Guardians of the Galaxy 2 Review

“I am Groot.

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Here’s the short version: Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is great fun. Engaging, largely hilarious, and just plain fun.

Admittedly there are moments when it feels like they’re trying too hard (including occasional instances when the comedy is overdone, forced, and/or uncomfortable), and it doesn’t quite have sense of wonder of first movie since we’ve seen Quill and company before, but overall this was a fantastic ride.

The plot’s a little more focused and the characters are developed well, including nice spotlights on Nebula and Yondu, and a strong debut for newcomer Mantis. Of course as expected the show stealer is Baby Groot, who’s done pitch perfectly to be adorable, funny, and engaging without crossing over into annoyance. The movie’s absolutely BURIED in pop culture references, but it fits with Quill’s character as established in the first movie.

I had a wonderful time with Guardians 2, to the point where I got so caught up in the ride and enjoying the movie’s twists and turns I forgot about a couple things I had predicted would happen in this movie to the point I was surprised when they occurred. Can’t ask for much more than that in terms of immersion.

 

 

Doctor Strange Review

“We never lose our demons, we only learn to live above them.

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Doctor Strange is perhaps the hardest Marvel Comics hero they’ve tried to adapt so far, yet the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch (and several excellent supporting actors) had expectations fairly high for the latest puzzle piece in the unfolding Marvel Cinematic Universe. I was extremely curious as to how the mythical elements and certain parts of the mythos would be handled, and for most part really liked what they came up with.

Being both a Marvel movie and the origin of a new hero to the MCU, there are formulaic and cliched elements to Stephen Strange’s introduction. Also, some of the supporting actors are considerably better than what they were given to work with.

That said, everything did come together extremely well due to nice touches of foreshadowing here and there and a couple of strong twists. Strange himself, the Ancient One, and Mordo were given nice complexities and reasonable depth, and were all superbly acted. The special effects were brilliant and really anchored the idea of magic in the MCU along with of course providing the expected spectacles and chaotic actions sequences. The climactic battle is stunning, clever, and totally in character, which is everything I could have asked of it.

There are little things in Doctor Strange that could have been done to elevate it even farther, but by the same token there are numerous little things that WERE done that add up to make the Sorcerer Supreme’s screen debut a thoroughly enjoyable endeavor.

 

Gotham Academy Volume 2 Review

Gotham Academy is not a normal school, and even there Olive Silverlock is not a normal student. But with a like minded group of inquisitive misfits, Olive investigates secrets regarding both the school and her own past.

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There’s no way around this: volume 2 of Gotham Academy was quite disappointing. After six atmospheric and fun issues in volume 1 that established a cast of quirky characters and several intriguing mysteries, the pacing just completely falls apart in this installment and the story collapses under its own weight.

The phenomenal cliffhanger from the end of volume 1 is blown off in a single issue with the featured hero acting incredibly out of character and ham-handedly isolated to interacting with just a single member of GA’s established core cast. I actually expected it to be revealed as an imaginary sequence and would have preferred that given the tone and characterization inconsistencies. So much potential wasted.

After that we properly refocus on Olive, but the tension and slow build of the first six issues are replaced with reveal after reveal with no lead up and far too little explanation. The developments are interesting, but everything from secrets about Olive’s past to relationship developments and conflicts among the cast to various secret agendas and schemes are all thrown at the reader too quickly for any real emotional impact or for anything to truly click and resonate. Even with my extensive familiarity of Batman mythos it was a chore to follow all the implications and name-drops, and someone reading GA in isolation would be totally lost.

It’s a shame because Olive and her struggles are intriguing hooks to the book, and other things ranging from the diverse personalities of the support cast to the vivd yet atmospheric art all make me want to like this more than I do. But in a single volume the comic has gone from a mysterious, foreboding adventure with touches of humor and a pace that fosters reader curiosity to crash-TV style “shock of the month” storytelling that doesn’t allow anything to fully develop and feels like a couple of years worth of plots and twists have been stuffed into six issues.

What a reversal. I still love the concept and some of the characters, and “Calamity” isn’t horrible by any means, but neither is this even remotely the same comic I started reading in “Welcome to Gotham Academy.” Don’t know if I’m up to continuing, as while I am still interested in seeing how things turn out for Olive I don’t feel I know enough detail about what happened during this volume, let alone having the framework to process the next batch of info dumps. We’ll see I guess.

Raven #1 Review

Dealing with the loss of a friend and teammate as well as the weight of her legacy, Raven seeks to explore her human side a bit by moving in with her aunt’s family and living a “normal” life for a while.

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Raven’s a character I’ve always liked, but never really read too many amazing stories about. A different take on her written by New Teen Titans legend Marv Wolfman was too intriguing to pass up.

And different this most certainly is. The whole hook of the concept is watching Raven try to be normal, and it was pretty entertaining to see her try to “blend in” a little in her new home and attending high school. Wolfman does a good job of providing those moments without letting them overwhelm the comic, and lays in a mysterious, superhero appropriate underlying story that we just see hints of in this first issue. Alisson Borges’ art is admittedly uneven in parts, but is spot on most of the time and suits the tone and events in the comic well.

It’s not perfect and maybe not what longtime Titans fans wanted from a Raven solo, but I find this take compelling and entertaining overall and am interested in reading the rest as it comes out.

Arkham Asylum: Living Hell Review

This trade collects the entire Arkham Asylum: Living Hell miniseries (issues #1-6).

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To call the main characters of Living Hell even “third-string” Batman villains would be generous, but Dan Slott reminds us that characters don’t have to be popular to be interesting. Across six issues he builds a compelling tale of the world’s worst nuthouse.

If you dislike supernatural elements creeping into Batman stories or require the Dark Knight himself as the focus, this won’t be for you. It’s also extremely creepy in tone and fairly graphic – I would normally expect something like this to be under the Vertigo imprint. Even with the title “Living Hell” I wasn’t expecting something this dark (especially from Slott, who is more well known for his comedic ability).

But those who can handle the elements mentioned above will find Living Hell well worth the read. Things tie together surprisingly but reasonably, horrific events tie directly to the plot and character arcs, and it was all engrossing enough that I couldn’t stop reading until I was finished.

Lucifer Season 1 Review

“You make a mockery of everything divine.”

“Thank you.”

 

Lucifer Morningstar has grown tired of “playing a part in his father’s play” and left hell to “vacation” in the mortal world. Now amusingly set up in the City of Angels as the owner of an exclusive nightclub, his adventures of indulgence are about to be interrupted by a callback to his old duties: a murderer needs to be punished.

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Lucifer starts with the general idea of the DC comic of the same name and immediately breaks off into different territory. While it’s debatable if a more “faithful” adaptation would have been suitable and/or better for a tv series, what’s here works surprisingly well. Tom Ellis is a delightfully playful Lucifer, which anchors the show excellently. He’s charismatic and a horrible influence at the same time and wrapped up in a thoroughly amusing bundle, but still conveys a curiosity and internal conflict that shows room for growth. And of course equally important to the part is his phenomenal ability to really channel anger, rage, and a dangerous edge convincingly when needed.

The writers balance Lucifer’s unusual partnership with a local homicide detective and the associated crime of the week structure with a strong overarching story that shows real character development and intrigue over the course of the season. The mythology is carefully built and slowly revealed in bits and pieces. Lucifer is given depth of character, along with legitimate gripes with his former life that underlie his issues and actions, that adds layers and plenty of themes and dilemmas for the viewer to get caught up in to the show.

Like the approach, the series’ success is two-fold. The individual episodes stand well as isolated stories, providing decent mysteries and reasonably accessible points of introduction. But beyond that is an amazing cast inhabiting compelling characters caught in the ripple effects of Lucifer’s actions and their consequences.

The acting, atmosphere, and little dramatic touches combine to make the first season of Lucifer an engaging journey that feels complete yet ends with a big development that will no doubt echo through season 2. This certainly is not the Vertigo comic of the same name, but anyone willing to go along in the direction this series takes the same core concept will find a dark, intriguing, and yes, entertaining journey.

This show features the devil himself consider his morality, which is a philosophical avenue well worth exploring.

 

Dungeon Crawlin’ Fools Review

Dungeon Crawlin’ Fools is the first collection of The Order of the Stick webcomic and contains strips #1-120, plus 18 new comics and author commentaries.

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OotS has become an epic tale and is the most consistently excellent webcomic there is. As of now there are about 1,050 strips of the webcomic, 5 print collections and another 3 print only books. It features a group of adventures in a Dungeons and Dragons setting. Literally – these are the adventure of D&D characters who are self aware, and a lot of the comedy in this first volume revolves around the author’s skillful blending of game mechanics into his characters’ dialog and actions. The fourth wall is optional when it comes to the good of the comedy here, and in this case it’s a great choice.

Familiarity with D&D will add depth, and no doubt make some of the jokes funnier, but is not necessary to read and enjoy. D&D parody humor and stand alone jokes are particularly prevalent in this volume as Burlew starts to decide what direction to take with his comic, but grows more organically out of the characters and situations in later volumes. Even by the end of Dungeon Crawling Fools, the plot starts to coalesce and several twists and key confrontations have occurred.

OotS’s art uses “fleshed out” stick figures. See the cover for an example. This “simplified” art style is used to great effect and fits the comic perfectly.

I highly recommend Order of the Stick in general, and the beginning, of course, is the best place to start. Dungeon Crawlin’ Fools itself is highly amusing and comprises a complete story arc, but still plants the seeds of future (more complex) adventures.