Saturday, November 22, 2014

Spider-Woman #1

   Perhaps this would be a fine first issue if I were reading the Spider-Verse series.

   But I'm not, so for me, this was a terrible first issue. If you're a Spider-Verse fan, your mileage may vary.

   Let me say first that I'm a fan of the Jesssica Drew version of Spider-Woman, even though she's so rarely done "right."

   But in this issue she's lost in a crowd of Spider-dervied characters, which feels for all the world like the worst aspects of such "family" creations.

   Usually the worst offenders have been past issues of DC comics, with innumerable "Batman" and "Superman" derivatives - now Marvel is falling into the same trap.

   Of course, the Spider-Verse stories might be wonderful for all I know - but this doesn't give any indication of that.

   The issue launches hip-deep in the story already, as Spider-Woman is trying to protect another Spider-like woman named Silk along with a '30s pulp version of Spider-Man (I swear I am not making this up).

   They're in an alternate reality, being pursued by a couple of invincible villains who want to steal their spider-life-essence.

     I pity the fan who picks this up as his or her first issue, because he or she will be completely lost. The issue features mindless action, lots of characters with no introductions (look, it's Anya and Gwen, whoever they are), no indication about who the title character is, what she looks like under the mask or why we should care.

    Greg Land's art is beautiful to look at - he's a great choice to draw a comic loaded with lovely women - but that's not enough to make this comic compelling.

   Hopefully at some point this title will focus on the title character. Then it'll be worth $3.99 (maybe).

Grade: C

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Avengers #38

   Ah. An issue with answers is like a blast of fresh air.

   The Avengers continue to count down to the point when "Time Runs Out" (we're down to six months).

   And after months and months of events and buildup, here we take a moment of calm and get some explanations (though there's still plenty of mysteries to be solved, too).

   It all centers around - of all people - Roberto Dacosta, the former New Mutant known as Sunspot, and now also an Avenger.

   He's managed to solve the threat of the super-science organization AIM by the simplest solution possible - he bought the company.

   Now he's gathered together a group of like-minded Avengers to marshal their forces and address the other two Avengers groups that are in conflict - namely, the team led by Steve Rogers, and the Illuminati.

   They're also dealing with the threats posed by SHIELD and the incursions of alternate Earths that threaten total destruction.

   So they have a lot on their plates, but this issue by writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Stefano Caselli makes the challenges clear and brings in a surprising new player (who has a jolt of two of his own to reveal).

   I admit, I am loving this series - it's a big story, with nothing less than all of existence riding on the outcome.

   Not for timid fans, but mighty impressive to those willing to tackle the story.

Grade: A-

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Multiversity: Pax Americana #1

   Wow.

   The history of comics includes a few events that truly rocked the industry. One of those was the Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons creation known as Watchmen.

    It's no secret that the series began as a proposal for a revamp of the Charlton Action Heroes - but instead, they served as the template for the characters who filled that series.

   So now we arrive at Grant Morrison's Multiversity, and the latest issue, Pax American, where we visit Earth-4, the home for Charlton's heroes.

   Here we find the Question, the Blue Beetle, Nightshade, the Peacemaker, Captain Atom and others (some not clearly identified) - but appearance aside, these are not the same heroes.

   Instead, they're a mash-up of the original characters and the characteristics of the Watchmen (without ever coming out and saying so). So we have a Question who is brutal with villains, a Captain Atom who lives across time and space, a Peacemaker who seems to be unhinged.

   The story is made more compelling by the amazing art of Frank Quitely, who has crafted an amazing storytelling feat here - one that could easily stand alongside the style and design of the Watchmen.

   This is not a story you can read just once - it's complex, sometimes confusing and deliberately challenging. You might also object to the violence, to the way the story pushes the characters into different forms, altered moralities - and you won't get much argument from me - it bothers me, too.

   But despite that, this is quite an accomplishment in comic art - mature, unique (and yet an homage with multiple levels at work) - just stunning.

   But not for kids.

Grade: A

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Classics - Action Comics #217

   Wrapping up our Classic / Action Comics reviews (at least for now), here's one of the oldest comics in my collection.

   From the long-ago days of 1956, it's an issue I picked up courtesy of a friend - yep, it's so old it pre-dates me (well, almost).

   I have to admit that I never had much interest in the comics that pre-date my own "era" - which is really a shame from a financial standpoint, because comics from the '40s and '50s command high prices these days - and they were available for a song in the '60s.

   The main reason I didn't care about those comics is because I had no connection to them, and most seem positively crude by comparison to the comics i was reading.

   That's not really true of this issue, which contains three stories. They're all uncredited, of course. (I'll look to the Grand Comics Database for more info.)

   The Superman story features art by Al Plastino, and it's solid, dependable and true to the DC style at the time. It's the typical silly story where a baby is left at Clark Kent's door - a Super-Baby! So Superman has to deal with the usual mishaps while trying to solve the mystery behind the baby's powers (and of course, the baby talks in the usual "Me am a baby" jargon DC loves).

   The second story is Congo Bill, and the art is credited to Ed Smaile. It's quite good - more expressive and textured than most of DC's output. The story is a bit silly, as Bill seems to perform amazing feats of strength - but it's all movie trickery.

   The final story stars the futuristic Tommy Tomorrow, with art by the always-excellent Jim Mooney, with a story by the great Otto Binder. It's pretty thin stuff, as a villain tries to trap Tommy - but a silly mistake gives him away.

   It's all light-hearted and frothy stuff, but that's typical for the time period. Remember, these comics were aimed at young readers, and frankly, they would work just fine for kids today - the stories are timeless and fun.

   The more jaded readers might find it all too silly for their purposes - but comics were designed for a young audience at the time. That's probably one reason why I never worked hard at tracking them down - by the time I got interested, comics were starting to grow up. But I'm still enough of a kid at heart to appreciate the craftsmanship that went into these issues.

   (Before someone gets cheesed, I should add that every age has some excellent comics to brag about - no era has a corner on greatness.)

   I don't put much work into pursuing the comics from an earlier age, but when I find them, I admit - they're fun - and they make me feel young again.

Grade: B-

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New Comics Day

   Here's what I picked up at the comics shop today:

- Astro City #17High-flying heroes.

- Avengers #38 Answers, finally.

- Batman 66 Meets Green Hornet #6 -  Bam! Pow! Finale!

- Daredevil #10 - Purple reign.

- Fantastic Four #13 - Back in blue!

- Guardians of the Galaxy #21 - Facing Venom!

- Justice League #36 - What is the Amazo Virus?

- Magnus Robot Fighter #8 Fighting alongside Leeja!

- Multiversity Pax Americana #1 - Charlton meets Watchmen. Sorta.

- New Avengers #26 - Iron Man in jail.

- Powers Bureau #12The final fall.

- Spider-Woman #1More than one!

- Winterworld #4 - Self sacrifice.

- Wonder Woman #36A new creative team.

- Uncanny X-Men #28 - A mutant in need.

   And that's it! 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Batgirl #36

   Don't get me wrong, I like the new version of Batgirl. By setting Barbara Gordon in a college setting, she has a fresh, young approach to her adventures.

   But I'm still not sure exactly how this series fits with the first "New 52" version of the character, which was a continuation of the original version (which is to say, Babs fought crime as Batgirl, then was crippled by the Joker, became the wheelchair-bound Orcacle, and then somehow was healed and returned to her role as Batgirl).

   All of which means she has to be in her mid-20s, right? But the way she's drawn in this series, you'd think she was a teenager. The same for Dinah Lance, who has a small guest-starring role so far.

   And why is Babs having money trouble? This is the woman who set up a secret hideout and a vast computer network. Suddenly she's broke?

   But it's easy to forgive those quirks. As depicted here, Batgirl is very intelligent, funny and likable.

   The threat here is a bit silly, as a couple of thieves run wild with high-powered, experimental motorcycles - and Batgirl must face them without her usual assortment of gadgets. But it's still a lot of fun!

   The story also sets up some mysteries for the future - which, guided by the creative team of writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher, and artists Babs Tarr and Stewart (again), holds a lot of promise.

Grade: A-

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Superior Iron Man #1

      It’s sad to see that those guiding Iron Man’s adventures don’t seem to have a clue about the secret of the character’s success.

   So we get a spiel in this issue from editor Mark Paniccia telling us that the original Iron Man wasn’t a nice guy, was despised and "darn-right unlikeable" (as opposed to "downright").

    Perhaps I’m remembering it differently, but the original Tony Stark was just like the guy in the movie - he’s rich, successful, intelligent, funny, charming - the ladies love him, the guys all want to be just like him. Think George Clooney (or Robert Downey, Jr., natch).

   And criticizing him for making weapons (munitions) is just an attempt to rewrite history. In the early '60s, helping in the defense of the country was considered patriotic. (It even happens today from time to time.)

   Do they really think we should hate his for his success? Do we hate Bruce Wayne for being a filthy capitalist? How about Uncle Scrooge McDuck? Sheesh!

   So now they’ve made Tony a villain as a result of unseen events in Avengers vs. X-Men: Axis - hey, it worked for the Superior Spider-Man, right?  

   They have a terrific creative team on the issue, and that takes some of the sting out - but like Spidey’s Doc Ock-controlled adventures, I’ll be passing on these.

   I prefer heroes who act heroic. And in character. 

   Somebody let me know when the real Iron Man returns.

Grade: C

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Star Trek: City on the Edge of Forever #5 (of 5)

    This issue wraps up the adaptation of Harlan Ellison's original script for what is arguably the best episode from the original Star Trek television series.

   But the episode that aired, though titled The City on the Edge of Forever, was different in many ways from that original script.

   Ellison was forced to make changes in the original version, but thanks to fine artwork by J. K. Woodward and the adaptation written by Scott and David Tipton, we get an approximate version of how that episode might have played out.

   The story differs from the original in that the key to the problem is an evil member of the crew who attempts to escape prosecution by diving into a time portal, which takes him back in time to the early part of the 20th Century.

   Somehow his actions in the past change the time stream. To restore the Federation (and the future), Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock also travel into the past.

   Kirk is faced with a heart-wrenching choice - to save the future, can he sacrifice the woman he loves?

   It's a great story, with or without the changes. The most dramatic change seems to be substituting a different character in place of Dr. McCoy (who, in the TV episode, causes the changes during a temporary bout of madness brought on by an accidental injection).

   It changes the dynamic a lot, but it also blunts the impact of the climax of the story.

   I have to admit, I like the televised version better (I know, it's heresy to go against the pure Ellison product). I'm not sure if I feel that way because it's actually better, or if it's nostalgia, or the fact that a print adaptation can't match the impact of film.

   But I'm thankful for a chance to see this excellent visualization of the original story!

Grade: A-

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