Comics You Should be Reading: Hack/Slash

In accordance with the annual celebration of everyone’s favorite nightmarish holiday, I decided to focus the first post of this type on a little comic series that has quickly climbed to the top of my list of favorites: Hack/Slash!

 Hack/Slash Inc

 

In every cheesy, exploitative horror movie focusing on grotesque killers butchering remarkably stupid teenagers, there is always one girl who survives until the end. This girl (most often a virgin) is the only person who has the chance of surviving the story and even vanquishing the monster.

But what if her journey didn’t end there? What if she didn’t just stop at killing that one monster (or, as the series labels them, “Slashers”)?

 

 

Meet Cassie Hack, the daughter of single mother and school lunch lady Delilah Hack. Cassie was often bullied at school, which eventually led to her mentally unstable mother killing said bullies and dicing them up to serve with the school lunch. When Cassie alerted the police, Delilah killed herself rather than be captured.

But Delilah didn’t stay dead, and instead rose from the grave as a ghoulish monster “Slasher” who continued to kill her daughter’s tormentors until Cassie was forced to kill her mother again. Traumatized by the experience (who wouldn’t be?), Cassie ran away from her new foster home and dedicated her life to saving other innocents from Slashers like her mother. Along the way, she met the monstrous but kind-hearted Vlad (think a benevolent version of Jason Voorhees), who became her constant companion in the fight against evil.

 

At first glance, the series appears to be as juvenile as the genre it is paying homage to. The majority of the covers depict Cassie in revealing outfits and saucy posses, usually accompanied by BUCKETS of blood and guts. But the old saying “never judge a book by its cover”definitely applies here. Yes, Cassie is used as an object of fanservice quite frequently, but a lot of the time that is only relegated to the covers. Inside, you’ll find plenty of female characters falling into a wide range of age, skin color and body types that you probably won’t see in anything published by the Big Two.

Writer Tim Seeley has come out and admitted that he’s “into some pretty weird shit,” but that passion mixed with his compelling writing is a match made in heaven. Cassie herself is a very complex character. She struggles with her inner rage, fearful of the possibility that she could become a Slasher just like her mother. What’s more, her being bullied during childhood has really crippled her self worth. In her own words, one of the reasons she’s still a virgin is because she foolishly believes no one will find her attractive.

 

Vlad, meanwhile, acts as her conscience, and is definitely the more innocent of the two, which is not something you would expect at first glance. Due to his physical condition, he was abandoned as a child, before being found and raised by an elderly butcher. When his surrogate father died, Vlad met up with Cassie and the two became life long companions, and their friendship is at the very heart of the series.

For the supporting cast, we have couple Lisa Eslten and Chris Krank; aspiring actress and stripper Margaret Crump a.k.a Georgia Peaches; slightly over the hill groupie Gertrude Hall; Samhain, a Slasher trying to do good; Cat Curio, one of Samhain’s former victims; and Pooch, a demon hound from another dimension who is creepy and loveable all at once.

Thanks to Seeley’s writing, all of these characters feel like real people who the readers can identify with. They are also significantly more progressive than a lot of the stuff we see in Marvel or DC at the moment. I mean, how often do you see a romance between a white woman and an Asian man, like with Lisa and Chris? And the title has formed a small LGBT following due to its respectful treatment of bisexual Cassie and her on-again/off-again relationship with Margaret.

 

But fans of the Slasher genre need not fear, because it isn’t all just romance and angst. Cassie and Vlad have an entire Rogues Gallery of villains, each one inspired by Tim Seeley’s (seemingly) limitless knowledge of trashy horror tropes. Bad seed turned dream killer Ashley Guthrie, catholic school girl sorceress Laura Lochs, the seductive, man hating Acid Angel, and the Hostel-inspired Dr. Gross are just the tip of the iceberg. And that’s not even counting the crossovers, where Cassie and Vlad have matched wits with classic horror icons such as Chucky, Evil Ernie, Michael Myers and even Ash from Evil Dead.

 

And the best part is, thanks their annoying tendency to always come back for a sequel, these villains never stay down no matter how bad Cassie messes them up. It’s certainly a refreshing alternative to another contrived escape from Arkham Asylum, isn’t it?

Overall, this series is definitely my favorite on-going being published right now. I recommend this title for everyone, whether you’re a fan of the horror genre or not. The characters here are very enjoyable, and the series is constantly running the gamut of emotions from hilarious, scary, tragic and heartwarming. It certainly fills the hole left behind since Buffy ended, and I can definitely see fans of that series loving this.

Now, could we possibly tempt Tim Seeley to do a Samhain spin off to give us a substitute for Angel?

 

 

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Westfield News Part 1

So I’ve decided to upload some of my articles from my time at Westfield News, as my internship there really helped me to develop skills as a journalist and imparted the ethics I need to withhold should I pursue such a career.

The following article was published on March 1, 2012, and was focused on Westfield State University’s Geographical and Regional Planning Department. I interviewed my good friend, Jonathan DiRodi, who was one of the students involved in the program,  as well as a few of the professors who spearheaded it.

 

“GARP Department is University’s Best Kept Secret”

 

JOHN CUNNINGHAM

Intern

 

WESTFIELD- Ask anyone in Westfield State University’s Geography and Regional Planning Department what their planning for a career, chances are they will have an answer for you. Take WSU Senior Jonathan DiRodi, 21, for example. After deciding to join the major during his junior year, he already has a paid internship as a Security Analyst for the U. Mass Emergency Management Agency.

DiRodi began his college career as an Environmental Science major, studying meteorology and weather patterns. After becoming a Regional Planning major, he went on to apply his knowledge in areas that benefitted others. “I’ve always liked to make plans and seem them through,” DiRodi says, and he has found a way to make that talent work for him. And he is not the only one.

The GARP department has been a part of WSU for over 20 years, and focuses on both environmental and urban planning projects. One of the première goals of the program is to brainstorm and implement plans for communities that are less harmful and wasteful to the environment, while still being efficient.

WSU is unique in that it is the only public undergraduate college in New England to feature the program. Over the past 20 years, the department has proven lucrative for the interns and students that enroll in it. On average, 30 or so students graduate from this major per year, and with less competition in the field than other majors, they can often find jobs in urban areas.

“It’s not a very large program,” says Department Chair Robert Bristow, “but that helps with it being more hands-on and interactive for the students.” Classes in the major often focus on group projects that stretch for the entire semester, rather than individual class work.

Dr. Stephanie Kelly, another professor who is in charge of managing internships in the office, expressed much excitement with the role GARP plays in the students’ careers. “It gives you field and agency experience, and helps you set up networking. It teaches students certain ways to solve problems.”

It’s not just the students who benefit from the program. Of the eight professors in the department, four have taken part in the S.T.A.R.S program, which allows them to do research for a semester abroad. Currently, one professor is working in Guatemala, aiding in finding solutions for land usage. Professors can then apply the knowledge they’ve gained into their lesson plans and fields.

The fields of study within the program cover a wide area, including public transportation, economic development, and housing. It also deals with planning against natural disasters, such as the storm that hit New England in late October. Preventative measures are being taken to make sure the next storm is not as devastating.

But its not just immediate disasters that catch their attention. Locally, the department aids in various projects. According to Kelly, one such is helping Columbia Greenway build a bike path that runs through the town, and extends to Southwick and Easthampton. On campus, they are currently working on a tree inventory, identifying and grouping the various species of trees in the area.

In addition, they also make sure the new buildings on campus meet LEEP (Leading Environmental Energy Design) requirements, so that they are sustainable. Progressive ideas such as this ensure that WSU is thinking about the future, and always looking for new ways to improve themselves.

Both on campus and off, the GARP department are the unsung heroes of the city. Much of our everyday sustainability is due to their hard work, whether recognized or not. As DiRodi said in his closing statement, “wherever disaster strikes, I’ll be there to prevent it.” And we are all safer for it.

 

 

The Villains of B:TAS: Introduction

I think it goes without saying that Batman easily has one of, if not thebest collection of villains of any fictional character. Sure, Spider-Man* and the Flash can give him a run for his money, and I’m currently very interested in Wonder Woman’s rogues gallery for the potential they have.** But for me, and I imagine, a whole bunch of comic nerds everywhere, it all comes back to the villains of Gotham. From the Clown Princes himself, to the lesser known deviants like the Cavalier and Killer Moth, there is a wide variety of colorful gimmicks, personae and psychoses for fans to sink their teeth into.

But it needs to be pointed out that just because they are almost universally praised, it doesn’t mean that the Rogues can’t be featured in some crappy stories. After 70 years of Batman stories with countless writers, the law of averages dictate that there is going to be some inconsistency and all around crappy depictions mixed in with the good-to-great stories.

Hell, the revamped versions of the rogues in the New 52 have largely been met with this reaction from me:

But, as that gif no doubt tells you, I will always love the villains as they appeared in Batman: the Animated Series. In this series of posts, I will be examining each of them, starting with the Joker himself, and diving into just what made their characterization work so well, and where I think the current writers could take lessons from.

Keep an eye out for my first post, which should be appearing in a few days.

*I’m definitely thinking on doing a companion piece for this focusing on the Spider-Man villains as they appeared in the Spectacular Spider-Man. That cartoon was to Spidey what B:TAS was for Batman, and it was cut tragically short. Fortunately, we got some great stuff during its too short lifespan.

**And also a series looking at the Wonder Woman rogues and what could be done to update them. I could write a whole series of essays on just Cheetah, but Ares, Circe, Dr. Psycho and the rest warrant posts of their own.

Saga Volume 1 Review

So after what feels like an eternity, I have finally got my hands on the first trade of “Saga,” the new series written by comic author Brian K. Vaughn and artist Fiona Staples. It’s times like this where being a trade-waiter can be torture, as the MANY rave reviews this series has been getting have tempted me to start getting the monthlies.

Needless to say, it was worth the wait.

Considering his pedigree, any series with Vaughn’s name attached to it was going to be well received critically. His previous series for DC’s Vertigo imprint, “Y: the Last Man,” won a well deserved Eisner award for its tight, original storytelling and complex characters.

Much like his previous effort, Vaughn wastes no time establishing a world that practically jumps off the page with detail and nuance. The series is set up like a classic space opera, featuring a war between two races that has spread throughout an entire galaxy. Our two protagonists, Marko and his new wife Alana, are soldiers from opposites sides of the war who have defected and seek to escape the battlefield to raise their newborn daughter, Hazel.

Needless to say, their superiors (on both sides) view their union and offspring as a disgrace, and the couple finds themselves being hunted down by former allies and freelance mercenaries. The most notable of the latter being The Will and the arachnid type creature known as The Stalk.

Right from the onset, Vaughn (with the help of Staple’s stunning artwork) drops us right in the middle of this world, but it is never disorienting for the reader. That is an aspect that, in less capable hands, could spell doom for an ongoing series, but here the balance is executed beautifully.

And I personally feel that it works so well because, at its heart, this story is about one family against the world(s). All Marko and Alana want is what anyone wants: a small corner of the galaxy to themselves where they can raise their child in peace. Ideas such as this are essential in such sweeping, epic stories because it provides a solid foundation that gives everything else meaning.

In comparison, the majority of the titles being published by DC and Marvel at the moment have lost sight of that one simple rule. It doesn’t matter how many explosions or fight scenes you put in a story; no one will care unless they care about the characters involved. I will always love the characters and mythologies of DC/Marvel, but as of now, they are just too hollow.

This trade collects the first six issues, and the creative team has gone on a short break to give readers the chance to catch up. With #7 coming out next month, I may break my own rule and start buying this title on a monthly basis.

I recommend that you all do the same.

Movie updates of interest (…for me, anyway)

So it looks like DC is going to be upping their game after Marvel and Joss Whedon kicked all kids of ass with the Avengers movie. I am tentatively excited for this: I love DC more than Marvel, but there are SO MANY ways this could go wrong. We’ll just have to wait and see, but if it means finally getting Wonder Woman, the Flash and Aquaman on the big screen, it’s worth a try.

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/envelope/cotown/la-et-ct-justice-league-superman-20121018,0,6421111.story

In other news, we are a little under a month away from the Japanese release of the third Evangelion movie. As such, we’ve gotten a few short trailers showing tiny glimpses of the characters. Here’s Asuka (who, as my friends know, is my favorite character) running and shouting on the phone. I think it’s safe to guess this is right before a big action sequence considering she’s in her plug suit.

And here we have some of Eva’s traditional “VAGINAS EVERYWHERE” imagery. Ah, that’s the stuff. This is a sure sign that we’ll be getting some of the disturbing visuals that the old series became famous for near the end.  And yeah, that is definitely an eye in there. Maybe an Evangelion’s eye opening?  Or, even worse (or better, depending on your point of view), are we seeing what’s under Asuka’s eye patch?

And here we have the face of Eva-02, having been repaired after it got damaged in the climax of the second movie. Looks like it’s gearing up for a fight.

The movie will be released on November 17, and you can expect a lot of incoherent, rambling posts from me as I just scream about any second hand information about the film I can get.

UPDATE: And we have a new poster:

Justice League #13

This is an issue that I’ve been waiting for ever since it was announced back in the summer. Justice League #13 is the first in a two part story that marks the first appearance of classic Wonder Woman villain the Cheetah ever since DC’s reboot in September 2011.

The Cheetah has always been one of my favorite DC villains, but she rarely gets the respect she deserves. She is arguably Wonder Woman’s arch-nemesis, having been around in one form or another since the 1940’s, but very few writers have bothered to tap the potential inherent in the character. It seems Wonder Woman’s villains in general have the reputation of being lame by creators and fans alike, but I’ve never really understood why. They are no more ridiculous than literally every other major rogues gallery, so their loser status is incredibly mystifying.

With this issue, writer Geoff Johns and artist Tony S. Daniel have set out to firmly establish the Cheetah into DC’s hierarchy of villains. Johns has stated that he plans on making her a “major villainous force in 2012 and beyond,” and that she will play a part in the upcoming event, “Trinity War.”

Within the issue itself, the creative team has made some alterations to the Cheetah’s  original story, some of which have added some exciting new layers to the character. Like in the previous continuity, the Cheetah is actually anthropologist Dr. Barbara Minerva, who has become the avatar for a ferocious jungle goddess. Beyond that, though, we have received some interesting new tidbits:

– Barbara was the first friend Diana/Wonder Woman made upon arriving in the U.S. They met at the Smithsonian, where Wonder Woman thwarted a terrorist attack that was actually a cover up for a robbery.

– Barbara began to aid Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor in various mythological adventures. She was eventually recruited by A.R.G.U.S (DC’s new equivalent to Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D), and was in charge of the Black Room, where mystical artifacts were cataloged and studied.

– Upon discovering a ceremonial dagger, Diana gave it to Barbara to study. Barbara cut herself (on purpose?) and became possessed by the Cheetah spirit, a goddess of the hunt.

– She displays the new ability to spread her curse to others. In the final pages of the story, she bites Superman’s neck, transforming him into a creature similar to herself. We’ll have to wait until the next issue to see what becomes of this.

Overall, I find many of the new elements to Minerva’s story to be interesting, at least on a conceptual level. Establishing her and Diana as friends provides a connection that wasn’t there previously, and adds a new layer to their relationship. Diana is naturally compassionate and has a desire to help everyone, but their previous affiliation gives her desperation an urgency that is a lot more palpable. In addition, I feel that involving Minerva with A.R.G.U.S and the Black Room is a masterstroke. She now has a connection to the DC Universe as a whole, specifically the magical side of it, whereas before she was isolated to the Wonder Woman franchise.

However, there are some potential downsides to this. We are told about Minerva’s origins through exposition by Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor, but we do not get the chance to see any of it. I would have loved to see their friendship and Barbara’s transformation play out over several story arcs rather than getting second hand information. Obviously, Johns has only so much page space in a title like this, where he only has 20 pages to divide his time between seven superheroes and the villains they face. It makes me wish Johns was writing the main Wonder Woman title so he could focus entirely on her world, and maybe revamp some of her other villains.

The other thing bothering me is the circumstances surrounding Minerva’s transformation. In the previous continuity, Barbara Minerva was dangerous even before she became the Cheetah. She was a borderline sociopath who was driven solely by her pursuit of knowledge, greed and power. Her origin established in the 1980’s involved her discovering the African tribe that worshiped the Cheetah, and willingly taking part in the ritual to become the Cheetah’s avatar in order to fend off invading marauders. To do so, she ruthlessly killed her expedition partner and feasted on him as part of the ritual, before forming an alliance with the tribe’s head priest, Chuma. In comparison, “accidentally cutting herself on a dagger,” while easier to say in a few sentences, is kind of bland.

But was it an accident? I’m not so sure. My main problem with making it a mistake on Minerva’s part is that it robs her of her agency. But in the opening fight scene, while Diana is trying to reason with her former friend, Minerva states “you are as naive as when we first met.” Given Barbara’s character in previous versions, I have the feeling Diana doesn’t know her friend as well as she thinks. That robbery at the Smithsonian is totally something the original Minerva would pull from behind the scenes. And I find it very hard to believe that Barbara would be so careless as to cut herself on a mystical dagger without knowing EXACTLY what would happen as a result.

So overall, though I have some misgivings, I’m really looking forward to what else Geoff Johns does with this character. She certainly hasn’t been portrayed as this competent a threat in ages, as she easily flattens the Justice League when they invade her place of power. Her knocking Batman on his ass was particularly satisfying when I remember that one issue where he somehow, despite all logic, knocked her out with a single punch.

Bring on part 2, and the Trinity War!

Welcome!

This is Comix Haven, the brainchild of a geek hoping to hone is writing skills by writing about his various nerdy interests. Here, I will review and discuss various forms of entertainment, specifically comic books, but also films/television, animation and novels. I will also examine Geek culture in general. Any comments are appreciated, and maybe we can get some interesting discussions going!