business afloat. Don't know what's coming out? Well, let's fix that. is a great and free digital resource available to you that lists everything releasing within the next three months. Previews also has descriptions, additional variant covers as well as preview pages for selected series. It also includes fun and quirky comic-related merchandise including apparel and collectibles, all available through your local comic shop. Alternatively, comic shops typically have a physical version of the Previews Catalogue available for purchase and also usually have a store copy of the catalog which is available for you to browse while you shop. Personally, this is my preferred method of viewing just because there is so much to see.

What are you waiting for? Make sure you call, email, or even head out to your local comic shop and tell them all about the fantastic books you want to preorder!