Blast from the past

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I just got my first war-era comic book, Flash Comics #38, originally published in 1942. You know it’s a bad day when you’re at crime school and the Flash pole vaults through the window using a bamboo stick! This book features the original Flash, Jay Garrick, who fights crime in his Hermes-inspired uniform and iconic tin hat. Garrick made his debut in 1940 – 16 years before his more popular predecessor, Barry Allen.

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Back in the day, the Flash had to share his comic book with Hawkman, who also made his first appearance in Flash Comics #1 alongside the Fastest Man Alive.

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So when you bought a Flash comic, you got two superhero stories – all for the price of 10 cents!

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In the ’40s, DC Comics was officially called Superman-DC, named after their most popular character at the time, and the comic book title that gave birth to Batman, Detective Comics. It wasn’t until the ’70s that the comic book company dropped “Superman” from their name and adopted their current brand.

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Another marked difference between the comic books from this decade and the ones we have now is the clear lack of supervillains. Most of them only began showing up in the 1960s, leaving superheroes of the early years with no one to fight, except for common criminals. Nazis were also a popular match-up for the super-powered crime fighters of that era.

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It’s quite fitting that I got my first war-era comic book while I’m in the middle of reading The Book Thief. Knowing how turbulent it was back then, it really isn’t a stretch to think that stories like this kept the world sane. I can only imagine what journey this book must have had – from that kid who bought it from a magazine stand for 10 cents over seven decades ago to the here and now; from the chaos that was World War II to the still-tumultuous present. What amazing stories it could tell, if only its pages could talk.

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Life A.D.

Last week, Image Comics released book one of A.D.: After Death, a three-part sci-fi spectacular that could easily be the best comic book series released this year. This also happens to be the work of two of today’s top comic book talents, with multi-awarded Scott Snyder writing the script and the equally talented Jeff Lemire providing his signature style of art in full color. Both creators have separately done terrific work in the science fiction genre, so there was no way I was going to pass up this masterpiece.

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A.D. explores a world where the human race finally found a cure for death. The story follows Jonah Cooke, who seems just about as average as the next guy, except he has a habit of stealing things.

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It’s gotten so bad that he even stole a cow on his last day at work.

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Other than that, not much is known about the protagonist’s current situation, although the story does go back to his childhood several times. These flashback scenes are more text-heavy, allowing more room for storytelling.

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Snyder’s writing is thick with emotions, adding a lot of depth to the story.

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And as good as his prose is, you’ll equally enjoy Lemire’s art, which dominates the comic book’s future scenes.

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What makes the comic even more enjoyable is that it is presented in large format, so it is actually much bigger than your usual comic book – perfect for showcasing Lemire’s art. Overall, the first book is a solid opening issue, giving you a glimpse of what a deathless future is like, while allowing you to get to know the protagonist just enough to make you want to know more. I’m definitely looking forward to the next two issues.

The secret of Murder City

Over the past few years, many a comic book series has transitioned to the small screen with much success. From superhero-based shows like Arrow, The Flash and Daredevil to supernatural dramas such as Outcast and the record-breaking The Walking Dead, fans have been treated to a plethora of live action adaptations of their illustrated favorites. “There’s no better time to be a comic book fan,” as they say, and it seems the comics-to-TV trend isn’t dying away anytime soon.

Here’s another comic book series that many believe could be the next hit TV show.

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Nailbiter: The Murder Edition vol. 1

Written by Joshua Williamson and illustrated by Mike Henderson, Nailbiter is a crime/mystery comic that takes place in Buckaroo, Oregon, a (fictional) city which gave birth to 16 of the most notorious serial killers in the world. In this first volume, NSA Agent Nicholas Finch travels to the city to investigate the disappearance of his friend Charles Carrol, an FBI agent who went missing while investigating the cause of the town’s apparent penchant for producing psychotic murderers. It doesn’t take long for the hot-headed NSA agent to find trouble…

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…and for trouble to find him.

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Without any solid leads, Agent Finch reluctantly turns to the most notorious Buckaroo Butcher for help – Edward “Nailbiter” Warren – a serial killer whose M.O. involves kidnapping men and women who have a habit of chewing their fingernails, keeping them alive long enough until their fingernails grew back and chewing his victims’ fingers to the bone before killing them.

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I didn’t think something with such dark subject matter could be this much fun. A good gory comic is one that balances out its intense scenes with the other elements of the story, and the creators of Nailbiter play that game really well. There’s definitely a lot of action, as well as some heavy parts, but somehow the comic manages to throw in some humorous jabs from time to time.

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What I like most about this comic book series is that it has a lot of personality. Not only will you enjoy its dynamic characters but you’ll also get the feeling that the city has a life of its own. You’ll want to get to know the place as much as its people, except you can’t really do that. Not this early in the story anyway. So you just find yourself hooked on the mystery surrounding Buckaroo, Oregon.

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Overall, Nailbiter is a thrilling read that is sure to suck you in from the very first page. Great characters, great storytelling, and playfully sinister art all come together in this exciting murder mystery series. If I had to guess why people want to see this on television, only one thing comes to mind: they probably can’t get enough of it.

A tale among stars

As a kid I never really found sci-fi appealing. I was raised on fairytales so fantasy was my natural first choice as far as genres go. When I was about eight years old I discovered I liked horror as well and to this day, those two genres are what I constantly look for regardless of medium. What they have in common is that there are elements of the fantastic in them – supernatural beings, magic, and everything that humans can’t create or become.

Sci-fi (or at least the common notion of it) is about technology, steel, everything artificial and fabricated. Even when it deals with distant worlds, it is nothing unreachable. No matter how out-of-this-world the stories are, they are still grounded on science. And science is what humans do so I never saw it as anything special. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I got to read this comic book series called Saga that I became more interested in the genre.

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Written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, Saga is about as sci-fi as you can get. It is a true space adventure spanning an entire galaxy. It has all manner of life forms from people with horns and wings to biomechanical robots with TVs for heads to large cats that can tell when you’re lying. It is a reality where space bounty hunting is a lucrative career path and spaceships are a common form of transportation; so common that they literally grow on trees. There’s even an entire planet that deals in interplanetary sex trade and a giant flaming gorilla (because why not?).

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So what makes Saga any different from other sci-fi stories? Well, BKV wrote it, that’s what. Like Vaughan’s other works, his character development for Saga is top-notch. First he lets you fall in love with protagonists Alana and Marko, who got into a forbidden relationship in spite of being from rival races that are locked in an endless war with each other. Despite their biological differences, they actually end up having a baby and get chased throughout the galaxy for it (hence the space adventure).

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Then, Vaughan introduces you to their would-be captors: a bounty hunter named The Will and his trusty sidekick Lying Cat. You’ll end up liking them, too, just because they’re a cool pair. There will be parts where you want the protagonists to get away, but at the same time you also end up worrying about what happens to the bounty hunters. It feels like the good guys are good guys and the “bad” guys don’t seem so bad so part of you roots for them, too. And that’s one of the things I enjoy about this story – even the bad guys are likeable.

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Oh, and then there’s Prince Robot IV. He’s a bit of a douche but he does make the story that much more interesting. I guess you can say he’s the main bad guy of the story.

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Beyond all the weird elements of sci-fi, Saga is packed with humor, action, serious and heart-felt moments, great characters and so much more. This series made me realize that genres aren’t always what make stories enjoyable, and that the best stories are the ones that are able to transcend those delineations anyway. It’s no surprise that Saga is what many believe to be the best comic book on the shelves today. And if you know comic book fans, you know that that compliment isn’t something that gets thrown around lightly. This series really does live up to its hype.

Family affair

The genius behind Mind MGMT is back with an all new series that promises to be a murder mystery like no other. And this time, he isn’t working solo. Matt Kindt teams up with his wife Sharlene for a brand new series that takes its readers deep beneath the ocean’s surface.

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Dept. H follows the story of Mia, a special investigator, who travels to an underwater research facility to investigate the mysterious circumstances surrounding her father’s death. As the cover of the first issue suggests, her father just happens to be the most brilliant man on the planet.

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The series has a lot going for it. Matt’s signature style of art is as good on this book as it is with his other works, while Sharlene’s colors provide exactly the right atmosphere for a deep-sea adventure.

Story-wise, the first issue does a great job laying the groundwork by introducing a diverse cast of characters; some already known to the protagonist, others just recent acquaintances – all capable of murder. It feels like a classic whodunit mixed with sci-fi and drama.

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The second issue explores Mia’s relationship with her brother, who isn’t exempt from suspicion.What I like about Matt’s writing is that his stories are always multidimensional. Expect that he will explore every possible angle, every potential side-story to give depth to his work.  I look forward to seeing how he fleshes out each character in the series.

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If you’re looking to read something out of the mystery genre, you might want to pick up this comic book while it’s only two issues in. With the Kindts in charge, you simply can’t go wrong.

 

Issue number three arrives on June 22.

Free Comic Book Day!

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We’re one week away from Free Comic Book Day! If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s the day when comic book shops give comic books away (as the name suggests) – and yes, it’s really free! If you’ve never picked up a comic book before, now’s the best time to do it. FCBD events are always packed, so you’ll find plenty of people you can chat with to find out what’s good on the shelves.

In the past few years, FCBD has grown here in the Philippines, and there are more and more people attending each year. Apart from giving away free comics, the biggest bookstores and comic shops gather top Filipino artists – including those who work for big publishers like Marvel and DC – and have them do sketches for comic book fans. Last year I had the honor of having superstar artist Stephen Segovia do a sketch for me on a blank comic book cover.

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The sketch, featuring Flashes Jay Garrick and Barry Allen, was done completely with ink. It was amazing to watch something like this get drawn right before my eyes, and to just witness a talented artist doing what he does best. I think it took about an hour and a half to finish but it was definitely worth the wait.

They also raffled off some freebies and I was lucky enough to win an actual page from a comic book series I read. The large illustration you see here, photographed with the magazine, was actually used during the production of the comic book. How cool is that?

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So if there’s a comic book shop in your area, do drop by and ask if they’re participating in this year’s FCBD. You might just find your next adventure waiting for you there.

Free Comic Book Day happens annually on the first Saturday of May.

Silver Age Showdown

It’s always a treat when I get to add a vintage comic book to my collection. You simply don’t come across these things every day. Plus, I’ve been looking for this particular issue for a while now. I’m a huge Flash fan, and you can’t have a proper Flash collection without collecting his races against Superman.

I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard (or participated in) the age-old debate about who’s faster between these two titans. Well, things weren’t much different half a century ago. Superman is known for being “faster than a speeding bullet” and Flash is the Scarlet Speedster, the Sultan of Speed, the Crimson Comet. So it only makes sense to pit the two against each other in a race around the world.

It was in 1967 – nearly 30 years after the creation of the two superheroes – that DC Comics finally gave the fans what they wanted. The race that was three decades in the making took place in the pages of Superman #199 where the two raced for a charity event organized by the U.N. This was one of the earliest comic book crossovers and certainly the most interesting one at the time.

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With the success of this Superman issue, a rematch shortly followed in the pages of Flash #175, and the two went on to have several races against each other in the decades that followed. Nearly 50 years since the iconic showdown, the Flash raced Supergirl in a crossover episode of their TV shows, proving that super-speed races still captivate fans of the superhero genre.

…Though if you really want to know who’s faster, check out this page from the third issue of The Flash: Rebirth (2009).

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