Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Classic Comics - Mage: The Hero Defined #1

   A few years back I reviewed the first issue of Mage, which writer / artist Matt Wagner created at Comico in 1984.

   The series ended up being a limited series - it ran 15 issues and then ended in 1986, promising to return soon.

   "Soon" ended up being a bit of a wait, but the series finally returned in 1997 under the Image umbrella, with the title "The Hero Defined."

   The focus again was on Kevin Matchstick, who travels the country (wielding a glowing baseball bat) with his supernatural friend, Joe Phat, tracking down monsters and other evil creatures.

   As good as the original series was, the improvement in this series was remarkable. Wagner's art was more dynamic, the characters clearly outlined, the dialogue was sharp and funny, and the story loaded with surprises and shocks.

   As the series continued, the cast grew with characters drawn from a variety of mythological sources.

   Mage managed a great balance between action, drama and tragedy. A terrific series by one of the industry's top creators - and well worth tracking down.

   But we are way overdue for that third and final series.

Grade: A

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Donald Duck #1

   It's great to see the Duck family (Uncle Scrooge and, of course, Donald Duck) back in print.

   I also like that the series is "double numbering" - the cover displays both #1 and #368 (if only more comics did this) - so the publisher, IDW, gets the "first issue" bragging rights, and longtime fans get the continuation of the original series.

   There are three stories included here, including: one that puts Donald in the role of a journalist who isn't really a journalist; one that has Donald ineptly trying to shoot a funny video (but who's the real patsy?); and Donald trying to tackle some DIY projects.

   The stories are fun, and the only mark against them is that the issue doesn't include any stories by Carl Barks or Don Rosa.

   But that's a minor quibble - the stories are high energy, with terrific art. Lots of fun for readers of all ages!

Grade: B+

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Sculptor (Graphic Novel)

   When Scott McCloud speaks - or releases a new graphic novel - attention must be paid.

   And Sculptor is well worth your time and attention.

   It's the unique story of David Smith, an artist who is going through a rough patch. He came close to great success, but fell short, and he wonders if his career is over.

   That's when David receives an unusual offer from Death itself - incredible sculpting powers, but in 200 days, his life ends.

   What follows is an incredible roller-coaster of life and career, as David finds his muse renewed - but will it result in fame and fortune?

   His personal life also takes some unexpected twists and turns. It's a riveting story that unfolds over more than 500 pages of stunning, compelling art.

   McCloud has written several excellent books about the comics art form, and here he demonstrates his mastery of it, manipulating time, focus, emotion and environment to maximum effect.

   His art isn't realistic, but it builds its own reality, and captures life in New York in amazing detail, from grungy apartments to alleys and rooftops and modern museums.

   This is a story that offers so much to the reader - surprises, heartbreak, ingenuity, passion.

   It's a mature tale, so I can't recommend it for young readers, but for everyone else, this graphic novel gets my highest recommendation.

Grade: A+

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Powers #3

   The beauty of the Powers series is that you can count on it for a story filled with shock and awe.

   The language and subject matter are as raw and real as can be (at least for a series about cops who deal with the murders and mayhem caused by super-powered citizens).

   And the story constantly keeps you off guard.

   For example... in this issue we have Detective Deena Pilgrim and her partner trying to solve a mass murder mystery that involves a "Power."

   Her former partner (and former Power) Christian Walker appears to be hiding out - but he was ambushed and badly beaten last issue.

   So if he's incapacitated, who are the figures showing up wearing his old costume?

   It's another fast, compelling story - the specialty of writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Avon Oeming, who turn in outstanding work here (like always).

   This isn't a series for everyone - young readers and the easily offended should stay away. But if you're looking for hard-hitting action, this is about as rough as it gets.

Grade; A-

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Star Wars #5

   I continue to be amazed at how good the new Star Wars comic is - it's one of the best Star Wars comics to date, and that's saying something.

   Some of the credit has to go to the amazing art of John Cassaday, one of the best artists working in comics today. His characters are expressive and spot on, his action sequences are incredible, and his environments are, well, real.

   But also give lots of credit to writer Jason Aaron, who seems to be writing with no fear. He throws characters together well before we might have expected them to meet, he takes us to places we might not expect to see again, and he gives the characters the right voice.

   Oh, and did I mention the wonderful cliffhanger endings, which are perfect for this kind of adventure?

   My only complaint is that some sequences are a bit too brutal - the scenes of torture (as a certain villain does his best to track down the pilot who destroyed the Death Star) are too intense.

   But if you can get past that, you have a comic that manages to capture that sense of high adventure that's so much a part of the Star Wars experience.

Grade: A-

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Uncanny X-Men #34

   The Uncanny X-Men seem to be playing catch-up.

   While the rest of the Marvel Universe is submerged in the Secret Wars event, the X-types are still in their original universe, strabbaging along,  dealing with some unresolved issues.

   Here we have the Dazzler (sporting an odd new look) seeking her revenge on Mystique, who kidnapped and impersonated Dazzler.

    And... that's about the size of it for this issue. It's loaded with the usual sharp and funny dialogue by Brian Michael Bendis, and clean, stylized art by Kris Anka - all building toward the upcoming issue #600.

   Maybe then the team will be allowed to join the Secret War.

Grade: B+

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

A-Force #1

   I feel sorry for the heroes in the rest of Battleworld (the planet-wide division of realities into separate "countries").

   That's because, judging by this issue of A-Force, all the super-heroines are located on the land known as Arcadia.

   But it's not like Amazon Island - apparently there are some men here, too - but none with super-powers (that we've seen so far).

   Arcadia is presented as a near-utopia - but that's quickly disrupted when a giant prehistoric shark attacks, and the dramatic repercussions give us a look inside the new social order facing these warrior women.

   I have to admit, I'm not planning to buy most of the spin-off Secret Wars books - but this one was impossible to resist.

   The art by Jorge Molina and Craig Yeung is excellent - each character is unique, the environments are lush, the layouts are powerful - vey clean and dynamic.

   The story by Marguerite Bennett and G. Willow Wilson is quite good, with each character defined, given a unique voice and the story clearly spelled out (not an easy thing to accomplish with the Battleworld concept). And it's nice to see a comic about women written by women.

   So a strong start here, with new and familiar heroes working together - I'll stick with this one.

Grade: A-

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