Monday, 11 December 2017

Star Trek - The Next Generation: Mirror Broken

Last week turned out to be a bit of a Star Trek week for me. This was made up of the fact that, for my recent birthday, I received a 50th anniversary Star Trek build-a-bear which my wife aptly named Jean-Luc 'Pawcard' and I think is completely awesome.

The other reason, however, is because the New Comic Book Day of that week saw the release of the final issue (well, at least I think it is) of Star Trek the Next Generation: Mirror Broken by IDW with help of writers David and Scott Tipton and a writer J.K Woodward. Now, as it is over, I thought I would not down my thoughts on the series as a whole (something I'd been wanting to do since after issue 1).
Star Trek TNG: Broken Mirror #1-5 (plus the FCBD issue)
The Mirror Broken series was something which appealed to me from the moment I learned about it on Free Comic Book Day back in May as it focused on the ever intriguing Star Trek mirror universe. This particular story focuses on the Next Generation crew as they come together in the wake of a Terran empire on the brink of eradication to execute a daring plan; to commandeer the most powerful starship in the imperial fleet, the I.S.S Enterprise. This five issue arc (plus the FCBD prelude) follows Jean-Luc Picard, who is very different to the man fans know, bring all of the well known characters together to gain control of his fateful prize and use it to take the fight to the Empire's enemies, be it with or without the Approval of his masters.
From the moment I saw the cover of that free issue last May I found myself intrigued by this series, mainly due to my love of the mirror universe depicted in Deep Space Nine. However. while I was drawn in due to nostalgia more than anything, that first issue was incredibly engrossing. Indeed, the rest of the series was equally enjoyable for me as the Tipton brothers (?) have created a story which I think pulls in the tropes of the series it is based on while giving it that unnervingly dark and twisted slant which I always thought made the mirror universe so compelling. I didn't find it a perfect story as the first issue proper felt a little bit slow to get off the mark but I loved how the series progressed and moved through the 'heist' arc and into the more space battle-sequel issues at the end.
What really gave me a kick though we're the characters. Admittedly, while the characters utilised were the majority of the cast from the show (Worf didn't make it back because he's a bad guy), they were nothing like those who I grew to love over seven seasons and four films. However, despite their more aggressive, calculating almost pirate like natures, the Tipton's really seemed to nail down all of these characters perfectly, with their essences really shining through despite their changes and their voices being heard in my head as I read their respective dialogue. I could believe this could be a lost episode of the series proper just on that alone.
The cover of the FCBD issue
which, admittedly, is what got
me on board with this series.
One of many pages proving J.K.
Woodward should draw Star Trek
Comics on a regular basis.
But J.K Woodward's art here is absolutely 'whoa!!!' and do I love it to the nth degree. The art in every issue is just completely gorgeous and its realism really helps sell to me that I'm reading that lost TNG episode, helping sell me on its connection. However, almost every panel has the dark, unsettling vibe going about it, from the subtle differences of the characters looks to the off-kilter colours by Woodward and Charlie Kirchoff, which helps sell me on the warped, 'through the mirror' concept of the book. But what really stands out for me comes from Woodward in the final two issues as he draws some truly epic space battle scenes, filling the pages with immense numbers of starships and giving them an almost Original Series aura which are hauntingly beautiful to me.
If there is one downside to this series it is simply the number of questions I have about the universe as a whole which now need answering. I know have some many questions in my head;
When did this take place? Before or after the DS9 mirror universe episodes?
If after, does that mean there's some time displacement as the characters all look younger? Or if before, why did Mirror O'Brien not mention the supposed imperial resurgence which will no doubt occur beyond this episode?
Also, where did the cloaking net come from as cloaking technology doesn't exist in this universe?Finally, why are peaceful names like 'Stargazer' and 'Utopia Planetia' used by this militant organisation instead of something more fitting?
At this point, I think I'm just making holes where none need be required. But hey, I'm a fan and its what I think about.
Regardless though, while I've never been interested in the Star Trek comics before, Broken Mirror has been a truly incredible series and one I'm glad I took a risk on. All I can hope for now is that the question mark which came on the last panel with 'the end?' is implying a follow up series because I will gladly come back for more of the same.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Going unlimited?

It's been quite a while since I've written anything here. This is down simply to time, or rather a lack of it. Lots of work, family and preparing for Christmas has meant that my five hours free time a week has been reduced to two (if I'm lucky), for which I've prioritised reviews for Pipedream Comics over anything else.

To be fair, I almost didn't write this post as the day I am writing it is Black Friday and my local comic shop has a terrific sale. This is a sale which, amongst other things, is seeing some terrific looking trades going for as little as a fiver, some of which (notably Kill or be Killed) really caught my eye on their Facebook feed.

However, I decided not to go, partly because of the money (I don't have any), the space (I don't have any of that either) and partly because it's almost Christmas (I tend to limited by purchases after October).

The main reason however, and the main focus of this post which I really wanted to write about, is that I'm seriously considering giving this whole Unlimited, Netflix style comic subscription thing a shot.

This is a convenient time to be considering it in fairness because just this week saw the release of the Comichaus App. This App is a digital subscription service created by British (well, I think British) comic book publishers Comichaus which offers a wide range of (mostly) British small press and indie comics in one place. Now, what makes this different to others is that they are very open about the fact that their income is split evenly, with 50% going to the company for costs and (hopefully) profit while the other 50% is given to the creators of these comics (in theory, based on what books are most viewed at any given time).

Now I've got to say, with all of this information (and more which I've no doubt neglected), I'm intrigued.

But this isn't all I'm considering at the moment. As everyone no doubt is aware, Comixology created Comixology Unlimited last year. Essentially the same idea, Comixology Unlimited is different in the fact that their library is more than likely ten times larger that Comichaus', with the likes of Image, Marvel, Dark Horse (I think?) and many other big publishers all offering (most of) their comics for a set monthly fee (although not DC as I don't think they are in on it yet), including older comics from the Silver and Bronze age (or at least that's what I've heard).

So, as with the Comichaus App, I'm very interested in the idea, now more than ever.

The reason for my sudden interest is that in the last year real life has come to impact my comic reading life. Bills are more, food is more, fuel is more but my wages are less, meaning I have less disposable income. Also, as we are all very much aware, comic books are getting increasingly more expensive as the average single issue is at the $3.99 mark (or £3.60 in the Queen's money) while a trade borders the £15-20 mark (don't ask me what that is in dollars). A combination of both this things has essentially seen the money I earmarked for comics whittled down to practically nothing and my pull list decimated to a single, solitary book (which I can't even afford to pick up at the moment) with any other comics being what I'm fortunate to review.

Therefore, these subscription services are starting to look very appealing to me as spending £10 (which was my comic budget until a couple of months ago) would allow me to join up with both Comichaus and Comixology and still have a little bit left over to put towards that single remaining single issue in my drawer. This would also mean two additional points of note; that I would be able to read significantly more comics than what the subscriptions costs would get me otherwise (I'd guess three comics, if I was lucky), and also (mainly over at Comichaus) that many of the books I review which are fantastic I could re-read and the creators would receive a royalty they so richly deserve (and I am unable to provide any other way).

Of course, there are downsides to entering into these services. The one big concern for me is that, at the moment, I can buy books and leave them for months before reading them (I have a Hawkeye trade and a Ninjak trade which prove that point). However, by joining up with either of these services, I need to commit to reading at least three books a month in order to ensure I'm getting my money's worth (because Accountants focus on that sort of thing). This may not seem like a big ask but I assure you it might just be given my seemingly lack of free time at present.

The second is a little more vague in its specifics and that is the fact that Comixology is now owned by Amazon so would I have to commit to merging my accounts for both or some similar thing (something I've avoided thus far). To be honest, I was happy with Comixology being more independent from their parent company and do fear if an combination of my accounts would occur then, should I shut down unlimited to return to my standard account, would I lose all the comics I bought up until that point (something I, quite cynically, would expect of Amazon). It's most likely a silly thing to worry about and more a by-product of my paranoid mind, but it is there and is still a worry.

Regardless though, despite these niggles, I do think that writing this has helped me see that the rewards do outweigh the risks. This seems especially the case in regards to Comichaus whose more independent nature, not to mention more indie library made by people I've actually met and deserve to be read (not all pro comics I can say that about) makes more appealing to sign up to.

Therefore, while I might mull over Comixology a little bit more, I think I will give Comichaus a shot and use it as a test case as to whether 'Netflix for comics' is up my alley.

All I have to do now is find the money to pay for it every month.


Thursday, 21 September 2017

Heroes for Hire Vol. 3

This is a post that has been six years in the making, but this weekend just gone, with my infant son's nap affording me a nice 3 hour window, I decided it would be a good time to read the entire Abnett and Lanning run on Heroes for Hire.

A little backstory. This series came out from the Daredevil 'Shadowland' event and, because I was interested by the premise and creative team, I picked up the first three issues. However, Heroes for Hire, just didn't do it for me and by that third issue I'd dropped the series, picking up the remainder in back issue boxes and off of eBay. Despite having the whole run, however, I've never read the series in its entirety.

That is until now of course because I'm in the process of clearing out and selling off some of my comic book collection and this is one series which is up for the chop. However, before I do that (or, rather, in order to make that final decision), I thought I'd actually go through the whole run.

So, to the topic at hand. Abnett and Lanning's Heroes for Hire is pretty much as the title suggests; heroes of the Marvel universe are hire to complete jobs a la the A-Team. However, this volume differs in the tried and tested approach as it sees Misty Knight fronting the new Heroes for Hire with a little help from top Mercenary Paladin. Throughout this run Knight is 'control', the omnipresent voice who request a rotating cast of heroes every issue or two to complete missions on her behalf. The only problems is, while Misty may think she's 'control' she isn't 'in control', as a unknown figure appears to be pulling the strings, using Heroes for Hire to their own end.

Now, as I had said previously, I had problems with this series originally and my problem was that, while it delivered it's promise of a rotating selection of characters, I had expected more of a done-in-one format, essentially a series of one-shots showing off different missions. What I wasn't expecting was the larger arc involving villains pulling the strings.

However, time and hindsight are wonderful things because now, after the reading the entire run in full, I found Abnett and Lanning's Heroes for Hire to be a lot more enjoyable than I did upon it's original release. Once again, the opening three issues were a tough hump to get over as, for the second time, I had issue getting invested into the whole 'who really control's Heroes for Hire?' idea which certainly became the main crux by issues 4 and 5. However, once I got past this (about the end of issue 5) and the reveal of the bigger bad, I actually found myself a lot more interested.

That said, the main draw for me WAS the heroes who would appear and I've got to admit I did find this a joy second time round, especially as I got into the latter issues. This Heroes for Hire contained a number of (at the time) B and C list heroes (if you can call them that), some of whom have moved up in the world since then, but there were certainly some standouts for me that made me wonder if I've been focusing on the right books over the years.

These characters included Moon Knight and Silver Sable, who was absolutely bad ass consistently through the series (I've got to get the former's Ellis/Shavley run), The Shroud, who I read in Daredevil but I found much more interesting while partnered with Elektra, Gargoyle (who I've never heard off until now), Stingray, who has a brief cameo in the last issue but looks so cool I wish I'd paid him more attention, and, of course, Paladin, who was a seriously interesting character and has me tempted to recheck him out in Thunderbolts (he was in there I think?).

Of course, what helps me find all these characters impressive was the art, which I thought was pretty damn solid throughout. Main artist Brad Walker gives a really gorgeous house style amongst his issues, something I think is equally matched by Robert Atkins and even Tim Seeley when he's pre-Grayson on their issues. The only falter I could see amongst the drawing talent was Kyle Hotz, who pencilled amongst the Fear Itself arc with a style which really threw me as it looked so rough compared to the others. That said, as I read I thought it suited the rather chaotic story surrounding that tie-in and by the end, I did find myself enjoying it just as mush as the others.

In fact, I've got to admit that the Heroes for Hire Fear Itself tie-in was really good, to the point that I was stunned. I had expected something which felt shoe-horned (because it's an event tie-in) and, while it was, Abnett and Lanning managed to chisel out a pretty nice story which fit nicely into both the event and their own arc.

Looking back, I think that the reason I dismissed Heroes for Hire was because it wasn't what I was expecting, as I figured it would be more high brow given it came from the guys who brought us Annihilation and restarted Marvel Cosmic. That said, after giving this run a second chance, I'm glad I gave Heroes for Hire the second chance I think it deserved. This run is a fun read with some great art and showcases some awesome visuals of heroes I might never have given a second thought to.

In fact, because of that last point, I'm pretty tempted to keep the series for now and putting something else up for the chop.