Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite

GN 29. Umbrella Academy Vol. 1: Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way. Illustrated by Gabriel Ba and Dave Stewart. 192 p. Published July 2008.

12302008-umbrella-academy1 The introduction probably puts it best: “It begins, in the best way possible, with an atomic flying elbow…” In an unprecedented wrestling match, “Tuslin’ Tom” Gurney knocks out the space squid from Rigel x-9 and 43 children are simaltaneously born around the world. Reginald Hargreeves, an inventor and millioniare, does his best to collect these children, and adopts seven of them in order to save the world.

Raising them in the Umbrella Academy, these children grow to show extraordinary abilities, and work toward protecting the world from evil. Their first mission: stop the Eiffel Tower as it rampages across Paris.

Twenty years later, long after the Academy had disbanded due to the death of Number 6, these heroes return for the funeral of their adopted father. Spaceboy, formerly the leader of the children, exiled himself to the moon after a terrible accident left him with the body of a large monkey. Allison, known as The Rumor, is now a mother herself. The Kraken – Diego – works in espionage while Seance does little but pamper himself. Vanya, Number 7, known for her complete lack of a gift outside of the violin, finds she is still not welcome, while Number 5, recently returned after disappearing into the future, warns of a great disaster.

These siblings, despite their derision for one another, are drawn into battle when the funeral is confused for the reunion of The Umbrella Academy. Meanwhile, Vanya, upset at the lack of welcome, decides to join an orchestra composed of musicians bent on destroying the world. But this effort to find a purpose seals her fate, and possibly that of the world.

Written by Gerard Way, the lead singer of My Chemical Romance, The Umbrella Academy was heralded as one of the premier series of 2008, even winning an Eisner. While the story begins in a rather strange manner, the characters soon begin to draw the reader in while the artwork offers a colorful backdrop. As such, this reads more like one of the old comics – where the reality of the story is so far from our own that it must begin with certain base assumptions and work from there to explain the rest. Despite this, Way pens a writhing monster of a story, capturing the reader in his vision.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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Batman: The Long Halloween

GN 28. Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb. Illustrated by Tim Sale and Gregory Wright. 368 p. Published November 1999.

12302008-batman-long-halloween The Long Halloween poses a fascinating question: what ever happened to all those gangsters from Batman: Year One (the origin tale by Frank Miller)? In a breathtaking noir fashion, Long Halloween sets about telling the story of Batman and the end of mobster-controlled Gotham.

Confronted by a rising mob problem, Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and District Attorney Harvey Dent bind together in a secret pact to rid Gotham of its Dons – Roman Falcone and Salvatore Maroni. But it appears someone else has the same idea, as a new serial killer begins to strike against mobsters, marking his crime by striking only on Holidays.

Faced with deciphering who Holiday is, Batman must investigate while dealing with the repercussions of Holiday’s attacks. Cofnronted by gangsters with grudges, freaks jealous of Holiday’s popularity, and even the loss of one of Gotham’s finest, Batman is soon overwhelmed. Will he be able to contain the theat and stop Holiday in time to save what is most precious or will Gotham be lost in the growing violence.

In true noir style, appearances by some of the more famous characters and villians tie Long Halloween together in an intriguing glimpse of Batman’s humanity. This was a truly inspired project, originally published in 13 issues, this tale began on Halloween and commemorates each subsequent holiday’s theme until the following October – a truly long Halloween. With a driving story and fantastically vivid illustrations, this version of Batman is one of the greatest – glimpsing a world of moral ambiguity, where there is no right decision – not even for the hero.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Preacher: Until the End of the World

GN 27. Preacher vol. 2: Until the End of  the World by Garth Ennis. Illustrated by Steve Dillon. 264 p. Published January 1997.

12302008-preacher2 In this second volume of Preacher, we come to uncover the backstories for both Custer and Tulip. The two are caught by a pair of men from Custer’s past and the Preacher is shocked to find that his powers don’t work on them. Forced to return to where he was raised, Custer must confront his gandmother, the evil head of his family, or else end up like his parents.

Yet even when Custer and Tulip manage to escape, they find bigger enemies to worry about. Hunted by an ancient orginization bent on controlling the world through Custer, the pair meet up with Cassidy and together try finding a way out of trouble. But they won’t escape unscathed.

I found the most interesting partsof Until the End of the World to be the ones without any of the main characters. The story of Custer’s parents and the motivations of the secret organization serve as the real meat of this volume, providing a captivating image of how dark yet human this world can be. With subject matter not for the faint of heart, Until the End of the World succinctly ties up the past while propelling the series toward a greater plot.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Sky Doll

GN 26. Sky Doll by Barbera Canepa and Alessandro Barbucci. 144 p. Published November 2008.

12012008-skydoll Sky Doll is the flagship in Marvel’s new line of comics imported from Soliel, a premier European publisher.

Noa is a life-like android, known casually as a “Sky Doll.” With no rights or freedom, Sky Dolls serve the needs of the state – no matter how lascivious or depraved. Knowing nothing but a life of such service, most dolls comply. But not Noa; she dreams of more. And the arrival of two missionaries, Roy and Jahu, proves to be her ticket out.

Hoping to escape her slavery, Noa stows away on their ship. But these agents of Lodovica, the Holy Mother, are not all they appear to be, and Noa is taken across the stars, an unwitting participant in a war between religions.

Sky Doll is a masterpiece. Beautifully detailed artwork and fantastic coloring are perfectly partnered with a thrilling plot line and a truly immersive world. Each chapter reveals something new about the characters and how their hidden pasts all weave together. Ending with a real promising hook (and stunning state-side sales), Sky Doll promises that its eventual continuation is well worth the wait.

Please note that both the artwork and material of Sky Doll is for mature readers only.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Storybook Love

GN 25. Fables Vol. 3: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham. Illustrated by Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha. 190 p. Published May 2004.

11292008-fables-storybook-love

Storybook Love is composed of four tales which, while separate, weave together to provide a glimpse of Fabletown. First comes Jack, the lovable rogue of beanstalk, candle, and every other get-rich-quick scheme. Looking to gain some prestige, Jack joins the South in the American Civil War, and flees when the war turns sour. After winning a magical bottomless sack from the Devil, Jack finds a rich lady abandoned to die in her house. Attracted by her wealth and beauty, Jack vows to trap Death himself in order to save her, as always neglecting the consequences.

The second story, now back in the present, reveals a threat to Fabletown as an overzealous reporter threatens to expose the Fables, mistaking them for a nest of Vampires. Using a complicated plot involving Sleeping Beauty, who’s spell of sleep spreads like a contagion the longer she rests, Bigby Wolf calls upon Prince Charming, Jack, and Bluebeard to scare the reporter into submission. But when Sleeping Beauty won’t wake to Prince Charming’s kiss, an unexpected savior must rise in the form of Flycatcher, the Frog Prince.

The third tale heralds the return of Snow White after her ordeal on The Farm. But Bluebeard and Goldilocks, seeking to seize power of Fabletown, have a different plan. They bewitch Bigby and Snow, forcing the pair to take a vacation out in the wilderness where they’ll be vulnerable. Goldilocks, armed with her proven marksmanship, follows them with murder on the mind. But things are never so simple, and as Bigby and Snow waken from the enchantment, the tables begin to turn in their favor. Meanwhile, Bluebeard looks to seize control of Fabletown, but is foiled by Prince Charming, who proved his ability adjudicating the tribunal after the Farm’s revolt.

Returning to time of the Fables’ exile, The Lilliputians are the focus of the final tale. Looking to join the war against The Adversary, a ship full of these tiny warriors set sail. However, arriving in the old country, they soon realize what a disadvantage their size is in battle. Unable to return home, the Lilliputians join the other Fables in exile with one additional problem – no female Lilliputians. With only Thumbellina for all of them to pine over, one of the Lilliputians sets himself a quest: to return to the old country and retrieve the magic seeds that birthed her kind.

In this third volume of Fables, we learn what love means to the Fables. To the Liliputians it has become a challenge of both their vigor and loyalty to the cause. For some like Jack, it is a foolish and fickle thing of greed and lust. For others, such as the Frog Prince, it is pure, honest, and unrequited. And for Snow and Bigby, Love is a thing that cannot be denied, no matter how much they try.

Storybook Love is the volume I’ve been waiting for. With most of the character generation and world building finished, and a solid plot history to stand upon, this volume really shines. Plot twists, humor, and subterfuge abound, providing a truly marvelous experience. While closing the stories of some characters, this volume offers plenty of intrigue to promise an exciting fifth volume.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Other Reviews of Storybook Love: Fyrefly’s Book Blog

Animal Farm

GN 24. Fables Vol. 2: Animal Farm by Bill Willingham. Illustrated by Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha. 128 p. Published August 2003.

11292008-fables-animal-farm This second volume of Fables continues where the first left off, as Jack and Rose begin their community service. While Jack is stuck cleaning, Rose must tag along with her sister Snow White as penance. When communication to The Farm is cut, Snow must investigate. The Farm is the Fables’ upstate property used to house those Fables who aren’t able to move among humans. Snow takes the opportunity to bring Colin, one of the three little pigs, back to the Farm, but along the way find strange signs of trouble.

When they arrive, Snow and Red find themselves behind enemy lines. The pigs, along with Goldilocks and her bear family, have sparked revolution in the hearts of the Farm Fables. Armed to the teeth, they prepare to descend on the City Fables and wrest away control of Fabletown. Seeing an opportunity, Red joins the revolution, leaving Snow to flee for her life.

Truthfully, I was expecting more from Animal Farm, but with dozens of new characters and an unfamiliar backdrop, there is too much world building going on for much of the story to shine through. However, the parts that make it through the clutter – Goldilocks’ relationship with the bears and the heroism of Reynard the Fox being good examples – are priceless.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Other Reviews of Animal Farm: Fyrefly’s Book Blog

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

GN 23. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. Illustrated by Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley. 224p. Published May 1997.

“…And all the other old farts, they grunt and nod and grumble at each other, swapping old jokes they’ve swapped a thousand times. Even fat, beet-red old “Penguin” chirps out a curse or two before bursting into tears.
Then they get talking. And if you’ve got half a brain, you listen. They talk about about amazing adventures, sounding like a bunch of retired car mechanics the whole time.
They talk about a Man of Steel. An Amazon Princess.
But they never talk about the mean one. The cruel one. The one who couldn’t fly or bend steel in his bare hands. The one who scared the crap out of everybody and laughed at all the rest of us for being the envious cowards we were. No, they never talk about him. Say his name and watch Dibny’s face sag so bad his jaw hits the bar.
Not a man among them wants to hear about Batman.”

With fearless mutant gangs roving the streets, rampant urban decay, and no one standing against it, Gotham City has become a city for the hopeless. It’s been 10 years since the last Batman sighting and many doubt he ever really existed. Commissioner Gordon is days from retirement and the new doctors in charge of Arkham have decided to release a cosmetically-fixed Harvey Dent, AKA “Two Face”.

Bruce Wayne, old and retired, burns inside. Flashes of past tragedy clash with horrors of the present, and a dark obsession suddenly breaks free. In a night of shocking violence and myth-come-to-life, Batman returns to the streets of Gotham. There he must prevent Two Face’s latest plot, combat the Mutant gang menace, and train the newest Robin.

But the shockingly public vigilante violence draws out dissenters. Ellen Yindel, the new Commissioner, declares Batman a criminal and issues warrants for his arrest. The leader of the Mutant gang calls Batman out for a final duel for supremacy. And the President, while busy combating Russia, enlists Superman to quiet his old compatriot for once and for all. The final chapter reveals the consequences of this epic battle and the dark reality that embraces the world.

With The Dark Knight Returns, Miller breathed new life into a character most remembered only as a campy TV hero. Here, Batman’s true form is revealed – he is not the hero we want, but the one we need. Embracing the reality of Batman’s vigilante style, Miller creates a vision of the true Bruce Wayne, kept alive and lent strength by his burning obsession. The art and coloring tells a story of its own, providing a necessary element in this monster story.

Rating: 5 out of 5