Thursday, April 26, 2012

English 'Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch' Trailer is Here!

Finally, after years of waiting for an English trailer to the Level-5 video game 'Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch,' the intolerable delay is over. As suspected from previous Japanese trailers, the premise to the Studio Ghibli rendered game appears somewhat similar to classic children stories like The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in which a child finds him or herself mixed up in an otherworldly adventure with plenty of wondrous magic and fantastical beasts. Here is the most recent trailer:

Looks like Level-5 pushed back the US release of 'Ni No Kuni' once more from winter of 2012 to the first quarter of 2013. I'm slightly saddened by this since it seemed like a such a wonderful Christmas gift (for me and many others). But as long as Level-5 works out all the devious bugs in the gameplay and records prime voice-casting, I am more than delighted to adjust my calendar. Certainly this first English trailer proves the wait is worthwhile. 

Also noted recently, Game Informer's Kyle Hilliard reported a possible 'Ni No Kuni' sequel in the works. Level-5 CEO Akihiro Hino apparently "wishes to continue with the series, but it depends on how well the game performs overseas." My advice to anyone who wishes for a sequel based on the above trailer: begin spreading the word. Post the video on your facebook, send the url on your phone, share pictures on tumblur. Basically do anything you can to gain interest in the game, and slowly yet surely a fan base will begin to gobble up this delight. If we start early, we have a chance. Who wouldn't want Studio Ghibli involved with another video game?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2: Making the Apocalypse a Blast!

As anyone could tell from my article about a month ago, What is “Shin Megami Tensei”, and Why Should You Be Playing It!, I am a huge fan of the series as a whole. I also mentioned at the end of the article that SMT’s new baby was releasing soon. Well, it released (February 2012), and I have basked in another great creation by publisher, Atlus. I have to say that the first Devil Survivor is definitely my favorite title in the SMT series thus far. It had some of my favorite characters in almost any video game series, all of whom are slightly damaged, but still manage to overcome their problems to save the world. It also had a story with multiple endings (which can be a chore sometimes if the game is tedious or boring), and each play through revealed something new about what was going on in the world the characters were trapped in. I felt that with each play through I discovered another layer to the story that I missed or hadn’t been revealed before. Needless to say, Devil Survivor 2 had some HUGE shoes to fill. Honestly, I don’t feel that DS2 had the depth that its predecessor had, but sometimes it’s all about the ride, and this was defiantly a fun and satisfying ride.

The story opens on the unnamed protagonist (from here on out I will refer to him as “Hero”), and his friend Daichi finishing their mock exams for college entrance (think PSATs). Daichi introduces Hero to a website on their cell phones called “Nicea”. The boys refer to the website as “The death site” since rumor has it that the site is supposed to send emails about your friends dying. It all seems like a joke and they decide to head out shopping, and then home. On their way home they run into Io, a girl they both know from their school.  On their way to the subway they receive their first email from Nicea. The video they receive shows the three of them being crushed by the subway train being derailed by an earthquake. As they arrive at the train station, sure enough an earthquake erupts and derails the train – however three demons appear and save the kids from being crushed. The demons insist on fighting the kids, but are quickly beaten and are forced to form contracts stating that they will aid the kids in their endeavors. Upon beating the demons the kids realize that a new app has been added to their phone, the “Demon Summoning App”. From here the trio faces off against feuding hoards of survivors using the “Demon Summoning App” for personal gain, a secret government organization that knows more than they are letting on, and a diverse cast of characters who join them in their quest of seven days to save each other and Japan from something far more powerful than a few demons being summoned by some thugs or a government organization.

Devil Survivor 2 is primarily a Strategy RPG. The story progresses through a lot of dialogue between the characters that eats up time. Each event that you encounter takes 30 minutes of time from each of the seven 16 hour days. These encounters consist of talking with other characters in an attempt to get Hero to know them better, investigating options for how to overcome problems, and event battles that are designed to move the story along. This component of the game imposes a sense of urgency that each decision may be the last one for you or one of your many comrades. Should you receive a Nicea death video for one for your friends you need to be aware of how long it takes you to activate the key event that would save their life.  Should you be even one event too late, say goodbye to that comrade forever. It’s not just saving your buddies that's important, you also need to spend time with everyone. As you get to know each character and choose responses to their situations you will level up your “Fate Meter” with them. For every level you increase with each character’s “Fate” you unlock something that can make them or you stronger. This system is very similar to the Social Link system that Persona 3 and 4 feature. Unfortunately it is very likely that you won’t max out the Fate Meter for everyone and may end up having some of the characters defect as the story moves on. Your responses also effect what happens to the characters. For example I was particularly mean to one character (oh lord he was annoying!), and he was killed shortly after, but on my second play through I was kind to him and he became my strongest ally. I love this kind of choice system, even though it is overly simple compared to other games out there. The difficulty of juggling the fates of the thirteen playable characters and saving those that need to be saved can be a daunting task, but it is definitely worth investing in the characters you have in your party a lot, especially later in the game when you start to see how each character’s stats are progressing. 

The action in the game is where the “strategy” comes into play. Each battle is fought on a large grid in different locales. Sometimes you take on demons, other times you face off against fellow demon tamers who are either losing their minds from the chaos or simply trying to survive. You have four teams consisting of one leader (the demon tamer) and two demons that you have either purchased from the demon auction, or fused from other demons. When you start, the only form of offense you have as a tamer is “Attack”, but you can “skill crack” physical moves, stat boosts, and magic spells from other tamers and demons you defeat. You can fully customize each team leader with a set of 3 offensive skills, 3 stat related skills, and 1 special skill. There is a huge array of skills to crack, and depending on the stats of each character, not everyone will be able to equip every skill. You have to be aware of each character’s strength and weakness (for example, don’t give a magic based character with low strength a physical skill). You are also forced to be aware of which demons you add to your teams. Several times I found myself with a leader and demons who all had “fire” based magic, but the creature I was fighting either drained or reflected the magic back at me. The battles alone are worth playing the games several times. On my second play through I was able to keep a few of my overpowered demons and watch as a level 99 Satan mowed down a level 2 Pixie…kind of masochistic I know, but it’s fun!

Even though this game had some very likeable characters, I have to say that I feel this is the weakest cast SMT has put together. In the first Devil Survivor each character had problems and deficiencies that made them relatable and real despite their anime design. In DS2 the cast as a whole is very sugar coated. A lot of the angst and drama from the first game was replaced by bits of inner turmoil offset by humor that in some cases seemed out of place. As you advance the “Fate Meter” you see that there is more to each of the characters than originally thought, but there are no real revelations with the exception of one that you don’t really get until the very end of the game. I felt that the characters were a letdown. In all fairness, the deep dark characters from the first game spoiled me and I was expecting more of the same. I definitely can’t say that I disliked any of the characters, but the multi layered developments of the characters from the first game are gone, replaced by a bunch of teens and twenty-somethings that seem way too well adjusted to the end of the world. There are moments in the story, however, where I really related to what the characters were experiencing, especially when one witnesses the death of their mother. 

Despite the downfall of the character development, the story as a whole saved this game for me. Again, I was spoiled by the dark, at times downright evil, story that the first Devil Survivor offered up. DS2 is much more light hearted. Essentially the question in DS2 is, “Did humanity chose the right path?” The obvious answer is “no”, but you as the hero are forced to examine each of the characters views on what path humanity should take and make your own decisions. There are some great revelations about the origin of the human race, as well as the origins of the demons. I found myself rooting for nearly all sides of the conflict that arises when the final question of what direction humanity should take is posed. You are forced to make your choice and fight for it regardless of which path your friends choose, making some of the decisions very difficult to make. The questions that were asked of humanity in these choices were deep enough to make me consider where I would really align myself should this kind of apocalypse really occur. If I could alter reality into anything, which path would I set humanity on? Eventually I chose all of the paths to achieve all endings, but I have my personal favorite.

As much as I loved the first Devil Survivor, I think had I not played it first (especially since 1 and 2 are not connected at all in story) I probably would have loved DS2. Unfortunately I was extremely spoiled by the original Devil Survivor, and although DS2 is a very loyal sequel, it wasn’t my favorite. That being said, it is still an excellent game! As games go, this one is defiantly above average in style, sound, presentation and story. This game is definitely the last great game on the Nintendo DS before the 3DS takes over the market completely. Even though I had my own personal gripes about story and character, I still loved fighting through the apocalypse to save humanity from a power greater than the strongest demons. Where Devil Survivor had revelations and characters that made it more of an experience than a game, DS2 was a situation driven apocalyptic story that was simply fun to play. It is a great addition to my SMT collection, and I really enjoyed it as a whole. The success of this game has spawned a Manga adaptation in Japan that focuses primarily on Io rather than Hero. I personally would love to see this translated and brought to the States as I am curious to see the game from her perspective. I definitely recommend this game for anyone who had played Pokemon as a kid as I often refer to this series as “Pokemon for adults”. If you have a Nintendo DS this is a game that can’t be missed. It definitely isn’t perfect, but I love it all the same. Take the dive and decide what path humanity should take.


By Justin Hopper 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dark Horse Announces Two Buffy Spin-offs - 'Spike' and 'Willow'

At this year's C2E2, Dark Horse announced plans of creating two new Buffy spin-offs, a Spike and a Willow miniseries. With Dark Horse's success of Buffy and Angel comics, does this announcement really come as any surprise?

Here are the details on Spike: written by Victor Gischler (X-Men, Deadpool: Merc with a Mouth) and drawn by Paul Lee (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Devil's Footprints), Spike promises to be the series all Joss Whedon fans will be talking about. Spike ventures off world in his bug ship in order to get away from some personal frustration on terra firma, and winds up sucked into a demonic plot to take advantage of the absence of magic on earth. Gischler said, "What I love about working with Dark Horse on Buffy-related material is that they take great care to capture the feel of the characters and stories from the television show, of which I was a huge fan. Getting my hands on the characters I've loved so much over the years is a dream come true." Spike #1 expected release is August 22, 2012.

Now the specifics on Willow: written by Jeff Parker (Thunderbolts, Agents of Atlas) and drawn by Brian Ching (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Witchblade), Willow tells of the story of the witch's obsessive journey to recover her magic. Willow is on a quest to bring magic back to the world, and she'll do anything to make it happen, including forming some unhealthy alliances after cracking the code to travel to other dimensions--something thought impossible since the destruction of the Seed. Willow #1 is slated on sale for November 21, 2012.

Resident Alien #0 - Review

Of all the avenues to be explored with the tale of aliens amongst us, Resident Alien takes a rather surprising spin. With its introductory issue, there is no large conspiracy hinted at, nor a fight for survival between human and alien. This series avoids the pitfalls of the sci-fi genre and instead takes a turn for the Average Joe, paring down the cliches until you have just the man, or alien. You will not see a spaceship in a single frame of the first issue, except for the smoke billowing from the one our protagonist, the so-called Dr. Vanderspeigle, presumably crashed.

We find ourselves at a remote cabin where the doctor is called upon by the police to lend his skills as a completely normal human physician or so he is able to make them think with his extraterrestrial powers (presumably some sort of telepathy). We the viewers are blessed to see him in his natural form, sporting purple skin, typically large black eyes, and pointed ears. Frankly, I'm surprised our doctor needs powers to cover up his looks in the first place, being that he's so humanoid in appearance. Though he's been attempting to be as incognito as possible, Vanderspeigle is easily persuaded to take on a role which puts him in direct interaction with the locals.

What Peter Hogan has done with Resident Alien is beautifully craft potential. Part sci-fi adventure, part murder mystery, this story is bursting at the seams with all kinds of exciting possibilities and has you rooting for our other-worldly doctor to fit in despite the perils of doing so. Paired with the beautifully concise artwork of Steve Parkhouse, this series is off to a great start and will leave you itching to find out how it all unfolds. 

By Chandler Levine

Ragemoor #2 - Review

Welcome back to Castle Ragemoor! On April 18th, Dark Horse Comics releases the second installment of this four-part mini-series about a living castle, the cursed owners, and the bevy of beasts harbored inside. Like all great Gothic horror, Ragemoor #2 begins with poetry; Herbert Ragemoor (the "Master" of Ragemoor) longs for his heart's desire: the newest castle guest, the lovely Anoria. In effort to win her affection, Herbert sets forth on a heroic hunt to eliminate the plague of baboons which infests the castle grounds. Little does he know, in the deep, dark recesses of Castle Ragemoor, far worse creatures are certain to appear.

To be honest, the sole reason I've purchased Ragemoor revolved around my fancy for Richard Corben's artwork. But with each issue, I'm beginning to admire and take notice of Jan Strnad's delightfully poetic prose. The beginning of this issue is the best example of Strnad's writing I can recommend. His choice of using a poem as a means to transition the first issue to the second works flawlessly. Throughout the issue, Strnad's writing remains passionate and deceptively dark ultimately equating a wonderful Gothic tale.

As always, Corben's artwork bends the gap between illustration and reality. A couple weeks ago I read an article on Corben's method of creating the characters and environments for Ragemoor, specifically with the help of clay and CGI 3D models. I honestly wish Corben included some special feature in the back of each issue just how he created each page--one can only hope it appears in the trade. With this second issue Corben continues depicting wonderful characters and fantastical creatures. I only have one complaint for the mini-series so far; please make this ongoing!

Rating: 4.5/5

Monday, April 16, 2012

Abe Sapien Volume 2: The Devil Does Not Jest TPB - Review

The latest adventures of B.P.R.D. agent Abe Sapien are pooled together in the trade paper back edition of Abe Sapien Volume 2: The Devil Does Not Jest And Other Stories (available in stores April 18th, 2012). This volume collects the Abe Sapien one-shot Abe Sapien: The Haunted Boy and two other separate two-issue mini-series, Abe Sapien: The Abyssal Plain and Abe Sapien: The Devil Does Not Jest. Each of the three various stories are written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi. So if you're anything of  a Hellboy or B.P.R.D. fan, you'll know what kind of story and tone to expect. Never read a copy either of these titles? Not to worry, Abe Sapien Volume 2 is the perfect diving point for new readers.

To begin, The Haunted Boy sends Abe on a seemingly simple excursion to investigate a recent haunting after a young boy drowned. As simple as the assignment first appears, it quickly escalates with an explosive resolution. Artist Patrick Reynolds provided the art for this issue. His character depictions are finely detailed and contain an eerie realistic quality found in most Creepy or Eerie collections. Once the monster steps out from the shadows (and yes, there are monsters in all of these stories), Reynolds constructs a mesmerizing horrific creature certainly worth praising. Although Mignola and Arcudi's story struggles for originality, Reynolds serpentine-like art will coil around you until the point of paralysis. 

Back in the water (didn't expect the wet, blue stuff to appear as an overarching theme here, did you?) Abe leads a naval crew to a sunken Soviet U-boat to recover a magical relic. Over the course of two issues, The Abyssal Plain treats readers to this sea-farthing tale and shows how Abe implements his "research" skills as a member of B.P.R.D.. Peter Snejbjerg illustrates this one. His work is slightly cartoonish for my tastes, mainly in regards to the character's facial expressions. One moment in the story the captain of the boat makes an offhand remark about how the dead will rise from the sea and kill every man aboard the boat. As he makes this false prediction, Snejbjerg takes the reigns to draw a what-if scenario which is anything but scary. The scene created is more silly and humorous than anything. With the art aside, the story is semi-interesting. It manages to build and build in momentum until finally the expected tidal wave of excitement and adventure becomes a sparse, single drop. Extremely disappointing.

The final story appearing in this volume is the two-issue The Devil Does Not Jest. After the grandson of a famous demonologist pays Abe a visit, the two set forth to uncover his mysterious murder fifty years ago. As with most of the stories in the collection, Devil offers the same trite workings. Fans of the horror genre will appreciate artist James Harren's monstrous depictions, but fans of an original story will wish they invested money elsewhere. Although certain moments of this short makes for fun, leisurely reading, the story remains easily unremarkable.

In summation, the stories featured inside Abe Sapien Volume 2 are worth reading and enjoying as brain candy but otherwise easily forgettable. As with most Mignola creations, the back of the trade features wonderful character sketches and designs. Without these intricate and lovely additions I would easily give this title a lesser rating. Even with Dave Stewart's wonderful coloring talents, the aforementioned stories lack originality. I highly recommend flipping through a copy and reading a portion at your book store before making the purchase.  

Rating: 3/5

3 Story: Secret Files of the Giant Man - Review

Craig Pressgang (otherwise known as “3 Story”) could only be a character in a Dark Horse Comic. Anybody who has read the previous graphic novel of “3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man,” is familiar with the life of Pressgang--a man who grows to be over twenty feet tall and who is employed by the CIA during the Cold War. Matt Kindt has done an excellent job continuing the story of Pressgang, bringing to light more stories of individuals whose lives were impacted by the life of the Giant Man. 

In this issue, the reader will see adventures of the ill-fated Giant Man as he travels to Paris, Egypt, the Philippines and Vietnam on “good-will” missions on behalf of the United States. The stories are slightly relaxed, but are not dull, though if action is what you want, you won't find it in this issue. Through the narrator’s observations, we discover the loneliness faced by Pressgang, a man of such celebrity across the globe, whose body continues to grow and suffers from ill-health. 

As shown through many of his previous works including “3 Story: Secret History of the Giant Man” and “Super Spy,” Kindt has found his medium. His artwork is simple, yet it isn't bare; the flows of water-colors invoke an art-school feel. His skills are mature and the art lends itself to set the tone for the melancholy and reflections of the characters involved. Simply put, “3 Story” couldn't be illustrated or told in any other way.

Any fan of Kindt's and his “3 Story” tales or any of his other works will surely enjoy this comic and hopefully there will be more to follow.  Look for “3 Story: Secret Files of the Giant Man,” on the shelves at your local comic book shop, on April 18.

Reviewed by Kyle Day

Friday, April 13, 2012

Ennis' Arc Comes to a Close - Crossed: Badlands #3 - Review

Fans of the The Walking Dead comic and television series know nothing about horror and depravity the way Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows do. As creators of the original Crossed comic series published by Avatar Press, Ennis and Burrows gave a devastating glimpse of a world run amok by a plague much worse than slow, undead flesh-eating zombies. Just how much worse? Well, lets just say The Walking Dead has yet featured zombies shooting at our batch of survivors with semen-covered bullets. Wait, did he just say "semen-covered bullets"? Yes, and there are far worse things awaiting your discovery between the pages of Crossed.

Enter the world of Crossed, a series like many others to feature a small band of displaced survivors pulling together to out thwart a maleficent force in an apocalyptic setting. Neither living nor dead, the Crossed appear as a ruined form of normal human beings but with the iconic trademark of a bloody cross branded upon their face. Crossed behavioral characteristics incorporate the worst of any human actions cranked up to level 11: rape, murder, bestiality, pedophilia, torture, incest, cannibalism, get the picture. But behind the horrendous threat which this series is named after, my main attraction has been and will forever remain (take this as a demand Avatar) Ennis' writing talents.

With this week's release of Crossed: Badlands #3 readers have the chance of enjoying Ennis' beautifully crafted prose as this short three-issue arc comes to a close. Like the two previous issues published before, Ennis' manages to engage readers with his clever and careful way of building favorite characters and then pushing them into moments of peril. Since this is the last issue of his arc, expect the worst. From the very first page my jaw dropped from surprise and as I continued reading my heart quickened in beats up until the final nerve wracking ending. As usual, the Ennis/Burrows team complete a masterpiece short in this dark, dark world known as Crossed. For any new readers out there, I highly recommend picking up the first two issues before diving head first in this one (ask your retailer to order them from Diamond or buy directly from Avatar Press). The gradual build is absolutely worth the payoff in this final issue.

To date Avatar Press continues publishing on-going Crossed series featuring various writers (David Lapham, Simon Spurrier, and Jamie Delano) and artists (Javier Barreno, Raulo Caceres, and Leandro Rizzo). I've given a couple of these series a chance but the real cream and butter goes to Ennis and Burrows. Unlike other teams, their stories remain subtle until an unexpected moment skull fucks your brains out. Other writers like Lapham go for the gruesomely bizarre and focus less on characters/storyline and more on violence/shock-factor. Of course, this is only one man's opinion.

Rating: 5/5

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Alabaster: Wolves #1 - Review

Alabaster: Wolves #1, written by Caitlin R. Kiernan,
art by Steve Lieber, with cover-art by Greg Ruth
Several weeks ago, I posted an interview with one of my all-time favorite artists Mike Mignola on Bleeding Cool. Somewhere on the comment board a Bleeding Cool reader voiced his/her distaste for Mignola's work, saying "[he] couldn't write a good story to save his life. He uses the same damn formula over and over again." The reader continues by saying Mignola's characters are "big dumb heroes with boilerplate 'personalities.' They hit supernatural foes with their fists in order to defeat them." Was I surprised by this comment? No, absolutely not. Nor did I feel an angry, vengeful spirit-like need to reply to the reader. But his/her words did make me think and reconsider the heroes we appreciate the most in comics. How many of our classic heroes use their brawn instead of their brains to defeat their vindictive foes? Should we encourage one method over the other, especially if both actions equate worthy results? I don't have an answer for this, but instead I have a suggestion or recommendation to that Bleeding Cool reader or any other reader curious to examine how a game of wits pans out in a comic. Take for example this weeks Dark Horse release Alabaster: Wolves #1.

International-Horror Guild writer Caitlin R. Kiernan, artist Steve Lieber, and colorist Rachel Rosenberg finally bring one of Kiernan's well known heroes Dancy Flammarion (a name worthy of a second glance) to the four-color world. As a teenage, albino vagabond, Dancy travels with the guidance of an angel through a post-apocalyptic world filled with monsters and other evil foes. In Alabaster: Wolves #1, we find seventeen year old Darcy traveling through a desolate town in South Carolina and waiting for a bus to arrive. Unbeknownst to her, something a bit more sinister than public transit waits to pick young Darcy up--for dinner! But before the evil creature pounces on Darcy, a challenge is made. A challenge of riddles. Like Bilbo Baggins and Gollum's classic game of riddles in Tolkien's The Hobbit, this clever contest exhibits exactly the kind of demonstration of wits opposite of most superhero comics. Which makes me sad to declare this comic is only mediocre in aspects otherwise.

I have never heard or read any of Kiernan's written works before Dark Horse decided to publish this comic. After reading this first issue, I don't expect I'll read more of her work or create the fan-base Dark Horse hopes to expect. For a first issue of a brand-new, potentially ongoing series, this beginning plagues the reader with questions: who is Darcy Flammarion? Where does she come from? How did she survive an apocalypse? Is this set in the future? In the past? Why does an angel with four-heads follow her around? Why is Darcy compelled to fight monsters? Question after question after question. Some dialogue and narration reveals answers but nothing stays concrete for a reader to understand just why they should care about this Darcy and her ongoing/past adventures. Whoever decided to begin this story in media res cast a poor judgment call. Along with general writing aspects, I became overly irritated with Darcy's simpleton demeanor and lazily, stupid narration. If the word "ain't" never bothered you before, expect it to by the end of the issue--even one of the characters in the story mentions it! By no mean am I saying slang or hickish words should not consist within character dialogue, but there is such a thing as hammering a nail too deep.

Praise for this comic goes to Lieber's artistic skills, Rosenberg's colors, and Greg Ruth's gorgeous cover art. Anyone who is reading and enjoying Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' Saga will enjoy the similar approach of sequential art. I suggest flipping through the pages and enjoying the artwork, but this comic is still not worth buying only for the art alone. As much as I want to praise this comic for incorporating a battle of the minds scenario, the story races at a snails pacing to finish. Which makes me wonder, what other comic books incorporate methodical strategies to defeat villains rather than relying on fisticuffs? And how does the story pacing feel with those comics? Anyone have any suggestions?

Overall, I say place this comic as far away from your buy pile as you can. If for some compelling reason you feel you MUST have it, I recommend reading it in stores first and seeing whether or not the narration and dialogue bothers you as much as it bothered me. Since this is a first issue, I'm hoping the story picks up in future issues. But for $3.50, I would save the money and buy something you really want.

Rating: 2.5/5

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Creepy #8 - Review

Horror comic fans rejoice! Dark Horse Comic unearths another spine-chilling horror anthology with the quarterly release of Creepy #8 (available in stores tomorrow). Lurking the black and white pages of this new horror collective appears brand-new stories from the likes of Jeff Parker (Thunderbolts, Hulk), Colleen Coover (X-Men: First Class), Rick Geary (A Treasury of Victorian Murder), Doug Moench (Batman), and Kelly Jones (Criminal Macabre), with a classic reprint of Bruce Jones and Bernie Wrightson's "Jenifer", all wrapped in a glorious cover by Richard Corben.

Every issue of Creepy is a Pandora's box of chocolates. Whimsically unrelenting, brutally honest, and frightfully electric, you really never know what you're going to get. And dammit if it isn't nice to open and find out! This holds true for this quarter's issue. Five shorts float above a seemingly calm surface, where far below in the murky uninhabitable depths many surprises hungrily await. 

The strongest of this new batch of tales is definitely "The Lurking Fate that Came to Lovecraft Part 1" written by Moench with art provided by Jones). Set in the manner of many Cthulu mythos, Moench and Jones will captivate any fans of H.P. Lovecraft with this twist filled tale. Jones grisly and gruesome portrayal of Lovecraft beasties sent my toes curling from fear. Like Alan Moore's Neonomicon and Neil Gaiman's Only the End of the World Again, Lovecraft connoisseurs will appreciate the amount of detail put forth here. But the best has yet to be mentioned; there is promise of a part two in next quarter's Creepy!

The weakest and more lackluster of the bunch is "Loathsome Lore" (written by Dan Braun, art by Kyle Baker). This two page "story" is less of a weird-tale and more of a historical ramble that revolves around the theme of horror in rock n' roll. As both a fan of horror and music, I must express my distaste with the two featured among other worthy tales. Perhaps if this two-pager were tagged on at the end with a historical note, "Loathsome Lore" would feel more fitting. Otherwise it stands out equally unimpressive as it is unfitting. Despite the content, Baker's artwork does exhibit the gritty edge I look for in an issue of Creepy. A consolation prize, I suppose.

The three remaining stories "Nineteen" (written by Parker, art by Coover), "The Mausoleum" (Geary), and Jones and Wrightson's classic "Jenifer" are each splendidly different in artistry and narration; a batch certainly worth reading with the lights on. And for the price of $4.99 this 48-page black and white comic is worth the penny for Richard Corben's cover art alone.

Rating: 4/5

Tiger & Bunny: Super Heroes that Rival Marvel's and DC's

If you are a comic book reader you know that a huge portion of the stories out there revolve around Superheroes. Unfortunately a lot of the more popular stories out there in comic books just aren’t that great.  It feel like the writers and artists in the larger publishers out there just stopped caring about the stories and have focused on shock factor through killing primary characters or getting as many alternate versions of the same titles out there as they can. I have felt this frustrations lately with Marvel and their multiple publications of the X-Men (once a favorite, now hardly a shadow of its former greatness), Avengers, and the seventy-five teams that Spider-Man is now a part of. The characters are still the beloved ones I grew up with in the 90’s and early 2000’s, but recently I have been extremely dissatisfied with their treatment of the characters, stories, and company overall. DC had the right idea in realigning the universe, unfortunately I never really got into DC, so to me that huge event didn’t really concern me too much (however I’m thinking of diving in…Batwoman here I come!) So I have been desperately looking for a superhero story that satisfies my hunger for great characters, unforgettable story lines, and villains that you can understand, but still hate. I never thought that my desires would be met by an Anime that pokes fun at the superhero genre while paying homage to it at the same time. If you haven’t taken the time to catch Tiger & Bunny and are a superhero fan like I am…SHAME ON YOU! Let me introduce you to one of the best animes AND best superhero stories I have come across since Marvel introduced “The Age of Apocalypse”.

The year is “NC 1978” (NC = New Calendar) in Sternbild City (a re-imagined version of New York). The city is a hyper technological megalopolis that thrives on business, money and power. However crime in Sternbild is a huge problem; terrorists, robbers, and psychopaths are using that technology to their advantage taking what they can from the innocent citizens. Luckily several years prior to the main story, groups of super powered people began manifesting a wide array of powers, they were named NEXT. Many of these people used their powers to help protect the city and help the people. As the popularity of superheroes soared, companies decided to jump on the band wagon and sponsor the heroes that were fighting for justice, having the hero sport the company’s name on their costume (some include Bandai and Pepsi). Before too long, a TV company also entered the picture and created a TV reality show called, “Hero TV” that follows the heroes as they fight to stop the criminals that plague the city. Depending on how many people each hero saved, if they caught the criminals, the style in which they use their powers and other factors, they are awarded points. Unfortunately, “Hero TV” cares more about the ratings than actual human lives. At the end of each season they are ranked, and the hero with the most points is crowned the “King of Heroes”. However, just like any good super hero drama, some NEXT believe that they are the next step in human evolution and are fighting to destroy “normal” humans. This is the essence of “Tiger & Bunny”. 

Just like any superhero drama it is the heroes themselves that drive the story. We relate to heroes like the X-Men, Batman, and Spider-Man because under their spandex costumes they are real people with real problems that face real losses after they fight Magneto or the Joker. The characters of Tiger & Bunny are no different. Like many superheroes the heroes in T&B choose to keep their identities a secret for their and their family’s safety. The “Hero TV’ line-up consists of:

"Wild Tiger"
Kotetsu Kaburagi/Wild Tiger – He is the most veteran hero of the group, and the main character of the series. He is the oldest and is constantly referred to as “Old Man” or “Grandpa” by the younger heroes. He has a deep seeded feeling of justice and, against the TV Company’s desires, prioritizes human lives over ratings. After his sponsor goes out of business, he is forced to join another company willing to sponsor him…but only if he teams up with Barnaby Brooks, Jr. (Bunny). Kotetsu is able to increase his physical attributes hundredfold, known as the “hundred Power”.

Barnaby Brooks, Jr./Bunny – He is the newest addition to “Hero TV” and is a break out success after he singlehandedly apprehends some criminals in the first episode. He is the only hero who chooses to reveal his real identity. Barnaby, much like the TV Company, only cares about earning points and getting good ratings. He is forced to partner up with Kotetsu, and because of their opposing views of being a hero they are constantly arguing. However there are other reasons he decided to become a hero, and although he doesn’t let it show, he is suffering and searching for answers about his past. He shares the same powers as Kotetsu, hence their partnering up.

"Blue Rose"
Karina Lyle/Blue Rose – A teenaged piano prodigy who only agreed to become a hero so she could be a pop-music idol. She is the second most popular of the heroes, and is not afraid to remind everyone else about that fact. Although she has a cold exterior she is actually a very fragile and internally conflicted girl. She has the power to produce ice which she uses to freeze villains and propel her by making an ice slide (Much like Ice-Man from the X-Men).

Keith Goodman/Sky High – He is the current “King of Heroes”. He is highly enthusiastic, optimistic, and extremely dramatic. He can fly with the use of a rocket pack and is able to control the wind.

Nathan Seymour/Fire Emblem – A flamboyantly gay hero who uses a highly maneuverable race car to get around. He is highly skilled at controlling his powers, able to produce fire and manipulate it into shapes and forms that can chase after the criminal he is pursuing. He is constantly hitting on the male characters in the show and referring to himself as “one of the girls”. 

"Dragon Kid"
Huang Pao-Lin/Dragon Kid – She is a young tomboy who lives on her own in Sternbild. She is equipped with a long staff and is proficient in Kung Fu. Her powers enable her to generate strong electricity through her body.

Antonio Lopez/Rock Bison – He is Kotetsu’s best friend and constant companion. His powers render him invulnerable to any harm while activated.

Ivan Karelin/Origami Cyclone – He is constantly ranking last in the competition as his sole desire is to be featured in shots and pictures with his many advertisements on his costume to please the companies sponsoring him. Aside from being proficient in ninjitsu, he is able to shape shift into anyone and several inanimate objects.

"Origami Cyclone"
As a whole several of the powers that the characters possess are re-hashes of heroes we have seen before – Strong-Guy, Mystique, Human Torch, Superman – but it is how the characters interact with each other in the field, with their families, and in hilarious scenes in the “Hero Gym” that make them stand apart. What I love about them is their powers are just another portion to the person underneath. Each of the heroes have demons that they are fighting with through the series. It isn’t just the heroes that make the series great either. The series heavily relies on the supporting cast of characters to bring depth that otherwise couldn’t have happened. Despite being an animation I felt like the characters were real enough that I connected with all of them for different reasons, even the villains. This feat is hard to accomplish in 30 minute episodes, but they pull it off.

Tiger & Bunny is a series that melds the best things about the superhero genre that I have loved since I was a kid. There isn’t a character that I didn’t like in the story. Don’t get me wrong I definitely have my favorites (Tiger and Origami Cyclone) but I like some of these characters more than the heroes I grew up with. The series is only 25 episodes, and it uses each of those episodes to push the story forward and into places you never thought it would go. The scripting by Masafumi Nishida, and directing by Keiichi Sato are what made this series the shining gem that it is.  Each episode is filled with revelations and excitement that I haven’t felt from a super hero comic series in quite some time. Unfortunately the series ends on somewhat of cliffhanger. Luckily though, two films are being produced, the first being released in September 2012. There is also a second season that is going to be produced, but no word on when.

"Fire Emblem"

For anyone who is frustrated with the modern day superhero and the stories that are being pumped out of the big names in the industry, this is something you need to check out. Tiger & Bunny takes a leap of faith into a market that is so saturated with superheroes and their related media that it is so easy to conform to the mold that already exists. This series is so drastically different in key points, but similar enough to make it feel comfortable that I found it easy to become quickly obsessed with it. Also much like other superhero stories, it deals with hard topics like abandonment, suicide, love, sexual orientation, murder, and domestic violence with grace and integrity. The excellent blend of super powers, drama, comedy, action, and flawless animation make this series easily one of, if not the best superhero story out there right now. It is available on Hulu, Viz Media, and Anime News Network for viewing.  It is also going to be available on DVD and Blu-Ray in North America, but there is no release date as of this article. I definitely recommend making this one of your must see titles!  Once you start, you won’t stop, and you will beg for more Tiger & Bunny!


By Justin Hopper