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By | Sunday, December 12, 2010 | 1:37 pm | 21 Comments | Blog > Reviews
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Includes Issues: The Winter Men 1-5; The Winter Men Winter Special 1
Issue Dates: September 2005 – November 2006, February 2009
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This review is spoiler free! Skip To The Verdict? »

“I’m going to tell you some things I never thought I’d tell an American… there were things that were larger than life once… there were super-men…”

Thus begins the story of Kalenov, an ex-soldier from the elite rocket troops, now working in Moscow as a enforcer for hire after the end of the Cold War.

He is a man with a past filled with pain which has left him drunken and just one step away from the road of no return.

He can at least be glad that his past is firmly behind him now. Or so it would appear.

When a girl is kidnapped, Kalenov thinks all is not what it seems. He is drawn back towards his past, with the how and why escaping him.

Enlisting the help of a couple of old friends he sets about unraveling the mystery of this girl. What is so special about her?

The Winter Men was originally pitched as an 8 issue Vertigo series and then later dropped to 6 issues when it was swapped to Wildstorm.

As with a lot of comics, the publishing problems didn’t end there either – there was a gap of over two years between 5th and 6th installments. In the end the sixth (and final) issue was published as an oversized 40 page special.

The book is written by Brett Lewis (Bulletproof Monk) and illustrated by John Paul Leon (Earth X), both of which I was completely unfamiliar with before purchasing this trade.

I read reviews comparing the artwork to Mazzucchelli’s work in Batman: Year One, and stating that this is the book Red Son wishes it was. I am always a bit skeptical of reviews making such claims, but I can say that both of these comparisons were spot on.

Lewis’s writing does indeed make you feel like you now understand Russia and what it would be like to live there; even the McDonalds in the book screamed this is how we do things in Russia.

Furthermore, the dialogue in the book is top notch. I struggle to think of a time when I have read such well crafted dialogue from a writer new to me.

The caption boxes are well placed, giving a certain rhythm to the whole book, making it more enjoyable to read. The plot is written with an almost effortless style that draws you into the story even more as you keep reading, helped along by the natural rhythm. I found myself quite annoyed that is was only around 170 pages in length, as I didn’t want to stop reading it.

My one criticism with the writing is that the last chapter (in issue 6) didn’t contain the same rhythm of the writing as the first 5 chapters, most likely to ensure the story was properly concluded in the final issue.

To quote Kalenov, here introducing the final chapter, ”My little friends, I thought I would have more time to tell you how things ended up, but perhaps for now I will just tell you the good parts…”

Indeed he does. The final chapter is still written to an excellent standard. It just lacks the previous rhythm.

Moving onto to Leon’s artwork now; I mentioned earlier that is similar to Mazzucchelli’s work. The most noticeable difference is that this book is a little more colourful.

The colours are still a bit more limited than the colours in most other modern comics, so like Year One, The Winter Men gives that feeling of the dirty underbelly side of life .

The characters are all drawn with skill such that you learn about them without panels wasted in explanation. An example of this is that Kalenov is always looking ragged, with a plaster on his cheek; instantly the reader knows he is living a rough life.

Add that to the bottle of vodka in his hand and the military uniform he is wearing, you suddenly have a very good idea about his nature.

The backgrounds are also excellent and varying in style throughout the trade. In Russian streets the palette tends to be grey, very bleak and basic. It helps to enforce the mood of the difficult times in this nation.

In other locations this is not the case. The background in New York, with the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance, is still detailed but has colour, perhaps hope. The same can be said of a factory, with many giant machines all elaborately rendered behind the characters.

Even though most of my collection consists of ongoing titles, I have always had a soft spot for stand alone books. You can enjoy them without having to commit to buy more than one volume.

The story is so full of half appearances from characters, each with lives of their own just as interesting as Kalenov’s, that it is hard to believe this book is self contained.

This is probably due to being acclimated to the DCU where every half-decent character gets their own mini-series as a minimum. Unfortunately this isn’t the case but the door is open for Lewis to write more in this universe.

I for one hope that happens.

Five Stars.

This is one of the most often read trades out of my 1000+ titles and it has made its way onto the top shelf of my collection, which is only reserved for my very favourite books.

Essential Continuity:
It is a stand alone book so it doesn’t have any continuity to speak of.

Read first:
Again as a stand alone book it is best to get straight into it.

Read next:
A similar title to this book is Wildstorm’s The Programme, by Peter Milligan.  I stress that it’s similar but not in the same class.

Others may feel like reading Lewis’s other major work Bulletproof Monk.

While reading The Winter Men again today, I asked myself what fans would this book appeal to? It took me a long time to figure it out where I had come across this style of story telling before: Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. So for all you Hellboy fans out there give this a shot. It can be found for around $10 and is a stand alone title (for now?)

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By | Saturday, December 11, 2010 | 8:27 am | 22 Comments | Blog > Reviews
Find This Book At:
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Includes Issues: Original Graphic Novel  / Prestige
Issue Dates: December 1991
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This review contains spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

I’ll be honest. I pulled this one off the shelf looking for something to pan. I’ve been so positive in my reviews lately and thought that an early nineties prestige (with four page spread fold out cover) starring Ghost Rider, Wolverine, and Punisher would be pretty terrible.

Hearts Of Darkness! C’mon!

But damnit, I kind of liked it.

The story was silly, but also self aware in some interesting ways. I haven’t read much by Howard Mackie, though, so I didn’t know what to expect. John Romita Jr., though, is a legend.

One of the things that threw me is that there was absolutely no indication of who was working on this book on the outside or in the front, and I finally found it on the last page after reading the whole thing. (I did notice JRJR’s signature on the front later.)

This book is so short and I don’t think the plot is going to be a factor in a purchasing decision for most people, so I’m not going to worry about spoilers.

Blackheart, a weird oily porcupine type dude, is summoned on some hilltop (and of course immediately kills all the worshipers.) He’s the Son of Mephisto (Marvel’s Satan) and he hates his dad.

While ranting to himself, he decides he can show that he’s better than his father by corrupting some people. Don’t worry about the logic.

He’s smarter than his dad (he thinks) so he’s going to go for those new heroes – the ones that operate in a gray area. Their willingness to kill and walk “the edge” will make them easier to corrupt.

Hence he gets Wolverine, Ghost Rider and The Punisher to come to this small town and tries to convince them to help him kill Mephisto. They  say no, he kidnaps a little innocent girl, they fight, yada yada yada.

It’s pretty predictable. They’re tempted by visions of what they truly desire. They all say no.

The dialogue is often terrible, with boring, longwinded, and sometimes confusing speeches by the villain, along with weird statements from our heroes (Punisher is especially bad, acting like he thinks Blackheart is a hologram and spewing lines like “Until phonies like you shut up!” that just don’t seem particularly dark or edgy.)

Plus the bad guy seems to have some pretty awesome powers and somehow gets put down by a hail of bullets? Budda Budda Poom Poom!

But while the book had me rolling my eyes at times, I still thought the characterization was right and enjoyed the premise. It’s a bit metafictional, letting the “darker” heroes themselves talk about the “gritty” era of marvel comics. I enjoyed that aspect.

Part of me can’t help it. I grew up with these guys. I was the target demographic for all this craziness. This book does a nice job of bringing me back to that era, without being as bad as the worst of it.

As far as continuity goes, Hearts of Darkness leans the heaviest on Ghost Rider, who is really the main character. It’s Dan Ketch on the bike here and he seems relatively new at it. But while it seems there are a couple of important moments here for him (self discovery, interaction with Mephisto), the story doesn’t rely much on previous knowledge.

Likewise, I don’t know much about Blackheart, it doesn’t seem necessary. He’d only been around a couple of years at this point and introduces himself pretty well.

Wolverine and Punisher just do their thing – doesn’t matter where this fits in continuity for those two.

What really brought this book up a notch was the art. Instant flashbacks. Childlike joy.

Romita, Jr in the early 90s. Great stuff!

Sure, the little girl and her mother sometimes look like retarded muppets, but our heroes look excellent.

I love the way Romita draws Ketch’s two day stubble or Logan’s bristly arm hair. Top notch chins and noses all around.

Ghost Rider’s skull is always amusing, extremely expressive for bare bone. Similarly, Blackheart shows a fair amount of emotional versatility for a face that seems to be a black maw.

The action carries explosive energy, whether its delivered by claws, guns, or Ghost Rider’s (kind of awkward by definition) chains. Massive hordes of little demons and bubbly pink skin melting off Ghost Rider.

My favorite scene is a brief push through a thorn patch (shown above) that sees Wolverine and Punisher rendered under intense marks vaguely reminiscent of Braque’s cubism.

Not to talk it up too much. The art was supposed to be fun, exciting to young readers. I think it still is.

So, this book. Right in the midst of all the crap pouring off the presses in the “dark age” of comics, a book about the edgier heroes at Marvel.

In the end, it’s not about more senseless violence for amusement. Neither is it a deep comic or one written for those with a high reading level.

It’s aware at least, with a little point.

I’m not sure it’s the right one, but for kids suddenly surrounded by heroes with questionable morals, it was probably worth addressing.

At the very least, it’s nice to have a book to point to – “This is what the early 90s was like. This is what comics were about when I was a kid.”

And look, I did my best to put the four page cover spread together for you, which is what took this review so darn long. You’ll may have to open it in a new tab to see the full size.

3 out of 5. A silly plot with a boring villain. But some enjoyable reflections on the comics of the time along with a lot of fun art.

A must for anyone who collects Romita Jr work. Good for someone interested in Marvel during the 90s.

Essential Continuity:
Not really essential unless you’re a collector. Possibly important for fans of the Dan Ketch Ghost Rider.

Read first:
Some familiarity with the main three characters would probably help you enjoy this.

Read next:
I haven’t read any Ghost Rider since I was a kid, and without the Marvel list up, I’m not sure where to go next for him.

For Wolverine, I always like to recommend the Wolverine Classic books. They took place around this era.

For Punisher, I’d go later. Garth Ennis had a long fan-favorite run on Punisher and Punisher MAX. The Omnibus is a great place to start if you can find it.

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By | Friday, December 10, 2010 | 11:59 pm | 36 Comments | Blog > Giveaways

Update: This giveaway is now closed and the winner is being notified. 

Update 2: The winner has been announced!

Here’s the weekly giveaway!

The Flash: Blood Will Run giveaway is over and a winner will be announced soon.

Right now I’ve got something that might interest collectors.

Even though we’ve seen a new run of Justice League International trades, there were a couple printed previously.

This one is Justice League International: The Secret Gospel of Maxwell Lord. It’s a first printing from 1992, in nice shape with a tight binding.

Along with an introduction by Andy Helfer, it collects Justice League America (1987-1996) Annual #1 and Justice League America (1987-1996) #8-12,  written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis with art by Kevin Maguire, Bill Willingham, and Al Goron (and a bunch of other inkers.)

If you haven’t had a chance to check out any JLI yet, I highly recommended it. It’s my favorite thing that Giffen has worked on and features some very humorous interactions.

The roster here is excellent and this particular book includes the first major arc to focus on Maxwell Lord (who long time fans know plays a variety of interesting roles in DC continuity.)

The Rundown:

(1) JLI trade paperback: Justice League International: The Secret Gospel of Maxwell Lord

(1) Winner – Randomly selected from the comments on this post. You must be registered and logged in when you comment to be eligible. You must also be in the continental USA.

Deadline – You have until 11:59 on Friday, December 17th, 2010. The winner will be contacted that night or early the next morning, and the announcement will be made as soon as they are confirmed.

Good luck everyone!

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By | Friday, December 10, 2010 | 8:07 am | 19 Comments | Blog > Reviews
Find This Book At:
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Includes Issues: Superman: Red Son (Prestige) 1-3
Issue Dates: August – October 2003
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This review contains spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

This text was originally posted by Marc at With Great Power and is reposted here with new images.
Check out With Great Power for more of his reviews!

This is Marc’s first review for TRO and our 50th! Milestone!

What if Superman’s rocket had landed on a farm in the Ukraine rather than one in Smallville, Kansas?

What if he had been raised not in the spirit of “truth, justice, and the American way,” but had been molded instead into the poster child of communist Russia?

These are the questions writer Mark Millar seeks to answer in Superman: Red Son, and with the help of artists Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett, he pulls it off tremendously.

Millar’s first success in this book is that he doesn’t take the story in the direction you would probably expect based on the premise alone.

This isn’t some super-patriotic, down-with-communism propaganda piece in the vein of Red Dawn or any of its brainless ilk.

Instead, Millar uses Superman’s eventual role as leader of the Soviet Union as a platform from which to explore an even more basic question than the ones that opened this review: what would Superman do if he ruled the world?

Tying into that question, of course, is the issue of whether or not Superman should rule the world – something the character struggles with throughout the book.

He’s not a villain, at least not in his own view and not from the story’s perspective.

In fact, he initially has the same unselfish, non-political goals that Superman does in the main DC universe.

In his mission to achieve world peace, though, he becomes what amounts to a world dictator, even going so far as to have his dissenters essentially lobotomized.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as the saying goes, and that’s certainly where the world has gone by the end of the book.

The main character’s role as authoritarian leader results in some interesting inversions of classic DC concepts.

In the world of Red Son, Lois Lane is married to Lex Luthor (brilliant inventor and, later, president of the United States), Hal Jordan wields his Green Lantern ring as a military weapon, and Batman is a terrorist trying to subvert Superman’s regime.

The evolution of Luthor’s character is particularly interesting, and it begs the question: what kind of man could he have been in this reality if not for Superman’s existence?

The fact that there are significant differences from regular DC continuity doesn’t come as a huge surprise, in and of itself.

Many of DC’s Elseworlds (alternate universe) stories focus almost solely on how they differentiate themselves from the main universe, relying on the “clever” ways they shuffle around basic concepts to entertain readers. (Sarcastic example: wow, Robin is a woman in such-and-such reality? How original!)

Admittedly, there’s a bit of that in Red Son – in one scene depicting a Daily Planet office party, for example, we’re treated to some embarrassingly “hey kids, look at me!” appearances by Oliver Queen and Iris Allen.

Millar keeps those kinds of moments to a minimum for the most part, though, and his focus is less on making a spectacle of the tweaks he’s made to ordinary continuity than it is on giving his universe the room to live and breathe in its own right.

Luthor’s determination to destroy Superman, for instance, is developed in an entirely believable way that makes the character distinct from the main universe’s Luthor. Most importantly, his motivations make sense without relying on the reader’s preconceptions about the character simply being “evil.”

But as good as the main story is in Red Son, the book’s ending is what really blew me out of the water. To compare the book (once more) to the vast majority of Elseworlds titles, this one doesn’t simply pack up and go home once it’s used up all its tricks, leaving us to wonder what happens to the characters after the story ends.

Instead, Millar closes with one of the most intelligent and self-reflexive surprises I’ve ever seen at the end of a superhero comic, one that’s sure to bring a wide smile to new and long-time readers of Superman alike.

The art in this book is quite good, and the best way I can think of to describe it is as a mash-up of sorts between Paco Medina and early Leinil Yu. Penciling duties are handed over about halfway through the book from Johnson to Plunkett, neither of whom I was familiar with prior to reading this book.

I’m not sure of the specific reasons for the change, although some handwritten comments on one of the bonus sketch pages at the end of the book lead me to believe that it has something to do with Johnson being a fairly slow artist.

It isn’t a detriment to the book, though; in fact, the shift is so seamless that if you weren’t paying attention, you might not even notice.

As far as purchasing Red Son (which I heartily recommend doing) goes, the Deluxe Edition is in my opinion the best way to go.

The book is of a decent size – it’s three issues long, but each prestige issue is about twice the length of a standard comic book – and, as I mentioned earlier, it has a few pages of sketches and concept designs at the end, including several by Alex Ross.

It’s a pretty nice package, overall, which is only befitting of one of the best Superman stories, alternate universe or not, published in the last ten years.

4.5 out of 5. This is probably the best alternate-universe Superman story I’ve ever read, next to All-Star Superman.

Essential Continuity:
Being an Elseworlds title, this book takes place outside of normal DC continuity.

That being said, this version of Superman apparently does get mixed up in events in the main DC universe later, so it’s not completely non-essential, I suppose.

Read first:
Simply being familiar with the general concept of Superman is all the background you need to enjoy Red Son.

If you’d like to read a more traditional version of the character’s origin first, I would highly recommend the one presented in Superman: Birthright; it’s not exactly in current continuity, but it captures the essence of Superman quite well. As I mentioned, though, you don’t need to be able to identify the differences between this story and the main DC universe in order to enjoy the book.

Read next:
If you’re looking for more excellently-written, alternate-universe Superman stories released in the last decade, All-Star Superman is the way to go. The series has been collected in two volumes (paperback or hardcover, your pick), and an Absolute Edition is on the way.

As for the Russian Superman, his next appearances after this book are in Superman/Batman Vol. 4: Vengeance and then Infinite Crisis.

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By | Thursday, December 9, 2010 | 8:34 pm | 3 Comments | Blog > Interviews

NPR has put up an excellent chat with legendary creator Neil Gaiman. In it he voices his opinions on the possibility of many “Golden Ages” (including that classic line about the Golden Age being when you are twelve. Anyone know the roots of that thought? I’ve heard it a few times before.)

Coming from a bit of a journalism/publication background myself, I really enjoyed him talking about his early days as a journalist, and his attempts to do a story on the comic phenomena happening in the 80s.

“I interviewed everybody. I got unpublished art. It was going to be the first big and important piece on what was going on back then,” Gaiman says. But when he submitted the piece, he waited … and waited … and “heard absolutely nothing.”

Another editor told Gaiman that one comics-related story per year was enough for the newspaper. “You are not getting it,” Gaiman recalls thinking. “There is such big and important stuff happening.”

You can listen to the piece here:

Or view the article in its original context over at

Give it a shot – the man’s got a voice like a cup of black forest tea with a hint of milk.

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