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Benjamin Percy

Year Zero: Volume Two

I’m a sucker for zombie stories, so I picked up this new Year Zero series, which proved to be World War Z in graphic novel form.

In the first volume, the outbreak had just occurred and we were introduced to five different individuals all over the world. While I expected this second volume to pick up with those characters again, instead we meet four new ones a few months into this new apocalyptic world. There is the sadistic Columbian drug lord, a pregnant woman trapped in an Arizona big-box store, a Rwandan doctor consumed with guilt, and a Norweigan sea captain and her two grandchildren who are trying to elude pirates on their fishing boat. The fates of these new survivors were more at risk than in the first volume, which made it harder to connect with them, as some died and others had implied grim endings. We also get some world-building in the form of a few letters throughout this slim volume.

While Benjamin Percy remained the author, the artist and colorist changed to Juan Jose Ryp and Frank Martin. The art remains strong with great details, with coloring shifts for each location change, which helps somewhat with the constant back and forth. I do wish Percy spent more time with each character at a time, for often it shifted every two to three pages.

While I still remain interested in this series, I’m not up for volume three to introduce even more characters. I hope they start to connect the characters still left alive from these first two volumes, and begin to braid their stories together as they learn to cope with the new world order.

Devil’s Highway

Drive like hell!

Most of the AWA Upshot titles I have been reading recently are dark- and this certainly fits the bill. Sharon, a former soldier who has been out of touch with her father, plans to go home to visit him for Christmas but discovers he was killed in the diner he owned. When she bullies the local policemen into giving her pictures of the crime scene she sees that an intertwining snake was carved into his chest.

Sharon enlists a friend to help and gains intel from a soldier she formally worked with, and discovers an evil network of truckers who work together to hide their serial killings. Prostitutes at truck stops are easy prey for them, and indeed it was one that escaped that Sharon’s Dad hid, that led to his murder. Sharon’s quest for vengeance pays off, and her fighting skills when confronting some of the truckers are second to none. While she does obtain justice in the end, the network still exists and other predators still remain out there. As this is labeled volume one, I assume Sharon has more adventures ahead of her.

Set in the winter in the Midwest, the snowy landscapes and bundled-up people are accurate to the region. As a Midwestern girl, I recognized many of the towns and highways they referred to. The story is illustrated well with good panel placement, but at times close-ups of faces can be a bit off. Appropriately dark-hued, the panels include pink and red tones when there is (much) violence. Letters from the creators and an early mock-up of the first scene, that changed, were included at the end.

This was an interesting read with a kick-ass heroine, but the violence and references to sexual assault were too much for me. I don’t mind gritty stories, but this story takes it to an extreme.

Suicide Woods

This short story collection was excellent! The ten stories were all atmospheric and wonderfully creepy. I first became aware of the author as the writer of the excellent Wolverine podcasts, but am now glad I looked up other work by him and will now search out other novels by him.

The Cold Boy- The visiting nephew of a taxidermist falls through the ice in his backyard pond and comes out changed. It had a Pet Semetary vibe.

Suspect Zero-A woman con artist is underestimated, much to the dismay of those who interact with her. The train intro was intriguing.

The Dummy- A female high school student who wrestles is attacked by a fellow teammate but the stuffed dummy she had been practicing on, seems to save her.

Heart of a Bear- This was a strange tale that was never going to end well for the family involved. A bear is entranced by a family and becomes human-like for a time, without the townspeople noticing.

Dial Tone- Don’t underestimate the quiet man working alongside you. His mild manner could be covering a black heart.

The Mud Man- A busy man accidentally creates a doppelganger out of mud, but this mud man starts to become more engaged with his family life than he was. Another tale of people accepting a strange creature in their midst without raising the alarm.

Writs of Possession- More a sad slice-of-life story about evictions than a horror story. A deputy steels herself for the sorrow she has to witness as she evicts people from their homes.

The Balloon- A pandemic story that was written before our current crisis so it feels strangely prophetic.

Suicide Woods- My least favorite story, yet the book’s namesake. Suicidal individuals have joined a support group that has a radical way to make them appreciate life again.

The Unchartered- This last story is more a novella, and could have been fleshed out into a full novel. A woman working for a mapping company hires a trio of adventurers to chart some islands off the coast of Alaska where some previous workers have gone missing. On a whim, she joins them, but their small plane crashes and the survivors are sucked into a mind-bending and horrific experience.

These stories all have a sinister edge to them and I enjoyed all of the dark tales.

Year Zero

Year Zero is basically World War Z in graphic novel form!

Five stories run parallel to one another to represent a microcosm of a global zombie epidemic- Sara is a polar research scientist who is the one who inadvertently finds the first zombie frozen in time, Daniel is a young orphan from Mexico City, Saga is a paid assassin in Tokyo, Fetemah is an army informant in Kabul and BJ is a doomsday prepper in Minnesota. These five individuals, deal with the sudden fallout when they become the few who have survived the apocalypse. We are only given a few pages of each person’s story before it shifts elsewhere, so the story doesn’t advance much in this first volume beyond them all surviving the first onslaught. But the artist and colorist did an excellent job in capturing each personality and the region they are from. In addition, there was a different color scheme for each of the five, which helped differentiate them.

I first picked up this graphic novel because I am a sucker for zombie stories, and I had been a big fan of The Walking Dead. But I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed the author, Benjamin Percy, as I was first introduced to him through two Wolverine podcasts and later a horror short story collection, Suicide Woods, of his. With this entry, I will continue to seek out his work!

-Nancy

Wastelanders: Old Man Star-Lord podcast

“In a post-apocalyptic future, Marvel’s Wastelanders: Old Man Star-Lord finds Peter Quill and Rocket a little paunchier, a little slower, and a lot saltier than they were during the glory days of the Guardians of the Galaxy. They quickly discover the Earth isn’t what it used to be either when they crash land 30 years after all the world’s super-villains seized control.”

I’ve been very pleased with Marvel podcasts- Wolverine: The Long Night, Wolverine: The Lost Trail, Marvels and Black Widow: Bad Blood. On a whim, I checked if a new podcast was out and was pleased to see that Wastelanders had just started. Not typically a fan of the Guardians of the Galaxy, I gave it a try because I had felt the same way about the Fantastic Four and still enjoyed Marvels.

Record of a Fallen World

Quill and Rocket are sent to Earth on a mercenary mission, under threat of death to find a sacred object called the Black Vortex, just to find Earth in ruins and controlled by Doctor Doom. An alien-created “skinbot”, nicknamed Cora, accompanies them, and it is through her narration of record-keeping that we find out a lot of background information. This introductory episode gave us a lot of worldbuilding but in a way that didn’t seem like a huge info dump and seems to correlate with the Old Man Logan graphic novel timeline.

The Wastelands

Bickering constantly, Quill and Rocket explore South Dakota’s Badlands and are helped by a local named Red. Past trouble is inferred, but we are in the dark about what happened to the former Guardians of the Galaxy or the fates of their former teammates. At times the actor’s voice are hard to distinguish between Quill and Rocket, as they sound very similar.

Blood Farmer

Red gives them refuge on his farm, where he shares what happened thirty years ago, and how this apocalyptic world came to be. They lay some traps and lay in wait for the local thugs to come looking for them. After defeating them and taking their horses, Quill, Rocket and Cora head into the hills to begin their search for the Black Vortex.

Deer on a Spear

As Quill and Rocket head towards the contact that Red gave them they pick up on a signal for a broadcast that is televising Kraven the Hunter following the very man they were hoping to speak to in a Running Man/ Hunger Games type of scenario. Quill tries to save the man to no avail, and now their contact is gone, and Kraven is on to them. The broadcaster was so wonderfully smarmy, you could really visualize the hunt from his commentary.

Heaven and Hellfire

Although this duo is older, they are none the wiser, and luckily a former X-Men Emma Frost who owns a local bar comes to their aide. But she is keeping her cards close to her vest, so they are unsure if she is there to help or hurt them. I do need to add that Emma’s overuse of the word darling became grating. She sounded like Joan Collins from Dynasty and isn’t how I imagined she’d talk.

Trust Exercise

Splitting up to see if they can obtain the Black Vortex and get their guillotine collars off, nothing goes as planned (of course). But Cora ascertains that Emma is there to help, so there’s that.

Catching Fire

A Quill-centric episode establishes that Emma’s powers are fading as she ages, but she has given Quill and Rocket a window of opportunity after putting Kraven the Hunter out of commission for a few days. Quill thinks he has a lead on where the Black Vortex is located after interviewing the town’s forgotten librarian. Hell yeah- a librarian to the rescue!

Buried

Some backstory on what happened with the Guardians is established showing how Quill is racked with guilt and wants to atone for the deaths of his friends. An ally returns, but so does a foe, so all paths are converging as they try to infiltrate Doom’s compound.

Kraven’s Hunt

In this penultimate episode, Quill and Rocket are moving towards discovering the Black Vortex with Kraven on their heels, in another narrated hunt. Cora and Emma Frost rally their allies that include the Ghost Riders to prevent Kraven from killing the duo. Rocket’s poor health can’t be hidden anymore and he tries to prepare Quill for a future without him.

Dawn and Doom

Sacrifices are made, with a devastating death, but Quill and Emma Frost prevail. So although they have scored a victory, we know it’s not over, as the episode is only half over. There is a surprising double-cross with a new villain emerging, with definite tie-ins to what has happened (or will happen-I’m unclear exactly of the timeline) in Logan’s story. I am left wanting more, but that’s good storytelling, for I will definitely tune into future podcasts.

I started this podcast apprehensively, as I’ve never been a big fan of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the bickering between Quill and Rocket was annoying to me. Yet, this podcast grew on me so kudos to Benjamin Percy who also wrote the two Wolverine podcasts I enjoyed last year. In fact, I recently read a short story horror collection by Percy, Suicide Woods, that I found excellent. This podcast is supposed to be the lead-in to a new universe set in the Old Man Logan future with Hawkeye, Wolverine, Black Widow and Doctor Doom. I’m excited, as Susan Sarandon will be voicing Black Widow and I can’t wait for that story and how they will all tie-in together!

-Nancy

Written by Benjamin Percy and directed by Kimberly Senior

Voice Cast:

Timothy Busfield as Star-Lord

Chris Elliott as Rocket

Nadine Malouf as Cora 

Patrick Page as Kraven the Hunter

Vanessa Williams as Emma Frost

Danny Glover as Red

Elizabeth Francis as Joanna Forge

Dylan Baker as Doctor Doom

Hawkeye, Black Widow, Wolverine, Star-Lord- art by Steve McNiven

Wolverine: The Lost Trail podcast

Wolverine is back in another strong podcast from Marvel! I was a huge fan of season one which proved to be more a murder mystery, while Logan was kept on the periphery of the narrative, but in this season he is front and center.

Among the Missing

After the Burns, Alaska, disaster, Logan returns to the New Orleans area looking for his ex-lover Maureen. He had made a few calls to her when up north, so when he can’t get in touch with her, he assumes the worst and searches for her. He tracks her down to a bar she sang at, and a teen employee there, tells Logan that her disappearance might be related to another case. All the people in Marcus’s mutant village disappeared after someone mysterious had convinced him to take him to the remote bayou where they were hiding. Agent Sally Pierce is back on the case, sounding different as she wants to blend in (but also a nod to what we discovered about her in season one).

The Forgotten

Marcus tracks Logan to Maureen’s apartment where he is looking for clues. Maureen was obviously onto something, as she has newspaper clippings and a map tracking a rash of disappearances of both mutants and humans in the area.  A playing card pinned to the fridge points Logan in the direction of my favorite rogue Gambit. But Gambit doesn’t truly have much information to share, and in my opinion, he didn’t sound suave enough with the delicious accent I have come to expect, in this podcast. (If you are interested in Gambit growing up and marrying Rogue, checkout Mr. And Mrs. X)

The Cold Blooded

Logan moves on to Bourbon Street where he meets up with a flamboyant former operative, to help him get the talkative Marcus to safety. A trashy biker gang is put on the case by Pierce and they are very anti-mutant, as people in Louisana are more aware of them than they were in Alaska. Things go haywire and Marcus and Logan barely escape and head into the swamp to look for the man they believe is responsible for all the missing people.

Into the Swamp

This was a bridge episode- not a lot happened but we were privy to some character development about Logan. We also get some clarification on Agent Pierce and her connection to Weapon X. The man they are after is revealed, and while it was who I thought it would be, I was abashed at how long it took me to think him up, as I am rusty on my Marvel villains. I should have guessed who Wyngarde was right off based on Marcus’s first description of him.

Riverboat Revival

Logan’s mind had been wiped clean several times by Weapon X, and while some memories occasionally bubble to the surface, Marcus realizes Logan needs help retrieving them so he can find Wyngarde and his mysterious compound Greenhaven. They meet with a fortune teller to help Logan access his memories, and her characterization is such a broad stereotype that it made me cringe to hear her talk. Marcus is scared off by Logan’s dark past and runs off just to meet up with Gambit again. The sound effects in this episode were confusing and made me lose track of what was supposed to be going on.

Blood on the Bayou

The biker gang is intent on killing Logan, although that goes against the wishes of Agent Pierce who only wishes for him to be captured alive. The hate the leader of the gang expresses towards mutants is very reminiscent of the classic X-Men story, God Loves, Man Kills.  Pierce is showing some uncharacteristic empathy these last few episodes, which is quite different from her brusque personality from last season. Gambit and Logan work together to save Marcus from the bikers, and off they go again in search of Greenhaven.

Welcome to Greenhaven

Marcus and Logan arrive in Greenhaven but they both have different experiences when reunited with their loved ones. Not surprisingly, all is not what it seems at the mutant haven, led by the cult-like leader Wyngarde. What is Wyngarde really planning?

The Proposition

Maureen and Logan are reunited, but Maureen’s demeanor seems off- how much has she been affected by Wyndgarde’s telepathic powers? Their memories are suspect, and you begin to wonder what really happened between them and Wyngarde when all three escaped together from Weapon X.  After Maureen leaves, Pierce arrives and makes a proposition to Logan that he reluctantly accepts. No one is to be trusted at this point, with conflicting motivations and intentions.

Greenhaven is Everywhere

Maureen and Pierce meet, as do Logan and Wyndgarde. Betrayals and alliances are forged, but as the Weapon X sentinels are arriving to wage war with the mutants, everything is up for grabs. Will Wyndegard be able to dominate the world with his mind tricks? Plus, the first reference about Gambit and Logan being X-Men in the past together is mentioned, which ups my confusion- why aren’t they X-Men any longer??

Deal with the Devil

All hell breaks loose at Greenhaven as the sentinels arrive. Marcus tries to escape with his mother, as Maureen and Pierce come up with a plan to stop the robots. That leaves Logan and Wyngarde to battle it out, and as not to spoil how it all ends, let’s just say there is double-cross after double-cross. I was relieved that Logan finally listened to Maureen, because a trope that annoys me is the “noble” person who sacrifices everything for their loved one, but never consults that loved one. I enjoyed the epilogue which both brings the story to a close, yet leaves enough plot threads open to continue.

These two podcasts about Logan/Wolverine have been excellent. In some ways, I enjoyed season one more, as the narrative was more atypical, and this season was the classic superhero story. I read that the Fantastic Four might get the next podcast treatment, and if so, I will check it out, as writer Benjamin Percy has shown himself to create superior stories that capture the audience’s attention and never let’s go!

-Nancy

Voice Cast:

Richard Armitage as Logan / Wolverine

Bill Irwin as Jason Wyngarde / Mastermind

Bill Heck as Remy LeBeau / Gambit

Rodney Henry as Marcus Baptiste

Christina Bennett Lind as Agent Sally Pierce

Blair Brown as Bonnie Roach

Mugga as Ruby Baptiste

Rachael Holmes as Maureen

Wolverine: The Long Night podcast

Although I am a fan of Marvel and especially the X-Men, I have read remarkably few graphic novels about them recently. I heard about this Wolverine podcast during a commercial on the LeVar Burton Reads podcast that I listen to, so after I wrapped up season three of that podcast, I decided to give this one a try. I’m so glad I did!

The set-up of this ten chapter series: following a string of mysterious deaths in Burns, Alaska, Special Agents Sally Pierce and Tad Marshall arrive to investigate. They soon find there’s more going on than meets the eye.

A Thousand Ways To Die In Alaska

In this first episode, FBI agents Pierce and Marshall arrive in Burns, Alaska to investigate a fishing boat massacre that seems to be more than a drug run gone bad. When slash marks are found in the boat hull, we know that Logan, aka Wolverine, is tied in- because that’s what the podcast is all about, hence the title!

Goodnight Nobody

The agent’s line of questioning of the local police and townspeople point to them suspecting Logan, although they won’t admit that they are there under false pretenses. For a podcast based on Wolverine, he as a character has factored in very little yet. He is described by others and in some of these remembrances his voice is heard, but he has yet to play a significant role. The agents are also questioning the supposed bear attacks of two local women recently and the quote “Goodnight Nobody” tattooed on one of the victims leads them to a new mysterious cult.

Underground

Additional suspicions are raised about the Aurora cult, a reclusive group that has settled in the area recently, led by Nicholas Prophet. Agents Pierce and Marshall investigate, accompanied by young Deputy Bobby Reid (who sounds incredibly like Tom Holland of Spiderman fame), to see if the Prophet could shed any insight on the rash of deaths in the community. Their compound is creepy, but no big clues to connect the cult with Logan are obvious as of yet.

Hunters

More suspects are interviewed by agents Pierce and Marshall.  The rich Langrock family, who are benefactors to the town but are  (not surprisingly) not what they seem, become the newest suspects. Could they be behind the drugs that one fisherman saw on the fishing boat before the bags disappeared? Other clues point to eco-terrorists in the area, and one family with feral children have connections to Logan. Descriptions of Logan are shattering my view of him as the dreamy Hugh Jackman, as he is described as short, squat and ugly. Sigh…

Into the Woods

The Langrock family sponsors a hunt to find the bear that has supposedly killed two women and the night before attacked yet another woman. Are they doing this as a true public service to the community or are they trying to distract the agents from the real killer? Clues would point to a double-cross, as video footage viewed by the agents show the local police in the Langrock’s back pocket, and they advise young deputy Reid to not be so subservient to those in power.

Archeology of the Night

A sacred grove of old-growth trees located in a canyon with ancient petroglyphs is scheduled to be logged by the Langrock family, and this news ties in with the eco-terrorists, the cult, the woman most recently mauled and Logan. A web of clues is slowly coming together, but more clues are needed such as who is the creature that is doing the mauling, that doesn’t quite sound like Logan (of course we all know he didn’t do it). And we find out some surprising news about Reid, and that perhaps his aww-shucks persona is hiding another agenda.

You’re Next

Clues on how the Langrock family is managing to smuggle the drugs between their fishing cannery and their logging company is revealed through research at the local library (be still my heart!). The sacred grove and a recently discovered cave with mystical symbols reminds me of the Pet Semetary novel by Stephen King and is furthered by a reference to a Wendigo monster that an Inuit man brings up…yet the Wendigo monster is a mythical creature from Native American tribes on the eastern coast of the United States and Canada and not of Inuit folklore. This hallowed area is also referred to as the Tarrack—a spiritual nexus that has the power to exact revenge on those that wish to destroy the region.

The Red Sunset

When a prime suspect is found dead, the agents are thrown for a loop, especially when the cult is found worshipping in front of the dead body and Prophet speaks of another future sacrifice.  A young woman with a strong allegiance to Logan clues them in to look into another suspect that I guessed earlier would be the true culprit. References are made by the agents about mutant genes, yet they seem slow on the uptake that there could be another mutant local to the town, besides Logan.

The Changing

In this penultimate episode, we find out definitively who the killer is (it’s who I thought it would be!) and there is a deep pathos in the person’s background that twisted them into a cold-blooded killer when their mutant power kicked in. Used as a pawn for revenge against others, the killer has a break with reality and fights Logan, just to run off and disappear into the woods. As we head into the last episode, questions remain about how the cult ties into all of this, and what the agents know about Logan’s past and mutant powers. I do want to mention that the sound effects in this podcast are excellent, with the noises heard in a pivotal scene in this chapter really adding to the atmosphere.

No Escape

What an ending! Turns out there was a huge secret that brusque agent Pierce and easy-going agent Marshall were hiding, and I was completely surprised, although there had been a tiny clue in the last chapter. What I liked is that some of the plot’s threads remain open, there is no neat conclusion to what happens to all the residents of Burns, Alaska. Logan finally takes center stage in the last chapter as he meets one of the agents, and through some references he makes to his past, I remain a bit muddled on his timeline in the X-Men universe. But no matter what, Weapon X (btw, that’s not a spoiler to the big secret I mentioned earlier) won’t give up on capturing what they consider their biggest asset, and I’m sure that will play a big part in Season Two- The Lost Trail.

This podcast written by Benjamin Percy was beyond good! The voice actors were perfect for their roles, with Logan, Pierce and Marshall standing out. There is a graphic novel based on this story available, and I look forward to reading that to compare how the visual and the auditory versions match up. I will definitely be listening to season two, and between that and the LeVar Burton Reads podcast, I have much to enjoy listening to on my commute to work!

-Nancy

Voice Cast:

Richard Armitage as Logan / Wolverine

Celia Keenan-Bolger as Agent Sally Pierce

Ato Essandoh as Agent Tad Marshall

Andrew Keenan-Bolger as Deputy Bobby Reid

Scott Adsit as Sheriff Ridge

Brian Stokes Mitchell as Nicholas Prophet

Bob Balaban as Joseph Langrock

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