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Comics Nostalgia Review

Masks

The weed of crime bears bitter fruit.

Masks is a very interesting mini series from writer Chris Roberson and artists Alex Ross and Dennis Calero. The premise is basically “The Avengers, but with pulp classic heroes.” New York has become shockingly totalitarian, and the only ones willing to put a stop to it are The Shadow, Green Hornet, Kato, The Spider, Zorro, The Green Lama, Miss Fury, Black Terror, and The Black Bat.

The covers and the entirety of issue 1 are done by one of my favorite comic book artists, Alex Ross, of Kingdom Come fame. It must take him a long time to produce this level of photo-realistic art, so I can kind of forgive the fact that Dennis Calero takes over after the first issue. It’s disappointing to lose that level of art so soon, but it’s not a bad follow-up either. I can’t really put to words how great Alex Ross’s art is, so all of the images in this review are from his covers and pages.

The story by Chris Roberson is a bit of an interesting case, I can see why the reviews overall on this mini series are mixed. I’m a fan of old pulp serials and radio dramas, especially The Shadow, and that is exactly what this mini series reads like. Those old dramas weren’t really known for their deep characters, complex worlds, or believable plots, and to be honest, Masks won’t be known for that either. It feels like I’ve picked up a pulp serial from the 1930s, and I love it! I suppose you just have to be the type of person that craves that level of nostalgia.

I love the characters in Mask, I love the art, and I love the style of story it’s telling. It’s the perfect miniseries for me. I’d also love for it to be adapted into a film or a TV series, but the story will definitely need some changes for that to work with the average audience. If you love old pulp serials and radio dramas, you’ll love Masks too!

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Comics Review

Star Wars: Thrawn

Chiss do not make idle boasts or promises. Once they set their minds to something, they succeed, or die in the attempt.

When Disney removed decades of Star Wars Expanded Universe content from canon, fan-favorite Grand Admiral Thrawn was on of the few characters who managed to stay onboard. He is the only non-human officer in the Galactic Empire, rising from nothing all the way to their highest rank, and considering how racist the Empire is generally portrayed as, that’s saying a lot already.

Thrawn fist appeared in the Star Wars universe in 1991’s Heir to the Empire, and to the relief of many fans, they took the opportunity of the canon reset to give Thrawn a far more fleshed out origin story in 2017’s Thrawn. A year later, it was adapted by Marvel Comics as Star Wars: Thrawn. I usually don’t review adaptations, but as anyone would, I’ll make and except for the Grand Admiral.

The story opens with an Imperial patrol finding the Chiss exiled on a barren planet. He claims to have vital information of the horrors that await the Empire in the Unknown Regions. He is quickly escorted back for an audience with the Emperor, who quickly takes a linking to Thrawn and has him put through the Imperial Academy.

Thrawn is not alone on his journey. Eli Vanto serves as his translator and quickly becomes his protégé, and Arihnda Pryce helps Thrawn navigate the Empire’s treacherous politics. Thrawn’s prowess and unique approach to strategy, illuminated by a fascination in his enemy’s culture and art, propels him through the ranks, shocking naysayers, and leading him towards his first appearance in TV’s Star Wars Rebels.

As with many adaptations, the art is no Kingdom Come. It can be flat at times, but the shadows really come through when it matters. The real highlight is Timothy Zahn’s story, which has far more layers than most comics on the market today.

The adaptation preserves almost the entirety of the Zahn’s story, and you’ll strongly feel all of Thawn’s frustrations and victories, arriving at perhaps the most satisfying understanding of a main villain you’ve ever had. Though, is Thrawn truly a villain in service of the Empire, or does he have an anterior motive? Time will tell. 

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Comics Review

Reborn

All your life you did the right thing, always putting others before yourself. This is your reward.

Reborn is an imaginative look at the afterlife from writer Mark Millar and artist Greg Capullo. We’re introduced to our hero Bonnie Black as she passes away from a stroke, only to be reborn in the afterlife, younger and apparently the prophetic savior of everyone who had lead a good life. Bonnie is joined by her battle-hardened father and war-ready childhood dog on a quest to stop the forces of darkness.

We’re all familiar in some way with stories of traditional heaven and hell style afterlives, and while Reborn certainly doesn’t deviate from that style, it refreshes it with a vibrant fantasy world and an over-arching examination of life, death, what we leave behind, and what we bring with us. My only complaint is that Millar and Capullo have constructed such a vibrant fantasy world that it seems impossible to cover in this first volume, so it’s filled with imaginative visuals that are accompanied by little to no explanation. I preferred to fill the gaps in myself, as Bonnie’s journey of discovery and acceptance makes it hard not to wonder what we’d do in the same situation.

Reborn is just one volume so far, but according to Millar, there is a strong possibility of four more volumes, a series of novels, and a television series. The first volume has a solid ending and can definitely stand on its own, but I’m excited to see the rest of this world that Millar and Capullo have built.

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Comics Review

Klaus

Only one man has to work at Yuletime, and that’s me. There are gifts waiting for your children. Tell them the Santa wears the red and white of Grimsvig. White for the snow of our homeland, red for the blood of the working people who built this town. Your colors.

Klaus is a surprisingly good tale from writer Grant Morrison and artist Dan Mora. I think it’s safe to say that most of us have a read a folklore adaptation or seen a Santa Claus movie that wasn’t even worth the time spent doing so. It’s rare for a creator to take an established icon of folklore and do something completely different with it, and when they do, it’s usually terrible. Klaus, billed as “How Santa Claus Began,” is different.

The imaginative origin story follows a banished soldier who returns to find his hometown under tyrannical control. Fueled by a deep sense of honor and guided by benevolent spirits, Klaus uses his skills as a woodworker and soldier to free his hometown, bring joy to its children, and face off with the fearsome Krampus. The characters are well-developed and believable while the stakes are high and ever-present, both a rarity in such stories, and yet it never manages to lose a subtle sense of levity.

I bought Klaus heavily discounted on impulse simply because the art is great. I didn’t expect much of the story, but I was pleasantly surprised, and found it to be original, fun, engaging, and not heavy-handed in the slightest. The premise is ridiculous, and yet it works beautifully. If you’re looking for a fun and imaginative origin of a folklore icon, Klaus won’t disappoint.

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Comics Review

Descender

I’m your creator and designer, but that does not make me your family. You have no real family. You aren’t alive. You do understand that, don’t you?

Descender is a beautiful series from writer Jeff Lemire and artist Dustin Nguyen, and in many ways, a coming of age tale both for our young protagonist and civilization itself. Set at some point in the very distant future, when many species have colonized the stars and mostly work together, the story follows a young robot who may have an ancestral connection to the robots who suddenly appeared and wiped out hundreds of millions of lives before vanishing just ten years prior.

The writing is engaging and reminiscent of many of today’s great provocative TV series, while the art is captivating and reminiscent of finely detailed water colors. Throughout the story, you’ll find yourself growing attached to the young robot who seems set on a path to outgrow his programming, while remaining constantly aware of the terrible toll the rest of the galaxy paid for that growth. The story is not as heavy-handed as it seems, rather it is presented with a balance that is delicately maintained throughout, accompanied by an eclectic cast and spread across an energetic plot.

Descender has been running as a monthly series since March of 2015, with three volumes already published and a fourth on the way. You definitely won’t regret diving in, and I’m sure you’ll want to stick around to see how it ends. I certainly do.