Sunday, August 26, 2018

Ninjago: The Dark Island Trilogy and More!

Review: Ninjago: The Dark Island Trilogy, written by Greg Farshtey and illustrated by Paul Lee

Story 4/5 stars
Recommended age: 3 and up

I had no idea Lego Ninjago even existed until I had a kid. I was vaguely aware that the Lego stuff was way cooler than when I was younger (Batman space shuttle, enough said) but I didn’t know much about the stories the Lego company owned. I’ve now be immersed in the Lego movie world, Ninjago, and Next Knights. Ninjago is by far my favorite. The TV show is surprisingly well done with compelling storylines. I mean this show has not only grown and changed over time (the characters grow up, they have dynamic relationships, the writers are not afraid to seriously shake up the status quo…) but the plots have been fantastic. 

The original storyline (basic chosen one type story) was okay but the following plot when one of the main characters sacrificed himself to save his friends was very well done and fairly deep for a kid-oriented show. The current episodes have managed to take what could be a very dark theme (one of the main characters is systematically broken down and made to think he has lost most everything but he finds a way to keep fighting and is now running an underground resistance) and still make the show completely appropriate for a 5 year old. On top of all of this the show has changed with the times. Nya, the main girl character, went from being a side character to a pretty cool self-made hero, to a full member of the ninja team. While Lego hasn’t completely succeeded in integrating solid female characters in their shows they have made a strong effort and continue to improve.

Now don’t confuse this with the Ninjago movie from last year. While cute it is a very different story and universe than the main Ninjago stuff and I just consider it an elseworld of sorts.

So, what does this have to do with comic books? Ninjago is one of the only Lego stories that also has a comic book version. The graphic novels follow the same timeline as the TV show but usually have side stories that there wasn’t time to tell during the course of the TV season. They are all written by Greg Farshtey (the artists vary) and generally they are so-so in quality as the author is constrained to mini stories that could easily have taken place in the same timeline as the show. My son adores them and they are hands down his favorite comic books because he knows enough of the context of the story that he can generally tell what is going on even though they are mostly above his reading level at the moment. I’m genuinely sad that they haven’t put out new graphic novels for 3 seasons.

The books I am reviewing today are the only stand-alone Ninjago comic book material. The Dark Island Trilogy was written to take place right after season 6 of the TV show and before the TV special: Day of the Departed.

First, the good.

The Dark Island Trilogy story is okay but it too broken up into odd segments to really come together. The start to the story was strong with two of the characters investigating a mystery that leads them to the Dark Island (a location from the early days of Ninjago that definitely deserved further exploration). The characters come under attack from an unknown group and just manage to leave a message for the ninja to find warning them to stay away. Of course, they don’t, and that’s how the ninja and Sensei Wu end up on the Dark Island.

The strong points of the story have to do with the characters struggling against their own demons and it was interesting to read about overcoming inner weakness. This is a good talking point with my son as well and we always discuss the first rule of being a ninja: ninja never quit.

The final battle of the book was laid out well, especially giving a chance for Master Wu to shine a bit more as the ninja’s teacher is often shunted to the side of the story.

The art was nice here as well. Occasionally Lego hires artists who are less experienced and it was nice to see they kept the same solid artist for the entire trilogy.

Now the bad

The big reveal of the big bad guy and his plot to “take over the world” falls a bit flat. Honestly how many bad people out there actually want to rule the entire world? It is a bit silly.

My son and I both liked reading a brand new Ninjago story but it was annoying to have the main plotline constantly interrupted by journal entries written by “Sensei Wu”. They were somewhat insightful but did not hold my son’s interest as he just wanted to know what happened next. If they had been less disruptive to the flow of the plot it would have been more interesting.

Finally, there seemed to be a lot of buildup going into finding out what happened to a missing character (Kai, my son’s favorite ninja) but when you finally get to his story it was disappointing and no where near as involved as the other characters’ struggles on the island.

Bottom line: B+

          Overall, entertaining for Ninjago fans but it is not what I’d use to introduce anyone to the franchise. Also, it can be expensive to get ahold of as it is out of print and Lego never published it in a different format from the original hardcovers. Still, my son got a big kick out of it so I don’t have any regrets from spending the time to hunt down less expensive copies.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Books you missed... Jughead Vol 1

Have you ever noticed that people have a default comic book genre?  I'm convinced that people, when they want a good read, naturally gravitate towards one specific genre.  For example, Jim loves crime noir, Matthew loves nostalgia and has a soft spot for every book from the 80s, and Thomm just love confrontation.  I meant, a spirited discussion about people's inability to use gramar correctly.

My default comic genre is always humor.  From Carl Barks Ducks to Groo to Squirrel Girl, if a comic has a good joke there's a chance I've read it.  EXCEPT for Archie books.  For some reason, I've never been an Archie fan.  But, when Archie relaunched their entire line a couple of years ago I knew I had to give it a try!  Which is why.... this week, I want to talk about Jughead Vol 1 tpb collecting issues 1-6, written by Chip Zdarsky with art by Erica Henderson.

Don't worry if you've never read a Jughead comic, the first issue quickly set the stage by introducing all the main characters and the plot.  Riverdale H.S. has a new principal and according to Jughead he's turning everyone's favorite high school into a training school for spies!  Or is Jughead just dreaming it and if it's true, how will Jughead avoid detention?

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Batman #53 by Tom King and Lee Weeks -- A Review

With the third chapter of their third Batman story together, Tom King and Lee Weeks have unequivocally established themselves as one of the greatest Batman creative teams.  Top 10, Top 20, Top 40?  It doesn't matter what their rank is, because that would be debatable; the fact remains that the achievement has been reached (if it hadn't been already with just the Elmer Fudd story).  I will layout my case to support this bold claim below (after the break) in my SPOILER-FILLED Review: 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

There's still time to SUPPORT The Middle Age HC Collection Kickstarter Project

I've been following Steve Conley's The Middle Age award-nominating, weekly web-comic since the beginning.  Following and backing as a monthly Patreon supporter.  This community of fans help fund Steve to find the time to produce the best series work of his career!  If he gets more supporters then he'll be able to do two strips a week, rather than just one. It takes time to create those detailed images with the lavish colors and funny/punny jokes.  Steve usually provides current status updates and bonus features for his supporters too.

Early this year, Steve launched a super successful Kickstarter button campaign. I proudly wear the King Waddlebottom one on my jean jacket (seen above), along with two ApologetiX pins. ApologetiX, the Christian parody-band just released an awesome new single (She's Got Cooties/Dumb Questions) that I've listened to over 45 times this week at work (I just didn't get tired of it).  Now, Steve is in the midst of another Kickstarter campaign to compile his first few chapters into a glorious larger-sized hardcover (for all our middle-age eyes).  There are also a ton of cool stretch goals unlocking as we speak.  For one we're going to get a Waddlebottom solo story (and if enough people pitch in, we'll get a printed copy).

So please check it out here:

Hey, and if you just want to enjoy the series for FREE you can always do that too.  Just follow Steve on Facebook.

And although Thom Zahler's Kickstarter collection for his (SHOULD have been award-nominating [I nominated it for a Ringo]) web-comic: Warning Label is over. I posted about it a few months back.  You can now order the book directly from his store.

See after the break for Steve's inks over a Godzilla pencilled commission the late-Herb Trimpe drew for me:

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Volume 18 -- A Review

Wow, I just finished the 18th Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume and in record time.  Perhaps, I consumed it a tad too fast, but I've got to ride this FF interest wave for as long as I can.  You know, before something else comes up and takes its place.  Pity my poor stacks of unread new comics; they just can't compete.  While it wasn't quite the masterpiece volume 17 was, which I posted about this past Sunday, it was still good and contains some classic moments in FF history.

This volume covers Fantastic Four issues #192 thru #203 and also includes the 12th and 13th annuals from 1977 and 1978, respectively.  A brief (maybe) recap follows (after the break):

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Volume 17 -- A Review and Celebration

This past Wednesday, 2018 August 09, marked the 57th anniversary of Fantastic Four #1 hitting the stands.  To celebrate, Marvel, after a publishing hiatus of the series, released the much anticipated Fantastic Four #1 (2018).  While I won't go into the details here (since Jim's copy probably isn't in the mail yet and it's not the focus of this post), I liked it and the ending of the first story actually left me slightly verklempt.  Plus, Scottie Young's Impossible Man one-page feature was really nice to see too (for reasons soon to be revealed).

You see, the new relaunch already had a positive effect on me since it influenced what I took to read on my second week of Summer Vacation: Marvel Masterworks (MMW) Fantastic Four Volume 17, which covers issues #176 thru #191.  And I actually had time to read the entire thing while staying at my Aunt's (formerly my Grandmother's) house in Kansas that has been in the family over 65 years.  Of all the Fantastic Four tales I could have picked, why might you ask, did I pick this collection?  Simple, it contains my first issues from 1977 and includes some stellar storytelling by Roy Thomas, the late great Len Wein and George Perez with Joe Sinnott among others.  Find out more after the break...

Sunday, August 05, 2018


And taking a sharp turn from two weeks ago's kid friendly recommendation I’m recommending two limited run books that are very adult. One is just beginning it’s run while the other has just finished.


Mirka Andolfo’s Unnatural, published by Image, is just starting its twelve issue run. That makes it new to readers of English, but it was originally published in Italian in 2016 and has been published in several other languages since. But I am an American and suck at other languages, so it’s new to me. Chances are it’s new to you, too.


Unnatural #1 Cover A Regular Mirka Andolfo Cover (Limit 1 Per Customer)

Unnatural features rather sexy anthropomorphic animals that have had some reviewers and interviewers compare it to the wonderful and explicit Omaha the Cat Dancer by Reed Waller and Kate Worley. Andolfo doesn’t think the comparison holds beyond the sexy and anthropomorphism, and so far I tend to agree.


Leslie is a literal pig and the lead. Where sex between species was common and inconsequential in Omaha, it’s forbidden in Unnatural. After one issue we don’t know why, but in this world there are two great sins. One is sex outside of your species. The other is same sex relationships. Both interfere with the government mandate for procreation of the many species.


Leslie has two big problems in this life. She’s fantasizing in detail, and with increasing frequency, about sex with a wolf. She’s also just turned twenty-five and is unmarried. The former she can keep to herself, though she has shared with her roommate, but the latter means the government can now pick a spouse from within her species for her. And that’s where the first issue ends.


The book has the always reliable hook of sex, but like Omaha, there’s a lot below that surface. It’s a story about race, sexism, homophobia, and fascism disguised as religiously sanctioned truths. In other words, perfect for our time in America. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.

Just ended is the five issue run of Mat Johnson’s and Warren Pleece’s Incognegro: Renaissance, published by Dark Horse under its Berger Books line. This is a prequel to their Incognegro graphic novel that saw Zane Pinchback, reporter for the The New Holland Herald, pass as white in the Jim Crow South to write about lynching.



This story takes us back to Zane as a cub reporter, broom closet for an office and all, who pushes to pursue the story of the death of an up and coming black writer at a party celebrating the publication of a once great white writer’s first book in many years, with the assistance of the now dead young writer. As you might surmise, this one is set in the Harlem Renaissance.


Issues of race are forefront, of course, but homophobia, sexism, police corruption, and corporate malfeasance appear as well. We learn how Zane learned to pass in the later story. We learn about the presumptions of white supremacy and white privilege. We learn how often those are willing to briefly turn a friendly face to others as long as others serve them but will abandon them, not in a pinch (heh) but as soon as it’s convenient.


These are two very different books, but they effectively and entertainingly delve into the never ending issues that keep America from greatness, have always kept America from greatness, and now threaten to drown America in mediocrity at best, and perennial poverty of empathy and economics more likely.