Catching up With The Double Life of Miranda Turner

Last year, I told you about The Double Life of Miranda Turner, a digital comic by Jamie S. Rich and George Kambadais about a young superhero mentored by her dead sister who formerly had the role. Although the premise sounds angsty, it mostly ignores that in favor of a good amount of comedy and action, driven by creative ideas for villains for Miranda, as the Cat, to battle.

The Double Life of Miranda Turner #4 cover

Two issues, #4 and #5, came out this past winter, with #6 due out March 4. (It’s available to pre-order now.)

For those interested in more about the background of the two young women, issue #4 is for you. It’s a flashback to what happened to Lindy just before her death, as a way to further explore who might have been responsible.

The dialogue is packed with both information and entertainment, as we see the sisters depend on each other through revisiting a traumatic event. Kambadais’s art is capable of wide-ranging images, from hand-to-hand combat to celebrity fundraisers to fantastic superpowers. I was surprised at how mediocre Lindy’s death turned out to be, an ambush instead of taking place in a classic battle with a villain, but that’s a great example of the down-to-earth feel that makes the series appealing.

The Double Life of Miranda Turner #5 cover

Issue #5 continues exploring Lindy’s history, as we meet her friend and former co-worker, Portal, another member of the Alphabet Guild coterie of superheroes, as the creators expand their universe. That’s her on the cover, with an impressively visual (and powerful) ability.

The forthcoming issue #6, out next month, goes even further into history, as Portal shares news of her grandfather, also a hero, and how he fought in Vietnam, before they head out to battle the former Cat’s nemesis. This sets up for a grand showdown — but that’s coming in issue #7.

Since the series follows the Monkeybrain Comics model of 16 pages or so for 99 cents, it’s admirable how much Rich and Kambadais pack into each issue. The first arc is planned to be nine issues, so we’re in the last stretch, where everything starts coming together. (The creator provided review copies.)

From the Earth to Babylon: Gerald Bull and the Supergun

Now that convention season planning is upon us, it’s time for me to go through the stacks of items I picked up at previous shows and madly attempt to catch up. Exhibit A: This limited edition historical graphic novel by Diana Tamblyn she was kind enough to give me at last year’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival, I think it was.

I like non-fiction comics and graphic memoir. I find them, when done well, wonderful ways to learn about people I wouldn’t otherwise know about. However, this volume — perhaps because it’s labeled Part One — left me feeling confused most of the time.

Gerald Bull and the Supergun cover

I got the impression throughout that I was already supposed to know who Gerald Bell was, and what he was famous for. Perhaps that’s true if you’re a Canadian reader, since he was a scientist there, but I’d never heard of him before, and the book doesn’t lay sufficient groundwork to overcome this feeling of uncertainty. Apparently, based on the book’s web page, a large part of his significance relates to his mysterious death by assassination, but that segment of his life, although casually referred to, doesn’t appear here.

The “supergun” similarly isn’t explained to a novice reader. The most coherent part of the book in regards to that subject is an introductory chapter about the Nazis shelling Paris, an event that isn’t connected well to the rest of the content. It’s a neat read on its own, though. The other events don’t come together well in the bigger picture; perhaps if I was more aware coming in of what we were leading up to, of Bell’s life overall, their selection would have made more sense.

Visually, the content resembles illustrated text, with lots of narration and talking heads. I wish there were more panels that were graphically interesting in content or technique.

The key moments, as far as I can tell, of Bull’s life are included, but I never got a sense of him as a person. We’re told of his schooling (at a young age due to advanced intellect) and his accomplishments, but I never got any idea or suggestion of how he might have felt about all this. Many of the significant personal events in his life, such as his marriage, are glossed over in a narrated panel or two in favor of many sequences on what was being built and how much it cost. Perhaps that’s just a distinction between what the author wants to write and draw and what I would rather read about.

I’d also rather have seen more exploration of different perceptions of the man, particularly near the end, when he turns into an international arms dealer after converting university research into his own company. Tamblyn paints this in a “he had to go out on his own because the government didn’t see how important this research was” light, but I suspect her perspective may be shadowed by her relationship with her grandaunt, who was Bell’s personal secretary during the 1950s. She discusses this in her afterword, where she also talks about working with Bell’s family on this project. That will certainly give the storytelling a particular slant.

Tamblyn mentions that this take on his character differs from the “many books and documentaries made about Bell”, so as a reaction, of course this will read differently to someone who’s seen all those and one who hasn’t. Someone already familiar with him may find this a refreshing corrective; the many who aren’t, though, like me, may be confused by the approach or feel left out. This area may also be explored in more depth in the forthcoming Book Two. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor #1

I was curious to try the launch of the Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor comic series, because I lost interest in the show in the second half of the Eleventh Doctor’s TV run. As a result, I haven’t seen any of the Peter Capaldi Doctor Who episodes. I thought the first issue might give me a good idea whether I should bother catching up.

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor #1 cover by Alice X. Zhang

Cover by Alice X. Zhang

If driving interest in the master property is a valid measure of success, the comic worked. I’m curious enough — in large part due to the companion Clara and the lead’s attitude — to watch the show again. In the opening scene with the two of them, he’s willing to take Clara to another planet for skiing, but he refuses to join her, preferring to stay warm in the TARDIS. That kind of practical lack of emotionalism strikes me as a welcome change from some of the other recent versions of the character. He’s almost too much ahead of everyone else in this story, and I’m curious to see how long that can last. On the other hand, I can’t speak at all to whether this is an accurate translation of the characters to the page.

There’s a lot that’s familiar, from the plot that starts with the Doctor promising a planet with certain characteristics, only to find that it’s now become the opposite, to the throwaway references to goofy, vaguely SF-sounding concepts (ice sharks?). Instead of snowy slopes, the two wind up in a bio-engineered tropical jungle. There’s an evil businessman, ignoring warnings of coming disaster for his own selfish purposes; the companion in danger, to be rescued by a gadget from the Doctor; anti-corporate moralizing; and an ignored warning from the Doctor of impending doom.

All of these elements I’ve seen in previous Doctor Who stories, but it’s how they’re recombined that shows promise. And the images associated with them are of the type and scale that couldn’t easily be done on TV, playing to the strengths of the comic format, from the odd creatures to the giant alien threat. There are a number of throwaway wisecracks, too, which were hit-or-miss with me — I loved hearing once again about Venusian karate, and the wall-breaking sofa reference was cute, but I thought having yet someone else say “Doctor Who?” wasn’t necessary. The Doctor’s voice feels right to me, though, which is the important thing.

I knew Titan Comics wanted to trade on its previous series adaptation successes, but I was a bit shocked at the sheer number of variant covers of this issue. Based on the list at the end of the issue, there were 32! Most are retailer-specific, rewarding those who heavily supported the new book launch. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

Doctor Who Photo Covers Create New Companions

The Doctor Who comics, like so many these days, are available with multiple covers. There’s usually a main art cover, possibly a painted variant, but there’s also been a lot of photo covers. These are easy enough to make with clip art, since there are likely tons of images of the previous Doctors in costume, striking poses, but what I’ve found particularly interesting is when they do photo covers with the new companions.

The Eleventh Doctor, for example, doesn’t travel with Amy and Rory in the comics, since that story has long ended. Instead, he’s palling around with a new character, Alice Obiefune, a librarian coping with the recent death of her mother, in the comics written by Al Ewing and Rob Williams and drawn by Simon Fraser. I like her a lot, since she’s got a good, down-to-earth mien that reminds me of Martha Jones. She’s clever and determined, and the doctor provides a kind of grief treatment. She’s appeared on photo covers for Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor issue #5 and issue #7, as shown here:

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #5 photo coverDoctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #7 photo cover

So I suppose Titan and/or the BBC hired a model to do a few shots to use to play a character that’s never appeared on screen or in person before? I’m not entirely certain that they’re using the same person every time, though.

The same applies to Gabriella “Gabby” Gonzalez, who’s now hanging out with the Tenth Doctor. As written by Nick Abadzis and drawn by Elena Casagrande, she’s an aspiring art student struggling with family expectations. She’s appeared on photo covers for Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor issue #3 and the upcoming issue #14 (due out June 8), as shown here:

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #3 photo coverDoctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #14 photo cover

Marvel: The Avengers Vault

Review by KC Carlson

Between the years of 2007 and 2011, a publisher named Running Press issued a series of beautifully written and produced Vault books on the histories of comics’ biggest companies (Marvel and DC Comics — both previously reviewed by me, here at CWR) and their top characters (Batman and Spider-Man).

Despite the similar title, this new 2015 Avengers Vault book, from a different publisher, is not like those books. In fact, I think the best thing I can say about it is that it’s one of the most generic “history” books about comics ever produced. It’s not a decent coffee table book — it’s more like an “end table” book.

Most of its problems are evident in its production. The book’s spine feels loose, although it may be intended as a stay-flat binding. Either way, it creaks and groans with every page turn; it disturbs me when books make noise while you’re reading them. It’s also not very visually appealing. The original vault books were quite impressive with their oversized (10.7” x 13”) horizontal format, unique spiral binding, and bound-in plastic sheets, allowing for both attractive display and the easy removal of the book’s actual artifacts. This new book is a standard 12” x 8.7” format, portrait instead of landscape orientation. The artifacts are dealt with much differently in this new book.

Artifacts — or Arti-fiction?

Unlike previous Vault books, where the artifacts were (mostly) presented within the book’s text, and in clear plastic enabling you to instantly see them, the artifacts in this book all come in book-sized, flimsy cardstock envelopes bound in at chapter breaks. Because of the difficulty of trying to get these things out of the envelopes (hint: turn the book upside-down to safely get them out, without tearing the envelope or its stupid flap — which you know will be torn off eventually), the artifacts are most likely destined to be looked at once and then forgotten — which is one of the definitions of “generic”, I believe. WARNING: If you do decide to buy this book at a bookstore, take a minute to flip through the book before going to the check-out to make sure the envelopes haven’t already been destroyed (or the artifacts stolen) by previous browsers. Both can be accomplished fairly easily.

The coolest artifact here is probably the reproduction of Ralph Long’s (whoever he is) actual Captain America Sentinels of Liberty membership card from 1941, although it’s easy to miss because of its size. Unless you have hands like Dooneese (the tiny-handed character played by Kristen Wiig on Saturday Night Live), you need to shake the tiny membership card out of the book, or you will tear the envelope trying trying to fish for it. Runners up for “neat reproduction” would have to be Walter Simonson’s mini Thor-frog promotional poster and the multipage “All About Iron Man” featurette with artwork by Don Heck.

Avengers ID card

The one artifact that really should have been here (and isn’t) was the promotional Avengers membership cards that were originally issued by Marvel in the late 1980s. These were brilliant because they were partially blank, allowing fans to sign them and attach a photograph or drawing of themselves. Who wouldn’t want to be an Avenger?! Or at least have their super-cool membership card! It was signed by then-President Ronald Reagan and (fictional) National Security Council Director Raymond Sikorski. They were a huge hit with fans, and I know folks who still carry theirs in their wallets.

Battling Technology

One of the biggest problems with the book is the horrible typesetting. The entire book is double-spaced, which gives the impression of cheaping out by limiting the word count, and then spreading the text out to make it look impressive. (You know, like you did in your book reports when you were eight years old and didn’t know any better.) Further, much of the book’s text is not properly kerned (adjusting the typesetting — sometimes manually — for a more pleasing reading experience). Whenever the text has to wrap around a graphic larger than the book’s columns, there are unsightly and frequently huge gaps of space between words in the text. Further, the book designer has placed a number of huge graphics in the upper left corner of the left-hand pages. Due to their large size, I frequently missed the three or four lines of text in the left column, since natural eye-flow takes the reader from the large graphic directly to the right column of text. The book is literally an unpleasant chore to read — or at least it was for me.

Which is something that really shouldn’t ever be said about Peter David’s writing, which here is mostly up to his usual high standards. There are a number of great behind-the-scenes stories about comic history — and even a debunking of some previously accepted comic book lore, notably about the real-life origins of The Avengers comic book. It’s a well-written history, but (and here’s that word again) somewhat generic, possibly because of restrictions in word count. Also, one gets the sense that the manuscript may have been sitting around for a while (and not updated), considering that there is no mention of the somewhat controversial changes in the current Avengers publications. Current writers Jonathan Hickman and Rick Remender have really changed the structure and storytelling over the last couple of years — not to mention radically expanding the membership.

Unfortunately, this omission has pretty much rendered the book’s Appendix: Complete Avengers Roster incomplete and out-of-date before it was even published. Since this book is clearly intended to ride the coattails of the upcoming movie, that may not make much difference to the likely reader. The one nod to current publishing history is the inclusion of last year’s promotion of the Falcon to be the current Captain America, although there is no mention of why this happened, and it seems somewhat shoehorned in.

The best chapter here is the one devoted to the Incredible Hulk — not surprising, since Peter David is the author of an astounding (and award-winning) twelve-year run on the character and the comic book series.

Footnotes

Granted that some very silly comic book stories and plotlines from the less sophisticated, early eras of comics are recounted here, there is some unfortunate snarkiness that creeps into the text. Now, I enjoy snark as much as anybody, but I have also become aware over the years that there are a lot of fans who don’t appreciate their favorite characters (or plotlines) being made fun of. So if that bothers you, caveat emptor applies here.

On the other hand, there are some beloved characters and weirdly constructed Marvel stories (including many of the “continuity implant” variety), where nothing but snark will do while attempting to summarize them. Seriously.

Another depressing note: I didn’t immediately recognize the cover artist. The image is a fairly generic shot of the movie Avengers (plus the Falcon). I was briefly impressed when I saw that there was a page of actual Image Credits listed in the Table of Contents. Turning to it, I was dismayed to find that most of the “credits” said “courtesy Heritage Auctions”. Fortunately, most of the interior art that comes directly from the comics is attributed to actual artists. I still don’t know who drew the cover. For all I know, it may just be clip art, which — warning — is also used in this book.

Final thought: Avengers fans who only know them from the blockbuster movies may find The Avengers Vault helpful, but not in any way complete. Longtime comic fans may find this so disappointing that they actually appreciate the snark. Both groups may wish for a bit more content for the price. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

KC’s Previews for April 2015

The Bronze Age of DC Comics cover

KC recommends items you’ll want to be aware of in the February Previews catalog, for items shipping in April or later in his Westfield columns. Part One looks at comic book collections, plus a bunch of Marvel Cinematic Universe art books. You’ll also find out why so few DC books show up on these lists. Part Two switches to collections of comic strips and the super-sized omnibus editions, as well as key books about comics you’ll want to read. One of those I’m excited about is the long-awaited Taschen The Bronze Age of DC Comics, as shown above and now due in August.

Win a Copy of Stan Lee’s New Book, The Zodiac Legacy

Stan Lee has leant his name to a new series project. This time it’s prose, co-written with (former Helix editor) Stuart Moore. The Zodiac Legacy is a new young adult novel, intended to start a series, about Steven Lee, a young man who stumbles into a mystical ceremony. A powerful man, full of hubris, is trying to take all the powers of the Chinese Zodiac into himself, but Steven winds up with the Tiger power, based on his birth sign. Of course, there’s a group working together to try and stop the greedy villain, and plenty of action.

Book one, Convergence, launched last month with illustrations by Andie Tong (Spectacular Spider-Man UK, The Batman Strikes!). Here are some samples:

Zodiac Legacy art by Andie Tong

Zodiac Legacy art by Andie Tong

And Stan Lee narrates this book trailer, explaining the premise:

Based on the chapters I’ve read so far, the series emphasizes world-spanning adventure familiar to superhero fans over deep characterization, but that makes for an adrenaline-driven read.

If you’d like to see the book for yourself, Disney Enterprises has made it possible for me to give away a prize pack consisting of the book and a sheet of custom Zodiac Legacy temporary tattoos, as shown here:

Zodiac Legacy prize pack

To enter the contest, leave a comment below telling me your zodiac sign and how you feel about it. For example, I’m a Rooster, which used to be the Cock, which never made me happy.

If you need to figure out your sign, and you don’t have a Chinese restaurant placement handy, you can visit the book’s website or have Stan Lee tell you about it here:

A winner will be picked randomly from all entries on Friday, February 20. (U.S. or Canada addresses only, please. Winners will be emailed to confirm address. If email is not answered within 24 hours or a valid email address is not provided, a replacement winner will be selected. Your email won’t be used for any other purpose.)

Usagi Yojimbo Returns After Three-Year Hiatus

Usagi Yojimbo #145 cover

It’s an unfortunate quirk of human nature that long-running quality projects are easy to overlook. A consistent good read doesn’t get the kind of press or attention a hot artist (who will do three issues) or a plot twist (reversed next year) or a crossover (a lot of sound and fury with no long-lasting results) or movie tie-in (because comics loves Hollywood validation) does.

Which is my excuse for not noticing that it’s been three years since we’ve seen an issue of Stan Sakai’s rabbit samurai. Usagi Yojimbo #144 came out at the end of February 2012. There was mention of a pause in the series at the end of 2012 so Sakai could draw 47 Ronin. Then, last year, his wife unfortunately passed away.

Now, Dark Horse has announced that issue #145 will be out in May at the usual 24 pages for $3.50. A new story is described as “Usagi finds himself caught up in a fight between his thief friend Kitsune and a ninja intent on getting the mysterious scroll Kitsune’s stolen, at any cost!” I’ll eagerly welcome him back.




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