Singles: Clear, We Have Demons, The All-Nighter, Snow Angels, Night of the Ghoul

What is this, pilot season? Anyways, I found out you get a bunch of "free" digital comics via an Amazon Prime membership, so I decided to give them a whirl and see what stuck. There's some big names on these "comiXology originals," so it seemed like a good way to get more of my favorite artists.

Clear #1
by Scott Snyder and Francis Manapul

Snyder and Manapul create their version of a Surrogates-style dystopia -- only instead of everyone hiding away inside their robot bodies, everyone is hiding behind a "veil," a digital filter that virtually repaints the world around them. Want to live in the roaring 20's? Boom, now that hobo on the street is a swinging dancer. Prefer the future? Boom, the rats eating the garbage in the alley are cyberpunk raccoons now.

The main character Sam Dunes is this hardboiled P.I. kind of guy tracking down "black" veils, illegal filters being sold when he finds out that his ex-wife has been murdered. Unlike the rest of society, he still chooses to view the world with "clear" eyes without a veil, along with one of his clients, an obvious femme fatale character.

It's got the trappings of a decent neo-noir cyberpunk murder mystery. And honestly, I can't say no to Francis Manapul's art anyways. I wonder why Brian Buccellatto isn't on his colors anymore, but they're gorgeous all the same. Cool blues appear in the morgue, and the ending scene is encased in this beautiful sunset orange. Here's the highlight of the issue, when Sam is injected with a black veil meant to take him off the trail of the illegal dealers. He begins to hallucinate a whole set of weird veils while chasing them down.

We Have Demons #1
by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, and Jonathan Glapion

Man, Amazon can't get enough of Scott Snyder huh? We Have Demons centers around Lam, a snarky teenage girl from Florida: the issue is about her finding out that her pastor father is actually a demon hunter -- and when he dies, it's up to her to take over the family business.

Think Buffy the Demon Slayer. The one thing that makes this series stand out is this whole creation myth story about the "halo" and the "horn." The lightest element in the universe, and the heaviest element in the universe, meant to somehow scientifically represent good and evil. If anything will give this series legs, it'll be how they flesh out this universe. And how many Liam Neeson jokes they can pull off.

Snow Angels #1
by Jeff Lemire and Jock

This single issue is about a girl's twelfth birthday on a hunting trip with her dad and sister. It's some kind of sci-fi snow world dystopia where they can only stay in the "trench," this seemingly endless trail of ice below the surface.

They come back from the hunting trip to find their whole village murdered by the "snowman," and that's pretty much the issue. It's clear this series was meant to be binged rather than read serially. If I have any feelings about it when I read the collection, I'll let you know.

Night of the Ghoul #1
by Scott Snyder and Francesco Francavilla

Now this is a #1 issue! Snyder really shows his range here and Francavilla is the perfect artist for this suspenseful horror comic. It's about a father and son who drive through the woods to this secret hospital nestled away in the dark. The father makes up a story to see one of the patients, this decrepit-looking old man to profess his love for a film that the man directed, originally lost in a studio fire, "Night of the Ghoul." At first the flesh-faced man denies it, until he realizes it's too late and has to let the father in on the truth.

All the while, we get these burnt-reel panels of the lost film playing in between the real-time scenes, finally ending in a climactic attack of the ghoul. The son makes a call to the mother, telling us that there's some things they're not letting us in on, and it's icing on top of a suspenseful, immersive cake of an issue. This is a horror comic done right.

The All-Nighter #1
by Chip Zdarsky and Jason Loo

Just your average everyday comic book super hero -- except this one's a vampire. That's pretty much it, with the added wrinkle that there's these things called "the takers," some kind of organization that will kill you if you ever reveal to humans your true nature.

The art itself is standard superhero fare.

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Batman Vol. 7: Endgame and Legion (2016), Season 1

Somehow we've become a Batman blog and I can't say I mind it all that much :)

Batman Volume 7: Endgame
by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

The last we saw Joker, he was de-faced and left for dead in the infinite cavern system beneath Wayne Manor. He thought that he could show Batman how the Bat-family of superheroes had made him worse, a weaker person and wanted to show him how he could be a true Bat-king, with the Joker as his jester. Obviously, it failed but now he's back with a vengeance.

Things lead off with the Justice League turning on Batman, thanks to a new Joker serum that's individualized to each member of the Justice League. It climaxes in a sweet fight between Superman and Batman, and the underlying backdrop that Joker is going to release the serum to all of Gotham City, to get revenge at Batman for rejecting him.

There's some interesting beats here: ideas like the Joker being this immortal being that's been responsible for numerous tragedies in Gotham City, Batman allying with his rogues gallery to prevent the spread of the serum, and Batman attempting to bargain with the Court of Owls for the sake of the city. But it's all dressing on top of a story salad as old as time: Joker threatens city, Batman saves city. This time, it's Batman too who is left for dead in a final battle scene, along with the Joker, presumably setting up a future "Who will be the Bat" storyline.

This story turned out to be a lot like the Joker: a whole lot of bluster, plenty of fanfare, without much substance. More blockbuster than anything else, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Legion (2016) Season 1
Directed by Noah Hawley, starring Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller, Aubrey Plaza and more

----------This review is spoiler-free but mentions the names of characters and some plot points. Most screencaps are from this excellent tumblr series

Ah, comic book adaptations. We've come such a long way since the box-office super-smash, Howard the Duck. It's crazy that we're at the point now where there are new comic book adaptations on streaming services now, on a monthly basis with a superhero movie releasing on the regular, multiple times a year. Legion came out sometime in the middle, maybe before all of this, and it's only secretly a comic book adaptation. At least, as far as Season 1 goes.
“Please keep talking. So we can all pretend that our problems are all in our heads.” - Sydney
Legion is about a man who's diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, in his fifth year at a psychiatric hospital named Clockworks, until he meets a girl, Sydney Barrett. She opens a new world to him where discovers that maybe the voices in his head aren't really a disease -- they're part of his super powers. Season 1 explores this idea in a myriad number of ways, from flashbacks to dream sequences, to musical montages and more.

Legion didn't do all that well commercially, and was cancelled after three seasons. In my opinion, it was ahead of its time and the world just wasn't ready for it. There are all these jarring, nonlinear cuts that could really turn a viewer off, but in my mind that's not a bug. It's a feature. The mind doesn't work in a linear fashion, at least not always and not all minds. Binging is an ideal format to experience the show, when you can go straight from one episode to the next, but I can imagine that it took the right kind of person who was going to watch it serially, as it came out.

The penultimate episode is this amazing set of  musical sequences, capped by a silent film rendition of the action climax. It's not about the fisticuffs in this series, and sometimes the show will just skip right to the aftermath of an intense action sequence -- such as when we view the aftermath of David's visit to Divison Three. The action isn't just on the screen -- it's in the mind, and it's conveyed so creatively here, whether that's through a dance montage or dream hike up to a floating ice cube.

I've never seen such an eclectic, brave show like Legion. It addresses mental illness and childhood trauma in a unique fashion, that in my opinion feels so right. The mind isn't linear. We jump back and forth between memories all the time at a whim. Legion predates Disney+ series that tackle trauma and mental illness like Moon Knight and WandaVision, yet it feels miles ahead of them. And I adore these shows! I can't recommend Legion enough -- I can only guess that, when it did come out maybe I wasn't ready to appreciate it, but now that I have, I'm so freaking glad to have experienced it

-------------Spoilers follow, with/without context. You've been warned-------------
  1. Ep 4: The slow reveal is a fantastic use of the medium -- where we slowly see what Amy's, David's sister, prison cell looks like.

  1. Ep 5: Where Sydney learns what's going on in David's head. He's provisioned out a "mindspace" where they can actually touch ('just electrical signals in your brain'), but even that isn't a safe space from the terror living in David's mind. What's normally a beautiful song turns to horror.
  2. Ep 6: Lenny puts Sydney to sleep. This is lowkey my favorite scene in the season and it took me so long to find it on YouTube. Under the guise of music therapy, Lenny as the psychiatrist of the mind Clockworks hospital suggests listening to some music on her headphones, all the while there's a throbbing, bleeding piece of flesh on the wall. Sydney's hesitant but agrees, cueing a haunting but beautiful musical sequence. She seemingly floats away and gets tucked into David's childhood bedroom, like Lenny is tucking her away into a corner of David's mind, to get her out of the way. It's such a quiet scene with a mountain of style and a confident atmosphere. Certainly my favorite scene.
  3. What a fantastic sequence in Ep 6 led by Aubrey Plaza, as "Lenny," the parasite living in David's mind. Context is everything here -- it's a wordless, musical dance sequence that conveys what Aubrey is doing in his mind, now that David is imprisoned in a small corner of his own mind. Lenny goes through his memories one by one, devoid of David and has her way in each room-memory. Brushstroke wipes appear as she dances, conveying each time in David's past that Lenny was a part of it, all along. This TV show is so good at "showing," not telling, and it's bits like these that make me love it. Scenes without dialogue are just as important, if not more so than scenes with dialogue.
  4. Ep 7 -- The silent film scene. Sydney and Kerry attempt to break David out of his mind-prison, when Lenny attacks them. Honestly there's so much going on here that needs explaining that I'm just going to save it here for myself

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Jessica Jones: The Pulse - The Complete Collection

by Brian Bendis, Mark Bagley, Michael Gaydos and more
Collects issues 1-9,11-14 of The Pulse and New Avengers Annual (2006) #1

Issues 1-5: A Norman Osborn story that establishes Jessica's new status quo: she accepts a job at the Daily Bugle working for J. Jonah Jameson, under the new title of "The Pulse," a superhero-centric offshot. She's a creative consultant, which seems to be just as ambiguous as Jonah wants it to be. It ends the way you'd expect a Green Goblin story to end -- but with some big implications like Ben Urich knowing Spider-Man's identity.

It's all underscored with Jessica's pregnancy -- a pregnancy that's threatened during a Green Goblin attack, and something they go back to consistently. Below is a great page, but it's a little annoying how young Bagley makes the characters look. In this dream, Jessica looks just as young as her daughter. You can hardly tell who is who!

Issues 6-8,10: A 4-part spy-esque drama. Somebody blows up Luke Cage's apartment, and then later his apartment. There's mentions of Nick Fury's Secret War way back when, but it's so hampered by this expected prior knowledge that the secrecy comes off as obnoxious. Just look at this page of talking at Jessica. You don't even need to read the text itself; it's just all infodump.

It really just sounded like Bendis wanted to tie up a loose end from that storyline. The artist changes to reflect the darker mood, but a lot of his faces are a little rough around the edges.

Issues 11-14: Jessica Jones delivers her child -- and Ben Urich investigates a strange case of Daredevil-related robberies! These two stories happen concurrently and they're easily the best storyarc of the series. Jessica meets with Susan Storm to talk about children, and her friend Carol, before her water breaks and she has to take her baby in for delivery, 3 months early.

The D-man arc is exactly what I love about Bendis's storytelling. He has this way of taking old Marvel lore and gives it a new, gritty take. D-Man was originally a member of the Avengers -- the real ones, not the West Coast ones -- and the last they left him, he had decided to be a superhero for the homeless, choosing to live among them. Urich looks for D-Man to find the truth behind a string of robberies, and it reveals a surprisingly mature look into mental health.

New Avengers Annual #1: The Adaptoid crashes Jessica and Luke's wedding! The undercurrent remains of Bendis cleaning up his plot with secret Nick Fury stuff, but this one is still an enjoyable superhero romp with gorgeous art from Coipel. Eagle-eyed readers will catch Stan Lee as the minister who marries Luke and Jessica.

There's something to be said about creator-owned characters, and Jessica is about as creator-owned as you can get in Marvel Comics. Bendis developed her from scratch and has integrated her into the Marvel Universe. She gets to grow, have a child, and gain a lifelong spouse. Certainly a rarity to have in mainstream comics these days.

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Batman: The Telltale Series

Most screenshots are from

For 12 year old chezkevin, before there were comic books, there was video games. I've always enjoyed video games, and one of my first console games was Activision's Spider-Man for the Nintendo GameCube, based on the Sam Raimi movie series. I had the whole strategy guide for it, which even included a dope movie-style poster. Besides Super Mario 64, it was one of my first 3-dimensional video game experiences, having mainly had 2D platforming experiences on my GameBoy as a kid. I initially didn't get very far in that game -- I got stuck in the subway tunnels trying to chase down the Shocker. I didn't pick it up again until a few years later to discover that I merely had to web zip in between train lanes to get to him. The game was a breeze after that. Since then, I've played an assortment of games like Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, Resident Evil 4, and most recently Metroid Dread.

Winter break gave me some time to get reacquainted with my Nintendo Switch game system. Metroid Dread is a masterpiece and it was so gratifying to see the conclusion of the Metroid storyline, a story over 20 years in the making. I looked for what else my Switch could offer me, and I saw Batman: The Telltale Series on sale for only $5. I'm a sucker for Batman, a sucker for games, and a sucker for deals. A holy trinity!

Batman: The Telltale Series (2016)

Telltale Games, Inc. entered the games industry in 2012, with an episodic adventure game for The Walking Dead. I remember reading rave reviews about this new style of game, beyond just a "point and click" choose-your-own-adventure game focused on storytelling. You had to make difficult choices in the story that had profound consequences later on. I could imagine having to make a choice to save my wife or to save my child from a zombie attack, and shuddered at the thought!

I've played Batman games before. The whole reason I purchased a PS3 in college was so I could play the Arkham series -- a series that truly catapulted superhero games into the modern era of video games. I get a rush out of remembering the epic takedowns I did from the shadows, as well as using detective vision to find clues and gliding through the skyline of Gotham City. That made me feel like Batman in ways I hadn't before, and The Telltale Series does the same thing -- but in a completely different manner.

The home screen of Batman: The Telltale Series shifts between a brooding Batman in the nighttime, and a hopeful Bruce Wayne staring at a horizon, amidst some generic dramatic movie-style score. Immediately you see that Bruce Wayne has an equal part in this game, if not moreso than his persona of the Batman. The game throws you in the middle of Gotham's mayoral election, for whom you're funding the fresh face Harvey Dent, amidst the rise of the terrorist organization the Children of Arkham. You and Harvey are close friends in your shared goals of a better Gotham, not a tough stretch to make. The tough stretches start when you realize in episode 2 that Harvey Dent's girlfriend is Selina Kyle!

I was a little incredulous of some of the plot elements, even the first hint in Episode 1 that Bruce Wayne's father, Thomas, might not have been the benevolent philanthropist that we always thought he was. However, as time went on, I saw that these stretches weren't just plot conveniences for contrived drama. These were critical parts of the story that define how you will make the choices that you do. I had to shed off some of my Bat-fan prior knowledge, to accept that even though this world looked familiar to me, with familiar characters, it was still its own universe with its own differences from what I was used to. They're allowed to change the characters in this way. Because of this, Telltale sets itself apart from other Batman games by building a rich story that's all it's own.

In this game, you make choices of all sizes -- whether that's how to greet people at a fundraiser, or whether to save Harvey Dent or Catwoman from a terrorist attack, and they all matter. At the end of every episode, the game gives you a summary of how you did, and compares you in aggregate to other players. I wasn't surprised that I and over 90% of other players chose to romance Selina Kyle in Episode 3. But I was later surprised to discover that, because of a choice that I had made in episode 1, I was able to prevent Harvey Dent from getting disfigured, and fully unleashing his persona "Big Bad Harv," AKA Two-Face. I also began to wonder just what other storylines I could "unlock," depending on my choices. I really felt that my choices mattered, and defined what kind of person I wanted to be. In that way, Telltale made me feel like Batman like never before. I literally did get to choose my own adventure, and I got to choose what kind of Batman/Bruce Wayne I wanted to be. For a $5 experience, I couldn't ask for anything more.

Some comments on the video game-y parts of this adventure: there's really only a handful of different game elements here. As Batman, you need to respond to quick time events to do things like dodge a punch or throw something at an opponent. I wasn't a fan of them, and at least for the most part they're not obtrusive. It does suck to miss a prompt on a part of the screen that you weren't paying attention to, and then Batman dies to a floor trap that you didn't see coming, but checkpoints are generous and you basically start right from where you left off, emphasizing that the gameplay is never about these quicktime events to begin with.

Most of the time QTEs actually kept me from enjoying the action. Rather than watching the satisfying crunch of Batman taking down a bad guy, I was on my toes scanning the screen for whatever next button or direction I had to punch in next.

The other game-y element of this series was the detective portions. These were pretty cool. This is probably the only portion of the game where you can actually explore a 3D environment. It's here that you have to investigate a crime scene, zoom in on a clue, or get information on a bad guy. It's up to you to link together pieces of evidence, or decide how to take down a person. When you do link those together, you get feedback from Bruce/Batman on whether it would work or not. I never felt punished for making a wrong link, and felt like I could really explore and develop a plan of attack or link the right pieces of evidence to find the right insight that would move the story along. I felt like I had agency in the plot.

Finally, a note on the graphics. They have a slick cel-shading effect immersing you into the comic book world of Telltale's Gotham City. The entirety of the scenes are procedurally generated from their game engine, seamlessly tying you into scenes where you have to make choices with scenes where you can just sit back and relax. However, it's also a crutch. A lot of times character models clipped into themselves while moving, breaking the immersion. Emotions are there and do what they need to do, but they're not exactly movie stars.

Random comments/spoilers below. Read at your own risk.
  1. What a twist! It was just heartbreaking to learn that my father, Thomas Wayne was maliciously committing people to Arkham Asylum for personal gain!
  2. I think it's so interesting that the first way I phrased that sentence, is in the first-person. I'm not saying that Bruce Wayne felt betrayed by his father. I'm saying that I was betrayed by the evil deeds of my father. This just goes to show you how immersive an experience this can be, when you are the one having to make the decisions, and choosing the words that you give to the world.
  3. The majority nighttime scenes, and low-stress gameplay make this an easy bedtime play. As a father of two now, bedtime tends to be the only time that I can have to myself. I could easily put my earbuds on, fire up the Switch on the lowest brightness and enter the world of Bruce Wayne. This was a good break after the intensity that is Shovel Knight New Game+
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