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Shadowland Review

Maximum Carnage.

That oft derided blood soaked comic book story arc of the early 90’s was what ultimately came to mind as I was reading through Marvel’s Shadowland.

Fortunately, I happen to be of the rare breed that, despite it’s flawed storytelling and absurd length; actually kind of liked Maximum Carnage.

Make no mistake though, Shadowland is by no means a well-liked crossover by most comic fan standards.

At least it's not universally hated like Onslaught... Onslaught sucked balls.

Written by Daredevil author Andy Diggle, and pencilled by former X-23 artist Billy Tan; Shadowland takes us into the dark territory it’s title suggest in the form of casting prolific crime-fighter and man without fear, Daredevil; as it’s central villain.

While this controversial storytelling decision has perturbed many a Daredevil fan since it’s publication, thankfully there is indeed a logical, though somewhat hokey explanation as to why Matt Murdock would suddenly turn heel overnight.

 

I don't know about you, but bad chili always puts me in a foul mood...

Leading up to the events of Shadowland, one of the Daredevil’s arch-nemeses, Bullseye; blew up a city block in Hell’s Kitchen, effectively creating a gigantic smoldering symbol of the hero’s personal failings smack dab in the middle of his backyard.

Having recently been offered the position as head of The Hand, a Japanese cult of ninjas and longtime opponent of Daredevil and Elektra; Daredevil ends up accepting the offer, in hopes of wielding the forces of The Hand to better protect the citizens of New York.

This leads to the purchase of the plot of land that was destroyed by Bullseye, and the erection of a huge Japanese fortress in it’s place; a territory that Daredevil dubs “Shadowland.”

Unfortunately, poor Matt Murdock didn’t count on being possessed by The Beast, a demon under the control of a splinter group within The Hand known as Snakeroot.

Said possession causes Daredevil to lose control of himself and his army, resulting in The Beast using him as a vessel to infect the citizens of New York with feelings of hatred and violence.

While many of the heroes of the Marvel universe tolerate Murdock’s actions, grudgingly; it isn’t until he does the unthinkable, and kills Bullseye; that his close friends begin to suspect that the devil of Hell’s Kitchen might be losing his marbles.

Thus sets the stage for a series of pitched battles between Daredevil and those that care most about him.

I assure it doesn't turn out like this, however it would be kinda' cool if it did...

A “mini-event” staged in the wake of Marvel’s most recent event comic proper, Siege; Shadowland represents the rather rare crossover event wherein the core players consist almost exclusively of  “street level” superheroes.

That is to say, despite a suitably epic storyline involving demonic possession and a mass riot across the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan, the majority of the superheroes involved consist of low-powered, or in many cases; unpowered, individuals such as Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Spider-Man, and The Punisher.

Unlike many event comics, that raise the stakes to cosmic levels and beyond, a strong part of the appeal of Shadowland; at least for me anyway, is the fact that the story remains grounded in Daredevil’s niche in the Marvel universe, that of New York city.

While many of the heroes, such as Cage and Iron Fist; are personal friends of Daredevil, ultimately the one thing tying everyone together in the story is that they all share New York as their field of operations.

Early on in Shadowland we’re shown an overhead splash of the city, with several embedded panels serving to show us many of the New York-based Marvel superheroes as they all glare at Daredevil’s newly erected eyesore of a fortress and ponder on what to do of it.

Pictured: The splash in question.

It’s moments like this that serve to unify the cast of Shadowland in a much more satisfying manner than many other event comics.

With the exception of Ghost Rider and Moon Knight, (and a truly random Wolverine) both of whom have close to nothing to do within the context of the 5 core Shadowland issues, the vast majority of the cast feel appropriately cast.

That being said, what of the actual story?

Well, to be perfectly honest, Shadowland is one of those crossovers that seems to demand an unreasonable level of commitment from it’s readers, such that it feels like many important story beats are found only in tie-in issues.

That being said, questions arise every now and again when one is reading Shadowland, usually pertaining to where certain characters went, or how they knew some of the things they did.

 

...Or in the case of Elektra: "How are you still alive?"

In that sense, the storytelling and plot progression of Shadowland can feel fractured and abbreviated, however in my opinion this does not hurt it’s overall enjoyability.

Put it this way:

Shadowland is not a suspenseful story.

From it’s first pages, the “mystery” of Daredevil’s bloodthirsty nature are laid out for us crystal clear.

While the (surprisingly good) ending serves to shake things up a bit, there’s close to zero character development in Shadowland.

From the moment Bullseye gets shanked, we know exactly who our villains are, making for a story that does most what little “telling” it needs to as fists are flying and blood is spilt.

The real meat of Shadowland is in establishing Daredevil as a character poised to take a fall, and then watching as his closest friends band together to set him straight, not through superpowered might, or even magical exorcism; but through heart… and a shit ton of kung fu.

Martial arts have a way of making any story just that much better.

While it sounds corny, Shadowland is essentially the comic book equivalent of an intervention.

Hal Jordan fell prey to Parallax, Jean Grey turned into Dark Phoenix, every now and again one our most beloved superheroes finds themselves under the control of some malevolent force, ultimately resulting in their friends banding together (unsuccessfully) to stop them, only for them to choose redemption through the only means most superheroes seem to know:

Altruisticly Superpowered Suicide, better known as A.S.S.

Sorry, couldn’t resist…

Despite the frequently used storytelling formula listed above, one should note that I never said that’s how Shadowland ends.

I’m not a fan of spoilers, so I’ll let you read the story yourself to find out just what happens.

*Spoiler Alert!* The Death Star blows up at the end!

Anyway, it’s a safe bet to say that Shadowland represents a story that has been recycled in the world of comics more than a few times already, however the new coat of paint it throws into the mix, in the form of it’s cast and setting, make for a fun experience for those who, like myself; are somewhat invested in things from the get go.

In other words, Shadowland is hardly a jumping on point for those who don’t read any of the characters involved in the core storyline, but for those that frequently read tales from the streets of Marvel New York; it’s hard not to have fun with Shadowland.

...I mentioned there was fighting, right?

Coming into Shadowland, I honestly didn’t know what to expect from artist Billy Tan.

Normally, I am keen on looking up the work of artists for comics I’m about purchase, largely because I put a great deal of stock in an artist’s abilities when it comes to gauging my overall enjoyment of a book.

Most reviews I read of Shadowland prior to purchasing it were mostly negative, however nearly all of them made mention of the art being “typically outstanding” in reference to Tan’s body of work.

Don’t ask me why, but for some reason I came into Shadowland wanting to be surprised by something, given that most of the story can be spoiled by reading even the most vague of reviews.

Anyway, I was indeed surprised by Billy Tan’s art in Shadowland, but more importantly; I was impressed.

Impressive... Most impressive...

Like many of my favorite comic artists, Tan excels at drawing his characters with somewhat more realistically proportioned bodies.

Many of his figures appear lithe and flexible, which is a very important factor to consider when dealing with a cast of characters consisting largely of martial artists and acrobats.

Speaking of which, while his face work can seem a little off at times, Tan displays a penchant for illustrating figures in motion.

There are moments in Shadowland, particularly in the battle with Bullseye; where the action of the panels felt more like viewing an animation than reading a comic.

For your viewing pleasure, a full page of awesome.

Needless to say, Billy Tan’s artwork and easily deciphered layouts in Shadowland meet my approval, and quite handily at that.

I won’t be reading X-23 anytime soon, out of my general disdain for the character; but nevertheless, I look forward to more Tan projects in the near future.

Anyway, that’s about all I’ve got to say about Shadowland.

As mentioned earlier, it seems like Marvel expects us to read a lot of the tie-ins in order to get the whole story, but I myself can’t justify such an investment.

I will however be picking up the Moon Knight tie-in, as it genuinely looked pretty good to me, and besides; Moon Knight’s my boy.

Other than that though, I’m mostly happy with what I got from Shadowland on it’s own.

Hope this was helpful to some of you, thanks for reading!

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Thinking Of The Green Lantern Movie

So, last week I finally got the opportunity to view the trailer for the new live-action Green Lantern movie.

As a huge fan of the comic series and mythos, I must admit; my expectations for this film have been exceedingly high, especially given the marquee names (hint: not Ryan Reynolds) involved in it’s production.

Seriously man, take one of my favorite comics, attach Martin Campbell, the director of GoldenEye, The Mask of Zorro, and Casino fucking Royale to it; and I’m in like fuckin’ Flint.

That being said, despite all the hoopla surrounding it’s release, as well as my aforementioned schoolboy-esque giddy excitement; as promotional materials have continued to emerge for them movie, I’ve found myself growing weary of it’s potential suck-itude.

While it may be unfair of me, especially given the very limited amount of footage and stills that have been released at this point in time, but I can honestly say I don’t really care much for what I’ve seen of Green Lantern thus far.

The art design is flashy, and stunningly well rendered, (Kilowog looks pretty awesome) however it has a realistic quality that doesn’t really gel well with the technocolor sci-fi schlock that we’ve all come to expect from the Green Lantern comics.

The closest example I think of to cite in regards to my feelings on this subject, is that of the design work from the American Godzilla film from 1998, and the live-action Transformer films.

While brilliantly designed, and realized on the screen; the Transformers of the Michael Bay films simply weren’t Transformers as I knew them.

Similarly, the Godzilla of the Roland Emmerich/Dean Devlin, while also hideous; failed to capture my interest due to it’s inability to capture the “spirit” of the character I loved so dearly.

The designs for the Green Lantern movie feel too literal and too organic for what comes to my mind when I think of the comic franchise.

In particular, the design of the Green Lantern “suit,” just seems off too me.

While I understand that the Lantern “suit” is in fact a construct of the Green Power Ring, and for all intents and purposes should appear otherworldly, however it has never appeared this way in the comics.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not denouncing the art design of the upcoming film because it is straying off the beaten path; I’m simply scrutinizing it because I honestly don’t like it.

I know, I’m being overly critical; but that’s what happens when you’re as attached to the source material as I am.

As I mentioned earlier, Martin Campbell’s name attached to this movie makes a world of difference, to the point in which it’s difficult to imagine the movie being anything less than stellar.

Seriously man, the dude has a track record.

That being said, while I’ll agree that Ryan Reynolds certainly looks the part of Hal Jordan, and will probably do well in the role; the marketing department made damn sure to make him look like utter shit in the recent trailer.

Speaking only from what’s been shown in the trailer, Reynolds’ Hal Jordan seems just a little bit too much like, well; Ryan Reynolds.

In that sense, I feel it’s worth pointing out that Reynolds’ sharp tongue and particular brand of wit, honestly seem better suited for Deadpool than the Green Lantern.

Hal Jordan’s a dick sometimes, but he’s a dick with a passion for doing what’s right.

In other words: he’s not fuckin’ Van Wilder.

On a closing note, I’d like to point out that I sincerely approve of the casting of Mark Strong as Sinestro, as his powerful voice and cold stare fit well in my mind for the character, but the use of Peter Sarsgaard’s Hector Hammond as a potential main antagonist in the film, just doesn’t seem right to me.

Sarsgaard’s consummately even-tempered demeanor, and downright creepy speech cadence make him a good pick for the role, but it’s the role itself that bugs me.

Green Lantern is a film that challenges CG artists to take the concept of a man that can create anything within the capabilities of his willpower.

In my mind, taking a character with this kind of potential, and casting him opposite a jealous dude with a big head and psychic powers just doesn’t sound all that appealing to me.

Maybe it’s me just wishing we could skip all the origin story bullshit and get right to the cool stuff, like Emerald Twilight and the Sinestro Corps War, but Hector Hammond just doesn’t really do it for me as an antagonist at this juncture.

Here’s hoping they find a way to put Sinestro front and center as the villain, albeit in a sensible and dramatically satisfying manner.

Oh well, this entire article has just been me venting my concerns over what will very likely end up being an excellent movie.

Take everything I said here with a grain of salt, as nearly all of it is just me being a worrywart more so than a dick-faced hater.

See you at the movies when this one comes out!

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Blackest Night Review

*Disclaimer* No spoilers, but just want to say that I don’t really touch on the plot AT ALL.  Too lazy…

Blackest Night is the latest in DC’s long line of major crossover events.

Unlike Crises past, present and future however, this particular storyline is distinctly more focused on the actions of the Green Lantern rather than the usual “Big Three” (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.)

Is it just me, or is Wonder Woman dead behind the eyes?

Blackest Night was written by Geoff Johns, with the event serving as a major climax in his very long, and revolutionary run on the Green Lantern franchise.

Beginning in 2004, Geoff John’s run on the series took us from the rebirth of classic Green Lantern, Hal Jordan; (as depicted in the story “Rebirth”)

to the expansion of the Green Lantern universe to accomodate power rings for every color of the light spectrum,

and finally; to the fateful prophesized day of reckoning known to the Guardians of the Universe (the overseers of the Green Lantern Corps) as the Blackest Night.

The Guardians of the Universe: Little Known Cousins to the Smurfs

Key to the build-up to Blackest Night, was the creation of the “emotional spectrum” of colored power rings.

Thanks to Geoff Johns, we now have Green for Willpower, Yellow for Fear, Red for Rage, Orange for Avarice, Violet for Love, Blue for Hope, and Indigo for Compassion.

It’s cheesy, yes; but interesting nonetheless.

Every single one of these colors has a Corps of it’s own, with distinct and interesting characters whose temperament clearly reflects their place in the emotional spectrum.

It was a revolutionary idea, and it almost single-handedly got me back into Green Lantern after almost a decade of me not caring post-Emerald Twilight.

Yes, I read it. And yes, I was too young to understand that it sucked.

Hey, I was a 90’s comic fan, I liked my Hal Jordan, particularly when he had his pimpn’ Mr. Fantastic white badger-esque hair.

Indeed, Blackest Night has been a long time coming.

I myself will admit that I came into Blackest Night just a little bit under-prepared.

Prior to reading this event, I had read John’s Rebirth and Sinestro Corps War, with a majority of the essential tidbits and factoids leading up to Blackest Night being revealed to me through reading reviews of the in-between story arcs.

Despite this, I will say this:

As long as you at least know who most of the characters are in Blackest Night, or the DC Comics universe for that matter; you probably won’t have any problems understanding the storyline, as most of it is fleshed out on the fly for you in convenient, exposition heavy “comic speak.”

Pictured: A child fluent in "Comic Speak."

That being said, is said storyline worth reading in the first place?

In short, yes; but only if you genuinely want to read this particular story.

All others, may be better spending their money/time elsewhere.

I’ll get back to that, but first let’s take a moment to go over the details of the story in question:

In short, Blackest Night is a story about the dead coming to life throughout the universe wearing Black power rings of Death, and tearing out the hearts of the living to fuel the resurrection of their mysterious leader.

For the love of God, get these people some Clearasil!

Of course, there’s a lot more to it, but I don’t feel like going into it, on account of me being lazy.

Our main characters are, surprisingly; The Flash, (the recently resurrected Barry Allen version) The Atom, Mera, (Aquaman’s hoe) and of course; Hal Jordan.

Could it be!? A moment where Aquaman is actually being cool!?

Personally, I found most of these characters to be interesting and a decent enough focal point for the narrative, but the problem for me was that I genuinely don’t give two-shits about half of them.

By half, I mean The Atom and Mera.

The reasoning behind using these particular characters, seems to be largely the fact that they have close ties to the recently deceased, making them good candidates for drama throughout.

To make a long story short, this particular ploy works, largely due to the visual impact that the various Black Lanterns have when in conflict with the heroes.

Goddamn they look cool..

It needs to be said that Blackest Night, despite being a whopping 8 issues long, twice that of Siege; the one major downside to the story is that it’s full of holes.

Seriously, half the reason I didn’t attempt to write a review until just now, was the fact that I really didn’t feel like I finished the story until I read the accompanying Blackest Night: Green Lantern.

Hell, I read that, and I still don’t feel like I’ve finished Blackest Night ’cause now I know there’s still a shit ton of holes regarding what went on with the Green Lantern Corps!

Pictured: Blackest Night

Getting back to what I said earlier, about this being a story that one needs to want to read, the problem with Blackest Night is that the 8 issue core story just isn’t a complete thought.

Characters inexplicably disappear for half the story, events are hyped that are never further explored, and in general, the whole thing genuinely feels like the writer was writing in too many directions at once.

Which of course, is exactly the case; as Geoff Johns just happened to be writing the Green Lantern series parallel to Blackest Night.

Despite the content of the collected edition being a little sparse, the writing is typical of Johns, with characters speaking with a distinct sense of voice, and entertaining banter throughout.

In particular, I really enjoyed John’s Sinestro, he truly captures the overbearing and forceful passion of the character.

Sinestro: He doesn't look like Hitler. Not at all...

Ivan Reis illustrated Blackest Night, and I doubt anyone can say that his work in it is anything short of excellent.

Characters are rendered faithfully and beautifully, with several of the Black Lantern designs coming across as truly inventive an downright creepy to boot.

The one issue I had with the art, is not actually an issue at all.

My one problem with the art of Blackest Night, was the fact that it wasn’t done by Ethan Van Sciver.

Did I mention Ethan Van Sciver was a good artist?

I understand that Reis and Van Sciver have collaborated several times, and indeed have similar styles, but for my money, Van Sciver is the real talent of the pair.

Seriously, the Van Sciver art for John’s Rebirth story arc was a huge factor in getting me back into the Green Lantern, and to this day I’m still hoping to see his work on the character again.

Anyway, I’m running out of steam, so I’ll just say this:

I liked Blackest Night, but bear in mind, I like comics.

I’m not exactly a DC kind of guy for the most part, but I liked the Green Lantern, and I liked Geoff Johns, so I gave it a shot.

After reading it, I said to myself:

“Hmm…  That was good, but where’s the rest of the story?”

That lead to me buying, reading, and enjoying (in that order) Blackest Night: Green Lantern, but after that I said to myself:

“Hmm…  That was good, but where’s the rest of the story?”

To my knowledge there are 7 Blackest Night collected editions.

Enough to require the use of an Amazon.com B6 box. I should know, I'm a certified box maker...

While I don’t intend to purchase all of those, I genuinely liked the spectacle to be found within 2 of them, and am fully prepared enjoy a 3rd.

I think that speaks volumes as to the appeal of this storyline.

When faced with reading the messy and incomplete collected edition of Blackest Night, my gut reaction was to ask for more.

That surprised me, and I feel good knowing that.

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