Avatar: The Last Airbender – ‘The Search’ by Gene Luen Yang, Bryan Konietzko, and Michael Dante DiMartino

Nickolodeon’s Avatar: The Legend of Korra  has now finished and sadly that it is the last we will see from the Avatar show.  Although I’m of course upset that the show has ended, the creators have revealed in an interview that even though Avatar has reached its end in animation form, the ending didn’t completely finish the Avatar Saga and COULD be continued in other formats such as comics.

This is already true of the previous series – Aang: The Last Airbender – which has been continuing in comic book form since finishing on TV. This has already been released in three comic book sagas: The Promise, The Search, and The Rift. These comic books follow Avatar Aang and his ‘Team Avatar’ during a series of events that take place after Aang ends the 100 Year War. Although I recommend reading all three, the one that I will be focusing on in this recommendation is The Search, as I feel it’s the most powerful of the three, and the most sentimental for Avatar fans.( By the way, if you have not seen any of Avatar I would advise against reading on, as this will contain spoilers…also, you should watch Avataranyway as it’s the greatest animated Western TV show of the past ten years.)

The Search is a three-part saga that takes place after The Promise saga, which is set directly after The Last Airbender show. The Last Airbender ends on a pretty epic cliff hanger as the New Fire Lord, Lord Zuko, asks his dethroned Father, Lord Ozai, for the location of his missing Mother.The Search picks up on that cliff hanger, and starts with Lord Zuko, his sister Azula, and Team Avatar (minus Toph) all adventuring forward to find Zuko’s Mother, Ursa.

Fire Lord Ozai

Fire Lord Ozai

The comic doesn’t just copy the show, and in this saga we are treated to seeing the main characters of the show in a totally new situation – the new situation being that they have to work alongside Azula. In the show, Azula was just as cruel and evil as her Father, but far less restrained. She was crazy and powerful, and all of a sudden in this comic Team Avatar must work with her to help both Azula and Zuko find their Mother, which was a surprising twist. The other element of this story which I really enjoyed was finding out more about the identity of Zuko. In this saga, Zuko finds out the Lord Ozai might not be his Father which is huge for Zuko. Zuko’s life has seen many transitions all centred around his relationship with his Father – first wanting the love and respect from his Father, then wanting to defeat and destroy him. After that, Zuko became Fire Lord and during this time he was struggling against becoming his Father. To discover that this connection might not even be real is earth-shattering for him.

Zuko’s Mum, has got it going on. She’s all that I want, and I’ve waited for so long!

The Search has a really good story, but I feel that I mainly like it because of the nostalgia of growing up with the TV show. The mystery of Zuko’s Mother was constant while watching the show, and to finally have it answered is a big pay-off for long-time fans. But having said that, there is definitely something new and cool for first time Avatar readers in this saga. Avatar is a tale set in a very familiar world with certain events mimic historical events that happen in the real world; however it is filled with a rich culture based around the existence of a real Spirit World. In this saga we get a good feel for that world, with spirits galore in this tale. The art for me isn’t that amazing, but it is very true to the show in terms of design, and the story is powerful enough and becomes very emotional towards the end.

If you are feeling that a void is emerging, because Avatar is about to end, then these comics are the next place to go. The reason why they make it into my ‘Recommends’ list is that I have a strong bond with the characters already, so although newcomers could read these, I would suggest watching the show first to experience the full emotional impact of the story. It might seem like a lot of effort, but seriously: Watch it; read it; you won’t regret it.

Written by Huw Williams of the Huw’s Reviews Blog.

Follow Huw on Twitter @Big_Huw

Don’t forget to also check out the official Cosmic Anvil website to find out more about our independent comic book series, Age of Revolution!

Batman vs. Predator by Dave Gibbons

I love cross overs and I love Vs. Comics, so when I was given this little gem as a kid my young geek heart almost exploded. A friend of the family popped over to my house to see my parents, and when he was clearing out his son’s bedroom he had found a pile of unwanted comics (unwanted comics..? Really?) He handed over the stack of comics to me, simply saying “You like comics, right?” In this collection there were some strange finds I’d never heard of at the time: Captain Britain, Spawn, and even an Alien comic in which the military had created a robotic alien to fight for them but for some reason this Alien liked to smoke cigars, drink and swear. Hmmm. I looked at the cover of the next comic: Batman vs Predator…I decided to read this one first.

Batman vs Predator is a great Batman comic – starting off with a typical ‘Whodunnit?’ storyline for the world’s greatest detective to solve. In Gotham, there are a number of Prize Fighters who have been mysteriously killed. Everyone suspects it’s due to the rival gangs who own the boxers, but Batman suspects something far more sinister (as usual.) The story then evolves into an alien invasion story when Batman is ambushed by The Predator. It is revealed that The Predator is behind the murders, and Batman starts to duke it out with the grotesque alien. However, this alien is unlike anything Batman has ever faced before; Batman is injured and goes into hiding. The story continues down the alien invasion route for a short time, and now that Batman is gone, the Predator continues his hunting trip in Gotham.

Batman vs Predator dave gibbons cosmic anvil recommends comic DC

Ultimate Showdown.

The story then takes another turn, becoming a story based on the great battle of strength and wit between The Batman and The Predator. Batman is still injured, but fit enough to walk. He constructs a new suit, strong enough to take the beast on. Batman calls out The Predator to a final battle, and when the fight breaks out, it’s a real struggle for both combatants, and reduces them to some pretty dirty stuff, but in the end, Batman is victorious. The end of the comic is cool for both Batman and Predator fans. Batman wins, so Batman fans are happy; we also get a glimpse of the wider universe and culture that The Predator is a part of, so Predator fans are happy too.

It did really well with fans and critics too – in fact, it was so popular at the time it also spawned two sequels and a similar comic called Superman vs. Aliens known as Superman/Aliens (Lolwut?)

Batman vs Predator dave gibbons cosmic anvil recommends comic DC

The Dark Knight in his Predator Hunter suit.

The art is amazing as well, as you’d expect from a legend like Gibbons. Through the artwork he shows you how dirty and grim the setting and events are. We even get a superb scene with Alfred facing off against the hunter alien.

As you can tell I think this comic is amazing, and to find out that it did really well when it came out is also cool. The thing I will always remember about this comic is this: I read the last page and I was amazed – amazed that The Batman once again stood up to a powerful opponent, and smacked him down. Bruce’s final words in the comic resonated with me for some times as well, it’s one of those moments when you think to yourself: “Batman is so nails” (nails meaning strong, as in hard as…)

Batman vs Predator dave gibbons cosmic anvil recommends comic DC

So nails.

However I will always remember this, when I finished the comic, I closed the book and turned it over to once again examine the front cover. I read the title “Batman versus Predator”, and then I thought to myself: “But… why though?”

Written by Huw Williams of the Huw’s Reviews Blog.

Follow Huw on Twitter @Big_Huw

Don’t forget to also check out the official Cosmic Anvil website to find out more about our independent comic book series, Age of Revolution!

World War Hulk by Greg Pak & John Romita Jr.

I’ve always enjoyed watching and reading about over-powered super heroes like Superman (DC), Goku (Dragon Ball), Kinnikuman (King Muscle), Monkey D. Luffy (One Piece), and Hulk (Marvel). Monkey D. Luffy and Kinnikuman possess bizarre abilities and strength that can solve almost any situation; Superman and Goku have officially become Gods; and Hulk is the strongest there is. However, out of all of these characters Hulk is the one that stands out to me. He may not be my favourite (that’s for another Recommends blog) but he is the one that I find the most interesting. For this blog I will quickly discuss the above characters and what separates the Hulk from them, and then talk about my favourite Hulk comic, World War Hulk.

god group sheer force group superman goku fluffy ultimate muscle comics manga one piece shonen action

The God Group and the Sheer Force Group (left to right)

There are two groups that I will put the above heroes into: Superman and Goku are in the group I call ‘God Group’ and Kinnikuman and Luffy are in the ‘Sheer Force Group.’ I put Kinnikuman and Luffy in the Sheer Force Group because I feel that their power comes from the will power that emerges as they fight. Luffy has the ability called ‘Haki’ and Kinnikuman has the ability Kinnikuman’s ‘Burning Inner Strength.’ Both abilities provide the user with a huge boost in their strength, speed, awareness, insight, and many other aspects. Whenever a wall is met, these abilities help them break through that wall with sheer will power – a typical trait of Shonen (Japanese comics aimed at boys) characters.

Kinnikuman demonstrating his 'Burning Inner Strength' by catching and throwing a sun.

Kinnikuman demonstrating his ‘Burning Inner Strength’ by catching and throwing a sun.

Superman and Goku are in the God Group. Both have grown in strength over time to become classified as Gods. Superman eventually becomes ‘Superman Prime’ and Goku becomes the fabled ‘Super Saiyan God.’ In these forms they have become something that no one can surpass. What can a God do? Pretty much anything it wants.

Super saiyan god goku dragon ball superman prime DC comics

Super Saiyan God Goku and Superman Prime (left to right)

This brings me to the Hulk, who is unique in that he straddles both groups. He fights with sheer force and solves most problems with it. Hulk has been known to put out flames with a clap of his hands and his lungs are so strong that they enable him to breathe underwater and survive the pressure of deepest parts of the Ocean. However, there are times when the Hulk becomes more than just Sheer Force and becomes Godlike. World War Hulk is the best story to exemplify this. (WARNING: For those of you that have not read Planet Hulk there are spoilers ahead!)

Hulk strongest there is marvel

Hulk Strongest There Is!

World War Hulk is one of those big event stories in the Marvel Universe that basically pits characters against one another. In this case, it’s the Hulk vs. EVERYONE. Before I get onto that, I need to give a little back story to what lead up to this epic war. In the Marvel Universe there is a group named the Illuminati – a group made up of the most intelligent and influential super heroes, such as Black Bolt (King of the Inhumans) Doctor Strange (Sorcerer Supreme) Iron Man (“Genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist” to quote The Avengers film) Mister Fantastic (Leader of the Fantastic Four) Namor (King of Atlantis) and Professor X (Leader of the X-Men).

The Illuminati came up with a plan to get rid of the Hulk in light of death count he had racked up during all of his infamous rages, and in their eyes the only logical and physical way to stop him from continuing to destroy the world, was to send him into space – which they managed to do. However, the spaceship malfunctioned and landed on an alien planet. Unexpectedly, Hulk not only became a great Roman-esque gladiator on that planet, but also it’s saviour by freeing it’s people from a tyrannical ruler and rose to become it’s king. He also met a female alien who would become his bride. Unfortunately, nothing stays perfect for long – especially when you are the Hulk. The ship that Hulk landed in exploded, killing his queen and unborn son, and this sent the Hulk into a new rage – a rage that could only be calmed by seeing the monsters that sent him into space and killed his love: the Illuminati.

Now we finally enter World War Hulk – a story of pure revenge. If you love the Hulk then you should love this. Hulk takes on the most powerful Marvel heroes, all of them jacked up to try and equal his power level, and they all fail. The aliens who have allied themselves with Hulk see him not just as a ruler but also as a God, a saviour, and a destroyer. This is why I love Hulk too, as there is so much more to him than a rage monster. He’s a God – both vengeful and liberating, and he’s also a king, a husband, a father, and just a man – Bruce Banner.

World War Hulk Marvel Comics

King. God. Hulk

World War Hulk is rare in that Bruce sees eye-to-eye with Hulk (bear in mind this is before Banner and the Hulk realise they are the same, so it make sense to refer to them as two individuals). Bruce wants this revenge because he was finally happy and he and the Hulk were finally living a perfect life. He had an empire, a woman who loved him, and a son on the way. There is a scene in World War Hulk between Bruce, Hulk, and Doctor Strange, in which you see the rage in both the Hulk and Bruce… It’s brilliant.

World War Hulk truly shows all of the light and shade of Hulk that people often don’t see in him. We see the God, the Sheer Force, the humble man, and ultimately, we see the hero.

Written by Huw Williams@big_huw on Twitter.

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Young Avengers: Style > Substance by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

“Read the book that understands that hyperbole is the BEST! THING! EVER!”

Phonogram: Rue Britannia Cover

Phonogram: Rue Britannia Cover

One of the great joys of the comics industry for me is following a writer and artist partnership from success to success. I borrowed Gillen and McKelvie’s Phonogram: Rue Britannia from my local library – which was my one-stop-shop for graphic novels and manga when I was teenager (because I was just that cool.) Mixing Britpop, mysticism, and a distinctively British dark sense of humour, Phonogram’s black and white world left such a lasting impression on me; I instantly bought Marvel’s Young Avengers: Style > Substance without a second thought upon seeing their familiar names on the cover.

I had already been following the YA through creators’ Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung’s run, and as a huge Teen Titans fan, I think it was pretty easy for me to also fall in love with Marvel’s teen equivalent. But if it was Heinberg and Cheung who got me to bite, it was Gillen and McKelvie’s subsequent run that got me hooked and reminded me just how good they were together.

I’ve always thought that the hardest thing about writing as a teenage character is that you’re never really the right age to do it. Children can’t do it because they’ve obviously never experienced it, teenagers themselves can’t do it because they’re too close to it to have any proper perspective, and adults can’t do it because they can’t remember it properly. It’s a hard job… but not impossible. Gillen not only cracks it in YA, but he makes it look easy, and beyond even that – he makes it look convincing.

“I have no powers and not nearly enough training. But I’m doing this anyway. Being a Super Hero is amazing. Everyone should try it.”

The underpinning of Gillen’s writing on YA amplifies relatable and believable problems and heartaches of everyday teenagers through their larger-than-life super-powers within the chaotic and bizarre Marvel universe around them. This makes it sound deceptively serious, and although there is a fair share of angst and arguing, the thing that makes the book the most appealing is that it’s fun. It’s just really good fun. And the characters are really funny, too. Kid Loki in particular – I mean, how can an amoral Norse God trapped within the body of a teenage boy not be hysterical.

One of the other things that drew me to YA initially was its inclusion of a more diverse character roster. In terms of race, gender, and sexuality, I have to applaud YA for not just using the ‘outsider’ theme as a metaphor, but also actually embodying it with characters such as Patriot, Miss America, Hulkling, and Wiccan. Moreover, I have to applaud Gillen for making Hulkling and Wiccan’s relationship – in particular – more than just ticking an equality and diversity quota box, but fleshing it out into one of the most fully realised and emotionally charged in the Marvel universe that I’ve come across, and one of my favourites.

Hulkling & Wiccan

Hulkling & Wiccan

In terms of the artwork, I’ve been trying to work out why McKelvie’s style resonates with me so much as it’s not the kind of artwork I normally favour. My all-time favourite comic book artists are people like Dave McKean and Alex Ross – artists who are far more painterly and…’fine arty,’ for lack of a better word. However, as a Tintin fan since childhood, I think McKelvie’s clear-line style owes a huge debt to Hérge and makes me all nostalgic and tingly when I see it. It’s also a deceptively hard style to pull off. If you’re someone like Frank Miller with an unrealistic – almost abstract – way of drawing, you can kind of get away with not being a master of anatomy. If you’re a clear-line artist like McKelvie, there’s nothing to hide behind, and of course, he doesn’t need to. His neat and slick approach perfectly meets and compliments Gillen’s similar stylistic execution of the story and dialogue.

McKelvie's GLORIOUS layouts

McKelvie’s GLORIOUS layouts

What I love the most about McKelvie’s artwork for YA in particular though is his layouts. I don’t hear people talking a lot about layouts when they talk about comic artists, but as an artist who is still learning her craft, I really appreciate seeing creative and unique layouts in a book. A layout can be more than just telling the story in a series of pictures – it can be a whole, cohesive idea. Going beyond just square boxes on a comic page takes guts, skill, and most importantly: passion. Someone who is passionate about what they do will always go that extra mile to show that passion off, and seeing a really wacky and fun layout when you turn the page is the earmark of an artist who loves what they do and is also having fun doing it, which makes you as a reader have fun looking at it.

I’ve read YA: Style > Substance twice to date, and there are very few books that I revisit besides well-worn copies of my childhood favourites, so for re-readability alone I recommend it, as well as the other collections – Alternative Cultures and Mic Drop at the Edge of Space and Time. And if you read and like those then please track down Phonogram, too. It needs more love.

Variant Cover by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Variant Cover by Bryan Lee O’Malley

FYI: For die-hard fans, my favourite YA variant issue cover to track down is the one by Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley (pictured right).

Written by Hannah Collins.