content by

Stephen Aryan

The Price of Freedom: The Homeland Directive

The Homeland Directive is a fast-paced political action thriller that explores the boundary between personal freedom and security. How much of the former are you willing to give up for the latter? How much personal information are you willing to share with the state, if it keeps you safe? What happens if they ask for more than you’re willing to give?

Dr. Laura Regan finds herself dragged into the middle of a struggle between two shadowy organisations, each with their own agenda and secrets. Torn out of her normal life and forced to go on the run after being labeled a murderer, Laura discovers a conspiracy that affects the lives of every American and has the potential to change the world.

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Gateway to Comic Book Movies: Captain America

After the recent success of movies from Marvel Studios such as the X-Men franchise, Iron Man, and most recently Thor, Marvel are now bringing one of their most human characters to the big screen; Captain America.

Since the comic book series was relaunched in 2005 under the guidance of its writer, Ed Brubaker, it has remained consistently popular. The character even appeared in global news headlines in 2007 after much publicity surrounding the death of Captain America. Although the average person may have a general awareness of Captain America, its likely they won’t be able to tell you much about him. At its core, Captain America is about a man who wants to serve his country and ends up becoming a symbol that inspires others to greatness. But who is the man, Steve Rogers, behind the mask? And what makes him so special?

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Series: Gateway to Comics

Gateway to Comics: Echo by Terry Moore

Wildlife photographer Julie Martin witnesses an explosion while out in the desert near Moon Lake. Liquid metal rains down from the sky, some of which lands on her skin, fusing there permanently. (Or so it seems.) Unknown to Julie but known to the reader, the explosion (and the metal) was the result of a military experiment gone wrong.

The military soon discovers Julie’s presence, however, and sets out to reclaim their property, as well as any evidence of its existence. Now being hunted, Julie goes on the run, desperate to find out what is happening to her and what they were trying to cover up.

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Series: Gateway to Comics

Gateway to Comics: The Scorpion

The Scorpion is a swashbuckling action-adventure comic set in Rome during the second half of the eighteen century. The Devil’s Mark is the first volume of an ongoing series which introduces us to the titular main character and sets the stage for further adventures. The easiest way to summarise the story is to imagine an Indiana Jones-style action comic with grave robbing, where the main character is slightly less noble and more interested in the artefacts as a means of improving his personal wealth. Armando Catalano, The Scorpion, is not just an acquirer of relics, he is also an infamous brigand who regularly clashes with figures in authority when he is not out enjoying himself. But there is a lot more to the handsome rogue than meets the eye, and now someone powerful has targeted him for death just as he stumbles across a dangerous plot.

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Series: Gateway to Comics

Only Human: Sweet Tooth, Volume 3: Animal Armies

Animal Armies is the third volume of Sweet Tooth, an ongoing post-apocalyptic series from Vertigo Comics that takes place ten years after a terrible plague called the Affliction kills billions around the world. The story follows a unusual boy named Gus, one of the human/animal hybrid children that have been born since the plague. No one knows what caused the Affliction or the hybrid children, but with no normal children being born, they are an easy target for blame. Gus is also an innocent, born into a savage world where his kind are hated and only the strong survive. When a loner comes knocking at Gus’s door his life is turned upside down forever.

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Gateway to Comic Book Movies—Green Lantern

DC Comics’ most well known characters are Batman and Superman. With two extremely successful Christopher Nolan-led Batman movies and a refresh of the Superman franchise on the way, DC and Warner Brothers are keen to raise the profile of other comic book characters from their stable. The first is Green Lantern, which hits movie theatres later this week. With a character who is nearly an unknown to the general public there needs to be more exposition in the promotion to get them interested. There has been a big marketing push to try and cover the basics, but there are still many unanswered questions, such as who is Hal Jordan and why was he chosen to be a Green Lantern? What is a Green Lantern? What is it with all the shiny jewelry? Where did the ring come from? And if I enjoy the movie, is there a good place to start with Green Lantern comics?

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Series: Gateway to Comics

Rainy Days—Batgirl: The Flood

By day, Stephanie Brown is an ordinary college student at Gotham University, but by night she is Batgirl, Gotham’s latest crime fighter. After a few years of battling criminals in different guises, she’s hitting her stride and even got a thumbs up from the Jim Gordon, the Police Commissioner. When her friend, Oracle, is targeted by an old enemy bearing a grudge, Stephanie flies in to battle against hordes of techno-zombies. It’s just another day in Gotham for the new Batgirl.

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The character of Stephanie Brown has been around since 1992 where she originally appeared as Spoiler, a masked crime fighter who partnered up with Tim Drake, who was Robin at the time. Since then, Stephanie has featured in the Batman universe in one form or another, but this is the first time she has had her own ongoing series. The comic book is written by Bryan Q. Miller, someone who is no stranger to DC comic book characters, as he has worked as a writer on the TV show Smallville for a number of years.

After being pulled in many different directions and being caught up in larger events taking place in the DC comics universe, the ongoing Batgirl comic is a chance to tell Stephanie Brown-focused stories. Other characters cameo in the series, so she is not cut off from the rest of the DC Universe, but this title allows Miller to spend more time focusing on all aspects of the main character’s life.

One of the things I like most about this series is that despite all of the superpowers, crime fighting, grizzly crimes and skin tight costumes, Stephanie is still an ordinary girl with ordinary problems. She struggles to stay awake in class, has difficulty talking to boys her own age and has a fairly common relationship with her mother (in that she keeps secrets from her). To be fair, Stephanie’s secrets are bigger than most, as there are not many girls her age who spend their nights apprehending suicidal train bombers and exchanging wise-cracks with cute police detectives. But apart from that, she’s fairly normal.

Miller does an excellent job of balancing the two different sides of Stephanie’s life, and unlike another superhero we could mention (the one who wears a Bat on his chest), she is the same person with or without the cowl. There is no change in her voice or demeanor, but that isn’t to say she doesn’t take what she does very seriously. She has received martial arts training and has years of experience, but she has no superpowers, which means can and does get hurt.

Batgirl: The Flood is mostly focused on a villain called Calculator who wants to get revenge on Barbara Gordon, aka Oracle. Barbara is a technology wizard who remotely helps Stephanie and many other crime fighters while they are out on missions. Calculator blames Barbara for the death of his son and for his daughter turning against him, and he wants her to suffer like him. Unfortunately, Calculator is not just making empty threads and he is also very good with technology. He uses it to brainwash a number of civilians who inadvertently attack Barbara and all of her operations.

The second story starts off with a fairly typical night out for her and a friend Kara with a trip to the local cinema. Of course, nothing is completely what it appears to be as Kara is actually Supergirl, and instead of just enjoying a fun night out, trouble comes their way.

Even though the character of Stephanie Brown has been around for nearly twenty years, you don’t need to read up on her backstory to enjoy this series. A basic grounding or awareness of Batman villains would help, as the story is set in Gotham, but its not critical and a quick search online would sort that out. It’s not exactly a Gateway Comic, but it’s a nice back door into the Batman universe, and it’s a great comic if you want to read a coming of age story about a young crime fighter.

As was recently announced, DC Comics are rebooting and restarting all 52 of their ongoing monthly superhero titles. The good news is that there will be a new Batgirl comic starting in September with a new issue 1. The bad news is rumors indicate that Barbara Gordon will be Batgirl, and there is no news yet on what will happen to Stephanie Brown. I hope that the character lives on in another Bat title somewhere, even if she is not Batgirl anymore, and I look forward to reading many more of her adventures in the future.

Stephen Aryan is a lifelong fan of comics, science fiction and fantasy. He co-hosts the Comic Book Outsiders podcast and writes fantasy and comic book reviews at Walker of Worlds.

Series: Gateway to Comics

Gateway to Comic Book Movies—X-Men: First Class

After three X-Men movies and one Wolverine prequel movie, people around the world (outside the comic book community) are now at least vaguely familiar with the X-Men. This week a new X-Men prequel movie, X-Men: First Class, is set to hit the big screen, but what is it actually all about? Why did Stan Lee and Jack Kirby create the X-Men comic back in the early 1960s? Underneath the spandex costumes and mutant superpowers, what is the real story? And where is a good place to get into the X-Men? (Some spoilers for the film under the cut.)

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Series: Gateway to Comics

Gateway to Comics: The Complete Maus

Maus is one of the most critically acclaimed graphic novels ever written, and it was also the winner of the Pulitzer Prize Special Award in 1992. Maus is a historical biography about Vladek Spiegelman, a Polish Jew, and his experiences during World War II as a prisoner of war. His son, Art Spiegelman, chronicles his father’s life both as an old man trying to adjust to the modern world, and as a young man who sees his home, liberties and freedom taken away by the Nazis. Maus is an incredibly emotional, powerful and harrowing story about survival.

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Series: Gateway to Comics

King For Days: DV8: Gods and Monsters

DV8, the characters and the comic, was originally created in the 1990s by Wildstorm Comics, which was then under the Image Comics umbrella. The idea behind the characters was a dark take on the same concept behind Marvel’s X-Men. Kids are born with powers (or the potential for them), but instead of being gathered and trained by a kindly professor, DV8 explored what it would be like if those kids were essentially bought by a menacing commercial interest and trained as mercenaries.

The characters and the book got shelved during DC Comics’ eventual acquisition of Wildstorm, but resurfaced recently in an eight issue mini-series written by Brian Wood, a Brooklyn comic writer with a known track record at writing realistic teenagers with powers. (Demo, New York Five, DMZ)

I was only vaguely aware of the previous series of DV8 but I was still able to enjoy this series without the need for background research. Each of the characters, their powers and relationship to one another, are introduced in such a way that it can be read independently of any other comic.

[Everyone gets to be king for a day]

Entertaining Monsters: Secret Six, “The Reptile Brain”

Secret Six is one of DC comics best kept secrets and I think it is a comic that a lot more people should be talking about. A comic about villains might initially not sound appealing but there are number of advantages it has over other titles which add up to make it an interesting read. I enjoy superhero comics, but as a mature reader I find myself drawn more to stories which have a darker edge to them, such as Secret Six.

The Secret Six are a group of criminals and super villains who work together as mercenaries for hire. These are not tortured anti-heroes or characters working towards redemption. They are killers, madmen and monsters who are very good at their jobs.

After an internal dispute the group splits and Bane forms his own group with some new members. He is then offered a job in the distant world of Skartaris, a savage land filled with dinosaurs, monsters from myth, and warring primitive tribes. Meanwhile his former teammates are offered full presidential pardons for all of their past crimes. All they have to do it kill Bane and the others.

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Gateway to Comics: Invincible, Vol 1: Family Matters

Mark Grayson was an ordinary boy until on his seventh birthday his father, Nolan, revealed he was an alien and also Omni-Man, one of Earth’s most powerful superheroes. This meant that one day Mark would develop superpowers of his own and will have to deal with all of responsibilities that come with them. When Mark hits puberty his powers manifest and he teams up with his father, adopting the superhero name Invincible, to protect Earth from danger.

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Series: Gateway to Comics

Gateway to Comics: Fear Agent, Vol. 1: Re-ignition

Fear Agent is a science fiction action adventure comic written by Rick Remender and with art by Tony Moore. Alien exterminator and former Earth freedom fighter, Heath Houston, is hired to find out why all communication has stopped from a fuel and trading outpost. He arrives to find the station deserted but there’s something scary scuttling around in the shadows and Heath is going to be its next meal. What follows is a rollercoaster action adventure across space and time where all bets are off and anything can happen. Hold onto your rocket pack, Fear Agent is here.

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Series: Gateway to Comics

When Investigating is the Only Thing You’re Good At: Stumptown by Greg Rucka

Dex Parios is a P.I. in Portland. She drinks, smokes, has a gambling problem and hasn’t had a date in years. When her debts start to escalate the casino owner offers a way to clear her tab. Her granddaughter has gone missing and no one has seen the girl for days. It sounds simple enough, but only minutes after Dex visits the girl’s apartment someone physically threatens her and tells her to stay out of other people’s business. So begins the first chapter of “Stumptown and The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left her Mini).”

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Gateway to Comics: Wasteland – The Apocalyptic Edition – Vol. 1

Wasteland is a post apocalyptic ongoing series written by Antony Johnston and drawn by Christopher Mitten from Oni Press. It’s set in a world one hundred years after a global event called the Big Wet, a disaster that wiped away most of humanity and civilisation as we know it. What remained was a dry and dusty world crawling with mutants and hordes of vicious sand people living in the shattered remains of broken cities. Wasteland follows the story of Michael, a traveller who stumbles into the town of Providence, half dead and clutching a weird machine that speaks in a foreign language which is giving directions to a place of myth called A-Ree-Yass-I.

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Series: Dystopia Week

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