Thursday, July 23, 2020

Stargazer #1 Advanced Review

Writer: Anthony Cleveland
Artist: Antonio Fuso
Colorist: Stefano Simeone
Letterer: Justin Birch

What happens when you combine a bad LSD trip, aliens, and shared trauma. Well, you get a whirlwind book like Stargazer. Alongside Dry Foot (another book from Mad Cave Studios that you should have your eye on) Stargazer is another new series from the publisher set to debut in September with Anthony Cleveland and Antonio Fuso at its helm. When a group of adolescent teens come into contact with old LSD, twisted drug-induced visions of alien abductions would later become a haunting reality for this small group twenty years later.

Stargazer opens with just a hint at some of the larger aspects of what’s to come before quickly transitioning to our main character Shae, her brother Kenny and two of their childhood friends. It’s a heartening moment of youth as our characters squabble over an old video game manual and the concept of cheating. Combined with subtle 90’s nostalgia (which is something I greatly appreciate and want to see more of from comics)  there’s a lucid sense of camaraderie between our young protagonists before tragedy ensues. After exposure to a hallucinogenic drug, that would result in a traumatizing incident for our characters the book shifts, taking on a much more dark and serious tone.

From there the debut issue jumps us twenty years later as the book continues to follow Shae, haunted by the events from her childhood. Stargazer moves away from being trapped under what feels like another teenage adventure. Instead, it’s focused more on the mental well being of our characters as Shae struggles to cope with her own failures she’s also burdened with having to care for her unwell brother Kenny, who continuously insists that he made contact with a life beyond ours all those years ago. It’s moments like these that are effective at feeling wholly personal.

The pacing of this story along with its effectiveness as it shifts between past and present is due in part to its colorist Stefano Simeone. Stefano’s use of a monochromatic palette consisting of hues of vibrant pinks and magentas helps us distinguish our two time periods as when the present story begins to take over we start to see our panels begin to have injections of purples and blues. I don’t even know if this move was intentional but it’s definitely impactive, helping to guide the narrative focus of the first issue.

I’ll admit it was artist Antonio Fusio who had me immediately drawn to this book.  Fuso had previously worked on the book Clan Killers published by Aftershock Comics and his unique art style brings an additional level to the comic medium that almost feels experimental in its own way, making it perfect for a story like Stargazer. While on the surface Stargazer lends itself to an inventive science fiction tale, it masks the emotional story just underneath, blending concepts like Image Comics Die and Netflix’s Stranger Things, to craft a unique narrative that will leave you constantly wanting more. Mad Cave Studios is a publisher on the rise and Stargazer is just one of those rare books that will leave its mark on the comic industry years after its debut. Make sure to pick up the first issue of Stargazer when it releases September 2nd.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Dry Foot #1 Advanced Review

Writer: Jarred Lujan
Artist: Orlando Caicedo
Colorist: Warnia Sahadewa
Letterer: Justin Birch

I'm switching things up a bit with a new and exciting title from Mad Cave Studios. Dry Foot, set to debut in September from the indie publisher, follows the tale of four close-knit teenagers and their journey to better the crime-filled streets of 1980’s Miami. However, in their path for a better and more fulfilling life lies the deadly Los Marielitos gang with a ruthless and terrifying leader at its head. Together this rambunctious group of friends devise a plan to pull off a heist that would change their lives and those around them forever.

Where Dry Foot really shines is in its characters. Right off the bat with this debut issue’s opening pages, we’re hit with a witty introductory monologue from the point of view of one of our main characters, Diego. Even in its first few lines of dialogue, the first issue is packed with so much heart and personality, which makes the page flip and the introduction of our rowdy teenage gang that much more enjoyable. Marina, Angel, Diego & Fabian are all charismatic and likable characters. The banter between them feels so genuine which is partially due to the fact that these relationships are heavily inspired by writer Jarred Lujan’s teenage years.

The creative team masterfully creates these subtle yet powerful glimpses into the lives and contrasting backgrounds of each of our teenage protagonists. Marina, the headstrong female friend of our group lives alone with her grandmother who is as tough on her as much as she loves her. Fabian, a smooth-talking ladies man, hides the struggle of living with drug and alcohol addicted parents. Soft-spoken and timid Angel has parents who seemingly smother him and Diego, our main character has parents so involved with work that it gives him all the time in the world to devise a master heist. Even with only the first issue I love each of these characters and would protect each of them with my life!

Dry Foot is as much a celebration of Latin American heritage as it is a celebration of '80s culture, with the series artist Orlando Caicedo and colorist Warnia Sahadewa, working together to bring life to a Latin fueled Miami in 1984. Teenage romps, especially those set in the ’80s is something we’ve seen an influx in with recent media. Much like vampires and the apocalypse (not to be confused with vampires in the apocalypse, as rad as that sounds) it feels like the teen adventure seems to be the next overused trope in entertainment. Yet with the injection of Latin culture it not only makes the book feel wholly unique from its predecessors but also genuinely makes the book feel overall diverse and inclusive, something that has been severely lacking when it comes to Latinx representation in comics. As previous winners of the Mad Cave Talent Search, Dry Foot’s debut issue proves how much potential artist Orlando Caicedo, and writer Jarred Lujan have in this industry. I for one can’t wait to see their creative talents grow and thrive in this industry and anticipate future releases from the two.

This new title from Mad Cave studios honestly feels like a book heavily inspired by 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank, Paper Girls, and even Plutona while bringing its own spin to the table. Dry Foot is an engaging book from start to finish, a tale of teenage spirit and growth that packs a lot of heart, and I’m sure a lot of emotion with its future issues. It’s a book that deserves to be on your pull and is certainly a title you won’t want to miss. Make sure to preorder Dry Foot from Mad Cave Studios and mark your calendar for its release on September 9th.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Bleed Them Dry #1 Advanced Review

Created By: Hiroshi Koizumi
Writer: Eliot Rahal
Artist: Dike Ruan
Colorist: Miquel Muerto

Futurist ninja vampires. That’s it. That’s all you need to know. Stick it on your pull list already. Bleed Them Dry is the newest series from Vault comics, set to debut in July. It’s the year 3333, and Asylum is a thriving mega city among a devastated Earth. The twist, Vampires very much exist and for years have been cohabiting with humans despite their dwindling race. There is law and order between vampires and humans, that is until a string of grisly murders specifically targeting vampires threatens any peace within Asylum.

Bleed Them Dry’s first issue kicks off with a jaw-dropping splash page of Asylum’s megacity skyline. In a fruitful effort between artist Dike Ruan and colorist Miquel Muerto that first page alone breathes so much life into the Japanese engineered city (giving off some serious Akira vibes), setting the stage for the rest to come. From there we’re introduced to our main character, a young detective named Harper with what is later suggested to be a harbored past, along with her vampire partner. It’s in Bleed Them Dry’s opening subtle action that it’s established just how vulnerable Vampires have become while simultaneously sucking you deeper into its story.

In a first issue that could have easily been trapped by the standard crime drama formula, Bleed Them Dry keeps readers engaged with effective world-building. and enjoyable characters that are both fascinating and entertaining. The creative team has done a fantastic job of consistently leaving you wanting more with the turn of each page. And if that’s not enough for you the debut issue’s twist revealed in its final pages will immediately make you want the next issue.

Everything about this book is a welcome change of pace. Whereas most media in which vampires exist are more often domineering compared to their human counterparts, instead Bleed Them Dry depicts them as almost an endangered species projecting a new take on what we’re used to from these gothic creatures. On top of that despite being based in a future city inspired by Japanese technology and culture, Bleed Them Dry also features a WOC as it’s female lead.

It has been a few days since I read the debut issue of Bleed Them Dry and I still can’t stop thinking about it. Even in the year 2020, there seems to be no shortage of vampire based media, (which I’ll admit I’m pretty thankful for) what with Netflix’s Castlevania and even the resurfacing of the Twilight series just to name a few, but once again Vault comics and it’s creators manage to take what should be an oversaturated genre and instead masterfully utilize those foundations we’re so familiar with and rethink everything we previously knew about Vampires. It feels like a cosmic blend of both western and eastern culminating itself into a story that leaves you constantly wanting to know what lies just beneath the surface. I can’t stress enough how ridiculously excited I am for its physical release along with its upcoming issues. I know I praise the series from Vault Comics a lot (and with good reason) but Bleed Them Dry is just one of those books you’re just not gonna want to miss. Bleed Them Dry #1 is currently available for preorder at your local comic shop and hits shelves on June 24th.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Me, Red Sonja & Gail Simone

In comics there is no shortage of strong and capable female characters, in fact, that statement is the majority of the reason I fell in love with the comics medium in the way that I did. Most of my early comic collecting was because I would spend hours upon end digging through dollar bins, always bringing home a fat stack of comics with each one having a gorgeous and powerful woman gracing the cover.

It would affect my comic pulls later on (and still does to this day) and it would only be a matter of time before I discovered and inevitably fell in love with the She-Devil known as Red Sonja.

There she stood, giant sword in hand with hair that looked like fire. Even just donning a chainmail bikini the sense of power radiated off her. I couldn’t tell if I wanted to be with her or be like her (but we’ll talk more on that later)

It was Gail Simone’s famous run on Red Sonja, with those gorgeous covers by Jenny Frison (where’s my Wonder Woman/Red Sonja crossover!) and ridiculously powerful interiors by Walt Geovani that I had my first experience with the She-Devil of Hyrkania. Almost immediately, I fell in love with that warrior woman.

Red Sonja, was bold and brash, strong, unrelenting, and seemingly unstoppable when she put her mind to it. A likable and even loveable character from the first few pages alone. Gail Simone had twisted and transformed the warrior’s backstory. Removing the horrifying elements of rape from her origin story, in the 2014 run of Red Sonja it would instead be depicted that Sonja, the daughter of Hyrkania’s chief would be the sole surviving member after her village is slaughtered by vicious raiders. This would fuel her quest for revenge and her journey into becoming one of the most powerful warriors the world had ever known.

Yet as displayed in Simone and Geovani’s first arc when Sonja comes face to face with the self-proclaimed “Dark Annisia” a woman from Sonja’s past and someone whom she considered a sister, we start to see the warrior stagger displaying moments of relatable vulnerability. Throughout their conflict, we’re given glimpses into their past, as the women shared moments of pain during their time in a Zamoran slave pit as contenders for a cruel gladiatorial arena. These moments took Red Sonja, a punishing force to be reckoned with, and transformed her into a character, even a woman that I could relate to during times of weakness.

The She-Devil would be pushed even further during the first arc when it would be revealed that she was the carrier of an ill-omened plague in which no one could recover from. From there she would become an outcast, forced to live out her few remaining days as a mere shell of the warrior we knew. Believed to be on the doorstep of death Red Sonja was mere moments away from giving up entirely. Yet even in her worst moments, she persisted.

Without fail Red Sonja’s strength and perseverance became my own. I felt like no matter how many times I was knocked down I could get back up and continue.

At one point during the ongoing series a friend lightheartedly joked with me that the only reason I loved the series the way I did was because of how extremely reminiscent the ongoing plot was of Mass Effect 2, which was and still is my favorite video game series of all time. Now I know what you’re thinking. Mars, how could a sword and sorcery book like Red Sonja ever be comparable to a series like Mass Effect, a future bending sci-fi RPG adventure.

Well, I’m glad you asked.

In Gail Simone’s second arc of Red Sonja, compiled across issues #7-12 and entirely collected in the series second trade, Red Sonja is tasked by a dying emperor to track and bring forth six great artisans so that he may throw a grand celebration prior to his ill-timed and inevitable death. With the promise of freedom for over a thousand slaves, Sonja sets out to find and deliver a courtesan, a dancer, a stargazer, a swordsman, a beastmaster and a chef.

Over the course of six issues, Red Sonja does as promised, coming face to face with each artesian, tackling the difficulty at hand until they agree to return to Samala’s great feast. Each moment adds for some really great character development, and even at times helps to delve into the She-Devil’s past. We see instances of broken gender roles and stereotypes, religious influences questioned and more, taken on by the creative team. Without a doubt, if you’re looking to jump into Red Sonja for the first time without feeling overwhelmed by the literal hundreds of stories for the character, this is always the arc I recommend.

But back to Mass Effect 2 and more importantly it’s connection with Red Sonja.

In Mass Effect 2 a majority of the gameplay is spent jumping from location to location meeting and teaming up with various specialists to assist you in a suicidal final mission. So you see where I’m getting at.

Now I’m a sucker for found families, it’s one of my favorite tropes so you can see why this Red Sonja story is particularly special for me. Across these six issues our warrior slowly develops personal bonds with each artisan, and these characters even play a larger role in the series conclusion in its third arc. It’s one of the few times Sonja has ever felt rooted to a cast of characters whereas most one-shots and even extended stories featuring the She-Devil tend to feel undynamic and one dimensional as far as characterization is involved. Just let it be known that I would give anything to see Red Sonja make a return to her found family even if just for a single issue.

In the series third and final arc Red Sonja finds herself coming face to face with her greatest challenge yet. Herself. While aiding a small village, the warrior would soon find herself on the trail of the man she loathes most in the world. The sole remaining member of the marauders who slaughtered her family. Yet in her quest for revenge and inevitable mental peace she slowly begins to lose herself to the darkness.

Finding herself on the brink of death once more, this time Red Sonja finds herself in an internal battle for her life against the wickedness that had been stilled within her all along. It would be her greatest battle yet and all we as readers can do is watch in the hope that our warrior will prevail one last time.

These last few issues would be a fitting conclusion to our epic as key moments and elements from previous issues would return giving our red-haired warrior the ending she deserved. Few books can do what Simone and Geovani have done in giving us a satisfying finale after being along for Red Sonja's journey so long.

And of course, before I wrap things up don't think I forgot how I said I couldn't tell if I wanted to be Red Sonja or be with her. Well believe it or not there are more than a few panels that Sonja’s sexuality is questioned. While not bare-bones confirmed, it’s a little less than subtle when it comes down to the fact that the warrior falls somewhere on the bisexual spectrum. That brothel scene should be enough to make it obvious.

As a bisexual woman myself, it meant everything to see this come from a character who felt like she was originally created with the intention of the male gaze. In fact, throughout the entirety of Gail Simone’s run, it felt like a character we were taking back. Red Sonja wasn’t just a woman in a scantily clad bikini anymore, she was a warrior worthy of everyone.

Throughout the 18 issue series, there would be several transformative moments from the creative team. These moments elevated the character to something more than we had seen in the 40 years since her creation. It put the name Red Sonja on a lot of pull lists, and the front of people’s reading stacks. Suddenly it felt like everyone was talking about Red Sonja and with good reason and intention.

I love Red Sonja. I love the strength, passion, and perseverance she inspires. Sometimes I wonder if it wasn’t for Gail Simone’s transformational iteration on the character If I would have fallen in love with Red Sonja in the way that I did and I hate even considering as such.

But it’s probably true.

So with a final wrap up if you haven’t already read Gail Simone and Walt Geovani’s run on Red Sonja I implore you to do so. With 18 issues compiled in three trades, it makes for the perfect binge-worthy series to catch up on during the Corona Quarantine.

And Gail if by some miracle you read this. Thank you.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

No One's Rose #1 Advanced Review

Writer: Emily Horn & Zac Thompson
Artist: Alberto Jimenez-Alburquerque
Colorist: Raul Angulo
Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou

 The Apocalypse. It’s an idea that has been prominent in entertainment media for generations. From flesh-eating zombies to frozen wastelands it's a genre that’s been no stranger to the comics medium. No One’s Rose, the newest series from Vault Comics, takes what is commonly an oversaturated concept and adds an extra layer of eco science with a threat that we as readers can directly relate too.
Centuries have passed since the vegetation of the Earth was stolen. Those few hundred thousand that remain, now reside in an isolated and controlled dome, with the only green that remains. No One’s Rose first few pages of its debut issue introduce us to a life outside the dome. The desaturated landscape of what’s left of the world is a cruel and eerie reminder, familiar even as if a warning of what can and may come out of our own planet should we not change things. Although I’ve been getting better at it, lettering in comics is something I find myself glancing over very quickly, yet in this series, there’s a fine attention to detail from the issue’s letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou. Specifically, in the series’ opening pages there are moments of lettering that beautifully merge with the gutters of its pages creating a seamless transition from panel to panel. Effective if not at times frightening connections from the fantasy world the creative team has so effectively crafted to ours is something No One’s Rose does particularly well.
No One’s Rose beautifully transitions from it’s a bleak wasteland to the lively and colorful setting humanity has created for itself which writer Zach Thompson describes as “Solar Punk”. It’s here that we’re introduced to our two very contrasting main characters. There’s Tenn, a bright and hopeful young Eco-Scientist who wants nothing more to revitalize the green and return the world to its former grandeur. Then there’s Seren, Tenn’s brother. Unlike his sister, Seren views the world in a different way and wants nothing more than to dismantle the classist system of the Green Zone. Seren is also unapologetically queer, and is shown in a relationship with another male character. I wouldn’t highlight the fact so prominent if his character didn’t break the mold of the common male masculinity and genderqueer role which is just a nice change of pace when it comes to queer characters in comics.
In the debut issue, we begin to see the foundations of Seren and Tenn’s relationship, as well as just the base foundations of the Green Zone. Although we’re merely scratching the surface of the extensive world the creative team has given us, we’re introduced to the idea of a classist social structure in No One’s Rose. Different levels of the dome feel reminiscent of the structured train cars in the similarly post-apocalyptic series, Snow Piercer. It’s an idea from series writers Zac Thompson and Emily Horn that I can’t wait to see more of and is something I hope is extended upon in future issues. The first issue’s cliffhanger in particular and it’s the introduction of these plant hybrid humanoids, in particular, have me eager for the next issue in the series.
What’s different about No One’s rose compared to most Dystopian stories is that rather then focus on the doom and gloom, the series creative team instead turns its focus toward the optimistic change it’s characters were forced to make and the change they make towards the future. Alberto Jimenez-Alburquerque’s harsh and yet stylistic linework paired with Raul Angulo vibrant colors feels like a metaphor for the series as a whole. No One’s Rose is a refreshing take on an otherwise oversaturated and stale genre taking it to another level even and flips everything we know about it on its head.
No One’s Rose #1 is available both digitally and in your local comic shop on March 25th!

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.