Second Chances and Social Callers – Commanders in Crisis #3 Review

Steve Orlando’s Commanders in Crisis #3 continues to bring us more mystery, sci-fi villainy, and wildly attractive superheroes in this addition to the series. While the action does die down a little bit more in this series, we’re finally given a few more answers about the murder of Empathy, its effects to our heroes on a cosmic level, and who exactly took the hit when the concept of Empathy was killed. Check out the issue first if you haven’t already, and be prepared for MILD SPOILERS.

Pretty Boys Cry Too

The first two issues of Commanders in Crisis centered on our heroes, the Crisis Command, trying to figure out the culprit behind the conceptual death of Empathy. The death, however, left behind the body of a man with no name or identity upon his discovery, and a means of murder that resembled that of a vampire attack. The questions were all we had for a while; “Who is this John Doe?” “Who could possibly do something as grandeur as killing all of Empathy?” and obviously, “Was it…vampires?”

Finally, issue #3 answers one of these questions. We find out that the mysteriously dead John Doe was actually one of our Commanders’ former lovers in “another world”- or at least a parallel one. We find out that Nina, also known as Frontier, had either been with this man or a version of this man, which at this point in the series, is fair game. The outcome and revelations will still be surprising, but in a multiverse-jumping story such as this, it definitely lines up. One of the bigger ideas that is mentioned in their scenes is the idea of second chances; what would you do if you were given another opportunity to live life, knowing you had the limited amount of time left in your world? What would you do if you knew you would die tomorrow? How would you spend the rest of your life? This issue touches on existentialism, and it works with Nina sort of grounding the John Doe as her anchor, along with the flashes of Nina’s past with him. With Nina’s relationship with this former living man teased, we also get a very brief glimpse at her connection to a certain corrupt politician in DC, who may or may not be wielding more pull than just scandalous knowledge and deceitful leverage.

My biggest eyebrow-raising awe moment was definitely at the introduction to a new villain, the Social Callers. It is phone-addiction made deadly. The notifications start off as a warning to his presence, which gradually become more and more frequent. They escalate into text messages, and then phone calls, and pretty soon he shows up.

His victims are all found dead and clutching to their cell phone devices, as Prizefighter puts it, “like they’re their wounded cubs.” If that doesn’t speak some level of volumes to you, the social commentary might have slipped over your head. This series doesn’t hold back punches with its sense of meta-ness and self awareness, and makes the effort to show and reveal things about us as people, as a collective society, and as an American country, and when the mirror is raised up to our faces in this book, you really can’t help but admire the poetry.

Canadian Tux Variant Cover? YES PLEASE.

Without giving too much away, please do yourself a favor this holiday season, and get Commanders in Crisis #3 OUT NOW from Image Comics and Arancia Studio! Between the Grant Morrison inspired world, and Davide Tinto‘s art popping off with lightning on the page, this series is one you don’t want to miss out on.

Super-Gods, Sick Mixtapes, and a Surreal Universe: Leaders of the Free World Review (#1 – #2)

If Gods blessed you with powers, would that make you one? Or does that just place you on a tier-level below the source of your abilities? It’s okay, don’t dwell on the existential question for too long, because thankfully we’ve got the answers for you. Hi, folks, and thank you for being patient with this anticipated post (just getting back to the day job grind) and welcome to my first ever Official Stars and Monsters comic review!

I was honored to be offered an opportunity to review the comic series Leaders of the Free World by one of the creative minds behind it, Corey Pruitt (better known as Task on Twitter) and quite frankly, it might have been the one of my most exciting experiences since the initial launch of this blog. Task is not only a comic writer, but also a podcast host on Supersuit Show, but also a major source of influence in the vortex that is the comic twitter community (Spider-Man fans hate Spider-Man, it’s the truth!) Task allowed me to preview his first two issues of his series, drawn by Elijah Johnson (also known as @artbyatlas0 on Twitter), and share some of my thoughts on Leaders of the Free World #1 and #2. So without further ado, let’s jump right into it!

Leaders of the Free World #1 – “A Surreal World”

I dove right into the first issue with the same initial thought that new readers to any series worry about; “Will I be overwhelmed by the world that was built before me?” I suppose the breakdown of the Free World mythos stems from the origin of the Godsend, a group of super-powered gods who arrived to the planet, each instilling themselves in one nation, and essentially committing to their nation’s image, government policies. In return, the Godsend provided tech and knowledge to help advance the world, which inadvertently birthed a new generation of super-powered beings: the Archetypes, a less powerful group of people who created more conflict than safety in the world. After a war killed a third of the world’s population, the Godsend issued laws to limit an Archetype’s activity to only their respective country. This is the lore of Leaders of the Free World.

This series starts with an excellent brief look at the world’s history in the form of a history class, narrated by Surreal, a teenage Asian-American descendant of the an ancient god known as the Monkey King. He fits every relatable aspect of being a teen whose heritage holds more power than they realize. With great power comes great responsibility, and thankfully, we don’t have another Uncle Ben-esque character to reminds Surreal of that. Instead, he meets Eco, the Son of Gaia, who is a superstar wrestler with abilities drawn from, well, Gaia. When these two characters meet and share scenes together, there’s definitely an undeniable chemistry between the two when it comes to the hilarity in their bantering back and forth, and Eco’s unconditional support towards Surreal. The young Monkey King doesn’t know his own true worth yet, and thankfully, the powerful and wise Eco stands beside him from the very beginning, showing a kind of trust that makes me reminisce about the days when Luke Cage and Iron Fist teamed up in Marvel’s Heroes for Hire series.

“Timber”, Eco’s wrestling signature move. Also named after my dog.

As I continued through the issue, I enjoyed the spotlight on these two characters a lot, while also finding myself more enthralled by the joy in seeing Surreal’s old school hip hop playlist scattered across text-boxes in the comic. It creates an entertainingly new and fun experience in a comic book that feels as authentic as a classic comic series as you go through each panel. It was one of the things I was most excited about discussing with Task. When asked where the inspiration for this came from, Task said, “I always listen to music when I write. So I thought ‘What if each issue had its own soundtrack?’ It’s a way for the reader to see where my headspace was at during the creative process.” Nicely done, Task. We love it.

One of my other favorite story threads in this issue specifically included the introduction of Moonshine, the wildly erratic and drunken female superhero whose abilities appear to rival even Superman. It was just one of the many things I enjoyed in this first issue, and I could easily list more, but I have LOTS more to gush about!

Leaders of the Free World #2 – The Beginning’s of Freedom

Aright folks, this is my favorite issue of the two for sure! In Leaders of the Free World #2, we are introduced to my absolute pairing of characters in this set universe. Like Ying and Yang, we meet Medic and Doctor Seance. Medic is, well…if God was a woman, to put it perfectly. As an angel of war and peace, she’s a balance between life and death. In nothing but merely scrubs, she manages to kick enough ass to make Jessica Jones second guess her career as a comic book badass. Alongside her is Doctor Seance, an evil necromancer whose character visual design homages aspects of Robbie Reyes’s Ghost Rider, with a symbiotic relationship to Medic like that of Venom, and a sinister and calculating villain mind that crosses between Lex Luthor and the Batman Who Laughs. These two characters, joined together by a holy and flaming halo over Medic’s head, embark on a quest to join the other lead heroes as they prepare for a crisis of epic proportions.

This, however, prompted me to ask Task about the bonds between the various characters, like the development between Surreal and Eco, or between Medic and Doctor Seance. Task’s response was, “When I came up with the characters I had to ask myself ‘Who would get along the most? Who would hate each other?’ Surreal and Eco are both mythical beings born into a life that they never asked for. So they relate to each other the most. Medic and Seance have history that will be explored throughout the series. I don’t want to reveal everything now but let’s just say you will be surprised.”

Comics can mend ya heart, kid.

As I continued on in this issue, completely enthralled by the concept of Medic and Doctor Seance (and Surreal’s Mix scattered through this issue as well to help set the tone), we soon learn more about the hardships that some of these characters hold in their personal lives. Medic, being a superhero and all that, is still a medical doctor, and has a duty to both the world she saves and the world she inhabits. When she turns to work from battle, she unfortunately fails to save her patient’s life. She storms out, completely broken, and her coworker consoles her by stating a sad, but accurate fact of life. She says, “You can’t save everyone all the time.” When I read this comic panel, it was then that I knew this was going to continue to become a really powerful story, with a really exceptional writer behind this stunning and beautiful line work. And, just as the moment on the page was beautifully had, it was interrupted by a beautifully nostalgic shot…

*CUE FREEZE FRAME*

FREEZE FRAME!

The story returns to the initial group, with Surreal. Eco, Tech-Neek, and Moonshine briefly meeting, but it’s just as an invasion brews in the sky above them. From that, to their hilarious first encounter with Doctor Seance, we get really funny dialogue, awesome action sequences, and super dope nostalgic homages to things in nature of, say, giant mechas, or Power Rangers, or maybe even Dragon Ball Z, or just plenty of West Coast classics to keep the action seamless like a swift breeze under Surreal’s feet. Another one of my favorite shots out of this back half of this issue is most definitely Eco’s greeting to the invaders, known as the ominous Outreach. We get some top-tier Samoan representation, some more amazing character moments amidst the action, and an epic finale shot that may tease an epic clash between two of the most powerful beings on the team. Both beautiful and strong women, might I add.

One of my last questions, more of a fanboy-gushing moment, was me asking about what could be teased to other fans of this series, whether it be epic shonen-styled fight scenes between certain highly powerful characters, or the brief tease of the mysterious Mr. Excellent. Task answered with, “I’m trying to make this world seem as big and alive that I can. And that there’s more going on than what is happening in the books. Mr. Excellent’s story will lead to another story arch that I am excited to share. And it’s funny how you brought up the fights with Lunar because let’s just say she’s not entirely sold on the idea of this team up yet. Where she comes from she reigns over these beings, not collaborate with them. Issue 3 is on the way folks. Stay tuned.”

Well done, Free World. You have a special place in my love for comics now, and I cannot wait to see what an amazing franchise this becomes soon.

A Cybrogi. That’s it. ‘Nuff Said.

No weekly plugs this week, folks. Not like I usually do, I mean. No, all I want to suggest to my readers is to check out this new comic book ASAP. This is seriously one of the most enjoyable comic reads I’ve had in a very long time, for sure. It’s pretty amazing, and the series is available on Comixology right now, or, if you’d like, you can follow the writer @uptotask, or the artist @artbyatlas0 on Twitter.

Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Leaders of the Free World #3!

Switchin’ up my outro like I usually do too, folks. This time, I’m quoting Gamer Presidential Candidate, Mr. Ace Watkins.

*ahem*

Not solo; squad.

“Stars and Monsters: Tales” Announcement

Hiya, folks! I’m finally back! I wanted to post an update about some things on this blog, with how I’m going to organize things here and how regularly I’m going to post. I only realized I needed to do this because I had two weeks where I had started posts for Stars and Monsters, one Arrow related and one Bojack Horseman related, and failed to finish either, and have spent what free time I do have working on these projects that I’ve hardly mentioned. That being said, this post will also address what these projects exactly are and such!

In regards to the weekly post format, I may have to just start posting whenever I’m available instead. I found myself struggling to meet my “post-every-Wednesday” schedule and end up posting, you know, weeks later or something. Also, I don’t always post on Wednesdays either, so posts will just start coming periodically. And with that, I want to share what has been keeping me busy these past few weeks!

The Dark Within Us is my upcoming fantasy sci-fi story on Wattpad. It follows 17 year old Ronnie Reid, a kid from Chaseville, California, as he joins a band of monster slayers on a journey through a hidden dark world. It’s sort of going to be like a novella, one that touches on what it means to find a family, and to discover the truth about your life for the first time ever. This is going to be the first part of a trilogy that follows Ronnie and the rest of his family as they encounter entities of darkness and evil in the world. So far, part one of this trilogy is in its early stages of development, with a prologue available to read on Wattpad for free right now!

Beat Inside My Soul is an upcoming sci-fi animated series that follows a group of teenage ravers who gain the ability to weaponize sound from a new deadly party drug. The teens, led by by thriving DJ Simon Bates, unite their abilities and efforts to stop a drug epidemic. With the story in the final stages of development and in the early draftings of the screenwriting process, I am also reaching out to animation designers, musicians, dancers, and other artists to help develop visuals for the animated series. My hope is to have a finished script for the pilot pitched to animation studios or streaming services like Netflix.

“Anomaly” is an upcoming sci-fi superhero comic series that follows Seth Gibson, along with his best friend Jordan, and his little sister Reina, as he learns to harness his newly discovered ghost-like abilities, and fights to take down a local street gang called Erebus and their leader, Adonis. This crime action series touches upon trauma, sexuality, addiction, and other themes. Once I’ve secured artists to work on at least the first comic issue, I hope to pitch the series to some comic book publishing company, or perhaps just post online as a web comic, maybe on Webtoons.

These stories all take place in different points in time, with The Dark Within Us having early 2000s setting, Beat Inside My Soul taking place in the 2010 era, and Anomaly taking place in the 2020s. At some point, these stories will address their connections with one another.

With these projects being lined up, along with this blog, I’m going to start posting updates on each of these stories through this blog, with the occasional fanboy posts about other stuff being released! One that I’m excited to write about is Harley Quinn – both the new movie AND her animated series in DC Universe. We’ll also talk about other stuff, other music, shows, and Doctor Who too! OH GOSH Doctor Who is so good right now.

Anyway, out of the two projects, I do have one chapter up for The Dark Within Us and a link to music for Beat Inside My Soul, which also just features my music made under SyckBeat. There is one song, a mashup, made for the animated series posted on there as well, so check that out! Will post again soon when I can. Thank you, everyone, for keeping up with my erradict posts and all that jazz! Stay amazing, folks! ✨

WTF is MFKZ?

Hi there, folks, it’s ya boy. I’m back after a week and, honestly, I feel bad. I told myself I’d post weekly, but I just had a rough time trying to piece together a post last week, so I needed some time to let some ideas mull over. I was tempted to do another Crisis on Infinite Earths post after the Arrowverse crossover ended, but I might hold off on making another big fanboy post about that for a while, just to let things sink in.

Instead, I wanted to talk about what I was aiming to write about last week, which is this animated sci-fi action movie on Netflix called MFKZ. It was originally an animated short called Operation: Blackhead, then a comic series that went by MFKZ, which all got made into this collaborative anime styled movie between a French production company and a Japanese animation studio. It’s directed by the same anime director that worked on Batman: Gotham Knights (which was anime-inspired, at least) and a French rapper.

Now, when you ask anybody about this movie, they’ll tell you one of two things. Either you’ll be told that the movie is a must-see for its visuals and animation style, which I agree with, or you’ll be told to not watch this movie because it’s an incoherent mess of a plot, and a ludicrous waste of time, which is, like, partially true. This movie is an aesthetically pleasing trip with sick visuals and an amazing soundtrack, with the occasionally jarring sequences that are definitely meant to act as a sort of vibe check for the viewers, as a sort of way for the movie to ask “Hey, are you still with us?”

Welcome to Dark Meat City, Mutafukaz

So, if I were to provide a synopsis for MFKZ, I would describe it as sci-fi action/crime thriller about this cartoony kid, Angelino, and his equally cartoony flaming skull headed companion, Vinz, as they endure misadventures through the crime-infested corrupted Dark Meat City, which is this weird urban combination of Los Angeles and São Paulo. We see what it’s like for these two outcasts living in a city with issues like poverty, gang-related crime, and oppressive police forces, all through the perspective of an anxious and self-conscious kid. Looking at the world from this viewpoint makes the movie really enjoyable for the first half of the time, considering how refreshing this sort of environment is for an anime styled flick.

Lino’s head throbbing like this is such a mood.

The characters are my one of my favorite bits about this movie, even though some people argue that the characters aren’t written well at all. You’ve got these three, the most goofy looking cartoons, reminding you to not take this movie so seriously, even though there are moments where the movie asks you to do so. With the orange cat named Willy, you’ve got the friend in the trio that is a literal vibe killer, banging on your front door shouting loud enough for your neighbors to hear. He’s the character that is kind of just…in the way of everything? Like, he’s the friend that’s just there, but you go to when you need a favor or something. His first appearance sums this up a lot. Aside from him, you’ve got Vinz, the flaming skull. He’s voiced by Vince Staples, so, cool tidbit there! He is Lino’s best friend (and arguably is in love with Lino, but that’s another conversation) and is sort of the ride-or-die that you grow to rely on. Vinz lives with Lino as they both struggle to make their roommate situation work, which is actually a funny scene with well written irony sprinkled there, but as plot progresses, Vinz sticks by Lino, regardless of what happens, and believe me, a LOT happens. He’s the MVP for sure.

Lino, the hero and prodigal messiah or whatever, is the guy just trying to live his life, and gets thrown into battle with sketchy suit thugs, local street gangs, and a conspiring government made up of aliens in disguise. He’s arguably a poorly written character, but I don’t necessarily agree with this, mainly because while others see his lack of interests and goals make him a bad character, his entire character is written around the fact that he doesn’t know what he wants. There’s this cute anime-looking scene where the trio is resting after a chase sequence with the suited thugs, and as they see shooting stars, Willy asks Lino what he’d wish for, and the guy says “I dunno…I just wanna be a somebody.”

And that’s sort of where Lino’s character is rooted in. He’s anxious because he’s lost his job, he’s on the run all of a sudden after a run-in with thugs in suits (which, after watching the scene during several rewatches, I’m convinced it all happened because Lino was genuinely paranoid and spooked the thugs), and he’s losing control over his life, control over these prophetic visions he gets (which leave him convinced he’s tripping, just like I did my first time watching) and over powers he starts to gain after each violent encounter (these moments are depicted with a shot of his heart bursting into flames in his chest and his eyes grow animal-like, which was actually a really cool detail for each action sequence). Lino is a mess from the start of the movie, because he and Vinz want to leave DMC, but they don’t. Lino says something along the lines of them having “No jobs, no money, no car, ain’t got a shadow of a prayer,” and it sort of sums up Lino’s anxieties. As the movie progresses, we see Lino exhibit these anxious tendencies, starting from an accident and him losing work to gaining these visions, trippin’ out, convincing himself that police and priests are monsters (more on that later), to taking charge in these encounters with thugs, cops, and other adversaries, and you can see the anxieties in those situations shift from him to Vinz, the only other person with him throughout all of this, and Lino ends up, as he so cleverly puts it in the sickest car chase ever, “fucking handling it”.

Who Are Those Mysterious Masked Wrestlers?

Okay, I mentioned the visual aesthetics of this movie, but what if I told you that there was LORE? Yes, we get a brief scene at the beginning of the movie that alludes to, like, “plot,” but then the first half really is just focusing on Lino and Vinz getting through everything. Towards the middle of the movie, the plot shoves lore at you by introducing the antagonist, which is a government suit who is actually the leader of an alien race called the Macho (which might be commentary on toxic masculinity, but that could be just me), and we also have the Luchador sequences, where they’re wrestlers, but are also, like, ancient guardians tasked with fighting against evil, but they are waiting on ANY evil to emerge? And they randomly team up with a scientist (who is visually very cartoony, which makes me wonder if using cartoon-looking people is an artistic choice or if there’s lore attached to that too) who defects from the Macho scientists or whatever, and there’s stuff there. Meanwhile, we learn the origin of Lino’s powers, stemming from being half Macho (it’s why he’s a black ball headed cartoon I think) and his mother died at the hands of some enforcer as she protected Lino and his father, who is Macho, but…takes the form of a dog with an eye hanging from his eye socket? So Lino MIGHT BE HALF DOG? ALL UNCLEAR.

See, this is the thing that people begin to complain about. The story makes no sense when you REALLY buckle down and try to digest the lore and plot that’s handed to you after a while, because a lot of it is just weird. Like, you can tell there were a lot of ideas and creative story elements at some point, but they really don’t mesh well after a while. Luckily, none of this is the movie’s strong suit.

This Is Why I Watched MFKZ

The action is why we stay for this film, though, along with the music it’s accompanied by. This is what took me a while to really figure out. The movie is great for so many reasons, while also being stupid. Watching it is most definitely a trip as you start being spooked around the same moments Lino gets spooked with dark visions, trippy visuals, feeling a wave of mild hypnosis with a cleverly done black and white hypnotic sequence, but the real fun lies in the action. As I mentioned, Lino gradually becomes more and more capable with each action sequence, with the first stemming from true paranoia as he takes down threatening thugs stooge-styled to horror music, followed by a sick dubstep fight sequence with Nazi-looking SWAT police (which confuses me because the next action sequence has a normal looking police officer on the street, which might be the first time the local authorities got involved in the antics in the film), and then we get my favorite scene, the ICE CREAM CAR CHASE (the music makes the scene the best, with the synchronizing of the ice cream truck’s music with a sick beat), and, like, a few scenes shot to hip-hop and reggaeton, which ALL are great. Even the songs playing in these character’s downtime rules! It’s calming, it’s urban, it sort of brings the world to life a little more (excluding mythical wrestlers and alien goo monsters).

The soundtrack for the movie really proves to be the highlight of the movie, which really is only enhanced by the action sequences. That being said, the story might’ve been written AROUND those scenes, but I can live with that. Visually, the movie is great, and like I said, there are a lot of cool creative story elements thrown into MFKZ. I wish I could go on about the romantic subtext between Lino and Vinz, the Macho-alien being an analogy for toxic masculinity, and the subliminal details that all seem to allude to entirely different ideas that most viewers would ignore because of the mindfuck that the movie is, but as I went through my notes that I jotted down about the plot during my second viewing of the film, I realized how much of a mess those thoughts are, and as much as I tried to capture and articulate the ideas that MFKZ is trying to express, it’s just so hard to do. So we’ll just say that the movie is a fun time if you maybe, like, smoke a bowl, turn your brain off for an hour and a half, and enjoy the visual trip and sick music.

Anyway, stay tuned next week because I’m gonna go on about ANOTHER amazing animated property that utilizes music in a similarly sick fashion, but maybe better!