Friday, December 19, 2014

Sandman Overture #4

   Ho-hum, another terrific issue of Sandman Overture, the prequel to the classic series.

   Written by Neil Gaiman with art by J. H. Williams III, it's another mind-bending chapter following Dream (with two companions) in his search for the answer to a mystery - an answer that involves living stars and a curse of madness.

   At the same time, we see a meeting between the title character and... well, that would be telling. But longtime readers will be shocked (and then another character is referenced to compound that)!

   It takes some patience to follow this series - they're averaging about four months between issues - but boy howdy, is it worth the wait.

   The artwork is just stunning - each page looks like it should be hanging in a gallery somewhere.

   Look, if you're familiar with the series, you know what to expect - terrific storytelling, a mind-bending story and great art.

   And if you're not familiar with the Sandman stories, what great stories you have ahead of you!

   Highly recommended!

Grade: A

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Multiversity: Thunderworld Adventures #1

   We're rapidly approaching the end of the year when I pick my favorite comics for 2014 - but don't be surprised when you see this issue in the top 10 (heck, it may be #1)!

   In The Multiversity, writer Grant Morrison has been exploring the potential in DC's 52 (count 'em, 52) alternate universes, and the adventures so far have been mostly serious, deep and dark affairs.

   But with Thunderworld Adventures, he rips off the pretension of modern comics and offers up an adventure that is imaginative, exciting and just plain fun.

   Here we find the classic Captain Marvel (that's right, he goes by his proper name, not "Shazam"). It's the hero as he should be - updated into a modern superhero, tackling an overpowering menace with intelligence and humor.

   The issue begins with the wizard Shazam under attack by the evil scientist Sivana, who has joined forces with an army of familiar-looking villains. Toss in a super-powered Sivana family, the Marvel family, lots of villains and a threat to reality (plus some fun with time travel) and you get a fresh, fantastic story.

   Add in the powerful and fresh art by Cameron Stewart, and you have a captivating, not-to-be-missed comic.

   Stacked on the shelf alongside the usual tomes of grim and gruesome antics, it's like a blast of fresh air - a fun, hope-filled adventure starring honest-to-goodness heroes.

   Why can't this be a monthly title? The comics industry - and each fan - needs this in the worst way.

Grade: A

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Classics - Avengers #5

   A couple of years ago I reviewed Avengers #3, the first issue of the series I saw - and one that made this comic an instant favorite.

   At the end of that story, they teased that the next issue would feature the return of Captain America!

   I remember thinking, "Who the heck is Captain America?"

   At 8 years old, I knew nothing about comics history, and less about a character whose last appearance was around the time I was born (not counting an imposter who appeared in an issue of Strange Tales I missed.)

   To compound the problem, I never saw that fourth issue (although I read a reprint of it years later) - the next issue of The Avengers I saw was #5 (published in 1964). Thankfully, it quickly brought the reader up to speed on the team's newest member.

   It was immediately obvious that there was something special about Cap - a normal man in top physical condition, armed only with a shield that served as both a defensive and offensive weapon.

   Thrown onto a team with Thor, Iron Man, Giant-Man and the Wasp, he immediately stood out as a true hero - both in his courage in facing incredible odds, and in smaller ways.

   For example, in this issue the team faces the Lava Men, a lost race of what seems to be humans made out of volcanic rock, each with incredible powers. At one point Cap is wrapped up in bands of volcanic rock. Iron Man uses his repulsor rays to free Cap, but warns that it will be painful. As he blasts the rock, Iron Man thinks, "What a man! He's taking the full force of my electronic repulsors without a whimper!" No magic hammers, no armor, no growing powers - Cap was just a tough hombre!

   The issue includes the menace of the Living Rock, which threatens the entire planet - but to deal with it, the team had to fight an army of Lava Men - and the Incredible Hulk!

   Crafted by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the issue was an instant classic. It was another action-packed issue, and I discovered a new favorite hero to add to my "must buy" list!

   And this kind of thing was a monthly event at Marvel. What a deal!

Grade: A

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New Comic Book Day!

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

- Batman #37 - The Joker returns!

- Fantastic Four #14 - The answer at last!

- Guardians of the Galaxy #22 - Venom problems.

- Justice, Inc. #5Looking for revenge.

- Justice League #37 - Tackling a powerhouse.

- Magnus #9 - Taking the fight to the top.

- Multiversity Thunderworld #1Say the magic word, Billy.

- Ragnarok #3 - A thunder god looking for answers.

- Sandman Overture #4 - Wild and wonderful.

- Shadow Show #2 - More Gaiman, this time honoring Ray Bradbury.

- Wonder Woman #37Well, that last page should fire people up.

- All-New X-Men #34 - Making friends and enemies in the Ultimate universe.

   And that's it!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Batgirl #37

   So my first reaction to this cover was: that's not a very practical new costume for Batgirl.

    Yep, it's a bedazzled batsuit for Babs.

    Thankfully, it's not Babs. It's an imposter, and the issue follows the attempts by the real Batgirl to track down and unmask the "new" Batgirl who's stolen her image - and may just destroy her identity.

   It's a terrific issue - the best of the "new" Batgirl so far. A little dark and edgy, but ultimately uplifting and defining - and adding a wicked new mystery for Batgirl to solve.

   The art by Babs Tarr is fresh and energetic, and a great match for the story by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher.

    I admit I wasn't too sure about this "new look" for the series, but so far it's been very successful.

   Here's hoping for more of the same!

Grade: A-

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Lola XOXO #5 (of 6)

   There are quite a few books around that are set in a dystopic future (I suppose a utopian future might be a bit dull), but most of them go for an over-the-top approach - zombies, alien invaders, that sort of thing.

   It's a credit to the Lola XOXO mini-series that it deals with the real world - so you have groups of outlaws using horses, guns and mercenaries to control trade routes.

   Into that setting we throw Lola, a (rare) kind-hearted but tough woman in search of her long-missing parents.

   A virtual prisoner of the Wasteland Trading Company, she finds a secret that may bring her to the end of her quest - but can she save her friends who face slavery (or worse)?

   The art by Siya Oum (who also writes the series) is terrific, with a wonderful classic style and real-world grit about it.

   Aside from the female protagonist, this is a unique series from Aspen and stands apart from the rest of the line. The next issue wraps up the opening storyline - here's hoping Oum can stick the landing.

Grade: B+

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Thor #3

   The biggest weakness of the original version of Thor was his dependence on his Uru hammer. If he was out of contact with Mjolnir for more than 60 seconds, he'd revert to his mortal identity of Dr. Don Blake.

   That idea was ditched decades ago - but now it's back, as the new female version of Thor finds when she's separated from the hammer and left to face a small army of Frost Giants.

   It makes for a fun (if vicious) romp as she deals with that and the machinations of Malekith, the Dark Elf.

   We still don't have a clue about her true identity, so the stories have been all about action - but presumably at some point we'll have to get some kind of personal side to the character.

   If not, it's going to get monotonous pretty fast.

   But so far, this series has been a lot more fun than I expected.

Grade: A-

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Avengers #39

   We know that Marvel has had a lot of fun over the years with heroes fighting other heroes.

   Sometimes it's because of a misunderstanding, sometimes they're working at cross purposes, and sometimes it's just because the writer thought it would be fun (or stupid) to have two groups of heroes beating up on each other (I'm looking at you, Civil War).

   You might think the ongoing story in The Avengers and The New Avengers is just another example of that, as two teams - Steve Roger's "Corporate Avengers" and Reed Richard's "Illuminati New Avengers" are spending a lot of time and energy chasing each other, each convinced they're doing the right thing.

   After several issues of cat-and-mouse games, here we get down to some serious fisticuffs, as powerhouses clash.

   We also get to see a serious intellect at work, as Reed puts his plan into action. He knows he can't win - but is there a way he can avoid losing?

   It's a thoughtful, clever script by Jonathan Hickman and amazing, over-the-top artwork by Mike Deodato.

   Best of all, it's a fight between Marvel heroes unlike any other. Hard to believe, I know.

Grade: A-

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