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The Plot Thickens in Black Magick #3
by Cody Maynard, Comics for Fun and Profit

Issue #3 of Black Magick continues the story of Rowan Black, a detective/witch living in Portsmouth who’s having a tough time keeping her two worlds separate. This newest issue shows off some more of Rowan’s skills, gives some insight to the looming threat and introduces a couple new characters. While it may seem that Black Magick has been laying a lot of pipe throughout these three issues, it’s all relevant to the story. Rucka isn’t making that fatal mistake of building the world before getting to the plot; he’s using the plot to build the world, and that’s just good writing. 

When we last saw Rowan, she was discovering more and more clues as to the nature of the threat against her. Through artist Nicola Scott’s exceptional ability to render emotion in her characters, we could see that Rowan is worried about whats coming. Now, in issue #3, our witch is getting proactive. She’s consulting the spell books, casting some wards, and stealing police evidence. It’s good to see that Rowan isn’t going to let a little thing like swearing to uphold the law stop her from saving her own skin.

This issue also offers more instances of magic, which means a few dashes of color in an otherwise monotone book. Now that I think about it, the choice of colors in this comic is pretty brilliant — after flipping through 15 or more pages of black and white, something so simple as color seems just as unnatural as the magic it represents. It really helps highlight the spells and make them feel like something extra or beyond the natural world of the comic. I still want more magic, though, but I’m guessing we’ll get to the sweet stuff once the bad guys start showing up. 

Also, if you haven’t been reading the writings by the Gilles Robert du Pont-L’Évêque, you should be. They’re found in the back of the books and offer really great insights into the supernatural history of Black Magick’s world. And as this newest issue hints, Gilles’ family has much to do with the “Aira,” an order that monitors witchcraft throughout the world. This order has some connections to the hammer symbol found on the lighter used by Rowan White, but whether or not they are a threat against our hero remains unanswered.  

I’m expecting big things in the next couple of issues as the witching hour draws nearer. We know that someone connected with the Aira is on their way to Portsmouth to investigate the events of the last two issues, and while he doesn’t seem like the friendliest guy, I’m not sure he is the true threat against Rowan. More reveals are sure to follow, and after Rowan spent some time building up her defenses at home, I’m thinking we might get a confrontation as well. Here’s hoping for a colorful issue #4!  A
New James Bond Will Keep You Reading (Spoilers)
​by Cody Maynard, Comics for Fun and Profit

It’s been nearly 20 years since Bond’s last comic adventure – an unfinished adaptation of Goldeneye – but Bond is back in Dynamite Entertainment’s new book, VARGR. It’s a comic I’m on board with, thanks to a few cool threads set up in this first issue. Oh, and in case you were wondering if 007 severs a man’s fingers with a shovel in this comic, he does.

The first book of VARGR opens on the climax of a vengeance mission. A typical head-tattoo-sporting thug is sprinting through the snowy streets of Helsinki, and we soon find out that it’s Bond he’s fleeing. Bond catches up, and I really enjoyed his ruthlessness during their encounter. After popping off a couple of shots at the thug, Bond drops a cinder block on his back and the two then duel it out with shovels. The thug loses part of his foot, takes a bucket full of chains to the stomach and then gets his fingers severed. Bond then executes the thug, but not before revealing that he is avenging 008, a victim to the thug. 

We’re not given the exact circumstances behind 008’s death, but this is the first of a few leads that set the agenda. Later, during the debriefing with M, the late 008’s caseload falls to James. His first mission: dissuade a drug importer from operating within the United Kingdom. We get a glimpse of this strange drug – the lazily named, “green” – and its effects seem…strange. 

Q makes an appearance, quickly confiscating 007’s Walther P99. This is because a law has gone into effect for all 00 agents to remain unarmed in the UK, and Bond will now receive his mission weapons via “diplomatic pouch”. I’m expecting this to lead to some problems for our special agent in following issues, forcing Bond to improvise when caught without his weapon. Q brushes off the circumstance easy enough, chalking it up to “some absurd political mess,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if we learn otherwise down the road. Is this an intentional move by some future villain?

Whatever the case, we do catch a glimpse of a muscular man named Mr. Masters, a uniquely gifted villain who cannot feel nor process emotions. This is precisely the sort of lab-rat baddie I like to see Bond faced with. When told by a hidden figure (likely the true villain and puppet master) that he may have to kill 007, Mr. Masters utters the final lines, “Can I make it hurt? Please?”

While VARGR is off to an interesting start, with a gritty action scene and enough sturdy plot threads to keep me reading, the lack of style and edge in the art leaves something to the imagination. 

Citizen Jack #1 Took Me to Dark Places, and I Liked It.
by Cody Maynard, Comics for Fun and Profit​

Jack Northworthy, the titular character of Image’s new comic Citizen Jack, has lost it all, and he’ll do anything to get it back with interest. Even though I’ve only known Jack for one issue, I feel like he deserves whatever comes to him. Good people don’t wave guns at you while riding drunk on a snow blower. They just don’t. 

This initial book does a lot of work to setup Jack as a complete failure. It’s clear that Jack Northworthy is hopelessly desperate to get his old life back. Without saying too much, he’s sort of lost everything. It’s hilarious, though, and I smiled each time that I saw that Jack, yet again, showed up in public drinking straight from a bottle of whiskey, wearing nothing but his pink bathrobe, some shorts and his cowboy hat. 

Aside from his career failings and fractured relationships, there is another thing haunting and twisting Jack. Something sinister seems to have taken up home in the manager’s office of Jack’s snow blower shop. We aren’t shown how or why Jack came to know this creature, but I can’t wait to find out more about Jack’s strange and supernatural puppet master.

While psychologically manipulative, fanged creatures may sound dark, Citizen Jack goes even darker. In fact, the comic has an interesting way of switching gears from funny to brutal in an instant. It reminds me of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers in that way. There’s comedy in that movie, but while we may laugh during one scene, we watch people die in the next, and not in a funny way. But, you know, somehow we’re okay with that. Jack has the tendency to switch moods on a dime – drowning sorrow, beaming pride, wrathful vengeance – and artist Tommy Patterson does a great job at bringing Jack’s emotions to life. 

Citizen Jack isn’t as profound as Natural Born Killers, but there is still some similar commentary on American values and how perverse they can turn. Ultimately, Citizen Jack will have you laughing your way into some pretty dark corners, leaving you no choice but to laugh your way back out again. A-

Pathfinder: Hollow Mountain #1’s Dungeon Crawl is Well Worth Exploring
by Cody Maynard, Comics for Fun and Profit​

Pathfinder: Hollow Mountain is the latest installment of Dynamite Entertainment comic books based on Paizo’s 2009 tabletop role playing game (sort of an expansion for D&D 3.5). Now, I don’t pretend to know too much about tabletop gaming, but I’ve poured a few thousand hours of my precious life into RPGs. If you’re also a fan of RPGs and D&D, or just love the fantasy genre altogether, you’ll want to make room in your bag of holding for this dungeon adventure. 

An initial concern of mine was that this book would be too high fantasy like R. A. Salvatore’s D&D inspired Forgotten Realms novels. The beginning of this comic fed those apprehensions, mostly due to the chunk of exposition we crawl through in the beginning. The characters start tossing around titles and country names right off the bat, and while this isn’t necessarily hard to follow, it was slightly foreboding. After those initial pages, though, I was so pleased to discover I was wrong.

The thing that makes Pathfinders: Hollow Mountain great is its self-awareness, sometimes reading more like a round of D&D with the gang than a straightforward narrative. The way the heroes move through the dungeon, the way they shrug off damage because their healer stands ready: all of it really succeeds in poking fun at RPGs while reminding you why you love them in the first place. 

One amazing touch is about halfway through when the party, a multi-classed group of Pathfinders, is making progress through the titular Hollow Mountain dungeon. Instead of typical panels, we get few pages which are set up like an overhead map, a blueprint of the dungeon like you’d find in a tabletop gaming set. We can see separate rooms and passages, but in place of some rooms are colorful action shots of the party battling the beasts lurking within. It’s a really great way to pace the comic while creatively reminding you that this is a dungeon crawl campaign. The map isn’t there to situate you in the dungeon, doesn’t give you some awareness of the layout of Hollow Mountain, but is simply a wonderful nod to the genre.

I’m excited to see where this series goes and if it keeps up with the RPG fan service, but if it starts taking itself too seriously, the spell of enchantment will wear off quickly. 

James Bond VARGR #2 Offers a Mediocre Follow-up
by Cody Maynard, Comics for Fun and Profit

If the first issue of Dynamite’s VARGR did some work setting up some interesting plot threads, this second issue does a good job of mostly ignoring them. In fact, the plot inches forward ever so slowly with the same stale art that dragged parts of the first issue down. On a side note, if you were itching to see a woman jump onto Bond’s lap with minimal prompting, you don’t have to read very far. 

Now, there is some plot development in this issue – we get some vague clues as to the villain we glimpsed in the final pages of issue #1 and we get to see just what happens to junkies after taking the mystery drug “green.” That being said, I just don’t feel like they gave me enough. While there were a few hints of things to come, the comic isn’t delivering enough style or action to make up for the lack of story. 

One thing I found particularly disconcerting was the poor follow-up on the “hard rule” thread. In the first issue, we got a whole scene in which Q explained to 007 that he could no longer carry a firearm in the UK. I expected this to go to some cool places (maybe it still will in future issues), but instead, we get something less than interesting. James must pretend to reach for his gun to scare off a villain, it works, and that’s it. No real struggle, no intelligent improvisation on 007’s part, no cool Q gadget to get him out of the fire – just a fake gun-grab that fails to impress.

Another problem that I have with this book is the same problem I had with the first book, and that is the art. There is dullness to a lot of the pages, and it sometimes has much to do with the expressions of the characters, often lacking much emotion or personality. That being said, there are also moments of brilliance. The opening fight of issue 1 was nice and gritty and I would buy a print of issue #2’s final page to hang on my wall. 

Flashes of awesomeness aside, this comic will have to deliver much more in the issues to come if it’s going to amount to anything worthwhile. 

Tekken #1
by Cody Maynard, Comics for Fun and Profit

Video games. Will we ever transfer their awesome power into other creative platforms? The short answer: probably not. 

The long answer, however, is more complicated, and could likely benefit from some familiarity with adaptation theory. Look, the last thing I want to do is regurgitate lessons from my undergraduate English degree (I absolutely do, though), but to touch on the subject a bit, experts say you can’t really judge an adaptation based on the source material—it’s simply not the source material no matter how much you want it to be. That doesn’t mean you can’t be frustrated with an adaptation of your favorite thing, screaming to the pop-culture gods “Just be the thing I love!” You just have to get over it quick and realize that it is not, and never will be, the thing you love. It’s something different. It’s fan art with a budget. Or a cash cow, considering Tekken 7’s upcoming June 2nd North American release for current gaming systems. But hey, cash cow or no, Tekken #1 is still a decent comic, I just hope I’m still saying that after four issues. 

The problem that arises with adaptations is when a creator complicates the adaptation beyond the reasonable scope of the source material and steers it in a direction that no fan desires. Luckily Tekken #1 doesn’t try to do that, instead playing it relatively safe in this first entry of a four-part series. It gives fans a few recognizable faces to punch while throwing a macguffin in there so we have a plot. It’s clean, it’s rewarding, and it’s got me interested enough to follow along.

For the inexperienced, Tekken is a long running (and pretty much the best) fighting game series out there. While you don’t need to delve too deep into a story to create a great fighting game, Tekken has managed to continue a story throughout it’s existence that is both complicated and quite good. Like any fighting game, Tekken features dozens of characters, all with their own motivations for fighting in the King of Iron Fist Tournament, but the main story revolves around a character named Jin Kazama, son of evil guy Kazuya Mishima, and grandson of arguably eviler guy Heihachi Mishima. They all trade control of a giant corporation called Mishima Zaibatsu throughout the games, trying so hard to kill each other in the process. Devil genes, cyborg ninja, martial arts tournaments—it’s about as Japanese as it gets.

There isn’t much to say in the way of story here in this first issue. It is very much a setting-the-stage type of thing mixed with some hey-look-who-it-is type of thing. That’s sort of where video game adaptations can go wrong; sometimes it feels like you’re supposed to be impressed that the characters are even there. We do get some mention of Artefact 333, something that Jin and co. are trying to keep out of Heihachi’s hands, so we’ll see how that plays out. In coming issues, expect big fights, more character appearances, and I’ll bet you $100 Jin busts out some devil wings. It’s kind of his thing. 

Cody Maynard is a freelance writer and artist living in central Ohio. He currently spends his days in the marketing office of a university writing progress reports, press releases and profile pieces, but that's just to (barely) pay the bills. What Cody really wants to do is write about the important stuff in life. You know, comic books and video games.