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Comic Pick of the Week (October 29, 2014)

Great Stories selects…..

Deathlok #1 (Marvel)

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Yes, the cyborg killing machine is back with his own title with a script penned by current Punisher and Black Widow writer Nathan Edmonson.  Not having seen a Deathlok title since 2000, it seems that the TV Show Agents of Shield has provided an opportunity for Marvel to begin a fourth series.  Notice there is no “he” when we refer to the history of Deathlok appearances, and that is because there have been five individuals to have run with the mantle of being the ultimate weapon of destruction.  Born from the pages of the recently wrapped Original Sin event, Henry Hayes is the man and the machine this time around, and SHIELD is pulling the strings, but for what purpose?

And for those of you who like freebies, Halloween Comicfest sponsored specials, Afterlife with Archie and Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Special Edition may be available at your local shops.  Got to love free, right?  🙂

Great Stories are everywhere!

-Chris

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Comic Genius: Sunnyville Stories by Max West

Comic Genius is a regular column dedicated to reviewing recommended graphic novel format books.

Sunnyville Stories by Max West

 

What has been missing from the field of graphic novel storytelling for some time is the innocence and journey of American discovery that has been embodied in the work of Charles Schulz and in a different medium, Norman Rockwell.  As newspaper circulation slowly declines with the advent of 24 hour TV news stations and the world wide web, where massive amounts of information are at one’s fingertips, one of the victims is the comic strip.  I remember waking every morning, grabbing the newspaper and reading Garfield, The Far Side, Peanuts, and The Wizard of Id to name a few.  Those three panel comics were the source of many smiles to start off the day before school, but fast forward many years and I now don’t even get the newspaper delivered.  Regular visitations to the comic store produce plenty of Marvel and DC superhero stories and no shortage of creator-owned mystery and action stories of the non-spandex variety, but lacking is the more innocent comic fare that served as my true introduction to the art.

 

Enter Max West’s Sunnyville Stories.  The tale centers around a young feline named Rusty and his parents who move to a rural community from the big city.  For Rusty’s parents, the move is one of opportunity, but is only a source of stress and unwanted change for their son.  Moving away from everything he knows (community and friends), Rusty must develop new relationships and adjust to life in an environment that is completely foreign to him.  Rusty may be a cat, but he is more like a fish out of the water on his first adventure to meet a new friend.  The writing is infused with a touch of  humor while dealing with an array of very real issues that many families face each and every day, which is all part of the charm of Max’s flagship creative work.

 

Rusty gets a little more than what he expects when he meets Samantha MacGregor who takes him under her wing and introduces him to life in Sunnyville, starting with her family as well as the Tanuki’s (a family of racoons from Japan).  New adventures are just around the corner for the two, however, and Rusty comes face to face with a female canine (Rose) who is pretty unhappy with all of the attention Rusty Duncan has been receiving by the town.  The two decide to settle their differences over an overly competitive game of pinball.  Next, Rusty and Samantha get caught up in a criminal plot by some train robbers who steal a shipment of laundry detergent from the local launderers (a family of Greek ferrets).  Will the kids help Officer Carl (a dutiful bulldog) apprehend the weasel thieves?

 

To complete the first volume, there is a small bonus story which was actually a treatment made for art school featuring the two main characters of Sunnyville stories.

 

There are many more stories Max is going to tell that will continue to flesh out the world of Sunnyville.  Volume 2 is due to land (as of this writing) in March of 2014, which will contain four episodes and bonus vignettes and sketches, which we are looking forward to seeing.  Further, Max is releasing Von Herling, Vampire Hunter sometime in the next calendar year which will serve as his first commercial departure from the Sunnyville brand.

 

Max West is offering the comic world something that is decidedly different and something that is sorely lacking in the industry from our perspective.  As the art of graphic novels has decreased in circulation (much like most print media), companies seem to be serving a more mature audience.  The themes and content of a majority of works on bookshelves and comic racks are a reflection of this aging audience, leaving not as much room for newer and much younger fans with more discerning parents to identify appropriate material to enjoy.  And most of the age-appropriate material to be found is of the costumed super hero variety.  Sunnyville Stories is a perfect book through which to introduce children to the comic world and reading as a whole.  Kids will relate to some very real themes that will resonate with them and have the opportunity to learn some important life lessons along the way (just as Rusty has through the first three episodes of Max’s work).

 

You can find Sunnyville Stories Volume One on sale here at www.shopgreatstories.com and other select retailers of fine creative works!

 

-Chris (for the Great Stories team)

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Comic Genius: Morning Glories

Dear Readers,

 

Comic Genius is a brand new featured series at the Great Stories blog that shall serve to promote what we think are the best stories being told in the graphic novel format.  The suggested reading material may represent something quite fresh and new, or it may be a call to re-visit an old and forgotten yet classic book/tale. 

 

I must cop to being a gigantic Marvel Comic fan, and spent many years reading those books under the Marvel flag almost exclusively with forays into some DC Batman titles, as well as the occassional Dark Horse Comics project.  I was turned off by McFarlane’s Image Comics in the 90’s from a creative standpoint, though I was very sympathetic to the business reasons for its creation.  That being said, Image has really been impressing me of late with some very solid book series.

 

This month, Great Stories would like to raise your awareness of an awesome series called “Morning Glories” written by Nick Spencer with interior artwork by Joe Eisma and cover art by Rodin Esquejo.  Spencer wrote Existence 2.0 for Image Comics, also the flagship for Morning Glories, and it was well-liked enough to be optioned as a movie by Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes studio and is currently in development.

 

 

 

 

Morning Glories was one that I happened upon when walking into a New England Comics store to visit a friend, and the conversation turned to the subject of the incredible TV show, Lost.  And with that perfect segue, he handed me a copy of the first trade paperback of the aforementioned title.  I opened my wallet and, after reading the first few pages, knew it had been money well spent.

 

Morning Glories tells the story of a group of very special students recruited from around the world to attend the prestigious Morning Glory Academy.  What the students don’t know is that Morning Glory Academy is not at all what it seems, and the students all share something in common that goes beyond the normal.  The characters, at first, seem like the typical line-up of high school archetypes.  Casey is the intelligent and beautiful blond with perfect parents who has it all going for her.  The Indian-American Zoe is the tough as nails, mean, and pretty cheerleader.  Hunter is the almost invisible book nerd raised by a single Dad.  Ike is the spoiled rich kid with a sordid past.  Jun is a principled and serious student from Japan.  And Jade is the moody emo-girl, also raised by a single parent.

 

 

 

Although the stereotypes are all typically present, the events that ensue are anything but.  The comparisons to Lost, as alluded to in the author’s own description of his book, are well founded and present in the flashback stylization that helps to flesh out the characters in awesome detail.  The characters have been written intelligently with actions that are consistent with the individual motivations and character traits born within.

 

It is quite simply very difficult to keep from being pulled into the writer’s world.  And the artwork by Joe Eisma is very good, capturing the essence of the story well within the panels and giving it a very clean look that suits the material well. His characters are drawn expressively, which I appreciate, and lends to more effective storytelling.

 

 

I want to say so much more about the book, but to do so would betray the great plot developments that author and artist have in store for the reader.  25 issues into the monthly comic, you can pick up the first 19 issues in trade paperback form in three collections starting with “For a Better Future” (collecting issues 1-6), continuing in “All Will Be Set Free” (collecting the second story arc issues 7-12), and “PE” (collecting issues 13-19).  The fourth collection, “Truants” will be released this May.

 

Spencer has mapped out a complete beginning to end story that runs 100 issues, which is eight years of comic life.  If the next six years of story are anything like the first two, we are all in for a treat.  Not to mention that you could very well be looking at a perfect candidate for a TV pilot, able to match the success of the last graphic novel to small screen adaptation that has taken the industry by storm.  Oh yes, that little show called “The Walking Dead” is exactly what I am referring to.

 

I sincerely hope you give this book a look and come back to let us know your thoughts!  Thanks for taking the time to stop by, and come back again soon for another visit.  🙂

 

Chris (for the Great Stories team)

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Comic Genius: Capital Punishment

Greetings Dear Readers,

Today’s post has nothing to do with civil rights or the justice system in America.  No, that is better left for other blogs.  This post is dedicated to Greg Rucka and his run on The Punisher/Punisher War Zone for Marvel Comics.  As a huge fan of Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, I could not be more thankful for the incredible storytelling and characterization of my favorite comic personality over the past two years.  When Marvel handed the reigns of Frank Castle’s lore to Greg Rucka, I am not quite sure they even knew or appreciated the depth of talent, thoughtfulness, and inspiration that resided in this man’s mind.  Rucka also had the help of Marco Checchetto and Carmine Di Giandomenico who took Rucka’s vision and brought it to life on the page in a way that this fan had never before seen.  These are undoubtedly two of the fastest rising stars in graphic novel art today!

 

 

The character I love so dearly has been through a sort of creative purgatory over the course of the past twenty years.  Originally appearing in Amazing Spider-man #129, in the 1970’s, Punisher began as a mercenary hired to end the famed hero.  Gaining popularity after more guest appearances in various stories, a limited series was launched in the mid-80’s at a time when gun-toting action stars ruled the big screens.  Modelled after Charles Bronson’s Death Wish character and Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, Frank Castle was a Vietnam vet who came home from one war and found that he could not escape it when his family was gunned down after witnessing a mob execution.  He survived to wage a one-man campaign against organized crime, murderers, and deviants of all stripes.  Somehow becoming what he despised most, yet keeping a code of honor simultaneously.  The perfect Great White Shark of graphic novelty.

 

 

 

After many years of popularity, the Punisher went through a bit of a transformation as Marvel saw fit to have Castle go off the rails and assasinate Nick Fury (as known to most audiences as the cool head of SHIELD portrayed by Samuel Jackson in the current Avengers series).  This led to Marvel coming up with the terrible idea of making him the head of a crime family.  That short-lived incarnation later led into the character becoming some tool of divine judgement using angelic weapons (in a thankfully shorter lived series), before Garth Ennis saved The Punisher character by returning him to his roots…..fighting a dirty mob war without the supernatural enhancement package (sarcasm mode off).  Garth Ennis righted the Punisher ship for many years giving fans just what they wanted.  It was a no holds-barred Frank Castle.  A force of nature doing what he does best.  But he kept him mainly in his own little corner of the Marvel world, separated from the larger Marvel cast of characters.  And when he did write Castle in a space occupied by the superhero community, he did so in such a way that reflected the writer’s own feelings on spandex-clad characters.  He just didn’t like them, and it showed.  Following Ennis’ departure, Matt Fraction took over the Punisher storytelling to mediocre result, followed by Rick Remender who in spite of his talent decided to drop the character down one of the weirdest rabbit holes in all of comic history.  Killing the Punisher in one of the most epicly horrific ways, and having him reassembled into some Frankenstein creature.  ACK!  Somebody stop the madness!

 

 

 

Enter Greg Rucka!  Returning Castle to his roots, Rucka created a world heavy on supporting cast, which was a huge departure from the previous 10-15 years of Punisher storytelling.  Fleshing out the world around him, and allowing Castle to be a shadowy force of nature working in the story’s backdrop proved to be masterful.  Introducing characters that people could care about (two detectives assigned to solve the Punisher killings, the lone survivor of a mob execution that wiped out an entire wedding, the leadership of a new crime syndicate called The Exchange), while also intergrating in existing supporting characters from other Marvel books, and then having some very logical appearances from other featured Marvel heroes, Rucka’s Punisher run can only be considered a shining moment in history for the character.  Sixteen issues of a regular series returned Castle to being what I believe he always was at the heart of the character.  A highly principled killing machine that also happens to be a brilliant field strategist and soldier.  Rucka knows Frank Castle, and it is apparent that he holds the character in the highest respect by not minimalizing his attributes.

 

By the end of the 16 issue run, we are left with a sincere and deep interest in Frank, his relationship with Seargant Rachel Cole-Alves (lone survivor of her ill-fated wedding), and where the story would go from there.  There is some real gut-wrenching stuff in these pages.  And the artwork is spectacular.  If gritty could ever be beautiful, it is demonstrated here.

 

 

 

After finding out that Marvel was going to add Punisher to a team book, Rucka knew his run would have to come to an end and he delivered the 5 issue Punisher War Zone to bring his story to a grand finale.  What happened in the pages of the preceding 16 issue run causes The Avengers to stand up and take notice.  Something would have to be done to solve the “Castle problem”, and Rucka masterfully develops a condensed character study on each of these Avengers, which is reflected in the progression of events and in the actions/words of the heroes with respect to dealing with the Punisher.  It is great to see a writer go to great lengths to honor the histories and motives of the many characters in the story.  In life there is rarely the black and the white.  Most live in the gray, and I think the sophisticated storytelling by Rucka relfects in this work perfectly.

 

 

 

I just read the final issue, which was released to stores today, and I have to say that it is the finest run of all Punisher stories.  I say that with great joy and also a feeling of great remorse.  Knowing that it is not likely that we will ever see Greg Rucka deliver another Punisher story to the masses is a bitter pill, but I am most thankful for his time with the character that got me started in comic books so many years ago.  I raise a celebratory glass to you Mr. Rucka (and to both Marco Checchetto and Carmine Di Giandomenico) for two years of graphic novel bliss.  Thank you for returning Frank Castle to such a high place creatively, with honor, respect, and dedication to your art.

 

As for me, I will be seeking out Greg Rucka’s past, present, and future projects with eagerness.  And I encourage any of you readers out there to do the same.  The Punisher trade paperbacks would be a great place to start!

 

Chris (for the Great Stories team)