Comic Review: Hellboy, Vol. 1: Seed of Destruction

Published: 1994
Written by: John Byrne, Mike Mignola
Art by: Mike Mignola

Dark Horse Comics, 130 Pages

Review:

It’s been a really long time since I have picked up a Hellboy comic, even though I’ve been a massive fan of the character since the ’90s. This was also the first time that I read his debut story.

This four issue story arc was the basis for the plot of the first Hellboy film. While it’s not the exact same story, it features Rasputin as the villain, as well as large, tentacled, Lovecraftian monsters and a very similar origin story for the title character.

While it may sound as if I am trying to oversell this, Hellboy: Seed of Destruction is perfection in the comic book medium.

Featuring the incredible duo of comic book legends John Byrne and Mike Mignola, this earliest Hellboy story was superb on every level. The writing was terrific, the dialogue was fantastic and Mignola’s art style creates a perfect tone for this tale.

When things are this good, I want others to experience them fresh. So I don’t want to spoil too much and would rather others go pick this up, read it and be as surprised and impressed by it as I was.

Now this may not be everyone’s cup of tea and my opinions are my own but I think it’d be hard to deny that this is a solid comic book, through and through, and it does exactly what it set out to achieve.

That being said, I can’t wait to jump into volume two.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other Hellboy and B.P.R.D. related comics.

Film Review: American Splendor (2003)

Release Date: January 20th, 2003 (Sundance)
Directed by: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Written by: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Based on: American Splendor and Our Cancer Year by Harvey Pekar
Music by: Mark Suozzo
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Judah Friedlander, James Urbaniak, Donal Logue, Molly Shannon, Josh Hutcherson, Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner, Toby Radloff

Good Machine, Dark Horse Entertainment, Fine Line Features, HBO Films, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Why does everything in my life have to be such a complicated disaster?” – Joyce Brabner

Even though I grew up burying my head in comic books, I wasn’t really aware of Harvey Pekar until my late ’20s. Initially, his comic book style wasn’t something I sought out. I was more into superhero comics and sword and sorcery style fantasy epics.

However, I would say that I found Pekar (and Robert Crumb) at the right time in my life. Both men’s work captivated me and spoke to me in a very human but amusing way. Crumb was attractive to my deviant sensibilities, while Pekar spoke to that cynical observational part of myself that’s always watching and analyzing the shit show around me.

I’ve seen a lot of Pekar in interviews and things over the years and I’ve got to say that Paul Giamatti’s performance as Harvey Pekar is fantastic. While he might not exactly look like Harvey, which is actually joked about within this film in a fourth wall breaking critique by Pekar himself, Giamatti just captured the right type of charm and charisma and did this role justice.

Additionally, Judah Friedlander was absolutely spectacular as Pekar’s best bud Toby Radloff. Friedlander was so good, in fact, that even though I saw his name in the credits, I didn’t realize that it was him playing Toby until really late in the film.

All the other performances are also great. Especially Hope Davis as Joyce, Harvey’s wife, and James Urbaniak, who played Robert Crumb in a few key scenes.

The film covers the important parts of Pekar’s adult life quite well. It’s a film that has a lot of time pass in its 101 minutes but nothing feels rushed and every scene seems pretty vital, as the narrative hits the points it needs to in showcasing what was most important.

For someone that’s a professional creative and pretty grumpy on most days, it was easy for me to relate to Pekar and this film. It was a moving picture that tells a sweet story, even if the main character isn’t someone that would be likable by most people on a first impression.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Crumb and Basquiat.

Comic Review: Star Wars: Dark Empire II

Published: 1994-1995
Written by: Tom Veitch
Art by: Cam Kennedy, Dave Dorman (covers)
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas

Dark Horse Books, 162 Pages

Review:

I love this era of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, between this, The Thrawn TrilogyThe Jedi Academy Trilogy and all the great Rogue Squandron stuff, Disney’s new version of what they call “official” canon can’t hold a candle to these solid stories.

This picks up right after the events of the first Dark Empire and this also features the birth of Han and Leia’s third child, Anakin Solo.

The Empreror still has a presence despite the outcome of Dark Empire I and Luke and his allies must work towards stopping him once and for all while protecting Leia’s newborn child from the mad Sith’s grasp.

What’s really great about this story is that it also establishes what will become a new order of Jedi under the tutelage of Luke Skywalker.

I love Cam Kennedy’s art style and it just fits this story and this era very well. It’s simple, gritty but colorful and full of life. Here, Star Wars still feels like the “aged future” that George Lucas so carefully crafted with the Original Trilogy but then sort of dismissed with his Prequel films.

I especially love all the dark Jedi stuff here, as well as the bits with Boba Fett just being a mysterious badass. You have to remember that this came out when no one knew who Boba Fett was. He was still a masked bounty hunter with ties to Darth Vader. But here, we start to see depth added to the character, as he is shown to work specifically for money and not the Empire. He also shows glimmers of being a man with some sort of code and morals.

Man, this was just so much fun to read and revisit, as I’ve gotten to the point where I just don’t care much about Star Wars anymore, which was something I obsessed over in my youth and well into my twenties.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Dark Horse Star Wars comics from the same era: the two other Dark Empire Trilogy stories, as well as The Shadows of the Empire TrilogyThe Thrawn Trilogy and the Rogue Squadron series.

Comic Review: Star Wars: Dark Empire

Published: 1991
Written by: Tom Veitch
Art by: Jim Baikie, Cam Kennedy, Dave Dorman (covers)
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas

Dark Horse Books, 155 Pages

Review:

If you follow the Star Wars Expanded Universe continuity, which I do because fuck Disney, this takes place about a year or so after The Thrawn Trilogy. This is also the first part of The Dark Empire Trilogy, which also featured Dark Empire II and Empire’s End.

This is the story that people are citing whenever they talk about how Luke Skywalker once fell to the dark side and joined the Emperor. Well, while there is some truth to that, it’s a bit more complicated than Luke just becoming Vader Jr.

I don’t necessarily want to spoil the story in regards to Luke’s journey but he does receive help from Leia, who, in this story, is my favorite version of her character. She’s got some Jedi skills, uses the Force and wields a lightsaber like a pro. She’s just a badass and ready to take part in the action, head on. This isn’t Leia, protected by layers of steel and an army, as she barks out orders from the safety of a command post. Granted, this is just six years after Return of the Jedi unlike the sequel films. But I feel like a Leia trained in the Jedi arts would have been a different character, entirely.

Frankly, Dark Empire is a clear reminder that Disney dropped the ball in regards to things they could’ve explored with their sequel trilogy.

The Emperor is also in this story. But, wait?! He’s dead, right? Well, not really and that’s all explained here. And honestly, the Emperor’s powers make sense when you really understand the scale of how strong he was in the dark side of the Force.

Now there are a few bits that create some continuity issues. I’m not talking about with Disney continuity, as that shit doesn’t matter, I’m actually talking about things that George Lucas did in the prequels that makes some bits of the plot not work here. I can excuse this stuff though, as Lucas claimed to care about his own continuity but by the time he made the prequels, there were too many details to sift through. Also, this story came out really early in the development of the Expanded Universe. But it’s nowhere near as contradictory as Splinter of the Mind’s Eye or the comics Marvel put out in the early ’80s.

Tom Veitch wrote a good, engaging story. He’s a comic book writer that I feel doesn’t get enough respect or notoriety. He would write a lot of early Star Wars comics while at Dark Horse in the ’90s. He also worked on other major comics like Animal ManKamandi and Superman.

I thought that the art was pretty damn good for an indie publisher in 1991. The color is very muted and this almost looks like it’s colored with watercolors and marker. It gives it a really unique feel and the color style works but it may look pretty dated when open next to a more modern Star Wars comic. One thing’s for sure, though, this miniseries had some incredible covers.

But even with its flaws, which there aren’t many, this stands head and shoulders above the Star Wars comics that have come out since Disney took over the franchise.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Other Dark Horse Star Wars comics from the same era: the two other Dark Empire Trilogy stories, as well as The Shadows of the Empire TrilogyThe Thrawn Trilogy and the Rogue Squadron series.

TV Review: The Umbrella Academy (2019- )

Original Run: February 15th, 2019 – current
Created by: Steve Blackman, Jeremy Slater
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Umbrella Academy by Gerard Way, Gabriel Ba
Music by: Jeff Russo
Cast: Ellen Page, Tom Hopper, Emmy Raver-Lampman, David Castañeda, Robert Sheehan, Aidan Gallagher, Mary J. Blige, Cameron Britton, Colm Feore, Adam Godley, John Magaro

Borderline Entertainment, Dark Horse Entertainment, Universal Cable Productions, Netflix, 10 Episodes (so far), 45-60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

When the first Umbrella Academy story came out in 2007, I was instantly captivated by it. It sucked me in, it was a lot of fun, it borrowed heavily from a few different things but ultimately, it was refreshing, unique and helped to reinvigorate my interest in comics at the time.

For years, I have heard that the comic was going to be adapted for live action. I just never really liked the thought of that, as it isn’t something that seems like it could be adapted in a good or effective way outside of its original medium.

Fast forward to late 2018 when I finally saw a trailer for its live action incarnation, this Netflix show. It didn’t get me enthused about it but I thought that there might be a chance that it can work, despite the obvious alterations that I picked up from that trailer.

Well, I don’t want to call this a bad show. It’s really just about what I expected it to be. It has good production value, good special effects for television and it fits well within the genre style. But it just feels like the same ol’ shit in a world where we now have superhero TV shows like we have soda options.

This may be your flavor, this may not be. While I love the comic’s flavor, this just seems like the dollar store generic version of that flavor.

The show has an identity crisis. It doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be or what it should be. It’s like Tim Burton and Wes Anderson had a baby in the worst way possible. The show also tries so hard to be cool that it isn’t. The humor doesn’t stick, the characters aren’t likable and it spends more time trying to wow you with its pop music selections than constructing a scene with any real craftsmanship.

A lot of the shots are done with a wide angle lens to the point that it’s as annoying as J. J. Abrams’ use of the lens flare effect in Star Trek. It’s like a high schooler that dreams of one day going to film school was given a camera and a budget and was told to go make his art, without any knowledge whatsoever of mise en scène.

The acting is also problematic for me. Everyone is just so emotionless and boring. Even when characters argue, it’s stale. The kid who plays Number 5 is pretty good though but he’s also not likable, so it’s hard to latch on to him and let him pull you through the muck.

I got about halfway through the first season and I gave up. Maybe it ends on a good note but time is precious and Netflix likes to drag its shows out to ungodly lengths. This is why I stopped caring about their Marvel shows outside of Daredevil.

This may appeal to some but I’m not sure who it is for. If you’re a fan of the comics, this probably won’t work for you. But that also doesn’t mean that the damage I see isn’t salvageable. Sometimes shows need a season to learn from their mistakes and move forward in a better way.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other modern comic book television adaptations.

Comic Review: Predator Vs. Judge Dredd Vs. Aliens: Splice and Dice

Published: February 6th, 2018
Written by: John Layman
Art by: Chris Mooneyham
Based on: Predator by Jim Thomas and John Thomas, Alien by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, Judge Dredd by John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra and Pat Mills

Dark Horse Books, 101 Pages

Review:

Well, this was underwhelming. But most Alien Vs. Predator crossovers that include other franchises don’t ever seem to deliver.

The thought of Judge Dredd fighting Predators and Aliens got me excited. It looks damn good on paper but the execution here was pretty shoddy.

The biggest problem with the story is that there was too much strange shit going on. The main villain was a mad scientist that made animal/human hybrids and called them Ani-Men, which I’m pretty sure is the name of a supervillain team that Marvel has used as far back as the 1960s.

My gripe about this part of the plot is that it takes up most of it. This story arc is made up of just four single issues, there isn’t room to dillydally. We didn’t need this and while it was used to introduce the alien xenomorphs to the story, the plot didn’t need to get fixated on this other, unimportant stuff.

All you need to do to kick off this story is have a Predator ship crash in Mega-City One. The crash releases alien xenomorphs and Predators that were fighting on board. Judge Dredd shows up to investigate the crash site and BOOM! you now have Predator Vs. Judge Dredd Vs. Aliens. It writes itself.

The comic dumps all this side story crap in your lap early on and it takes too long to get to the good stuff in a comic without a lot of room the breathe. Once the cool stuff starts, it feels incredibly rushed. There’s no real build of suspense or terror. Plus, Dredd and the Predators team up rather quickly and don’t have much of their own conflict.

This wasn’t a total dud but it just doesn’t live up to what one should expect from from these three badass franchises coming together.

I think that crossovers like this are typically rushed and looked at as a good way to make a quick buck but if the editors actually put a bit more care into these events, we could have better stories, slicker art and something that balances out multiple franchises in a way that makes more sense and respects their spirit.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: any Alien Vs. Predator comic series or Judge Dredd crossover.

Comic Review: The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite

Published: June 17th, 2008
Written by: Gerard Way
Art by: Gabriel Ba

Dark Horse Books, 178 Pages

Review:

It’s been over ten years since I’ve read this six issue miniseries but I wanted to revisit it (and it’s sequels), as the television adaptation is premiering on Netflix in a couple of weeks.

From what I remember, I was really fond of this series a decade ago. Having recently read some of Grant Morrsion’s run on Doom Patrol, I can see how that series had some influence on this one. Now this is not a knockoff or a wannabe Doom Patrol but it shares some narrative bits and kind of takes some stylistic cues from it.

Also, Gabriel Ba’s art style reminds me a lot of Mike Mignola’s work on his Hellboy comics. It’s not a replica of Mignola’s style but it hits some of the same notes.

This story arc introduces us to this team of heroes and their complicated personal lives. It explores their relationships well and, thankfully, doesn’t get bogged down by lengthy origin stories. That’s something that is really refreshing about this comic’s plot.

In a short amount of time, you understand the key players, their personalities and you end up really liking them. When I first read this story, I really wanted to jump into a second one but there was about a year’s wait for it. I definitely want to revisit that one soon, as well.

Also, The Umbrella Academy is now in the middle of its third story arc. It took almost a decade to get to it but I can’t wait to read it. I’m holding off though because I want all the single issues to come out first.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Umbrella Academy stories, as well as Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol and the BPRD comics by Mike Mignola.