Injustice: Gods Among Us Vol. 1 (DC)



Rating: 4/5 – A Great Alternative if Mainstream DC Isn’t Working For You.
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas

It’s been a while since the first volume of Injustice: Gods Among Us was released. In 2013 the game came out for most major video game platforms, and since then the comic series continues to be published. DC is currently on the eleventh issue of Year Four so there’s quite a bit of story for me to catch up on, but I’m glad I finally got around to starting it as this first volume is an entertaining and much different read from the characters we’re used to in the main DC Universe.

Although DC has portrayed their characters as “gods” before, Injustice really embraces this concept of all powerful heroes attempting to make their world perfect. Injustice was a game released by the same creators of Mortal Kombat, but using the DC characters instead. The game’s timeline takes place after the events of this first volume which tells the story of why the heroes are divided, and what caused Superman to take the violent and controlling turn that he did. Writer Tom Taylor does a great job of humanizing these gods, and he does a great job of making Superman and Wonder Woman especially, feel real. After the Joker pulls off a horrific crime, Superman decides that enough is enough and takes the law into his own hands not just at home, but across the entire world. Wonder Woman follows him, believing that they can make a positive change by instilling their own beliefs. Taylor never gets too preachy with the opposing viewpoints, and his portrayal of all the different characters in this first volume is different, yet still fits within their personalities.

Where this first volume misses is in the art. Eight different artists are credited in this first volume and although artists Jheremy Raapack and Mike S. Miller get the headline, there’s plenty more artists and colorists contributing. Reading the first volume in one sitting gives the whole package a very inconsistent feel. There’s clean lines. There’s heavy pencils. There’s a wide range of inking styles… The art is never poor, but there’s little consistency and not knowing all the artist listed, I couldn’t pick out who’s who since the credits page doesn’t identify which artist worked on what issue. Not only that, but the costume designs were obviously influenced by the game which didn’t look great on the page. Batman in particular looks bulky and his mask always looks off.

Despite the inconsistencies in the art, I really enjoyed this alternate take on the Justice League and I’m excited that there’s so much more story for me to devour. Because of the somewhat limited nature of this series and it taking place in an alternate universe, it feels as though it truly has consequences and we see just a few of them in this first volume. If DC’s current direction isn’t working for you, I’d encourage you to give this series a try. It’s a really different take on what may happen if gods were truly among us.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
) Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Frank Miller’s Daredevil Artifact Edition (IDW)

Miller DD Artifact

CREDIT: IDW / Marvel

Rating: 5/5 – A Must Have for Fans of Vintage Frank Miller Art.
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall.

I’ve talked about IDW’s Artist’s Editions before.  They are reproductions, at full size, of the original art used to make a comic book.  In the case of this volume that’s about 12″ x 17″.  They are also full-color reproductions of the black & white original art, which may at first seem kind of strange, but in reality allows you to see blue lines, light penciled notes in the page margins, white-out, tape, etc.  You can see the age of the pages as some are yellowing a bit.  It really is a great representation of what looking at an actual page of original art is like.  And given that any single page of Miller Daredevil art sells for $1000s nowadays, suddenly the $100 price tag for 149 pages of art starts looking like a pretty good deal…at least it does to me.

An Artist’s Edition reproduces complete stories by an artist.  So while it’s not ideally meant to be used like a big black & white collected edition, you can theoretically use it like one and read complete stories.  An Artifact Edition, like this one, is a bit different.  The folks at IDW (editor Scott Dunbier in particular) were not able to hunt down complete stories of original art.  In the interests of sharing historically significant works of comic art, they put together an edition like this one with as much Miller Daredevil art as they can lay their hands on.  Which gives us 106 pages of art from multiple issues from Daredevil #159 through 190, including nearly complete issues for #175 and #181.  Add to that a double page foldout of a Daredevil poster and the wraparound cover to Elektra Saga #4.  Then they add in 4 pages from Spider-Man Annual #15, 2 pages from Bizarre Adventures #28 featuring Elektra, and 4 pages from Miller’s Wolverine mini-series issue #2. They bring it home with 24 Miller covers, 18 of them from his run on Daredevil and 5 pin-ups and house ads!  This is a cornucopia of Miller art, including some of the strongest examples of his work from the era that helped him rise to legend status in the comics world.

While this is not a replacement for the collected editions of Miller’s Daredevil, it’s a wonderful tome for fans of his art that want to see what it looked like in its raw form, white-out and all!  Personally, I love these tomes and am eternally grateful to Scott Dunbier and IDW for pioneering the format that has now been copied by a number of other publishers.  If you’re a fan of Daredevil and seminal Frank Miller art, this is a must-buy.  I have a hard time giving any of these IDW editions less than a 5/5, they’re all absolutely wonderful.  If you have a favorite character, artist, or era of comics that has received the IDW Artist’s or Artifact Edition treatment I urge you to save up your shekels and buy some of them.  But, fair warning, you’re going to need a BIG shelf to hold them!

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
) Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Oh, Hell Vol. 1: Chyrsalides


CREDIT: George Wassil and Michael Connell

Rating: 5/5 – School Can Be Hell, Sometimes Literally.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.

Angela Arrington is a child nobody wants. Abandoned by her original parents, her adoptive parents can’t handle her rebellious, destructive streak, so they send her to a particular academy that will change her life forever. Did the brochure mention that the academy is in Hell? And that she’d be training to become a demon? Well…not quite…but Angela seems to be a pretty resourceful kid.

I backed this as a kickstarter offering, mainly because the concept and art looked really nice, and there was an early-bird special so I could get it on the cheap. What I got back simply exceeded any possible expectation I could have had for the book. Bottom line, this book is polished and good-looking enough that it needs to have the Image or even the Dark Horse logo slapped on the corner of it. It’s easily one of the most professional looking crowdsourced book I’ve received.  You can check it out the 1st 5 chapters on-line on the web-site and also buy a hardcopy of chapters 1-8 if you love it as much as I did.

The book ‘ends’ but leaves a lot open to be resolved down the road. Not all webcomics translate well when compiled into a paper format, but this one kept me up turning page after page because I had to find out what happened next. That doesn’t happen all-too-often with comics these days, so when it does happen, it’s worth taking notice. As mentioned, it would easily work as a title from Image, IDW, or Dark Horse.  That it’s a true self-published independent comic is a testimony to just how great indie books can be.  Seek this one out, people. You’ll be glad you did.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow
) Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Judge Dredd: Dark Justice (2000 AD)



Rating: 5/5 – A Definitive Look at the Dark Judges!
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

It took two years for artist and painter Greg Staples to complete the story that revolves around Judge Dredd’s most iconic villain, Judge Death and the Dark Judges. Two years of hand painted art with a story by Judge Death creator John Wagner deserves attention, and from the cover until the very last page, Dark Justice looks stunning. Originally running over the course of eleven parts in “2000 AD”, Dark Justice collects Wagner’s return to the Dark Judges characters, as well as a herculean effort by Staples in the form of sixty-six pages of beautiful yet scary painted art that only gets better with each and every page. Dark Justice is an oversized hardcover, so the art is showcased in a worthy form and is something I plan on revisiting again and again.

Right off the bat, you can tell that Greg Staples has a love and passion for the characters. In the foreword, we see Staples’ correspondence with writer John Wagner, asking him to come back and write another Dark Judges story. The problem was that Wagner felt he had said all he needed to say with the characters, that is until Staples sent him a recently finished commission of Judge Death. Wagner was so impressed with Staples vision of Death, that he decided to tell another story and it’s a good one! It’s a story that puts the focus on the Judge Death and the Judges who Staples has been fascinated with since he was young. Staples rendition of each of the Judges will be tough to beat for years to come as he provides an almost definitive take on each of the characters. Judge Mortis’ skull and empty eyes. Judge Fire who’s painstakingly painted covered in flames each time we see him. Judge Death’s eerie grin…these images will stay with you and will be what future takes on the characters are compared to.

In terms of the story, the wealthy elite of Mega-City One are determined to create a better life for themselves by branching out into the stars to find a more suitable home than the overcrowded earth. They’ve constructed a colossal ship that houses all sorts of amenities and luxuries including a full sized baseball stadium and beach. Their space faring utopia though becomes something much worse when the Dark Judges come aboard. Since the Dark Judges see life as the ultimate crime, the ship becomes a slaughterhouse. Dredd and Judge Anderson play big roles within, but the focus is set squarely on Judge Death and the rest. It makes sense that so much emphasis was put on the Judges themselves, but I would have loved to have seen more time dedicated to life on the ship. There were brief glimpses of the crew and passenger’s lives, but you get the sense that there was a lot of story that still could have been told aboard this city in space.

Dark Justice is a defining visual look for the Dark Judges, and especially for Judge Death. It’s a book that even if you know little about Dredd and his world will be a visual feast for the eyes. The story will do enough to get new readers to look for the Dark Judges’ early appearances, and will also have you seeking out more of Greg Staples work. This is a book that took the artist two years to create, but it is being enjoyed and discussed now and for years to come. This carries the highest of recommendations!

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
) Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Sally of the Wasteland (Titan Comics)


CREDIT: Titan Comics

Rating: 2/5 – We Don’t Need Another Hero(ine).
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.

I reviewed the first issue of Sally of the Wasteland as a 3.5/5, comparing the titular character to a certain DC anti-heroine whose name rhymes with Harley Quinn. It was a good start but I was curious how it wrapped things up, now that the series was complete and collected. Sadly, I think I might have been better off letting that first issue paint my own ideas about a band of ne’er-do-wells trying to make their way through a post-apocalyptic Louisiana, because the actual story fails to deliver on a number of levels.

First off, the promising cast of characters quickly become one-trick ponies or wind up dead just when you start getting to know them. This is, of course, part of any apocalyptic quest story – Who will be the last person(s) standing? – but an important part of that storytelling idea is to make us care that they survive or feel bad (or cheer) when they die. The action comes fast and furious at the expense of any real character development, so when people do buy it, your general reaction is to simply turn the page and wait for the next victim. Even Sally herself is given to two speeds – crazy psycho warrior or overprotective wannabe girlfriend – and little else. They should have just painted the white, red and black makeup on her and pitched the idea to DC. They already had a start with the pigtails.

Then there’s the story itself. I won’t deny the action is well done, and I loved the cannibal mutants, who share some of the funniest moments and best dialogue in the book (which is kind of praising and condemning in itself), but right when things get completely crazy, the book pulls out a final chapter like someone came up to them and said “Wind this up” when they had about three or four more good issues to go. It came off as tacked on, rushed, and not particularly well planned. Even the ending left me thinking “So?” and glad to be closing the book, likely never to be opened again.

There’s still amazing artwork from Tazio Bettin, something I’ve said time and again I’ve come to expect from anything that comes out of the Titan stable. The characters are certainly drawn in iconic and memorable ways…it’s just unfortunate they weren’t written that way. Bettin does a good job of painting a war-torn Louisiana and his creature designs are particularly well-done. Hopefully we’ll see more from him in the future.

I’ll often buy first issues of new series – whether they’re from the Big Two or smaller independent companies – to find out if I want to check them out when they show up in trade format. It’s a good system, as often you can tell from that first book whether or not a book will be worth waiting for or not. Unfortunately, every now and then a book will start out of the gate with an incredible story that captures your imagination, only to peter out and fail to even finish in the money by the time the story is through. Sally of the Wasteland was that kind of book: A solid beginning, with a lot of potential, but not enough going for it to stick the landing.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow
) Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Death-Defying Doctor Mirage TPB (Valiant)


CREDIT: Valiant

Rating: 4.5/5 – Spell-Binding Series Mixes the Mysteries of the Afterlife With Unending Love.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Amy Okamoto.

The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage Volume 1 trade paperback collects the full five issues of the miniseries. Written by Jen Van Meter and beautifully illustrated by Roberto De La Torre, this haunting tale of love and the paranormal gives us not one but two new heroes, both aptly named Doctor Mirage.

The series focus is on Shan Mirage, a paranormal investigator who can speak to the dead. Widowed during a battle with a water demon, Shan has spent several years in search of her husband’s spirit, unable to find him or gain closure. Financial struggles force Shan to take on a paranormal project for a questionable client with ulterior motives. On the cusp of rejecting the job, she does an about-face when an enslaved being from the other plane offers her the location of her husband Hwen in the spirit plane. Shan then delves into the world of the dead, crossing over in spirit to find and release Hwen. From this point on, Shan is forced to battle on two fronts – in the land of the living against an occult group, and in the underworld, as she finds her way to Hwen. Their reunion is bittersweet as they must separate again to save the veil between worlds from crashing down. The greatest sacrifice of all is made – sacrificing their love for the safety of the world. All is not lost however.

Van Meter does an excellent job of character building, especially with the Mirages. Their deep bond and love for one another, shown through a series of flashbacks interwoven with the present adventure, serve as both an impetus for Shan’s risks and a means of character development. Van Meter shines here as she shows rather than tells us that this couple is in love. This is accomplished by allowing us to witness love blooming, casual moments of openness and banter, and the intensity of their union. She cleverly incorporates this into the telling of the story in such a way that the “flashbacks” aren’t flashbacks.

Shan Mirage appeared a limited number of times in the Shadowman series, but her character was not fully explored until now. Van Meter’s Shan comes across as a real woman, intelligent and emotional with quirks and insecurities — a refreshing change from the medium’s popular portrayal of female heroes. There’s also a sense of mystery as we explore the realms of the underworld and try to decipher their customs and meanings. The story itself is complex, but the heart of it is the simple human emotions of the heroes and villains.

Artist Roberto De La Torre and colorist David Baron have created a beautiful book with haunting imagery and poignant use of color. At times gritty and frightening and at others beautiful, their depictions make the story come to life.  Death truly was just the beginning for this enchanting series. The next adventure for the Doctor(s) Mirage will start soon in The Second Life of Doctor Mirage.

Reviewed by: Amy Okamoto
) Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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The Strange Talent of Luther Strode vol. 1 (Image)



Rating: 4.5/5 – A Fine Mix of Characterization and Ultra Violence.
by ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

The Strange Talent of Luther Strode is violent. It’s ultra violent and that’s exactly what writer Justin Jordan was going for. In the foreword of the first volume of Luther Strode in his closing paragraph Jordan talks about the concept of the book stating, “it’s about power and the decisions that suddenly having it forces you to make. Well, that and sweet, sweet ultra-violence.” That violence for the most part is so over the top that it’s humorous, but towards the end of this first volume although it’s still over the top, it effects you that much more because of your investment into the characters. Jordan’s writing will have you loving both parts of the story, the violence and action all gloriously drawn by Tradd Moore, and the development of the characters over the course of these first six issues.

Remember the Charles Atlas ads that ran in comic books in the 1970s about the wimpy kid getting sand kicked in his face? The big bully and scrawny Mac not being able to stand up to him until he reads Atlas’ book “Everlasting Health and Strength”? Well in Luther Strode that same idea is used with a book titled the “Hercules Method” that originally dates back to ancient times, and has turned the men who have studied it into physical gods. When High School student Luther Strode reads the book he’s able to protect himself against the school bully, but that power leads him down a path that he never could have imagined with consequences that will definitely shock you. Jordan will have you rooting for Strode, but I found myself also caring about those closest to Luther including his best friend Pete who’s even a bigger nerd than Luther, his girlfriend Petra, and his mom who’s suffered an abusive relationship in the past which makes the violence all that more impactful. I was originally drawn to this first volume because of Tradd Moore, but found myself enjoying it just as much because of Jordan’s writing.

And speaking of Tradd Moore, his art is just as over the top as you’d expect when it comes to the amount of energy and movement on the page. Tradd Moore’s work is new to me. I absolutely loved his short but sweet run on the All-New Ghost Rider, and that work led me to picking up this trade. I’m now even more of a fan than before! He has such a thin line and it looks as though his pencil never leaves the page, but it’s all so clean and clear. The action scenes absolutely flow from one scene to the next and the violence, like a man’s arm being shoved though another man’s jaw…well, it’s drawn with every gory detail. As mentioned above, Moore’s art makes the violence seem humorous at times, but when the characters you come to love are threatened with that same level of violence, Moore’s art will make you cringe and that’s a job well done. You’ll notice the differences in Strode’s body throughout as Moore subtlety changes his shape and muscle tone until he’s as large as he is on the cover. It’s another example of Moore’s attention to details.

Image just released the first issue of The Legacy of Luther Strode which is the third and final volume of the series. Although I’m saddened to hear that this series will be ending, it’s also refreshing to know that there’s an end in mind and I still have a second volume to read in the meantime. There’s plenty of story still left to be told within this world as the first volume hints at bigger and more powerful threats that we just briefly see. Jordan and Moore have created a wonderful new character in Strode and have given us over the top action and violence to go along with him. I’m ready for Volume 2!

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
) Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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