Sunday, April 10, 2016

Ghetto Brothers: Warrior to Peace Maker

Written by Julian Voloj
Art by Claudia Ahlering

I am quite familiar with the story of Benjamin “Yellow Benjy” Melendez and the Ghetto Brothers. IT was Jeff Chang's “Can't Stop, Won't Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation,” hat bought this story back from obscurity. It was also told by Melendez himself in “Ghetto Brothers: How I Found Peace in the South Bronx Street Gang Wars.” Netflix also released a wonderful documentary which goes on to chronicle the gangs of New York in the Seventies called “Rubble Kings.” When I learned that Melendez' story was going to be put in a graphic novel form, I was excited.

Julian Voloj puts the entire story together well. Voloj covers much ground in the short space provided by graphic novel genre. While there is but so much one can put into the graphic novel, Voloj leaves very little out. Claudia Ahlering's pencils are amazing. Ahlering captures the grittiness of NYC during that time. The black and white format captures the burnt out buildings and the poverty vividly. Ahlering gets the facial expressions right and pours emotion in the action sequences.

Finally, Voloj and Aherling provide a wonderful appendix that provides more resources and sheds more light on the overal story of the gangs in NYC. This is very crucial. I used this book with my students and plan to implement it as a tool for mediation. My students are captivated by this story despite the fact that reading is not something they enjoy. It was a wonderful way to get them read something and introduce them to a bit of history that might appeal to them. The story of the Ghetto Brothers is an inspiring one and demonstrates how people actually utilized tools discussed by notables such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And Mahatma Ghandi into becoming agents of change.

Being from the Bronx makes me biased when it comes to this story. Yet it is a story of triumph. It is one of young people putting their heads together and claiming their own destiny. This story is also one where people are claiming their right to have their story told. It is also our duty to make sure those stories are heard. When I return to the classroom in August, this one shall be on my shelf and will be inserted into my lesson plans.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Ultimates (Issues 1 to 3)

Written by AL Ewing
Pencils by Kenneth Rocafort

There was a scene in Avengers issues 44 where T'Challa goes to the White House to meet with President Obama a few hours before the final incursion beween Earth 616 and Earth 1610. T'Challa delivers the news that the universe is about to end and there is nothing anyone can do about it. He asks the President to deliver this message because he is someone everyone trusts. At one point, one of the president's aides barks out “You people were supposed to save us...”

Initially I ignored this scene. There were several other scenes in issue 44, that overshadowed this scene. It was not until I began reading the first issue of The Ultimates, did that scene pop back into my head. T'Challa wanted to emulate what the Illuminati did but with much more transparency and cooperation than ever before. At the same time, he wanted to put Wakanda's resources and know how at the forefront of this operation. Finding T'Challa in this happy medium will most likely bring better stories to the Marvel Universe. T'Challa has assembled a nice team of heavy weights. There is Blue Marvel, Monica Rambeau as Spectrum, Captain Marvel, and Ms. America Chavez. So the power set in this group outweighs that of the other Avengers teams.

In the first story arc written by Al Ewing and pencilled by Kenneth Rocafort, the Ultimates tackle the problem of Galactus. They approach this differently from anyone else before the Ultimates. T'Challa instead chooses to research the origin of Galactus and learns that he was formed out of an “Incubator” of sorts eons ago. Spectrum and Ms. America are sent to retrieve the Incubator while Captain Marvel and Blue Marvel are sent to intercept Galactus. Their plan works and the team is able to capture Galactus and place him in the Incubator and reversing his life energies. The result is Galactus the Life Bringer.

There are consequences to their actions. There is a sentiment on Earth that their actions might make Earth a target again as we have witnesses several times before the Incursion event in crossovers like Infinity, Avengers Vs. the X Men, and story arcs in the Fantastic Four under Jonathan Hickman and other stories. Their actions do not go unnoticed. The Shi'ar learn what the Ultimates have done and they don't seem to be happy.

I have always enjoyed Al Ewing's work on The Mighty Avengers and then Captain America and the Mighty Avengers. He is familiar with the members of these teams and one can tell in the Ultimates. He pools from previous Marvel stories especially that of Blue Marvel and has continued to integrate him in the Marvel continuity. Ewing's pacing is wonderful. While it moves quickly it does not leave the reader in a lurch. I have just begun to read Ewing's work on other imprints and his work is stellar.

Kenneth Rocafort was probably the only thing I enjoyed from Red Hood and the Outlaws. He doesn't miss a detail. His work for DC is amazing and I honestly can't remember something I didn't like that he did. I appreciate the fact that Marvel allowed him to do the covers for the Ultimates. They are very attractive. The thing about doing battles in space is that there is so much to put in and Rocafort does a great job of doing that. I really hope Marvel gets him to stay as a penciler in the series.

Quite honestly, this is the best Avengers title Marvel is putting out right now. It's really a shame that more folks aren't talking about this team. While I was hoping that Marvel would bring back the Illuminati from before the incursions with a slightly new line up (Reed Richards is recreating the multiverse and Namor is dead), I don't dig the new title.

I have to point out that Marvel did not reboot the universe. It's a newer universe with several changes but the Incursion is being treated as something that “just happened.” In the overall Marvel Universe, people are asking questions and there is more distrust towards super humans, but the Incursion isn't being given any more concern than a minor super human event. While it is true that it seems that no one seems to know what actually happened, including the heroes, it really cheapens the entire situation.

I do appreciate the fact that T'Challa decided to continue the work of the Illuminati but on a more PR level. They broadcast their work to the planet Earth. I also enjoy how the greater universe continues to see the Earth as a global threat. Finally, Ewing keeps throwing in the problem of the time stream and how many heroes have arbitrarily toyed with it. This will be the Ultimates next problem to fix. I am so looking forward to this.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

From East Oakland with Love

By Salvador "Chamuco" Cortez
Published by Pochino Press

As a historian, my mind is always boggled at how modern artists create images that are reiterations of what their ancestors did several hundred years before. It is as if the blueprint for modern art was encoded in one's DNA. Upon perusing he work found in “From East Oakland with Love,” I had to educate myself on linocuts. It is a sort of woodcut but linoleum is used for the medium. As a b-boy, I have an affinity for linoleum, so Chamuco Cortez' work spoke to me in different ways. So Cortez's work is generational and brings so much to the forefront.

I didn't know what to expect when this piece came to my desk. I think Pochino Press did it a dope job putting it out as a book. I will admit that I stray away from art books if they are not in a coffee table book format. However, Pochino Press put together a wonderful book and they really allowed Cortez to flesh out how he gets down. The poems and essays coupled with the art pieces give the reader much to digest. It allows Cortez to be his full artistic self and leaves no room for assumptions.

There is a linocut piece entitled “Confession a Feeling” where two cholos are kissing one another. It conveys so much in just one piece. This is followed by “To Serve and Protect” another linocut with a pig posing as an Oakland Police Officer. This is reminiscent of what Huey P. Newton expressed back in the late sixties and early seventies.

Probably the best part of “From East Oakland with Love,” is how Cortez pays homage to Aztec culture. He introduces the reader to many of the deities of the Aztecs. He then connects them to cholo culture in California. He then connects it to the zoot suit culture of the 1950s. In doing so, Cortez takes the reader through a virtual time machine via linocuts. In one scene, he gives the reader a linocut of Kuauhtemoktzin and on the next page he provides one of El Pachuco. Cortez provides the parallels to each story and makes that important connection.

My favorite would have to be “Still Warriors No Matter How” where he has a Brown Beret reflecting off of an Aztec deity. This personifies Brown Power and Pride. The reader can flip the page and enjoy the detail and notice the similarities between both characters. While Cortez does not give insight as to who this Aztec deity could be, it provides that mystery that keeps the reader intrigued.

I enjoyed how Cortez uses poetry from other writers to add on to his cipher. This approach to art and activism is a dope mixture. Pochino Press did a great job in this format. Hopefully we can see more art in this medium that puts together art and activism. It's refreshing to find a press that still puts out 'zines.

From East Oakland with Love and be purchased here at the Pochino Press website.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Little Red Fish Issue 2

Written by James Moffitt
Illustrated by Bizhan Khodabandeh

In issue 2 of this allegory, James Moffit and Bizhan Khodabandeh brings the reader back to the aquatic reef after the epic battle between Manuchehr and the heron. Initially, I assumed that Manuchehr died as a result of the battle but he is alive and well. He is also living amongst the fish in his aquatic form. We find that while there are fish who support Manuchehr and see him as a hero, there are those who see him as trouble. Not only do some fish find him troublesome, the eels make it a point to sabotage his message.

As I stated in the previous review for issue 1, I always find it difficult to teach my students the valuable lessons of events such as the Iranian Revolution. While there are heroes and villains in these points of history, there are also people who blur the lines of those titles. There are those who completely avoid the conflict as much as they could and there are those who make decisions that have bigger repercussions than they actually are aware of. On top of that, there are law abiding citizens who are good but take the side of the villain for various reason. History like life, is not just black and white.

While it is clear that the eels have their own interests in mind, there are some fish who do believe that if Mancuchehr wasn't around, there would be less trouble. While to the reader, this may seem counter productive, but it is a sentiment many have about several activists. When the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) was alive, there were quite a few people in his community who felt he was a rabble rouser. Many felt, that things didn't get out of hand until he showed up. The Iranian Revolution is no different.

The best part about issue 2 is that we find the actors taking sides. We see the build up. We even witness some fish state that Mancuchehr is not needed to fight a revolution and that the people cannot wait for him to recover. There are even those who feel that Mancuchehr has to fight for the people. This build up keeps the reader engaged. I cannot stress enough how Khodabandeh's artwork really brings it all to life. His breakdowns are very detailed. Everything is visible down to the smallest fishscale.

Overall, I am looking forward to the conclusion of these story. While we know the outcome of the Iranian Revolution, it will be amazing to see how Moffitt and Khodabandeh put it all together to deliver this wonderful story.  

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Blue Hand Mojo

Story and Art by John L. Jennings
Rosarium Publishing

This is a great time to be a comic book fan. With the internet and cheaper and more efficient ways to publish, many talented writers and artists who were seemingly locked out of the comic book industry, have several ways to meet their audience. There are so many great comic books out there now put out by independent artists that it's difficult to keep up. Quite a few deserve Eisner awards on so many levels.

If you don't know who John L. Jennings is, you should do a google search. Jennings is an extremely talented artist and scholar who has put in the work around the country. So when I heard he was doing a comic book where he wrote, drew, and colored, it was something I had to cop. This is no easy task. Oftentimes, a creator is good on one side of comic book story telling but bad in another. Jennings ventures away from just the bubbles, he narrates the story and places the text on the right hand side of the page. This really makes the quality of the story better and adds a more artful approach to it.

It all works. Jennings' lettering is perfect. He mixes history and fiction well when focusing on the the area of Chicago called Bronzeville during the post WWII period. His artwork is superb. Jennings introduces the reader to Frank “Half Dead” Johnson, a well known practioner of magic who does most of his work in the criminal underground of Chicago during the time of Al Capone.

The reader will immediately love the character of Half Dead Johnson. He is fearless and has no problems navigating Bronzeville and the outside white world. An old buddy who works for Capone, Mac the Shark, comes to request aid from Johnson. Just that dialogue between the both of them demonstrates how Johnson pretty much strong armed his way into his position. He speaks to Mac the Shark with an indifference that tells the reader that Johnson is not to be messed with. While Jennings gives little hints as to Mac the Shark and Johnson's history, but it's enough to know that no one messes with Johnson.

The best part is when Johnson goes to help Mac the Shark, he learns that he is already over his head. The contrast between his invulnerability to his fear is very interesting and what makes readers read a particular comic book. Jennings does a wonderful job building that up. Jennings knocks it out the park as both writer and artist.

Rosarium Publishing continues to put out quality work and Blue Hand Mojo is a prime example of this. I can't wait to cop the second issue of this work by John L. Jennings. As usual, Jennings continues to impress and put out dope work.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Captain America: Sam Wilson Issues 1 & 2

Written by Nick Spencer
Pencils by Daniel Acuna

I am a big fan of Rick Remender but I was not too happy with his take on Sam Wilson as the new Captain America. The artwork was dope and I enjoyed Wilson's approached to the mantle, but I don't think Remender handled it well. I think Nick Spencer is a good writer, but he never wrote anything that I felt another comic book reader had to copped. I love Daniel Acuna's pencils. Acuna's work on Uncanny Avengers was amazing. Acuna was the main reason I picked up this series.

Wilson really moves away from the Steve Rogers' approach to the stars and stripes along with the shield. Wilson takes more of a stance on certain hot button issues and takes a cue from Luke Cage and creates a hotline. He is no longer a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. And has no ties to the US government. Along with Dennis Dunphy aka D-Man and Misty Knight, Wilson keeps it as bare bones as possible.
On his first mission, Wilson heads to the border to help undocumented workers who are being kidnapped.

So far, it's really working. While Wilson is trying to figure out his footing, Spencer adds more issues to the mix. Dunphy adds comic relief while Misty keeps Wilson grounded. The appearances of Maria Hill who casts a large shadow over Wilson, adds more tension. Initially, I didn't see why Steve Rogers had to play a role but in issue 2, Spencer puts it all together. Even Armadillo makes an appearance in issue 2 to exact revenge on a broken promise.

For those who are expecting spoilers from Secret Wars, you won't find any here. There is a mention of the incursions in issue 2. We also learn about “Kobik,” a secret government program in which authorities can change the very fabric of reality using cosmic cubes. This is very interesting and I hope this ties into the ending of Secret Wars.

Acuna does a dope job with the breakdowns. I enjoy the fact that he does not exaggerate the physiques of the superheroes. What really stands out are the colors by Acuna. All of the flashbacks are highlighted by reds. In issue two on the first page, there is a panel with a twitter discussion between Wilson and some tweeps. It is hilarious. These added touches really do it for me.

I really enjoy what Nick Spencer is doing. Acuna always brings the pain. The covers, the background, the plot, and everything fits. This is definitely a new Captain America with a new look and a new approach. It definitely works.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Geek/Parent Hat

While I have been a geek much longer than I have been a parent, there are moments when I have to remind myself that I am a parent. While I have a ready list of comic books to suggest to parents, there are times when someone might ask for a recommendation and then I give them a few and then they tell me that it's for their 12 year old nephew.

I read a large amount of independent titles along with Image. Most of these titles are edgy and for mature readers. While I enjoy these titles so much, I am careful to recommend them. They are not for the faint of heart. My oldest son, who is now 21, has never lived with us. He was raised by his pentacostal mother who at times could be very strict but then be much more liberal than I could ever be. So while my son had strict curfews, she allowed him to run the gamut when it came to entertainment.

I remember one evening on the phone when he was about 14, he recommended “Preacher.” I assumed that I have read everything from the Vertigo line, but somehow “Preacher” missed my radar, so I was a late comer to that story. I loved it. As an atheist, it was right up my alley but I will admit that it was borderline blasphemous (I am honestly shocked that they are planning to make this into a movie). At that moment I had forgotten my parent hat. Wait, what was my 14 yeard old doing reading “Preacher?” On top of that, did his mother approve of this? This is the time of the internet and oftentimes, children will have access to things that we parents might never even know about.

In our day, no matter how well we hid our secret stash, ma dukes would find it. They were physical and tangible objects that took up space. We were bound to get caught since we only had to slip one time. Nowadays, a porn stash and hentai books can fit in a thumb drive that we would need a password to hack into it. So if he got away with it, shout out to the young G. Still, “Preacher” deals with some heavy themes.

I am a huge fan of Octavia Butler, but I am hesitant to recommend it for children. Butler dealt with difficult themes along with intersectionality. Her work bites hard and is revolutionary on every conceivable level. I want my children to be readers of her. At that moment with my oldest, I felt it was time for me to introduce him to her. He taught me a valuable lesson that day.

The first is that each parent knows his or her child. I know my children. I know what they like and what they are ready for. So while I might recommend some dope comics for them, they might not dig it and really enjoy something else. My middle son enjoys manga. That's how he gets down. That is totally outside of my lane so I should seek ideas from manga readers.

Second is that no parents are created equal. Some parents really engage their children when it comes to pop culture. Some might be in the middle. Others might just let their children roll how they want. My mother had no clue what I was doing reading comics but she saw that it kept me off the streets, so she supported my comic book habit. She had no clue what I was talking about when my brother and I would geek out. Every parent gets down differently. That is also okay.

Finally, we have to give our children the benefit of the doubt. As a parent, mentor, and educator, I have learned that children surpass every standard we set for them. They will get concepts that are completely over our heads. We have to stop assuming that they might not get something.

I hope this post helps. It's something that's been on my mind for the last few days. Today was the opportunity for me to put it out. You know your child better than anyone else. You know their perks and what they dig. You know how they get down. So while a comic might have that Mature rating, one never knows how they will grow from that.