Comic Review: Black Hammer, Vol. 1: Secret Origins

Published: April 11th, 2017
Written by: Jeff Lemire
Art by: Dean Ormsto

Dark Horse Books, 152 Pages

Review:

I didn’t know what to expect from Black Hammer but in the last year and a half that it has been out, it has been pretty popular and even spawned a few spinoffs within its unique universe.

I have historically loved Dark Horse’s original titles. I’ve read Hellboy and B.P.R.D. on and off for years, I was a massive fan of Umbrella Academy and have occasionally checked out other titles. Plus, I was always happy with their Star Wars books for the long period of time that they had the publishing rights to that megafranchise.

I saw that this was a series by Jeff Lemire, who had some good runs on some major titles over the years, most notably SuperboyJustice League DarkAnimal ManGreen ArrowTeen Titans: Earth OneHawkeyeOld Man LoganMoon Knight and Bloodshot.

Originally, Lemire was going to do the art for this book but he’s a busy guy, so the art was created by Dean Ormsto.

I love that this is a book about a superhero team but it is probably the most nontraditional superhero team book that I have ever read. The story follows a group of former heroes, trapped in a Twilight Zone type of small town. They have been stuck there for years with no way of getting back to their own reality.

The story is highly emotional, as each character tries to deal with their new reality in their own way. The most interesting character is Gail, who was a superhero woman that grew into old age but is now trapped in her superhero persona: a small girl. She has lived a full life, enjoyed sexual maturity but is cursed with an adult mind and needs in the body of an elementary school student.

All of the other characters are interesting too but I felt that Gail’s story had the most to offer, at least only having read the first story arc.

I’m looking forward to keeping up with this series. So far, it’s pretty good. Time will tell how it develops and if it can grow legs. So far, things look pretty promising.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: I’d have to assume Black Hammer, Vol. 2. There are also some similarities in style with other Dark Horse series Umbrella AcademyHellboy and B.P.R.D.

Comic Review: You Are Deadpool

Published: May 2nd, 2018
Written by: Al Ewing
Art by: Salva Espin, Scott Wilson

Marvel Comics, 22 Pages

Review:

This was a really cool experience and I like how it was organized and laid out. It’s more of a game than a comic but it was straightforward and easy to navigate.

For those of us who were kids in the ’80s, this comic is a blast. It takes the old Find Your Fate and Choose Your Own Adventure format and brings it into comic books. I’ve never seen the concept worked out and presented in a visual way but that was what made this so unique and fun. Plus, Deadpool was the perfect character to take this journey with.

As far as the plot, it was simplistic and not too exciting. It mostly just served the experience in creating a few gags and jokes within the adventure. Since Deadpool loves to break the fourth wall, the jokes are more hilarious, as he talks directly to you, the reader, whenever you make him crawl through shit or get beat up by a low level villain.

And while this was amusing for the one issue that I read, I don’t think that it can work as a series. I guess there are more coming out but I got the gist of the experience from this one issue and probably won’t pick up the others. It may have actually worked better had this been a double issue with a longer story and more options, as opposed to spreading this out over five or six separate issues, which is what they’re doing.

Unlike the Find Your Fate books I read in the ’80s, this doesn’t have enough narrative to keep you engaged for multiple read throughs. It needed more meat and potatoes, frankly. But still, it was an amusing fifteen minutes and I have to give kudos for the concept.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Anything starring Deadpool, honestly.

Book Review: ‘The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution’ by Tom Acitelli

History is awesome. Beer is awesomer. America is awesomest.

Put all three of those together and you get this: a triple awesome badass epic that goes through the history of craft brewing in the United States of America.

Tom Acitelli has put together a great book for craft beer lovers. It doesn’t matter if you are in America or not, this book tells the interesting tales of some of the most interesting breweries there are. It examines how the craft brewing industry came to be such a juggernaut in the U.S. and how it has fought against the bigger corporate megabreweries (still a much, much bigger juggernaut).

The book helped to solidify and enrich my love of beer, its creation process and just about everything else surrounding it.

Acitelli’s words are well-written, the tales he tells are well presented and there is a lot of new knowledge to walk away with even for the most hardcore beer aficionado.

I cannot recommend this book to beer lovers and/or history buffs enough.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: The books Tasting BeerBeyond the Pale and Asheville Beer.

Comic Review: Fatale – Book Four: Pray For Rain

Published: February 25th, 2014
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Sean Phillips, Bettie Breitweiser

Image Comics, 144 Pages

Review:

I have really enjoyed Ed Brubaker’s Fatale series. However, this was the low point of the series for me. Although, I still haven’t read Book Five.

It’s not that I didn’t like this story, I did, but it was lacking when compared to the books that came before it. Especially, the first two story arcs that were pretty incredible.

Maybe it’s that this has lost the film-noir touch that really made me fall in love with the first two stories. It’s not that this is completely different, tonally. It’s just that this one takes place in the 1990s, sees Josephine shacking up with a bank robbing grunge band and overall, just doesn’t seem to fit cohesively with the other stories. But maybe Book Five will somehow tie all these stories together in an amazing way. I still don’t know how this will all come together in the end.

The art is still great, the story is interesting but there really isn’t a single likable character in the entire book. Jo has amnesia and is pretty much just in the story to create tension and drama between a group of shitheads. There is also a murderous cop but he’s nowhere near as interesting as other antagonists in this series.

I don’t know, I was disappointed with this outing. Maybe Book Five will help this story make more sense but I feel as if it should still stand strong on its own outside of the larger context.

But for now, I feel my interest in this series slipping away.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: The other volumes in the Fatale series. Also, B. Clay Moore’s Hawaiian Dick series, as both share a lot of similarities with noir and the supernatural.

Comic Review: The Amazing Spider-Man: Go Down Swinging

Published: March 7th, 2018
Written by: Dan Slott
Art by: Stuart Immonen, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Jim Cheung, Humberto Ramos, Alex Ross (covers)

Marvel Comics, 148 Pages

Review:

Let me preface this review by saying, “Holy shit balls!”

Man, oh, man… I friggin’ loved this story and this is the best Spider-Man story arc that I have read since before that 2008 catastrophe Brand New Day, which made me quit reading Spider-Man after two decades of loyalty. Yes, I even made it through that godforsaken Clone Saga in the ’90s without quitting.

While Dan Slott was a big part of Brand New Day and continued to keep writing Spider-Man for a decade, including this story, his last, I had heard good things over the last few years. But it wasn’t until I heard about this story that I figured that I’d finally give the guy another shot. Well, he’s really undone the damage of Brand New Day and also seems to be righting the ship with some of the things that have changed since then. Well, at least this arc starts with Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson making out. That’s a big giant leap out of the Brand New Day muck.

So Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin, has acquired the Carnage symbiote. He sort of has it under control and used it to remove the restrictions that Peter Parker put in his blood to prevent him from ever being the Green Goblin again. So what we have now is the Green Goblin and all of his powers enhanced by the Carnage suit. So to paraphrase what the official story arc write-up said, “This is Spider-Man’s greatest villain merged with his most deadly.” Basically, shit just got real.

The story sees Osborn hellbent on destroying Spider-Man, which is made easier when he finally remebers that Spidey is Peter Parker. That’s where it becomes an all out assault on Parker and his loved ones. Osborn tells Parker to stop being Spider-Man and if he abides by this, his loved ones will be safe. Peter’s allies unite in an effort to take on Osborne but ultimately, Peter Parker has to put the costume back on and have a big showdown with this new Red Goblin for all the marbles.

The story is intense, really intense. It was hard to put down and the big 80 page finale that was issue 800 was perfection. I understand people’s reservations with Slott’s epic run on The Amazing Spider-Man but this story arc was some grade A stuff, especially in an era where Marvel hasn’t been putting out a lot of quality books.

This served to not just up the ante and give Spider-Man one of his toughest threats of all-time, it also gave closure to a lot of plot threads that have stretched decades. There is an important death in this but it was done tastefully and only made that character better. Also, it was a decades long redemption story that gave a sad but satisfying payoff for those who hated and then learned to love this character over the years.

I also thought that the art was incredible. Marvel has been letting amateurish looking art creep into their titles but The Amazing Spider-Man has kept the best of the best and the quality of Go Down Swinging is such a great contrast to the terrible Marvel books I see, wall to wall, in every comic book shop I frequent.

I can’t praise this enough. And thank god they pushed Mockingbird out of the equation, as that relationship never seemed to work for me (and others from what I’ve read).

Dan Slott may have started out throwing gasoline on a dumpster fire but he ended by giving us one of the high points in the long history of The Amazing Spider-Man.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: Since this is the big finale of the long and storied Dan Slott run, all of the Slott Spider-Man stuff before this. However, you may want to pickup the story arc Threat Level: Red, as it serves to setup this big finale. Try to avoid Brand New Day unless you’re into torture.

Book Review: ‘Appalachian Trials’ by Zach Davis

*Written in 2015.

Appalachian Trials: A Psychological and Emotional Guide to Successfully Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail is what I would consider a must-read before setting off on the long journey. Granted, I have never hiked the Appalachian Trail but it is something I consider doing more and more each year.

Zach felt the need to create a book dealing with the psychological and emotional aspects of hiking the Appalachian Trail, which has never been the subject of a book before. I agree with him that penning something like this was pretty vital, as every field guide in the world can’t prepare you for the real challenges. And sure, this may not fully prepare one either for something so tough and arduous but at least it gives good information on what one should expect and it also provides tales and lessons to help the reader better understand the trials ahead on an emotional and psychological level.

The book gets straight to the point and doesn’t waste much time. It is concise yet packed with essential information. It is also well-written and an enjoyable read.

If you are like me and have seriously considered hiking the Appalachian Trail, this most definitely should be read before you start your trek into the wild.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: A Walk In the Woods and Wild.

Comic Review: G.I. Joe, Vol. 2: Threat Matrix

Published: February 25th, 2014
Written by: Fred Van Lente
Art by: Steve Kurth, Jamal Igle
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Hasbro

IDW Publishing, 152 Pages

Review:

Threat Matrix is the second volume of IDW’s third G.I. Joe run. It picks up from the story in Homefront and happens alongside the events in G.I. Joe: Special Missions and The Cobra Files.

The story is mostly focused on a big terror attack by Cobra in New York City. Cobra is led by the Mad Monk, who had an important story arc way back in the G.I. Joe: Origins series. Here, he is hellbent on ruining the life of Duke. We also see Destro and the Baroness unite in an effort to undermine Monk, as neither have faith in him or his mission and think that he can be the undoing of the Cobra organization. Also, Cover Girl suspects that Duke is a Cobra spy and all the signs she’s looking for seem to support the unfortunate theory.

This is a complex and layered G.I. Joe story and I loved it. There are lots of suprises, there is a ton of action and the art does a great job of conveying the energy of the story.

The big reveal of what Duke’s secret is, however, was really convenient and pretty stupid. I’ll just leave it at that, as I don’t want to spoil the actual story itself.

The last chapter in this is a bit slower and the overall arc concludes in the second to last issue in this collection. The final chapter is mostly just a flashback to Roadblock becoming a member of G.I. Joe. It doesn’t necessarily serve the greater narrative but maybe it leads into something important in the next volume after this.

Threat Matrix was a good read and better than I thought it would be, as the IDW G.I. Joe universe seemed to be losing some steam in this third phase of titles. I just hope that the finale to this phase goes out with a much needed bang and doesn’t just come and go with a soft wimper.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: The other G.I. Joe stories that happen at the same time: G.I. Joe: Special Missions (IDW) and G.I. Joe: The Cobra Files.