Category: Graphic Novel

What is there to say about Watchmen that hasn’t already been said a million times before? Easily the most celebrated graphic novel of all time, Watchmen isn’t just a seminal work in the burgeoning realm of graphic novels (that would ultimately allow other celebrated works like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman or Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man to exist), but it is simply one of the defining novels of the last 30 years. Simultaneously science fiction, political satire, mystery, superhero (the definitive supehero tale), psychological drama, and a massive deconstruction of every comic book that predated it, Alan Moore didn’t just write the premier superhero story of all time; he made it nearly impossible to look at any superhero tales before or after in the same light ever again. As a child, I was a huge comic book fan, but I grew out of it as I got older because for the most part, the average superhero story wasn’t maturing as I was. Then, my sophomore year of college, I saw that Watchmen was being released in theaters and I felt it was high time to read this story that every one kept praising, and nothing was the same ever since. It rekindled my love with the comic book genre (and produced a drain on my finances thanks to my new comic book addiction), and introduced me to what is simply one of the greatest novels of the 20th century.

At its core, Watchmen begins as a murder mystery but to say its morph into so much more would only be scratching the surface of the various layers of this dense and complex novel. In an alternate U.S. history where superheroes are real (though only one has any actual superpowers and is therefore essentially a god amongst men) and Richard Nixon is seeking his fourth term as U.S. President after superhero involvement led to a U.S. victory in Vietnam, one of the world’s superheroes has been murdered. A caustic and darkly comic man known as the Comedian (one of two superheroes still legally allowed to fight crime) was thrown out of his apartment in New York by an unknown assailant and the remaining superheroes (retired or vigilante) are worried that someone may be gunning for former masks. The remaining superheroes include Nite Owl (an aging millionaire [the Batman stand-in] who spends his days reminiscing with one of his predecessors from the 1940’s, the original Nite Owl), Silk Spectre (the daughter of one of the original 1940’s superheroes who only got into the business to please her mother), Rorschach (a psychotic and violent crime fighter who refused to retire and sees the world in starkly black and white terms), Ozymandias (smartest man in the world and most financially successful of the superheroes as he cashed in on his name post-retirement), and Dr. Manhattan (a former nuclear physicist who was transformed into a godlike being that can alter the state of matter at will among many other powers after a lab accident disintegrated him). As Rorschach investigates the Comedian’s murder, the others deal with personal and psychological flaws until they eventually stumble onto a conspiracy that may destroy the world.

Let’s start with the artwork. This is going to be a long, long review, and I guess art seems like the logical place to begin an assessment of a comic book. I’ve read Watchmen in its entirety about 4 times now, and the simple fact that I notice new things (and a large number of new things) every time I read the book should be a testament to just how much detail is crammed into each individual frame of this story. Whether it’s Dave Gibbon’s artwork simply from an aesthetic view point, which can be both beautiful and terrifying (those who’ve been exposed to some aspect of this piece know how gruesome it can get) or its the many recurring visual motifs and symbols that frequent the pages, it is likely you will spend as much time parsing the images of Watchmen as you will reading Moore’s words (and ultimately that is where the true genius lies). It truly takes a special talent to keep up with the brilliance of Alan Moore, and I honestly can’t think of a better author and artist pairing than Moore and Gibbons in this work. If it weren’t for the fact that there are still literary types that can’t get fact that this is a comic book, I would personally guarantee that academics could spend as much time parsing Watchmen for all of the symbolism and deeper meanings that they could Gravity’s Rainbow or Infinite Jest, and Dave Gibbons’ art adds richly to the symbolic tapestry of this novel.

Next, the characters. As a grown-up comic reader, when I read a traditional Marvel or DC story, I would say that 75% of my enjoyment from those tales comes more from an attachment to the characters rather than the plotting itself, which is often cliche comic book material. There are so many fun and memorable comic book characters out there, and it takes decades of mythology to turn them into the beloved icons they are today. In 12, 28-page, issues, Alan Moore was able to craft the most complex and distinct characters in the history of the genre. With the possible exception of Silk Spectre (who movie or book remains the least compelling character in the story), these characters all have dense psychological profiles that are explored in-depth and they almost all seem to represent some specific philosophical archetype. Rorschach is the definition of a right-wing deontologist where things are either right or wrong. There is no gray area. The Comedian can also be called a nihilist because he sees how damaged and broken the world is and decides to be a dark mirror of the world. Ozymandias is more of a utilitarian though I can’t get into exactly what that entails without spoilers. Dr. Manhattan is an examination of how an all-powerful deity would view something as mundane as human life (which is to say with bemused indifference). Nite Owl doesn’t really represent one of these philosophies. He was just a bored playboy who had a romanticized fascination with the superheroes of his youth and wanted to follow in their footsteps (which isn’t to say he’s not as emotionally scarred as everyone else).

The way that Moore lays out the story manages to be even more dense (and beautiful) than the artwork itself. Eschewing a linear format, the story jumps all over in time and place, and there is one chapter told from the view point of Dr. Manhattan (whose mind exists outside the normal bounds of linear time) that is arguably the single greatest issue of any comic I’ve ever read in its masterful non-linear story and haunting tragedy. At the end of every chapter, Moore provides several pages of non-comic book material that are presented as either excerpts from books within the Watchmen universe or newspaper articles or similar diegetic material. About halfway through the book, you are suddenly introduced to an in-universe comic book called The Tales of the Black Freighter which seems oddly out of place at first until you reach the end of the story and you realize just how relevant it truly was. The most amazing thing about this comic is that in spite of all of its intellectual pretensions and ambitions (which it fulfills extrrordinarily well), it also manages to stand on its own as an entertaining and engaging superhero story. Even when the mechanics of its ending are a little odd (perhaps the only area where the movie was better), it doesn’t lessen the impact of this story’s brutal and shattering climax.

If you somehow haven’t read Watchmen yet, you have to. Even if you saw the movie and didn’t enjoy it (which a frustratingly large number of people didn’t), you should still read the novel as I know several people who are big fans of the book that don’t like the movie either. It’s one of the most important novels of the last 50 years. It’s really a shame that DC screwed Alan Moore out of the rights to these characters and that led him to sever all ties with the company because considering what he was able to accomplish with a brand new set of characters (though many of these characters are direct responses to certain obscure Silver Age comic characters), I can only imagine what he could have done with established heroes. His The Killing Joke story for Batman remains one of the definitive Batman tales along with Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth and The Dark Knight Returns. I’m very glad that I chose to re-read Watchmen for this blog because each journey into that dark and twisted world reveals a little more of its secrets and I guarantee I still haven’t discovered all there is to know. Who watched the Watchmen? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I sure as hell know who’s telling everyone else they should read them.

Final Score: A+

I remember my first introduction to the works of Alan Moore as if it were yesterday. I turned 17 in 2006, and the very first R-rated movie that I bought my own ticket for at the movie theatre was the Wachowski brothers’ (The Matrix) adaptation of Alan Moore’s beloved graphic novel starring Hugo Weaving as anarchist/terrorist V and Natalie Portman as besieged heroine Evey Hammond. I loved that movie when I was in high school, and at times, I still appreciate its fairly vocal outrage against the dangerous path this nation was traveling during the Bush administration. However, much like Alan Moore has with all of the adaptations of his books, Alan Moore was an especially vicious critic of this particular re-imagining of his book. I had never understood why when I was younger since the film seemed a clear indictment of fascism and a call to arms for citizens to take responsibility for their own freedom and the governments they give free reign to run their lives. I get why Moore doesn’t like the movie now (though it doesn’t forever ruin the movie for me) having now read his original graphic novel. Whereas the movie is an almost clear-cut tale of a superheroic freedom fighter in a not entirely subtle knock at the Bush administration, Moore’s original graphic novel is a far more morally ambiguous and challenging tale centered on an uniquely British take on the danger of rampant Thatcherism which makes V less a superhero and more of a flawed prophet for his unique vision of the seeds of a new anarchic England. While both versions of the work have their strengths and weaknesses, Moore’s ability to craft a tale that makes you think more than a self-aggrandizing vision of liberal victory against neoconservatism makes his original adaptation the far superior product.

Set in 1998 (or 16 years after the book was first published), V for Vendetta is a vision of a dystopian British near-future where a nearly worldwide destruction at the hands of nuclear war has caused England to fall under the tyrannical rule of a fascist political regime known as Norsefire. At the center of the tale is a terrorist named V who wages a practically one-man war against England’s new rulers. Wearing a Guy Fawkes mask (the anarchist who attempted to blow up Parliament in 1605) and spouting Shakespeare and other literary luminaries, V is the keeper of culture in a world where the fascists have erased all aspects of society (blacks, Jews, gays, intellectuals) that don’t fall in line with their Nordic vision of humanity. At the beginning of the story, V rescues 16 year old factory worker (and attempted prostitute) Evey Hammond from this world’s equivalent of the Gestapo who are about to rape and murder her. She soon finds herself drawn into V’s world where he plans on destroying every inch of the current society so that humanity can rebuild from scratch and finally take responsibility for their own future. Along the way though, he sets in motion an elaborate revenge scheme against key members of the party who committed terrible atrocities against him and others at a government sponsored concentration camp.

I’m having difficulty making up my mind on how I feel about the artwork in V for Vendetta. It certainly improved as the series progressed, and there was a certain artistry in a lot of the individual frames where David Lloyd was able to accomplish quite a bit without the need of any dialogue or thought bubbles (no sound effects for the entire series). However, on the whole, it wasn’t especially aesthetically pleasing to the eye. There was a certain ugliness about every character and every building. That was probably intentional considering the story, but I certainly preferred Dave Gibbons’ artwork with Alan Moore on Watchmen. I can attribute a lot of the early awkwardiness though to the fact that this strip was originally done in black and white with color being something that was stitched on to the final product when DC would pick up the strip years after it had laid on the shelf when its original home went under. There’s a lot of strange, muted color palettes used for the strip, and while, yet again, this makes sense from a story perspective, it is very rare that is comic is ever pleasant to look at. The one great thing I will give to David Lloyd is how he handles the moments when Alan Moore would provide absolutely no dialogue pertinent to what was actually happening on screen and Lloyd had to tell the entire story (rather than the subtext Moore was providing) through his pictures. Lloyd is very gifted at visual storytelling; I just wished he approached the aesthetic part of his drawing with more of an eye for beauty, but then again, I’m probably complaining about an aspect of his drawings that he was actively trying not to achieve.

This was Moore’s breakthrough novel, and as much as this man certainly represents (along with Neil Gaiman) the apex of the literary ambitions of the graphic novel market, he was still in his formative stages when he was putting this book together, and it really shows. A lot of the dialogue (V’s excepted) is rough, especially in the stories written before the book’s years long hiatus. Moore often layers so much external dialogue over what is happening that it becomes harder to understand who is speaking and what is quite going on than in a Robert Altman film. Despite Moore’s attempts to flesh out his character, the Leader, Adam Susan, still comes off as almost cartoonishly villainous and by book’s end, comically inept. You never see any of the charisma and manipulativeness which would have needed to exist to propel this strange man to power. Nearly all of the primary antagonists of the piece are one-dimensional political strawmen, and there’s one, a Scottish gangster, that I couldn’t understand most of what he said because of Moore’s decision to spell out his dialogue phonetically. Outside of V himself, none of the characters in this book have the mental staying power that every single character in Watchmen portrayed. What made Watchmen so good was that not only were the heroes often fatally flawed, the villains often made their fair share of points. In V for Vendetta, the only character with much depth is V, and while his motivations and methods spark debate, there’s no villain worthy of the kind of thought Ozymandias provoked in Watchmen.

You have to understand though that any complaints or quibbles I have about this work are all in relation to Moore’s later work. When this first sprung on the scene, it was light years ahead of everything else out there in terms of quality and content. This was the book that let Watchmen happen. It allowed Frank Miller to write something like The Dark Knight Rises (the more I know about Miller’s personal politics, the more it puts all of his comic writing in an increasingly negative light). Neil Gaiman would be able to craft the apex of graphic novel storytelling with Sandman thanks to this early experiment. Yes, it’s flawed, but that tends to happen when you’re crafting the beginnings of a comics revolution. Watchmen remains one of the greatest novels of all time (regular or graphic), and he laid the foundations for his dystopian vision in this book. If you’re a fan of comic books, this is must read. It helped to usher in the modern world of comics where people finally took them seriously, and at the end of the day, it’s still a great read from beginning to end.

Final Score: A-

It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve reviewed one of the trades of The Walking Dead graphic novels, but it’s actually only been a little over a week. Since my last review, I’ve had the chance to watch one more episode of the television show as well as finish Season 8 of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics. The last The Walking Dead trade paperback that I read, Safety Behind Bars, was easily the high water mark for the franchise for me, whether it was in comic or television form. It’s led me to have perhaps unrealistically high expectations for the rest of the series and volume 4, The Heart’s Desire, didn’t quite live up to everything I had hoped for last time. However, it was still excellent storytelling and it ended with two final issues that were just mind-blowing in the tension they created as well as in how dark and cynical the series has decided it’s going to be. It also introduced one character whose entire reason for being may possibly be to be the world’s biggest post-apocalyptic bad-ass.

The last collection ended with two of the prisoners, Dexter and Andrew, pulling guns on the remaining survivors and demanding that they leave the prison. This collection begins with a mysterious black woman in a field dragging two zombies behind her on chains while she is armed with a sword. After decapitating some zombies, she runs into Otis (who is apparently still alive) who is on his way to the prison. It turns out that when Dexter and Andrew stole the guns from the armory, they released a whole swarm of zombies hiding in that particular wing of the prison. After fighting off this wave of zombies, Rick shoots Dexter during the fight so that Dexter can’t kick them out of the prison (and Andrew runs away when the battle is over). While the fight inside the prison grounds was being waged, the mysterious black woman, Michonne, was mowing down an army of zombies that had amassed in front of the prison with nothing more than her sword.

After the dust cleared, the collection slowed down as the interpersonal drama and conflict between the survivors took center-fold although the zombies got one last kick in by biting Allen as they were clearing out the library. Rick tried to amputate his foot to stave off the infection but Allen still dies (whether from blood loss or the bite is unclear). Michonne and Tyreese share a sexual encounter in the gym (which is noticed by Carol). After Carol kicks Tyreese out of their cell, Rick and Lori find that Carol has attempted to kill herself. After Rick also walks in on Tyreese and Michonne about to have sex, this leads to an epic physical fight between Rick and Tyreese over the direction of the group. Tyreese feels that Rick is slowly starting to lose his mind and is sacrificing his humanity to survive whereas Rick only feels that he is doing what he can to protect his wife, son, and all of the other survivors. After Rick and Tyreese battle themselves unconscious, Rick wakes up to find the group has voted to strip him of sole authority as “the leader” and they have now formed a four member committee: Rick, Tyreese, Hershel, and Dale. At the very end of the arc, Rick gives a long-winded speech about how everything he’s done has been for the group and that we have to give up our old ways and our old view of society and then declares that the survivors are in fact “the walking dead”.

Outside of the introduction of Michonne and the epic fight between Tyreese and Rick, there didn’t really seem as if there was much plot development in this collection. While there was certainly plenty of time devoted to Rick’s continuing descent into possible madness and the continued degradation of his remaining humanity, that didn’t really get much attention until he and Tyreese came to blows. Similarly, it seemed oddly out of character for Tyreese to let Michonne blow him in the gym and then sleep with her again when he’s been in this relationship with Carol for so long. While I’m not sure Rick really needed to start a fight with an ex-NFL player the way he did or blame Tyreese for Carol’s suicide attempt, I can still understand why the general consensus among the remaining survivors would be that Tyreese pulled a real dick move there. Also, can we go ahead and kill Lori already? I swear she doesn’t contribute anything to the group except to be a ticking time bomb of problems and irritate Rick til he’s so on edge that he does the stupid shit he does in these issues.

Outside of the zombies themselves, if the series has a recurring villain, it’s this figure known as The Governor that we haven’t met in the series yet, but if the cover for next issue is any indicator (men in riot suits with riot shields) then we may be finally starting to see the presence of an organized group outside of our small band of survivors. The prison storyline has provided some interesting fodder to explore the psychology of our survivors, although I’m not sure if Robert Kirkman is a good enough writer to let that be all that happens (which is virtually the entirety of this arc). He combines the psychology with the horror amazingly well, but I’m not sure if he can do the former on its own. This series has been running for a long time, and it’s nearly gotten to the point where there are as many issues of this series as there were of Sandman by Neil Gaiman. I’m really curious to see just how much Robert Kirkman is able to milk out of hte zombie apocalypse scenario and if he is able to avoid making his story too circular and repetitive which definitely hasn’t happened yet.

Final Score: A-

Well, it’s finally finished. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 has been a long strange road with more twists than an M. Night Shyamalan movie and (unfortunately) more bumps along the way than you’d expect from something carrying the Buffy moniker and part of the official canon of the franchise. While Buffy the TV show was always (at least after Season 1) as occupied with character growth and deeply personal storytelling as it was in epic fantasy adventures. If it weren’t for how incredibly detailed every single person in the main cast felt, this would have just been another conventional supernatural show like The X-Files or Night Stalker. Buffy set its self apart from the crowd with its unique sense of humor and instantly endearing cast. The comics allowed the franchise to no longer be constrained by the special effects budget that so obviously hampered the program (especially in its early days), but this was also the comic’s greatest curse, as the series became far too involved with an epic and sprawling fantasy plot and not enough focus on the characters we loved. The season’s final collection, Last Gleaming, brought it all to close in spectacular (and tragic) fashion but yet again failed to make me as emotionally invested in the story (one major death excluded) as the best moments from the show did, though it did set in place events that will make the next season considerably more personal.

After their super-sex created the paradisaical realm they were meant to live in (but abandoned to save Earth), Buffy and Angel continue their fight against the demon’s flooding into Earth just as Spike shows up to also help save the day (in his space ship run by bug creatures… don’t ask). Buffy and Angel separate so they can take down as many demons worldwide as they can, and then Angel is finally introduced to a corporeal form of the being known as Twilight who had been controlling his actions previously. After losing a fight with this being, Angel is possessed by Twilight again and begins to attack Buffy and the Slayers once again. The story takes the Scoobies back to Sunnydale where a mysterious object known as “the seed” lies and is protected by the Master (who is alive again). The seed is the key to the Earth’s connection to the magical world and the only way to save humanity from the demon floods is to destroy the seed. Buffy is wary to destroy the seed because it means no new Slayers were born, and it takes a possessed Angel killing Giles to cause Buffy to break it which removes everyone’s magical powers except for the remaining Slayers and remaining vampires. Thus, Willow is no longer a witch. The season ends four months after the battle in a magic-less world with Buffy as a waitress in San Francisco back to her more simple days of hunting down isolated monsters.

As compared to the other Joss Whedon collections from this season, Last Gleaming was actually comprehensible and well-organized as opposed to the confusing and rambling arcs he had written before. At no point during any of this did I not know what was happening, though I’ll admit I’m still confused as to why the remaining Slayers still have their powers if there is no magic left in the world. I guess I’d chalk that up to the demon essence that powers them that was revealed in season 7. Also, Giles’ death was completely shocking and unexpected. None of the founding members of the Scoobies ever died in the TV show, and I figured their immunity would extend to the comics. It looks like I was wrong. Possessed Angel killed Giles the same way Angelus killed Jenny Calendar back in Season 2 so there was some tragic parallel there. Honestly, even though I know it wasn’t really Angel that killed Giles, I loved Giles so much that this action is probably going to color my future viewings of Angel the show in a completely different light now that I know he’s going to kill such a beloved figure in the future.

I pontificated on my primary problem with the comic series in my opening paragraph so I won’t expound on that any more here since that problem mostly still remained in the final collection. However, it was nice to see that Joss realized how overblown his story had become and that it may be time to take things back to basics. The season ended with enough resolution of its primary plot threads to be satisfying but it also set the stage for what should be some significant conflict between Buffy and the pissed-off Slayer population, Buffy and the pissed-off Wicca population, Buffy and Willow, and Buffy and the vampires to make season 9 full of lots of possible intrigue. I’m definitely going to pick up issues #1 & 2 at my local comic book store so I can’t get right into season 9 as quickly as possible. I have a Buffy addiction, and I’m glad it hasn’t completely gone away yet.

Final Score: B+

One of the defining traits of zombie apocalypse fiction (whether this is a George A. Romero film or The Walking Dead comics or television show) is that the biggest threat to humanity’s continued existence against the oncoming threat of the living dead is our inherent inability to work together. More often than not, the best zombie apocalypse scenarios examine the way that our carefully maintained social structure can easily collapse in the face of of an overwhelming danger and how quick we are to abandon the needs and wants of the group for our own purely selfish survival. The zombies are the nominal threat though their presence is simply what brings all of these tensions and conflicts to the surface and provides humanity the tools it needs to finally collapse. In the third volume of The Walking Dead graphic novels, this notion of humanity being its own worst enemy is brought to its  logical conclusion where zombies are responsible for none of the on screen deaths (of which there are many) and the fractious nature of our society threatens to tear this shell-shocked group of survivors apart once and for all. It should go without saying that this was the best trade paperback for the series yet.

The last arc ended with our rag-tag group of survivors being ejected from the Greene farm after zombies escaped from Hershel’s barn and killed two of his children and Hershel proceeded to nearly kill Rick out of grief. At the very end of the last issue, the survivors found a new prison which Rick optimistically referred to as home. After clearing out the main yard of the prison as well as the first building, Rick and Tyreese enter the cafeteria to find four inmates who are the sole surviving members of the prison population. The group includes Dexter, a large black man in prison for murder, Andrew, a smaller black guy (and Dexter’s lover) in prison for drug dealing, Axel, a large biker locked up for armed assault, and a nerdy accountant type named Thomas, who says he’s in for tax evasion. After discovering that the prison has enough food and space to comfortably take care of their entire group as well as the four remaining inmates, Rick resolves to clean up the prison of any remaining zombies and turn this into a new home. Of course, things don’t really work out that well.

We finally discover what scheme Tyreese’s daughter, Julie, and her boyfriend Chris were cooking up. After having sex, they planned on committing a double suicide. However, Julie never pulled her trigger and Chris killed her. Tyreese and Rick show up on the scene of the crime, and right before Tyreese can confront Chris, Julie comes back as a zombie, proving that death, whether natural or by zombie bite, causes you to turn. Chris kills her again, and afterwards, Tyreese strangles Chris to death and then shoots him after he turns. Things only continue to go down hill. Hershel’s twin daughters (his youngest children) wander off in the prison to cut their hair in the barber area only for Hershel to discover their decapitated bodies. Also, Tyreese apparently commits suicide by zombies by purposefully getting himself overwhelmed by the walkers while the survivors cleared out the gym (he lived though in one of the few hope spots of the trade). After locking up the inmate charged with murder and threatening to beat him to death if he was the killer, the survivors discover that it was the “tax evasion” guy after he tries to murder Andrea. Rick proceeds to beat him within an inch of his life with his bare hands and then re-institutes capital punishment to the world. They plan on hanging Thomas but Patricia (one of Hershel’s people) tries to release him but he tries to kill her too and Hershel’s daughter shoots him to death. The inmates procure guns from elsewhere in the prison and have had enough of the crazy behavior of our survivors and the collection ends with them pulling guns on Rick and telling him and his people to leave the prison.

The storytelling here was more mature and dark than anything else in the series had prepared me for. There wasn’t a single death on screen that was caused by zombies (though they teased us with Tyreese [though even that would have been suicide really] and they implied that perhaps Otis has died off-screen). It actually reminded me a lot of the film adaptation of The Mist (Stephen King short story made into a movie by Frank Darabont), where the threat of monsters and extra-dimensional creatures simply provided the citizens trapped in that grocery the excuse they needed to start killing each other and losing their mind. Laurie Holen (who plays Andrea on the show) was in the movie and Darabont directed the first season of the show. I wonder if Kirkman made similar connections when Darabont approached him about adapting his work. The supernatural stuff was so secondary to showing just how far this terrible apocalyptic scenario has broken our survivors. Rick nearly beat a man to death with his bare hands and later after he calmed, he said he had no regrets. Rick and Lori’s marriage is back to being on the rocks after they had a vicious fight about capital punishment. Tyreese literally killed a man with his bare hands, and Hershel, whose mind was unstable to begin with, lost two more of his children and gleefully watched a dead man’s corpse be torn to pieces by the Walkers. It was intense stuff.

With the exception perhaps of the TV series’ pilot, this particular trade paperback was better than anything either the show or comics has done to this point. I virtually read the entire trade in one sitting (I read the first issue a day ago). It’s that good. My friend Vinny tells me that the books only continue to get darker and better from here, and I almost can’t believe that considering how pitch-black this story was. Also, one of the best characters in the series gets introduced in the next trade, so I also have that to look forward to. Not since Joss Whedon have I found an author who has taken such pleasure in putting his heroes through one hellish encounter after another, never giving them a second to breathe or relax. This show’s cast has one of the highest turnover rates I can think of, and you really can’t tell who’s going to live from one trade to the next (except I’ve begun to feel that Rick and Carl are probably safe). This anyone can die mentality has me more on my seat than anything since The Wire, where series bad ass Omar got shot by a little kid while Omar was buying cigarettes. I can’t wait to keep going into this world.

Final Score: A

Quick editor’s note before I actually get into this review. Some “twi-hards” have taken umbrage with the main villain of Buffy Season 8 being a dude named Twilight, cause of the whole “has the same name thing as the other big vampire story of the last ten years”, except Buffy and Angel were the original Edward and Bella, except not awful. Well, my first editorial note is that Twilight was a named villain in this series before Twilight was ever written so, yeah, suck it Stephanie Meyers fans. The second editorial note is that I thought that Joss Whedon wrote the main story arc for this particular collection, named Twilight. He didn’t. He wrote the introductory one-shot as well as a non-related one-shot concerning Willow that takes before the season began. The majority of the writing duties were handled by Brad Meltzer, and lo and behold, I really enjoyed this arc. Buffy as a series knows how to bring things to a close, and I have a feeling the final arc is going to pretty damn epic.

The last arc, Retreat, ended after a disastrous battle between the forces of the Slayer army (without their powers) and the literal military forces of Twilight. The Slayers attempted to summon a trio of Hindu goddesses but that backfired and only made things worse. At arc’s end, Giles, Faith, and Andrew had been kidnapped by Twilight’s forces, and Buffy suddenly discovered that she could fly. Well, it turns out Buffy has went from having Captain America-style superpowers (fast and strong but not invincible by any means) to Superman powers. She can fly, run faster than a bullet, and has become damn near invincible. After handily kicking the asses of the Goddesses, Buffy and Xander run her powers through the gauntlet with Dawn freaking out that these now powers are in fact bad (they are…). Also, Buffy finally reveals her feelings for Xander, but he explains that he’s now in love with Dawn. After Amy, Warren, and the General defect to the Scoobies (though they still aren’t loyal, just pissed with Twilight), Buffy and Willow are able to discover Twilight’s hide-out where Giles has finally realized just who Twilight is and what his ultimate plan is.

It turns out that Twilight is in fact Angel (although I think it’s a little more complicated than the series has let on so far). Basically, there is a Watcher myth/rumor that there would eventually be the Slayer who broke the cycle of death and transference of power. She would so completely upset the balance of good and evil in the word that it would cause the return of the demons that had mostly long fled our plane of existence. Buffy caused this problem when she activated the powers of all of the world’s Potential Slayers. Twilight’s ultimate goal was to make Buffy realize just how powerful she could be in this new world. Buffy’s new powers have come from all of the Slayers who have died since she activated them. For some reason, this has caused Angel to become more powerful as well since he and both share a cosmic plan from “the powers that be” to steal the term from Angel‘s show. After an epic fight between the two that ends in a draw, they make love which literally tears a hole in the universe and they enter a paradise realm where they are tempted to stay together in complete power for eternity. However, Buffy goes back when she realizes what is happening to Earth and her friends, and Angel follows. I get the distinct impression that this isn’t really Angel (not Angelus either) but that he was being controlled by some force known as Twilight cause all of this seems completely out of character for him.

First things first, this particular arc was one of the most pop-culture reference heavy stories the entire comic book series had done to this point, and they were without a doubt, all hilarious. When Xander and Buffy are trying to figure out exactly what Buffy’s new powers are, it was a never-ending parade of comic book nerd glory. Similarly, when Buffy and Twilight finally have their big fight, Buffy straight-up calls out Twilight for shamelessly stealing the basic Angel/Buffy relationship conceit for its main plot. I definitely laughed out loud. Similarly, at one point, Andrew finds a evil mad-scientist lab that Warren had constructed at Twilight’s base, and what begins as a hilarious joke about how Warren stole his lab design from an X-Men comic becomes a picture of Andrew decked out in a hilarious hodge-podge of every superhero outfit you could imagine from Captain America to Batman to the Punisher. It was frakking hilarious.

The Willow one-shot which was written by Joss Whedon is something that I would love to see done with the actors from the show. It perfectly captured Joss Whedon’s surreal and occasionally non-linear sense of storytelling at its very best. Explaining this weird snake-lady that we keep seeing around Willow in terms of her increasing (but more controlled and safe) magic powers, we get some much needed insight into the character of Willow who got plenty of action screen time during this season but not a lot of character development. The show was much more interested in background Slayers like Satsu or the various subplots of Xander and Dawn than Willow who is an established founder of the Scoobies with universe-ending powers. The aspect of the issue that I enjoyed the most was the sheer “down the rabbit hole” nature of the story where for once, Whedon’s inability to properly explain everything didn’t matter because this world he had tossed us in was so distinct and memorable, even if I didn’t understand exactly why it was happening.

Well, I only have one trade left of Season 8 to read, Last Gleaming, and then I’m finally done. Buffy Season 9 started recently so I’ll probably be picking those up on a monthly basis, since I don’t have to go through years of back issues to get where they are with the series. I think they’ve only done three or four issues of Season 9 so I’m really not far back. After I finish reading the trades of Buffy though, I’ve officially decided that Y: The Last Man will be the comic replacing it on my list of trades I’m reading, which Y is finished so I won’t have to eventually catch up with it thankfully. Also, one last note before I draw this review to a close. Spike is back! He crashed some sort of airship or some weird vehicle into Twilight’s HQ at the end of the last issue. He’s my favorite character in the Buffy-verse by a long margin, and I’ve really missed his presence in this season.

Final Score: B+


Some quick book-keeping is in order. I’ve had not one, not two, but three midterms this week. So, my ability to watch my movies and television as well as read Infinite Jest (which is the current novel I’m working on) as well as the two graphic novel series I’m reading has been understandably impaired. My last midterm is tomorrow, and then I don’t have another exam until finals week so I’m actually set for the rest of the semester. So, this should explain my considerable slowdown in blogging output over the last two days. With that out of the way, I finished studying tonight, but I didn’t really have time to watch any significant amount of Dexter or a whole movie, so I decided to finish the second volume of the graphic novel series of The Walking Dead which I had started recently. In Miles Behind Us, a new artist, Charlie Adlard, is brought on board who unfortunately couldn’t reach the heights of predecessor Tony Moore; however, there was a considerable increase in competent and interesting storytelling that easily off-set the lessened artistic enjoyment.

At the end of the previous collection, the camp had recently been decimated by a large-scale attack by the zombies, and there problems were only compounded by the mental breakdown of Shane who was ultimately shot by Rick’s son Carl in order to protect Rick from a murderous Shane. The remaining survivors decide to pick up camp and move on, although winter is coming (feels weird any time I say that and it doesn’t involve Westeros) and food is becoming short. Along the way, they pick up a former pro football player named Tyreese, as well as his daughter Julie and her boyfriend Chris. The group comes across a gated suburban community and decides to set up shop there in the hopes that they can make this a permanent residence. Tragically, at the last minute, the group realizes that all of the former residents of the suburbs are now zombies, and the group loses another member (the normally bitchy Donna who was just starting to soften up) to the zombies before they can escape. As Rick, Tyreese, and Carl are out in the woods hunting, a bullet strikes Carl (just like in Sunday’s episode of the show except it’s winter in the comics and Tyreese has been replaced by Shane and Sophia never got lost).

It turns out that Carl was shot by a local and incompetent hunter who mistook the group for zombies. Right before Rick is about to execute his son’s shooter in cold blood, Tyreese informs Rick that Carl is still alive and they rush him to the other hunter’s house where a man with medical experience helps to heal Carl who was fortunately only shot in the shoulder (his wound appeared more serious on the show). While the group is offered shelter and food as Carl is allowed to heal, we are introduced to a whole new group of survivors, led by the patriarch Hershel Greene, along with his children and some neighbors (which includes the man who shot Carl). We quickly learn that rather than killing the zombies, Hershel has been keeping them locked up in his barn (mainly because his youngest son is one of the zombies now). After eventually resisting but coming to terms with this situation, Rick is helping Hershel heard another zombie into the barn when suddenly the zombies break out and kill two of Hershel’s children, and Hershel is forced to execute all of the zombies in the barn when he learns the error of his ways. After this Hershel kicks the new group out of the farm (although Glenn stays for he has hooked up with the daughter of Hershel) out of bitterness and nearly kills Rick in an argument. The survivors are forced back out on the road with little food. The collection ends with the group finding a prison full of zombies that Rick optimistically decides will be their new home.

Absolutely no disrespect is meant to Charlie Adlard, for his work is passable and not aesthetically displeasing; however, he had some pretty big shoes to fill in the departure of Tony Moore. As I mentioned in my previous review, Moore combined a striking eye for detail against a morbid pre-occupation with violence and destruction that led to some hauntingly elaborate portraits of the horrors of the new world and he could accomplish quite a bit with no help in dialogue from Kirkland’s writing. Adlard’s drawings are far more vague and rely more on the conventional, vague cartoonish look of most comics. I’m not saying that Adlard’s drawings are funny; I’m saying they simply look like most other comics out there, except in black and white. If there is one area where Adlard has managed to be quite successful though, it’s in his use of shadows which are quite distinct, and I almost feel as if I’m watching an old black-and-white movie where the shadows are as much a character as the actors themselves. That’s quite successful.

Kirkland’s writing improved immensely between this collection and the last one, and I read nearly the whole trade in one sitting. As soon as you see the snow fall off the sign at the suburbs that says “all dead. do not enter.”, you know that shit is going to hit the fan, and the impressive thing about this story is the way it continues to hit issue after issue, but the impact is never lessened. In one issue alone, Donna is eaten by the zombies and the survivors lose their last vestige of hope just to have Carl take a bullet just as the issue ends. That was Kirkland taking a gamble on how much dark despair his audience could handle and it paid off well. Similarly, by the time this collection ended, I felt as if I knew all of the survivors and their pains (and small moments of happiness) much better than I did the last time, as the small moments of peace they had here and there provided opportunities for them to grow as characters. There was just an overall shift in quality of storytelling here that can’t be under-estimated, and I only wish that Tony Moore had been able to contribute his artistic prowess to this particular collection.

I’ve got two arcs left of Buffy Season 8 (and boy has its quality been just all over, although what can you expect from Buffy, god bless it) and something like 13 collections or so left of The Walking Dead, so it’s safe to say which of these I’ll finish first. I’m probably going to replace Buffy when I finish it with Y: The Last Man, although I enjoyed this particular trade so much that I’m really tempted to just try and plow my way all through The Walking Dead, but I know I’ll burn myself out that way. There is exactly one comic book series (and book series period) that I can read in its entirety (and in around a week or two) and never get tired, and that is Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, which is my favorite book series ever (not just comics, but all books). I really can’t wait to see what’s going to happen to Rick and the other survivors now that they’ve found this prison, and I’m also curious as to what it is that Julie and Chris are planning as they don’t seem to be especially reputable individuals. Also, I hope we hear from Glenn one last time. I love his character on the show, and I hope he isn’t about to make his departure from the series on there as well.

Final Score: A-

We are really starting to wind down my time spent in Sunnydale (until I start reading Season 9 anyways, which only recently began). Having finished volume 6 of Buffy Season 8, Retreat, I am now left with only two collections to go and a total of ten issues (12 if you count the Willow and Riley one-shots that are included in the trades). This far into the series I can definitely say I’ve enjoyed seeing my favorite group of supernatural adventurers in a comic book form, but I feel as if this particular story they are telling doesn’t rank as highly as some of the better stories from the television show. The franchise isn’t suffering because it’s a comic book. That’s definitely not the problem as I’m still loving the art-work and the ability for the series to do things that it couldn’t do with a TV series budget. However, the actual over-arching mythology of this particular season is leaving something to be desired as I feel there is simultaneously too much happening and not enough development put into the action occurring. The comics have developed a frenetic pace, and it would be appreciated if they could just slow down for a second and let things happen more naturally or with more of an explanation.

This arc picks up an indeterminate amount of time after the end of the previous arc, Predators & Prey. The Slayer army has been forced underground after a swell of unpopular sentiment from a world that feels threatened by their very existence. This is a PR ploy that has been set up by Twilight to keep the Slayers on the defensive and on the run. The arc begins with the Slayers last possible stronghold being destroyed by Twilight’s forces and the Slayers make a last ditch effort to teleport away to Tibet to seek the advice of none other than Oz (!!!). Apparently, Twilight and his minions can hunt the Slayers by their magic, so Buffy seeks out Oz because he has learned how to completely suppress the magic in him, aka his werewolf side. Buffy wants for the Slayers (and Willow) to learn how to hide their magical signature, but that’s impossible. They have to completely give it up, which means losing their Slayer powers (and Willow’s magic skills). This was beginning to work when Twilight suddenly discovered the location of their hide away and he unleashed a full on assault on powerless Slayers. The Slayers try to fight with conventional weaponry but it fails, and the Slayers are only saved from complete annihilation when they summon the forces of Hindu Goddesses, but this backfires because the Goddesses begin attacking everyone indiscriminately. The arc ends with the Slayers losing to Twilight’s army and being captured, and with Buffy awakening in the sky, flying for some unknown reason.

Besides from Dawn and Xander beginning a romantic relationship (whose “ick” from me since he, you know, used to baby sit her when she was younger) and Buffy and Willow coming to terms with the fact that Buffy had to kill Dark Willow in the future, there wasn’t much room for character development in this arc, and that’s a problem. Buffy‘s main strength as a franchise has always been it’s ability to continue to mature and evolve these characters while presenting fantasy adventures. This collection delivered the fantasy adventure part, but no emotional reason to be attached to the story. It’s also a serious problem that the adventure itself was a muddled and confused mess. If it was so easy for Twilight to find where the Slayers were hiding, why would they give up their powers in the first place? Also, I feel as if Oz’s wife should have known that there was a chance these Hindi goddesses were going to just flip shit on everyone and not just the enemies when they were summoned. Also, I thought that Season 7 had finally settled the issue of whether Willow could control her magic addiction. I feel we’re retreading old ground at this point.

Joss Whedon is back at the helm for the remainder of the series so I’m hoping that he’ll be able to bring this all back together in a way that is satisfying and provides closure for the large number of dangling story threads that we have going on at the moment. I’m a little concerned about his ability to do this since before this arc, which is the worst now (sorry Jane Espenson. I normally love your stuff), Joss’s two arcs for the series were easily my least favorite. The man has the ability to deliver a finale like no other though so I have faith in him. I’m still enjoying the series but this particular arc just seemed to augment all of the various problems and issues I have with the series to new levels which is really sad because the presence of Oz (a favorite recurring character from early in the series) and an issue told entirely from the point of view of Andrew should have made things so much better. Actually, Andrew’s issue was hilarious and just classic Andrew and it’s the reason this collection’s score isn’t even lower than this.

Final Score: B


In honor of the season premiere last night of Season 2 of AMC’s critical darling/zombie apocalypse/drama TV series The Walking Dead (which I will get around to watching at some point today), I have decided to start reading the comic book series that the show is based around (one trade paperback at at a time). Published by indie comic publisher Image Comics back in 2004, The Walking Dead is still telling its story today and at last check, there have been 89 issues to date. Much like Y: The Last Man, The Walking Dead has garnered a reputation as one of the premier comic book series for adult readers of the 2000’s, and it’s ability to combine good old-fashioned zombie scares against the backdrop of social commentary and a focus on character development was what inspired Frank Darabont to adapt it for the small screen. While I probably think that the first season of the show was better in virtually every aspect over the comics (and with the production of Frank Darabont, what else would you expect), there are still some things that the comics do better, and this was still a great introduction to a world in crisis.

In Vol. 1, Days Gone Bye, we are introduced to Rick Grimes, a Kentucky police officer who is shot during a stand-off along the highway. He wakes up an undisclosed amount of time later in a hospital and finds himself in a world that has literally gone to hell. Rick quickly discovers that the hospital (and the whole world) are over-run by zombies that want nothing more than to eat his flesh. After learning that Atlanta is the most likely location of his wife and son, Rick heads off to Atlanta only to discover that the city isn’t a safe-have but is has been completely taken over by the zombies. With the help of an Asian twenty-something named Glen, Rick is able to make it out of Atlanta and back to Glen’s camp where he finds his wife, his son, and his best friend from the force. There is trouble in paradise however as Rick’s wife Lori has slept with Rick’s best friend Shane because she thought that Rick had died in the hospital bed. After constantly pushing Shane and the others to move the camp to a safer distance from Atlanta, Shane and Rick’s problems come to a head (though Rick never learned about Shane’s tryst with his wife) after zombies invade the camp (which has a host of other members) and kill two of the survivors. Shane and Rick go hunting and Shane pulls a gun on Rick and tries to kill him. The collection ends with Rick’s son, Carl, shooting Shane to save his father (a major plot departure point for the TV series where Shane is still alive and well).

I absolutely adore the art work for the series. I normally associate black and white comic books with Japanese manga as most American comics are done in color. The only part of this series that is done in color are the covers which are uniformly evocative and make you want to read whatever issue is inside. The story itself is done in this marvelous black-and-white penciled by Tony Moore. He puts the “graphic” in graphic novel with morbidly detailed depictions of the zombies themselves as well as the violence and gore they are capable of inflicting. Simultaneously, he’s able to achieve a lot of story-telling in scenes that can be largely devoid of dialogue but instead rest on the power of his drawings alone. There are a large number (in relation to the majority of comics I read) of panels in these first six issues with absolutely no words, and the story doesn’t suffer one second for it. Some comic book authors forget how this is a visual medium and try to put too much dialogue to the point where it feels forced. That is not the case in The Walking Dead, although there is still plenty of talking and character development but more on that in a second.

While I want to try and analyze this piece on its own without comparing it to the TV show which has different needs and different strengths and weaknesses, I know I’m going to fail in that regard. So far, at least in volume 1, The Walking Dead, the graphic novel, seems far more optimistic and action oriented than The Walking Dead, the TV show, which is character driven and pessimistic as hell from the get go. Don’t get me wrong. The comic books are very character oriented so far, but if it weren’t for the TV show, I probably wouldn’t have had enough time with any of the supporting players to learn their names, except for the obvious exception of Shane. Rick is front and center in this story and while he’s had a lot of time to be analyzed as a character, I can’t say the same for everyone else. Also, on the TV program, Shane seems much more sympathetic than his counter-part here in the books whose death at the hand of a little boy is much less scarring (although still pretty damn shocking the first time I read it) than it would have been on the TV series. Also, Robert Kirkman doesn’t quite have a great grasp of good comic book dialogue yet at this point which is a shame cause some of the conversations, especially Glen’s dialogue, comes off as sounding a little odd and unnatural.

As I understand it, the series gets progressively darker and more cynical as it continues so perhaps I’m jumping the gun a little bit by condemning it for being optimistic when its characters have every reason to at least hope that things will get better at some point. Also, four issues (because Rick doesn’t reach the camp until the end of issue 2) isn’t very much time for me to get to know a fairly large group of people. Counting the three deaths, I think there’s still nearly ten people living in that camp. I’m going to go back and forth between reading the trades of this and Season 8 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer although I’ll be finishing Buffy fairly soon. All in all though, this was definitely a great read, especially for the beginning of a series. As it has time to mature and come into its own, I’m sure it will only continue to get better and better.

Final Score: B+

So, you know how I was concerned that since this particular collection of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, titled Predators and Prey after one of the fives issues contained therein, would be a jumbled incoherent mess without a story arc since there was five different writers telling five different stories instead of a four issue story arc and then one-shot as had been the norm for the season to date? Well, I was wrong. The fifth of eight collections for Buffy Season 8 was far more coherent and cohesive than the arc Joss Whedon penned in the last collection, Time of Your Life. Also, with five different authors, we got an over-arching story that made sense while simultaneously letting us have five separate adventures, and they were all a lot of fun. It was great to have Jane Espenson, Drew Greenberg, and Doug Petrie writing some of the issues as they were long time writers for the show. Yet again, these writers broke down the barrier between TV and comics and made me feel like I had picked up into some long lost episode of the series, except now in comic book form.

The main thread of the collection is a new world order in which the vampires have “come out of the coffin” (to steal True Blood‘s phrase) and the actions of a rogue slayer have made all of the Slayers in the world public enemy #1. After being refused entrance to a night club, Harmony Kendall grabs Andy Dick (such a hilarious choice) off into a corner and is spotted by the paparazzi bleeding him. For whatever reason, this lands her a reality show with MTV where a Slayer tries to make her name by killing Harmony, except she fails and now the world sees Slayers as a major threat. The rest of the arc (except for the last story which is more about Dawn) deals with various plots and counter-plots by the vampires to weaken the Slayer army, while they are all seemingly under the employ of the mysterious Twilight. Buffy and Andrew also have to fight off a splinter group of Slayers who are trying to take over the world, while Xander and Buffy later have to rescue Dawn whose final transformation is that of a porcelain doll, until she finally breaks the spell over her and is simple old Dawn again.

Since each issue was self-contained, I feel as if I can review them like I would episodes of the show, so here goes this for the first time in my reviews. “Harmonic Divergence” was penned by series veteran Jane Espenson, and it had that tragicomic undertones that the show always nailed and that she would later bring to bear on Torchwood. Harmony was always a great comic relief character on the show, and it was fun to see that it was her stupidity that outed vampires around the world. “Swell” was a little silly, as the plan for the vampires to take out the Slayers was sentient vampire cat stuffed animals, although at the end, we see this was just a plan by Twilight to inflame anti-Slayer sentiment so it wasn’t as dumb in retrospect. It was cool to have a story told from Satsu’s point of view since she had so recently been “hit it and quit it” by Buffy for Buffy’s lesbian experiment. “Predators and Prey” had a lot of Andrew, and since Andrew quickly became one of my favorite characters in Season 7, his presence was obviously appreciated. His seemingly endless monologue about a million different geek topics was classic Andrew. “Safe” was okay, but that Faith storyline will never live up to the one written by Brian K. Vaughan towards the beginning of the series. “Living Doll” was probably the weakest of the bunch, but it was a story about Dawn, so what did we expect?

So, I’m well past the half-way point now, and any qualms I’ve had about this series have easily been completely quashed when it comes to its transition to the comics. I’ve pontificated to many of my friends that comic book stories and more specifically, adaptations of comic books, are infinitely more suited for the television medium than for the movies. Yeah, there have been a million comic book cartoon shows, but outside of Superman and Batman, no one has made any real effort to adapt comic books to the TV medium, and I think that’s silly. Buffy the television show told a serialized story that took place every week and there was always a season long story arc. The arcs were half the season at the beginning til about season 5 when they became more important for the whole season. Comics do the same thing. A Joss Whedon run X-Men show could do more for that property in the live-action realm than any of the Bryan Singer films (which to be fair, I loved his work).

While this particular arc didn’t carry the same weight as the much needed Faith story that Brian K. Vaughan wrote or deliver the same nerd laughs that Drew Goddard’s Wolves at the Gate elicited, it was still more fun and entertaining (and comprehensible) than either of Joss’s arcs to this point. I’ve only got three collections left to read, and I know that Joss wrote the last two arcs himself. I’m curious to find out exactly who Twilight is and why it is that Riley was working for him the last time I saw him. There’s a lot of resolution that needs to be delivered, as this season has been sending us on some distracting side quests before we get our big reveals, but that was always the Buffy way. I’m just looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.

Final Score: B+