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Superman Year One #1

Superman Year One #1

Before I say anything else, let me just put out that I have no idea what this comic is really about or what its goals are, other than a Supes origin story obviously. I’m reading this solely out of an unavoidable urge to read and review a comic book I have already pre-judged to be garbage. Year One is a new series written by Frank Miller. I really do not like Frank Miller. I only kind of like his older work, and I really don’t like his newer work. His art specifically is criminally bad, and shouldn’t be allowed to be published by anyone with a functioning brain. His writing may have some redeemable qualities but I simply haven’t been impressed with anything he’s done in a long time. But wait, turns out Frank Miller isn’t doing the art for this comic book. Maybe the dream isn’t completely dead. Who better than John Romita Jr. to helm the art on this crazy new Frank Miller comic!? Seriously, if you asked me: “Anthony, if there’s one artist who could compete with Miller’s trash tier art style who would it be?” Well, I’d answer almost immediately James Romita Jr.. Which sicko at DC decided to pair these two together? These are 2 of my least favorite people in the comic book industry today, so what better than to read and review their new comic book about my favorite Superhero? I genuinely find most comic books I read to be at least passable. Some outliers exist here and there but come on. Read my reviews. I’m most often giving comics glowing scores and mentioning why some of the less than great things are balanced by the good. I’m not sure I can deliver that here. There’s a major uphill battle, and I’m not all that interested in winning it, so this comic has a lot to prove. Let’s jump in.

Superman Year One has a lot of storytelling in it, and it’s a very long comic at that. I don’t want to go into heavy detail, so we’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum. First off, this first issue doesn’t really follow the logical “Year One” branding. #1 follows Clark through the first 18 years of his life, from Krypton exploding to his high school graduation and a little beyond. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, I think they’re just a little trapped by the Year One labeling which is well known within the DC Comic world. I’m glad Frank Miller decided to not take that labeling too literally, and write the story he wanted to write. The comic is told in a somewhat strange third person classic storytelling type of way. It sometimes feels like a poem or a nursery rhyme like Twas the Night Before Christmas. Also, thoughts and feelings are accessed by the narrator on an individual character basis depending on the situation. The omnipotence of the narration only follows one character at a time which is a little strange. It’s a little hard to explain unless you’ve read the style he’s writing in. This style is particularly strange in the first 1/4th of the comic or so when it focuses on baby Clark Kent. The narration begins very simply and babyish with few words as Clark is learning and absorbing his surroundings with his adoptive family. This narration evolves and grows with Clark as he becomes older, even though the narration doesn’t solely take place within Clark’s mind. It’s very weird but it’s an interesting enough style. 

The beginning chunk of Year One follows Clark through the first few years of his life as he slowly comes into his own.  His adoptive parents can only look on as baby Clark sets the house on fire with his heat vision because his food is too hot, or runs way too fast in front of them, or jumps way too far away from them. It’s fun to see this much younger Superman utilizing his powers. Most origins have Clark developing this stuff much later on. Seeing a baby with god tier strength and super powered reactions to his emotions is pretty clever, and Miller keeps it from being over the top.  

The bulk of the comic focuses on Clark’s high school life. While he’s learned from a young age just how powerful he is, and how careful he needs to be in his everyday life, the high school drama he faces pushes his limits in ways he hasn’t before. So begins an internal struggle with how to properly utilize his powers. A gang of bullies practically run the school, and as they become more and more bold with their antics, Clark becomes more and more unsure how to properly handle the situation. He could easily annihilate these people pretty much by looking in their general direction, but obviously that’s not the Clark Kent thing to do. That’s what makes this character so endearing to me. These conflicts exist to form Clark Kent into Superman. It’s what Zach Snyder tried to show in Man of Steel and it’s what Miller is trying to show here. Superman is overpowered as all Hell. When pushing someone down could literally kill them without much effort Clark has to learn to put serious limitations on himself both physically and emotionally, and I think Miller does a really admirable job showing this aspect of Clark both in these high school situations and throughout the entire comic. 

By the time Clark graduates high school he’s ready to see the world. As his father has encouraged him throughout the comic book to use his powers for the sake of humankind, (a little pointedly at times, perhaps in direct contrast to Snyder’s take on Clark’s dad in Man of Steel) Clark heeds his advice in his own way and enlists himself in the Navy as an attempt to see the oceans of Earth, step one of his master plan to “know his planet”. Why can’t he supersonic fly his way around the world and see the oceans? Well that’s just not emotional enough. We’re given some tear jerking goodbyes from his parents and his girlfriend Lana that are kind of ruined by the weird narration style but well written nonetheless, and Clark begins his life changing journey away from home.

First and foremost, I think that this comic from a story only perspective is beautiful. I really really enjoyed the things that happened in this issue. I think executionally the comic has some faults, and I think specifically with dialogue there are some jarring moments. Additionally as always, Frank Miller’s weird political leanings and opinions rear their ugly head a bit here. I’m all for weird ideas and concepts I don’t really agree with in the content I consume, but it’s a bit too on the nose for me at times. I’ve said the same for things I do agree with. Again the narration style struggles to know exactly what it’s trying to convey at times, but I’ll stop rambling about that specific topic. To my own surprise, I think Miller wrote a really good story from beginning to end with this issue, and it’s by far the most redeeming quality.

The art is kind of difficult to give a clean review of as well. I can say confidently that this is the best Romita Jr. has to offer. Now, is that a compliment or not? I’m not really sure. When Romita isn’t drawing people I think his art is phenomenal. His backdrops and settings look so damn good. When Romita is drawing people they’re hard to look at. That being said, I think it’s easy to get used to in this comic specifically, and certainly not the worst I’ve seen from him. This comic did teach me that Romita can only draw one head size, as we constantly see young teenage Clark with a massive adult sized head on his skinny teenage body throughout the issue. That’s probably a little nitpicky, but my god in some shots it bothered me so badly. I’m stuck wondering what this comic book would have looked like with a different artist on the helm. While I think Romita’s style does cater best to this grainy country setting, I simply don’t like his art, even in this issue where it looks the best that I’ve seen.

While I’m going to reserve my judgments on issues to come in this series (I’m not sure how long it’s going to be), I think this comic book would hail as one of the best origin stories put to comics if it stopped right here and existed as a one off “first 18 years” kind of deal. Again, the story of this comic book is really good, but I’m afraid of where Miller is going to take it from here, and I’m even more afraid of how Romita is going to draw it from here. Year One #1 was slow and emotional and it didn’t care how long it took to tell you a story from beginning to end. It started great and ended beautifully. But alas, all good things must continue until they’re not good anymore. I adore Superman, but I’m just not sure I see myself continuing with this series. I’m simply satisfied with this, and maybe that’s not a bad thing. I’ll keep my eyes and ears open for issues to come, and if they’re praised as much as this one was I might have to read anyway. Props to Miller though. He gets a pass from me on this comic.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Twice as Clever

Twice as Clever

Twice As Clever

Is the sequel to That’s So Clever, in fact, twice as clever?

No. I don’t even know how you would calculate it, but it’s not twice as clever. I don’t think it requires you to be twice as clever, either. But it does require you to be more clever. 1.3x, perhaps. I suppose marketing hyperbole wins again.

If you’re not familiar with Ganz Schon Clever, there’s a review here already, but the short version is colorful Yahtzee with way more complicated scoring and the occasional chance to screw over your friends. Twice As Clever sets up a new board, a new set of mechanics, and some colorful new dice—pink and silver—take over from purple and orange. Every color works differently, however.

There’s also a new return mechanic. When you use one, you take a die off the platter and include it in your next roll (you can only do this on your turn). Like rerolls and +1s, you gain them as the game progresses and use them when you want.

The quick rundown of the new color mechanics:

Silver: There are four rows of each non-silver color from one to six. When you pick silver, you fill in that number for any color, along with every die you have to put on the platter because you took silver. This makes silver a potential way to get a ton out of your turn even if you don’t give yourself three choices, since in theory you can use a high silver roll to use all six dice immediately. In addition, it gives you an obvious chance to use the new returns.

Yellow: There are ten numbers in yellow—one 1, one 6, and two each of the other numbers. When you use yellow, you circle one of them. Circle everything in a row or column, and you get the listed bonus. However, to score points you have to roll the number again and X over the circle. This creates a dilemma between going for more bonuses (and points elsewhere) or scoring higher in yellow itself. It’s tempting to go for a ton of yellow points because the bonuses skyrocket, but it takes a lot of rolls to make that happen.

Blue: Like before, it counts as the sum of blue and white. Start as high as you can; each number after that has to be equal to or less than the one that came before. This is like a reverse of the purple line from the original game, except there’s no way to reset the count. If you put a low number on blue, you’re not going much farther without bonuses filling in the spots.

Green: Everything in green happens in pairs. The first number you want to be high, the second low. Your score for the pair is the first minus the second. There are multipliers on each box, and you get potentially higher pairs the further down the line you go.

Pink: You can put any number in this line at any time, and your score is whatever the total is at the end. This makes it “free” to use; however, after the first two boxes, each box has a threshold you need to beat to get the associated bonus. If you’re at the six threshold, you may want to stick anything in there in order to get the fox that comes afterwards, but for the best score you want to meet the threshold each time. (Really you want to get a six each time, but the odds on that…)

Twice As Clever is the first game with a new set of mechanics. You’ll like it as much as you liked the first game. If you didn’t play the first one, this one is only 1.3x more complicated, so you’ll be fine picking it up.

4.2 out of 5 stars (4.2 / 5)

The Last Knight on Earth #1

The Last Knight on Earth #1

Touted as the final Batman story written and drawn by Snyder and Capullo, an undeniably legendary duo, Last Knight on Earth has a ton of hype going into it. What’s more, this 3 oversized issue series falls under DC’s Black Label, their new ‘mature’ only lineup. We haven’t seen much come out of this say for Batman Damned which I believe was the first series to come out of the branding. It’s important to note that I don’t think this story is canon. So taking both its free range to explore mature elements and tell whatever story Snyder wants into account, Last Knight on Earth has a near unlimited amount of potential. This is truly the creative team’s swan song when it comes to Batman storytelling, so consider me a little somber about the whole situation, but if you love something you have to let it go right? I think that’s what this is for Snyder and Capullo as well. Nevertheless, I’m excited to finally dive in and see what these all-time greats have to offer.

Last Knight on Earth is a very disorienting story. It’s also legitimately a culmination of everything Snyder has written about Batman up until this point. If you’ve never read anything prior, there’s probably some confusion here on at least a few story beats. From a certain perspective, that kind of sucks. At the same time, long time Snyder & Batman fans are all in this together so they should feel rewarded for knowing this stuff. Snyder’s story takes place in the not so distant future. Society has utterly crumbled, both by Omega, a new villainous entity within the DC universe with the Anti-Life Equation, and by general unruliness. This story sets up a pretty strong precedent that chaos is pretty much inevitable, and that when it comes down it to, when we’ve depleted the world’s resources and ripped apart the fibers of ethics, people no longer want to be saved. As such, despite the efforts of Superman, Wonder Woman and the other powers that be in the DC world, Earth crumbles into the apocalypse.

Batman is gone, and while it’s obvious he had a much larger role in the events that transpired off-page to make the world the way it is, we’re only provided with hints throughout this first issue. I won’t get into heavy detail because I do want to avoid any spoilers, especially because this is only 3 issues, but the entire comic is a psychological ride that raises a lot of questions and vaguely answers others. Basically a Snyder story. Joker’s fully functioning head is in a lantern that Batman carries around, so there’s that I guess.

It’s difficult to say much from looking at a story standpoint. Snyder loves to build for big reveals and climaxes and he’s obviously doing that here too. Readers need to be along for the ride or they’re going to feel a little burned by the probable confusion that this first issue is going to bring. Unlike many big idea comic writers however, I think Snyder usually does a solid job of wrapping everything together cleanly so I have little fear that questions will be answered in later issues. The issue does succeed in being wholly entertaining to read factoring in Capullo’s insanely iconic and gorgeous art style and the psychological thrill ride that the whole thing actually is.

I can’t really say it enough: this comic really feels like a finale of something massive in comic book history. Perhaps we’ll see Capullo and Snyder working together on Batman again in the future, but it’s years off at least and while King has been doing his thing with Batman for a while now, the S&C run is arguably one of the greatest of all time. To see DC giving them the reigns and the Black Label branding really feels like a well deserved treat for the creative team. I can’t get enough of these guys, they reignited my love for Batman solo stories, and I wait with bated breath for the issues to come with this short series.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Ascender #1

Ascender #1

Ascender #1

I think most of the Descender readers always kind of knew what direction the comic book was heading in by the second half of so, but that shouldn’t really take away from anything. A semi-predictable conclusion to a story when as well written as Descender was, is by no means a bad thing. Lemire is a visionary through and through, and the ending of Descender was a breath of relief all of its readers after 32 issues of greatness and suspense. Lemire closing the doors of Descender only opens new ones however and after a short hiatus we’re presented with Ascender, the culmination and presentation of everything that Descender lead up to. I’m not sure if Lemire always had this path in mind (I would wager yes), but with the comics success I can’t imagine he and Image Comics wouldn’t want to continue into another story like this one. Descender is one of the few Image comics I’ve read that remained consistently great throughout, so of course I’m on board.

It’s a little difficult to avoid spoilers from Descender here if we talk at all about the story, because the entirety of Ascender’s world is contingent, so, I’m just going to spoil. Skip to the last paragraph or so if you haven’t read Descender yet. Ascender begins a decade or so into the future. Descender #32 started this timeline and this #1 continues it. Robots are gone and mortal-kind has descended (wink) back into a tribal like form. The people we see worship someone called The Mother, who we quickly learn isn’t exactly the most benevolent leader. Mila, our new main character is the daughter of a now older Andy, the robot hunter and secondary protagonist of Descender. She’s the rebellious type, living with her father outside of the city and outside the grip of The Mother as a free person. Having been born too recently to understand the world previous to the events of the end of Descender however, she doesn’t quite understand her father’s stubbornness and unwillingness to assimilate into this new world. Naturally, she’s curious about the world before, but the coven of witches, also known as The Mothers, have put great effort into wiping out any further traces of robot technology in the galaxy in order to rule it themselves. As our new curious protagonist soon finds though, is that these witches may have not done such a great job after all.

The biggest takeaway from Ascender is that it’s more of the same, and that’s perfect. The art is the same, the style of storytelling is the same. Magic is a sort of new addition to the Descender universe but it fits well into the mysterious nature of the universe in general. Lemire and his partners obviously love this story and their passion continues to show in this new first issue. It really feels like this could go on another 30 issues and beyond, and the team never wavers. They write like they have it all fleshed out in their heads, and I’m painfully excited to see what more is to come with this series.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

AuZtralia

AuZtralia

Australia with a ‘Z’. Boy, that couldn’t mean zombies or anything, could it?

Actually…

AuZtralia is a game with everything it shows on the front: blimps, old-timey gun trucks, soldiers, and the dusty hell that is the Outback. Does it look old-school? It should, because it takes place in late-19th century Australia. The ‘Z’ is, indeed, a reference to zombies, but they only play a bit role in this game, because it’s really about Cthulhu!

Are you wondering what the hell is going on yet? Don’t worry, everyone who opens this game not knowing what it is beforehand goes through the same thing. What you get here is a semi-cooperative strategy game between players working together to stop the hordes of Cthulhu from swarming through this overblown penal colony, and working to do it better than everyone else because when it comes to saving the world, you’ve gotta keep score.

Everyone starts by setting up a port along the coast. From there you spread into the Outback, mostly via railroads you build, ferrying troops to clear out nests of zombies, cultists, and otherworldly monsters, collecting resources to keep creating railroads and troops, and building farms to feed the citizens of this… fine land. Farms are important; there are three types, and there’s a benefit to having at least one of each type, but each one requires different land to be built. Some of that land runs a little close to the nasty things, and eventually the nasty things wake up and start walking around.

What makes AuZtralia work is the time mechanic. Although you can be limited by a lack of resources, it’s usually possible to collect what you need; the question is how much time it takes. Each action takes a set amount of time, and turn order is determined by who’s furthest back on the time track (ie. who’s used the least time so far in acting). Furthermore, time ties (which are common—nothing takes more than three time to do) are broken by whoever’s token is on top of the stack, and you go on top of the stack if you get there last. So, spending three time to build that railroad you so desperately means another player might get three turns before your next one. Is that worth it? Quite possibly! But you need to make a decision about using a resource that everyone has in exactly equal quantities.

Cthulhu’s forces are locked into the time mechanic as well. Whenever it’s Cthulhu’s turn, his token goes forward one time space, and on every other time space from the moment he starts (about halfway along) until the end of the game, he acts according to a pre-determined list of rules. At the start of the game, his forces start face down; his actions affect those which are face up, and those most frequently turn up because players investigate the spaces. If you don’t remove any threat which is present, now Cthulhu’s going to start running over you harder. You always have some semblance of control over what you do before he acts, but you can only do so much, even amongst all of you.

Then he eats your food! And your cattle. And your farmers.

If you stay on top of things and keep winning your battles—dice are involved, so this is never quite a given—the game can almost seem like a walkover. But it has the capacity to snowball out of control fast if you get the wrong event with the wrong monsters walking around at the wrong time. If there’s something that might seem unsatisfying, it’s if you end up playing a game and it feels too easy or too hard. There’s some chance involved, but you have a lot of control over the outcome. For a game that used Z for Zombie messaging to get attention, then barely even followed through with the zombies, it’s surprisingly good.

3.8 out of 5 stars (3.8 / 5)

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