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Comic Culture With Rafa: #014

The New 52 Justice League: A Perfect Entry Point Into Comics

An Editorial From Rafael Encinas

We live in a time where we get to see characters like Spider-Man, Batman, and Deadpool on the big screen. This is something truly special because it wasn’t always like this. In our present time where superheroes are all the craze, there is an influx of new fans that want to explore these iconic characters and delve into the pages of the comic book format. However, as many new readers will attest, finding an entry point to these larger than life superheroes can be a daunting task; especially when there are so many characters and so many years of storytelling to catch up on.

Though many did not like it, I am very happy that DC tried to create an entry point for new fans by starting the New 52 continuity in 2011. This was a hard reset of iconic DC characters, with all new #1 issues. Basically, new fans were welcomed to learn about popular characters like Superman or Wonder Woman with revamped origins. The old stories weren’t important for newcomers to dive right in. You could now start here. Unfortunetly, this did create a division in the comic fans who were reading these stories for years. Therefore, many found the New 52 as a failed experiment; something that hurt comics more than help them. However, for all its faults, the New 52 did give us some great stories (especially in the Batman and Green Lantern books), but one of the best has to be Geoff Johns’ and Jim Lee’s fun and exciting Justice League series, specifically the first six issues (collected as Justice League Vol. 1 Origin in trade paperback). 

For anyone who wants to jump into comics, but is afraid to do so because of all the rich history and running titles, then look no further because this Justice League story is the quinnessential entry point for new comic fans! It’s great for many reasons, but the main reason is because it captures the allure and passion of what makes people gravitate toward superheroes in the first place: excitement, joy, and lots of heart.

First and foremost, I personally love this book! I have reread this story on multiple occasions in the past couple years, and it continues to be just as exciting and fun as it was the first time I read it. It is an excellent reimagining of the Justice League coming together in a modern world with a darker and grittier edge. The plot is simple. Darkseid (one of the DC universe’s biggest bad guys) is coming to earth, and his legions of parademons are invading. Therefore, the world’s meta humans are the first line of defense. We get to see how Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Cyborg come together for the first time. It is absolutely fun reading Batman and Green Lantern play off of one another, like two people who are forced to get along even though they don’t like each other. It is exciting to see the Flash and Superman try to “outfast” one another. And almost every line that comes out of Wonder Woman’s mouth is so earnest but also both fun and funny. It is a serious end of the world scenario, but it still manages to be a wild action set piece with brilliant comedic moments! 

Jim Lee does some of his best work in this story with dynamic art that really energizes the pages. The redesigns of classic superhero costumes are given a youthful vitality, and it can be seen, especially well, in the fluid and stylized detail that Lee is famous for. The countless iconic moments (such as Superman breaking through Green Lantern’s chains; Aquaman summoning a horde of great white sharks, or Batman using all the weapons in his utility belt) all feel grand and important as the story progresses. Personally, the grand entrance of a massive Darkseid is definitely a highlight, and his overall character design is brutal and terrifying. The way he is drawn to tower over the heroes adds dread and excitement to a story that just keeps getting more and more intense! 

What works best however is the genius characterizations of the Justice League members themselves. Though it is a team book with plenty of action set pieces, Geoff Johns showcases exactly why he is one of the greatest writers to have ever graced comic books. He understands character dynamics and gives each character time to shine in his story. Green Lantern plays the perfect comedic show off to Batman’s brooding detective. Flash is a great mediator who is just trying to do the right thing. Both Wonder Woman and Aquaman have great energy and command the screen when they slay waves of parademons. The incorporation of Cyborg to the team is different from what we’ve seen in the past, but I believe it’s an interesting plot point that serves its purpose. Superman is utilized as muscle, and doesn’t necessarily have to be the focal point because of all the great characters around him. He gets his moment to shine, like everyone else, but he is not seeking to lead the team. All of them coming together happens randomly and unexpectedly. They don’t know one another, but through their resolve, teamwork, and hilarious jabs at one another, they seamlessly become the Justice League. It works, and it is exciting every time I read it!

I got into comic books because they provided an escape into a world where people could fly; where the good guys would look fear in the face and still move forward. These were the stories that motivated me to be a better person; to love life because these modern day gods were on full display in my hands. Superhero stories will never go out of style because they inspire us to be better, and this story does this so well. Batman’s heart-to-heart with Green Lantern; Wonder Woman taking a moment to enjoy ice-cream; Superman & Flash inspiring one another; Cyborg overcoming his personal fears and shining so brightly; these moments feel important and we see the magic on full display. In a world filled with apocalyptic destruction, the appearance of heroes creates wonder. We see hope for a better future!

Importantly, David Graves is a character introduced in the last issue of this story in where he and his family are trying to escape the literal hell on the streets. We see people being eviscerated by Darkseid and his parademons. Graves knows he is about to die with his family, and it’s an intense moment, but then he encapsulates the exact appeal and level of inspiration that these heroes can elicit in someone. David Graves represents everyone who has ever opened a comic book or watched a movie where they witnessed something so immersive and so special that it transcends understanding; it just becomes a warm feeling; a fulfilling moment. He puts it best when he says: “I thought there was going to be no tomorrow. I thought my family and I were going to die. Then I saw THEM. And I saw tomorrow.” The Justice League is just that iconic. 

Justice League (2011) is a great story for multiple reasons, but by far, it’s one of the best because it cares about its characters, and they are written to inspire. They inspire us because they are not perfect beings. We see them fight. The running joke about Batman not having any powers; Barry & Hal’s personal banter; and Green Lantern antagonizing everybody on the team feels personal and relatable. They feel like a group of people that quickly become a group of friends; your friends. And we cheer for them because of what they can represent! They might be an alien, an Amazon, a cyborg, a living lightning bolt, an aquaman, a space cop, and a dude in a batsuit, but there’s something utterly unique and special in that. It just works. And we are made to care.

Overall, it is a quick read; an easy read. It will make you chuckle and gasp at the beautiful art. It’s a well written narrative about a bunch of outcasts coming together and becoming something important. If you want to read something that elicits those emotions of wonder and excitement, to see a standard of excellence, this is the book for you; no prior reading necessary. It is a wonderful entry point into the magical world that is comic culture!

Comic Culture With Rafa #013

Clarity of Focus For A Mutant Future in X-Men #1 – Spoilers Ahead

A review by Rafael Encinas

After the magnum opus that was Jonathan Hickman’s House of X and Powers of X, we are now in the Dawn of X, where we go further down the rabbit hole of Krakoa and the new Mutant Status Quo. As Chris and I expounded on in our previous wrap-up of HOX & POX, we are beyond excited to see how the X-Men move forward in a world that still hates and fears them, but now also recognizes them as a sovereign nation.  This Dawn of X begins with today’s newest story, Hickman’s X-Men #1, and right out the gate, we have the X-Men do what they do best; they are taking on those that are threatening the X-Men’s new-found liberty.

The issue opens with a flashback of when Cyclops, aka Scott Summers, first gets his ruby quartz glasses from Xavier. It is a touching scene that reminds us why Cyclops is such an important figure in the X-Men comics. We see how he is a man with destructive power and how he needs to stay in control, and now as the captain commander for the entirety of Krakoa’s defense systems, we see him and Storm raid one of the last Orchis strongholds on earth. The X-Men are not being passive in their new world; they are being proactive and bringing the fight to all those that would want to see them destroyed. This opening sequence has good banter and excellent moments for Cyclops as he utilizes his wit and charm during a fire fight in a heavily armed compound. Some of my favorite quips are: “I’m always careful… it’s part of my charm” and “Be careful, they’re sure to be savvy—all these apes have PhDs!” We also get some great moments with the newly minted heroic Magneto and powerful Polaris (which makes me happy because Hickman is actually giving Polaris a purpose again). All on in all, they work as a team, shut down Orchis, and save a bunch of captive mutant children.

Leinil Francis Yu’s art is distinctive and feels energetic as we see all the action in each panel; it is both fluid and animated. It is further highlighted by the bold inks from Gerry Alanguilan and colored perfectly with vibrant hues from Sunny Gho. This team of artists really give this entire sequence urgency but familiarity. It feels new and exciting, but its grounded in what we always see the X-Men do, and that is kick ass.  

However, after the explosive opening, the issue does switch focus to a much slower brand of narrative storytelling. While many say it can be boring or can hurt the overall appeal of this book, I argue that it further world-builds and adds the necessary brevity to further ground and expand on these interesting and iconic characters.

The book delves into a Summers family reunion where we find the heart of the issue. We see that Scott and his family, including Wolverine, are all living on the blue area of the moon at the Summer House, which is a Krakoan biome. We get fun banter between Wolverine and long-lost Summers brother, Vulcan over the philosophical difference in meat rarity. We get a teenage Cable asking permission to trade guns with his new friend; (Jean quips, “Set the table first, dear). We also get a time displaced Rachel Summers who kind of looks like she is just done with everyone, which is very reminiscent of an older sister. And we even see estranged Starjammer father, Corsair even connect with his family by trying to bond with Cyclops over Krakoan dish washing.  It is slow; it is whacky; it is fun; it is heartwarming. Hickman is at his best when he grounds his characters in the everyday mundane but there is real heart to it. We get a greater love and respect for the characters when they are allowed to relax and be happy. 

We see that Cyclops continues to fight the good fight and will never stop because of his focus and vision (which is masterfully symbolized when Xavier first gives him the glasses at the beginning of the issue). For those that have followed Cyclops’ ups and downs over the years, we know it has never been easy, and now in Hickman’s world we see a focused and determined Scott Summers who continues to help his people not by being worried about the threats of tomorrow but instead, as he says in this issue, by focusing on the things that make him want to live today, with his family being that main focal drive. This is magical storytelling because we see a fully realized character who is on full display in a new world and who is looking forward to the future like so many are looking forward to with this new era of X-Men.

Overall, this is a fantastic start for the X-Men after Hickman’s establishment of the new status quo. The art is stunning, the writing is top class, and we get a powerful story of vision, clarity, and hope under the guise of a Summers family barbecue. It is some exciting stuff.

Can We Just Hit Reset On The World?

A Review Of The Spire From Author Peter Smith

By Mitch Punpayuk

    Maria Patterson lives with her parents in a fully automated multi-storied Spire in the middle of Central Park, she has a robot companion, two loving parents, and the whole North American continent to herself. After the plague that wiped out most of the world’s population, her family and their army of robots have charged themselves with raising the next generation of Americans but they aren’t the only ones left in the world.There are several prominent families that rule over other countries and continents, and not everyone has the best intentions. The new world has still has a few surprises for its new inheritors.

Following Maria as she navigates the world she grew up in, with all its trials and tribulations, you feel like both nurturer to her naivete and in awe of her intellect and abilities.
    Author Peter Smith crafts a complex and heavily detailed world that allows the reader to get lost in the very scenes of the novel. This level of detail is afforded to the characters of this story as well, immersing the reader in the thoughts of the characters as they try to thrive in their new reality.  The amount of “science fact” blended into the “science fiction” grounds the story for a more believable read of a world rocked by a viral apocalypse. While the merging of “old world” politics and the neo-politics of a not so-far off possible future, make for a compelling story that mirrors stories from our own history.

    I particularly like the characters of David Miller and Tobor. Miller is a former special forces military man, now head of private security for Jacob Patterson and his family. While Tobor is a semi-artificial intelligent android that is the protector/care-giver/teacher/sole companion of Maria Patterson, the story’s main protagonist. 

    Issues I had with the book is the erratic switching of pronouns for characters which made me have to reread many parts over as the author jumps from character to character. The character of Maria Patterson has a great deal of her formative years off page, so though the author puts great thought into why Maria is so well learned and versatile, to me it did not feel like her skills and abilities were earned more often than not. The author also, quite often, goes into too much detail about items, devices, places, and all around minutiae that does not come back into play at any point in the story, throwing “Chekhov’s Gun’ straight out the window.    In all, for a new reality based sci-fi, give ‘The Spire’ by Peter Smith a read and get sucked into a world filled with robots, genetic alteration, political intrigue, strong characters, and incredible world building, you won’t be disappointed.

Find this book and Peter Smith’s follow up novel ‘Apocalypse Dawn’ on Amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/Peter-F-Smith/e/B07YQ8GV8D/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

Late Gamer Plays Assassin’s Creed Unity

A Review From Hidai Moya

I was wary of what to expect of ‘Assassin’s Creed Unity’ since it’s a game that was perpetually haunted by its botched release. However after spending about 110 hours in it I can attest it’s nowhere near as bad as its perceived to be, but there are still some odious sins it commits.
First off the city of Paris is a wonder. Even in 2019 its still without a doubt one of the best cities the franchise has ever depicted. The enduring romance of Paris is that of a global cosmopolitan beacon of culture, history, & art with a dazzling array of Parisian architecture dotting the map. Notre Dame Cathedral, the games architectural north star, serves as the cities primary landmark and it’s equally one of the most beautiful & lovingly rendered landmarks of the entire franchise. Exploring it’s sky high bell towers, it’s gorgeous facade, and it’s beautiful interior are some of the best memories I have of this game.
Everywhere you turn in Paris there’s some new and fascinating history to be discovered, a castle here, a fortress there, and historical neighborhood full of secrets. Enter the fact that Unity also has the best parkour animations of the series never made me care that there were literally no mounts in the game. The city also has a unique feature not present in other AC games which are crowds. Really large crowds of people that serve to make the city feel more vibrant and alive during the French Revolution, however it’s annoying how hard it is not to lose your enemies in them. You think with so many people there, anyone looking for you would lose you quickly but very often they can spot you easily which undermines the purpose of these crowds, as beautiful as they are to see.
This brings me to point out the game’s truly appalling sins, the NPC voices & dialogue. Though this game takes place in France inexplicably all of the NPC’s have English or Irish accents which kills your historical immersion & can make for bizarre experiences. What’s unforgivable is that the studio that made Unity is in based was Ubisoft Montreal. A city where French is the official language (I hope someone got fired for this).
Beyond that, the overall game and the intro have this cool swashbuckler feeling to it with its combat. The fighting choreography is neat, though simplistic & repetitive with not many variations in moves.
Overall this story had a lot going for it, but tragically never fully used its French Revolution setting to delivery a memorable ending, opting instead for a somewhat cliched unimaginative ending. There is a lot this game gets right but also things it botches, but overall I don’t think I would’ve played it for as long as I did if I didn’t enjoy myself throughout most of my experience.
Grade B

Late Gamer Plays Wolfenstein: The Old Blood

A Review From Hidai Moya

“The Old Blood” is yet another violently fun entry into the classic Wolfenstien franchise. This game is soft remake of 2001’s “Return to Castle Wolfenstein” where you first must escape the titular locale & then put an end to Nazi occultists digging up undead secrets of a supernatural past. One thing this series does so well, better than many FPS franchises, is that it really puts in the effort to create outstanding shooting gallerys. Wether on a bridge, a cable car, or a charming bavarian town, it’s adrenaline pumping run & gun play is very satisfying. It’s weak point is that its story is nowhere near as emotionally impact as its other entries but its serviceable. For dedicated fans there’s even multiple levels of 1992’s “Wolfenstein 3D” hidden around the game world to find. Not as good as the 2001 version, but still very fun. Grade B

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