A Vicious Cycle

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Mr Grayson

Written By Cadeem Lalor

After reading The Boys, I decided to check out Invincible due to a friend’s recommendation. Invincible follows the exploits of Mark Grayson, the teenaged son of one of Earth’s greatest heroes, as he discovers his powers and begins fighting crime.

I have previously discussed how the most popular superheroes, such as Superman, can serve as archetypes for future creations.  With their 1930s and 1940 origins, Superman and the members of the Justice League were not only some of the first superheroes, but they have become a benchmark for future creations. These heroes helped to create the superhero comic. Their powers became part of the prototypical image of a superhero, super strength, flight, super speed etc.

The Boys and Invincible both feature versions of The Justice League. The Boys has “The Seven”, while Invincible has “The Guardians of The Globe”. The Guardians of The Globe are so similar that they are undoubtedly a homage to the Justice League. Their appearance, as well as their powers mirror heroes such as Batman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern. One such hero, Darkwing, has no powers but uses gadgets and fighting skills to combat crime.

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Invincible

The Seven is lead by Homelander, whose costume has a similar colour scheme. The Homelander also has similar powers, including heat vision. The Seven were all created through genetic modification, but all have cover stories that are given to the public. The public believes he is an alien who crash-landed on earth as an infant.

Queen Maeve’s cover story is that she is Empress of the Netherworld, similar to Wonder Woman being a princess of the otherworldly Amazons.

While these examples are glaringly obvious ones, which were intended by the creators. Invincible and The Boys are both satire and deconstruction of superheroes. The Boys shows a world where superheroes are morally corrupt celebrities, and Invincible features a twist on the Superman origin story that has tragic consequences for the its protagonist. Since the members of The Justice League came first, it can be hard to create heroes who lack any similar powers or tactics. The most interesting part of the archetypes is seeing how these archetypes created an ideal of morality that led to many subsequent creations.

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Guardians Of The Globe

Antiheroes such as The Punisher and Deadpool were created to be a marked contrast from the shining pillars of heroism seen in the early comics. As time progressed, every character underwent arcs where their image was altered, in order to keep them relevant to a changing world. Superman: Birthright featured a version of Pa Kent that was reluctant to see his son use his powers for good, knowing the fear they could generate. Batman comics may have been campy at times but the character has now evolved into the quintessential dark superhero. Meanwhile, Superman still has the image of a light-hearted hero, even though decades of comics offer much more variety.

Characters created in the 1930s and 1940s still shape superhero comics, whether they are being admired, criticized or deconstructed. Arguably, comics that don’t revolve around superheroes might not be as popular if it wasn’t for the large slate of comic films. When people feel like a market is congested, they often seek something new. Comics are a world of their own, where praise and criticism can still feed the same cycle.

 

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Marvel’s Missed Opportunity

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Power Pack – Meet The Team

Written By Desi LaSalle

I have read comics for over 35 years (yes! I am kind of old!) and there are many titles that that have come and gone that have always left me wondering as to why the comic didn’t sell and ultimately led to the cancellation of the book. But saying this, there is one in particular that has always truly mystified me. I really believe that Marvel comics dropped the ball with the comic titled Power Pack. This comic burst on the scene in August of 1984 with issue #1 and it had all the elements to be a ‘Marvel Mainstay’ team comic book.

It was written beautifully by Louise Jones Simonson and penciled by June Bergman. Power Pack had all the elements to succeed for a long, long time. The characters were great, a bunch of young kids, all brothers with awesome powers, great costumes and wonderful adventures. They were collectively known as the Power children, (code names: Gee, Lightspeed, Mass Master and Energizer) not to mention they’re totally awesome spacecraft the Smartship Friday. Power Pack should have been to Marvel what John Cena is to the WWE, a flagship title, the face that runs the place! At the height of it’s popularity Power Pack was mentioned in the same breath as X-Men at Marvel. They were everywhere, teaming-up with the New Mutants, Cloak and Dagger, Fantastic Four and the X-Men. At one point Power Pack added another member unofficially…none other than Franklin Richards, aka Tattletale, due to his ability to perceive possible futures.

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Power Pack #32

Power Pack had some good villains such as “The Snarks” and “The Bogeyman” and were involved in great Marvel story-lines such as “The Fall of the Mutants” and “Mutant Massacre” and even teamed up with “The New Warriors” later on. At a certain point Power Pack was everywhere at Marvel, including various promotions that they appeared on. In 1991 a Power Pack animated series pilot episode was made by NBC  but was never picked up. Sadly Power Pack finished it’s run after only 62 issues!!! This left many plot-lines unfinished. Marvel Comics, for reasons that till this day I can’t understand, really missed out on a great opportunity with this book. I always fantasized that this comic, with John Byrne writing and drawing it, could have been epic! The possibilities would have been endless and yet something happened along the way that hurt this book. The constant change in creative teams, boring story-lines and the fact that Power Pack stopped being a priority for Marvel led to poor sales and the titles demise.

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Even Logan Love It

I have been waiting since 1991 hoping for Marvel to reboot and restart this series once again, with a top notch writer and artist. This team deserves another chance as it has all the elements to succeed for the long term and it already has enough backstory and history to make many great new stories and take this title to another level. I would also love to see a Power Pack movie! Now that’s an idea!!! (Marvel are you listening!?) As for me I guess reading some more back issues is the best I can do to not dwell on the fact that Power Pack is truly one of Marvel’s biggest missed opportunities!

 

 

 

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Preacher

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Meet The Gang

Written By Cadeem Lalor

After wrapping up 100 Bullets, I decided to move on to Preacher.  Preacher follows Jesse Custer, a preacher in the Texas town of Annville. During a service, a supernatural spirit named “Genesis” possesses Jesse and kills the entire congregation. Jesse later learns that the Genesis is the offspring of an angel and a demon, and that God left heaven the moment it was created. Jesse then sets out to literally find God and make him answer for deserting heaven.

Firstly, the cover artwork is amazing and many of them are among my favourite pieces of comic book art. The interior art also holds up. I do prefer the art in Y: The Last Man more but I don’t want to fall into the trap of always comparing one style to another. Preacher’s style is different, but I don’t believe it is inferior.

Jesse is a likeable protagonist with a tragic backstory, whose morals are shaped by his deceased father. While Jesse is a great character, Preacher’s greatest strength is the story and the stable of supporting characters. Jesse often fights with Tulip O’Hare, his girlfriend, and I know some fans criticized this aspect of the writing. I started reading with an open mind and can see why some may be annoyed by the relationship. However, their fights are justified. The main one throughout the story is Jesse’s desire to keep Tulip out of harm’s way by taking on enemies himself. While Tulip appreciates the sentiment she knows she is a capable shooter who has saved Jesse’s life numerous times. I can understand why such situations could result in conflict but the conflict was written well enough for me to still root for both characters.

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Herr-Starr: That’s Right, He’s Grinning At You

Preacher also features Cassidy, an Irish vampire. Cassidy rotates from being an anti-hero to something more sinister as the series progresses, but still remained my favourite character of the series. However, he does have a lot of competition.

Cassidy’s biggest competitor is Herr-Starr, a former German anti-terrorist operative and the main antagonist of the series. As the head of The Grail, Starr leads a mission to capture Custer and use him as a Messiah figure for The Grail’s vision of Armageddon. As the series progresses, Starr seeks to replace The Grail’s leadership and his motive for finding Custer becomes purely personal. The failures and misfortunes Starr faces trying to capture Jesse cause him to become more unhinged as the series progresses and Starr is responsible for making me laugh more than any sitcom has.

Starr is also followed by Arseface, a teenager who was deformed after failing to kill himself with a shotgun. Ennis manages to move seamlessly between making Arseface a pitiful character and comic relief, while also making Arseface’s story as interesting as Custer’s search for God.

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Party Time: Jesse, Arseface and Cassidy

I was not completely satisfied with the last issue, only because there was one aspect of the ending that felt hollow. However, the ending is not poor enough to deplete the quality of the series and is only a small bump in a smooth road. Preacher joins Y: The Last Man, and Transmetropolitan as one of my favourite limited series.

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Ray Of Light!

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The Ray

Written By Desi LaSalle

Recently it was announced that a new animated series is being scheduled for release in early 2017. The show is called Freedom Fighters: The Ray and it will introduce the first gay Super Hero to ever lead a show. The Ray is a favorite of mine when it comes to Super Hero comic book characters. I have always loved his powers, his costume and everything that Raymond “Ray” Terill brings to the table. Overall, he is a very relatable character. The Ray presents a lot of options for your imagination with his light powers, that I have to admit, are just plain cool!

The Ray’s uncle in the comic book universe was the original ‘Ray’, aka Thomas Terill, and led him to believe that he was his father when he raised him. The Ray has had quite a few incarnations and some unsuccessful comic book series in the DC Universe. I have always been baffled as to why the book has never enjoyed a long run, especially considering that the hero has so much potential and presents so many options visually for a comic book. My personal favorite of these was his series in 1994, written by Christopher Priest and penciled by Howard Porter, with various covers done by Jim Lee. I found these series to be fun, well written stories and contained great art work. Another aspect of the book that was great were the villains in it: Brimstone, Dr. Polaris, Deathmasque, and the classic villain,  Vandal Savage. During this run the Ray, at the height of his popularity, even joined the Justice League of America.

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Revelations!

At a this point I really believed that the Ray would be a DC mainstay character and would be around for a long time, unfortunately this particular series that I enjoyed so much did not get the chance for a long run and only lasted for 28 issues. Like many other characters that I love, the Ray lost his light and became another character banished in comic book limbo, leaving me baffled and wondering of what might have been as an avid comic book reader.

The original Ray is a character dating back to the 1940’s and to see him once again in 2017 is just another example of a superhero that is ‘cool’ no matter what or when. It proves that a good idea is timeless and is a testament to the character. I hope that this new show on the CW gives way for a new generation of comic book fans to discover just how great the Ray is and help him, once again, have the opportunity for DC to give him his own solo title. This should be done with a great writer and artist who know that if DC wants to go in another direction and produces a new team book, they pull it off just right.

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Fading Out!

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The Shepherd: Apokatastasis

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Here Comes The Shepherd

Written By Jake Garner

ComiCommand has been fortunate enough to recently steal a look at Andrea Lorenzo Molinari’s, and his son, Roberto Xavier Molinari’s, The Shepherd: Apokatastasis. After demolishing the entirety of the first five issues in one sitting, as some sort of a nut-shelled conclusion, I felt delightfully refreshed. We are always ever grateful for a sneak peek into the workings of those writers that are new to the graphic novel scene, but it is often with the newcomers we get some of the most revitalising story-lines. The Shepherd steps away from the bright lights of the conventional superhero ideology, and instead shines a more personal light upon the comic book genre. So, what is The Shepherd then? Well, it’s composed of fairly individual and delicate pieces, arranged in a way that makes the story immersive and truly heartfelt, both through the writing of the Molinari boys and the artwork of Ryan Showers.

What I don’t want to do is give an in depth description of the story here, as I feel this wouldn’t do the actual book its well deserved justice, and also, much like the protagonist of the story, it should be a personal journey of self discovery, both for the characters in the graphic novel and the reader. What I will provide is a quick synopsis, just to wet the appetite.

The Shepherd follows the life of Professor Lawrence Miller as he struggles to deal with the death of his son following an appalling drug overdose. The rogue Prof. begins to feel encompassed in an inescapable sense of abandonment. Tragically, Miller takes the only option he can see as viable, given the circumstances; suicide, and with it, an opportunity to follow his son into the afterlife. Miller reaches the other side where is confronted by his own father who bestows upon him unimaginable power. Revenge is on the cards for this Professor as he brings havoc upon those who were involved in his son’s death. This is a journey of personal identity that has its roots entwined in tragedy. Dark? Yes, it is, but I get the sense that it is meant to be. There are no flashy capes here, and definitely no masked hero chasing some predictable ‘American Dream’. The Shepherd is ‘raw’ from the outset, and it is precisely this which makes it so refreshing.

After speaking with Andrea, and reading through the foreword to the series, From Nightmare to Dream, it is clear that the writer has drawn inspiration from a number of sources. It is with real, private inspiration that good stories are born. In this foreword, Andrea says, ‘Like most people, I don’t remember my dreams. Even the most vivid, violent or frightening dreams do not stay with me. Like sand through my fingers, they slip away, leaving no trace. This one was different.’ It is with the encouragement of Andrea’s son, Roberto, that he was to turn a garish nightmare into a story that could be shared.

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It Was Time For Some Payback

 Of course, stories need a creative edge, but a personal invite into the writer’s mind makes that edge sharper. Being an avid fan of Shakespeare, Andrea was able to turn his dream into something of poetic substance. From reading the whole of the first volume, Shakespeare’s influence becomes apparent in the writing. These two sources of inspiration, both the foundation of the story found in the private dreams of Andrea, and his Shakespearean appreciation, work together to create something of an ‘underground showstopper’, per se. Andrea exclaims, ‘I am a fan of William Shakespeare. There is certainly nothing unique about that. Among the many writings attributed to him, Hamlet is my favorite. One particular line come to mind during my darkest moments:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

than are dreamt of in your philosophy

(Hamlet, 1.5. 167-8, Hamlet to Horatio).

To my way of thinking, this is a succinct reminder that, despite humanity’s best attempts, there are many things about the universe that we simply do not know. There are some things that we can’t explain. There is mystery.’

So, what can one expect to take away from The Shepherd? Perhaps the most obvious is the sincere and scrupulous components that can be found within the writing itself. It really does feel as if the writer is revealing the darker side of his mind’s inner workings, alongside that of Lawrence Miller within the story itself. For me, it is this very personal touch which made The Shepherd something truly different. It didn’t come across as another typical weekly comic, filling its quota to keep its readers. The Shepherd is a genuine book everyone should take a look at given the chance. Secondly, the artwork of Ryan Showers compliments the writing in a way that breathes life into the narrative. The bold outlines and plain backdrops really give life to the characters in the foreground. The Shepherd doesn’t need flashy skyscrapers and crazy, fiery chasms in the distance to make it immersive. Heather Breckel, the colourist for the book, has used a whole spectrum of soft tones that give support to the books foundations, that of the dream like state. All in all, though The Shepherd might not be at the top of your reading list, it is important to make sure you add it on somewhere for the future.

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The Boys – Fallen Idols

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Smash

Written By Cadeem Lalor

After reading Preacher, I was eager to check out Garth Ennis’s other work. I heard mixed reviews about The Boys, but after reading 40 issues, I can safely say that I’m loving the series. The Boys takes place in a world where the greatest superheroes are morally corrupted celebrities. The elite teams have corporate backing and become increasingly disconnected with normal humans, which also results in the careless loss of human life during their conflicts with supervillains.

The Boys is the nickname for a CIA squad that is responsible for keeping the heroes in line through intimidation or violence if need be. While I love the characters, one of my favourite things about the series is its depiction of superheroes. There aren’t many supervillains in the universe, since many super-powered people elect for an easier life as public idols. If a hero becomes popular enough through his conquests or sales of his own comic book, he gets to join an elite team, such as The Seven (a twisted version of The Justice League). With elite status, comes corporate funding, public appearances and full-blown celebrity status.

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The Boys: Volume One

Deciding to be a hero doesn’t mean that these figures are actually the good guys. Billy the Butcher, the leader of The Boys, knows firsthand that they view regular people as toys. When Malchemical, one of the most deadly heroes, is relegated to the C-List Superduper group, he lashes out after their leader submits a complaint about him. The concepts of consequences or judgment are foreign to him and he believes that yelling “I’m a superhero” frees him of all wrongdoing. When Malchemical continues to be ostracized by the group he attacks its leader and attempts to rape two of its members. Billy also knows that this is regular behavior for Malchemical. Numerous other incidents in the comics also show other abuses of power from other characters, whether it is rape or attempted murder. The Seven, for the most part, are a group of frat boys high on their own power.

Recent films like Man of Steel have been criticized for their depiction of the destruction that transpires when super-powered beings fight one another. I never jumped on this bandwagon since some level of damage seems inevitable and because the damage often becomes a plot point in future films, just like Superman’s fight with Zod plays a central role in BatmanvSuperman, or how the destruction in Avengers 1 and 2 leads to Civil War. The Boys starts off with a civilian being killed during a fight between a villain and A-Train, a member of The Seven. The difference here is A-Train’s lack of empathy. He realizes what he has done, but quickly leaves since the paramedics can take care of everything else. Later, he also attempts to rape The Seven’s newest number, Starlight.

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I Gotta Get Going

Some might see the moral depravity of The Seven as a caricature, but the heroes are no different than politicians, judges, police officers, athletes, musicians etc, who get caught up in scandal after scandal. A sense of invincibility (literally in the case of the heroes) can lead to a lack of restraint and can corrupt people who may have started their pursuit with noble intentions. For every superhero who is morally pure, similar to our typical image of Superman, there are ten who are simply in the business for the money and adoration. Values like justice mean very little and are simply useful platitudes that the heroes use to justify their presence. The Boys is a depressing look at a society filled with superheroes, but it may be the most realistic.

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100 Bullets – Reloaded

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Don’t Get Caught In The Crosshair

Written By Cadeem Lalor

I did an earlier article after reading the first volume of 100 Bullets. 80 issues later, the series is completed and I want to share my thoughts on it.

As The Commander said in his last article, the artwork can either elevate the story, or the story can elevate the art. In the case of 100 Bullets, the story definitely elevates the art. Making the switch from superhero comics to others can be jarring, mostly in terms of the artwork. However, the artwork for 100 Bullets still pales in comparison to ones like The Walking Dead and Y: The Last Man or Preacher. The covers are well done, as well as some panels, but overall the illustrations made it difficult to get into the first issue since their quality actually became distracting. Once I got through more of the story, I was able to tune out the artwork and appreciate the comics more.

The story starts off with separate subplots, all featuring the enigmatic Agent Graves, who offers people an attaché containing a gun with 100 bullets of untraceable ammunition. The gun is meant to be their weapon of choice against the people who ruined their lives, and the attaché also includes proof of their enemies’ wrongdoing.

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100 Bullets

The various storylines and figures eventually mesh into a single story about an organization known as The Trust. Graves is a former agent of The Minutemen, a group of enforcers that the Trust disbanded, and he seeks to reinstate the Minutemen by eliminating their former bosses. For the most part, Brian Azzarello does a great job of linking each character and subplot to the main one. However, I could not help but notice that there were some storylines that were never mentioned again. It is implied that all the attaches were given with the purpose of reactivating the minutemen, who were basically brainwashed to forget their past lives. Yet there are some characters that are given attaches and never seen or referenced again.

I previously mentioned the issue of the dialogue overusing slang at times. This issue continues throughout all 100 issues and did drag the experience down a bit. Just about every minority character talks like their words were put through an Ebonics translator and it goes past being immersive or reflective of a certain area, and becomes completely distracting.

100 Bullets features very few “heroes”. For the most part, the character’s morals are different shades of grey. It takes a great writer to make us care about any of them, let alone to make a reader root for most of the characters. Issue by issue, I find myself supporting one character’s actions, and then supporting another character’s actions that could undo theirs… This cycle continues and culminates in an action-packed and bloody finale. One of my biggest gripes was that this action packed finale ends rather abruptly. We go from a violent bloodbath to a few lines of dialogue that are meant to reveal more about  a character’s motives, before ending with a cliffhanger.

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It’s A Long Story

At the end of it all, Graves’s backstory is still shrouded in mystery. I don’t need everything spelled out but this was a case where just a few more lines sprinkled across a few issues could have led to a more fulfilling end. Since Graves plays such a central role in the story, the lack of more backstory for him makes the entire series somewhat hollow. One figure has played a huge role in leading to all of these events, but we don’t get a proper look at what truly drives him.

Overall, 100 Bullets was a great read and I will likely be going back to re-read certain issues. I knew it was an Eisner winner before I started reading and perhaps that got my hopes too high. I know there are many Azzarello fans that would heartily disagree with me.

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