Thursday, February 15, 2018

Captain America #698

   The last time Captain America was frozen in ice, World War II was ending - and he woke up in the modern world.

   Given "Marvel time," that was either 20 years (into the mid-'60s), or about seven years ago in comic book time, when flexes with the actual calendar.

   Either way, it's understandable that Cap would be upset by being frozen again.

   This time he wakes up in the future, and one in which the American dream is not faring well.

   The heroes are gone and an aristocracy has taken over, leaving an army to deal death and destruction on the population - until now.

   Once again, Mark Waid and Chris Samnee have crafted a gem of a story, which combines action and adventure with an examination of what America is all about - and Cap's role in the world.

   Amazing art, a terrific story - it's the complete package.

   You should be reading this comic. You are, right?

Grade: A

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

New Comics Day

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

-  ARCHIE #28 - Who's dating who?

-  AVENGERS #680 - Can Jarvis be saved?

-  CAPTAIN AMERICA #698  - A man out of time!

-  DOCTOR STRANGE #385  - Loki's still running things.

-  MAGE HERO DENIED #6 (OF 15) - Can Kevin hide from evil?

-  MARVEL 2-IN-ONE #3 - The fate of the Four!


      And I received these review copies:

-  ACTIONVERSE #5 STRAY - The future of the Actionverse is at stake!

-  ATHENA VOLTAIRE #1 - She's looking for an object that once belonged to the Pope!

-  ATLAS AND AXIS #2 (OF 4) - A showdown with the enemy!

-  BABY BADASS #1 - An escaped military experiment gone wrong!

-  BABYLON BERLIN - Set in the 1920s, it's a hardeboiled detective story in Germany.

-  BLACK BETTY #1 - She kills the unkillable.

-  BLOODSHOT SALVATION #6 - The Book of the Dead - Part 1!

-  CHARISMAGIC VOL. 3 #1 (OF 6) - The forces of magic return!

-  DOCTOR WHO 12TH YEAR THREE #12 - They're no angels!

-  JUPITER JET #3 - Can Jupiter escape?

-  MINKY WOODCOCK GIRL WHO HANDCUFFED HOUDINI #3 - The magician's assistant!

-  NINJA-K #4 - A female agent enters the picture!

-  QUANTUM TEENS ARE GO VOL. 1 - Collecting the mini-series.

-  ROBOTECH #7 - Launching into action!

-  TORCHWOOD THE CULLING #4 (OF 4) - The finale!

-  WARHAMMER 40000 DAWN OF WAR III - What can stop the Battle Brothers?

-  ZOMBIE TRAMP ONGOING #44  - Death draws near.

     And that's it!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Classic Comics - Fantastic Four #52

   To celebrate the opening this week of the new Black Panther movie, here's my review of his first appearance in Fantastic Four #52 (the review was originally posted on December 22, 2010).

   I was an instant fan of the new hero - in fact, I dressed up as the Black Panther for Halloween - this in the days before glow-in-the-dark costumes were created. What could be safer than dressing all in black for trick-or-treatring?  

   Here's my review:

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   This issue of The Fantastic Four was smack in the middle of the long run that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby enjoyed on this series.

   And by this point, both creators were at the peak of their powers. They had just wrapped up a long series of connected stories that introduced the Inhumans and brought Galactus and the Silver Surfer to the Earth for the first time. They followed that with one of the all-time best issues in the series (#51) - and then this issue, which introduced a ground-breaking new character, one who earned a spot in the history of comics. It marked the first appearance of the Black Panther.

   Cover dated July 1966, the Panther seems to be the villain in this issue. He lures the Fantastic Four to Wakanda, his kingdom in Africa, where they find themselves in an amazing, futuristic setting. 

   The Panther appears and attacks the team, quickly separating them and defeating the heroes one at a time. Each battle is a pure delight, as the Panther triggers special traps and uses his own skills to overcome Marvel's "First Family." 

   If there's a weakness in this comic, I can't find it. The action is inventive, the story rockets along at top speed, there's plenty of humor (The Thing is one of the few heroes who can be funny even while he's losing a fight), the dialogue is terrific, the characters are memorable, and the ending is a real surprise.

   This story is memorable for another reason - it's the first to feature a black super-hero. I don't remember feeling any kind of surprise about that - it made sense that an African Prince would be black, after all. But it was a ground-breaking event - though of course there were black heroes before, like Gabe Jones, a member of Sgt. Fury's Howling Commandos who was also a black hero, just a non-powered one. 

   It's always a delight when a creative team really starts to click, and Lee and Kirby were on fire by this point in their careers. Lee's wordsmithing was never better, and Kirby was at the peak of his skills (ably assisted here by the great Joe Sinnott on inks - in my opinion, Joe is the all-time best Kirby inker).

   Each issue seemed better than the last - just an amazing achievement in comics. As a 10-year-old, by this point the FF was my favorite comic book of them all - and it would hold the title for years.

Grade: A+

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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Armstrong and the Vault of Spirits #1

   Armstrong is certainly one of the most unusual heroes around (which is a tribute to his creation).

   He's an immortal (like his brother, the Eternal Warrior), but instead of devoting his long life to heroic pursuits he's more interested in having fun.

   Who could blame him?

   This story takes place in two settings - one, a Biblical event that, according to this issue, didn't exactly go according to scripture.

   Armstrong's role in that pivotal event - and his reason for gathering a group of friends / heroes / good guys - is mostly played for fun, though the story is loaded with lots of improbable events and the most ridiculous security system in recent memory.

   The story is mostly fun, but it's all pretty slim going. It's a one-off, a good laugh with good art - but that's about it.

Grade: B   

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Bane Conquest #9 (of 12)

   It's relatively rare for a comic series to star a villain, and the typical mistake those series make is that they tend to make the villain a more sympathetic character.

   You'll get none of that in Bane Conquest, a series that gives us a central character who's a complete bad-ass.

   Bane is out to carve his own criminal empire, and he decides to take on a big target: the Kobra organization.

   To fight an army, you need an even tougher army - and this issue is all about putting the band together.

   Needless to say, Bane's recruits are a collection of the toughest, most accomplished fighters / criminals (or near-criminals) around, each one at the top of their field.

   The series reunites the Bane creative team of writer Chuck Dixon and artist Graham Nolan, and what a delight to see these consummate pros at work.

   The story continues to build with brutal efficiency - and the fun's just starting!

   I hate to see this series end - it's been a great ride!

Grade: A

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Friday, February 9, 2018

X-Men Red #1

   Well, after a solid mini-series bringing Jean Grey (Marvel Girl / Phoenix) back to life, I had high hopes for X-Men Red.

   Unfortunately, it doesn't deliver.

   If anything, it feels like Marvel turned on the "Automated X-Men Team Generator Machine" and had it churn out a lineup.

   So we have Jean forming a new team (heaven knows the world needs more X-Men teams), with a lineup including Nightcrawler, Wolverine (the female version), Honey Badger (really, there's a hero by that name?) and Namor, the Sub-Mariner.

   The team's goal is to save the world, and Jean has a big plan to make it happen - which would probably be interesting, if it actually worked. Of course, it all goes wrong.

   Oh, and having a headquarters 3,000 feet below the surface of the ocean is a terrible idea - it would take a lot of time to adjust to the pressures, so no rushing to the surface to fight the bad guys (except for Namor, I suppose).

   It's all handled in a heavy-handed, grim and bloody manner - and maybe I'm just running thin on patience with that kind of story (probably because it's the only one in town these days).

   I had expected something more upbeat and hopeful - maybe a reunion of the original team, or at least the New X-Men. Instead we get another attempt to squeeze a few more bucks from the rapidly-thinning herd of X-fans.

   I'd like to follow Jean's adventures, but they're going to have to do better then this.

Grade: C

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Infinity Countdown: Adam Warlock #1

   With the Infinity Stones (and the Infinity Gauntlet) at the heart of the new Avengers movie being released later this year, it only makes sense for Marvel to create an event around those same stones - and it also gives them a good excuse to bring back the singular hero known as Adam Warlock.

   That last part was all I needed to get me to pick up this comic.

   I was there at the start. I picked up the original issues of Fantastic Four about a super science organization that tried to create the ultimate being - only to be destroyed by their creation, who was known only as Him!

   Him returned to fight Thor (you can see why they changed his name), was soundly beaten, and then turned up again in his own series, this one set on Counter-Earth, a duplicate of our planet orbiting on the far side of the sun.

    He was given a new name - Adam Warlock - and after some messianic adventures, he set off to deep space under the guidance of writer / artist Jim Starlin, and became the most cosmic hero of all, facing down despots and madness and Thanos - and the tragic knowledge that the gem on his forehead stole the souls of his opponents. (Later it was revealed to be one of the Infinity Stones.)

   His adventures have been a bit erratic since then, and the character spent a long time being... well, dead. But he got better.

   This issue of Infinity Countdown manages two things: it brings Adam into the action as someone - or something - is seeking out the stones and threatening to destroy reality; and it also gives new readers a recap of his origin, covering a lot of (often confusing) ground with a fast and clever story by Gerry Duggan, with powerful art by Mike Allred (and colors by Laura Allred).

   It's all about setting up the coming conflict and introducing some key players in the event to come. So far, it's very promising - and I'm all for anything that brings Warlock back into play.

   He's a great character, loaded with depth and mystery and potential - and he deserves better than years on the sidelines.

   Hopefully this story wraps up with the announcement that he's getting his own comic (and I'm all for backing up a truckload of money to Jim Starlin's door and seeing what new stories he has for one of his greatest creations).

Grade: A-

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