Clean Room, Volume 1: Immaculate Conception by Gail Simone

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Clean Room, Volume 1: Immaculate Conception by Gail Simone is an acquired taste and one that is well worth nurturing. Simone, one of the more successful female comic book writers around, having delivered some of the better Batgirl stories brings her own twist of horror/sci-fi to the Vertigo label with Clean Room. A tale of cults and fame and things that go bump in the night.

Astrid Mueller was a young child, walking with her family on the way to church when the truck ran her over in front of everyone. And then everyone watched as the driver purposely backed up and ran her over one more time. The accident that nearly crippled the child, also, in addition to the physical pain, changed Astrid in other ways as well.

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Chloe Pierce was a journalist or had been at one time. That was before she had come home and found her fiancee Philip dead, half his face blown away by a bullet to the head. Self-inflicted. Three months before, Philip had picked up a self-help book by a guru, the new leader of a cult like group that had been gaining popularity. Frequented by celebrities and society elite, the guru, promises to help with her clients problems and stress and gain them an inner peace. But some of her clients cannot live with the enlightenment she shows. Some of her clients, like Chloe’s fiancee Philip, end up violently dead.

The guru is a fully grown, Astrid Mueller.

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Now Chloe is determined to learn the truth behind Astrid and her organization and the suicides and the secret whispers she has heard of a place, where your darkest and deepest fears come to life. Where your worst moments are revealed. Your secrets exposed and laid bare. A place they call the Clean Room.

But is Astrid Mueller the truly evil person Chloe suspects her of being, or is Astrid the only thing that stands between the world and true evil?

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I loved this graphic novel and has me pining to read the rest of these comics. Simone fills her book with characters that are intricately woven with emotions. Pain, grief, angst, and desire leap off the pages and the artwork of Jon Davis-Hunt blends these thoughts and words seamlessly. The plot grabs the reader and in no rush, builds in tension and horror as layers are peeled back. Clean Room, like the best comics, reads like a book. With really good artwork. It honors the genre of graphic novel but in no way accepts being limited by it. It is a book, if missed, that demands to be found and read.

This is what Vertigo was made for. The stories that steered just this mad side of mainstream comics. What Image has picked up and is currently doing so well. Only Vertigo has been doing it all along.

A terrific read!

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Moonshine by Brian Azzarello

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Moonshine, Vol. 1 by Brian Azzarello is another in a line of terrific Image Comic titles that remind us of what makes the smaller distributors of comics (not Marvel or DC) so great. Years ago, a tale like Moonshine would have been relegated to the back rows of comic books, hidden behind doors and stacked under a sign depicting age restrictions and stamped with adult themes of sex and violence. And the supernatural. Or worse, so heavily censored that it would have lost its very soul, and soul is something Azzarello infuses into his storytelling. Soul. Dark and gritty yes. Violent and lustful yes. But soul none the less.

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Its the Prohibition era and mob pretty boy, Lou Pirlo is sent from New York City by Mob Boss Joe Masseria to the backwoods of Appalachia, to find and deal with the best Moonshiner in West Virginia, Hiram Holt. Lou has always been a pretty boy, brought in to make the room look good but never ever given any thing real to do. This is the first time the Boss has given Lou any responsibility. The first time he’s put any faith in Pirlo. Lou figures this for an easy job. Just drive up into the hills and make a deal with some back wood hillbillies.

What Lou finds is a family that is as dark and violent as the mob he represents. A man in Hiram Holt who is not ready to give up control of the moonshine operation that he built. What Lou finds is that there is far more in the hills of Appalachia, far greater secrets than the moonshine. What Lou finds is the stuff of nightmares and children stories. What Lou finds in himself, caught in the crossfires of a violent war with no way out.

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The team of Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Russo, who brought us the Eisner award winning 100 Bullets, team up again for this crime noire horror tale that is sure to delight old fans and raise the eyebrows of new ones. This is storytelling. This is comic books at its finest. You don’t need tights or robotic suits to tell a good story, you don’t need Infinity Wars and Clone Sagas. Sometimes all you need is a gangster, a dark night in the woods and a secret that nightmares are made out of.

And some moonshine.

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Green Arrow, Vol. 2 – Island of Scars

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Green Arrow, Volume 2: Island of Scars is a collection of books that don’t run together and are instead more in the mode of a collection of individual tales and not all where Green Arrow is the main focus. In this volume is also an appearance by The Black Canary, not the kiddie pop version we are currently seeing wander in and out of Batgirl comics, but the real Canary. Here, she is not Barbara Gordon’s singing sidekick, no here, she is a sensuous and deadly woman. This is the real Black Canary, a member of the Justice League, a superhero who is quite capable of handling herself and doesn’t need saving. In fact, quite strong enough to be the one doing the saving.
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This volume also tells the tales of the Green Arrow’s new apprentice, Emiko Queen. Ollie’s half sister, this teenage girl has the fighting skills of a ninja and the angst of anyone who is ready to battle but finds herself constantly held in check. A collaboration between Emiko Queen and Damian Wayne would be a fun and bloody comic.

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I have never really been a Green Arrow fan and have never seen a single episode of the television show. I have always seen him as more of a throwaway character. A supporting cast member to the relationship between Batman and Superman. But there are glimpses of a true superhero here. One whose idealogy conflicts with his actions. Ollie, unlike Bruce Wayne, is as much a part of his Superhero persona in and out of the costume. The emergence of new characters that are as different from him as could be is a true risk, as it has the Green Arrow questioning himself.

I enjoyed this collection and think I’m very likely to start following this comic line as we are seeing actual growth in the character which is rare in one that has been around for so long.

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The Unworthy

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Of all the events to come out of Marvel’s Original Sin series, one of the most impactful took place in Original Sin #7 when Nick Fury leaned into the ear of Thor and whispered. With that small act, the power of Thor changed hands from Odinson into the hands of Jane Foster. While this can be seen as another of Marvel’s overt acts of political correctness and pandering to the current rages of social media by turning the Thunder God into a woman; and not just any woman but one who is dying of a terminal disease. It has, perhaps by accident, because I cannot in all good faith give Marvel’s current creative regime this much credit, given rise to one of the better comic books on the market. No, I am not talking about the new Thor with Jane Foster wielding Mjolnir, but of the displaced Thunder God, Odinson and the comic called The Unworthy Thor.

 

Odinson, the original Thor, Prince of Asgard and son of Odin, is having a tough time of it. When he is sober, because depression and mead are his best friends, is struggling with coming to grips with his loss. His loss of his identity, his loss of his hammer, and after joining a battle he was not equipped for, the loss of his arm. After he decides that the current Thor is indeed worthy of wielding the hammer, he must now come to terms with the truth that he is not and the words whispered by Fury are true.

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Thus, begins the quest, but is it one? It doesn’t begin that way. It begins much more like Odinson is just running away. On his trusty flying goat, his axe that does not fly back when he throws it and a prosthetic arm that will outlive him, Odinson journeys. But you cannot have been the great Thunder God and not have pissed off some people along the way. People who now see Odinson as weakened and this as their opportunity to enact their revenge. But in all this there is the word of an all seeing creature that speaks of another hammer. Another Mjolnir, belonging to a dead Thor on a dead world. A hammer calling out for a new master.

 

With fan favorite, Beta Ray Bill, Odinson goes in search for this abandoned hammer. But first he must battle  the Collector and all manner of dimensional creatures, even those sent by Thanos himself. But even more so, he must come to grips with the battle that rages within himself.

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There is so much to this book that it is surprising that this is a Marvel comic. It is being written like an independent comic book that puts plot and story over flash and artwork. But don’t get that wrong, the artwork is awesome and ties so well with the journey of Odinson. This is a throwback to the old Thor comics before he got so involved with only Earth and the Avengers and buffing Tony Stark’s iron suit. This is the Thor that waged war with the galaxies worst villains and took part in bloody battles between the Gods. Battles that which, were not always a foregone conclusion that he would win.

 

It is also the mental and emotional story of a fallen God. A God who lived so far above the rest of the world that his mere presence should have nations bow. A God that has learned a dark and painful truth.

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There are those who will see this book as another in Marvel’s attacks on the Christian Right and religion in general. Perhaps they are right. Which is why I don’t give Marvel too much credit here. In fact, I think they may have simply stumbled over creating a truly fine book and perhaps one of the few Thor storylines worth remembering. It is certainly much better than the Jane Foster Thor right now and that is no knock on a female Thor. It is just that much better. What they have done, something they have failed to do in the past, is bring about Thor’s humanity. In doing so, they have elevated this character in ways I’m sure they did not intend but am eager to see them explore.

Also it has Beta Ray Bill and the Marvel universe has been lacking in his absence. Kick in a harsh and tyrannical Collector, Thanos and some very dark and evil characters and you have what may be the best Marvel comic this year that no one is reading.