Wednesday, 16 October 2019
Captain America: Dark Designs is the latest Marvel prose book from Titan Books and author Stefan Petrucha, who has previously brought comic book characters to the world of prose having written Spider-Man: Forever Young, and Deadpool: Paws.
Captain America: Dark Designs sees the iconic super soldier having to face an enemy that he's no equipped to beat, a virus. After a routine mission to stop the launch of a deadly pathogen Cap is examined on board the S.H.I.E.L.D. hellicarrier, where it's discovered that he is playing host to a virus that could wipe out all of humanity.
To make matters worse, the Red Skull, who is living inside a cloned body of Captain America, also has the virus; though his has activated. The Red Skull launches an assault on Cap using a series of Nazi robots. Now Captain America must try to find a way to stop these deadly machines whilst not triggering an extinction level event.
One of the biggest draws to comics is the artwork, and they way that it's used in super hero comics to create a level of action and spectacle that sometimes the written word can find difficult. Action scenes in books are great, but can sometimes feel like the weaker part of a story as the author tries to describe the amazing feats their characters are making. This is something that comics can sidestep, displaying amazing scenes across splash pages and dynamic panels. The problem when you take characters that we're used to reading in this one format and moving it to another is that you run the risk of the action becoming the weaker part of the story.
Whilst Stefan Petrucha is able to tell great action scenes, and there are some great moments of action to be found in this book, it does feel a little like he's fallen into this pitfall here. The succession of different robot foes, and eventually the Red Skull meant that towards the end of the novel I started to find myself becoming a little tired of the action scenes and just wanted to skip over them. This isn't the best thing when writing action stories.
However, this doesn't ruin the story in any way. yes, it means that there are duller moments every now and then, but the core story was so engaging that I was able to forgive these dips in my engagement. Seeing Captain America stuck within isolation was such an interesting take on the character, especially when he was faced with the possibility of having to go into cryogenic suspension in order to stop the virus. We get to see the internal struggle he has with this idea, of having to be frozen once again and potentially lose everything and everyone he knows and loves a second time.
Captain America lost out on having his life once already, of seeing family and friends, the woman he loved. He missed out on settling down and having a life with Peggy Carter because of becoming frozen, and it still haunts him. Seeing him knowing that he will have to go through that all over again, but volunteering to do so to save other lives shows how admirable and good a character he is.
This is one of the benefits of telling this kind of story in prose form over a regular comic, as we're allowed to have these scenes of personal introspection and deeper conversations as the writer isn't trying to write to a pre-set comic issue page length. It also means that some of the side characters get more of a spotlight too. Doctor Nia N'Tomo is one of these characters, a disease specialist who is working to cure Cap. We get to see a very real and somewhat sweet relationship develop between her and Cap across the novel, and I was often finding myself wanting to see more of the two of them together in scenes.
The standout character of the book, however, was doctor Winston Kade. A much older and more seasoned disease specialist than N'Tomo, he;s the man who first discovers the virus inside Cap and predicts that it's possible for it to destroy the human race. Initially just seeming to be a bit of a brash and grumpy man there turns out to be a lot more layers to the character than initially expected, and the more I learnt about him and his past over the course of the book the more I found him to be fascinating. He's a character that definitely sits within the grey between good and bad, who has only the noblest of intentions but will go to extremes to meet them, his arc was by far my favourite part of the story.
Captain America: Dark Designs is an interesting Captain America story, one that I don't think would have worked as well in comic form as it does here. The longer time with the characters and their inner minds were a highlight, and helped to keep me interested between the action scenes. A great read for any Marvel fan, and a must for anyone who loves Captain America.
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Originally published on Set The Tape
X-Men: Dark Phoenix might be the swansong for the Fox era of X-Men on the big screen, trying once again to adapt one of the most popular X-Men stories. Whilst the X-Men films have been a very popular series they’ve often avoided some of the bigger stories from the comics, with the exception of X-Men: Days of Future Past. With it potentially being a long while until we have more X-Men in a live action film, here’s a list with some of the best X-Men books to go check out.
Days of Future Past
As already mentioned, this story was the basis for the popular film of the same name, and tells the story of a future world where the mechanical Sentinels have taken over, killing thousands of mutants and herding others into internment camps. The few surviving members of the X-Men, which include Wolverine and Shadowcat, form a plan to send the mind of Kitty Pryde back into her younger body in order to stop a mutant from assassinating a US Senator, thereby preventing the rise of the Sentinels.
Though a short story, originally published across just two issues, Days of Future Past is widely considered one of the all time classics, and has been adapted across many different incarnations including the live action film, the 90’s animated series, Wolverine and the X-Men, Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., and Ultimate Spider-Man. Differing a lot from the film version, even those who are familiar with the story will find new and interesting things in the original version.
Written by Joss Whedon, Astonishing X-Men was an ongoing series that told a number of important stories. It dealt with the fallout of the death of Jean Grey (which would remain in place for many years), the blossoming romance between Cyclops and Emma Frost, and the return of Colossus after his death years. The series slimmed down the number of ‘core’ characters, focusing on a small team so that it could tell more personal stories. Despite this, Whedon also crafted an unfolding narrative that put the fate of the entire earth on the line.
The Whedon run introduced a number of characters that would go on to remain a part of the X-Men universe, such as Blindfold, Danger, Armour, and Dr Kavita Rao. The first story arc, dealing with a potential cure for mutants, not only won the 2006 Will Eisner Award, but was also part of the basis of X-Men: The Last Stand cure subplot.
Second Coming is the culmination of years of storytelling that began with the near extinction of mutantkind. Forced to band together, less than 200 mutants came to live and fight against the outside world under the leadership of Cyclops. Even former villains such as Namor and Magneto would go on to follow Cyclops, serving as trusted advisors. Second Coming tells the story of Hope Summers, the only new mutant since the events of House of M, and her adoptive father Cable, returning from the future.
Hope’s return brings a number of villains out of hiding, including Bastion, the Purifiers, William Stryker, and Bolivar Trask to name but a few, all intent on killing her to prevent the return of the mutant race. Every mutant must come together and fight to the death in order to secure their future in this event that involved every X-book. Villains fight alongside heroes, long time fan favourite characters die, and the very future of the mutant race is put on the line in the dramatic conclusion to one of the darkest and most dynamic eras in the X-Men history.
Written by Grant Morrison, New X-Men ran for a number of years and encompassed several story arcs, where it shifted the focus away from the X-Men as a superhero group, instead taking a look at the running of the Xaviers School. The series would introduce a number of characters that would remain part of the X-Men series for years, including Cassandra Nova, Beak, Quentin Quire, and Fantomex.
The series dealt with a number of important storylines, including the outing of Professor Xavier as a mutant, the destruction of Genosha, Emma Frost joining the team, and the return of Magneto. The series also took a different look in art style, taking the team out of their iconic costumes and adopting a look that was similar to their movie counterparts.
The X-Men would become used to death and disaster over the course of their run, probably more than any other Marvel book. Mutant Massacre is a prime example of a story where even when the heroes stop the villains, they don’t really win.
When the villainous Marauders attack the mutant community of the Morlocks, the X-Men and X-Factor teams rush to their aid. Whilst they manage to stop the Marauders many Morlocks are killed, and a number of heroes severely wounded as a result. Colossus is left as a quadriplegic thanks to injuries sustained to his metal form; Kitty Pryde is trapped in her phased form which almost kills her; Nightcralwer is put into a coma; and Angel is literally crucified, which eventually leads to him losing his wings and becoming the villain Archangel.
A sobering look at the X-Men universe, and one that would play into a lot of future stories, this darker tone would become something of a staple for the X-Men books during several of their big events, and many X-Men have ended up severely wounded or killed over the years, probably more so than any other superhero team.
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Tuesday, 15 October 2019
Originally published on Set The Tape
The third issue of Marvel Action: Black Panther concludes the first story arc in the title as T’Challa and Shuri battle to save Wakanda from deadly disasters.
Continuing from the literal cliffhanger ending in the last issue, T’Challa, Shuri, and Ashei are left to travel through the jungles of Wakanda to reach their downed plane and the cure they need to stop the malaria outbreak that’s threatening the population. The journey through the jungle is a little bit of a disappointment, as the trio don’t really have any difficulty in reaching their destination, despite a moment of thinking that things could have gotten exciting when Ashei trips over a giant snake. Sadly, the snake does nothing and its inclusion in the story seems like more of a tease rather than anything else.
Fortunately for readers, things do go a little wrong for the heroes as the plan to stop the malaria outbreak is interrupted, forcing Shuri to confront her fear of Piranha Cove by having to jump into the piranha infested waters to lure the infected mosquito swarm to their deaths. We also learn why this is a big thing for Shuri, as Queen Ramonda explains to her royal guard that one of her friends got hurt as a kid. Whilst this explanation is almost a throwaway moment it does show how Shuri has been living with trauma for years. Her diving into the cove isn’t just her doing what needs to be done to save the day, but overcoming her own childhood trauma.
The story also sees a surprise revelation about a long time Black Panther villain, in a twist I genuinely didn’t see coming, and which shows how much care has been taken by writer Kyle Baker. The book also boasts a lot of great artwork by Juan Samu, who really manages to put a lot of expression and character into the artwork; even masked characters like Black Panther are capable of showcasing more range than you’d initially believe possible. The previously mentioned giant snake was also a highlight in the issue, despite its all too brief appearance, thanks to how Samu draws it. More of the snake would have been good not just from an action point of view, but I’d have loved to have seen more of what Samu could have done with it.
A fine conclusion to the first story that touches upon some little known Black Panther history. However, the story really pushes Shuri into the forefront, and whilst I like that her character was given things to do it did feel like Black Panther himself was almost not needed. Hopefully T’Challa will be given something more to do in future issues.
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Monday, 14 October 2019
Titan Books have definitely picked a good time of year to publish Soon, the latest horror novel by Lois Murphy. Whilst horror works anytime, there's something about a creepy, slow-burning ghost story at Halloween time that just feels right.
Soon is set in the small Australian town of Nebulah, a former mining and farm town that's all but abandoned as a small group of people try to continue living in what has become 'the most haunted town' in the world. Each night a mist descends upon the town, filled with spirits and ghosts that torment and disturb the townsfolk with awful visions, trying to lure them out of their houses to their deaths.
What makes this story stand apart from a lot of other ghost stories, however, is that this isn't a new thing for Nebulah. The mist has been there every night for months. This isn't a story about a sudden new, frightening phenomenon, but something that the people in Nebulah have learned to live with. Yes, the majority of people have moved away, leaving half a dozen people behind who can't afford to leave, but to those still there the mist and the hauntings are just part of their regular routine now.
The townsfolk make sure that they're home before dark. They lock their doors and stay inside. They also close their curtains so that they can't see what's out there, and turn their TV's on loud so that they can't hear the ghostly noises. I kind of loved this. There are ghosts just outside their door, but they turn their TV up louder to drown them out and act like they're not there. There's something about this approach that I found fascinating. It speaks to the very real human nature of wanting to pretend that something bad isn't happening, or that things are normal.
I loved that Soon began far into the story of Nebulah, and that we learn a little about what came before through flashbacks and conversations, rather than seeing it in real time from the beginning. If the story had started with the appearance of the mist we would have straight away seen what it was capable of, would have known the kind of horrors it contained. Instead, it actually takes a while to even learn what happens at night. We're dropped into the narrative with characters that have gotten used to it and have it as part of their lives, so we're on more of a back foot about it than they are.
Whilst this somewhat 'regular' life in Nebulah seems to be going okay to begin with there are clearly some cracks as not all of those left in the town completely get along. There's some interpersonal issues at play, which is completely believable as even when facing ghostly killers you're not going to get along with the douche-bag from down the road. Despite this, they seem to have a fairly good system worked out.
Things begin to change in Nebulah, however, when Pete, an ex-cop stuck in the town, discovers a young woman outside just before nightfall. Managing to get her inside before the mist descends he saves her life, but is also set onto a course that could end his own. The woman is a medium, and is deeply affected by spending the night in Nebulah, but does warn Pete before she leaves that he needs to leave the town soon or he is going to die there. She even gives him the date that it'll happen.
Now most people would probably think that this would be good motivation to leave, but Pete and the others have been living with the threat of death over them for months and haven't gone yet. It's not bravado or stupidity that keeps them in the town though, but the simple fact that they can't afford to move and have nowhere to go. This puts a very real world spin on the scenario that I really liked. If no one will buy a house in haunted town how can you pay for somewhere new to live? If you've got no family to take you in where can you go?
The looming threat and the difficulty in just leaving town make for a great ticking clock that Pete has to face, and fills the book with tension. Even when it appears he's managed to get away from Nebulah there's still tension as you know it can't be that simple because there's still a third of the book left.
I loved Soon. Its pacing was great, with a story that didn't feel like it needed to rush, and a threat that Lois Murphy chose to unveil slowly rather than all at once. The characters feel like very real people, and we learn more about them as the story progresses, and you come to care a lot for them; I was desperate for Pete to be able to survive the book. The fact that you never really find out about what the mist or the ghosts are, how they came to be or why, makes it really fascinating too. Whilst I wanted answers I wasn't upset that I didn't get any as the journey itself was amazing. A must read for horror fans that is full of tension, and great characters, that will leave you stunned.
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Friday, 11 October 2019
Originally published on Set The Tape
Joker sees the iconic Batman villain take centre stage as the lead in his own movie. Whilst this isn’t the first time that a comic book villain has had their own film it’s the first time a major Batman villain has. With such a big history and really great villains, surely there are more that can headline their own movie!
Botanist Pamela Isely was experimented upon by Dr Woodrue, an insane scientist who transforms himself into a plant monster called the Floronic Man. Woodrue transformed Isely into a metahuman with plantlike abilities, and an immunity to various toxins. Now acting as Poison Ivy, she skirts the line between hero and villain as she tries to protect plants and the environment from humans.
A Poison Ivy film could show this origin, and she could be painted as something of a villain for the majority of the film, as she attacks big companies that are polluting the environment. However, it would be nice to have her end as a more traditional ‘hero’, by her having to save people from Woodrue, getting her revenge against him at the same time.
Whilst DC cancelled the Swamp Thing series early into its run, a Poison Ivy film could definitely have a similar look and feel to this. It could even attract some of the same fans, as Woodrue was actually in the show, played by Kevin Durand. Hell, go so far as to have him play the character again!
The son of a revolutionary in the South American nation of Santa Prisca, Bane was placed in prison to serve out his father’s sentence following his escape. Bane spent his childhood and adolescence in one of the most brutal prisons on earth, building his incredible physique and keen intellect in order to survive.
Following Bane during his prison years would be so much more interesting than seeing him go up against Batman, as he does in almost every other version of the character. Make a Bane movie as a prison drama. Have him brought in as a young boy, made to serve out his father’s sentence alongside hardened adult criminals. Show an innocent young boy turn into a cold blooded killer as he learns how to survive in hell on earth.
A film about Bane told in this way would be able to highlight not just how brutal and strong the man is, but how he was a victim of his life. He was made into a savage by his environment. Show how this happened to him, and don’t shy away from the brutality of the situation. Let’s see an innocent boy enter prison, and follow his life there until he gets out and begins his journey to Gotham. There wouldn’t be any need to show him go to Gotham and face Batman: end the film with him getting out of prison and setting off there. Not only would this act as a great stand alone film that tells his origins, but he could then be used in a Batman film with a fully fleshed out backstory, as a character that audiences will care about.
The Court of Owls
A relatively new addition to the DC Universe, The Court of Owls are a secret society that has been running Gotham from the shadows for generations. What makes them stand out is their main enforcers, the Talons. The Talons are a group of lethal assassins, and the society has had many over the years. What makes them different, however, is that the Talons have been made close to immortal thanks to strange science.
A Court of Owls movie could focus on a new Talon, a person recruited to fight and kill for the court. This Talon could then try to turn against the Court, and have other, older Talons sent against them to kill them. Whether or not they manage to survive, it’d make for an interesting film to see one of the world’s best assassins fighting undead killers.
Whilst a lot of audiences will be familiar with the character thanks to Danny DeVito’s brilliant performance in Batman Returns, this version of the character is actually quite different from the comics. Batman Returns showed him as an outcast mutant living beneath Gotham. Instead of this, make him like his comic counterpart, where he’s just a regular guy.
What’s interesting about a regular guy? Well, not a huge amount, but once you have him being part of a crime empire it starts to get a little more interesting. Introduce him as a low level operator in one of the crime organisations in Gotham, then let him work his way to the top. He can’t be a physically imposing character, so let him plot and scheme his way to the top. Make him Little Finger, but he doesn’t fuck up at the end. Mob movies are always popular, so make a mob movie about the Penguin.
Owlman comes from another world, a parallel earth where villains rule instead of heroes. Following the murder of his family, Thomas Wayne Jr. becomes the super-villain Owlman.
Much the same way that Brightburn told a story of an evil Superman, an Owlman movie could do the same thing. Have it follow an almost traditional Batman movie formula, but instead of a hero he’s a villain. He kills to expand his empire, he uses gadgets to commit crimes, and he was behind his parents’ death. Why focus on a hero’s villains when you can make your hero the villain instead?
This is probably one of the hardest sells on this list, but imagine being able to take the DC Universe and flip it on its head. You could show alternate versions of characters that audiences know and love, and add in little hints to other villains such as Ultra-Man. Plus, if ever Warner Bros. wanted the Justice League to fight the Crime Syndicate this could be the perfect set-up movie.
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