Image Comics Final Thoughts – Rat Queens, Vol. 2

More action, more sex, more cursing – Rat Queens Volume 2 is a worthy follow-up to one of of my favorite comic series.

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With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Of course, occasionally I may even explore comics outside of Marvel if they come highly recommended or simply peak my interest. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Rat Queens Vol 2Writer: Kurtis J. Weibe

Artist: Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Sejic

Issues: Rat Queens #6-10

 

I heaped a lot of praise onto Rat Queen‘s debut. The mixture of modern language and characters in a D&D-style fantasy world is sublime. An adventuring group of women with varying backgrounds, goals, dreams, and vices. While the plot is a little more simplistic, Volume 2 does a fantastic job giving us more of everything we wanted out of a follow-up.

Volume 2 is titled The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’Rygoth. It picks up directly after the drunken party our heroines Hannah, Violet, Betty, and Dee threw after their latest victory that saved their town of Palisade. Continue reading “Image Comics Final Thoughts – Rat Queens, Vol. 2”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Ghost Rider (2006), Vol. 1-3

Jason Aaron’s Ghost Rider so effectively embraces its campy grindhouse themes that I can’t help but love it.

With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

marvelWriter: Jason Aaron

Artists: Roland Boshi, Tan Eng Haut, Tony Moore

Issues: Ghost Rider (2006) #20-35, Annual #2

 

Next Issue: Death Race on Ghost Cannibal Highway OR Cycle Nurses Kill! Kill! Kill!

There’s a moment near the end of Volume 2, when Ghost Rider (Johnny Blaze) confronts his misguided brother Danny Ketch. Ketch had been absorbing the power of other Spirits of Vengenace around the world, and was prepping for a final battle against the last few holdouts. He challenges Johnny to a race around the world, and Johnny points out the absurdity of going on a silly race in the middle of a giant battle. Then they promptly race, which includes soaring past pyramids and over oceans, complete with Ketch picking up a shark and hurling it at Johnny.

Your reaction to that last sentence is a good indicator of whether or not you would enjoy Jason Aaron’s run on Ghost Rider circa 2008-09. I try not to throw the phrase Ridiculously Awesome around too much but Ghost Rider so effectively embraces its campy horror-grindhouse themes that I can’t help but love it.

My previous experience with the motorcycle-ridin’, skull-flamin’ vigilante was limited to Nicholas Cage. I never had much motivation to actually read a comic, but my best bud and comic aficionado recommended this run as a good jumping on point for an awesome arc – and I couldn’t agree more.

marvel

Our first story picks up after Johnny Blaze had just been given a startling revelation about his past – his powers come not from Hell, but from Heaven. Specifically directly from God as avatars of justice, overseen by the archangel Zadkiel. Zadkiel acts as a mostly off-screen but menacing super villain throughout the arc as he storms heaven’s gates to usurp God.

“Hell Bent and Heaven Bound” (#20-23) eases us into the life and times of Johnny Blaze by having our anti-hero get mixed up in a creepy small town filled with undead ghouls, hillbilly cannibals, and busty cycle nurses. Blaze ends up following a lead on a young man that experienced a near death experience – and actually saw Zadkiel. The plot leads to multiple factions literally running into each other in an explosive finale in the town square. It’s super campy and a hell of a lot of fun, particularly how Blaze simply gets caught up in these crazy events.

The plot slows back down when Blaze puts himself in prison to follow yet another lead on Zadkiel in “God Don’t Live on Cell Block D” (#24-25). It mostly serves to introduce the gigantic villainous Deacon, a monstrous tattooed man with daggers that spews Bible verses as he kills the unbelievers.

Ghost Rider #29

In “The Former Things” (#26-27) we’re introduced to the new important character of Sara, a nun that finds out her long lost grandfather is the Caretaker of the Ghost Riders. The old caretaker is slain by a motley crew of villains (presumably from Ghost Rider’s rogue’s gallery) and Sara gains all his knowledge, eventually going through a nice character arc from meek nun to Sarah Connor-esque badass.

We’re first teased with Danny Ketch – Blaze’s long-lost brother and former Ghost Rider in the first Volume. “The Last Stand of the Spirits of Vengeance” (#28-32) continues Ketch’s quest to absolve all the Ghost Riders and absorb their powers. He’s funneling the power directly to Zadkiel, which is bad, and Blaze and Sara have to meet up with the few remaining survivors to battle him.

Ghost Rider #31Seeing other people as Ghost Riders is a lot fun, and Aaron really gets inventive as we go international, with brief glimpses of Ghost Riders riding bears, elephants, and even a shark! Such greatness.

In Issue #33 we even get a fun history lesson on past, present, and future Ghost Riders, from World War II vets with hellfire tanks to the Prohibition era Undead G-Man. How about some cybered-up Ghost Riders from the future? Hell Yeah!

The last stand is gloriously action-packed, but Ketch, along with an army of Zadkiel’s angels, ultimately wins. Zadkiel storms the golden city, but we’re only teased about what happens next.

The final Volume (“Trials and Tribulations” #33-35) acts as an epilogue of sorts, each issue starring one of our main cast (Ketch, Sara, Blaze). It’s surprisingly entertaining with good old fashioned horror stories, especially Danny Ketch battling a satanic ghoul-trucker on the highway. The major plot and the battle for heaven concludes in the six-part mini-series Ghost Riders, which I’ll save for later.

I honestly didn’t think I’d love Ghost Rider as much as I did. It also helped that the art steadily improved with each new artist on each volume. Volume 1 had a cheap, simple look that I wasn’t quite into (though it fit the campy theme well enough) but by the end the art looked great without ever getting too glossy or polished. The major exception being Ghost Rider Annual #2, a one-shot about Blaze battling a demonic sheriff in a small town, with super glossy, ill-fitting art.

Jason Aaron effectively combined campy B-movie supernatural horror with memorable characters and an impressive overarching plot that lasted nearly two years. Blaze’s quest to find Zadkiel and meeting up with Sara and other Ghost Riders is just as entertaining as the random creepy side adventures they get into. For someone that wasn’t into Ghost Rider or really into horror or supernatural stuff at all, I absolutely loved it.

Image Comics Final Thoughts – Saga, Vol. 2

Saga’s sophomore volume continues to teasingly expand the fascinating sci-fi world while keeping the focus on the burgeoning family dynamic and relationship between our two star-crossed lovers.

With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Of course, occasionally I may even explore comics outside of Marvel if they come highly recommended or simply peak my interest. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

saga volume 2Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

Issues: Saga #7-12

I’m one of those lame comic book fans that still mostly only thinks of Marvel/DC and superheroes (and Transformers!) when people mention comics. The fact is there are a ton of really fantastic sci-fi, fantasy, noir, etc themes and genres out there just waiting to be discovered by the intrepid comic fan.

I’m still in the tentative early stages of exploring comics beyond Marvel, and Image Comics’ Saga represents my first real steps outside of my comfort zone. I couldn’t be more impressed. Brian K. Vaughan’s fantastically relatable and grounded writing coming out of Fiona Staples’ insanely creative alien mouths is an amazing combination. Saga’s sophomore volume continues to teasingly expand the fascinating sci-fi world while keeping the focus on the burgeoning family dynamic and relationship between our two star-crossed lovers.

Volume 2 picks up right where the first volume left off: Marko’s parents magically teleported to his and Alana’s treehouse rocketship after he breaks the family sword. Marko introduces them to his wife, a winged Landfall woman that is his people’s sworn enemy, and they are understandably not amused. Before they can even sit down, Marko teleports down to the nearest planet, where his mom had banished the ghost teenager Izabel that was acting as baby Hazel’s babysitter and soul host. This is getting crazy to type and would be absolutely impossible to follow without reading the previous volume. Saga is definitely made in the mold of modern serialized television shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead where the ongoing narrative assumes you’ve kept up since the beginning.

Saga #7

For the first few issues our family splits between Marko and his mom Kara on a hostile planet, and Alana and her father-in-law Barr back on the ship. Barr and Alana’s relationship starts out tense, but quickly warms up as he’s surprisingly accepting of her. His skill as an armorer comes in handy as he crafts Alana a form-fitting, bullet-resistant outfit, and the two quickly form an adorable bond.

Marko’s mom is decidedly less thrilled with their actions, and the two butt heads even while running into giant naked alien ogres and creepy witches with upside-down faces. Fiona Staples’ masterful art style particularly shines with exotic and crazy alien creatures and Volume 2 presents several delicious opportunities to show them off. Thanks to a trick dream sequence we also get to see more of my favorite alien from Volume 1, the spider-like The Stalk.

While Marko’s and Alana’s stories deal with the older generation, the hired bounty hunter The Will continues on his journey to hunt them down, and gets the majority of the B-story line. He’s still thinking about the underage slave girl back on Sextillion, the one he wanted to rescue but couldn’t. A representative of the Wreath council that hired him shows up to personally persuade him to continue the job, even while he wades in despair after The Stalk was mistakenly murdered by Prince Robot IV in the first volume.

Saga #8Her name is Gwendolyn, and she happens to be the ex-fiance of Marko, whom we’d only been teased about previously. She becomes a major cast member as she joins The Will and Lying Cat, helps rescue the slave girl using both her political acumen and magical skills, and reach the tree-ship right as all hell is breaking loose on the nearby orbiting planet.

Marko and Kara had found Izabel and returned to the ship, just in time to see Barr succumb to his terminal heart condition from pumping more magical power into the tree-ship. Poor Barr, and poor Alana for briefly meeting what would’ve been a fantastic grandfather to Hazel. And poor Kara I guess, though we’re not really given a chance to glimpse beneath her stony and aggressive exterior just yet.

The planet breaks apart and hatches a giant space creature. Gwendolyn, fueled by her own personal vengeance toward the man who spurned her, fires a missile at Marko and Alana. They decide to ram the missile, knowing it wouldn’t explode that close to its own ship. The missile bounces off and hits the space creature, who retaliates by blowing a hole in The Will’s ship. The entire sequence is action-packed and exciting, and a fantastic way for our two main storylines to converge without even having the two sets of characters meet each other.

That sequence happens in issue #11, so we get one more to end out the volume. Issue #12 finally returns to a major character from the first volume, Prince Robot IV, who has an old-school television set for a head. I’m honestly not sure if we’re suppose to sympathize or hate his character, and his backstory and situation seem complicated and much more embroiled in the wider politics of the ongoing war compared to the others. He essentially represents the winged Landfall faction’s hunt of Alana & Marko while The Will obviously represents Wreath’s.

Saga #10Prince Robot visits his only lead on his hunt for the AWOL prison guard Alana and escaped prisoner Marko – the author of the cheesy romance book that Alana was crazy about. There’s some fun flashback sequences in nearly every issue of Volume 2, including when Alana and Marko first met. Apparently she was super into this book that represented two different alien creatures coming together to love each other. Prince Robot hunts down the one-eyed author on a remote planet, and the two have a tense and interesting conversation on the nature of war, peace, and writing.

It’s revealed at the end that the whole situation is a bit of an Anne Frank/Inglorious Basterds moment, as Alana and company hide out upstairs during the exchange. Volume 1 ended with the cliffhanger of the grandparents appearing, and I was satisfied and intrigued that Volume 2 continues with another great lead-in to the next Volume, which I’ve already purchased!

Saga continues to impress, making me fall in love with its characters and reread nearly every page to absorb the fantastic art and writing as much as possible. I simply cannot recommend this series enough if you love really creative science fiction.