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Comic Culture With Rafa: #004

Welcome To The End Of The World: The Magnificence of The Walking Dead Vol. 1
A Review From Rafael Encinas

There’s a reason that AMC’s The Walking Dead is such a cultural phenomena; that it is able to entertain such a wide variety of people. I know that my parents love watching the “Zombies” as they call it, and can really get into all the intense drama and zombie bashing galore that the show is known for. This is major because they don’t typically like anything that my sisters and I enjoy. So, seeing them eagerly await Sundays to watch this show as some new, weird family bonding ritual is pretty interesting and pretty breathtaking. This shows me that The Walking Dead has become a big part of culture; that it transcends just entertainment.

Regardless, it can be argued that the reason it has become such a cultural phenomena is because it explores a key concept that all humans struggle with:

How does the world continue when society collapses?

How do you go on when all hope is lost?

When threats are all around you, you are only left to ponder on the nostalgia of yesterday’s world, on the triviality of everyday. In a world where the dead try to eat you, it makes you miss the good ol’ days of school and taxes. That’s some pretty heavy shit.

Well, if you love The Walking Dead or are turned off to it because of the heavy excess of zombie pop culture today, do not let it deter you from the smart, keen, and beautifully illustrated The Walking Dead comic series where the show came from. Robert Kirkman’s and Tony Moore’s first volume of The Walking Dead: Days Gone Bye (2004) is not only arguably the most important zombie comic ever conceived, but it is just masterful storytelling that you become invested in. Seeing Rick’s venture into a dead world is captivating. Robert Kirkman is able to tell a story with a lot of movement and still shots that can both shock and awe. Tony Moore’s illustrations (my favorite of The Walking Dead series) use a lot of detail that really add a depth to the storytelling which is only further enhanced by its black and white hues. It is almost as if it is a nightmare that you want to wake up from; a world devoid of color and life.

The story does have zombies, but the story isn’t really about zombies.  There is real human drama in the narrative that makes it so iconic. It is the characters in this series, specifically in this volume that keep the reader’s interested. You grow to care for the survivors all the way to the bitter end. And if The Walking Dead had ended with just this first volume, it would still be pretty impactful with the final thematic scene. It’s like poetry in comic form. Read it. It’s good.

On The John: Dark Horses’ Stranger Things

A Review From John Camarena

As many of you may know, I’m quite a fan of Stranger Things. This show resonates with my 80’s nostalgia. It’s a fantastic blend of pop culture icons; everything from Stephen King to Stephen Spielberg, sci-fi and fantasy. The very first episode got me hooked, from that synthesizer theme song to the sprinkles of Dungeons and Dragons, Knight Rider, E.T., and so on. And the story is great too boot! Unlike the kitchen sink approach that Ready Player One threw at us, this show has an interesting mystery, likable characters, and well-paced action beats. It genuinely captures what it felt like to be a nerdy child with an overactive imagination. And now, while we wait for Season 3’s trailer to drop (any freakin’ day now please!) the supplemental materials are now making their way to tide us over: The Official Stranger Things Companion book, the Dr. Brenner-centric novel Suspicious Minds, and a whole slew of unofficial books are now available, with many more to come. As someone who loves consuming this stuff, I had to dive in and chose the 4-part comic book series just as the 4th issue released, because at the end of the day, Stranger Things is meant to be binged. Does the comic book meet the same level of awesome that the show does? Almost.

Massive spoilers ahead if you haven’t watched seasons 1 and 2, by the way, so here goes. The comic book 4-parter was written by Jody Houser, with art by Stefano Martino. Who are these people? I don’t really know, as I’ve not kept up with comic books for a very long time, but between the two of them, they seem to have done good work in the past. The comic takes place simultaneously with the events of the first season, beginning when Will Buyers realizes there’s something strange and dangerous in his home and runs to hide in the shed out back. Something not shown in the show is how exactly Will ends up in the Upsidedown, and this comic basically shows him teleporting there. Unlike other characters and sometimes the Demogorgon who are shown having to walk or crawl through a gross-looking portal that resembles an open wound in the fabric of reality, Will just kind of blinks and is suddenly in the Silent Hill version of Hawkins that we come to refer as the Upsidedown. Here he has his first encounter with the creature, and Will shoots it right in the toothy petal-head then it disappears. From here, the narrative jumps around with flashbacks to events leading up to the present, such as some more interactions between Will and his friends, Dungeons & Dragons campaigners Mike, Dustin and Lucas. We see a little more of their previous adventure and learn that Dustin and Lucas are apprehensive about Will’s choice to be a Mage, and questions his usefulness to the quest. This is put in contrast with the real danger he is in the present. While being shown as indecisive and defensive in the real world, Will takes action and fights back against the Demogorgon and goes out exploring the Upsidedown, trying to make sense of his situation. It’s here that I really appreciated the comic due to Will processing things as if it was a D&D campaign. Will finds strength by relating to his Mage character, imagining he is on some sort of quest he must endure after being separated from his party. These sections are short, and they depict them both with fantasy-style art and with versions that looked like they were drawn by Will himself, a reference to the character art shown in the series. I actually would have really liked if the whole series was done in this style, as that seems to tie in better without having to reveal too much or make up things that may be out of place or not fit in to the continuity.

Now, the majority of the story is set during the 7 days that Will was missing in the real world, and we do see how some of the time unfolds from Will’s point of view. It is shown that Will can sometimes hear the people calling out to him, and that although the Upsidedown appears to be devoid of life or light, there is still a connection to the powergrid of the real world that he has an indirect effect on. For instance, the Christmas light Ouija board that his mom, Joyce Buyers makeshifts on the living room wall works by having Will touch the corresponding letters on his side, and we are to infer that his proximity to the light is what causes it to react. It’s never spelled out and it is not consistent either; for instance, the first time Joyce hears Will faintly on the telephone, Will was trying to use the walkie talkie. It’s not clear if anyone in the Upsidedown would be able to do this or if there is something special about Will. After some time passes, Will decides to leave the house and explore around the town, and it is during this excursion that he sees Eleven for the first time. She appears almost as a vision, because she does not seem to be entirely corporeal, but she does seem to also see Will, which explains how she knew about him when she sees a picture of him at Mike’s house. The exploration portions turned out to be my least favorite part of this series, however.

Now after Will goes exploring, he essentially visits all the same other parts of the Upsidedown that other characters come into contact with. Will hears Barb scream for help and he follows her voice, but by the time he arrives to the pool outside of Steve Harrington’s house, all that’s left are Barb’s glasses. Will returns home and sees that a portal stared forming in the living room wall and makes brief contact with his mom, but has to run away when again the Demogorgon attacks. While Will is out in the woods, he almost runs into Nancy Wheeler, Mike’s older sister, and Johnathan, his older brother. According to the comic, he was within stone-throwing distance of meeting up with them in the Upsidedown, but just missed them. He also runs into a wounded victim of the Demogorgon that dies before his eyes, and eventually makes his way to Castle Buyers, a wooden fort in the woods of Hawkins, where Eleven makes contact with him letting him know that they haven’t given up hope and are still looking for him, even after a fake body was planted in the quarry by Hawkins Lab and presumed to be him. Finally, after days without food or water and cold due to the lifeless nature of the environment, Will is found by the Demogorgon. Will wakes up in the public library, which is now a nest of sorts and there are other bodies strewn about. While the other bodies appear decomposed, Will is still very much alive in a cocoon-like structure with a long tendril going into his mouth, not unlike the proboscis used by the facehuggers in Alien to impregnate their hosts. We don’t dwell on this too much though, because Joyce and Sheriff Hopper find him right then and take him home. The next few panels before the end are of Will recovering in the hospital and it leads to my favorite part of the whole series: while talking to his mom and brother, we see from Will’s point of view and for a moment, he sees them and his surroundings as if they were in the Upsidedown, with the two of them appearing decomposed while still talking to him. Will convinces himself it’s just his imagination, but leads to the idea that he is still connected to the Upsidedown, which we see later in season 2.

All in all, it was good. The art was well drawn, and the covers of each issue evoke the style of horror and sci-fi movie posters from the 80’s like The Thing and Aliens. The Easter eggs I caught were nice also, such as Mike reading Stephen King’s The Dark Tower in a flashback to get ideas for future D&D campaigns, and a brief glimpse of the Mindflayer, who did not appear in season 1 but was the big bad of season 2. You won’t miss anything important if you skip out on this comic, they leave the worldbuilding to the show, but for fans like myself who can’t get enough of this story, it fills in some of the gaps and gives you more of Will so he feels like he was there the whole time. I’m looking forward to more side stories but really hope they also expand on the mythology. So until the release of Season 3, due July 4th, 2019, this has been John reminding you to Geek Out!

Overall rating of 7.5 out of 10.

Comic Cultre With Rafa: #003

The Standard Of True Heroism: Mirio Togata in My Hero Academia Vol. 17

By Rafael Encinas

Volume 17 of the wildly popular manga series, My Hero Academia, hit shelves this week, and there is something special to celebrate in this volume. The Raid on the Hassaikai Gang arc is one of mixed opinion, but fans can agree that it showcases some astounding moments.  Up until this point, we follow our heroes as they try to catch up with and detain the deadly Overhaul and his deadly gang of Yakuza called the Eight Precepts of Death, but we see the heroes get separated in the underground tunnels/labyrinth.

The plot up to this point is all about taking down Overhaul’s criminal organization, especially considering that they are producing bullets with the power to permanently erase quirks, this series’ version of superpowers. The key to this is in the special quirk residing in Eri, a little girl that Mirio and Midoriya failed to save earlier in the arc.

In this volume we finally witness one of the heroes catch up to Overhaul and his Yakuza minions, and that hero isn’t Deku, the main protagonist… it’s Mirio.

Outnumbered and less experienced, the deck is stacked against the pro hero in training. But Mirio does something wild in these chapters.

We expect Mirio to put up a good fight; after all, he’s been hyped up and we’ve seen him excel as a fighter in previous volumes. But he not only overcomes the odds and actually rescues the frightened Eri, he does it easily!

This is huge because, as already mentioned, Mirio is a hero in training. He is not a pro, yet. Overhaul is not a joke of a villain. He is a cruel, conniving, and powerful sociopath with the power to disassemble and reassemble anything he touches.

Mirio kicks his ass! He saves Eri and he does it in a way that feels powerful. We see this little girl who is used to pain and fear watch someone actually come to her rescue. Mirio actually exemplifies the very definition of being a hero.

And in this volume, we get so much more than a beautifully illustrated fight sequence. We get to see just what being a hero means to Mirio. This is a kid who worked tirelessly to turn a difficult quirk, permeation, into a Top Tier super power. His judgement, reflexes, and timing are all in tune, and we get to see him perform some of the coolest moves in the manga. And there is so much heart in these panels as we see Mirio fight so desperately for the little girl that is used to being used and abused.

Ultimately, he makes the ultimate sacrifice by taking a bullet for Eri, losing his powers in the process. But like a real hero, he continues fighting and protecting Eri for a full 3rd of the fight depowered. Mirio is no joke, and again, it is powerful to see someone give so much to save one individual. Mirio came up with his hero name, Lemillion, by vowing to save a million people. And in a poetic and poignant moment, he was able to save just one girl. And he does it without hesitation. This is the standard of a true hero!

And it has become the standard for this popular manga to wow audiences with interesting and unique powers, to astound us with epic fight sequences, and to motivate us with shonen style life lessons. If you don’t believe me, check out the phenomenal anime. It is worth your time. This is a special volume in an outstanding series. Let us all be like Lemillion. Let us all live up to that standard of true heroism.

Gaming With Jeremy: Apex Legends

A Review From Jeremy Miller

When it comes to video games, the big thing right now is “Battle Royales”. Whether you prefer to play solo or with a squad, there is no shortage of options. Fortnite and PUBG have been two of the most popular for well over a year, and the bigger developers have taken notice and even came out with their own versions of the popular genre. Respawn Entertainment, the creators of the Titanfall game franchise, have created a BR called ‘Apex Legends’. It feels as if all I have played in the last year are “Battle Royales”, so I was a little skeptical when I first played it, thinking that it would feel the same as the others with just with different cosmetics. Man was I wrong, and I’m glad I was.

‘Apex Legends’ is a class based shooter, meaning each character has abilities and specials that only they can use. For instance, Lifeline is a Combat Medic. She can deploy a healing drone and drop a care package for her team to get defensive and healing supplies. Bangalore is a combat specialist, or DPS, character. She can throw out smoke grenades and when her special is ready, can drop Rolling Thunder, an artillery strike. With each character having their own strengths and abilities, the game kinda forces players to play with a team first mentality, rather than running off on your own. And that alone separates ‘Apex Legends’ from the other BR games at the moment.

‘Apex Legends’ is a beautiful game. The graphics are amazing and if it weren’t for other players trying to shoot my head off, I’d probably have time to snap more screenshots. The only game mode is Trios, meaning that if you don’t have a friend or two in your party, the game will match you with randoms. The game will randomly select who picks their character first, then second and third. The other new thing that was added, is called a Jumpmaster, who is also selected at random. The Jumpmaster is the one who can select a spot and jump out of the flying vehicle to land at that position. The game does give the option for a player to break away from the group and go off on their own. Once your team has landed, the mission to survive begins. There is plenty of loot laying around for everyone to have 2 weapons of their choice with a couple of attachments. Which in turn makes it extremely interesting if there are other groups that landed with you.

Not only is Apex Legends a beautiful designed game with great mechanics, it’s also free on PC, XBox and PlayStation. I can’t wait to see what new characters Respawn has in store for us. I have yet been able to secure a victory, but that doesn’t matter. I like to play games because I have fun, especially if it’s with friends. But I would be lying if I told you I don’t have a competitive side. I will get that win one day. And I’ll brag about it to my cat.
Overall I would have to rate this game a solid 9/10.

Find Jeremy streaming here:
https://mixer.com/xPsykoSlimx

Comic Culture With Rafa #002

That Important Spider-Man Story Everyone Should Read
By Rafa Encinas

With the recent interest in Spider-Man at an all time high, especially after the popularity of Insomniac’s Spider-Man video game, the success of the Into The Spider-Verse movie, and the insanity of the Spider-Geddon comic event, I think it is time for new fans and old fans alike to venture into some of the quintessential stories that got us to this point. That is why I highly recommend J. Michael Straczynski’s “Coming Home” (2001) story from his run of The Amazing Spider-Man (issues #30-35).

First and foremost, this is super hero storytelling at its finest. When I first picked it up, I was expecting just another flashy Spider-Man story. Something that would be fun, but overall probably forgettable. However, I was pleasantly surprised. This is one of those stories that hit hard, and ultimately actually set up a lot for future stories. We get the introduction of the enigmatic Ezekiel and the unstoppable Morlun, the concept of totems and the supernatural, as well as a huge reveal as the story comes to a close.

This adventure hits hard because the action is nonstop. If you are looking for some Spider-Man action fights, then this is the story for you. The inner monologue and desperation that comes from Peter as he trades blows with Morlun feels important and showcases the internal grit and perseverance that the Spider-Man character embodies. There are actual stakes to this battle, and you see the inner turmoil and despair Peter is facing. You do not get the usual banter. It feels serious. This is also expertly complimented by Romita Jr.’s art style which always seems to work best for the Spider-Man character.

But besides the superhero slugfest that this comic details, there is also real heart in Peter’s personal life. The reader gets to see him create something for himself. He pays it forward by becoming a high school teacher. He attempts to do more than just be a superhero. The high school sequences are endearing and actually produces a powerful sequence in which there is a school shooting; something that is unfortunately very familiar for our current times.  And this is important because Spider-Man always feels relevant. This story further solidifies it.

And that is why it is with great pride that I recommend this story to all fans of the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. It feels important, and it showcases exactly why Peter Parker is such an endearing character. It accurately portrays the magic in being responsible and in holding oneself to a higher standard. And luckily, Spider-Man can reach those higher stands. It helps when you have the agility and web slinging prowess of a spider.