Monday, February 27, 2012

What Can You Learn from Image Comics' Writers at the Image Expo?

What happens when you put eight of Image Comics' top writers in one room? Well, let's just say hilarity ensues. Watch in this Image Expo clip snatched in media res from this Saturday's panel, "Stories and Scripts: Writing Comics."

From left to right: Richard Starkings (Elephantmen), Nick Spencer (Morning Glories), Jonathan Hickman (The Manhattan Project), John Layman (Chew), Joe Casey (Butcher Baker), Steven T. Seagle (The Re[a]d Diary), Ed Brubaker (Fatale), and Brian K. Vaughan (Saga).

If you inspect closely, you might just spot Vaughan sporting a gruesome looking black eye. Not to worry fans; the Oakland Occupy protesters had nothing to do with this abrasion. Vaughan claims a coughing fit last night caused a burst blood vessel. But that's not stopping him from spreading the rumor that Kirkman decked him a good one!

Heavyweights: Bait or First Class Zombie Killers?

Looks like you got some breakfast on your shirt, Nick.
Oh, wait. You mean that's not from a jelly doughnut?

Okay, let me set the scene for you. It has become an every week event where I invite friends over to my place to hang out, have a few drinks, and watch some movies (usually horror, but not always). Recently I had one such a night. Drinks were passed out and we had broken off into a couple of smaller groups discussing different things. I was discussing our recent discovery, the anime “High School of the Dead”.  Between the three of us we were talking about our favorite parts and characters of the story. I was particularly drawn to Kohta Hirano, the chubby “Otaku” with a passion for firearms and survivalist training.  I explained that it was awesome to finally have a character that seemed real. He’s a bigger guy, pretty nerdy, and has a crush on the school genius finding it hard to express himself around her. Despite all of this he finds it in himself to protect his friends and other characters that need his help. Upon expressing this to my friends (let’s call them Dale and Glenn), I said, “It’s just nice seeing a character that is a bigger guy that…” 

“Doesn’t get tripped and used as bait?” Dale interrupts.  

I stopped, a little confused at his tone, and continued, “Sure.  Anyway, this big guy,” I point to myself, “is going to survive the zombie apocalypse.”

There is a pause and Dale says, “Riiiiiiight…we’ll see about that.” 

I look over at Glenn sitting next to me (he’s about my size); we exchange irritated glances, and change the subject. Mind you I’m not morbidly obese or anything, but I’m a big guy. This kind of writing off of anyone who has more than 2% body fat irritates the hell out of me. However, it got me thinking; how would I fare in the Zombie Apocalypse? It’s become a hot question as of late thanks to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) putting together a “Zombie Apocalypse Readiness Plan” and our good friend Harold Camping (he predicted the rapture last year…of course we had a Zombie Apocalypse Party to prepare). I decided to look at a few Zombie films and decide how big guys like Glenn and I will fare in the end of times. 

I discussed this premise with a few people throughout the week and the first thing almost everyone said was, “Rule #1 Cardio”. Okay, I get it.  Traditionally big guys don’t move very fast. I know I’m not the fastest bloke out there – but I can run if I need to (I needed to in High School…Damned football players). This Rule comes from "Zombieland." It is an awesome film with a lot of humor, great characters, and Bill Murray. It is actually one of my favorite zombie flicks just from the sheer action and comedy in it. However – this film really doesn’t make my point. Actually it undercuts everything that I wanted to prove about myself and others out there like me. However it is pretty funny to watch that fat guy run and topple to the ground…trust me, I’m not that fat…or that stupid either. However I got to thinking, most zombies (at least traditionally) aren’t super fast running monsters that put Olympic runners to shame. Most are the dead…well, the undead. They are slow moving corpses that by some weird magic, or virus, or bacteria, or fairy have decided to wake up and eat the living. So…let’s look at them.

Kohta Hirano from High School of the Dead
Let’s go where the whole conversation began, “High School of the Dead." As I mentioned above, Kohta Hirano is a chubby geek with a passion for guns.  His Dad passed this passion on to him, and even sent him to America to learn how to shoot. He’s still socially awkward, but he is a true friend with a hawk eye that can kill anything he sets his sniper rifle’s sight on. He is usually removed from the action, however, perched on a building or car sniping zombies, clearing the way for other people to make it to safety. Despite this, he does have the knowledge to survive. He shows this in the beginning by taking a nail gun, seeing its flaws as a weapon, and using scotch tape and scraps of wood from the wood shop to produce a make-shift nail gun-assault rifle. He shows some of his other personal weaknesses as the series continues, but they are slight compared to his overall desire to survive and help his friends as well. He’s a big guy that is smart enough and capable enough to survive for sure!

Frank (Brendan Gleeson) from 28 Days Later
Alright…back to the running zombies… "28 Days Later."  Easily one of the best modern zombie flicks out there. I initially discarded this film as one that couldn’t work in my favor due to the swift “Infected”. We have Cilian Murphy (OMG is he skinny) and a cast of soldiers, with a badass black woman who doesn’t take crap from anyone, and a young girl…and the young girl’s father. It is the father, Frank (portrayed by Brendan Gleeson) that made the light go on. He is by no means a small guy. This dude probably has rugby or wrestling in his past with a love of food.  He dons the SWAT gear and knocks the holy snot out of the “Infected” when the heroes of the film reach his apartment. He’s obviously got the knowledge and wisdom to survive and protect his daughter, having been able to keep them alive in their apartment building for as long as he did. It is very unfortunate that this awesome example meets his end by looking up at a crow and getting infected blood in his eye. Despite this though, he is a big guy and a survivor with the determination to keep his daughter alive.

Pillsbury (Pedro Miguel Arce) in Land of the Dead
It would be sacrilege not to bring up a Romero movie in my defense. However while I was compiling the ideas for this rant, I had so few memories of any characters in his films that were plus size. Of course I had forgotten about “Land of the Dead”. If you remember, there was a Zombie Death squad of sorts. They showed up more toward the end of the film, and one of the members was Pillsbury (portrayed by Pedro Miguel Arce). He isn’t one of the “big” characters (yes, yes, very punny) in the film, but he is definitely one of the best. He has few lines, but his presence is so obvious (partially because of his size) that you would think him a sitting duck to the starving undead. Yet he has a very strong stature, very durable military grade armor, and a very big gun to help him. His primary directive was to help the main character, Riley (Simon Baker), bring the tank named “Dead Reckoning” back before it could be used to attack the city and its dictator of a leader Kaufman (Dennis Hopper).  However the plan was to kill Riley upon getting the tank back, but the unit sided with Riley in the end, including Pillsbury who knocked out and left behind the one hold out loyal to Kaufman. Pillsbury is larger than life, probably pushing Sumo status in his size. He’s smart enough to side with the group that is going to keep him alive and ditch those who are going to be a danger to him and the people he is protecting. Even though his character wasn’t essential to the story like Frank or Kohta were, he still survived the Zombie Apocalypse utilizing his weaponry, size, and comrades he made along the way. Seriously, if this guy can survive, I can too!

Marion (Ross "Mungo" McKay) in The Undead
Now, there is a little known Zombie film that is near and dear to my heart entitled, “The Undead”.  It is a product of those crazy folks from down under, the Australians. It is a quirky horror/comedy that mixes so many genres it really shouldn’t work; oh but it does! One of the main characters is Marion (portrayed by Ross “Mungo” McKay), the local gun fanatic and former alien abductee. Although he may not be the best example for a survivor, he does have his good points. In his house he has a huge cache of guns, many illegal, including pistols, shotguns, assault rifles and so on. When the gore hits the fan, the survivors find themselves in his home waiting for the event to ride itself out, however when they discover that he has plenty of ammo and weaponry but forgot to stock the cabinets and fallout shelter with food, they have to immediately change plans. Sure, the guy is weird, crazy, and not all that bright, but really, he had half of what was needed to keep everyone alive…weapons. Granted, not having food in the shelter was stupid. I do give the guy credit for wanting to blow the undead into the stone-age. Despite his down falls, Marion was prepared for battle where most of the thinner more athletic characters were being eaten by the undead. Unfortunately his ignorance of what is needed to sustain life makes me shake my head, but he survives the outbreak…well, the first outbreak.  Note to self…don’t forget food and water.

Otis (Pruitt Taylor Vince) in The Walking Dead
This brings me to my most controversial heavyweight survivor. Anyone who has been watching “The Walking Dead” is familiar with the character driven story that has Zombies in it. This season we were introduced to Hershel’s farm, and Otis (portrayed by Pruitt Taylor Vince). Otis is the good ol’ country boy who was sharing Hershel’s farm, helping provide food and security to the people living there.  During a  chance hunt he accidentally shoots Carl (Chandler Riggs) while hunting a deer. He brings the boy back to the farm where he is cared for. However more supplies are needed for Carl’s survival and Otis volunteers to go to the local High School with Shane (Jon Bernthal). Unfortunately both he and Shane are injured, and Shane shoots Otis as they are trying to flee. Otis is eaten alive so Shane can escape. Otis was quickly a favorite character of mine. He provided for those around him, helped out where he could, and volunteered to help save a boy he could have easily just let die. He knew it was more than likely going to get him killed if he went, but if it meant saving a young boy it was worth it to him. He was a good man, but he was also lethal. Anyone who can shoot a gun like he could, and wrangle “walkers” (it was mentioned recently that he helped rustle the “Walkers” into the barn before his death) was a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately he didn’t see the insanity and selfishness that had started to overtake Shane; however most of the people in the main group hadn’t seen it yet either. Had Otis not come into contact with Shane, he most likely would have lived for quite some time. Notice though, that despite his big stature and lack of cardio (Rule #1) he was able to keep out of reach of the “Walkers”.  It was a bullet that incapacitated and killed him, not a bite.  After the episode that depicted Otis’ death, I watched “The Talking Dead” the show that airs and discusses the events of “The Walking Dead” after it is over. The guests at that time argued that “Fat people should die in a Zombie Apocalypse”. Personally I would rather have someone like Otis, a man who provides for the group’s members and protects them, than a man like Shane, a lunatic who has a distorted view of ownership and a twisted hold on reality who could become my enemy at any point if I pissed him off.

While I believe that if a Zombie Apocalypse does occur, we will all likely meet some sort of gruesome end, I think it would be completely ill advised to write off survivors around you who wear pants a few sizes bigger than yourself. Above I’ve mentioned five characters in Zombie film history that have been indispensible in the survival of some or all of the people in their groups of survivors. Just like other characters in these stories they have qualities that make them valuable to their group’s survival. In the end it isn’t how fast you can run (although it does help sometimes) that decides if you live or die.  Honestly, doing nothing but running can get you killed if you run down the wrong alley. Qualities that will keep you alive in the Zombie Apocalypse are ingenuity (Kohta), determination (Frank), power (Pillsbury), stock of weaponry (Marion), teamwork (Otis), skill (all of the above), and the ability to see what kind of horrors the person next to you is capable of committing.  Should the time come, I believe that Glenn and I can fare pretty well in the Zombie Apocalypse.  Loners won’t survive long, and should you start sacrificing people for your own survival, you will be alone.  This is proof positive that a heavyweight in the Zombie Apocalypse can be more than bait.  I know I’ve got the chops to make it against the Undead, what can you bring to the group? 

A rant, by Justin Hopper.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

POXA GRONKA! - The Long Anticipated Return of Orc Stain

The Near Future Release of
Orc Stain #7
Orc Stain... oh, lovely gem of a comic, how dare thou tease us? How dare thou play with my feeble mind and entrance us with thou's otherworldly imaginings, only to dash back into the shadows from whence thou came? Oh, Orc Stain... Oh, Orc Stain... Please return back to me!

Kind of strange how I get all poetic and moody over a comic filled with orcs, dicks, and drugs. But HAVE YOU READ THIS SHIT YET?!?!?!? If you have, then you, like me, are eagerly awaiting your next Orc Stain fix and, with a big thank you to sweet lil' baby Jesus, that wait is nearly over.

Recently announced by Orc Stain creator James Stokoe, "Orc Stain #7 is off at the printers and should be out in the coming weeks." Chances are Orc Stain fans can cast their sex-juice covered fingers over this new comic possibly next week or the beginning of March. A good thing too, considering the last issue of Orc Stain (issue 6) appeared on store shelves way back in June of last year and the issue before that (issue 5) was released October of 2010.

Hopefully with such a long gap between release dates, Stokoe intends to get this little indie comic back on schedule with successive issue releases. As for now, one can only hope Orc Stain issue 7 actually arrives in the weeks to come. Until then, I suppose I'll have to settle with the amazing new art posted on Stokoe's blog.

POXA GRONKA!--Issue 6 left off with this cliffhanger-scene of an image.
What happens next?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

'The Secret World of Arrietty' is No Longer Studio Ghibli's Best Kept Secret--Review

This past President's day, my girlfriend and I celebrated an unusually belated Valentine's Day. With both of our schedules discombobulated and topsy-turvy, we figured a good ol' fashioned date night was long past overdue. We went out for a few drinks, grabbed a bite to eat, and decided to head over to our local cinema and see the latest Studio Ghibli release, The Secret World of Arrietty. Maybe it was the Irish root beer I drank or the flaming pot of tom yung goong I ate, or hell, maybe it was the pretty girl holding my hand in the back of the theater, but somewhere while watching Studio Ghibli's latest american release, I understood that Hayao Miyazaki and his team had done it again--another instant classic.

Of course this is not the first time I've had this epiphany while watching a Studio Ghibli film. Princess Mononoke, Howl's Moving Castle, Kiki's Delivery Service, Porco Rosso, Nausicaa, and the list continues on from there. Each one of these films and the others I fail to mention causes my heart to explode with happiness. In all my completely unbiased efforts (hah! who am I trying to fool here), I hope to examine Arrietty and help describe what makes this new feature film immediately timeless.

Based on the children's fantasy novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton, director Hiromasa Yonebayashi and  screenwriters Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Neiwa bring forth The Secret World of Arrietty. The film is a coming of age tale about a secret family of borrowers (little people-but not the politically correct kind) and their teenage daughter Arrietty (voiced by Bridgit Mendler) who live in a house owned by "Human Beans," or normal size people. One day, an unexpected and unconventional friendship begins between Arrietty and Shawn (David Henrie), a teenage "Bean" who has come to live at his aunt's quiet home to get rest before a heart surgery in the days to come. This unlikely friendship leads to the caretaker (Carol Burnet) Haru's discovery of the borrower family inside the home and her personal vendetta to rid and exterminate the minuscule creatures.

The first feature movie goers will notice is the pacing of Arrietty. If you walk into the theater expecting an action-packed thrill ride of surprise after surprise of entertainment, this movie is not meant for you. Calm, collective, insightful-- these are the tones that work best for this film. Imagine, if you will, going outside and tending to a lovely garden. Watching as the greenery sways to a gentle breeze. Feeling the tiny legs of a pill bug scuttle across your hand before rollings itself into a ball. Listening to the noisy calls from a bird on a tree limb in the distance. These are many of the quiet moments featured in the film and for good reason too. From the film's perspective, a tranquil and serene atmosphere is the sole purpose young Shawn is sent to live with his aunt. Director Yonebayashi uses these minimalist techniques to deliver that much stronger of a story. The same way literary master Ernest Hemingway packs enough depth into his stories without the tendency of over elaborating. Every quiet scene in the film works without the use of dialogue or commentary.

Some audience members might feel Arrietty lacks the imagination, wonder, and excitement displayed in previous Studio Ghibli works, like Spirited Away or The Cat Returns. However, the tremendous detail between the size and scope of characters and their surroundings in the film is certain to make the ordinary look extraordinary. One of my favorite moments of the film is entering Arrietty's room and her family's house for the first time and looking at the small amounts of detail. The young girl decorates her room with flowers and foliage from an outside garden, making it look earthy and natural. Later, while further inside the family's home, you notice other small spectacles like a dragonfly's wing used as a fountain pen. Other spectacular moments to notice Ghibli's effortless depiction of size and scale is when the borrowers encounter other animals; whether it's crickets, a cockroach, a bothersome crow, a racoon, human "beans," or the menacing house cat, Nina, all the animals behave in unnatural ways with the borrowers compared to how they would interact with normal humans. This much adds to the excitement and curiosity of following around Arrietty.

Speaking of the character Arriety, the next feature I want to address are the characters in the film. For a movie without a twisting plot-line, the characters in the film are surprisingly well developed. I've already mentioned the three most obvious (Arrietty, Shawn, and Haru) but everyone else, whether they have larger roles, like Arrietty's parents, Pod (Will Arnet) and Homilly (Amy Poehler), or remain minor characters like Spiller (Moises Arias), who is only on the screen for less than ten minutes, they all manage to feel more than substantial. This leads me back to the comment I made about Hemingway earlier. There is so much to this film, yet so little and it all works in its advantage. But that's not the best thing. Even the cat, Nina, manages small characteristics worthy of noticing and tends to grow as a character. If you don't believe me, watch the movie. I was also thoroughly impressed with Disney's voice casting. Disney normally exceeds expectations with their films and the great quality voice actors and actresses they choose, so when seeing the names Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, and Carol Burnet my hopes and expectations jumped as much when I first saw Billy Crystal attached to Howl's Moving Castle. However, it was such a great and wonderful surprise  when these actor's characters appeared on screen, I hardly recognized the voices attached to them. Once again, Disney has achieved the remarkable and allowed the actors to voice characters they would not normally perform.

Between the pacing, the perspective, and the characters, The Secret World of Arrietty is a film that evokes many thematic qualities most known in Studio Ghibli films. Much like the films Pom Poko, Nausicaa, Princess Mononoke, and Howl's Moving Castle, human encroachment is a theme in the film. Viewing audiences will find a cautionary tale in Arrietty between the coexistence of humans and endangered animals and find two sides, each with differing points of view. Shawn is the calm, collective, and helpful human. Haru is the complete opposite: excited, rash, and destructive. Luckily, the team at Studio Ghibli do not excesshit viewers over the head with these two types. It could easily be overdone and certainly done to death. However, they are both subtle and timed perfectly.

To this date, The Secret World of Arrietty is the best minimalist effort of storytelling I've seen Studio Ghibli take part in. The film features everything iconic and wonderful from previous Studio Ghibli films with the help of attempting something bold and new. Keep in mind this film is slow and quiet, yet completely resourceful because of it. Like I said previously, if you're expecting to be swept off your feet and taken to a fanciful imaginary land, this is not it. This is Studio Ghibli taking the original and showing it to you like you've never seen it before. Give it patience like you would a garden and I guarantee you within the first ten minutes Arrietty will grow on you.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

'HorrorHound' Wants You to Vote for Best of 2011

In the latest issue of HorrorHound magazine (issue #33), the boils and ghouls that staff the horror themed periodical want to know what your favorite highlights in the horror industry were for the year 2011. The nominations have been separated in eight different categories: Best Original/Theatrical Movie, Best Sequel/Remake Movie, Best Limited Release/Direct-to-DVD Movie, Best DVD/Blue-Ray Release, Best Collectible, Best TV Series, Best Gore Scene, Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Director. A list of the nominations is provided below. You can email your pick (one vote per person) for each category to and when you're finished voting, make sure to vote for the Rondos too!

The nominees are:

The nominees are:

The nominees are:





The nominees are:

-Evil Dead 2: Special Edition (Lionsgate)
- Intruder (Synapse)
-Island of Lost Souls (Criterion)
-Mystery Science Theatre 2000 vs. Gamera
-Zombie: Ultimate Collection (Blue Underground)

The nominees are:

-Ghostbusters Ghost Trap (Mattel)
-Jason Voorhees (Sideshow Premium Format)
-The Munsters Action Figures (DST)
-A Nightmare on Elm Street Action Figures (NECA)
-Predator 1/4 Scale Figure (NECA)

The nominees are:

-American Horror Story
-Death Valley
-The Walking Dead

The nominees are:

-Drive-In Massacre (Chillerama)
-Party Attack (Dream Home)
-Human Pinata (Hobo With a Shotgun)
-Centipede Removal (Human Centipede 2)

The nominees are:

-Amanda Heard (The Ward)
-Bailee Madison (Don't Be Afraid of the Dark)
-Lin Shaye (Insidious)
-Mary Elizabeth Winstead (The Thing)
-Pollyanna McIntosh (The Woman)

The nominees are:

-Joel Courtney (Super 8)
-Nick Damici (Stake Land)
-Micahel Perkins (Red State)
-Min-sik Choi (I Saw the Devil)
-Rutger Hauer (Hobo with a Shotgun)

The nominees are:

-J.J. Abrams (Super 8)
-Jason Eisner (Hobo with a Shotgun)
-James Wan (Insidious)
-Joe Cornish (Attack the Block)
-Kevin Smith (Red State)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

'Pete and Pete' Musician Collaborates with Cartoonist for a Multimedia Pop Opera, 'Up From the Stacks'

Premiers Thursday February 23rd in San Francisco, CA
For those of you unfamiliar with the name Mark Mulcahy, I am about to do you a big favor. Most fans instantly recognize him as singer/musician from the band Polaris--a small lived group that created musical tracks for the Nickelodeon cult classic, "The Adventures of Pete and Pete" (anyone who remembers the theme song, "Hey Sandy," will remember Mulcahy's iconic vocals). As former lead singer of the eighties band Miracle Legion, Mulcahy and his group were often compared and criticized as a copy of R.E.M. and were sadly ignored for any chance of real success. Now, over thirty years in the musical industry, more music lovers are rediscovering Miracle Legion, Polaris, and Mulcahy's solo albums and recognizing his lyrical creativity and innovation in the musical arts. But his art does not stop there.

Premiering February 23rd on the West Coast bay area, Mark Mulcahy and cartoonist Ben Katchor premier their multimedia pop opera Up From the Stacks at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. Set in the 1970's Up From the Stacks is described as a story of "Lincoln Cabinee, a part-time page who retrieves books from the New York Public Library's vast collection. This mundane job unwittingly embroils him in the treacherous business of amusement and vice flourishing in Times Square." As a current employee of a public library, the description had me at "part-time page."

Mark Maculhy (left), Ben Katchor (right)

This is not Katchor's first time collaborating with Mulcahy. The two have worked together on past performances: A Checkroom Romance, Nature's WeaknessThe Rosenbach Company, The Slugbearers of Kayrol Island, or, The Friends of Dr. Rushower, and Memorial City. Katchor is most known for his comic strips, which have appeared in The New Yorker, Metropolis Magazine, and McSweeny's. Word on the street is the performance will consist of Mulcahy, accompanied by Ken Maiuri, David Trenholm, and JJ O'Connell will sing in front of projected cartoons. Since Mulcahy rarely plays concerts now days, I highly recommend anyone fond of his music make sure to check this out. Tickets are still available and may be purchased here.

P.S. I've also heard a rumor there will be some kind of signing after the show. But you didn't hear that from me...

Review: A Long Forgotten Genre Comes to Life in Monk's 'Dead Iron: The Age of Steam'

One of the most underplayed genres in sci-fi/fantasy in my opinion is the Steampunk genre. There are, however, sub-genres of Steam Punk; Victorian and Wild West for example. I prefer the latter, probably because in my house growing up I was raised with movies like The Magnificent Seven and El Dorado. Very rarely can genres be mixed without having the final product be a complete mess, leaving you feeling cheated.   However, I’m happy to say, that isn’t always the case. Dead Iron: The Age of Steam by Devon Monk is a unique novel that mixes Steampunk, Wild West, Fantasy and Horror into a story with outlandish villains, wild devices, and supporting characters that made me excited to finally have a fun and thrilling Steampunk adventure.

We open in the small town of Hallelujah, Oregon where drifter and bounty hunter Cedar Hunt has secluded himself reeling from the guilt of his brother’s death, and the curse he bares every full moon. In this town Mr. Shard LeFel has brought in a crew of steam powered “matics” building a railroad that is sure to make Hallelujah the center of business for Oregon. However, people have started to disappear from the small town of Hallelujah; Jeb Lindson, husband to the local Witch Mae, and the boy Elbert Gregor, son of the town blacksmith. Cedar is recruited by Mr. Gregor to find his boy, dead or alive. Slowly with the help of Mae, the drunken miners the Madder brothers, and the deviser prodigy Rose, Cedar uncovers what darkness the railroad has brought to their town, and that the missing people in Hallelujah are the least of their problems. Together they discover that there are worse things than cursed bounty hunters and witches; boogeymen are real, and very dangerous.

The world that we step in with this novel is a world that is similar but very different than our own history. It is post Civil War and the devisers (inventors of sorts) that flourished after the war have brought about “The Age of Steam”. These devisers have created “matics” used to build and assist people with their everyday jobs, and Airships used to carry people from one end of the country to the other, all powered by steam. Iron and steam are the only things of true worth, unless you have magic on your side. Despite the technological advancements in this world, greed and despair grip every character that graces the pages. Many are torn between their personal vendettas or desires and the societal constraints that bind them to the dull lives they are currently living. The bleak living conditions of the characters present a dark and real vision of what the west was in that time. It was a kill or be killed time in American history, and in this novel technology seems to have only made things worse. The author does a fantastic job building a world that is just slightly different than our own American history of that time. It felt believable considering the amount of magic, steam, iron, and curses that were present. It felt like a true frontier town where people shot first and asked questions later.

Even though the world is a large part of the experience, the true joy of this novel came from the characters. Cedar is highly educated and has suffered more loss than one man rightly should, and now he is cursed and bound to the full moon. Mae is a distraught woman desperately seeking vengeance for her lost husband, using spells and bullets to hunt down whatever took the love of her life away. The Madders are the drunken bunch of miners who live in the mountains and only come down to drink and cause trouble, but there is a power in them that the town’s people respect and fear. Rose is the twenty-something daughter of the local general store owners who secretly devises small “matics” in her spare time, despite the wish of her family to settle down and marry like a woman should. The story follows these characters, swapping point of view nearly every chapter, pacing each characters movements with each other’s until their inevitable crossing that finds them fighting for one common goal. I personally wasn’t thrilled with Cedar Hunt as the protagonist until about halfway through the book. He is a bit too brooding for me until things he’s believed in for the better part of the book get turned upside down. In my opinion Rose is the shining star of the novel. She is an adopted girl who is mysterious and cunning with a sharp tongue. Every chapter she was in was one to remember either from her own actions, vague revelations about her past (which are still mostly unknown by the end), or just a few choice words she exchanges with other characters. 

The villains in this story were just as detailed as the heroes. The Strange are the demonic creatures that are plaguing the world with their evil. They have the power to shapeshift, teleport, devise living, breathing creatures out of wood and blood, and kill with ease and stealth. There are several Strange that are presented throughout the novel, their leader being the secretive and extravagant Shard LeFel who was banished from his homeland. LeFel pulls the strings behind a larger picture that no one is truly aware of. He manipulates the people of the town into doing his bidding with his silver tongue and glamorous looks. The real danger though, lies with his servant, Mr. Shunt. Shunt is one of the most evil creatures I’ve had the experience of knowing. He is a deviser in his own right, but not from iron and steam (even though he does use them), his media of choice is bone, blood, flesh, and gears. Several times I found myself disturbed and disgusted by his actions in the novel, making him a great and dangerous obstacle for the rag-tag band of heroes.

Although I felt that the story was very well written and I enjoyed most of the characters, I felt that at times the pacing was off. There were sections of the book that seem to fly by so quickly with the action or the gripping dialogue that I thought I was going to fly through the book in one sitting. That was quickly marred by a couple of slow points in the story where I felt that the author was trying too hard to work romance or sentiment into a story that I personally didn’t feel was needed considering the world and situation that the characters found themselves in. Thankfully these slow points were ended before they became too grating and were replaced by more character development, or further revelations in the overall story. 

The above setback aside, the story of devisers, steam, iron, and evil made for a fun and enjoyable read. There were a couple of “twists” that I saw coming, but were usually followed by something a bit more unpredictable. I appreciated this because it kept me reading in anticipation of what was going to happen next. The final climax was as thrilling and action oriented as anything I have read recently. I honestly wasn’t sure who was going to live and who was going to die up until the final heart wrenching scene. The book does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, and after a bit of research I discovered that Devon Monk is coming out with a sequel titled Tin Swift: The Age of Steam. I’m truly looking forward to reading more about this world and the characters that fill it. The coming adventure is no doubt going to be bigger, darker, and have more ramifications on the world. 

Devon Monk’s Dead Iron: The Age of Steam is a great novel for anyone who enjoys horror, fantasy, Steampunk, or well written characters. This book was a random book I picked up at Borders as it was closing, and I’m glad to have been intrigued by the cover and the synopsis enough to buy it. Although not a perfect product, I am able to overlook the minor problems and just enjoy the hell out of what was delivered in this fascinating world. This novel reignited my interest and fascination with Wild West Steampunk, and I eagerly look forward to the next installment. This book was a reminder that America was truly built on blood, sweat, and gears.


By Justin Hopper

Friday, February 17, 2012

Review: 'Glory' #23 - Image Revisits Glory Days

Glory #23, script by Joe Keatinge and
art by Ross Campbell.

After last month's surprise success of Prophet #21, this month Image Comics continues their relaunch of Extreme Studios characters with the platinum-haired, uber-heroine Gloriana in Glory #23 (script by Joe Keatinge and art by Ross Campbell). My only familiarity of the character Glory is from Alan Moore's run of Supreme, where Glory played a small side-note as a Wonder Woman ripoff. One quick glance at the cover of Glory #23 and any Wonder Woman fanboy will notice a major distinction between the two Amazons; thanks to Campbell's art, Glory's new physique is certainly gaining a lot of buzz from the comic industry. An industry well known for alienating and aggravating many female readers with poor physical and mental depictions of the female gender (think of descriptors like "ditzy" and "busty" and you can sum up the past fifity-plus years of female comic characters). With Glory #23 on store shelves today, the beginning of a new era in comic books begins now--or so I hope. 

Compare the detail from this page to the next;
the art is either striking or bland.
My largest concern with this comic is the emphasis readers will make on Glory based on her physical appeal rather than the elements of storytelling. Sadly I am to say, only the very beginning of this comic managed to impress me with it's storytelling device.  In the spans of three pages, we understand Glory's origins. A difficult task to accomplish yet incredibly effective and economic for a first issue. However, immediately following Glory's introduction, I feel the story lost its strength.At the beginning we are introduced immediately into Glory's world of violence, war, and dispute yet jerked suddenly without warning into vague happenings. The story moves too quickly at times before the reader understands just what, when, and where we're looking at precisely. Yes, I understand this is a first issue to a new arc, but considering this is a first issue, certain factors should be instated, such as creating well rounded characters to help readers determine if this comic is right for them. At this point, being the first issue it is too early to tell. It is certainly a worthy read, but it might feel better appreciated when read in a collected form.

With all said about the story being slightly weak, Ross Campbell's new character style and art is certainly a treat and worthy enough of picking up a copy and rifling through to see just what the man can do. There are only two points I want to address on Campbell's art. One- Campbell is damn fine at drawing fascinating and detail intricate story scenes. Two- although Campbell's work is great, he does not put enough detail into the entirety of the comic as a whole. What I mean here is that some pages of this comic will astound you and make you ponder just how such creativity exists, yet other pages appear half-assed, overly simple, and make you question the quality of the art. As a reader, you can tell which pages and panels were rushed and which pages were hurriedly slapped together without a consideration of making the visuals appear better. My hope (or excuse) is much like the problems pertaining to the story; this is only a first issue. The writer and artist have plenty of time to settle in a well balanced routine before becoming overly critical of their work. However, this is only optimism speaking. 

The way I see it right now, the new Glory will be a good comic as soon as they fix these minor problems on both sides of the creative team. As a suggestion for prospective readers, I recommend reading the first issue in a comic store before committing to the purchase. With my first taste of Glory I am perfectly okay not continuing the story in single issue. I might wait around for the trade just to see if the story and art becomes more solid and refined. Until then, at least the Glory #23 paves way for a new breed of female heroines.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Voting Time - Who Deserves This Year's Rondo Awards?

The 10th annual Rondo Awards are upon us! Announced yesterday is the official ballot for this year's Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards--a horror, fantasy, science-fiction fan-based award ceremony. Created at the Classic Horror Film Boards (CHFB) in 2002 by David Colton and Kerry Gammill, this underground award ceremony has officially hit a decade run. The nominations are finalized after selecting suggestions from the likes of horror fans, pros, and enthusiasts offered year round at the CHFB. The nominees are finalized by founder David Colton (a classic horror fan) along with the help of 20 other classic horror fans from all over the world. Now that the list is available it it up to YOU to decide who should win this year's Rondos. To see this year's nominations and begin voting, look here.

The Rondo award is a miniature version of a Rondo Hatton
bust seen in the Universal film, House of Horrors.

Review: "Chronicle" – Super Hero Origins Done Right!

Chronicle available in US theaters now.

I have always loved Super Heroes. The impossibility of having any kind of power that puts you above the rest of humanity has always played a big part in my imagination. The most common question, after you decide what you want your power to be, always is, “If you had super powers would you be a Super Hero or a Super Villain?” I usually say Hero, just because I always like to be the good guy. The film, Chronicle (Released February 3rd 2012) is a film that takes a few teenage boys and puts them in this exact situation. It’s a ride anyone who likes Super Heroes of any kind CANNOT miss!

The story revolves around 3 high school kids; Andrew (Dane DeHaan), the awkward outcast with family problems who has chosen to video tape his life, Matt (Alex Russell), the hipster, kind hearted guy who isolates himself by choice, and Steve (Michael B. Jordan), the school super star. They find themselves bound together when at a rave they are exposed to an unknown force that within a few weeks gives them telekinetic powers that they use around town to pull pranks and jokes on the unknowing people around them. All three slowly become more and more powerful, able to lift heavier objects, create protective barriers, and even fly. As they experiment with their powers, their friendship blossoms into something very believable and touching. However, as their powers grow, one of the boys quickly becomes unstable and starts using his powers against those around him, causing conflict between them leading to an unavoidable disastrous end. 

Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) uses his powers to crush a car.
This film follows the “found footage” genre of cinema that so many films lately have been using.  I actually love this style of movie (Paranormal Activity, The Last Exorcism, REC, and Cloverfield are some of my favorites). This film follows more the Paranormal Activity style of filming where one character uses his camera to film the world around him rather than a documentary or news program. One of the biggest complaints from found footage films is the tendency of the camera being shaky and causing the audience to become motion sick. Chronicle films in such a way that the camera is very smooth through most of the film, only being shaky in certain spots where the action calls for it. Some of the best parts of the film are when the boys are experimenting with their powers on the camera, making it levitate above them causing very impressive camera angles, or using it as an over the shoulder view behind them, much like a video game would be played. The camera is also used as a tool to show how their powers progress. Before they have their powers it is a hand held camera, not so smooth, but as the boys use their powers more and more the camera becomes steady, less like a found footage film and more like an actual movie.

The story is driven by the relationship between the boys, as well as Andrew’s relationship with his family. The time the three spend together playing with their powers and using them to pull pranks elicits comedy that is contrasted by some of the darker tones in the film. This film rattles you emotionally through visions of an unstable family, and abuse that would make the Hulk cringe. Although not always believable, the angst in the film is something that is very real in today’s world, which makes this kind of situation even more volatile for the characters. You find yourself caring deeply for all three of the boys in this film because they are so easy to relate to. It is nice not seeing the over used High School clich├ęs seen everywhere. When events eventually spiral out of control, you can’t help but sympathize with each one of the boys, and hope that they all make it through unscathed. 

French film poster.
The climax of the film is some of the best Super Hero material out there. There are moments that will shock and scare you, and others that make you simply say, “What the fu*k did I just see!?” The grim turn this film takes and how it evolves into a Good V.S. Evil battle is something few films are able to do so seamlessly when driven by so few characters. What really draws me to the film is that the “evil” I spoke of is really misplaced anger, fear and frustration. It is at this point I realize that, even though I always chose to be the “Hero” and not the “Villain”, I can easily see where my allegiance could possibly fall given certain circumstances. 

Chronicle is an amazingly well directed (by relatively new Josh Trank), well acted Super Hero epic that I feel anybody with a desire to have their own super powers needs to see. It’s the origin story so many Super Heroes wish they had. It’s an epic ride that both elates and crushes you as you watch it unfold. This is one of the few movies I have watched where I hope a sequel is on its way, but also one where it was great as a standalone film. Don’t be fooled by the found footage style or the cast of high school kids, fly to the theater and check this one out!

By: Justin Hopper

Friday, February 10, 2012

Graham, Stokoe, and Niles Help Friedrich's $17,000 Marvel Court Payment

Brandon Graham's Ghost Rider says "fuck Marvel."

In the past few days, many comic blogs have been abuzz with Marvel's screw-happy, counterclaim lawsuit filed against former Ghost Rider artist Gary Friedrich. The court ordered payment of $17,000 filed against Friedrich has left the artist in a world of financial pain. Gary Friedrich wrote on FaceBook:

"Since the various news agencies and websites have reported the ruling against me on my claims against Marvel in the Ghost Rider lawsuit, and the assesment of a $17,000 judgement against me and my company instead, I have read an amazing amount of comments in my support on the internet, and have received many messages of support directly. Although the reports of my employment situation and financial difficulties as well as problems with my health are unfortunately true, I want to let everyone in the comic book world, especially my supporters and fans of the Ghost Rider character whcih I invented, created, and wrote, that I am going to appeal the Court's ruling and continue to fight this as long as I am able and that your support of me means more than you will ever know. I have heard your voices. I thank you with all my heart, and I appreciate your thoughts and best wishes as I soldier on.
Feel free to keep in touch with me via e-mail:
Thanks again and God bless you."

James Stokoe "esq." Ghost Rider
Now, comic book writers and creators are taking a stand against Marvel comics (owned by the corporate giant Disney) and are offering help in unique and inspiring ways. Two of my personal favorites, Brandon Graham (creator of King City, Multiple Warheads, and writer of Image's Prophet relaunch) and James Stokoe (creaor of Orc Stain, Wanton Soup, and Sullivan's Sluggers) have offered to donate 100% sales from the next 10 pages of King City sold and the next 10 pages of Orc Stain sold. Graham wrote on his blog Royal Boiler: "Marvel and DC seem to be having some bizarre contest on who can be shittier to the people who've done the best work for them." A wide selection of pages may be purchased now at McConnell Art.

Fellow comic book writer, Steve Niles (creator of 30 Days of Night and Criminal Macabre) is spearheading a relief fund for Friedrich. "As you can see in Gary's last update," Niles wrote on his website, "[Friedrich] is going to appeal but in the meantime, he and his lovely wife are broke and in need of our help. I've seen the comics community come together and it's a beautiful thing when it happens." Donations are encouraged and accepted now at Steve Niles website here.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Review: 'Batwoman' #6--Reeder Takes the Reigns

Amy Reeder boards the Batwoman franchise
in issue #6, out today.

I knew this day would come and now it's finally here. Almost a year ago, Batwoman issue zero appeared on comic store shelves teasing artist J.H. Williams III's return to the openly gay heroine, Kate Kane, as well as her alter-ego, Batwoman. That said return happened nearly five months ago with the highly-acclaimed DC-relaunch of Batwoman #1. Now, five issues later, another return is taking place. Artist Amy Reeder (who co-penciled the art work on issue zero) returns as lead penciler for issues #6-10. Boy, does she have some big shoes to fill.

A splash page for Batwoman #6, pencils by Amy Reeder,
inks by Rob Hunter &Richard Friend, colors by Guy Major
In all honesty, there is no replacing the talent of J. H. Williams III. We, as an audience, must first and foremost understand and accept this fact. Could anyone replace him and match his talents? Maybe. But do we really want someone to crawl out from the DC laboratory as a super-engineered art clone? No, probably not. With Amy Reader working as the lead artist for Batwoman we should not judge her in comparison to J. H. Willi--awwwww, fuck it! Who am I kidding? I want Williams back and I want him back now. Don't wait for issue #11, he needs to return and redo issue #6 because this issue is garbage.

I honestly wish I had better things to say about this issue and Amy Reeder's art but it's very difficult to love a Batwoman comic when it is not drawn by Williams. I don't blame Reeder for my response to this comic, in all honesty I don't, But the main reason I purchased and invested in the Batwoman arc was to enjoy the mind-blowing artwork and details that Williams has to offer. It was bad enough before when Greg Rucka (an amazingly talented writer) opted out of the new series and now all the original creators have left the stage. Yeah, yeah, I can see eyes out there rolling because Williams is still writing the series but the story in issue #6 is just as dull as the artwork.

After we wrapped up a series of conflicts in Batwoman #1-5, our main protagonist Kate Kane/Batwoman encounters a new world of problems having refused Batman's offer of assistance because of blackmail and must now deal with Flamebird's (Kate's cousin Bette) near-death. This is a great premise for a new arc and a spring board for the talents of a seasoned artist like Amy Reeder. But the story isn't quite there in the issue. Funny too, because issue #6 contains not one but six---yes SIX--storylines. If you thought the first act in Pulp fiction was confusing just wait for this one.
Oh, lord... is 3D making it's way back into comics now too?

This comic does not deserve the title of issue #6. The comic acts as a bridge between the events from the first arc and the second arc, something which could have neatly been worked in via prose or an official prologue to this arc. Something along the lines of an issue #5.5 or a freebie to hand out at the comic shops to engage new readers. The fact of the matter is this; I paid $3+ for this comic and am left completely unsatisfied. Yes, I will return next month for issue #7 with high hopes but much lower expectations and that is a very sad statement to make about one of my favorite comic book series. If the new arc doesn't pick up in the next three issues you can guarantee I'll be checking out of the Gotham hotel until Williams return.