The Book of Life

When you walk out of a movie, any movie, smiling it’s definitely a win, but after the end of writer/director Jorge Gutierrez’s The Book of Life not only was I smiling, I was practically vibrating with anticipation for a sequel because I honestly didn’t want to leave the world of San Angel. There’s a lot to be said for the cultural landscape of animation when you find yourself crying out, “Yes! More of THAT!” because The Book of Life shows us just how much we’re missing out on, how many stories have gone untold. It took Gutierrez fifteen years to get the film made, and those years worth of passion and love for his home country shows in the vibrant, kinetic, and joyous story that is unrelenting in its dedication to throwing the windows wide open on what it means to be Mexican. The Book of Life is Gutierrez’s – and by extension producer Guillermo Del Toro’s – love letter to Mexico and Mexican culture via the celebration of one of the country’s most revered holidays.

Celebrated from October 31st – November 2nd, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is the embodiment of Mexican culture as families gather in remembrance of their deceased loved ones by building altars and leaving offerings around their graves. But it’s not a somber affair by any means. Music, food, and colorful decorations ensure that death is not something to be feared but is a natural part of life. And it’s through the rituals of the holiday that Mexicans strengthen familial bonds and remain spiritually connected, keeping the memories of those they’ve lost alive. The Book of Life honors those themes while crafting a beautiful fairy tale that will most definitely cast a long shadow over subsequent animated films.

Reading the BookWhen a group of rowdy children show up at a museum, they’re greeted by the unfazed Mary Beth (Christina Applegate) who, in celebration of the Day of the Dead, shows them the Book of Life, which contains all the great stories of Mexico. She relates one in particular, using a set of carved dolls to tell the story of Maria, Manolo, and Joaquin. In the town of San Angel, the three children are playing among the gravestones during Dia de los Muertos when La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), ruler of the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, make a wager about which of the two boys Maria will marry. If Xibalba wins and Joaquin marries Maria, he gets to rule the Land of the Remembered, but if La Muerte wins and Manolo marries Maria, then Xibalba will have to leave the humans alone.

Unbeknownst to La Muerte, Xibalba gifts a young Joaquin with a medallion that will make him invulnerable, which he realizes soon after when Maria frees a bunch of pigs from being slaughtered and he effortlessly defends her and the town from an angry boar. Manolo is no slouch either, revealing his gift as a matador to stop the beast and save the little pig Maria sought to free. Angered at his daughter’s feisty and unladylike sensibilities, General Posada (Carlos Alazraqui) sends Maria to Spain to be educated. Before she leaves, Maria gets a final goodbye with her friends, gifting Manolo a new guitar inscribed with the phrase, “Always play from your heart.” Manolo gifts her the little pig, Chewie (also Carlos Alazraqui), and promises to wait for her. Joaquin, lacking a present, vows to always fight for her as the train speeds away.

Years later, Manolo (Diego Luna) has been trained by his father, Carlos Sanchez (Hector Elizondo) to be a bullfighter like his ancestors before him, including his grandmother, though his true desire is playing guitar with his mariachi friends. Joaquin (Channing Tatum), thanks to the medallion, has become a great soldier and hero like his father before him, returning to San Angel the same day as Maria (Zoe Saldana) returns from Spain. The two men both vy for her love and her hand in marriage, but when Xibalba believes he’s losing the bet he makes sure Manolo isn’t even a contender. From there it’s a race for Manolo to return to the Concept Artliving world to be with Maria again and save the town from the dreaded bandit Chakal (Dan Navarro) who’s out to get his medallion back.

The story itself is actually quite simple. While there’s a lot of window dressing with gods, realms, and world-shattering consequences, it really boils down to being true to yourself – a common premise in family films. But through the lens of The Book of Life being true to yourself, standing up for what you think is right and what you believe in – whether it’s defending your town from banditos or choosing the guitar over the sword – is what solidifies how we are remembered. Both Joaquin and Manolo live in the shadows of their family legacies and in trying to live up to those standards they ultimately set the stage for the chaos that follows. Maria, in contrast, is very aware of who she is and it’s her encouragement and love that leads the two friends down their desired paths. She too has a legacy to uphold and she proves herself to be every bit the leader the Posadas desire. Not only is this a hero’s journey, it’s the journey of an entire community.

The simplicity of the story allows for the film to revel in the culture of Mexico, using the bright colors, energetic music, and stunning art to build the worlds of the living and the dead. Jorge Gutierrez has been quoted saying that he wanted the film to look as beautiful as the art book for an animated film looks and my God did Reel FX Creative Studios deliver. The settings are grand and gorgeous and the designs of the characters are distinct and wonderfully original. Because Mary Beth is using carved figures to tell the story, the people of San Angel look like wooden figures, which shows in the angular build of the characters and the static movement of hair and clothes. The designs, however, don’t limit the characters or the settings. In fact, the choice to tell the story through doll-like figures allows for more detail. The many medals on Joaquin’s uniform, the intricate carvings in Manolo’s guitar, as well as La Muerte’s catrina visage and Xibalba’s Aztecan armor all invite closer scrutiny. You should want to press your face to the screen in order to take it all in.

La Muerte and XibalbaThe cast alone should be reason enough to see the film. Other reviews I’ve read have claimed Channing Tatum’s performance stands out the most and I’m inclined to agree. It isn’t hard to see where the story is going and who Maria will end up with, but Tatum’s Joaquin never lacks personality despite being the overconfident jock to Manolo’s sensitive musician. There’s a surprising amount of depth to his character and Tatum does a wonderful job of capturing Joaquin’s arrogance as well as his deep love and affection for Maria and Manolo. Diego Luna and Zoe Saldana aren’t slackers by any means. Luna’s Manolo is charming, mischievous, and lovable. There’s a believable earnestness and sincerity about the character that is entirely Luna’s making. And Saldana’s Maria is more than just the pretty love interest. She’s a capable woman with a mind of her own and she isn’t afraid to speak out when she’s offended. But she also knows how to have fun, sporting a laugh that’s delightfully infectious. However, I’d have to say that Kate del Castillo and Ron Perlman steal the movie for me as La Muerte and Xibalba. The characters and their actors have great chemistry, bickering like an old married couple (which they are) that just happen to be otherworldly gods. Both possess fiery tempers, literally, but both are just as easily soothing and calming. I mean, it’s Ron Perlman. C’mon! Filling out the cast are fantastic actors like Cheech Marin, Gabriel Iglesias, Danny Trejo, Grey DeLisle, Miguel Sandoval, Placido Domingo, and Ice Cube as The Candle Maker.

Like the designs and the brilliant color palette, the music in The Book of Life is just as important in telling the story and shows how specific cultural influences can affect songs and their meaning. The soundtrack to The Book of Life is mostly pop songs, sung by the actors, ranging from Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” to Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend”. It’s an eclectic mix of songs with two originals written by Paul Williams and Gustavo Santaolalla. At first I was a bit put off by the jukebox musical unfolding and, to be honest, I’m still not certain Radiohead’s “Creep” was the most appropriate song for a film like this, but I give a huge amount of credit to Santaolalla for the movie’s score and the fusion of Latin American music and pop songs. Though the audience seeing the film may not be of Hispanic, Latin American, or Mexican descent, music is a shared language and many of us remember these songs, which gives audiences a THE BOOK OF LIFEcommon ground through which to relate to the story and the characters. There are also little pieces of music that show Santaolalla’s cleverness, like the nuns singing “Adios, Maria” in the style of “Ave Maria” or the use of Kinky’s “Más” whenever Joaquin goes into super soldier mode. It’s a soundtrack and score that has a distinct identity, something that other animated films tend to lack.

Hopefully The Book of Life will become a classic of the holiday season because it deserves the attention of children, parents, and really any fan of animation. It’s a cultural celebration of life and death, bringing families and friends together to remember the ones we love and giving us all permission to “play from the heart.”

Oh yeah, baby, it’s a good time to be a comic book movie fan! Only two weeks after Warner Bros. announced their DC Cinematic Universe through 2020, Marvel decided to roll out the entire Phase 3 of their cinematic universe during the “Marvel Event”. Hyperbole aside, this was definitely a showcase that genuinely surprised fans of the Marvel movies. Though we’ve already had several casting and movie rumors made, debunked, and confirmed, it’s fantastic to see that we can still be blown away by the scope, scale, and ambition of a universe that continues to expand.

So here’s what the timeline looks like:

Marvel timeline

 

 

But let’s break it down a little more since there are a few corrections to be made.

 

Captain America: Serpent Society Civil War – May 6, 2016Civil War

Yeah, that was a weird fakeout on the board. According to a few people I follow on Twitter the Serpent Society is an old-school Cap enemy, but I’m not sure why they bothered to do that unless in Kevin Feige’s way of being cheeky. Either way, Cap’s third solo film will be Civil War, based on the comic book event that pitted Cap against Iron Man over the registration of superhero secret identities with the US Government. As has also been pointed out, with the lack of mutants or Spider-Mans in need of hiding who they are, everyone in the MCU is already known to the world. Well, maybe not Hawkeye. Poor Hawkeye. Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see where they take this since Winter Soldier ended on Cap and Sam Wilson, aka Falcon, setting out to find Bucky.

 

Doctor Strange – November 4, 2016Doctor Strange

While Benedict Cumberbatch was recently announced as Marvel’s choice to play Stephen Strange, his absence from the event so soon after his confirmation either means it’s not entirely set in stone, or the actor wasn’t available to show up at the event. As far as I can tell from various articles, Cumberbatch is their choice and the “final negotiations” are being hammered out. Take that for what you will. As far as characters go, Doctor Strange is the Marvel Universe’s neurosurgeon turned Sorcerer Supreme – protector of Earth against all forms of magic and sorcery. In light of the fact that the Thor films skirted the issue of magic as being interchangeable with science, it’ll be interesting to see how Doctor Strange is handled given there isn’t a lot of leeway to just say “ALIENS!”

 

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – May 5, 2017Guardians 2

This was a no-brainer after the first movie did so well at the box office. Moved up only slightly from its original summer release in July, it looks like Guardians 2, which will again have James Gunn directing and writing along with co-writer Nicole Perlman, is going to kick off the summer movie season for Marvel instead of closing it out. And if all goes well, the film may pick up a new audience in the wake of the animated series slated for release in 2015.

 

Thor: Ragnarok – July 28, 2017Ragnarok

After the less than stellar sequel, it’s not surprising that Thor’s third solo film was moved to the closeout of the summer, but if the title delivers on what it promises, then there’s all the possibility in the world for the Thor franchise to bounce back. Ragnarok, for those not caught up on their Norse mythology, is the Nordic version of the Apocalypse only instead of absolute destruction, the result is the renewal of the Earth. First it’s all gods fighting each other, natural disasters, dog and cats living together, and the Earth submerged in water, but then it turns into sunshine and rainbows as the only two surviving humans repopulate the Earth. Good times! Or, more likely, this movie will be based on the comic book character Ragnarok who first appeared in Civil War – a cyborg clone created by Tony Stark when the real Thor went missing for a while. Either way, good stuff!

 

Black Panther – November 3, 2017chadwick-boseman-black-panther

And this is where things really got interesting. There had been plenty of hints that a Black Panther movie was coming, even from Stan Lee himself, but for the most part we could only piece certain things together from the Easter Eggs in the movies. Wakanda, the country from which T’Challa/Black Panther, hails from was briefly seen on a map in Iron Man 2, and the very presence of vibranium, the material that makes up Cap’s shield, tells us that Black Panther showing up was likely since it’s primarily mined in Wakanda. That and in the recently released Age of Ultron trailer, Andy Serkis briefly appears and has a very striking similarity to Ulysses Klaw, one of Black Panther’s rogues. And not only did Marvel announce the movie, they also brought out Chadwick Boseman in order to confirm that he’d be taking on the role of T’Challa. This will be the first superhero movie from Marvel featuring a person of color as the lead, but let’s hope that they get a devoted creative team to bring the King of Wakanda to the big screen.

 

Avengers: Infinity War, Part 1 – May 4, 2018Infinity Gauntlet

Anyone paying attention, regardless of their level of fandom for Marvel comics, knows that the build up to the Infinity Gauntlet storyline started all the way back in Thor, although it took Guardians of the Galaxy to actually explain it in a way that made sense (sorry Thor 2). So, yeah, this is a big story with a big villain primed and ready in Thanos, so I’m not surprised it’ll be split into two movies.

 

Captain Marvel – July 6, 2018Captain_Marvel_Vol_8_1_Textless

Other than Black Panther, this is the film that made a whole heck of a lot of Marvel fans squeal in delight right before they screamed with passionate joy. Though the Marvel films have sported several prominent female supporting characters, Black Widow is the only featured player in the Avengers and Cap 2 and even she hasn’t gotten her own movie despite being the most recognizable female character in the MCU. But after Black Widow, Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, has been the female hero most desired to show up among the ranks of the Marvel films. Well, now we’ve got it! And thank God it’s Captain Marvel, not Ms. Marvel. This means we’re most likely getting the rebooted version of Carol as depicted by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios, Dexter Soy, and David Lopez, depending on which volume you’re reading. It’s about time Marvel added another kickass woman to their universe of films.

 

Inhumans – November 2, 2018Inhumans

Of all the movies, this is the one I’m the least knowledgeable on since I’m not a diehard Marvel reader. But, from what I can piece together through a rapid Google search, the Inhumans are superpowered beings whose ancestors were genetically experimented on by the Kree, an alien race, back in the days of early Homo sapiens. Deemed the inhuman race, they developed a society of their own separate from normal humans. Technological advancements allowed them to create a mutagenic mist that gave them powers but also caused deformities, which pushed them to practice selective breeding.

So, for all intents and purposes, the Inhumans will probably function as a stand-in for mutants, since Fox isn’t giving that up for a while. Still, I’ll be there to watch it. I didn’t know anything about Guardians of the Galaxy and I was all the better for it!

 

Avengers: Infinity War, Part 2 – May 3, 2019thanos_avengers

The conclusion, which I assume will be epic!

 

So that’s Marvel’s Phase 3 and I’m all kinds of excited. For me this doesn’t boil down to Marvel vs DC, it’s all about getting the next six years worth of films coming out and seeing how Marvel continues to build their franchises and DC starts to build theirs. I can only win.

What are your thoughts on this lineup? Excited? Underwhelmed? Overwhelmed? Just whelmed? Let me know!

Justice-League-movie

Okay, looks like Warner Bros. and DC Comics finally decided to show their hand. While many a DC fan has had to put on a brave face and confidently reassure others that the DC Cinematic Universe will eventually catch up to Marvel, even with the 8-year head start, there’s often a bit of hesitation. DC’s Cinematic foundation started on shaky ground among fans with the divisive Man of Steel and the ever-growing cast of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice still has us scratching our heads over the nature of all the reported cameos. Instead of building their world, Warner Bros. and DC looked like they were trying their damnedest to throw every hero in the DC Universe into one film, reversing Marvel’s formula of solo movies leading to a team up film. It also didn’t help that WB pushed back the release of Dawn of Justice to May of 2016 only to push it up to March in order to avoid direct box office conflict with Captain America 3. And even though WB/DC claimed to have nine movies lined up through 2020, Marvel still trumped them with films scheduled for release through 2028.

Yesterday, however, WB/DC, after sporadic announcements about their films including the casting of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Black Adam for the upcoming Shazam movie, finally gave us a map of their cinematic universe through 2020.

 

upcoming-dc-films1-72f70

Obviously most of these films aren’t surprising. We’ve known about Justice League and Shazam for a while and Suicide Squad was only recently announced. The most surprising part of this lineup is the splitting up of Justice League into two films, something we’ve only seen with the final movies of book adaptation series, and their placement in the order; part one will follow the Wonder Woman solo movie with part two released two years later after solo movies for the Flash, Aquaman, and Shazam. It’s an odd thing to do when one would logically assume the two films would be one continuous story. Breaking them up with three solo films, presumably origin stories, in the middle seems like a bit of a gamble. Of course, the two Justice League movies could technically be standalone movies with the second part acting as an extension of the finished story from part one with the films sandwiched between adding to the build up. Or they could be a bunch of solo origin stories with no connection to the Justice League narrative. Either scenario is likely until plot details are confirmed – the Schrödinger’s cat of fan speculation, if you will.

Oh, and before I forget…

Ahem!1280-wonder-woman-610x343

OHMYGODWE’REGETTINGAWONDERWOMANSOLOMOVIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, Sam, calm down. Deep breaths. In and out. There we go. Now…continue.

So, yeah, we’re actually going to get a Wonder Woman solo film before Justice League! The assumption is it will be some sort of origin story since producer Charles Roven recently let slip that her backstory would be more in line with the New 52 comics where Diana learns she’s a demigod, the daughter of Hippolyta and Zeus. The solo movie could potentially piggyback off of Diana/Wonder Woman’s cameo (however large the role is) in Batman v Superman, telling her origin in its entirety for the cinematic universe. Or the film could go with what seems to be the most popular narrative structure of WB/DC, non-linear storytelling with more flashbacks than you can shake a stick at. One can only hope that the creative team selected for the project has something better up their sleeve. And, sorry Marvel, but looks like DC’s beating you to the female superhero solo movie. Better get cracking on a Black Widow or a Ms. Marvel/Captain Marvel movie STAT.

ezra-flashThe announcement also confirmed the casting of Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman and Ezra Miller as Barry Allen/The Flash. Momoa’s rumored attachment to playing Aquaman has been around for so long I think we’re all breathing easier now that the cat’s finally out of the bag. The casting of Miller as Barry Allen is definitely an interesting one. While Grant Gustin embodies aspects of the Silver Age Barry, in personality and looks, on television, Miller’s casting appears to be more on point with Zack Snyder’s atypical casting decisions. With the myriad casting rumors going around about every other character, Flash seemed to be one of the furthest from our minds. Though now that Miller is confirmed for the role, I’m genuinely interested to see what he brings to Barry on the big screen.

Momoa’s casting is easily the most inspired choice and yet he’s the most radical departure from his comic book counterpart. Arthur Curry, in the comics, has been Whitey McBlonderson since his inception, but putting Momoa, a man of Pacific Islander heritage, in the role feels almost like a “well duh!” moment of realization. Not only does it further diversify the cast, but it shows that the casting director, Snyder, and hopefully some of the producers are thinking more about what works for the character rather than strictly adhering to the comics. Perhaps Momoa’s casting could affect the comics should he prove likeable enough to audiences. Jason Momoa Aquaman

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pumped for the future of comic book movies. In my world, there isn’t a war between Marvel and DC movies. I get to watch all of them, so how could I possibly lose? Okay, there are ways I could lose, but right now I need to live in my delusions of a well crafted universe for the DC Comics characters I love. There are a few things worth noting, though. One, the list doesn’t include planned solo movies for Batman and Superman, which WB is totally gonna do because do I really need to explain it to you? Two, Guillermo Del Toro’s Justice League Dark and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Sandman movies are still in the wings for the time being. Whether WB plans to add them to the lineup or keep them in development hell remains to be seen.

Oh and apparently Green Lantern is getting rebooted. So…Hal Jordan again or can we just skip over to John Stewart?

Mabel

Before Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra gave us a glut of charismatic and realized female characters, before Steven Universe brought us diverse, retro-futuristic superheroes like Garnet, Amethyst, and Diamond, and before Gravity Falls and Bob’s Burgers gave us silly yet poignant characters like Mabel, Tina, and Louise respectively (two of which are voiced by Kristen Schaal), there was the first wave of female cartoon characters that influenced a generation of children, girls and boys, and paved the way for the latest Renaissance of animation where more gender and racially diverse casts are becoming the norm. Representation in media may not seem like a huge deal to some, but we often forget (some more than others) that, as children, the media we consume imprints on us in ways we don’t fully understand until well into adulthood. The goggles of nostalgia being what they are, the current generation is benefiting from what my, and the generations before me, lacked.

Animated cartoons as a medium of entertainment have roughly been around since the turn of the 20th century when the 1908 French film, Fantasmagorie, featured the first instance of traditional, hand-drawn, animation. From there, animated shorts began appearing as experimental films themselves or as shorts before features. Walt Disney and Warner Bros. both developed their signature styles and characters through these shorts. But it wasn’t until 1958 that we got the first purely animated half-hour show featured on television, Hanna-Barbera’s Huckleberry Hound. Two years later we got The Flintstones and the rest, they say, is cata_bettyboophistory. But like the history books we read, the figures dominating the scene were mostly male and white – though I have no idea what the racial breakdown is amongst characters like Wally Gator, Snagglepuss, and the cast of Top Cat.

Female characters in early animation and even in the classic cartoons from the 30s on down were largely used as nagging wives, wide-eyed innocent dimwits, or sexual objects. The 60s and 70s gave us some marginal steps forwards with Josie and the Pussycats and Scooby-Doo, but the ad hoc mystery-solving teen plus animal sidekick shows rarely produced memorable, let alone influential, female characters. As for depictions of race in cartoons, yeah we all know why Disney and Warner Bros. keep a lot of those locked away. Though kudos to Amazon and iTunes for adding a disclaimer to the Tom and Jerry cartoons. It’s a necessary step in educating people on how cartoons, like any medium, are the product of their time and what was considered acceptable.

So why am I bringing this up? Why am I adding historical context to what is ostensibly a list of favorite female cartoon characters from the 80s and 90s? Because we need to understand how the cartoons kids and adults watch now got to this point. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still the continuing tropes of the Smurfette Principle and Tokenism in many cartoons airing currently, but now more than ever are audiences likely to voice their opinions and demand change. Furthermore, creators of these cartoons are more likely to purposefully craft these new cartoons because they understand the changing climate and the need for greater representation and character types. And when you start looking at where the seeds of change were planted, it’s only a few decades back when impressionable kids like myself got a taste of what was yet to come.

 

Babs Bunny (Tiny Toon Adventures) and Dot Warner (Animaniacs)

For all intents and purposes, Babs and Dot share very similar character traits. For one, they’re both voiced by the incomparable Tress MacNeille, but they’re also characters who, like their male counterparts, are just as silly, if not sillier. It’s not a case of them being “just one of the guys”, Babs and Dot are active participants in the shenanigans of their respective shows. And they’re funny as hell!Babs

Though Babs is the epitome of the Smurfette Principle on a visual level (right down to being pink), the writers of Tiny Toons made her a character in her own right. She’s obsessed with perfecting her impressions and goes to great lengths to show her mother just how funny she is despite the lack of attention. There was also a very touching episode called “Fields of Honey” where Babs laments the fact that she has no mentor the equivalent of Buster to Bugs or Plucky to Daffy, though she ends up finding a mentor in the made up Honey of the Bosko and Honey cartoons from the 30s. It’s a bit of commentary on the fact that the Looney Tunes lacked female characters save for Granny, Witch Hazel, and the poor cat often harassed by Pepe Le Pew. Tiny Toons may have created some female counterparts to their male characters, but they made sure they were distinctive. Elmira, anyone?

dot and melDot, like Babs, somewhat embodies the Smurfette Principle, but like her older brothers she’s just as capable of being the voice of reason as she is being an instigator of their torturous fun at the expense of others. Adorned in a little pink skirt and a bow on her head, Dot also has the added dimension of acting “girly”, often proclaiming to others how cute she is, but never lacks in hilarity because of it. Her cuteness, the frequent catchphrases of her ridiculously long name, and the monstrous pet living in a tiny box, all create a complete package. And she’s just as prone to exhibiting the “female gaze” on attractive men as her brothers are on women even if the phrase, “Hello, Nurse!” doesn’t apply in Dot’s case, though that makes it even funnier. This was, of course, a play on what male characters in the Warner Bros. cartoons would do when faced with a sexualized female character, but in the case of Animaniacs, Dot could be just as obsessively attracted to someone as Yakko or Wakko. Babs definitely had her moments like this as well, but most of her efforts were put into getting Buster’s attention. Dot had no ongoing “love interest”, she was just interested.

 

April O’Neil (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)april-o-neil

Though she’s gone through as many iterations as her terrapin friends, April is usually the grounding element for viewers in case a title like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn’t completely prepare you for what the show was about. It’s through April (voiced by Renae Jacobs) we learn the origin story of the turtles and it’s through April that the turtles usually have reason to get involved with the plot. Saving April from whatever mess she’d gotten herself into was part of the formula of the show, but that formula also showed us that April was the type of reporter who would do anything to get her story. The whole reason she meets the turtles is because her continued investigation into the Foot Clan puts her face to face with Shredder’s goons, driving her into the sewers to save herself. Though Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was considered a boys cartoon, their main source of information and connection to the city above was an ambitious woman willing to put herself in danger because she believed in doing the right thing or getting the best camera angle.

 

Lydia Deetz (Beetlejuice)

LydiaBased, and I mean loosely based, on the movie of the same name, the cartoon version of Lydia (voiced by Alyson Court) was a breath of fresh Gothic air in the cartoon landscape. Keeping the bright, pastel settings of Tim Burton’s suburbia, Lydia continued to stick out with her black hair, pale skin, and purple eyeshadow in comparison to the perpetually tanned and blonde-haired girls that populated her middle school. Her story is not that dissimilar from other girls whose interests and looks deviate from what it considered “normal”. She’s isolated and alone and not even the well-intentioned platitudes of her parents make the loneliness go away. Fortunately for Lydia, she has a place she can go to escape the world that ineffectively forces her to conform where a friend awaits who truly understands her and cares about her for the person that she is. In the Neitherworld, Beetlejuice’s home, Lydia can be herself and through her friendship with Beetlejuice she comes into her own as a girl of intelligence and spirit willing to play along with her friend’s schemes and have fun in her topsy-turvy home away from home. It’s what we all wish for, the ability to escape for a while and spend time with a friend who brings out the best in us. Being Goth, however, though it ostracized her from the other people in her cookie cutter community, was never depicted negatively. In fact, it’s what made Lydia distinctive, an individual with a mind of her own. She paved the way for characters like Sam Manson (Danny Phantom) and Marceline (Adventure Time), showing that Goth girls are more than just heavy eyeliner and an interest in spiders. Though that red outfit…man, do I want that for Halloween!

 

Gosalyn Mallard (Darkwing Duck)gosalyn

By all rights, and I swear I’ll fight you over this, Gosalyn Mallard is the perfect example of a tomboy in cartoons. There’s honestly no other character like Gosalyn (voiced by Christine Cavanaugh), that I can think of, who exhibits the same traits and sports the same attitude. A ball of energy and spunk, Gosalyn is the adopted daughter of Drake Mallard, better known as Darkwing Duck. And while most superheroes struggle with balancing home life with their heroic activities, one of Darkwing’s greatest obstacles is keeping Gosalyn away from danger. This is a girl who thinks having a superhero father is the greatest thing ever and isn’t afraid to jump in the sidecar of a motorcycle and follow him into the fray. Gosalyn is Darkwing’s biggest fan, always encouraging him to take down the bad guys no matter how many punches it takes – to them or to him. She’s smart, quick-witted, and ridiculously adorable when she needs to be, which all feeds into her desires to sidestep Darkwing’s rules and be an active participant in taking down the criminals of St. Canard. Gosalyn has even joined Darkwing as a hero in her own right; as Yucky Duck, the Crimson Quackette, and the Quivering Quack, though never for very long. It’s also the father-daughter relationship that maintains the emotional core of the show, another aspect that isn’t explored all that often in cartoons. Many episodes made sure to show how much Darkwing and Gosalyn love each other, including an episode where Gosalyn’s accidental trip to the future showed a darker version of her father obsessed with extreme order and justice because he thought he couldn’t save her. Without Gosalyn, Darkwing isn’t the same hero, showing how important her presence and her encouragement are to the “terror that flaps in the night”.

 

Gadget (Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers)

gadget2Yet another character voiced by Tress MacNeille, this one you could say is my bias poking through because people probably remember Rescue Rangers for the catchy theme song and its titular characters than they necessarily remember Gadget. But if you do remember Gadget as being more than “The Girl” of the group, then you’re also aware of how a character like her could be inspiration to young girls who might have dreams of going into fields like science or engineering. Gadget is a genius and the resident inventor of the group, always ready to MacGyver a piece of machinery out of what we might consider junk to help save the day. Granted, her inventions didn’t always work as planned, but Gadget was always quick on her feet to repair or alter her inventions when need be. Still, she suffered from the occasional bouts of self-esteem, especially when it came to her usefulness and her place on the team. One of the more well-known episodes deals with Gadget suffering from an identity crisis after her inventions repeatedly fail, leading her to join the Cola Cult in order to find a place to belong. Of course, by the end everything works out. This is Disney. Still, episodes like “The Case of the Cola Cult” are important to fleshing out characters, even if we don’t notice it as much when we’re children. It showed Gadget on another level, a girl who could experience self-doubt yet still find a way to overcome it. Despite her failures, Gadget keeps trying.

 

Detective Elisa Maza (Gargoyles)Elisa Maza

Like April O’Neil, Elisa Maza (voiced by Salli Richardson-Whitfield) serves the purpose of being the human connection between the newly woken gargoyles and the modern world. A detective for the NYPD, Elisa is the second human Goliath encounters in New York, but she proves to be the most influential, showing him how Xanatos and Demona are using him and his clan for their own purposes. Though she often acts as the voice of reason and a source of sisterly comfort, Elisa is just as prone to impulsiveness and obsession when it comes to her job in the police department. She’s not afraid to confront those more powerful than her, especially when she sees them abusing their power at the expense of those incapable of defending themselves. Dealing with the mob, monsters, and her own family are just about on equal footing in Elisa’s world, though she’s never one to back down from a fight. And while it shouldn’t be a significant factor, Elisa’s mixed-race heritage was a huge step in the right direction for female characters and cartoons in general. Elisa is half African-American and half Native American, though she and her siblings seem to favor one race over the other instead of an actual mix. The point, however, is that Elisa being the product of a mixed-race family is important for the greater themes of representation in media. The default for female leads can’t be “white” anymore than it is for male leads and children need to be able to see themselves in the media they consume. We can all identify with a character who’s different from us, but we also need to see ourselves reflected back, to know that we’re just as important. And Elisa got to be that character for some kids.

So, yeah, that’s a lot of words about a few characters but they’re characters I believe shouldn’t be discounted for how they potentially influenced a generation of children who would or will grow up to be the next wave of creators in animation and media in general. Their impact, great or small, is still an impact worth noting.

So, who would you add to this list? I know there are more out there, but these were the characters most memorable to me. Let me know who and why!

Another week and another batch of comics to recommend for your reading pleasure. Let’s not waste any time and get to the list!

 

Peter Panzerfaust #21 – Image Comics

peter_21_CVR_AWritten by Kurtis Wiebe with Art by Tyler Jenkins and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick, this is the beginning of the final arc of Peter Panzerfaust and the team behind the book aren’t pulling any punches, figuratively and literally as the issue features two intense fist fights between the twins, Maurice and Claude, and the remaining Lost Boys when Tootles essentially decides that they need to hold a memorial for Peter, Lily, and Julien after which the rest of the group can get right the fuck out. Framed within the elderly Maurice’s recollection, the group, back in Paris, has tried to stay together in the wake of their flight from the Sticks and Peter’s capture, but their own personal vendettas and underlying feelings of guilt, responsibility, and bitterness seem to be driving them farther and farther apart. Tootles tries to keep Wendy, Michael, and John safe, with Wendy still taking on the motherly role. Felix has taken to executing Nazis as he sees fit. And the twins…they’re both dealing with things in their own way. It’s part and parcel of what older Maurice tells John Parsons, their story is no different from the stories of hundreds of other people during the war. Survival was the least difficult part, the hard part was figuring out what to do in the aftermath. The crumbling of the Lost Boys, however, gets a bit of a reprieve with a last minute reveal that still manages to get upstaged by an even bigger reveal.

 

Rat Queens #8 – Image Comics

RatQueens_08-1Also written by Kurtis Wiebe with Art by Roc Upchurch, we get a lot more background on Violet as we get to see almost exactly what led Violet to make the decision to leave her dwarven home, shave her beard, and join the Rat Queens. In the first volume, Sass and Sorcery, we were introduced to Violet’s brother, Barry Blackforge, who, like many of the familial relations to the first ladies of kickassery, didn’t approve of Violet’s decision to go off and become part of a quest-group-for-hire. Now we get to see that, like Dee, Violet’s home was built on the foundations of tradition, ones that still pigeonhole Violet into a model for her father’s new brand of armor instead of a competitor representing her family among the other noble dwarf clans during an annual tournament. It isn’t until she sees the shaven face of Morgan Meldhammer, an older woman fighting in place of another who chooses to buck the system and forge her own path by wearing the symbol she finds empowering, a rat, instead of the symbols of her clan. It’s her example and the supportive and steady hands of her mother with a straight razor that give us the Violet we know and love. And the way this issue ties into the overall narrative is not to be missed at the end.

 

Nailbiter #6 – Image Comics

Nailbiter 6Dear God can the town of Buckaroo, Oregon get any creepier? According to writer Joshua Williamson and artist Mike Henderson, yes, yes it can. Case in point, Alice, one of the town locals, waxes poetic about her home town from an insider’s perspective. The ongoing mystery is whether the myriad serial killers originating from the town, the Buckaroo Butchers, are some fluke of nature or if there’s something about the town itself that turns its citizens into killers. Determined to find her own answers, and by sheer happenstance, Alice becomes entangled in a woman named Mallory’s desire to have her baby born in Buckaroo so he’ll grow up to be a serial killer and she’ll become famous as the mother of said serial killer; doing the talk show circuit and eventually starting a foundation to help others. Basically a form of Münchausen syndrome where fame is the ultimate goal through the attention of the media. It’s a strong issue to start the next arc despite the exclusion of one of the book’s main characters. Finch sits this one out, presumably because he’s arguing with the FBI over his pending murder trial, while Alice and Sheriff Shannon Crane take the center stage for good reason. Both of these women were born in Buckaroo and both have had to grow up with the stigma of living in the town and the possibility that anyone they know is a potential serial killer. In Shannon’s case, the guy she went to prom with ended up becoming the Nailbiter. Alice, however, is still struggling with how to deal with growing up in Buckaroo, thoughts made far more relevant by the issue’s end.

 

Grayson #3 – DC Comics

grayson-3-coverWritten by Tom King and Tim Seeley with Art by Mikel Janin. Coming off of the phenomenal Future’s End tie-in that could have easily derailed the momentum of the new book, Grayson wastes no time getting us back into the story proper as Dick and Helena are tasked with taking down The Old Gun, a man who literally sees through the barrels of his guns, after he kills a man and steals his enhanced eyes in a desperate attempt to return his vision to normal. Dick and Helena are backed up by Agents 1 and 8 and it’s through Agent 8 that we get the inevitable conflict between the world of espionage and the world of superheroes. Dick was raised by a man who fell victim to the power of a gun, a man who spent his life attempting to bring an end to crime in Gotham without resorting to the easy route of using the very weapon that ruined his life. Dick isn’t unfamiliar with guns, but as he says to Agent 8, it’s not how he fights. For all of Agent 8’s proselytizing about how quick and easy relying on a gun can be as opposed to the credo of most superheroes and their “no kill” philosophy, Dick sees it as too simplistic of an answer when the missions they’re involved with are much more complicated. The objective may be to get the eyes, but the Old Gun brings a greater emotional weight to the situation once Dick learns the truth. It’s also an intriguing issue that delves into Dick’s own form of identity crisis. For all intents and purposes, Dick Grayson/Nightwing is dead in the eyes of the world, but within the confines of Spyral, the former superhero is now a spy, Agent 37, which comes with its own set of rules and regulations. Agent 8’s repeated botching of the Nightwing moniker as a means of getting under Dick’s skin, and reinforcing the fact that he’s a spy, not a hero, serve only to push Dick’s resolve in holding true to the teachings of his mentor and staying true to himself.

 

Spotlight On: Gotham Academy #1 – DC Comics

Goth-Acad-1Yes, I know everyone’s been hyping this book as the greatest thing to come out of DC in a long time, but it’s for good reason. Writers Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher and Artist Karl Kerschl bring about a new side of Gotham City through the students and faculty of one of its most prestigious schools. There’s definitely a DC Comics meets Harry Potter vibe, in a good way, as we’re introduced to second-year student Olive Silverlock and first-year student Maps Mizoguchi. Told from Olive’s point-of-view, we know that she’s technically in a relationship with Maps’ older brother Kyle, but there may already be drama involving another student. Olive has become distant and moody as a result of some unknown event that took place during the summer; something so significant that even a visiting Bruce Wayne is aware of her even if she’s not aware of him. But really what the book boils down to is an intriguing, engaging, colorful, and, most importantly, fun, start to the next wave of Bat-books. Olive and Maps, both women of color, are delightful characters to watch. For all her moping, Olive’s problems are that of the typical teenager. She doesn’t quite fit in with her classmates, but much of that is largely tied to her attitude as evidenced through her interactions with her roommate Lucy and Maps. Of course, there’s always a bully and Olive’s Draco Malfoy equivalent is Pomeline Fritch. Seriously, the names alone are a mashup between comic books and Harry Potter naming conventions. But when push comes to shove, Olive is there for the people who need her and that says more about her character than the majority of her teen angst. Maps, however, is joy on legs, which makes her the most entertaining character of the bunch. I was definitely on board when she had the one-sided conversation with Olive about the school’s Headmaster, but later when the girls are climbing the bell tower to see the supposed ghost haunting the North Hall and Maps rambles on and on about her Dungeons and Dragons/LARPing escapades as if they parallel the situation, that’s when I think I fully fell in love with the book. I’m definitely looking forward to solving the mysteries of Gotham Academy and attending classes with such new and fantastically realized characters.

So those are my picks for the week. What about you? What did you read this week and what would you recommend?

It’s been over a year since the team from IsmaHAWK got their kickstarter for Nightwing: The Series fully funded. Based on the positive reaction to a fan film devoted to Danny Shepherd and Jeremy Le‘s favorite superhero, Nightwing, the duo took their love of Batman’s former sidekick to the people, offering them a sleeker, more dynamic vision of their previous outing with the DC Comics Universe. The result is Episode 1: Deathstroke, which sees Dick Grayson/Nightwing (played by Shepherd) tracking down the mercenary in the wake of a mass murder at a political function.Nightwing

The bigger budget allowed the IsmaHAWK team to make improvements in costuming (that’s a pretty sweet Deathstroke mask), fight choreography, and special effects without letting Nightwing get lost in the shuffle. Though he only shows up at about the episode’s midpoint, there are plenty of character idiosyncrasies present that will have fans of Dick Grayson frothing at the mouth for more. The interrogation of Wintergreen is definitely spot on for how Dick would approach questioning criminals.

Overall, it looks like money well spent and if the trailer is any indication of what’s to come, we can expect a lot more Bat-Family members to show up!

Look for the next episode to premiere Oct. 6th!

Okay, we’re gonna go about things a little differently here. Since I’ve decided to strike out on my own – updates forthcoming – I don’t necessarily have the time or the funds to read every comic and write the fairly long, detail-oriented reviews I did in the past. That doesn’t mean, however, that I’m shirking my analytical duties of reviewing comic books. It just means these reviews are going to be much shorter.

What’s the approach? Your standard pull list of comics for the week and my thoughts on why you should read them with a specific Spotlight position set aside for what I think was a standout issue. There’s also room for highlighting new books from smaller publishers or collected graphic novels and such. Pretty much whatever I think is worth your time, which means – obviously – that this will be heavily biased to my tastes. In all likelihood, some of you may or may not agree with my picks and that’s fine. If anything, it leaves us open for discussion about what you think were the best books of the week and to make recommendations of your own.

Sound good?

I’ll take your silence as a sign of agreement. To the list!

 

C.O.W.L. #5 – Image Comics

COWL_05-1Written by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel with Art by Rod Reis, the first arc of the series comes to a close with the dissolution of C.O.W.L. Or does it? Higgins, Siegel, and Reis started their story of the first labor union for superheroes at the beginning of the end, but everyone knows that the end is only the beginning. In tumultuous post-WWII, Cold War era Chicago tensions have finally escalated to the point of strikes and rioting with the city content to wash its hands clean of C.O.W.L. Not that the heroes are too broken up about it, at least most of them. While the world of C.O.W.L. has been slowly built within the era of equal rights, paranoia, and disillusionment, one man’s story has been cutting through the narrative: Geoffrey Warner, C.O.W.L.’s Chief formerly known as The Grey Raven. From the beginning of the book, Geoffrey has been trying every tactic possible to keep C.O.W.L. alive only to see it crumble before his eyes. It’s his desperation that makes his actions at the end of the issue – the last panel in fact – all the more shocking. Does Chicago need heroes? Geoffrey thinks it does and he’s willing to do anything to prove how necessary C.O.W.L. is to the Chicago, if not the world.

 

Low #3 – Image Comics

low03_coverWritten by Rick Remender with Art by Greg Tocchini, Low #3 is a beautiful cacophony of juxtaposing images and ideas set against what is ostensibly the end of the human race. While most of the people inhabiting the undersea city of Salus are set on counting down the days until they’re done for, Stel Caine holds on to the hope that humanity can be saved. The appearance of a long forgotten probe that may have found a planet suitable for human habitation prompts her to confront the decadent and corrupt councilmen who, like most people, see Stel’s optimism as some sort of disease. No one believes this more than her son Marik who, after being arrested for corruption and the death of a hooker, tries to kill himself because he can’t imagine his life could get any lower. Luckily, Stel manages to save him, which is debatable if you’re Marik, and takes him with her to find the probe. The issue mostly consists of a huge argument between Stel and Marik, a mother and son who’ve both experienced tremendous loss and have dealt with it in very different ways. But in this issue, there’s finally some catharsis and Tocchini’s art gorgeously captures the beauty and wonder of the ocean that Marik sees for the first time.

 

Wayward #2 – Image Comics

Wayward_02-1Written by Jim Zub with Art by Steven Cummings, John Rauch, and Zub, Rori’s fresh start in Japan hasn’t exactly gone very smooth. What with the pressures of being in a new city, reconnecting with your mother, discovering you have strange powers that allow you to see monsters and getting saved by a cat-person – wait, what? Seriously, the worst thing that could happen after that is starting at a new school where you’re treated like an idiot and judged for your appearance while trying not to be a burden to the one parent you don’t want to hate you. Which is why that’s exactly what happens. Though I’ve never been to school in Japan, Zub finds a way to make Rori’s circumstances relatable despite the cultural shift. We can all sympathize with feeling like an outcast or a loner as well as the intense pressure that comes with being a student. Heighten that with the intense nature of Japanese schools and we see just how stressful Rori’s world has become. How she copes with that stress, however, left me gasping out loud. The art continues to be a lush and vibrant world of anime and manga influences. Even in the darkest settings, the colors still pop off the page as Rori tries to make sense and connect the dots especially when it comes to one of her new schoolmates.

 

Storm #3 – Marvel Comics

Storm-003Written by Greg Pak with Art by Matteo Buffagni, Storm’s solo book is only three issues in and, on the surface, the stories feel like vignettes in Ororo Munroe’s life between the myriad events going on in the X-Men universe. But what Greg Pak has been doing is taking the reader back to her roots, showcasing exactly what makes the former goddess and Queen of Wakanda tick, which inevitably leads her back to Africa; specifically Kenya where she was once worshipped because of her powers over the weather. After meeting the locals, she also finds herself confronted with another part of her past when Forge is revealed to be the one behind bringing her back so he can create a method of weather control so the local villagers can grow their crops. Unfortunately, Forge’s machine is too unstable and the leader of the village is a little too eager to harness the power of a god. Through the lessons she learned from being falsely worshipped as well as her time being de-powered and betrayed, Storm shows what makes her a true leader as she shows the wisdom necessary to strike a balance between Forge and the village. Neither are ready to move on, so she makes sure they find a way to do so together.

 

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #5-6 – DC Comics

sensation5Written by Ivan Cohen with Art by Marcus To these two chapters serve as a full story that sees Diana’s belief in the gods challenged when she supposedly loses her powers. The writers and artists involved with Sensation Comics have been doing a stellar job of showcasing the various aspects of Wonder Woman and Ivan Cohen pushes the concept of belief into the forefront. Diana is a paragon of justice, truth, honor, and compassion, but even in this day and age her origins involving the Greek pantheon give people pause when she’s also wrapped up in the stars and stripes. The brilliance of this story, however, is Diana’s cleverness in sussing out who the true villain is and besting him through the sheer force of belief in one thing and one thing alone: herself. Without that she’s nothing and it makes all the difference.

 

Spotlight: Saga #23 – Image Comics

Saga23OneAs if there was any doubt! Saga is an ongoing emotional roller coaster and, as always, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples still manage to pull the rug out from under the reader. The penultimate issue of the current arc finds Marko nearly giving into his feelings for Ginny after Alana kicked him out and Alana continuing to turn to drugs to cope with how miserable she is, but our favorite married couple find that even the greatest temptations can’t completely pull them away from each other. Oddly enough, it isn’t the calming and placating platitudes from Ginny to Marko or the story of lost love from Izabel to Alana that snaps everything into place, it’s Hazel’s toy Ponk Konk. Marko knows how much his daughter loves the toy and it spurs him to return to his home. Alana, on the other hand, sees how much she’s been missing out on by working the Open Circuit and getting high while Marko practically raises their daughter without her. Unfortunately, Dengo and the princeling show up before the family can reunite, fulfilling Hazel’s earlier statement that this is indeed the story of how her parents split up when Alana activates their rocket ship tree to blastoff, leaving the planet and Marko behind as a means of stopping Dengo. At the issue’s end, Marko is stranded, unable to reach his family, but he’s not the only father desperate to get to his family.

 

So those are my picks for the week. Please feel free to comment below and tell me what comics you’d highlight, either as regular pulls or new comics people should check out.

Oh yeah, I’m gonna spoil some stuff on this one. If any of you are familiar with my reviews, then you know I analyze these books to within an inch of their life and Pretty Deadly is definitely a book that requires deeper analysis. This is the end of the first arc and there’s plenty to unpack, which makes someone like me delightfully giddy to dive into what is, in my opinion, one of the most pretty-deadly-05ambitious and challenging works of literature I’ve read in a while. Which is also my way of saying that I’m smiling like an idiot as I write this because this is fun for me.

Right, you’ve been warned. Spoilers ahead!

In Pretty Deadly #5 Deathface Ginny, Fox, Sissy, Molly Raven, Johnny Coyote, and Sarah confront Big Alice at the entrance to the Underworld. Alice and Ginny have another go at each other before Johnny gets the better of Alice and scatters her butterfly form to the winds. Upon entering the Underworld, the group is confronted by the Shield Maids, the divided guards of Death’s realm who’re the last line of defense between the world of the living and the neglected garden where souls have passed under Death’s care. Ginny is denied passage, but Sissy asks to be let through. She’s the Ascendant, the one who will replace Death, and in accepting her role in the story, she unites the Shield Maids and rejuvenates the Soul of the World, which Death need only destroy in order to stop death from ever happening again. Death and some of his followers confront the group and everything seems lost, even for Ginny, until her mother, the great Beauty desired by Fox and Death, ends her captor’s existence and allows Sissy to assume her place as the new Master of Death’s Domain.

Johnny and AliceLike I said, there’s a lot to unpack here. Though Kelly Sue DeConnick often refers to Pretty Deadly as a “weird little book”, the themes of the story are as old as the genres of fantasy and the western. In the case of this story, those themes of love, obsession, defiance, sacrifice, and redemption are just steeped in a new mythology and symbols.

Death, in the world of Pretty Deadly, is not a single entity that rules for all eternity. In this world Death is a position taken on by someone so that the garden of souls is always maintained. It establishes that death is a part of the natural order of the world, but Death is a finite job, one that has a clear ending before someone else takes over. It’s implied that those who take on the role understand their place, but when Death falls in love with Beauty during her captivity by the Mason/Fox, he begins to warp the natural order. Like Fox, Death’s love turns to obsession and he puts a plan in motion to ensure that no one will ever die, including him, thus ensuring he’ll always be with the woman he loves.

It’s through Fox’s redemption, however, that the world is actually saved. Though his obsessive love ultimately led to Beauty’s death, his inability to keep his end of the bargain with Death to see his love one last time results in Sissy remaining alive, preventing Death from putting his plan into place. Fox is a man who sees the error of his ways and devotes the rest of his life to taking care of Sissy, knowing full well that his life is forfeit to Deathface Ginny when she comes to get her revenge on the man who destroyed her mother in life. But Fox doesn’t fight against his ultimate fate, instead he fights to remain alive so that Sissy can reestablish the natural order. Fox comes to terms with what he’s done and knows that what he did to Beauty was an unjust act, one that denied a woman her freedom all for his own pleasure. Death, however, takes his obsession to an entirely different level, if not a heightened parallel to Fox’s actions. He’s willing to defy nature and end death, all to be with Beauty for eternity, but at the cost of millions of souls who would still experience suffering and pain without the release of death to carry their souls to a final resting point.Death of Bunny

But at the heart of this story are three women: Beauty, Ginny, and Sissy; each with their own role to play. Beauty is, for the most part, a passive character. She was a prisoner to the Mason’s obsession and remains a prisoner to Death because neither could let go of her. It isn’t until the end, when she stabs Death in the back, that she gets her revenge while also acting as a protective mother not just to Ginny but to Sissy. In freeing her own soul she saves the Soul of the World and ushers in a new Master of Death who respects the natural order, someone who has told her story her entire life and learned from it.

Ginny, on the other hand, is a woman dead set on avenging her mother. She’s a Reaper committed to revenge. At first, we believe her goal is to kill Fox, but as the story progresses, there’s more to Ginny’s vengeance than just killing the man who imprisoned her mother while she was alive. In the first issue, the opening sequence showed a young Ginny coming across a bunny and shooting it in the head. While the fear in her eyes is palpable, her actions seem to take on greater meaning within the context of the completed narrative. Yes, it sparks the story within a story between the dead Bunny and Butterfly, but was there more to what Ginny was doing than we Death and Beautyrealize? Is it purely coincidence that Ginny kills a rabbit and her father’s form as Death is the skull of a rabbit? One could interpret the scene as a child exerting their curiosity about death or it could be an angry young girl taking out her aggression on an animal that represents her father who has also imprisoned her mother’s soul.

Sissy is obviously the connecting thread as it’s her role as the Ascendant that ends Death’s reign and saves the Soul of the World. From the moment we meet her we know there’s something different about her. Her different colored eyes and vulture cloak immediately invoke other-worldliness as she bounds around telling the story of Beauty and Deathface Ginny. But she’s still a little girl, one who finds out her place in the world is much bigger than she ever thought. When she finally learns about her origin, she fears that she’s a “monster”, equating herself to the monstrosity that Death has become. It’s a child’s perspective of death as a concept, something to be feared, but by the end of the story Sissy has matured to the point that she understands how crucial her role is and what that means for the rest of the world. When she asks to be let through by the Shield Maids, she still fears becoming a monster, but sees that this commitment will give her purpose and a place to call home. For the first time, she accepts death as a concept and her lot in life.Underworld

Even with all of this analysis, it still feels like I’ve only scratched the surface of Pretty Deadly, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that’s the best thing you could ask for from a work of art. It forces you to think about things over and over again. DeConnick weaves a complex, and as I said before, ambitious story that still leaves us with questions yet to be answered. Ambitious, however, doesn’t begin to describe Emma Rios’ art. More like epic. The two-page spreads are as complex as they are beautiful with Rios flipping the art on certain pages as our heroes enter the Underworld, forcing the reader to either change the angle of the book or accept the altered reality on the page. Rios’ signature frenetic and flowing style seamlessly blends the story together as she defines the reality created by DeConnick. I especially love the way she draws Sissy, but all of the characters have a way of melding with the environment as if emphasizing the connection between them and the world they inhabit.

Rating – 10/10

Final Thoughts: Ginny in the world of the living might aim to misbehave. Can’t wait.

Previously published at Word of the Nerd.

I’m not the biggest fan of variant covers, at least not ones that are purposefully used so the publishers can up the price on a comic by delving into the portion of our lizard brains that has a desire for collecting and hoarding EVERYTHING that ever existed of the thing we love most. In this case, it’s not unusual for readers to spend an awful lot of money getting variant covers for books they wouldn’t normally read because the artwork or the subject matter speaks to them.

I’ve been pretty lucky to not fall into that sinkhole…until now.DC-Trinity-Darwyn-Cooke

In December, DC Comics will release their books with variant covers by none other than Darwyn Cooke. The master writer and artist behind books like the Harvey, Eisner, and Shuster award-winning DC: The New Frontier, Batman: Ego and Other Tales, Catwoman, The Spirit, the graphic novel adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker series, and a storyboard artist for Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, and the opening animation for Batman Beyond, Cooke is most well-known for his signature retro style of art that harkens back to the Golden and Silver Ages of comics. He puts the “mod” is modern is what I’m saying. Cooke also has a way with composition and color. He frequently uses black but he’s not shy about using bright, bold colors to set the tone of a scene. Cooke creates worlds where dark subject matters can exist in the light and vice versa. There’s also a hopeful, inspirational quality to the way he draws his subjects, especially the characters of DC Comics.

Full confession, I didn’t start reading comics until I was in college. The first book I read was DC: The New Frontier and it remains my favorite book to reread or revisit over and over again. As a history major, it’s a beautiful time capsule of the changing society and politics from the 40s to the 60s, and as a comic book fan it’s an obvious love letter from a man to the heroes of his childhood who also went through huge transitions from the Golden to the Silver ages. Cooke makes the heroes of DC relevant by sticking them right in the middle of political and social uprisings, imagining and bringing to life how a world full of superheroes would deal with matters like racism, the Red Scare, and the Space Race. Plus, dinosaurs, and ancient alien monoliths. Though the animated adaptation, Justice League: The New Frontier, captures some of the same magic, it barely scratches the surface of what’s on the page, which shows how vital Cooke is as both an artist and a writer. He makes the heroes of DC look and act heroic without sacrificing their integrity or stooping to the lowest common denominator of storytelling.

So, to make a long story short (too late!), DC finally done good in featuring Cooke’s art on 23 of their titles in December. Luckily, if you’re not all that keen on spending a lot of money on variant covers so you can buy your family the holiday gifts they always wanted, all of the variants have been released online on various websites like Comic Vine, Comics Alliance, Comic Book Resources, Hit Fix, and Newsarama. And what kind of Cooke fanatic would I be if I didn’t show you pretty much all of them?

For my money’s worth, any time Cooke draws the trinity of Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman is fine by me. Hell, I wish they’d just give Cooke an ongoing title at DC to do whatever he wanted: one-shots, ongoings, minis, I don’t care. But I must confess to having a soft spot for Catwoman whenever Cooke draws her. It was his redesign that took Selina out of the overly dramatic costumes and put her in a more practical, yet stylish catsuit (pun more than likely intended). One thing you’ll notice about most of the variants is that the characters appear to be happy, an emotion that’s been sorely missed in the DC Universe right now. God forbid the heroes crack a smile but, in Cooke’s version of the DCU, heroes are stoked to be saving lives, flying through space, and even being chased by cops with bullets flying at them.

Which one is your favorite?

 

Action Comics

Action Comics

Aquaman

Aquaman

Batgirl

Batgirl

Batman #37

Batman

Batman and Robin

Batman and Robin

Batman/Superman

Batman/Superman

Catwoman

Catwoman

The Flash

The Flash

Grayson

Grayson

Green Lantern Corp

Green Lantern Corp

Green Lantern

Green Lantern

Justice League

Justice League

Justice League United

Justice League United

Sinestro

Sinestro

Supergirl

Supergirl

Superman

Superman

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman

checkmate_coverIt’s here, it’s here, it’s finally here. You may recall some time back that I announced my authoring of a story, “Checkmate”, for the KILLER QUEEN Anthology from Red Stylo Media based on the discography of Queen. The song I chose to base my story on was “White Queen (As it Began)” off of the Queen II album from 1974. Orignally, I’d planned for a Sergio Leone style western, but after a few email exchanges with my editor, Enrica Jang, I made the decision to transfer this tale of revenge to the noir genre and I am so pleased with the result!

Here’s the description for “Checkmate”:

Taylor is a hardened detective with blood on his hands. He tries to be a good cop, but he’s forever haunted by the one case he failed to protect those in most need of his help. When a beautiful killer resurfaces, ready to settle old scores, Taylor is reminded that right and wrong can’t always be black and white!

 

Intrigued? Maybe a preview of the art by Bobby Breed with lettering done by Mark Mullaney is in order as well?

 

checkmate_page1checkmate_page2checkmate_page3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There we go. That should seal the deal! Well, if you feel so inclined, you can purchase the individual story here or you can pre-order the full KILLER QUEEN Anthology when it goes to print in October. Do yourself a favor and bring a little Queen into your life. It’ll do ya good! And if you’re so kind as to purchase my story, any feedback is most appreciated.