Monday, October 22, 2007

Ex Machina #31 reviewed elsewhere

I have not yet received my copy of Ex Machina #31, in which Mayor Mitchell Hundred meets the Pope. But Don McPherson has, and he reviews it at Eye on Comics:
Really, this story arc is about the fundamental differences between the secular and spiritual worlds and how they hide common ground. Serving as a symbol of that approach to the storytelling is the story arc’s title — “Ex Cathedra” — which is a religious play on the title of this series; it’s different but similar.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Muslim superheroes: The 99

NPR's Studio 360 covers The 99, a comic about 99 heroes who each embody one of the 99 attributes of God (AKA Asma’ Allah al-Ḥusná, or the 99 most beautiful names of God). Conceived by Naif Al-Mutawa, founder of Teshkeel Comics, The 99 is written by Fabian Nicieza and illustrated by John McCrea and James Hodgkins. A preview issue (and a long one, 68 pages) is available as a free PDF here.
Hear Studio 360's coverage here.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Battle Girlz Reviewed

Speaking of women and how they're portrayed in comics, I have posted a review of Battle Girlz by Rod Espinosa over at The Sci Fi Catholic.

The Battle Girls are a walking collection of comic book clichés, and Espinosa apparently doesn't care if you know it. They are Mech Girl, a mecha pilot with a troubled past; Mighty Girl, a super-strong girl expelled from school for thrashing bullies; Temptress, a femme fatale with the power to make men do anything she wants; Priestess, a half-elf who casts magic and wields a mace; and Gadgeteer, a genius inventor who holds 65,987 patents and spends the battles sitting in a control room from which she babysits Mech Girl. Leading them all is the enigmatic and creepy Saintly Perfect Goddess, of whom Temptress says, "She's so gorgeous...even I'm in love with her!" (p. 49). And when the Battle Girls aren't defeating evildoers or saving the universe, they're usually eating ice cream or shopping at the mall. [more...]

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Warrior Nun Areala

The Sci Fi Catholic peeks into the seamy world of Catholixploitation comics.

Warrior Nun Areala Color Manga #1, written and illustrated by Ben Dunn. Antarctic Press (San Antonio): 2005. ISBN: 1-932453-82-2. $9.99

Ben Dunn is known in some circles as the "godfather" of American manga, mainly for founding Antarctic Press and for creating Ninja High School. His artwork is impressive and sometimes innovative, and his writing is at least slightly above average. Warrior Nun Areala is possibly his second-best-known title.

The comic opens in Norway in 1066 where a nun is running from a group of especially ugly Vikings. Just as the Vikings are about to finish her off, a Valkyrie named Areala appears and announces that she has left "Valhalla to serve the only true God!" She then infuses her power into the nun and gives her a magic sword. After kicking some serious Viking butt, this "Sister Areala" goes on to found the order of Warrior Nuns. The story moves from there to the present, when the Warrior Nuns' mission has changed somewhat. No longer permitted to kill regular human enemies, they instead battle demons who have found their way to the material plane.

The central character is Sister Shannon, a novice Warrior Nun recently assigned to New York where she takes up residence at St. Thomas' Church and meets Father Terrance Gomez, a kindly, overweight priest who occasionally packs a flamethrower when the situation calls for it. Other characters make regular appearances, including Shotgun Mary, a motorcycling vigilante who left the Warrior Nuns because of her "unorthodox" demon-slaying methods, and Father David Crowe, with whom Sister Shannon had a romantic relationship before they both dedicated their lives to the Church (if we believed comics, we'd think every nun has an unrequited love interest somewhere). Father Crowe is a "Magic Priest," member of an order that provides spiritual and magical aid in the various battles while the Warrior Nuns provide the muscle. Hovering in the background is the demoness Lillith, an ambiguously evil but unambiguously goofy character whose motives are vague (and whose name is misspelled).

The Warrior Nuns work in standard, goofy comic book ways. To prepare for battle, Sister Shannon recites a Hail Mary (incorrectly), and then a magic sword appears in her hands while her regular habit is replaced by--*ahem*--a less restricting outfit. If you're annoyed that the nuns in your area wear pantsuits, you can at least be glad they don't dress like this.

Early in the story, Sister Shannon loses her left hand and has it replaced with a cyborg arm. She also becomes the new bearer of Areala's spirit, though that doesn't seem to mean much. She also gains access to the "God Armor," a magic armor suit with possibly the dumbest name of any magic armor suit ever, which she can make appear instantly at any time.

The world of Battle Nun Areala is a simple one where magic is commonplace, slavering demons show up out of nowhere to make trouble, the best way to fight villainy is in tights or leather, and simple-minded villains bent on taking over the world always speak in exposition, as in, "NO! Without that we can't infiltrate the Vatican's 'Gabriel'! As long as that computer is in operation we will not have total control of the Earth!"

The story could have been significantly cooler if Dunn did a little research. Apparently, Warrior Nuns govern certain "sectors" in which they are responsible for keeping demonic activity in check. If Dunn referred to dioceses, deaneries, and parishes instead of sectors, I might have believed he knew what he was talking about. A few references to actual Catholic practices or maybe a little use of Vatican politics might have enriched the story immensely. For example, instead of creating an oddly named order of Magic Priests, Dunn could have assigned magic powers to our exorcists, who already have less spectacular demon-fighting rituals.

It's hard to say from this first volume exactly what the comic's attitude is toward religion in general or Catholicism in particular. It seems to be taken for granted that Heaven and Hell exist, that the universe is monotheistic, and that Catholicism is the true religion, though creatures from a number of other religions and folkloric traditions comfortably coexist, but the comic doesn't seem particularly interested in religion as such; rather, it uses it as an excuse for its plots. Similarly, putting the word "Warrior" in front of "Nun" is probably a gimmick meant to grab the eye, much as putting "Battle" in front of "Pope" grabs the eye. We can also guess from the lurid, bloody, and sometimes sexualized artwork that Dunn isn't on a particularly holy mission.

And really, if you're planning to exploit a religion for a comic, Catholicism is an obvious choice. For one thing, we've already got the monster-fighting equipment: as I write this, I have a full bottle of holy water at my elbow in case the vampires or zombies show up, I have several icons nearby, and I can lay my hands on a rosary or crucifix pretty quickly if the situation calls for it. It's also easier to imagine the Catholic Church with a supercomputer and demon-tracking satellite network than it is to imagine, say, the Conservative Baptist Association with the same (though some author should get on that). However, I can't help but think the Catholic Church has by now been a little over-exploited. As I read Warrior Nun Areala, I kept thinking to myself, "Didn't we cover this same ground in Hellboy?"

I'm also displeased with the costuming. I'm displeased with women's costumes in comics generally, but I'm extra displeased with this one. In addition to wearing a goofy Warrior Nun outfit, Sister Shannon appears naked in a quick panel whenever she changes into the God Armor. Oh, pardon me--I thought I was reading about a nun, but it seems I've accidentally stumbled into an episode of Cutey Honey. Come on, Dunn: even if you won't show her some respect as a woman, at least show her some respect as a religious or even as a warrior. I invite all comic illustrators to pay attention to what actual soldiers in combat wear. You will notice they don't run around with bare legs or exposed cleavage. There is a practical reason for this.

The last time I was in the Shady Bookstore Down the Street, I walked into the comics section and looked around. From every shelf, I saw lascivious women giving me come-hither gazes while their volcanic bosoms exploded from their metal or leopard-print bras, and I said to myself, "I'm bored." I'm bored! I came here to get a good story, not an anatomy lesson. I already know women have breasts; the fact does not fascinate me. Comics are so rife with this garbage, whenever I find an author--especially a male author--who can actually create strong, well-realized female characters instead of taking the easy way out and sticking them in bronze bikinis, I instantly latch onto and adulate him. Ben Dunn could learn a lot from the likes of Jeff Smith, Paul Sizer, and James Robinson. If you're wondering why the comics industry has drooping sales or why it isn't attracting women and children, try not writing crap for a change and see what happens.

Okay, I realize it's my own fault. After all, I of my own free will picked up a comic with the words "Warrior" and "Nun" both in the title, so I get I what I deserve. But it's a mistake I won't likely make twice.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Spiritual Solicitations, August-October 2007

Have 3 issues of PREVIEWS piled up already? Dang, I'd better get posting. Some of these are probably even out already. It's a long list, for which I apologize in advance. In no particular order:

Written by Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza
Art by Walter Simonson, Carlos Pacheco and others
Cover by Al Barrionuevo
Collecting Superman #659 and #666 and Action Comics #848-849! The Man of Steel travels to hell and back in this collection of stories that touches on the supernatural side of Superman.
Advance-solicited; on sale January 2 • 112 pg, FC, $12.99 US

Oh, the conflict: This collection contains Superman #659, which is one of my favorite Supes stories ever. (Read my review here.) But it also contains Action 848 and 849, which were dreadfully bad. (Read my reviews here and here.) Were they bad enough to want to stick on a bookshelf as a sterling example of how not to do religion in comics?

Virgin Comics
Created by: Deepak Chopra
Written by: Saurav Mohapatra
Art by: Virgin Illustrations
Cover by: Abhishek Singh
Acclaimed author Deepak Chopra and Virgin Comics invite you to a world of exotic legends and alluring myths, a land called India. Featuring the origin tales of some of the iconic deities in the Indian pantheon like Ganesha - The God of endeavors; Kali - The primal facet of the Indian Mother Goddess; Indra - The King of Gods; Uma - The All-Mother; and last but not the least, the enigmatic and powerful Shiva – The Great Destroyer.
Collects issues #1 thru #5 of the groundbreaking and critically acclaimed series from Virgin Comics. Featuring an introduction to each tale by Deepak Chopra, every foreword enumerates the significance of the myth to the modern world and explores the archetypes and themes with respect to current times. Volume 1 – THE BOOK OF SHIVA is written by Saurav Mohapatra (DEVI, SADHU : THE SILENT ONES) and features art by Abhishek Singh (RAMAYAN 3392 AD) and Satish Tayade (KAMASUTRA, RAMAYAN 3392 AD).
SC, 7x10, 144pgs, FC $14.99

Has anybody read any of these Hinduism-Reloaded things from Virgin Comics? And are they any good at all? And does Deepak Chopra's name really bear any weight with your average comics fan? (Or anyone else?) A couple more collections (Ramayan 3392, Devi) are due out later.

Last Gasp
by Daniel Martin Diaz & Michael M. Brescia
Mysterium Fidei, Latin for "Mystery of Faith," is the new collection of art from Daniel Martin Diaz. In this collection of oil paintings, drawings, and prints, Diaz contemplates human suffering and one's undying faith in the afterlife. His mystical imagery reflects the influences of Byzantine iconography, Retabalos, Ex Votos, the Illuminati, ephemera, alchemy, and 16th-century anatomical engravings. Collected in a beautiful clothbound hardcover. (C: 0-1-2)
HC, 10x10, 184pgs, FC SRP: $39.95

Intriguing. I hadn't heard of this artist before reading this solicitation, but he's pretty interesting, especially if you're into medieval art (I am).

Avatar Press
by Garth Ennis & Rob Steen
Wormwood, Jimmy, Jay all return and the world hasn’t gotten any better since their last adventure. Wormwood still produces questionable TV shows and pines for Maggie, his lost love. The boys all share drinks at their favorite pub and try to get on with their lives, but Pope Jacko has his own plans for Wormwood. In order to dispatch the Anti-Christ once-and-for-all, he dispatches his finest Holy assassin, Brother One, the Killer Eunuch! If you loved the original series, then you don’t want to miss the next chapter of Garth Ennis’ new sacrilegious masterpiece!
SC, 48pgs, FC SRP: $7.99

I've been cutting back my comics budget, and Garth Ennis is one of the first writers under the knife—I'm increasingly convinced that he doesn't have another Preacher in him. Still, if this series must have a sequel, I'm glad to see it's a standalone graphic novel rather than another miniseries.

DC Comics
Written by Jim Starlin
Art and covers by Starlin & Matt Banning
Variant cover issue #1 by Ryan Sook
The title says it all! For months now readers have witnessed the unimaginable and unthinkable as New Gods across the DCU have seemingly died, with Lightray’s death in COUNTDOWN the biggest of them all. Now, the carnage continues but the mystery and adventure is just beginning! Jim Starlin — master of the cosmic odyssey — writes and illustrates this epic tale of death and destruction on a scale never seen before. With a cast of hundreds and cameos by the entire DCU, this intergalactic 8-part series cannot be missed!
Retailers please note: Issue #1 will ship with two covers that may be ordered separately. For every 10 copies of the Standard Edition (featuring a cover by Jim Starlin & Matt Banning) ordered, retailers may order 1 Variant Edition (featuring a cover by Ryan Sook). Please see the Order Form for more details.
Issue #1 on sale October 17; issue #2 on sale October 31 • 1 and 2 of 8 • 40 pg,
FC, $3.50 US

I never got into the New Gods, but this and the recent Eternals revival have convinced me that Jack Kirby's wacky '70s cosmic theology is probably worth looking in to.

by Christopher Knowles; illustrated by Joseph Michael Linsner
Was Superman's arch nemesis Lex Luthor based on Aleister Crowley? Can Captain Marvel be linked to the Sun gods of antiquity? In Our Gods Wear Spandex, Christopher Knowles answers these questions and brings to light many other intriguing links between superheroes and the enchanted world of esoterica. (6962/1-578634-06-7) (C: 0-1-2)
SC, 7x9, 224pgs, B&W SRP: $21.95

A book about religion in superhero comics? Why would that interest the readers of this blog? We may need to look into doing a full review of this one, methinks. It looks like they didn't take the approach I would have—which is fine, since I eventually want to write a book of my own on the topic, and don't want to retread too much ground.

by Limke & Yeates
by Storrie & Randall
by Jolley & Yeates
by Croall & Hilinski
by Limke & McCrea
by Storrie & Kurth
by Limke & Witt
by Limke & Yeates
by Limke & Randall
by Fontes, Fontes & Purcell
Lerner Publishing Group
Hardcovers: $26.60; Softcovers: $8.95

A Classics Illustrated-style take on assorted myths. If you've heard of the artist, it's probably only available in hardcover, so these are almost certainly too pricy to consider. PS: This is one of 3 versions of Beowulf coming out this month. Only one of them has anything to do with the Neil Gaiman-penned movie. Just conventient timing, I suppose.

IDW Publishing
Salvador Sanz (w & a)
Bloody rain is falling over the city of Buenos Aires. The sky opens, dropping demons on the city. It’s the legion: the dead and their destruction. The architects from Hell build a huge tower of human remains on the city's horizon. Why have they come? What do they want? Nobody knows, but only Felix—a guitar player from a local band—has the key to find out. Presenting a special standalone tale of demons and destruction, courtesy of film director/writer/artist Salvador Sanz (Gorgonas).
FC • 48 pages • $7.49

Sounds kinda like The Six-String Samurai, which is a great movie that nobody's seen.

by Hester & Volley
Sharpe and Nguyen face the horrifying reality that our world is being invaded by the restless spirits of the dead. The only thing capable of stopping this ghostly army is a doomsday device so terrible that even the Department of Defense has tried to destroy it. Sharpe does not share their compunctions, but will he be able to use it if it means the death of those closest to him? By the new creative team for the upcoming 2008 series sequel Antoine Sharp.
RES. from Previews Vol. XV #8 (AUG051667)
32pgs, B&W SRP: $3.99

I was intrigued by the title when the first issue of this came out a while back, but I haven't actually read it, so I don't know if it has any real bearing on the content. Anybody out there read it?

DC Comics
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Jose Saiz
Cover by John Van Fleet
The Dark Faith spreads throughout the DCU as the Daughters of Lilith take the forefront in a recruitment drive to convert people to the Religion of Crime through the Lesson of Lust. And only The Question, who must work under cover, can stop a United States colonel from sacrificing his life — and his country.
On sale November 7 • 2 of 5 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US

The Crime Bible was one of the more intriguing ideas to come out of 52, but it didn't have much room to develop within the cramped pages of that series. Perhaps this will give it some room, though my faith in Rucka is not as high as it could be.

Creator: Suu Minazuki
Judas, cursed for his sins, is the spirit of Death--he is without form, and has enslaved young Eve to carry out the most heinous of acts. Together in spirit and body, they must slay 666 people so that Judas can regain his humanity. Using Eve as his vessel of destruction, the dark, blood-soaked journey will leave a trail of sin, death, and--hopefully for Judas--redemption.Salvation may be at hand, but now is the time for prayer...
ISBN 978-1-4278-0204-0 $9.99

The description above is from the first volume of this manga series; this is the final one. Intriguing concept with a LOT of room to turn into something dreadfully bad. Has anybody read it? Is there any point to the religious symbolism, or is it just "bload-soaked"?

Arcana Studio
by Dr. Barbara Jackson & Ashok Bhadana
Ramayana is not just a literary monument, it is held in such reverence that the mere reading or hearing of it can set individuals free from sin and grant every desire to the reader or listener. In this retelling of Ramayana, author Dr. Barbara Jackson enlightens and enables the reader to understand the righteous path - dharma - for the life on earth."

Another comic based on Hindu mythology. Lest you be confused, this is the one that doesn't have Deepak Chopra's name on it.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Superman and divine love

Courtesy of BeaucopKevin, Garth Ennis (should I say "of all people"?) writes Superman as an omnibenevolent demigod. From the pages of JLA/Hitman, here it is: