Batman – A Word to the Wise – Review

Batman – “A Word to the Wise” – Review

Batman - A Word to the Wise
Batman – A Word to the Wise

Branded content has been around for a long time.  It’s usually pretty good for marketing.  You provide content that people will enjoy and attach your name to it.  Branded podcasts are starting to pop up now.

But never before have I seen a branded comic book, apart from Batman “A Word to the Wise”.  Here’s an excerpt from the fine print on the first page:

This comic book has been sponsored by Zellers Inc. to support and promote the cause for literacy in Canada.

No kidding on the fine print here – I actually used a magnifying glass to read it.

The Story

The comic begins in Montreal, Quebec, where some kids are trying to get a good view of fireworks.  Batman swoops in to save the day when one such kid ignores warning signs on a rickety fire escape, suggesting that a little bit of reading goes a long way!

We turn to Toronto, where Joey is trying to convince Joanie to ditch the boring library and go to the Canadian National Exhibition – which apparently won’t wait forever, you know.

Batman drives in the middle of the road.
Batman drives in the middle of the road.

Meanwhile, Batman, driving in the middle of the road between Montreal and Toronto, comments on how nice the drive is, and that it’s no wonder The Joker would make his way down to Toronto.  I guess there’s logic there?  The Joker likes farmhouses and country side?  Moving on.

Apparently The Joker is after a rare 1867 edition of “The Geography of Canada”, and was making his way across the country, starting in Newfoundland.  He’s made his way to Toronto, and that’s where Batman is headed (thanks to insight from his Bat-Computer).  Thanks to the wonders of 90’s technology, Batman is able to immediately fax a copy of his reports to the RCMP!

Batman tracks down Joker to a library, but he escapes.  But the book The Joker is after is with Joanie – who is now in danger!  Batman tracks down Joanie, but The Joker follows Batman and traps them all in the CNE.

The Joker gets his hand on the rare geography book, and tears it in half – disappointed that “it” isn’t in the book.  Apparently, there’s something inside this rare geography book that he’s looking for.  What could it be?

Zellers!
Zellers!

Batman, using Joanie and Joey’s help (after all, they know more about Canada than Batman does!), head west after the Joker to Alberta, and make stop “at the local Zellers store just outside Edmonton.”  They proceed to note that it’s “terrific that there’s always a Zellers nearby when you need one”.

Batman is too late, as the Joker found the parchment in the binding of the geography book he was looking for.  It looks like Joker’s headed to the Calgary Stampede (or perhaps, just a rodeo?) to make some sort of announcement to the world.

Joker claims that the parchment he found was a land grant, giving him full legal claim to all of North America west of Cape Spear.  He demands to be proclaimed rightful ruler of the entire continent within 24 hours or have the entire populace evicted.

Batman hog-ties The Joker in record time, and saves the day.  The RCMP arrive to deal with everything else Batman leaves behind, leaving the issue of this strange land grant!

Apparently the option on the deed had to be exercised within 125 years of the date of signing, but this very day happens to be 125 years and ONE day after the signing!  So Joker’s claim is void.  His henchmen tell him he should have read the fine print, and Joey realizes that reading DOES have its uses after all!

Fantastic Lines

This book is as cheesy as it gets, and definitely follows the mold of Adam West’s Batman with lines like:

“You heard the lady!  This is a library – and your card’s just been cancelled!”

There are some other gems, like:

“Look, can we just shelve this reading stuff for the time being?”

The writing is actually not that bad, for a commercial tie-in.  I think the best moment in the book is when Batman hog ties The Joker, and yells out, “Clear!” – clearly knowing exactly what to do in a rodeo.  You see, children, Batman is well-read.  See how useful reading is?

My takeaway

Throughout the entire book, there are double-sided, single page ads with coupons advertising various products sold only at Zellers.  As an adult, it’s fairly obvious that this comic book was designed completely to advertise, but if you were a kid reading it, it would just be a fun Batman story.

And for a piece of branded content, this was actually quite good.  The Joker seems to be very much in character (he has some cheesy tricks up his sleeve – literally – and dresses up like a cowboy).  The plot, while simple, doesn’t seem to have any holes in it.  I think that’s BECAUSE it’s so simple.

Anyway, if you ever come across this book – it’s worth picking up for some of the strange appearances in it; I mean, seeing a big Zellers store front show up on one of the pages is something you don’t normally see (and naturally, will never see again).

2.5 out of 5!

Comic Book Review Series

Comic books, man.

One of the things I’ve always wanted to do is create an online comic, or write a comic book.  The only problem is that I can’t draw worth a hill of beans.  And I’m not a super avid reader of comics, but there are a select few that I’ve found that I enjoy.

These aren't the comic books I'm talking about, but they look cool!
These aren’t the comic books I’m talking about, but they look cool!

So I thought I would spend the month of August reading and reviewing comic books – both physical and online.  I have a bit of a backlog building on my shelf that I want to power through.  Posts are going to come out at least weekly, but I will likely have some bonus posts to throw up because I think I have more comics to talk about than there are weeks in the month.

This one is also pretty cool.  Now I wish I could add it to my list.
This one is also pretty cool. Now I wish I could add it to my list.

Here’s a preview of some of the comics I’m going to review, in no particular order:
– Atomic Robo Volume 1
– Universe Vol 01 (from http://panelsyndicate.com/)
– The Private Eye Vol 01 (from http://panelsyndicate.com/)
– Barrier (from http://panelsyndicate.com/)
– Batman “A Word to the Wise” (Strange Zellers tie-in from 1992)
– Strange Tales of Oscar Zahn
– Poe Dameron: Black Squadron (Vol 1, issues 1-6)
– Suicide Squad “Blood & Snow” Part Two (near as I can tell, issue 12 from April 1988)

That list in itself grew as I was typing up this entry as I find more things to read.  This is not ideal but also great at the same time.  Anyway, I have a lot of reading to do (and this is on top of trying to finish a bunch of novels) so I’d better get cracking!

Web Comics Recommendations

Note: This is a re-post from my old blog, written back in December 2016.  I’m a bit busy this week but didn’t want to miss my schedule!  Hope you enjoy this post.

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The Strange Tales of Oscar Zahn
The Strange Tales of Oscar Zahn

I am by no means a comic aficionado; I leave that stuff up to people like Patrick & Dad.  However, I do enjoy comics, every now and then.  I’m not sure yet whether I prefer the physical article or reading on a tablet – more and more lately, tablet is becoming much friendlier – but I’ve always liked web comics, for sure.  I’ve gotten out of reading them lately, which is unfortunate.

Anyway, a few months back I asked the aforementioned Patrick for some free comic recommendations and he turned me onto City of Walls, available via LINE Webtoon.  In addition to CoW, I’ve found a few other gems hidden in the app.  I find that the “popular” and “featured” comics on Webtoon generally do not have me in their target audience, so I’ve had to do some digging.

Here are my recommendations from LINE Webtoon, in no particular order:

City of Walls – 3.5/5

I struggle with rating this one.  On the one hand, I really appreciate the art and level of detail; on the other, the writing leave me a little wanting.  Sometimes it’s got bad pacing…other times it seems just right.  I like the overall story though.  I don’t want to give away too much about it, so I’ll just say that the protagonists are kids in a fictional Asian city.  The world building is just great as well.

Zen Pencils – 4/5

Zen pencils is illustrated by Gavin Aung Than.  This is a series of stand-alone comics that are based on / inspired by actual quotes from real-life people.  Most of hte quotes seem to be about being creative or being true to yourself.  I do sometimes find it off-putting that lot of the advice about dropping everything and doing what you love doesn’t present a realistic sense of balance…


The Strange Tales of Oscar Zahn – 3.5/5

Author/Illustrator: Tri Vuong (works out of the RAID studio in Toronto).  This one has gorgeous artwork.  The story is only okay – I like bits and pieces of it, but I mainly stick with it for the beautiful art.  The current story – “The Last Soldier of Somme” – is set in WWI and seems to be going somewhere, but pacing can make it hard to follow.  Vuong is admittedly new to writing so I’m willing to cut some slack.  Either way – the character design for Oscar Zahn is fantastic.  It looks like Vuong has had this idea floating in his head for a while now.

There are more, but I feel like I need to get caught up with reading some of them before I can properly recommend them.  Until then – enjoy those three!

Update on 2017 Goals

Back in January, I set some goals for 2017 and thought that since we’re now three months into the year (and my birthday is this weekend), I should leave a little bit of a progress update. I didn’t intend to do this until April, but like I said – my birthday is this weekend so it felt like a good time to give the year a quick assessment.

Remain Organized

This is going pretty well, I think. At this point I’m not really worried about my level of organization – I just did a little bit of a purge of my work space at home, and my journal is updated mostly every day (weekends tend to be the exception, which I’m perfectly fine with). The fact that I’m concerned with making my journal look nice as opposed to keeping up to date with it tells me I’m fine here.

Be a positive example

This is probably going to be the toughest one to judge progress. I think I’m doing okay here. I haven’t done a lot of venting anywhere.

Lose the weight.

It’s going, and that’s about all I can say about it right now. I’ve written more about it recently though.

Learn more about driving social media engagement

Right now this is taking the form of figuring out “how to blog”, sort of. One step has been to buy a domain name.

Write more.

Middle grade on this one. Technically I am writing pretty frequently on the blog, but not feeling as productive as I feel I should be. Objectively though, I’m doing great.

Read more.

As overall progress goes, this is fine; however I’m still stuck on a book that I should be finished by now. I just haven’t been making much time for reading novels, but if you want to talk comic books I’m your guy!

In conclusion…

I think I’m plodding along quite well with my goals for the year. I’ve picked some pretty tough ones to assess, which means I think I should do a formal draft of the goals + measure of success for these. I’ll do that in April, when I originally intended to do a follow-up post.

Archie Comics

I recently got turned back onto Archie comics when I decided to dive into Jughead, which is currently being written by Ryan North (of Dinosaur Comics).  I’ve only read the first two issues (this part of the run currently by Chip Zdarsky) but it’s fantastic. Very reminiscent of the classic Archie comics I remember reading. 

So I think I’m going to start picking up the Archie digest comics every now and then. My brothers and I used to read them ALL the time when we were kids. In fact, I’ve been meaning to pick up our old collection again next time I’m at my parents house. 

The greatest thing about these comics is that they’re easy to read through, and are funny no matter how old you are.  And I don’t think the humour has changed in the over 75 years the comic has been around. I love that each writer keeps the same overall style while brining their own flair to the series. 

I just found a book that must be from 2008 or so. It’s things like this panel that crack me up every time. 

Who knew Archie comics had this wonderful invention built into their books this whole time?
Who knew Archie comics had this wonderful invention built into their books this whole time?

I’ll do a full review post of the Jughead run once I finish it. But spoiler alert – it’s fantastic and you should read it. 

My Personal Comics Renaissance

I was never a huge comic book reader when I was younger.  In fact, minus a few issues that have fallen apart or I’ve given away, I still have all of the books I’ve ever owned since my days as a youth.  Spoiler alert: that’s not very many comics.  The point here is that I didn’t have a large collection, and definitely wasn’t using my allowance to buy a new comic book every week or month.

I remember liking the idea of super heroes – Spider-Man specifically – but I don’t know how I got into that kind of thing, or how I ever first realized I “knew” Peter Parker’s origin story.  I guess it’s just one of those things that gets ingrained into popular culture that we’re aware of all the time.

I added to my collection when I was in high school, a little bit, when I found some cool Star Wars comics that I enjoyed.  Still not on the ground floor of when Star Wars came back into pop culture either – I was still more into the novels than the comic books.

But recently after discovering podcasts like Make Dad Read Comics, I’ve been getting more into comic books.  Some of them are pure indulgence (such as Civil War) but I’ve been largely more judicial in choosing comic books to read.  I’m not extremely interested in the super-hero genre, but tend to gravitate more toward the “literary” comic book.  More independent stuff.  I’m not counting Vader in that category, mind you.

But I also used to read web comics all of the time.  This is one area I’ve struggled to get back into, and I don’t know why.  Web comics are basically like news paper comics, but there are some really good ones out there that deserve attention.  Unfortunately I’m having to discover that all over again.  Dinosaur Comics is perennially my favourite, but I can’t say I can name others right now.

I think my personal renaissance stems from there being more choice these days.  The quality is also higher than what I remember as a youth – even 15 years ago, the quality was not as good as it is today.  I think it’s amazing what some people are able to come up with, and I’m always in awe of what people are able to draw.

Got any good comic recommendations?  Web or otherwise?

Vader Omnibus – Volume 1 Review

I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Vader comic book series, and it was recently recommended to me by Patrick of Make Dad Read Comics to read it – I had a $50 gift card burning a hole in my pocket so I finally picked up the first 12 issues, collected in Vader Omnibus – Volume 1.

If you haven’t come across this comic book before, the general idea behind it is that it follows Vader’s antics immediately after the destruction of the first Death Star.  It joins the long standing tradition of comics and novels filling in the space in between films, which I can always get behind.

I finally finished the book over the weekend, and I can say that I really enjoyed it.  One of the interesting things that it does is knock Vader down several notches.  He’s somewhere in between his status in A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back; he’s still taking orders from other Imperial officers (Tagge, this time), but isn’t quite as fearsome as he appears in ESB.

What’s interesting is that the Emperor is really displeased with Vader in this comic series.  The destruction of the Death Star at the end of A New Hope is a big failure for the Empire, and for Vader in particular.  At this stage in the comics, Vader must really prove himself to the Emperor again, while being placed under the supervision of an Imperial officer.  What results is Vader taking it upon himself to gather his own covert forces to track down Luke Skywalker.

There are several cool flashback moments in the comic that re-contextualize Vader a little bit.  It made me realize that he was probably thinking of his past at a few different points in the movies, even though the prequel trilogy came much later.   But the real highlight of these first 12 books are Captain Aphra and her droid factory (I’m hit or miss on Triple-0 and BT but more on the hit side than miss).  I just found out today that she’s going to have her own comic book series – and I think I want to check it out.

I would gush more, but I need to give this another read through.  Especially since I also just learned that the second volume is coming out Feb 28th, so I have another book to pick up soon.  Suffice it to say that the Vader series is well-written, well-drawn, and is fun to read through.  I definitely recommend it!

Understanding Comics – Scott McCloud

I read Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud over the weekend – yes, I typed that correctly; I started the book sometime Friday and finished it Sunday.  If you want to skip my review entire, I’ll tell you straight up that I rated it 4/5 on Goodreads.

As I mentioned, I was able to finish it in a weekend.  Surely I missed a lot of information, but at around 215+ pages, it’s not a very dense work of non-fiction – there aren’t a lot of words, and the bulk of it is juxtaposed next to images to help drive the point home.  It makes for a very quick read, but the material is there to make it a very deep dive if you’re so inclined.

The format is presented in black and white, with one chapter briefly featuring bits of colour (for emphasizing the uses of colour in comics).  Everything was otherwise clear in terms of conveying information, so definitely no marks lost for lack thereof.  In fact, I think the one chapter about the use of colour helped to bring attention to the material at hand.  Releasing it in colour may have diluted the information a bit, maybe.

The book is clearly well-researched.  McCloud knows what he’s talking about, and goes back to information and comics centuries’ old.  There are a few parts where it feels slightly repetitive, but never dry.  I really enjoyed how it made me realize some of the unseen techniques going on with comics that I hadn’t really considered before.

At times I felt a little overwhelmed with some of the ideas presented, and I feel like McCloud went a little far-afield with some of his ideas.  But overall it was presented in a friendly format and is a fun essay to read through.  4/5, definitely recommend.

Star Wars Infinities: A New Hope

infinitiesanewhope16 years later, I finally read Star Wars Infinities: A New Hope.  If you’re not familiar with the title, the Infinities series is basically a “What If” series of comics published by Dark Horse in the early 2000’s, starting with A New Hope in 2001.

I first picked up issues 2, 3, and 4 – probably 16 years ago – based on the cover of the books; at the time, I couldn’t find issue #1 in the comic book shop, so I never read the books.  Finally, this year, I found the first issue and got to reading.

Overall, I’d give the series a 3.5/5.  The first issue is definitely the weakest, starting off with a quick summary of what really happened in A Ne w Hope, with some narration boxes saying…”what if something changed” (I paraphrase)?  In the case of SWI:ANH (my abbreviation), the detail that changes is Luke’s torpedoes fail to destroy the Death Star.

What follows is that the Rebel Base gets mostly destroyed, but the Rebels  manage to escape…for a few minutes.  Han and Luke believe that Leia is dead, triggering a massive angry outburst from Luke.  They manage to escape, and on starts this new saga.

I think the best part of this story has to be the depiction of Coruscant as the seat of the Empire, taking familiar locations from Episodes I and II and flipping them around.  For instance, the artists draw the Jedi Tower almost exactly as it appears in the prequel films, but use it as the Emperor’s private residence.  It’s a very fitting place for the Emperor to set up shop, really.  But the artist team get the details perfect, including the landing platforms that are used as well.  I recognize them all from the prequel trilogy.

Overall the writing is pretty sharp and tight.  I recently read the Dark Empire series from Dark Horse, and didn’t really enjoy the writing in that series.  However, the story progresses well for Infinities and the character choices make sense.  Well, Han doesn’t really have much to do other than shuttle Luke around – but I liked the sequence where Han, Luke and Chewie head to Dagobah.  That part does work.

If you can track the series down at some point, I definitely recommend it.  I’m going to look for the other Infinities series soon – hopefully they’re just as good.  Next up though, I have the first 12 volumes of the new Darth Vader series on the way to my mailbox, so I’m looking forward to getting started with that.