Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Cool Comic(s) o' the Week: Of Bats, The Force and Black Science

This week's Cool Comic o' the Week installment goes plural in honor of two of my very favorite scratches of pop culture, Star Wars and Batman, which are both running through a new Renaissance of fab in the comics world.  Add to these, one of the most mind-blowing new series out there, Image's Black Science. 

Batman # 31 continues the second act of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's "Zero Year" arc, "Savage City."  This is one of the Riddler's best-shining moments (if you will) in Bat history, as he's usurped Gotham City by methodically submerging and decimating it.  He offers to relinquish Gotham with a challenge of intellect (of course):  only whenever someone comes forward who can stump him with a riddle will he vanish.  Challengers who lose obviously lose all.  Batman, who took a hell ride and expository shake-up in the first part of "Zero Year," has been knocked out from Riddler's cataclysm.  Now Bruce Wayne goes through twice the agony to reclaim Gotham.  Snyder can't lose, I'm telling you.  This is nearly as epic as "Court of Owls" and we're hardly done here. 

Let's also give Snyder a hand for the damned-fine Batman Eternal weekly series that's kept its juices flowing with very little pause.  At first, I was dismayed by seeing the return to the gang war theme that ran rampant through Bat-books of the nineties, but again, Snyder, in company with James Tynion, IV, can't lose.  The last two weeks prior to Issue # 9 were explosive leading to the introduction of a rogue operative in Hong Kong this week, who turns out to be an apparent relative of Bruce Wayne's trusty butler, Julia Pennyworth.  Gotham is about to be rocked to its foundations with returning kingpin Carmine Falcone engineering a bloody trail of vengeance.  Commissioner Gordon's been framed, his replacement is a corrupt SOB and Professor Pyg (brought to the limelight in Cartoon Network's Beware, the Batman) has been played as a pawn.  He naturally extols his own gory retaliation.  Penguin's taken his licks and the Bat army from Batman, Incorporated (thus far represented by Batwing, Batgirl and this week, Jiro, aka The Batman of Japan) are merging themselves into the ever-winding plot.  Two months down, with nine to go for this series, Batman Eternal is red-hot.

Once my pick as the best comic book on the market, Batgirl has suffered a slump through the past few issues, though no fault goes to trusty pen of Gail Simone.  Issue # 31 (and Annual # 2, for that matter), gets us away from a disillusioned vampire, Silver (who looks more than just a shade like Jackie Estacado from The Darkness) and an alternate world, "Zero Year" tie-in Batgirl.  Ragdoll, assumedly borrowed from The Batman cartoon series, makes a terrific debut here and he escalates the tension in Batgirl's world (always at shatter point through the first 26 issues) that was the hallmark of her New 52 resurrection.

All-star writer Matt Kindt leads Marco Castiello and Dan Parsons through a four-issue miniseries, Star Wars:  Rebel Heist.  Set five years after the Battle of Yavin (i.e. A New Hope), this intermediate story (noted to be prior to The Empire Strikes Back) finds Han Solo and Princess Leia on separate missions, effectively as mentor operatives for new Rebel recruits.  To this point, Han has been captured and brutalized by the Imperials.  Kindt utilizes an unorthodox POV to open the miniseries with the first trainee, Jan, who both glorifies and condemns Han within his narration.  The latter deceptively maneuvers around the enemy, then inexplicably surrenders to his Imperial captors.  Of course, we know as Jan observes, Han is a "tactical genius disguised as a master of improvisation."  Something's cooking, naturally.  Is Jan really as disgusted by Han and the Alliance as he purports, or is it a clever ruse?  Meanwhile, Leia has gone undercover on the neutral pleasure planet Feddasyr.   Having inadvertently blown the cover of her assigned rookie, a rare red-colored Twi'lek, Sarin, Leia's cloak and dagger skills (with Sarin providing tail and cover) find her in the company of a rogue Stormtrooper pivoted into her ally, albeit, she too is captured by the Empire.  In both issues, Han and Leia implore their green associates to trust them, which creates its own sense of hubris, as hubris becomes a point of contention in Jan's case.  This series is set to detonate as Chewbacca figures to play into the next issue, and assumedly Luke in final chapter.  Dark Horse Comics will soon be ceasing publication of Star Wars comics as the licensing has been procured once again by Marvel.  Consider Rebel Heist a valiant salutation.

Dark Horse also finishes their eight-issue adaptation of George Lucas' original script for the sci-fi action film that changed everything.  Originally titled The Star Wars, this was a pretty magical job executed by J.W. Rinzler, Mike Mayhew and Rain Beredo.  If you missed it, the collected trade paperback is on its way.  Everything you know about Star Wars will be changed after reading it, guaranteed.

Rick Remender has written a near-masterpiece through six issues of the stellar Black Science.  This series has been unique, edgy and bizarre with that always-prevalent pulp nuance to Remender's work.  Anyone who can come up with a sect known as "The Anarchist Order of Scientists" has my attention.  Grant McKay has unlocked a portal to alternate dimensions.  Simple enough of a premise.  Nothing else is simple with Black Science's themes of betrayal, adultery, thievery and idiosyncratic planes of existence that would hardly jive outside of the comics realm.  As razor-sharp as anything produced during the glory years of Heavy Metal magazine.

               Listenin' to:  Depeche Mode - Music for the Masses

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