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FABLES 141 REVIEW – The Beginning of the End!

FABLES 141 COVERFABLES 141
Writer: Bill Willingham
Artist: Mark Buckingham
Publisher: Vertigo
Reviewer: Optimous Douche

I opened this issue with as much as dread as desire; my first time in 10 years of reading FABLES and 7 years reviewing for Ain’t It Cool I’ve said these words. I love FABLES and it’s spin-off FAIREST. Willingham’s take on our favorite fairy tale characters living in the modern world has broken so many walls of character development and the nature of literary figures permeating the zeitgeist I can’t even begin to describe what the man has done within the confines of my word count.

It’s all ending though; issue 150 will mark the end of FABLES proper with issue 141 being the alpha chapter of this omega arc (the appropriately named “Happily Ever After.”) I don’t buy for a second that the title will be reflective of everyone’s fate though, especially with the seeds of war mongering, deception and de-evolution Willingham jammed neatly but tightly into these 22 pages.

What surprised me most was that new readers could actually get something out of this arc. I don’t recommend that anyone starts now since it would be like coming in for the last two seconds of a blowjob, but if you only want money shots with no build-up you could. Willingham really does some grand explaining of Rose Red’s new Knights of the Round Table, the strife between her and sister Snow White, skullduggery from the 13th floor mages and a reintroduction of the recently resurrected, and now very feral Bigby Wolf. There is also a moment with Cinderella that has me salivating with hope for some of her FAIREST Bond like adventures to bleed back from whence they came.

To show that he’s not simply playing his end-game, Willingham resurrects a mythos from the Great War in the form of magical entities that were boxed up against their will when they told Gepetto to go pound wood. They are antsy, ornery and all have now found a home inside Rose Red. I have little doubt this is an effort to up her critical hit damage rolls for a final tussle with sister Snow before the end.

FABLES is almost impossible to review at this point outside of play-by-plays and spoilers, so this will most likely be my last words of admiration for the next 9 months. Instead I will spend the time lamenting the looming loss of Willingham’s delicious dialog, Buckingham’s marvelous margins and the end of yet another vivacious Vertigo era.

P.S. For anyone who is jonesing for more FABLES stories, there’s an app for that called the Wolf Among Us by Telltale games. It thrusts you into the life of Bigby back in the Ragan era as he cleans up the slums of Fabletown. Yes, it’s interactive so if you are tech tarded do what I did for my spastic friends. Get someone with hand eye coordination to play and then stream it to a big set with Apple TV or Chromecast so you can watch the story unfold.

SANDMAN OVERTURE 2 REVIEW: 1 Sandman, 2 Sandman, Feldspar Sandman, Disembodied Trout Sandman

sandman overture 2 coverSANDMAN OVERTURE 2
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artist: JH Williams III
Publisher: Vertigo
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka  Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)

All right, let’s shoot the white melting elephant in the corner first: this book was hella delayed. I’m sure the industry line will be it was on a quarterly schedule, but sorry that doesn’t satiate the ADD world of comics. If it’s a floppy…it better drop monthly.

However, if the glorious Escher intricacy doesn’t beg enough forgiveness, I think the Eisner style home Williams crafted on the first splash page will quell a bit of your fanman ire. If those two things don’t work, you don’t know how difficult art is to create, especially well thought out and paced art with a million Easter eggs of intricacy hidden throughout the book’s panel. NO ONE is dialing this in. If it takes 3 months for this uber quality, I’ll reset my expectations.

Now, for the story. First a mea culpa to Gaiman and all of you true Sandfanatics out there. The gathering of Sandmen from across the universe is merely metaphorical so wee humans can ride with this mystical being.  From Sandfauan, to Sandrobot to Sandcat, they are all the same Sandman, just in a multitude of forms. Is he talking to himself then? You betcha, sorta…but one would expect the embodiment of dreams to be a few standard deviations off center. So, all of you who caught this continuity gaffe, deserve the wettest of dreams for keeping the faith.

Basically this issue drives forward the great mystery of how a facet of dream could be negated from existence. The answer as in any ecosystem is of course a higher power. After some dandying about again in the way back past, in a lovely interlude with a homeless woman who remembers when dream was entrapped so many years ago in SANDMAN 1, we go back to the void in space where the Sandmen…man gathered last issue.

Only this time there is an alpha among them and it’s not our Sandman. Well, it is our Sandman, but the earliest incarnation, the one that guided the dreams of Gods. Next metaphysical jump and we are presented with the embodiment of Glory (and please help me here fans if I miss details or past references as I am still making my way through the first series). This very British version of Teddy Roosevelt tells of a star that has gone mad and shaken the foundations of reality out of their ever watching complacency.

Next jump, Sandman is off to meet God. Well, his Father, who I assume is God. Again, if someone knows better, please share your knowledge with the group. Or, better yet, don’t. New readers as well as those of us who have dabbled with the sincerest intent to one day go deeper, will enjoy the unveiling of abstracts come to form by Gaiman’s pragmatic insanity. The man is still able to surprise while at the same time inducing smack yourself on forehead for missing the most obvious embodiments of everything. Of course Glory would be a British stuffed shirt. Yeah, Death would these days be goth versus monk.

Gorgeous art and an amazing universe to return to (or step into for the first time). Yes, delays are troubling, but in a time when all books are destined or trade no one will remember drop dates, but everyone will remember a story so elevated Williams had to create new panel schemes simply to make SANDMAN OVERTURE palatable for our myopic views of the universe.

THE WAKE 6 REVIEW – Fast Forward to Page 1 [SPOILERS]

The Wake 6 CoverTHE WAKE 6
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Sean Murphy
Publisher: Vertigo
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)

It didn’t take a MENSA candidate to make the aquatic association of THE WAKE’s title to the shit storm that Snyder unleashed from Davey Jones’ locker, but the way in which he did it left me jaw dropped when this book took it’s hiatus a few months ago.

You all will remember when last we left THE WAKE, the aquatic brain trust had basically unleashed merman-a –geddon on the world. Not only were there thousands of razor mouthed man-guppys chasing our heroes, but they had also unleashed a skyscraper size mer-man who could devour the paltry underground base in one chomp.

Well, fuck them, they’re not in this issue. They probably died.

Act II takes us back to the very first pages of the book where we were flung 200 years into the future. Way back in the beginning there was a girl living in water world with her pet dolphin. Issue 6 is her story, and it’s a good one.

Her name is Leeward, and she lives in a world where only the highest regions of America remain above sea level. A world where these mer-men are the clear enemy, especially after they sent warm water gushing to the ice caps and melting them. Leeward lives in a world where these creatures are now hunted with a reckless abandon for consumerism and basic survival.

Now for some reason the last vestiges of our government aren’t too kind to these activities as they work to form their own plan for fishie eradication. Kudos to Snyder for restructuring the American government. The concept of regional governors is something I believe we should institute even before release the Kraken.

I would like something for you all to enjoy, so I’ll let you fall in love with Leeward and her bigger mission as your own discoveries when you read the book.

As a parting thought though, I offer you to not rush your read of the book like I did. Murphy brings his PUNK ROCK JESUS harshness to the metal barges our children’s children call cities. There’s a beauty and a sadness to this moisture laden pastoral existence and Murphy gets all the credit for bringing it alive.

ROYALS: MASTERS OF WAR 1 REVIEW – Another Reason to Hate Reality

royalscoverlogoTHE ROYALS: MASTERS OF WAR 1
Writer: Rob Williams
Artist: Simon Colby
Publisher: Vertigo
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)

(Sung to the tune Royals by Lorde)

They walk around in stately dress
While Nazis make a mess of their country
And they know they can impress
But they stay ducked down, perhaps out of mercy

You see it’s ninety forty, the blitz is hitting London
The Windsor’s have power, but none will dare to use them
It’s not that they don’t care, they just know that the world will perish.
You see every royal bloodline is all possessed with power, that means not just the English but also the Italians.
OK, the oldest Arthur doesn’t care, but he’s an enormous chode.

So, there’s three Royals (Royals)
Henry, Arthur and Rose,
Two have special gifts, but the world will never know.
They hid their power (power)
To abate the world’s envy,
But in a time of crisis
Henry will set them free.

Thank you for indulging me, that was stuck in my head since the book dropped on my doorstep.

Williams confirms what many yanks have believed since we stuck up our finger at George back in the 1700’s – Royals in their current state are pretty much useless (Though Henry 8, did introduce the concept of Royalty being far from divine when he stuck up his middle finger at the pope – just sayin.)!

By imagining a world where Royal bloodlines possessed super powers for countless generations one can’t help but to look across the pond and wonder what’s being wrought from our British cousin’s tax dollars than placebo Rogaine and naked billiards.

Of course watching a bunch of faps in frocks fly around would be a prat move by writer. So instead of being a wanker, Williams builds a personal story around the Windsor line and how their powers skipped a generation and then skipped another…or  so the world is led to believe.

To the contrary, the WWII Windsors actually have two super powered beings capable of extraordinary feats of fancy. And again, Williams veers away from heavy exposition by book ending this issue with the youngest boy, Henry, making a death defying leap through countless Nazi’s plane like a blonde bullet.

Personally I found the crisis of conscious between the leaps just as intriguing. Rose, the only girl and an apt telepath can feel the screams of London’s people, supposedly her people, dying around her. Henry, imbued with Superman like powers is as equally aware of the suffering that they could help abate. Their brother Arthur is a chode as I mentioned lyrically earlier. He is truly the weakest and yet still the bully. When I say no one knows about the powers of Henry and Rose…NO ONE KNOWS.

I’m going to hold on why their Father, the good King kept the  kids’ powers unknown. I might only behalf right and it’s a tender moment of parental love best left described with Colby’s sorrowful visual to accompany it.

I love alternate history so ROYALS was going to get a first issue read when I saw the solicits a few months ago. However, the first issue’s excellence of an honest representation of a world that was and never was is what will bring me back for issue 2.

DEAD BOY DETECTIVES 1 REVIEW – From SANDMAN to Their Own Men

Dead Boy Detectives 1 CoverDEAD BOY DETECTIVES 1
Writer: Toby Litt
Artist: Mark Buckingham
Publisher: Vertigo
Reviewer:  Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)

I’ve found myself in a circular lament recently. My dalliances with SANDMAN have been a backwards affair of half regret and half I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have still yet to make it all the way through the original series, currently slowly and deliberately making my way through issue 21 as of this writing. I have however traversed many of SANDMAN’S spinoffs – OVERTURE, LUCIFER, DEATH, LITTLE ENDLESS and now DEAD BOY DETECTIVES. I wish I was more world aware when I was younger, so I could have traversed everything chronologically as it came out of Gaiman’s glorious brain pan, but I’m glad I waited because the years under my belt allow me to fully appreciate all of the levels in this masterpiece universe.

Even if you’re like me and have yet to make it all the way through SANDMAN, chances are you have met the Dead boy Detectives in one of the many anthologies Vertigo has churned out for Holidays in recent years. These vignettes helped whet the appetite for this book, but none captured the true essence of these toe-tagged Hardy Boys with such concise conservation of words as page one, panel one of their own book.

“The young lady had swooned away and was now deeply unconscious.”
Edwin Paine

“The babe was out cold.”
Charles Rowland

Without reading SANDMAN, before you even know why these two ghosts are hovering above the body of a young woman in burglar’s garb in the back of an ambulance – before anything – you know who these two characters are in spirit (pardon the pun) and practicality.

Of course as the issue goes on we learn that the young woman is the daughter of performance artists, whose latest stint of pretension to steal Van Gough’s “Sunflowers’ has placed their offspring on the cusp of death.

We also learn that the Dead Boys love to unravel a good mystery, but Charles especially can never turn away from a damsel in distress. This is why the Dead Boys stay by the young woman’s side even after they rescue the painting. Because in her dream state between life and death, she caught a whiff of these two spirits detectives, and the whisper of their demise.

The Dead Boys met their untimely fates in different eras, but both of their mortal coils were shuffled loose at St. Hilarion’s academy. We’ve seen this academy before in the GHOSTS Halloween anthology Vertigo put out, but never caught the true gist of the atrocities committed there all under the sadistic hand of an immortal headmaster.

This seems like a lot for one book, but nothing ever felt heavy nor did the story ever slow down. Exposition and character introductions moved as effortlessly as Dead Boy Detectives across the air.

Part of this grace is Litt’s spot on dialog and pacing, but we can’t forget Buckingham’s ability to pluck a writer’s brain pan with High Definition clarity. Buck is less dreamy than in FABLES and using a far more simplistic style to tell this tale. Much less lines, but no loss of clarity – whispy yet never dewy.

Someone recently posed the question on Facebook, what comic would you give a kid these days to get them hooked on the medium? I know the flash bang of books like JUSTICE LEAGUE tickle the same parts of the child mind as primary colors, but for as many hyper babies are out there, you can’t negate the Wednesday Adams of the world. Some kids are ready to explore the icky side of life (like death), and DEAD BOY DETECTIVES delivers this message without lowering itself to the base and banal nature of life’s true atrocities.

Now, I had back to SANDMAN to meet the DEAD BOYS for the first time.

 

UNWRITTEN: TOMMY TAYLOR & THE SHIP THAT SANK TWICE OGN REVIEW

UNWRITTEN TOMMY TAYLOR AND THE SHIP THAT SANK TWICE COVERUNWRITTEN: TOMMY TAYLOR AND THE SHIP THAT SANK TWICE OGN
Writer: Mike Carey
Artist: Peter Gross, Kyle Higgens
Publisher: Vertigo
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka: Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)

If you’ve been following UNWRITTEN, the book whose veneer shines of pastiches that range from Harry Potter to the Books of Magic, you must buy this original graphic novel. Not only is it gorgeously crafted with its hardbound cover and high-gloss paper, this is essentially the Rosetta Stone to the mystery of how Tom and Tommy Taylor came to be. It’s the insight into their father, Wilson UNWRITTEN fans have waited a very long time to see.

If you haven’t been following this book, chances are you shunned it for the very pillars I used in my description.  But I’ve never seen UNWRITTEN being about magic or simply a cautionary tale for Daniel Radcliffe. All of that ended after the first story arc. UNWRITTEN explores the very inception of ideation and creation. As a man without much mystical or spiritual faith, I have always questioned whether humans create what we dream or if we are simply conduits receiving signals to facilitate a grander plan. Carey seems to have no such waffling (at least on paper), what man creates can and will come to fruition through story then in true form.  It’s the Tinkerbell concept taken to hyperbole; if we all believe at once – the public zeitgeist can make any flight of fancy as tangible as the nose on your face.

All right enough of the meta. The actual story lives in a duality between Wilson Taylor’s creation of two mystical boys and how much easier it was to create the fictional Tommy versus raising the real Tom. Writers well know the torturous existence our stories create for our souls and personal lives. We live in ideas and very often those ideas close out the rest of the world around us. When locked in imagination it’s very easy to lose those that have honored us with their love; they don’t know the story and their needs get in the way of us releasing the story on page. For most writers this drive isn’t malicious or calculated. We simply need space. Wilson Taylor is the opposite; in his drive to imbue a real boy with magic he used all those around him until his soul and theirs were completely spent. Through journal entries we see the beginning of Wilson’s plan unfold, while the other half of the story tells the origin of Tommy Taylor and his discovery of the magical spark.

It’s hard to tell which story was the better of the two since both tickled different parts of my cerebellum. Despite their connective tissue of magic’s inception they can certainly be read very separate and apart, especially since we are now well into Tom Taylor’s journey after cresting the 50th issue mark recently. Creating magic in the real world is a twisted dark affair wrought with a Machiavellian usage of real people to serve Wilson’s ends. Tom’s Mother is a nervous break-down waiting to happen until it does and Wilson like Honey-Badger doesn’t give a shit. The boy who would one day become a wizard also spends the first two years of his life in relative solitude. Even if one takes away the story deprivation tank Wilson crafted to infuse Tom with copious amounts of literature through osmosis, his time outside the tank is just as lonesome as Wilson builds an empire and transforms the fabric of reality. The cruelest measure was fitting Tom with a pair of spectacles for his first birthday without even a hint of myopia in the lad. But as Wilson explains it, the reflection must be perfect.

Tommy’s story on the other hand is brimming with optimism despite his hardships before discovering the magical spark. An entire world changes when Tommy discovers his true gift of magic, making Harry Potter’s Christ aspirations seem very limited since the muggle world doesn’t change one iota after Harry defeats Voldemort or discovers he’s special. Tommy is also far more heroic than his borrowed personas. Despite his parents passing, then subsequent servitude at the school of magic, there’s an air of confidence and surety we never saw from the boy under the stairs. Tommy is far more of a leader to his Hermione and Ron as opposed to a scrum player.

It’s funny; Carey actually doesn’t give himself enough credit for just how wonderful and original the THE SHIP THAT SANK TWICE truly is. In one journal entry Carey speaks through Wilson about The Books of Magic and other properties he borrowed from, so capturing public imagination would come easier. Also, Carey stated in a recent interview (or in my PR letter, I can’t remember which) that he was happy he didn’t have to create a full narrative for this first foray into the Tommy Taylor novels. I personally thought this was a pretty flushed out story, which while borrowing from other sources, is truly and wholly original. Especially the ending of the book where Tommy basically imbues his entire world with magic. Even if this book one does borrow heavily from the Potter novels,  book two will certainly be something wholly unique. That last line is a hint. I would love to read the other six Tommy Taylor books. I’m not sure I want to see them tomorrow, but perhaps after UNWRITTEN has run its course?

The art is spectacular as expected. It’s clear when the pencil changes hands, but since the book lives on two planes I wouldn’t expect any less of a shift. The world of Wilson and young Tom is as dark and foreboding as one would expect from my descriptions. It’s also a lot of close-up shots of man about to sell his soul for his beliefs. The world of Tommy is as light and effervescent as the hyper-colors on J.K. Rowling’s creations. A charcoal like dream melting into your eye sockets.

As I stated at the beginning, this book is a no-brainer for current UNWRITTEN fans. However, after this reflection I’ll say you truly NEED this book to understand the full UNWRITTEN story. Wilson came and went from the main comic so quickly we never gained true insight into his megalomania. Also, any true UNWRITTEN fan should want to spend some time with the books that have given our favorite protagonist such trouble throughout his life. If you’re new to UNWRITTEN, you’ll actually get what’s going on, but I don’t think you’ll care as much as true fans of the series. So buy TOMMY TAYLOR AND THE SHIP THAT SANK TWICE, stick it on a shelf, then go buy and read the first two or three trade volumes.

ASTRO CITY 3 REVIEW – BACK TO BASICS

ASTRO CITY 3 COVERASTRO CITY 3
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent Anderson
Publisher: Vertigo
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool news)

I reserved reviewing ASTRO CITY at its new home, Vertigo, till now because the first issue threw me with its meta omnipotent narrator. I didn’t dislike the issue; it was simply a far cry from the ASTRO CITY I once knew. I understand why Busiek chose this route since it has been a long time since anyone has visited the birthplace of his homegrown heroes, it’s just not what an old timer like me was looking for.

For the uninitiated, ASTRO CITY is about people not heroes, and how their lives are affected by a world with super beings. It’s the natural extension of Busiek’s ground breaking work on MARVELS oh so many years ago. Except the sandbox is his own with ASTRO CITY and it’s a playing field where golden, silver and modern age collide. ASTRO CITY is about the dreams of mortals and how the God’s among them either squash or enable those aspirations.

Issues two and three have quickly corrected course. Another tenet of ASTRO CITY is that serves to reflect our own societal woes or wonders. For the past two issues, Busiek has pointed a laser sight at our failing economy, specifically the new job market where college grads are asking, “Would you like foam or no foam on your megafrap deluxe?”

I’m being a bit hyperbolic with that last statement since our protagonist, a recent college grad named Marella, opens issue two applying for what she believes is a job in a call center. In my mind someone with a programming degree shouldn’t be hocking low interest credit card loans though either. Fortunately for Marella (and us readers), her job becomes far more interesting once she says yes.

The call center is a front…sort of. Once she enters the door of the building and then the trans-dimensional portal inside she is whisked away to the sub-command center of Honor Guard. This is THE team in the Astro City universe, basically Jsutice League before they were wrought with so many problems and inexperience that seem to plague their current incarnation.

Marella isn’t being hired to hock anything, she’s actually been hired to be the front line of calls for help and triage what should be brought to Honor Guard’s attention. It’s not her ideal job, but certainly a far cry better than the alternative. Even in our world you’ll find much higher job satisfaction from someone working a 9-1-1 line versus asking people if they want to buy cheap real estate in Florida.

Another reason I’ve always been enamored with ASTRO CITY is that time is elastic. Often Busiek plays with entire decades of history like his last outing in DARK AGE. For this story though we’re only talking the course of a year.

But what a year it is. Again, ASTRO CITY is about people. So while the heroes are always omnipresent as Marella skills up, the true beauty of this story lies in a young woman finding herself and her place in the world. Here the story transcends to an all relatable tale as Marella gains confidence in her job skills, makes new friends with co-workers, deceives her family about what she does all day, and even develops a crush on the cute guy in the command console next to her.

Until it all comes crashing down.

Like any job Marella has metrics to meet, if you don’t triage correctly you waste precious escalation resources chasing ghosts. After being a chastised a few times, her team becomes gun shy about escalating issues to the next level. This proves to be a fatal move as one improperly diagnosed call gives a villainous group names the Skullcrushers the ability to obliterate a South American town.

I think I’ve described enough to entreat those who like me insist their stories be as much character development as carnage. I will say though, issue three is a story of redemption for Marella. She learns that mistakes don’t define a person, it’s rather the lessons we learn from those mistakes.

I’m thrilled ASTRO CITY is back and under the spearhead of a publisher known for a tight schedule. There have been lapses with past series that diminished a bit of the joy trying to recollect months prior. I’m aslo thrilled Anderson is in the pencil seat again. He’s been a staple of this series for a long time and truly gets how to make the characters look exactly like Busiek intends from an emotional perspective.

This isn’t just another pastiche, Busiek’s world is rife with originality even though it borrows from tropes we all know and love. I really believe new fans will dig this series, and Kurt provides enough Easter egg fodder so that old time fans feel once again welcome in ASTRO CITY’S bombastic and beautiful boundaries.