Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Classics - Swamp Thing #57 and #58

   As Alan Moore's ground-breaking run on Swamp Thing neared its end, in 1986 he took the title character into an unusual direction - into deep space.

    That allowed him to revisit some underused characters and concepts, including one of my all-time favorites - Adam Strange.

   It was also a step away from the usual horror format and into science fiction (don't worry, there are still some horror elements in there).

   When the Swamp Thing is forced to abandon the Earth, he (it?) hitches a ride to the planet Rann with Adam Strange, who travels to that alien world via the Zeta Beam (sort of like the Star Trek Transporter Beam).

   That's when the real fun begins, because Moore actually creates an alien language for the residents of Rann (I remember painstakingly deciphering the language when I first read these issues) - and a mystery involving visitors from the planet Thanagar, the home of Hawkman.

   The duo of Hawks includes a man and a woman (she was dressed in a rather impractical costume, with only suspenders covering her, uh, assets), and they're obviously up to no good.

   What was also shocking - and the only real change from the original version of Strange - was the attitude of the Rann people toward the Earthman. He still plays the part of hero (every time he visits Rann he must face and defeat a different menace) - although he doesn't realize that the altered Swamp Thing isn't an attacking menace, so they fight in the best Marvel manner.

   But it's also one of the few Adam Strange stories that focused on his intelligence and battle smarts, as he finds himself fighting two foes - the Hawks - who are much more skilled at aerial combat - and he must solve the mystery behind their true motives.

   It's just a terrific story, and one of the last to feature "my" Adam Strange - the smart, clever hero who has no powers, so he must use his wits to defeat each opponent.

   Moore's run on this series is legendary for good reason - it sets a remarkable standard for storytelling and reinvention that has rarely been equalled.

   Highly recommended!

Grade: A


New Comic Book Day

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

- Daredevil #18 - From the jaws of defeat...
- Justice, Inc. - The Avenger #4 - Fighting an invisible menace!
- Miracleman #1 - Beginning the reprints of Gaiman's run on the title.

- Mockingbird #1 - Celebrating SHIELD's 50th Anniversary.
- Plutonian #1 - Real life collides with super heroics. Maybe.
- Silver Surfer #14 - Building worlds!
- Thors #3 - Who is the murderer? Oh, hi, Loki.

   And that's it!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

We Can Never Go Home #4

   Though I'm not a big fan of the grim and gritty style of comic, I have to admit that I've been enjoying this series a lot.

   We Can Never Go Home follows two teenagers - the nerdy Duncan and cool girl Madison - as they go on the run.

   When she gets angry, Madison generates sparks from her eyes and has super-strength and near invulnerability. When she accidentally kills Duncan's brutal father, they both go on the run - but as this issue shows, the noose is closing around them.

     They've been surviving by stealing money from drug dealers - and now both the dealers and law enforcement are after them - and there may be other interests, as well.

   It's a raw series - not for kids, with violence, language and adult situations - and it's intense, as the teens find themselves under attack - and Madison isn't the only one who has super-powers.

   This series has the advantage of the unexpected - the reader has no idea where the story is going to lead next - and there's enough humor in there to leaven the brutal action sequences.

   For some reason I wasn't expecting to connect with this comic - it's been a surprise to find how much I like this series.

Grade: B+


Monday, August 31, 2015

Book of Death - The Fall of Ninjak #1

   Valiant's Book of Death series takes us into unusual territory - the final days of each hero.

   Thankfully, the events are set in the (somewhat) distant future, so there are no worries about how to resurrect each hero in the here and now.

   Thus it's no surprise that the Fall of Ninjak takes place a century in the future, as a surprisingly spry (and even more surprisingly alive) Ninjak faces a final threat - one that may endanger the entire world.

   But how can an elderly hero stand against a small army - much less stop an attempt to displace an entire country?

   That's all part of the fun, of course - and to say any more would be to give away too much.

   The art by Trevor Hairsine and Ryan Winn is strong - dark and menacing, it fits the moody story by Matt Kindt very well.

   Death is all the rage in comics, of course, and I'm not sure if the Book of Death series is just clever in capitalizing on the trend - or if they're just trying to tell some interesting stories.

   I'll go with "both," but the story makes the trendsetting worthwhile.

Grade: A-



Sunday, August 30, 2015

Where Monsters Dwell #4 (of 5)

   You know, I've read loads of comics in the half-century-plus that I've been reading, but I believe this is the first issue to feature the hero facing the dreaded fate of having his... well, manhood chopped off.

   That's the fate the Phantom Eagle faces in the latest issue of Where Monsters Dwell - which is one of the most odd of the Secret Wars / Battleworld titles.

  Sadly, he almost deserves his fate. Karl Kauffman (the Eagle) is, in this series, a complete jerk. A womanizer, utterly amoral, a coward and a thorough creep, he finds himself in trouble as he (and the passenger he was transporting, Clemmie Franklin-Cox), crash in a prehistoric corner of Battleworld.

   They're attacked by dinosaurs and take refuge among a race of Amazons - but those women have little use (or tolerance for) Karl's schemes, so they decide to, uh, cut him down to size.

   Before the issue is over, all-out war has been declared, lives are lost and there's more destruction being planned.

   If you're looking for a hero to follow, you won't find one here. But you will find a funny, weasely anti-hero to follow (in the Flashman tradition) in a wild and wooly adventure.

   The art by Russ Braun is terrific, crafting a world of beautiful women, gruesome dinosaurs and lush environments. Add Garth Ennis' compelling story and you have a terrific adventure - but no heroes.

Grade: A-


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Last Days of Ant-Man #1

   So the new standard for super-hero comics is to make the hero a lovable loser.

   While that works for Charlie Brown, it's not a good model for someone like Ant-Man.

   I hear you - you're saying, "Wait a minute, Chuck - Spider-Man has always been presented as a loser and he's the most popular hero in the world!"

   Ah, but there's a difference between having "real world" problems - as Spidey often does - and being a loser.

   Spider-Man actually was a winner who faced difficulties (no money, illness, a frail Aunt, girlfriends that didn't understand him) but he always overcame those things and emerged victorious, if sometimes misunderstood.

   It's a formula that has also worked in Hawkeye, so why not try it again with Ant-Man?

   The problem is, Scott Lang is presented as too much of a loser. His super-hero career is apparently a bust, so he sets out on his own to start a Security Firm - one without customers. His lone backer calls him in to steal back an item she lost - and he agrees to do it! Some hero.

   The sad part is, there's a germ of a great idea in this issue, one involving some Golden Age characters making a comeback. It's sweet and funny and clever and they do almost nothing with it.

   Instead, the whole series comes to a crashing halt as it runs up against the Secret Wars juggernaut, so the whole series will start up fresh (though not rebooted) in a couple of months.

   My suggestion: let him have problems, but let him win now and then. That's what heroes do.

Grade: B


Friday, August 28, 2015

Superman #43

   When the new Superman title started in the "New 52," I read the first issue - and dropped the title. It just didn't work for me.

   When John Romita, Jr. took over the art, teamed with writer Geoff Johns, I started picking it up again, and I enjoyed it - so it was back on my "buy" list.

   Now Johns is gone, and he seems to have taken the magic with him. The Superman in this title looks the same - but he doesn't act much like the Man of Steel.

   Part of the problem is his "new power," which is to expend all his energy in a single blast, leaving Clark temporarily powerless -  a normal human. It sounds like the kind of thing he'd only do in the most dire emergency, right?

   Instead, he unleashes it in every single issue, leaving him (and his allies) vulnerable.

   Add to that the latest menace, a mysterious tech-based villain named Hodor - Root (I think), who is blackmailing Superman, threatening to reveal his true identity. Clark goes along with this as he tries to learn more about the menace. (That just doesn't seem like something Superman would do.)

   The good part about the story is that it actually brings Superman and Lois Lane together, working as a team to deal with Hodor - Root.

   The culmination of the story apparently takes Superman into new territory - and it feels for all the world like a terrible mistake by the creative team.

   I like Superman when he's portrayed as smart and capable - but the version we're getting now is just a bull in a china shop, plowing ahead without a plan or concern for others. I just don't get it.

   And after this story finishes, I probably won't be getting it at all.

Grade: C+


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Justice League of America #3

   There's a lot to love about this new series (and a few things to not be so crazy about).

   Under writer / artist Bryan Hitch, we're seeing the "real" Justice League of America - which is to say, a team that, like the original version of the team, is absolutely unencumbered by continuity concerns.

   The original "New 52" cast is in place - who cares if Batman is now someone else in an exoskeleton? Or if Green Lantern is off world? Or Superman is back to wearing jeans and a T-shirt?

   None of that impacts this series, which apparently operates away from day-to-day continuity. Good for them!

   The art is very impressive, as Hitch (with inker Daniel Henriques) manages to create amazing panoramas, loaded with a cast of (literal) hundreds. The character designs are spot on, and the environments are incredible. Dramatic layouts, stunning actions sequences - there's a lot going on here.

   The only stumbling block is the story, and the only real problem there is the decompressed storytelling. We have the Earth being visited by a godlike being who seems to be curing the world's ills - but there's an undercurrent that leads the reader to believe that all is not well.

   This issue kicks off with the Flash and Green Lantern being hurled through a wormhole / Boom Tube / whatever into another world - and I have to admit I don't remember why that's happening. (Though I love seeing those two team up again, if just briefly - it's like old times!)

   But then Flash disappears, and Batman is doing... something, and Wonder Woman is stranded... and it's difficult to see how it all fits together.

   It's all playing out on a big stage, and it's pretty compelling - but we're going to have to be patient to see how it all fits together.

   Still, I'm enjoying this stand-alone series. I just hope the story catches up to the level of the art.

Grade: A-