With Conan Vol.1: The Frost Giant’s Daughter and Other Stories, Dark Horse embarked on a bold strategy where the classic Conan stories were shaped anew, with writer Kurt Busiek putting together a continuous narrative that charted the rise of Conan from a simple Cimmerian warrior to the King of Aquilonia. With the addition of fantastic artists like Cary Nord and Dave Stewart, the series began well with the first volume, establishing a clear frame of reference for the characters and his adventures in a way that would always leave you wanting more.
In Conan Vol.2: The God In The Bowl and Other Stories we see more of the same as Conan now sets out for the Nemedian city-state to learn more of the world, to hone his skills as a thief and see more of what the world at large could offer someone like him. Kurt’s writing is very much on point in this volume, as it was in the previous one, and now that the Cimmerian is in more familiar circumstances, the story becomes all the more enjoyable. And along the way, artists Tom Mandrake, Cary Nord, Thomas Yeates and Dave Stewart add a particular vividness to the visual aspect, enhancing the story in every way possible.
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Of all the heroes over the years who have left their mark on the wider world of fiction, few if any come close to the pedigree of Conan the Barbarian. Multiple movies, hundreds of comics, numerous novels and short stories. Decade after decade goes by and he is always there in some form. Dark Horse Comics, who have held the license for the comics on the character for several years now have done a great job of shepherding Conan through various iterations, whether as a young warrior first stepping out in the world, or as an aged king. That is where we start with here.
Conan Vol.1: The Frost Giant’s Daughter and Other Stories is a collection of some of the earliest Conan stories, chronologically speaking, where we meet Conan as a young adventurer who barely knows of the world outside of Cimmeria but is eager and willing to explore. Writer Kurt Busiek weaves the many stories together into a stunning narrative that is enhanced by artists Cary Nord, Thomas Yeates, Dave Stewart and others. The story is a little fuzzy here and there, but the creatives here have captured the essence of Conan really well and delivered a stunning package.
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The fictional universe of Warhammer 40,000 is extremely rich and complicated. Since its inception, this creation of Games Workshop has taken on a life of its own and has spanned a variety of media in the form of movies, comics, novels, audio-dramas, and so on. Some of the best fiction has come with the likes of the Bloodquest comics or the Horus Heresy multi-media series and so on. I’ve been a fan of this setting for almost 15 years or now, and it has certainly been a journey that has had its ups and downs. Will of Iron looks to chart a bold new path forward.
Recently, Titan Comics was granted the license to publish fresh new comics in the 40K universe, and Will of Iron #1 is the first of these new stories that brings the indomitable Space Marines and their various enemies back to comics forefront. Written by George Mann, the new series focuses on one of the most secretive and oldest factions of these space-faring warrior-monks as many of their secrets are about to be exposed and their efforts to contain the spread of such knowledge begin. The first issue is a bit predictable and dry, but it is also very promising and for that I give it a big thumps up.
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The Teen Titans are one of the most prominent of DC’s superhero teams, primarily because it is based around legacy superheroes such as Wonder Girl and Robin and other young heroes like Starfire and Beast Boy. Over the years, the Teen Titans have carved out quite a niche for themselves, even transcending the comics with shows like Young Justice and Teen Titans Go! which have proven to be popular as well. So it was no surprise that when DC began to roll out its series of Earth One storylines for its premier heroes like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, that they’d delve into the Teen Titans as well.
Teen Titans: Earth One Vol.1 repositions the team in a timeline that is very different from the current comics storyline. This is a trend that follows on from the other Earth One graphic novels, where the characters and their stories are reinvented and have their own continuity separate from the main comics-verse. Written by Jeff Lemire and art by the Dodson Duo, it is an interesting read that brings together some classic characters such as Raven, Cyborg, Beast Boy and others, but it also falls short by a significant margin because the story can be incomprehensible at times.
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DC’s Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman got off to a really great start last year, but somewhere along the way, it kind of lost its momentum with some really odd stories that seemed to be shoehorned in, for no reason at all. And that’s kind of why I felt turned off from the experience of reading the comics, and even writing the reviews, because I didn’t want to review what I saw as less-than-expected. There were some good stories in the middle, sure, but mostly, it was all just rather boring.
Thankfully, issues #33 through #35 provide something of a revival in that respect. Some of the recent stories have been really good, and I think that it is this arc, Vendetta, that puts it all into perspective. Written by Josh Elder, this arc is all about a fateful encounter between Diana and Ares, set against the backdrop of a racial civil war in a war-torn African country. It feels simplistic at first, but it has a great message, and that’s the true value of it. The art by Jamal Igle, Juan Castro, Wendy Broome and Deron Bennett is also fairly decent, though it could use some improvements.
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It is all well and good to have your hero triumph over villains who just aren’t on the same level as him. It is always thrilling to have Superman go up against low-key baddies, for example, but the true thrill only comes when he goes up against Darkseid, Brainiac or Lex Luthor, say. The same holds true for John Carter as well. It is awesome to see him fight against rogue Tharks and the other dangers of Barsoom, but when he is faced with another superhuman like Captain Joshua Clark, that’s when things get really interesting.
Having seen how their rivalry came about in the previous issues, and just why Clark hates Carter so much, issues #5 and #6 get down into the nitty-gritty of their final battle against each other, to decide who is the better man after all. And writer Ron Marz certainly doesn’t pull any punches in that regard. He keeps everything focused on the end-goal, and ends the first arc of the series on a great note. Similarly, artists Abhishek Malsuni and Roberto Castro do their best and the art on the series is as good as it was in the beginning.
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Just as Dynamite is no stranger to crossover event comics, it is also no stranger to team-up style comics, of which the publisher has done quite a few in recent years. Masks is once such title. It came out in 2012-2013 and it brought together many of the publisher’s various pulp action heroes such as The Shadow, Green Hornet, The Spider, and others. I never read the title then, as I wasn’t really into either pulp comics or Dynamite in general back then, and that’s kind of something I regret at this point, given how strongly some of these characters are in their solo series.
Masks 2 came out last month with its first issue, and it kind of proved to be a slam dunk for me. I’m of course familiar with Green Hornet and Kato from the unfortunate Seth Rogen movie, and the other characters like Shadow and Spider I’ve read about in some other titles like Justice Inc. and The Spider, whereas the others are all new to me. And that’s part of the fun of this first issue, that you get to see and meet so many different personalities. Cullen Bunn does some great work setting up the main conflict of the story here, and Eman Casallos’ art seems to hit the mark as well, capturing the feel and tone of the era quite well.
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Dynamite Entertainment is not a publisher to shy away from doing crossovers and events every now and then. Sometimes you have crossovers such as Tarzan and John Carter, or Red Sonja and Witchblade or even Sherlock Holmes and Red Sonja and Vampirella all together fighting against a Hyborean villain of all things. I love reading crossovers and event books, primarily for the reason that they always have an exciting cast of characters where I’m not really familiar with many of them. Tarzan? Nope. Witchblade? Not at first. Vampirella? Not really. And Dynamite has a good track record with these things, so it makes for a much better experience that way too.
And the latest crossover/event from the publisher is Swords of Sorrow, a massive event that brings together heroes and villains from across worlds and timelines in an all-out battle. You have characters such as Red Sonja, Vampirella, Dejah Thoris, etc fighting to defend all of reality against Hel, Purgatori, Chastity and others. This could all be easily summed up as a feminist crossover given the incredible number of (great) female characters represented, and both the writing by Gail Simone and the art by Sergio Davila is absolutely top-notch.
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Last time we were with Kamala Khan aka the new Ms. Marvel, Loki crash-landed a prom party and she rightly schooled him for his scheming and planning, in addition to some great heroics in general. That’s one of the most endearing things about the title and the character because G. Willow Wilson has made Ms. Marvel into a very fun and relaxed title that occasionally deals with real world issues but never gets too heavy with the allusions so that you go and think “geez, not this again”. More than a year on since release, and Ms. Marvel is still one of the best titles on the shelves, and for good reason!
Taken together, issues #13 through #15 of Ms. Marvel are about Kamala exploring more of her Inhuman legacy and also learning more about herself and fighting against everyday challenges borne out of the patriarchal bias of society. G. Willow Wilson has taken a somewhat similar line before, using Kamala’s adventures as social commentary in one way or another, but she really hits it out of the park with these three issues, and the art by new-to-series Takeshi Miyazawa impresses as much as that of Adrian Alphona before, making for a very seamless transition.
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The previous issues of Black Widow have been pretty spectacular, as has been the norm on the title since its launch early last year. Natasha’s investigations into the organization CHAOS that has been causing all sorts of problems for SHIELD of late yielded some surprising results back in #15 and it made for a really interesting change of pace as far as the story was concerned. It also gave artist Phil Noto a chance to really go to town with the visuals and none of that seems to be headed for a slowdown in any way.
The two most recent issues, Black Widow #16 and Black Widow #17 are all about what CHAOS really is and what plans they have for Natasha and others like her all over the world. The reveal about CHAOS is something that really twists the head in ways you wouldn’t expect. Nathan manipulates the story in a really deft way and he shows some really mad skills as he has Natasha navigate the web of lies and half-truths being peddled by CHAOS. Supporting him, Phil also does a pretty incredible job and though some of the scenes were a bit more low-key than usual, his own mad skills were never in doubt I’d say.
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Stjepan Sejic released his BDSM-centric OGN Sunstone Volume 1 a few months ago and it was pretty much a hit. Having seen some success with the material on his DeviantArt page, he went a bit further and put it out through Top Cow/Image to a much wider audience. And I have to say that the story really changed my mind about the value of the story contained therein. Sunstone isn’t a pornographic comic by any means. Sure, it has a few racy scenes, but they deserve to be looked at through the context of the story in entirety, which is about two young women coming to terms with their wilder side and maturing into a healthy relationship.
This is where Stjepan picks up in the recently-released Sunstone Volume 2, which takes the story of Ally and Lisa even further. In the previous arc, we met with them as they discovered each other, experimented sexually, opened up about their past and present, and settled down into their budding relationship. Now, we see matters progress further as Lisa is exposed to the wider world of BDSM through Ally’s friends, and she learns some of the more tragic aspects of her history as well. Once again, the story and art are both superb here, and I think that Stjepan does a great job yet again of presenting the material in a way that neither offends the reader, nor belittles the subject.
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It has been a good long while since we’ve had a Death Vigil release. Stjepan Sejic ended the sixth issue on a very grim note, with events heading completely downhill for the Vigil, especially Bernie, and it was a really, really bleak moment for the entire crew, especially once there was a betrayal from within. It was a grim story, but at the same time, a lot of Stjepan’s comic timing really made its presence felt as well, and that kept me chugging along. And it kept me foaming at the mouth for the next release, which was unfortunately delayed until recently.
Some personal problems for Stjepan meant that we didn’t get Death Vigil #7 until last week, and that too through his own blog rather than through the regular distribution. I won’t go into the specifics as they are kind of irrelevant to matters at hand, but suffice to say that the new issue is well worth the long wait since mid-January. Stjepan launches straight into the story and picks up the beats from where he left off, and the new issue proves to be one hell of a ride, keeping up a fine tradition that began in Death Vigil #1 last year.
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