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By | Saturday, January 1, 2011 | 11:27 pm | 10 Comments | Blog > Reviews
Find This Book At:
Amazon (Softcover)
Half.com (Softcover)
Ebay (Search by Title)
Ebay (ISBN/Softcover)
View our database entry
Includes Issues: Hellblazer 129-133
Issue Dates: September 1998 – January 1999
Creators:
, , , , , ,

This review contains light spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

To celebrate recent events in the life of Mr. John Constantine (spoiler) I thought I would review an old Hellblazer trade.

Hellblazer is probably the best 80s series still running today (without any hiatus) and deserves all the praise it is given. A founding Vertigo title, it’s been published without break since 1988.

The current arc has left me a disillusioned with the title, however, but it’s not in trade yet so I can’t negatively review. So I chose one of the lesser previous releases to act as a cathartic aid to my suffering.

Hellblazer: Son of Man is the first trade following a gap in publishing spanning over 40 issues of the ongoing, hence it represents a revival for the series.

And who better to kick it off than Garth Ennis, the only man to master John Constantine as well as Delano? Unfortunately, it’s not Ennis’ strongest work on the character.

The story starts with the bungling Chas (Constantine’s sometime driver and often drinking buddy) finding himself in trouble with a London kingpin, Harry Cooper. Constantine and Cooper have a past, something John has been avoiding for 16 years, but when Chas turns to him for help he can no longer avoid it.

The plot weaves to and fro, mixing past and present to construct a story that is quintessentially Constantine from beginning to end.

While the story consists of well written and paced events, the dialogue is somewhat lacking. Rather than the typical Hellblazer narrative boxes we find John talking to the reader as a TV presenter would talk to the camera, which I find a bit too jovial.

It’s interesting to see Ennis attempt direct breakage of the 4th wall (with bums looking on and making cuckoo gestures at the rambling narrator) but it doesn’t quite work.

Also, despite being from the UK, Garth Ennis has written the characters in as the stereotypical Londoners, with Constantine saying things along the lines of ”Blimey.” It just doesn’t suit him at all.

My final writing issue in for book is a scene when he has sex with a lesbian friend, which seems to be in there for no real reason. In that one scene Ennis manages to make the book more of a joke than a piece in the long story of Constantine.

The book is drawn by John Higgins and is near in quality to his art from the last volume I reviewed, Hellblazer: Haunted (which is actually the next in the series after this trade). Constantine looks a bit less like a blonde Hugh Grant in this collection though.

My major complaint about the art in this book, which isn’t the case in Haunted, is that all the characters have far too many wrinkles.

A prime example is this picture of Chas to the right, where he looks more like an OAP than a middle aged man. (OAP stands for Old Age Pensioner. Simon’s brit slang – Ed. Note)

I can also hear you ask if that creature is from the Alien franchise. The answer is no, it’s a demon, but it’s uncanny isn’t it?

That is yet another downside to this book – there’s a lack of imagination. In fact the main “bad-guy” for this book looks a like a privately educated version of Chucky.

On the whole, the plot for Hellblazer: Son Of Man is very well done. With a couple of scenes trimmed it would score highly for the writing, despite John talking to the camera. The artwork is serviceable, just sub-standard for a series such as Hellblazer.

Not a classic by any standard, but still fun to read if you can ignore one or two shortcomings.

Don’t worry. Stick with Hellblazer. As Rufus says in Bill & Ted: “They do get better.”

Verdict:
3 out 5.
It gets the same rating as Haunted because while the plot is better, the dialogue and the artwork is worse.

Essential Continuity:
Not really essential for Constantine, nothing life changing happens here.

However, it features a few characters that feature heavily in Constantine’s life, such as Brendan, and it helps give more background to these characters.

The entire series is best read through in order, anyway.

Read first:
You need to know who Chas is (his first appearance is in Hellblazer 1) and it would help to have a good knowledge of Hellblazer to fully enjoy the book, so some pre-reading is required.

With a hefty Vertigo title like this, it’s always good to start at the beginning, even if my reviews haven’t. You can get Delano’s classic Hellblazer: Original Sins or go all the way back to John Constantine‘s first appearance in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing: The Curse.

Read next:
Head onto the next collected volume, Hellblazer: Haunted, which I previously reviewed. In that book, John Higgins is joined by Warren Ellis.

If you you enjoyed the dialogue and tone of this one, you may want to check out Preacher by Garth Ennis, which is more solid all the way through and has better art. Understandable, since it was his creator owned title.

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By | Saturday, January 1, 2011 | 8:39 pm | 28 Comments | Blog > Features

Eff yeah guys. The year twenty-ten is over. We did it.

It certainly was an interesting one. As comic fans, we’re in an amazing era – truly the age of the collected edition. While compiling the Marvel database, it’s amazing how many comics are now in some bound form.

Hundreds of books, just from the major publishers, contain comics that have been sitting around for 30 years or half a century, and now in the last two years have just been re-collected. It’s obvious that we’re only just beginning, with almost every new floppy ending up in trade and the publishers ransacking their archives to compile huge hardcovers. Very exciting.

Personally, the last year was a doozy – Beth finished college at SCAD, we announced our engagement to our families, adopted two kittens, moved between 2-3 different jobs each (not to mention freelance), and reorganized our house about 4 times.

Oh, and I started this website.

That’s a big thing, right? While this isn’t the one year anniversary (which will be in April, mark your calenders and expect presents at the party) 2010 was the first year for Trade Reading Order. Sure, I had lists of various forms hosted on my personal website, but the subdomain at tradereadingorder.ianaleksanderadams.com went up in April with this domain shortly following.

TRO in 2010: The Top Ten Highlights

Obviously, every single thing on this site came about in 2010, but let’s do a little rundown anyway.

1. Website Launched – TradeReadingOrder.com was put online, the wordpress set up, and the DCU TPB Recommended Reading Order uploaded from a CSV document.

2. Taxonomies and Fields – Originally just a list of books, I soon added many sorting fields making it possible to generate other lists from the one archive.

3. The Blog – The updates to the site originally consisted of one text widget in the sidebar. It was soon overflowing with changelog information, so I had to figure out a way to separate out the blog.

4. Reviews, Features, Essays and Giveaways – Now that we had a fully functioning blog, it was silly to let it go to waste. We’re now doing weekly giveaways, reviews (over 60 already!), features like Uncle Gorby’s Corner of Free Stuff, and will continue posting who-knows-what. Pretty amazing what happens when you suddenly become a publisher/media entity, even if it is to a tiny niche audience. THE POWER THE POWER.. er, heh. I mean, it’s nice to share!

5. The Forum – While not used as often as the blog, this still makes me feel like we’re a “real” website. A whole big thang!

6. User Accounts and Custom Sorting – At some point I figured out I could rework a “favorites” plugin in order to let people manage their own collections. I’m now using the site to do all my own sorting too!

7. Over 300 Users – Holy shit there are over 300 registered users! Not all of them are active, but just looking through a few of the profiles, I saw many accounts with over 200 books in their collection. It’s an awesome feeling knowing that this site is useful to other people.

8. Over 150 Subscribers – Our daily stats for visits go up and down (I think we had about 3000 unique visitors in one day as our high point, but our average is much lower right now), but I’m much more flattered by Feedburner reporting upwards of 150 subscribers to the RSS feed. That many of you actually care what I (and other posters) have to say? I hope I don’t disappoint!

9. About 2400 Database Entries – We’ve got a ton of books in the database, including novels and companion volumes, with more being fully fleshed every day. It’s crazy to think that this all evolved from what started as a personal list of essential Batman books (of about 100 trades).

10. Over 2600 Comments – That’s a lot of chatter! I’m extremely thankful to all of you who have offered advice, feedback, and even personal flavor and response to what we do here. There’s no way one person could get every detail of these immense publishing universes all on his own, and I’m indebted to you all more than I can possibly express.

TRO in 2011: The Top Ten Hopes

What are some of our dreams and aspirations for the coming year?

1. Our One Year Anniversary – This one is easy, but I’m still excited. Technically, all we have to do is make it to April. But in my mind, I’ve always marked this date as our official end of public beta. So I want the site to have reached a certain finished state – obviously not all the information will be up, as it’s going to be a long long journey, but I have some major goals. And we’ll celebrate with some hefty giveaways, cause I’ve found some amazing piles of stuff in my searches!

2. The Marvel List – This is the big one. I’ve been saying I’ll have it up soon for months, but it’s been a colossal undertaking. But I firmly feel I’ll be able to have it online before the one year anniversary, hopefully a lot sooner. I’ve currently got 2386 books in the offline database! This update will double the size of the website.

3. The Ultimate Marvel and Wildstorm Lists – With the big two done, their little brothers shouldn’t be so hard.

4. The Image Universe List – Similarly, this should be the last huge list. Then we just have Self Contained and smaller series to look towards as we head to 2012.

5. DC Covers – Every single DC Universe book will have a cover image. I think this is a realistic goal for 2011. Then we just have to keep up with it.

6. 364 Reviews – While the schedule might not be exactly daily, I want to have 365 books reviewed through the course of the year. I don’t care if it’s no reviews one day and 3 the next, this is the goal. At the very least, within 5-6 years I want a review with high quality sample scans on every single DC Universe book. If people really get into it, we could start looking at Marvel too… but one review goal at a time for my personal mental health.

7. 52 Giveaways – I’m loving this giveaway thing. I think you guys are also. I find books for a dollar or even free periodically, and I just get so much more satisfaction by giving them away.

8. More Issue Reading Orders – I created the section on the site, but I haven’t been concentrating on it. Perhaps this will be an area where I’ll find someone to collaborate with, since I don’t read floppies personally, but it certainly seems like this website could function as a repository for issue reading orders. It would be nice to have one place to go to instead of having to google a million random forums for threads where no one responds to your questions. Sorry, just grumbling from personal experience – but I’d rather fix it instead of just grumbling!

9. Fully Functional Personal Collections – This is going to happen. And possibly very soon. We’re working on the code now. Basically, right now all your collections show in one list, sometimes a little jumbled up. This will be fixed and it’s going to make the site a lot more useful. You’ll be able to see a reading order list for your personal Marvel collection, personal DC collection, etc.

10. AJAX!! – A boon to the server and the user! Right now adding books to your collection requires a page refresh. You lose your place in the list and have to wait for things to load. We’re going to add AJAX functionality, making just the little icon reload while the information is added to your collection. Kind of like how the comment replies work. Believe me, it will make adding all those books much easier.

There are a million smaller things on my to-do list, but those are the big goals. I don’t see anything on there that can’t happen by the end of 2011. Actually, I bet we’ll be surprised how soon some of those goals get accomplished.

Of course, if you have any suggestions for our direction in 2011, speak up! As I said before, this site goes nowhere without your advice!

And finally, I hope this first day of 2011 was a great start to your new year. I know this last one was a tough time for a lot of people, but let’s take the best of the past and run with it.

The future is is wide open and we are gonna %$&*#!’n rock it!

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By | Friday, December 31, 2010 | 11:59 pm | 26 Comments | Blog > Giveaways

Update: Closed! Winners will be contacted!

Update 2: The winner has been announced!

Here’s the weekly giveaway!

Happy New Year, guys!

Good luck to everyone who participated in our massive holiday giveaways (for No Man’s Land and the Batman Animated volumes.)

Due to the amount of prizes going out and my personal end of the year financial obligations, haha, things are going to be a little slower in terms of contact/mailing turn around, but I’ll announce the winners and send out the books soon, don’t you worry.

Regardless of when books actually get sent out, we’ll keep up the weekly postings, of course.

While last week’s giveaway was part of the major celebrations, I wanted to pick something this week that tied into New Years a little bit.

This Newuniversal: Everything Went White hardcover sounds phonetically related, at least!

Collecting Newuniversal 1-6 by Warren Ellis and Salvador Larroca, this book revamps and reintroduces Marvel’s 80s New Universe characters as only a writer like Warren Ellis can.

It’s an enjoyable collection, though it’s obvious it’s meant for followups and the 2008 one shots/minis haven’t yet been collected.

Who knows, maybe they’ll announce the solicit for more (ideally written by Ellis) in the New Year?

Until then, maybe this hardcover will hold you over. Just leave a logged in comment to qualify for the random selection!

The Rundown:

(1) Prize: A hardcover copy of Newuniversal: Everything Went White

(1) Random Comment Winner: One logged in commenter will be randomly selected from the replies to this post.

Eligibility: You must be registered and logged in when you comment to be eligible. You must also be in the continental USA for shipping purposes. If you are overseas and want to pay for the shipping yourself, feel free to enter, but keep in mind that it will probably be more expensive than just buying the book.

Deadline: You have until 11:59 on Friday, January 7th, 2011.

Good luck everyone!

You can see the previous giveaways and results here.

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By | Friday, December 31, 2010 | 1:59 pm | 4 Comments | Blog > Database Updates

This might not seem like a big deal, but I finally got the image headers working properly.

Basically, I need an image there to be of the character/creator/series/edition/etc IF there is an image file in the specified folder.

If not, I wanted it to “fail gracefully” by using some kind of filler image. I couldn’t figure out a way to do it that worked for every browser until today.

With a nudge in the right direction from the wordpress subreddit, I finally got this code (or versions of it for tags and categories) working:

<?php
if ( is_tax(‘marvel-character’) ) {
$image_url=”http://www.tradereadingorder.com/default-images/marvel.jpg”;
$term = get_term_by( ‘slug’, get_query_var( ‘term’ ), get_query_var( ‘taxonomy’ ) );
$image_path =”ABSOLUTE/SERVER/PATH” .$term->slug.”.jpg”;
if ( file_exists($image_path) ) {
$image_url = “http://www.tradereadingorder.com/marvel-character-image/” .$term->slug.”.jpg”;
}
echo ‘<img src=”‘ . $image_url. ‘”>’;
}
?>

Sweet, huh? Took a few hours of tweaking to finally get it right, with some misplaced punctuation and figuring out the root path thing (originally I was just trying the regular path, but that doesn’t work for file_exists.) Also, I was first told about the function as “file_exist” – missing that all important “s” at the end!

While getting it implemented for each taxonomy and testing the results, I found that the novel-series one isn’t working for some reason. I’ve sought after help to figure this out. The code is exactly the same for this taxonomy as every other one, so I don’t know why it isn’t working. Anyway, we’ll figure it out sooner or later – or I’ll just make a new taxonomy that does work. WordPress is awful quirky sometimes.

Edit: There’s still something wrong with the novel-series category slug, but again the wordpress subreddit to the rescue. We’re setting a custom rewrite for that one taxonomy, so it displays as a somewhat cumbersome novel–series, but at least it works. I have no idea why the original doesn’t, but maybe it could be fixed in the future. Let me know if you see anything else that’s broken.

Here are the new header images:

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By | Friday, December 31, 2010 | 11:20 am | 19 Comments | Blog > Reviews
Find This Book At:
Amazon (Softcover)
Half.com (Softcover)
Ebay (Search by Title)
Ebay (ISBN/Softcover)
View our database entry
Includes Issues: Graphic Novel Adaptation of From the Barrio to the Board Room
Issue Dates: August 2010
Creators:
, ,

This post contains detailed plot discussion, but spoilers won’t hurt your enjoyment of this book.
Skip To The Verdict? »

Comics can be many things. On this website, we often focus on the fantastical. Superheroes, Secret Agents and the Supernatural. Adventure stories and the odd apocalypse.

I find value in such things – I’m a dreamer (often, in my childhood, a daydreamer), someone who likes to find life lessons in fictional stories. But not everything needs to be out of this world.

In fact, it often seems that most people are deeply affected by stories that are down to earth, close to home. Mi Barrio is such a story.

As one of the books in SmarterComics new line of educational and inspirational titles, it’s an adaptation of From The Barrio to the Board Room by Robert Renteria and Corey Michael Blake.

With my head between the brightly colored pages of my comic archives, I can’t say I noticed the original release, but it seems to be a book that’s inspired many. This comic reworks some of the story into an 80 page graphic novel.

Blake, who is also devoted to publishing and promoting the book, worked with artist Shane Clester to bring it to a graphic format. Though it is an adaptation, Renteria’s voice persists. Together this team tells his life story in a way that is simple, direct, and moving.

Robert Renteria, like so many in this country, came from a background of poverty and ignorance. His peers valued short sighted gains over education and long term goals. In specific, he came from the lower class, primarily Hispanic neighborhoods of East LA.

This book tells how he came through gang membership and flashy lifestyles and found success in the business world. As a book with an inspirational focus, the message is one of persistence and hard work. In fact, that’s Renteria’s two word motto, which he imparts to a young man near the end – Hard. Work.

Of course, real life is much more complicated than this short explanation. And any memoir will have its fair share of omission and exaggeration – such is the way of human beings and storytelling.

But while the book is fairly straightforward with an obviously streamlined message, there are still slight twists and honest admissions.

It’s acknowledged, for example, that Renteria owes much to his family and it would have been much harder for him to break from a downward spiral if he wasn’t able to move in with his Aunt and Uncle in a better neighborhood – seeing their more comfortable lifestyle inspired him. He also had parents who, however poor, still valued his personal appearance and work ethic and encouraged him to aspire to great heights.

And once he had a measure of success – in well off positions for several companies – he realized that the salesmen near him were still living badly, drinking and partying in ways that reminded him much of the friends he had previously distanced himself from.

This was satisfying to me, because just a couple pages earlier I was wondering – is that it? That’s the goal? A nice car and comfortable salary?

He does seem to have a thing about cars, mentioning them at least three times. In his flashy youth, buying one for his mother, and later when the young man he briefly mentors notices his nice ride.

It’s a little odd to see this attention when there is no mention at all of a significant other or developing his own family, something of a major life goal for myself. But Renteria brings it back home – mentioning his love of family, his desire to teach and inspire.

Certainly being an author and giving lectures is impressive, but it’s not something he does for money (devoting all his time to business would get him that easier.)

Through the story, which could risk feeling preachy or obvious, Shane Clester lends a personal feel with his artwork. Produced in black and white with grayscale toning, the book avoids a corporate feel itself. I was surprised, in fact, at how warm and human the drawings are. My major fear, upon hearing about the SmarterComics series, with their decidedly business like branding, was that they would be more akin to airplane safety instructions than lovingly crafted graphic novels.

But Clester‘s art is closest to indie journal style comics. with an emphasis on eyes, heads, facial expressions. His figures sometimes have anatomy that’s a bit strange, but I felt this made the work feel even more personal instead of distracting.

There’s a bit of stiffness, but the comic isn’t really about action anyway – Clester does a fine job keeping the eye moving between frames, making for a very readable book.

The art, like the story, is simple. This could be construed as a negative, but I don’t mean it that way.

I try to judge works on their success at accomplishing their goals – does this book do what it wants to do? Is it good at being this book? I wouldn’t judge Mi Barrio by the same standards as I would the latest Superman comic or art school experiment.

Mi Barrio is a book crafted lovingly with a specific audience in mind: disenfranchised children and undereducated people with a desire to make more from their life. Sometimes it takes a little push to get people moving, especially in a society where the average person doesn’t read a single book in a year. Releasing a story like this in comic form is an excellent idea.

It’s important that this book is straightforward and simple. Studies have shown that comics help encourage literacy among children. And literacy is a key factor in success in life, with direct correlation to income levels.

Mi Barrio hopes to be a gateway, a doorway to both the world of  comics and into one person’s success story.

It won’t inspire everyone (and sometimes a jaded critic like myself needs to step back and consider his own questioning) but it stands a good chance of helping those who need it most.

Side Note:
This print release of Mi Barrio was delivered to me with a 14.95 MSRP on the back. It’s a little oversized, but I feel that’s still a high price for an 80 page book – especially considering that the people who should read it most are the ones least likely to have that money to drop on a comic. But it’s well worth that price for inclusion in libraries, especially school libraries.

But I wanted to point out (and hence this note) that SmarterComics has made this particular release available for free in ebook form on their website! This is a great idea and I think it is their intention, if the history of the original novel holds true, to get physical copies into the right hands, MSRP aside.

Verdict:
4.5 out of 5. This book is a great example of how comics can be used for a purpose other than just entertainment.

I’m not sure the book will actually make you smarter (how do we measure such things?) but I can tell you that it’s had me thinking a lot over the past couple days.

It may not impress some Sequential Art and Graphic Novel aficionados, but in the right hands Mi Barrio will be a very powerful tool for the betterment of the next generation.

Essential Continuity:
This book is self contained.

Read first:
No prior reading required.

Read next:
It might inspire you to read the original novel, From the Barrio to the Board Room, which is, of course, also available in a Spanish adaption.

I’ll also be reviewing some more of SmarterComics upcoming releases soon.

If this has whetted your appetite and you’d like to check out some more memoir/journal style comics, Maus, a story of a holocaust survivor, is of course the standard that everything in this genre is measured against.

I also think Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel, is well worth reading.

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