Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hulk #9

What a great source of frustration this comic has become - but at least it's consistent!

For nine issues now we've been "treated" to stories about the Red Hulk, a reprehensible murderous monster. Recent issues have also included the "real" Hulk, Bruce Banner, as he meanders around the country, turning into different incarnations of the Hulk (gray Hulk, dumb Hulk).

The consistency in the comic has been the artwork. This issue is another half-and-half experience, with the first half being drawn by the amazing Art Adams, and the second half being drawn by the talented Frank Cho.

The Green Hulk must face an army of Wendigos (those cute little Canadian creatures that eat humans like they were potato chips). Joining him in the fight are Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, The Sentry and a surprise guest star who saves the day by exhibiting a power he's never had before. The story by Jeph Loeb is dopey at best, if not downright insulting.

The Red Hulk is fighting for his life against the Lady Liberators, with a nice nod on the cover to the original '70s Avengers story featuring the all-female team of superheroes. Here Frank Cho gets to flex his artistic muscles, drawing a bevy of beauties who battle the crimson bad guy. Once again, outstanding art - dopey story, as the ladies stand around for hours, apparently biding their time until Red decides to try an escape. Surely these heroines are smarter than that.

So it's the same review as before for this book: if you only buy comics for artwork, this is a sure bet. If you actually like to read the words inside, keep walking.

Grade: C

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

FarScape #1

This was a series I missed when it first hit the small screen.

Friends would chastise me, saying, "This is a show that's made for you, Chuck! You'll love it!"

Finally, I got Tivo and put FarScape on my "record" list - and I started playing catch-up.

I won't say it's my absolute favorite science fiction show, but my friends were right - I enjoyed it a lot, and stayed with it until I had seen every episode, including the mini-series that wrapped up the storylines.

So I was happy to hear that BOOM! Studios was creating a new comic book based on the original, and it would be done with input from the creator of the series, Rockne O'Bannon, who wrote the story for this issue, with script by Keith R.A. Decadido.

The art is by Tommy Patterson, who does a respectable job capturing the appearance of the actors - not an easy thing to manage - and he does solid work on the alien settings.

The story picks up immediately after the end of the series, with astronaut John Crichton and his wife Aeryn celebrating the birth of their child, Deke.

If you've never seen the series, here are the basics: John was pulled through a wormhole in his ship, the FarScape, and ended up aboard a living starship, Moya, where he became friends (or at least allies) with several alien creatures, including the beautiful and deadly Aeryn, the warrior D'Argo (whose son Jothee takes center stage in this story), the exiled king (and major pain in the neck) Rygel, the cat-like (and often naughty) Chiana, and Pilot, whose name reveals his (its?) relation with the living ship.

The group (which often included other characters) had numerous fantastic adventures, but this series picks up after the ongoing storylines have been resolved, so you don't need much backstory to pick up on the events in this comic.

Like past adventures, this one combines lots of alien settings, action and humor to carry the story along. It's a strong beginning, and if you're a fan of the series, this won't disappoint you. If you're new to the world of FarScape, this would be a good jumping-on spot.

Grade: B+

Monday, December 29, 2008

The New Avengers #48

In the aftermath of the wretched Civil War mini-series, you had two teams of Avengers: the Mighty Avengers, which was a government sponsored and approved set of heroes, and the New Avengers, which was made up of heroes who refused to go along with the mandated registration.

Now, a couple of years later, the Dark Reign storyline is creating a third Avengers title - while two of the three teams go underground. Now, both "Mighty" and "New" will find themselves at odds with the authorities, and the public team of Avengers will appear in the upcoming Dark Avengers series.

This issue of New Avengers sets up the roster for that title, as a group is organized by the new Captain America to carry on the work of the original team.

It's hard to see how effective the team is going to be while trying to avoid the authorities at all times, but we'll see how it plays out. Writer Brian Bendis handles the snappy dialogue well, and the story is full of surprises, as the team tackles its first challenge - tracking down the Skrull who kidnapped Luke Cage and Jessica Jones' baby.

The art by Billy Tan and Matt Banning is mostly strong, though a few scenes are a bit difficult to follow - but then, it's a real challenge to makes page after page of dialogue interesting.

But this issue is a good start on a new path for the New Avengers. We'll see where the next step leads.

Grade: B

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #2

You can tell by the cover that you're in for something different in this issue of The Umbrella Academy: Dallas.

At least I don't remember ever seeing a cover with a monkey dressed up like Marilyn Monroe (that's the sort of thing that would stick in one's mind, I would think).

The issue introduces us to the bad guys - two guys (apparently) wearing large cartoon animal heads. They must be really bad if they inspire fear in the deadly Number Five - and as we quickly see, they are capricious murderers.

So the members of The Umbrella Academy are dealing with their own problems, and only Number Five knows they're being hunted by a deadly pair of killers.

This issue written (as always) by Gerard Way is largely setup, but it still moves the story forward and pulls you into the strange world of the Academy.

The art by Gabriel Ba is outstanding, loaded with energy, intensity and (when appropriate) humor.

I wouldn't recommend this comic for young children, especially given the fate of one of the victims of the bad guys - but so far, it continues to entertain, and I'm looking forward to the next issue.

Grade: B+

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Batman #683

The wrap-up to the Batman "R.I.P." storyline left readers with lots of questions, and the two issues since have been awfully stingy with the answers.

Last issue was a confusing series of images, dreams and memories, and it was difficult to tell what was true and what was false.

The final panel in issue #682 threw some light on the events - Batman was under a mental assault after being kidnapped by the forces of Apokolips. This issue continues along those lines, as we see how Batman can fight back against almost any foe, and escape from any trap.

Writer Grant Morrison is playing with some big concepts here, as he (apparently) tries to find a way to explain the many incarnations of Batman over the six-plus decades he's been around.

That's probably a futile attempt, but he makes a good fight of it, and comes up with some clever bits of business along the way.

I suspect most readers may be disappointed by the final explanation of what happened in between "R.I.P." and Final Crisis, which this issue leads directly into.

The good news is that Morrison has made Batman once again The World's Most Dangerous Man, a concept he started in his run on the Justice League - and it's great to see it back again.

This comic features strong art from Lee Garbett and Trevor Scott, but I wouldn't recommend it for new readers - they'd be lost in this complex and confusing story.

But long-time Bat-fans will probably enjoy it - depending on what happens next in Final Crisis.

Grade: B+

Friday, December 26, 2008

Ultimatum #2 (of 5)

Now here's a mini-series that really wants you to buy it.

It features some excellent, detailed artwork by David Finch and Danny Miki. It stars virtually every super-powered character in the Ultimate Universe. And big things happen - which in the world of comics means: lots of people die, including some surprisingly big characters.

The story, as written by Jeph Loeb, picks up right where the first issue left off. New York has been hit by a tidal wave, killing and injuring who knows how many people, included some prominent heroes. At the same time, environmental disasters are striking countries around the globe, killing millions.

In Ultimatum, we check in on the events from several different perspectives, and see how the heroes and villains react to the world-wide calamity. Some are just trying to survive, while others are trying to find a way to fight back against the source of the problem - a grief-stricken Magneto, whose children were killed in recent issues of The Ultimates.

It's a walloping big story, but it's also meandering a bit. For example, why would Thor run off to Asgard when the Earth is facing extinction? When did the Hulk become a helpful guy? Was it necessary to give one hero such a gory and gruesome fate?

Well, you get the idea. Certainly big things are happening, and it's going to take some real clever twists to set things right.

So far, I haven't seen much in the way of clever. It's mostly been the usual heavy-handed mass murder, which is a cheap way to get attention. Fixing the problem - now that will take some smart writing.

Grade: B

Thursday, December 25, 2008

DC Universe Holiday Special #1 (One Shot)

Merry Christmas, everyone!

It seems appropriate to devote today's (somewhat brief) review to the DC Universe Holiday Special, since it's loaded with short stories that are focused (more or less) on the season.

(Note that they didn't call it the "Christmas Special," instead opting for the generic "Holiday Special" - I'm surprised they used Santa on the cover.)

As is the norm with this kind of thing, what you have here is a collection of short stories by a variety of artists and writers, all with a holiday theme.

Behind the awesome Frank Quitely cover, the stories are mostly a mixed bag - most of them are pretty good, well drawn and written - but they're ultimately forgettable.

But it's a nice package, and you get 84 pages for your $5.99.

It's a throwback to the days when comics would feature special holiday stories from time to time. These days, you get it in one big serving.

I hate to get all Scrooge-ish on you, but I can only recommend this comic for those who are huge fans of the holiday. Otherwise, save those bucks for that special something on your Christmas - oops, I mean, Holiday list.

Have a Merry!

Grade: C+

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Comics on a Christmas Eve

A busy day, and I still make time to stop by the comic book store. The things I do for you!

Here's what I got:

- New Avengers #48 - A new team, a new challenge - and Cap's back (sorta).

- Batman #683 - The last story leading into the interminable Final Crisis.

- Brave and Bold #20 - Green Lantern and the Phantom Stranger - now there's an odd combination.

- Daredevil #114 - The Lady Bullseye story continues - it's been good so far...

- Farscape #1
- Based on the TV show, which I was a fan of, so I figured, what the heck...

- Flash #247 - Is it Wally's final adventure?

- Gears of War #3 - Lots o' violence on tap.

- Patsy Walker, Hellcat #4 (of 5) - This book is so late! Young lady, where have you been?

- Hulk #9 - As always, great art. The story, on the other hand...

- Thor #12 - Loki takes center stage this time around.

- Top 10 #3
- This excellent series continues.

- Trinity #30 - That ol' train keeps rolling along.

- Ultimate Spider-Man #129 - This is such a good comic. Great characters, real twists, and big fights. Who could ask for more?

- Ultimatum #2 (of 5)
- In which things get darker, more gross, and deadly.

- Umbrella Academy: Dallas #2 - Hey, this title is going to be made into a movie. How about that?

Thor God-Size Special #1 (One Shot)

Thor became a Marvel icon thanks to the legendary run in the 1960s by the team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

They took a character that started as a standard superhero and built a mythology around him, with a background in the Norse legends - although they were pretty fast and loose with their interpretation. They gave him a noble bearing and a speech pattern like no other character, and placed him in amazing, cosmic adventures that shook the Marvel Universe.

Thor had some excellent creators tackle his adventures after Stan and Jack moved on, including some incredible art by the legendary John Buscema. But no one left a bigger mark on the character, and did a better job of pumping new life into the title, than writer / artist Walt Simonson.

Once again, Thor was a power in the world, with stories on a vast scale, terrific supporting characters (including Beta Ray Bill), and high-octane art.

One of the stories from Simonson's run is the basis for this one shot issue of Thor God-Size Special (my joke the other day was, with a title like that, I thought it would be bigger). (OK, it's not much of a joke, I admit.)

Reprinted in the back of this issue is the story of Skurge the Executioner's last stand, as Simonson gave him a heroic finish (note to comic book writers everywhere - this is how you write a satisfying finale for a character).

The bulk of this large issue is written by Matt Fraction, who has an excellent handle on the Norse Gods, and he turns in an excellent story here. Thor, Balder and Loki are faced with a mystery - why can't they remember who Skurge was?

To find the answer, they must face the wrath of Hela, the goddess of death, and uncover a mystery that could destroy the world.

Each chapter is handled by one of four different artists, including painted art by Dan Brereton and throwback pencils by Mike Allred. Mixing such different styles doesn't always work, but the story supports it well, and all the artists turn in terrific work.

Tipping the scale at 64 pages (for $3.99), this comic is a good deal, and considering the talent on display, a heck of a bargain. It's heartwarming to see Thor back where he belongs - at the top of the Marvel universe pantheon!

Grade: B+

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Terra #4 (of 4)

This issue wraps up the mini-series starring the latest hero to have the name Terra.

And while this series hasn't changed comics as we know it or broken new ground or anything of that magnitude, it has resulted in a fun little story that gives us the background of the newest heroine in the DC universe.

In the grand tradition of heroes from Lost Worlds, we find that the young woman named Terra is from Strata, a civilization hidden deep in the Earth. To protect the balance of nature, she's sent to the surface to protect the innocent, fight the bad guys and (eventually) join the Terror Titans (whoever they are).

It's a nice, well-crafted story by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, but once again, the real star of the story is the artwork by Amanda Conner, with coloring by Paul Mounts.

She has such a fresh, energetic spark to her artwork, it's a real pleasure to take it in. Her characters are expressive, and their body language is perfect. She's equally at home doing knock-down, drag-out superhero fights, and more intimite moments like Terra going on a lighthearted shopping spree with Power Girl.

Her next project, I believe, is a new series devoted to Power Girl. As long as Conner's drawing it, I'll be buying it.

Grade: B+

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Mighty Avengers #20

It's difficult to get too incensed about the death of a comic book character, because it just takes the stroke of a pen to reverse that death. (See: Bucky, Marvel Girl, Superman and a few dozen others.)

Even so, I have to admit that the death of The Wasp (Janet Van Dyne) at the end of the Secret Invasion mini-series bothered me.

Part of the reason it bothers me is because (like so many female comic book characters in recent years) she's been written as a completely different character from the one I grew up reading.

One of the first issues I read of Tales to Astonish, which featured the adventures of Ant-Man / Giant-Man and the Wasp, told the story of how Hank Pym became Giant-Man (a natural extension of his powers as Ant-Man).

Even though they weren't married, Hank and Jan were one of the only real couples in comics at the time. Jan was fun, light-hearted, but with a taste for adventure, and always tough and resourceful in a fight. She was also beautiful and something of a flirt, although you knew she only had eyes for Hank.

I followed their adventures through "Astonish," until they were dropped in favor of the Sub-Mariner. They reappeared later in The Avengers, and that comic became their home (with a few exceptions) up until the present.

Of course, over the years, both Hank and Jan went through some changes. Jan became a fashion designer, then a more serious hero. She married Hank, and she even became the leader of The Avengers.

But writers decided to split the two up, so they gave Hank a mental breakdown, during which he actually struck Jan. That one bit of bad melodrama became an albatross around the character's neck. Most of that was cleared up during Kurt Busiek's excellent run on The Avengers, and Hank and Jan were lovebirds again.

Under Brian Bendis' writing, that all changed. Jan became a shrew, a drunk who thoughtlessly said mean things to the Scarlet Witch and contributed to her breakdown. She treated Hank badly, apparently cheated on him, and finally left him. When Tony Stark formed The Mighty Avengers, she joined the group and contributed to their defeat of Ultron - but her role in Secret Invasion was almost non-existent, until the end of issue #7.

Which brings us to this issue of The Mighty Avengers, which focuses on the funeral for Jan, and Hank's attempts to understand what happened while he was a captive of the Skrulls. It's heartfelt, it has a (mostly) sweet series of flashbacks, and it only briefly captures why Jan was such a delightful character, a rare bright spirit amoung a deadly serious group of heroes.

It's not a bad comic - it includes some excellent art by several artists, including Lee Weeks, Jim Cheung and Carlo Pagulayan, and some nice moments.

But there's a reason why characters like the Wasp, Spider-Man and Hawkeye are needed in groups like this. The provide light moments and positive characters for the reader to enjoy, and they balance out the serious work of the heroes.

Today, Marvel's Universe is a little darker, and it's not a better place for it.

Will Jan return? I certainly hope so. And when she does, I hope it's the real Wasp, and not this crude imitation we've been saddled with of late.

Grade: C

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Conan the Cimmerian #6

It's always weird going home after you've moved away and been on your own for a while. It's not like you're going home - it's like you're visiting relatives. By that point, "home" is where you are, not where you're from.

Well, that was my experience - your mileage may vary. It doesn't mean you don't still love your parents or your family - it just means your life is going through changes.

That's exactly where Conan the Cimmerian finds himself in this story. He's returning home to the cold land of Cimmeria for the first time after years of adventures in the lands to the south and east of his home.

The first seven issues of this series tell the story of his return, and it's not exactly a warm welcome. He has to fight past invading warriors of the Aesir, and tries to rescue a young woman who is caught between two tribes.

Conan's story parallels a flashback about his grandfather, Connacht, who also wandered through other lands before returning home. The art on the flashback is handled by the masterful Richard Corben, who's at the peak of his skills, especially at this kind of gritty, larger-than-life story.

The art on Conan's story is managed by Tomas Giorello, whose only failing is having to stand next to Corben. But Giorello's art does just fine on its own, and captures the grim, dark world of Cimmeria.

The story is managed by writer Tim Truman, and he's doing a great job balancing the stories of Conan and his ancestor, and building on the tension caused by Conan's homecoming.

Conan's creator Robert E. Howard knew well that you had to have an emotional connection to a character in order to care about his or her fate - and Truman is following that rule, giving us a look at Conan's background and showing that he's more than a monster-fighting barbarian. But don't worry, the likelihood of him settling down to raise little barbarians looks slim.

Grade: B+

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Iron Man #8

It seems that most comic book writers who've tackled the adventures of Iron Man had a difficult time figuring out who Tony Stark "was."

Is he a playboy? Genius inventor? Superhero? Industrialist? Philanthropist? Womanizer? Good deed doer? Avenger? Director of SHIELD? Is he likable, or a jerk?

The answer has varied, depending on who was writing. But Stark seems to be much more in focus these days, thanks largely to the recent film.

It gave us a hero who was part genius, part irreverent, a risk-taker, a moral man (well, mostly) who fought to do the right thing. He's a fun character, someone you'd like to know or be. A hero who overcomes adversity through his intelligence.

By having that flesh-out character to build on, the comic book version of Stark seems much more three-dimensional these days - and it's just in time for a major change in the hero's status quo.

This issue, as written by Matt Fraction, shows Stark at the end of his involvement with SHIELD. (I can never remember the updated full name of that organization, but I always remember it as Supreme Headquarters for International Espionage and Law-enforcement Division.)

That organization is being rebooted as HAMMER (and I haven't heard what that stands for, but let's take a guess: Headquarters for All Manner of Mischief, Excess and Ruin.)

The issue is a quiet, transitional one, but it sets up the coming conflict between Iron Man and HAMMER - not to mention the group's new leader, Norman Osborn.

The art here is outstanding, as Salvador Larroca and colorist Frank D'Armata combine huge vistas (including an amazing shot of a Helicarrier being dismantled) and the emotional moments (including a confrontation between Stark and Osborn).

I'm not a big fan of the "Fugitive" storylines, which is what we seem to be heading for here, but so far, this has been an excellent run on Iron Man.

It's almost enough to make me forgive Tony's treatment in Civil War. Almost.

Grade: B+

Friday, December 19, 2008

Supergirl #36

Given the events of this issue, it's understandable for Supergirl to be livid, but why, on the cover, is she taking out her anger on her logo?

Well, it's an excellent cover, anyway.

The insides of the comic are pretty good, too, as we continue our travels down the road that is the "New Krypton" story. This issue doesn't waste time - it starts right out a moment after the tragic final scene last week in Action Comics, and charges ahead with the aftershocks.

The story by Sterling Gates is quite good (continuing his string of success on this title), as all-out battle erupts between those on Earth who hate the Kryptonians, and the super-powered citizens of Kandor who face a deadly and bloodthirsty foe.

The art by Jamal Igle and Keith Champagne is quite good, if a shade uneven in places - it runs the gamut from powerful (Supergirl's battle with the Brainiac robots) to awkward (the emotional payoff to a character's death is an odd-looking wide shot).

Still, this is another strong chapter in the ongoing saga, and I'm enjoying the "New Krypton" story quite a bit. The "next issue" tease indicate that there are only two more chapters left in this story, which is surprising - the creative teams have some major wrapping up to do here - but then, it's obvious that some of the spin-off characters - including the one introduced in this issue - are likely to stick around for quite a while, so there should be plenty of plot threads to follow for some time.

Grade: B

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dark Reign: New Nation #1 (One Shot)

Everyone has their own opinion about the just-completed Secret Invasion mini-series. I liked most of it, though there were some problems along the way.

But one thing's for sure - in the aftermath, we're getting some interesting new titles. And this comic, Dark Reign: New Nation, is promoting those new titles.

Included herein are previews of:

- Secret Warriors, which stars Nick Fury and a bunch of characters you've barely heard of. But the advance word on the series is good, and this 8-page story is not bad. Of course, I'd buy almost any comic that featured Fury.

- Agents of Atlas, which is the follow-up to the outstanding mini-series. This story shows the team making new enemies in an unexpected way.

- War Machine, with Rhodey again donning the ridiculously-weighed-down-with-armament knock-off of Iron Man's armor. Is grim 'n gritty back in style again?

- Skull Kill Krew, a comic I've never read, but it's not hard to figure out their mission in life.

- New Avengers: The Reunion, which gives us a glimpse of the attempts by Bobbi Morse (Mockingbird) and Clint Barton (Hawkeye) to put the pieces of their lives back together.

All in all, not a bad issue - but I'm not sure it's worth the hefty $3.99 price tag. Still, nice art, some fun and interesting (if terribly brief) stories - you could do worse.

Grade: B

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New Comics Today

Here's what your pal Chuck picked up today:

- Mighty Avengers #20 - The funeral for The Wasp. Bums me out.

- Conan the Cimmerian #6 - More Hyborian goodness!

- Dark Reign: New Nation #1 (One Shot) - A collection of short stories (or bits o' stories) promoting some new titles, including the new Nick Fury book and Agents of Atlas.

- DC Universe Holiday Special #1 (One Shot) - Note that they were too cowardly to call it a Christmas Special. (Oh, calm down - I'm kidding!)

- Ghostbusters: The Other Side #3 - 'Cause I'm curious to see how it ends - though it's been pretty bad so far.

- Iron Man #8 - This has been good under Matt Fraction - it's the movie version of Iron Man.

- Amazing Spider-Man #581 - This story is supposed to answer some long-running mysteries. I still want to know what happened to the webs under his arms.

- The Spirit #24 - I keep hoping this will get better. So far, no... and the film is getting some terrible advance reviews. Why no love for The Spirit?

- Supergirl #36 - Continuing the New Krypton story.

- Terra #4 (of 4) - This has been a fun series with excellent art.

- Thor God-Size Special #1 (One Shot) - Funny, I thought it would be bigger.

- Ultimate Fantastic Four #59 - Hey, another Fantastic Voyage riff! I haven't seen one of those since The Simpsons.

- Uncanny X-Men #505
- More soap opera - mutant style!

Action Comics #872

When I was a kid, comic books were everywhere.

Seriously. There were stacks of them to read while waiting at the barbershop. You could buy them at a newsstand, in the drug store, at variety stores, at the bus depot, and at the supermarket. (Ironically, there was no such thing as a comic book shop.)

Kids would bring them to school. Almost every kid in my neighborhood had some comics, and we'd trade them back and forth. Girls had romance comics and Archie comics, guys also read Archie and westerns and war comics and superhero comics... well, you get the idea.

So I read lots of different comics growing up, including more than a few war comics - but when I finally started really collecting comics, the only war comics I bought were occasional issues of Sgt. Fury. I liked the DC war books and read them whenever I could, but what can I say? I was more into superheroes.

So it's interesting to see the unexpected appearance of a group of World War II heroes (at least I think they're heroes) appearing in the latest issue of Action Comics.

I believe The Creature Commandos are a relatively new concept - and a quick trip to Wikipedia confirms that they first appeared in 1980. Here are the basics:
In 1942, Project M created the Creature Commandos. They were: Lt. Matthew Shrieve (normal), Warren Griffith (werewolf), Sgt. Vincent Velcro (vampire), Pvt. Elliot "Lucky" Taylor (frankenstein's monster) and Dr. Myrra Rhodes (medusa).
So my point is I have no real nostalgic rush for these characters, and they seem like an odd group to drop in the middle of the New Krypton story, especially since Frankenstein is appearing in Final Crisis. But I digress.

This issue pushes the stress even higher between the citizens of Kandor and the people of Earth, as Superman continues to try to bring the two together. Writer Geoff Johns is a pro at building tension like this, and I'm curious to see where this storyline goes from here - and why he brought back the Commandos and a certain other long-forgotten character.

Despite the odd guest stars, it's another excellent chapter in the series, with outstanding art by Pete Woods, who gets maximum mileage out of those horizontal panels.

Oh, and don't reveal this issue's shocking ending!

Grade: B+

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Amazing Spider-Man #580

Ahh, there's something refreshing about seeing a pro at work.

No, I'm not talking about The Amazing Spider-Man - although he does just fine this time around, thanks.

I'm talking about writer Roger Stern, one of the all-time great Spidey scribes who turns in a "done in one" story here.

Stern has written an impressive number of outstanding stories, including some excellent Avengers and Doctor Strange stories - but one of my all-time favorite comic stories of all time is "The Boy Who Collected Spider-Man" (which was illustrated by Ron Frenz).

I'm not sure where he's been hiding, but Stern is back with a single issue that may not be a classic, but it could be used as a clinic in how to write an outstanding story in a single issue.

The story features the bad guy known as The Blank, a "blink and you'll miss him" thug who hasn't been seen in years. Stern gives him a good motivation for robbing banks, and he gives Spider-Man a good reason for tracking him down.

The issue crackles with good characterization, funny comments from Spidey, and a clear story. It's the kind of comic that anyone could pick up and they'd have no trouble following along, even if they'd somehow gone through life without hearing of Spider-Man.

It doesn't hurt that the art is provided by Lee Weeks, who provides a top-notch, elegant and professional job.

And there's more good news - the Letters Page promises more work from Stern in the near future. It's like it's Christmas time!

Grade: B+

Monday, December 15, 2008

Justice League of America #27

Milestone Comics was a company that sadly didn't last long.

The line centered around two heroes in particular - Icon, who was (essentially) a black version of Superman, and Static, who was (more or less) a different take on Spider-Man (a young hero who gains powers and fights the bad guys while using his brains and lots of funny comments).

Static was the most successful of the two - he went on to star in his own cartoon - but despite the high quality of scripts and art, and a one-time crossover with DC's heroes, Milestone finally fell victim to poor sales, and the line was canceled.

But now, almost a decade later, the heroes of the Milestone Universe are back, and once again being written by Static creator Dwayne McDuffie.

The comic reads like one of the classic JLA / JSA crossover events that were an annual treat in the '60s and '70s, although the reasons behind this crossover are still a bit obscure - and it's interesting to note that Static doesn't appear in this issue.

As a fan of the original line, I'm happy to see the Milestone characters back in print, although this issue throws a pile of characters at the reader all at once - it may be a bit much for new readers.

The art by Ed Benes is excellent as always, although the love scene between Hawkgirl and Red Arrow really pushes the boundaries of what you can get away with in a mainstream comic.

This issue is mostly setting up the story to come, and here's hoping the rest of the story delivers on the story's promise. So far, so good.

Grade: B

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Invincible #56

This is a comic I've never read before, but several friends have been recommending it, so I thought I'd take a look at Invincible.

And my first reaction is: not bad. The comic is very accessible, even though (going in) I didn't know the characters or their powers, by the end of the issue I felt like I had a good grip on the story. That's a testament to the strong writing of Robert Kirkman.

Here's the story as I understand it: Mark Grayson is a powerful superhero. He's in love with (and canoodling with) a superheroine named Atom Eve. He lives with his Mom, and he has an adopted (?) brother who's also a hero - Kid Omni-Man - and he's aparently from another world / dimension / race of beings.

This is a relatively "quiet" issue, as Grayson tries to help an old girlfriend (or friend who is a girl), only to find his anger getting the best of him. And Kid Omni-Man goes on patrol!

The art by Ryan Ottley and Cliff Rathburn is a lot of fun, and sets the tone of the comic perfectly, with a good mix of small personal moments and big super-hero action.

I can see why my friends recommended this book - it's solid, professional and fun. I wouldn't say it's the best comic book on the stands, but it's better than most.

Grade: B+

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz #1 (of 8)

When I was quite young, we had a black-and-white TV set. It wasn't unusual - no one in our neighborhood had a color TV until the Williams family down the street got one.

It was a source of amazement to all the kids who used every available excuse to visit and watch cartoons. But one evening, my Mother gathered up my brothers and I for a visit. Mom wanted us to see the movie The Wizard of Oz, which was being shown on TV for (as far as I know) the first time.

I didn't understand why. The movie's opening scenes were in black-and-white, right up until Dorothy's house was carried away by a tornado. It crashed to the ground, and when she opened the door, she stepped from a black-and-white world into one full of bright colors.

Mom had seen the movie as a child and remembered the shock of that scene - and she wanted to pass it along to her sons.

I've been a fan of the movie ever since, and that led me to the original series of books by L. Frank Baum, which I also love.

Oz has been adapted into comics, of course. The most famous may be the joint Marvel - DC adaptation of the film, but my favorites are the original graphic novels created by writer / artist Eric Shanower.

Now Shanower is back - sadly, only writing here - as Marvel begins its adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. But don't get me wrong - Shanower does a terrific job here.

There's no hint of the movie - Dorothy is a young girl who finds herself transported from the desolate plains of Kansas to the beautiful (though dangerous) miracles of the land of Oz. Shanower captures the language and the feel of Baum's books perfectly.

Supplying the art is Skottie Young, with Jean-Francois Beaulieu on colors. This is a very different look for this story, unlike anything I've seen before, and at first glance I didn't think I'd like it. But I was wrong. Young's art has a sweet, pure energy that fits the story perfectly.

There are a few panels that are a little hard to decode (it took me a moment to figure out what Dorothy was doing in the first panel on page 6, for example), but the art is charming, lively, and great fun to look at.

If you have any interest at all in the merry old land of Oz, don't miss this series. It'll add color to the dreariest day!

Grade: A-

Friday, December 12, 2008

Secret Invasion: Dark Reign #1 (One Shot)

You have to give Brian Bendis credit - his books almost always arrive at the shops on time and in great numbers. I admire that.

The quality of this particular book is somewhat more in question. It's a one-shot afterword to Secret Invasion, and a prelude to the Dark Reign story that will affect the Avengers and, presumably, other comics, too. (Though to Marvel's credit, if I understand correctly, there will not be a "Dark Reign" mini-series - it's just the title to a storyline. Bravo!)

So this "One Shot" brings us up to speed as we see the first meeting between the Evil Illuminati, who are gathering up the reins of power in the aftermath of the Secret Invasion.

The group is led by - of all people - Norman (Green Goblin) Osborn, who's been given control of SHIELD (which is being rebooted), Homeland Security, the Avengers, the Initiative and some other hero hangouts I've probably forgotten.

The other members of the group are Dr. Doom (who seems to be humoring the rest of them), Loki (who's now a beautiful and scheming female), The Hood (whose star is on the rise), Namor (who's back to his anti-hero roots, apparently), and Emma Frost (on loan from the X-Men).

It's a trademark Bendis issue, as the group meets, has an intense and meaningful discussion, and then goes its separate ways. It may not sound like much, but it lays the foundation of some serious conflict to come.

The art is by Alex Maleev with colors by Dean White, and their dark and moody style is a perfect match for this murky tale of evil on the rise. My only complaint is the depiction of Namor, who doesn't really look anything like the noble son of Atlantis.

But that's a minor complaint in an issue that features some of Marvel's heaviest hitters, a complete change in the status quo, and more than a few mysteries.

I'm not completely sold on this story yet, but I'm ready to believe it just might work.

Grade: B+

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Final Crisis #5 (of 7)

As I understand it (and I'm not sure I do), the purpose of theFinal Crisis mini-series is to redefine the DC Universe, give it a modern sheen (without totally discarding its rich past), fine-tune some of its concepts (especially the New Gods) and lay the groundwork for DC's future.

Writer Grant Morrison has all of seven issues to manage all that, so perhaps it's understandable that the series still feels disjointed. He's covering a heck of a lot of ground here, peopled by an army of characters.

This issue opens with a short but exciting episode on Oa, as the Green Lanterns finally realize they're facing a deadly foe. Back on Earth, the battle continues between the resistance and those who have fallen under Darkseid's influence.

From that point on we jump around in the story, never spending much time on any one aspect. Capt. Marvel and Black Adam fight the now evil Mary Marvel, Mr. Miracle returns, Darkseid asserts himself in a chilling manner, and we finally get a hint as to what the deal is with the de-powered Monitor.

There are still plenty of things we don't get - a look at the Flash family, for example, or more than a passing mention of Batman or Superman.

And I know the idea is that the bad guys are winning here, but there was one unnecessary and lewd comment about Supergirl (who is, after all, a teenager) that could have been excised.

The art is still very strong here, as Carlos Pacheco, Marco Rudy and Jesus Merino turn in some stunning work. The cover by JG Jones is also excellent, of course.

As with past issues, it's the story that has to bear the burden of this huge event, and it does seem to be shaping up for a doozy of an ending - but we won't know for sure until we (eventually) get there.

Grade: B

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hey, Kids - Comics!

At the comic shop today I picked up:

- Action Comics #872
- Some surprising faces visit "New Krypton" - namely, some World War II veterans?

- Ambush Bug: Year None #5 (of 6) - Looks like it's "make fun of the editor-in-chief" time!

- Booster Gold #15 - Good to see Dan Jurgens is back - writing and drawing!

- Final Crisis #5 (of 7) - Hey, a new issue - and is it starting to make more sense? Maybe...

- Green Lantern Corps #31 - This one looks like it's taking a definite turn towards horror.

- Invincible #56 - Friends have been suggesting I try this one, so here it is.

- Justice League of America #27 - Hey, cool - the Milestone characters are back. 'Bout dang time!

- Secret Invasion: Dark Reign #1 (One Shot) - Six of the world's biggest bad guys gather to talk. Interesting.

- Amazing Spider-Man #580 - Roger Stern is back as the writer, so it's worth picking up for that reason alone.

- Trinity #28 - Hey, we actually get a peek at the stars of the comic this week!

- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz #1 (0f 8)
- Lots of fun - it's Marvel's adaptation of the original novel.

And that's it!

X-Infernus #1 (of 4)

This is a book I picked up mostly for the nostalgic rush of X-Men past. But it also serves as a reminder of why it's more and more difficult to maintain any interest in the X-books.

This X-Infernus mini-series hearkens back to the days when writer Chris Claremont was still turning out some strong X-Men adventures, as the team fought its way through the hellish Limbo to rescue Illyana Rasputin, the little sister of Colossus. (Or was that an issue of New Mutants?)

Of course, that's the real problem with Marvel's X-verse. There are so many characters, so many X-comics, so many plotlines left unresolved and twisting in the wind, that it's almost impossible to keep them all straight.

Despite my nostalgia and despite having read those original stories, I arrive at this mini-series completely lost. Writer C.B. Cebulski drops us right in the middle of a battle in limbo, as Illyana has turned into a demonic killer. (Why? I have no idea.) She is on a murderous search for a couple of mystic objects that will help her restore her soul.

We see debates between demonic gods, and then back on Earth we find Pixie (who apparently has also visited Limbo - who knew?) behaving in a demonic fashion, too.

Frankly, I feel lost - I have no idea how any of this ties together, and with no attempt at bringing the new reader (namely, me) up to speed, I'm not sure why I should care or bother to come back next issue. I know, no one likes recaps - but writers can make them brief, and they're vital.

The art by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Jesse Delperdang is quite good, and is only hurt in comparison to an outstanding cover by Miki and Keith Finch.

The X-books are successful because they have great characters, but with an army of mutants, it's up to the creative team to give us a reason to care about those heroes and villains. So far, I'm sorry to say, this series hasn't done that - and nostalgia only goes so far.

Grade: C

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Sandman: The Dream Hunters #2 (of 4)

The second issue of this series is as good (if not better) than the first, and that's saying something.

In the afterword to the first issue, author Neil Gaiman admitted that the story he wrote that serves as the basis for The Sandman: The Dream Hunters is not a retelling of an old Japanese fairy tale, but instead a new, original story.

That's amazing, because it certainly reads like the real deal (although I must admit I haven't read too many Japanese fairy tales). Apparently it was good enough to fool artist P. Craig Russell, too, as he expresses his surprise in the afterword to this issue.

Here we learn more about the man who has targeted an innocent monk, the reason he is attacking the monk through his dreams, and the mystery of why the fox who has befriended the monk lies near death.

This book is that rare balance between outstanding writing and excellent artwork. I've long been a fan of Russell's art, and I don't know that he's ever done better work. Each page is a work of art alone, and together they tell a fascinating tale.

This book serves as a strong reminder of the power of the original Sandman comics by Gaiman, and how much they're missed.

Better enjoy this one while it lasts!

Grade: A

Monday, December 8, 2008

Marvels: Eye of the Camera #1

Kurt Busiek has long been one of the better writers working in comics today, and his reputation was made with the publication of the original Marvels story, which has been collected and reprinted many times.

It took an unusual tact for a comic book - it told the story from the point of view of an ordinary man, photographer Phil Sheldon, who happened to be a witness to some of the key moments in the history of the Marvel Universe.

Featuring art by the then-unknown Alex Ross, it was a terrific piece of work, and served as a springboard for Busiek's excellent Astro City series. (By the way, aren't we long overdue for another chapter from that series?)

Anyway, the good news is, Phil Sheldon is back, along with Busiek, in the mini-series Marvels: Eye of the Camera.

So far, the story is set between the pages of the original Marvels, as we see a ground-level view of what it was like when Marvel's Silver Age first began, and heroes such as Spider-Man, Thor and the Hulk first appeared.

The series doesn't have Alex Ross providing the art, but it does feature outstanding work Jay Anacleto and colors by Brian Haberlin. The work is amazingly detailed and, well, real. It includes some stunning splash panels of New York City, and an inspiring first public appearance by the Fantastic Four.

It'll be interesting to see how this fits in with the original story (which reminds me, I need to dig that out and re-read it), but the series is off to an excellent start.

Busiek really gives you an original, real-world look at the world of heroes, and it's downright refreshing.

Grade: A-

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Kull #2

Two issues in and Kull continues to impress.

So is there any difference between Kull and the stories of Conan as king of Aquilonia? The easy answer is "Not really," other than a change in place names and swapping in a few different characters.

That's because Kull and Conan are more or less the same character. Both are barbarians who, at a certain point in their lives, seized the crown of a throne and became king.

The main difference is, as near as I can remember, Robert E. Howard only wrote stories about Kull as king of Valusia, while most of Howard's stories about Conan (though not all) take place before he became king.

And that's exactly where Dark Horse is placing the stories of those two heroes. Conan is still a young man wandering the lands of Hyboria, while some time long before Conan, Kull is dealing with the problems that fall on the king.

Another difference between the two takes center stage in this issue, as Kull has an important meeting with one of his allies, a Pict named Ka-Nu. To Conan, the Picts are deadly enemies.

More so than the first issue in the series, this comic focuses on Kull's struggles to handle problems with diplomacy, rather than brute force. There's actually very little action in this issue, but that should change next issue, as a secret menace moves its forces into place.

Once again, excellent work by writer Arvid Nelson in capturing the voice of Kull and the people of Valusia. The issue also features outstanding art by Will Conrad, whose towering style reminds me of the underrated Val Mayerick.

This comic continues to be a real pleasure and a great companion to the ongoing Conan comic. And that's the best connection between the two characters - they're both appearing in top-notch comics.

Grade: A-

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Batman #682

Hot on the heels of the final issue of the R.I.P. story, we get a new issue of Batman - and at first glance, it seems the crazy stories continue.

The first clue is right there on the cover, as artist Alex Ross (who apparently is trying to paint all of DC's covers these days) turns in an amazing red, yellow and green action scene that is a tip of the hat to the '60s Batman TV show.

The story inside is just as madcap, as we see a nightmarish sequence of events, capturing moments from virtually the entire run of Batman's comic book career, beginning with the large bat that smashed through the window of Bruce Wayne's mansion, and continuing on through a series of scenes - some real, some imaginary, some just plain silly.

Not until the end of the issue will you really understand what's going on (but only if you also read Final Crisis). The big question is how the events in this issue fit together with the events from R.I.P., or if the two tie together at all.

Once again, writer Grant Morrison has taken us for a ride, and once again we'll have to wait and see if it all makes sense eventually.

The art by Lee Garbett and Trevor Scott is solid though not exceptional, but much of the blame for that goes on the disjointed nature of the script.

This comic, like most of Morrison's run, has some moments that will strike home for long-time fans - but I suspect new readers will find themselves lost.

Grade: B

Friday, December 5, 2008

Secret Invasion #8 (of 8)

So here's the final issue of Secret Invasion, and since it wraps up the latest mega-event, it has a lot riding on its shoulders. So does it deliver?

Well... in some ways yes, in others, no.

As always, we try to avoid spoilers here at Chuck's Comic of the Day - so I'll try to avoid giving away any major plot points - but I will say I got angry when a long-time Marvel hero was killed early in the issue.

Yes, this is a comic book, and I can think of many ways the character could be saved - but I really didn't like the way this was handled. Of course, writer Brian Bendis had been assasinating the character of this hero for years now, so perhaps it's a mercy.

Moving on... in some ways, the story is excellent, as the battle reaches an epic conclusion, and we see some of the fallout from the events. Most of the questions are answered, although a few loose ends are left dangling.

Also, the art is outstanding, and Leinil Francis Yu and Mark Morales wrap the series up with a outstanding effort, capturing the emotions and the power of the final battle.

But still, there are problems. My second-biggest complaint about the comic ties into one of the new storylines springing out of the ending, as the President honors one of the heroes of the war - who also happens to be a well-known supervillain who seems to have reformed.

My son was especially angry that the President who provides the honors is obviously Barack Obama. Hey, Marvel - portraying him as someone easily fooled is not a great way to welcome him to office.

My third-biggest complaint (and this is the last one) is that, like every other mega-event in recent years, this story doesn't end! Instead, it's used as a springboard for the next big super-duper-mega-sellout-series, Dark Reign. Could we please just once get something like a satisfying conclusion to an event like this?

That would at least allow the fans to catch their breath before plunging into the next series.

So overall, some strong moments, some bad ones - it's probably the best limited series from Marvel in quite a few years, but that's faint praise indeed.

I've been a big fan of the series so far, and while the ending isn't as bad as, say, Civil War, I still feel let down.

I was hoping for so much more.

Grade: C+

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thursday is New Comics Day!

Hey, this is post #100 for our humble little blog here. You'll have to use your imagination and picture it as a double-size, foil-embossed special edition!

Anyway, here are the comics I picked up today:

- New Avengers #47
- The last of the secret "behind the invasion" stories, I think.

- Batman #682 - Will it leave me as confused as I was after R.I.P.?

- Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #1 (of 8) - Always glad to see another Hellboy comic.

- Justice Society of America #21 - Here things kick into high gear at last.

- Kull #2 - Terrific art and story here.

- Liberty Comics #1 - a fundraiser for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, an excellent cause - and some excellent contributers, too. But not a comic for kids.

- Marvels: Eye of the Camera #1 - Looks great! Funny that we're getting a sequel to Marvels at the same time we have one to Kingdom Come.

- Sandman: The Dream Hunters #2 (of 4) - Another gorgeous comic by Neil Gaiman and Craig Russell.

- Secret Invasion #8 (of 8) - The finale at last! Will it live up to the promise?

- Amazing Spider-Man #579 - This (almost) weekly schedule is really wearing thin.

- Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade #1 (of 6) - a fun comic for young readers.

- Terra #3 (of 4) - Another great-looking effort from Amanda Conner.

- Trinity #27 - Still no sign of Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman. Weren't they the stars of this book?

- X-Infernus #1 - Picked this up on the nostalgic X-rush.

- Alter Ego #82 - Which focuses on the heroes of MLJ comics.

I wanted to pick up Solomon Kane #3, but my shop was sold out - but the owner promised he'd have a copy for me next week.

Superman #682

I think it was writer Roger Stern who was asked what he'd do if he were Superman. With a smile, he said he'd call a press conference and begin by saying, "As your new ruler..."

In this issue, the people of Earth might be excused for thinking that the people of Kandor had the same idea, as they fan out across the U.S., tracking down certain individuals for a surprising reason. And they let nothing get in their way, including police officers and some well-known superheroes.

The New Krypton storyline offers so many possible stories, and so many different characters to focus on, that it would be easy for the writing team to get lost in the weeds - but they're doing a great job of staying focused on certain events and groups of characters.

This issue in particular covers a lot of ground, including the original Guardian of Metropolis, Agent Liberty, the Science Police, and even Atlas, who somehow still walks the city, despite being defeated by Superman a couple of issues back.

But writer James Robinson makes it all work, and keeps the story moving along quickly and clearly. Kudos also to the art by Renato Guedes and Wilson Magalhaes, whose work continues to grow on me. I particularly liked the splash page of the discovery of an unexpected character standing by Pa Kent's grave.

So far, the New Krypton storyline continues to impress. Here's hoping for more of the same!

Grade: B+

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thor: Man of War #1 (One Shot)


Thor may be the first superhero to get a retcon.

(A retcon is the practice largely found in comic books wherein the character's history or continuity is somehow altered or expanded upon in unexpected and retroactive ways.)

When the character first appeared, his origin seemed simple enough. Dr. Don Blake finds an old cane in a cave in Norway, and when he strikes the cane on the ground, he is granted the powers of the Norse God of Thunder, Thor - including incredible strength, control of the weather, and flight (well, sorta).

But over the first few years, Thor's character changed. Instead of talking and behaving like a normal human, Thor become more regal, and his speech pattern become almost Shakespearean. His connection to the gods in Asgard was also revealed, including his evil brother Loki and father Odin.

All this raised questions about his origins. Was Blake somehow becoming the real Thor? Where had Thor been before Blake discovered the cane? What was the connection between the two?

Almost seven years after the character had first appeared, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby finally got around to explaining Thor's true origin. To teach Thor humility, Odin sent him to Earth in the form of Dr. Don Blake, and years later allowed him to "find" the cane and regain his original form.

The story that takes place before that original issue is the basis for the story in Thor: Man of War. It's the latest chapter in writer Matt Fraction's version of Thor's life in Asgard, and it's an excellent update of the classic tales.

The issue centers on a battle between Odin and Thor, and it's an intense confrontation as father and son

The issue features outstanding pencil art by Clay Mann and Patrick Zircher, with inks by Victor Olazaba, as the panels crackle with energy and emotion.

Given the character's long and (mostly) fascinating life, it's great to see Thor getting this "top of the line" treatment. These special issues, combined with the excellent work on his regular comic, put Thor in the upper tier of Marvel heroes - which is where he belongs.

Grade: B+

(By the way, sorry for the lack of cover art - I'm having scanner problems. Hope to have it fixed later today.)

Now fixed.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Daredevil #113

If you're looking for a superhero with a character arc that looks like a rollercoaster, check out Daredevil.

The Man Without Fear started life in a (thankfully short-lived) yellow-and-red costume. He was a Spider-Man clone, cracking jokes while beating up the bad guys. He soon gained a much cooler red-and-black costume (thank you, Wally Wood), but continued on as "Spidey Lite," with dependable stories and good supporting characters - but never really building up the Rogue's Gallery a great hero needs.

Finally, under Frank Miller's guidance, Daredevil's adventures became darker, as the character led the way for the grim and gritty movement in comics. From there, with varying degrees of success, that hero's adventures kept getting darker and more tragic, as loved ones were killed, friends were hurt, and things just never seemed to go DD's way.

But he's had quite a run of luck lately. Oh, not in the comics, where he's endured having his identity exposed, being thrown into prison, having his best friend killed (temporarily), and his wife driven mad.

His good luck has been in the writers who've been handling his adventures. Brian Bendis turned in an excellent run on the book, and now it's in the hands of the more-than-capable Ed Brubaker.

Although DD continues to fight the bad guys in his costume, the comic feels very much like a cross between a great crime novel and an outstanding martial arts movie.

The latest storyline continues Daredevil's bad luck with ninja women, as he faces off against Lady Bullseye, an assassin who has modeled herself after one of DD's greatest villains. This issue adds in several other interesting characters, including the Black Tarantula, Iron Fist (fresh off Brubaker's excellent run on that comic), and the enigmatic Master Izo, who bears a strong resemblance to DD's first teacher, Stick.

It's a great comic, aided in no small part by the outstanding art of Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano, who provide wonderful, moody scenes and some excellent fight sequences. You can almost feel the rain in the rooftop scenes.

Brubaker continues to tell stories I wouldn't expect to like. He did it with Bucky in Captain America, and now he has me interested in Lady Bullseye, which sounds like a lame spinoff characer - but she's much more than that.

This comic has come a long way since its colorful beginnings - and the good news is, from all indications, Brubaker is just getting warmed up.

Grade: A-

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #1

Here's a comic I've missed somehow, but at the urging of friends I decided to take a look at The Umbrella Academy.

Even though the issue is #1, the indicia reveals that this is actually issue #7 in the series. Thankfully, the editors were smart enough to include a handy little recap on the inside cover, so I'm not completely lost here.

What we have here is another take on the X-Men (and I mean that in a good way). Children with extraordinary abilities are gathered at a special school where an eccentric inventor trains them with the goal of building a powerful personal army which will go by the name The Umbrella Academy.

This issue picks up in the aftermath of the group's deadly battle with The White Violin. At first glance, the issue seems to be about regrouping, as we check in on the various characters and learn where they are and what they plan to do next.

But there's nothing dull about this issue - we see a major battle between the team and a certain famous monument, and then the character known as Number Five finds himself in the middle of a major battle.

I enjoyed this issue quite a bit - there are lots of interesting characters and plots running around here, thanks to the strong writing of Gerard Way, and I enjoy the unique art by Gabriel Ba. It's brimming with energy and a real sense of fun.

I'm looking forward to the next chapter, and I plan to track down the collection of the first six issues.

This issue seems like a good jumping-on point for new readers, and the series shows lots of promise.

Grade: B+

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hulk #8

The new Hulk comic book is doing very well in sales, and as near as I can tell, there's one reason for it: it has fantastic art.

This issue features two outstanding talents - Art Adams and Frank Cho. Each takes half the comic, with Adams handling the adventures of the original Hulk (who appears in his original Gray color for part of the comic), and Cho handling the reprehensible Red Hulk.

The story each artist tackles plays to each one's strong points. Adams gets to draw an army of monsters - the Wendigos - and lots of beautiful women, as the battle rages in Las Vegas. Cho is asked to draw some beautiful females who decide to attack the Red Hulk (sorry, I refuse to use the silly "Rulk" name for that character), including the She-Hulk, the Valkyrie and Thundra.

Both Adams and Cho are at the top of their game here, and the book is well worth buying for the art alone.

Which is good, because the story by Jeph Loeb continues to be as silly as ever.

Over on the green side of the aisle, we have the usual "superheros fight each other" bit, which would be fine if not for the army of Wendigos who are killing people like crazy. Would it really take until the end of that half of the issue for this to be noticed? I'm also anxiously awaiting the explanation for how the monsters made the trek from Canada to Las Vegas without being noticed.

On the red side... well, I hardly know where to start. The Red Hulk is a mass murderer who has beaten up several heroes - yet after his utter defeat at the end of issue #6, apparently no one felt like trying to cage him - they just left him to walk around the country, killing more people. And the She-Hulk's team - none of whom are in Red Hulk's league, by the way - are asked to discover his civilian identity, as though that were more important than stopping his murderous ways. Oh, and we still have no clue as to who he really it - and frankly, I don't much care.

Perhaps it's old-fashioned to want to see the bad guys brought to justice - but I do like my comics to focus on heroic (or at least sympathetic) characters - and we're only getting half that here.

Grade: C-

Saturday, November 29, 2008

JSA Kingdom Come Special: The Kingdom #1 (One Shot)

This is the third and final chapter in the series of special issues spinning out of the regular Justice Society of America comic, and it sets up the final two issues of the ongoing Kingdom Come series.

And it seems to me that this has been a difficult series for fans to get behind, for a variety of reasons. For one, the JSA has grown its membership to Legion-like proportions, adding quite a few new heroes, bringing in the children of JSA members and other new faces. Also, the storyline has been split between the Superman of Earth-22 (the Superman from the original Kingdom Come mini-series) and the appearance of the fearsome old god known as Gog.

It's the story of Gog that seems to have thrown readers, because it has taken an unexpected path. When Gog was first discovered, he towered over the landscape like a skyscraper, with a fearsome visage that's somehow even scarier because he's constantly smiling. But readers expecting a huge battle between the JSA and Gog have been surprised to see the story move in an unexpected direction. Despite Gog's appearance, he seems to be a benevolent deity, as he grants wishes, speaks of peace and opposes war.

His actions have led to the JSA being split into two factions - the ones who believe Gog is what he claims to be, and those who suspect a more sinister motive.

It's been obvious that there is more to the character than meets the eye, but for months now we've been given no reason to doubt his good intentions - but finally, with this issue, we finally see what Gog wants in return for his efforts - and it's chilling.

The story by Geoff Johns and Alex Ross has taken perhaps a bit too long in playing out, but there's no denying the power behind it, and now we anxiously await the final issues in the series.

The art by Fernando Pasarin and numerous inkers is quite good - strong and solid, though not overly flashy.

Johns seems to be the master of the sprawling saga, and after a few stutters and starts, this one looks like it's heading for a strong finish. I can't recommend this comic to a reader who hasn't been following the storyline, because there are too many character references they won't understand - but it's an excellent addition to the ongoing story, and readers who have been following along will be rewarded for their patience.

Grade: B+

Friday, November 28, 2008

Ultimate Spider-Man #128

Writer Brian Bendis has done amazing work in the Ultimate Spider-Man comic, as he takes stories that were set in stone long ago in the original Amazing Spider-Man comic and gives them a fresh, unexpected twist.

And this issue is all about twists. Take Gwen Stacy, for example. (No pun intended.) He introduced her to the comic years ago as a troubled teen who was given a home by Aunt May, and she became a friend to Peter Parker with no hint of a love interest.

In the "real" Marvel Universe, of course, Gwen was Peter's first true love, a romance cut short by her tragic death. That death occurred years after her introduction, and was one of the biggest shocks in Marvel's long history. Years later, Mary Jane became the love of Peter's life, and they were eventually married. (And didn't that work out great?)

In the Ultimate Universe, Gwen arrived on the scene well after Peter and MJ declared their love. The reader might have expected that Gwen would cause a love triangle - but before that happened, she was killed by the alien symbiote known as Carnage. It was quite a shock, and many readers (including yours truly) thought Bendis had thrown away a good character.

But Bendis doesn't waste any characters, and as we see in this issue, Gwen is back, somehow cloned or reconstituted by Carnage. She runs to Peter for help, and he quickly finds himself in a battle between Carnage and Venom.

The art for this issue is provided by Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger, and it's excellent. The story is filled with huge plot twists, horror, surprises and lots of super-hero battles, and it's managed with great skill and clear storytelling.

This comic is the best of the Ultimate books, and continues its run at the top. One might suspect the story was accelerated to clear the decks for the Ultimatum crossover - and that may be true - but whatever the reason, the comic is fast-paced and a heck of a lot of fun.

Grade: A-

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Batman #681

So after a slight delay we finally get the final chapter of the Batman "R.I.P." story by Grant Morrison with art by Tony Daniel and Sandu Florea.

The good news is, the story finally explains some of the more confusing aspects of this very confusing story.

As I've said before - at a time when millions are flocking to see a film based on "The Dark Knight," why would you produce a nightmarish, multi-part story that's written in such a way as to confuse the most die-hard reader?

It tells the story of Batman's journey through madness, and his survival is only possible because he has prepared backup plans for every eventuality. He also trusts his "Batman family" to have his back - and that includes some particularly bloodthirsty members.

The story is riveting because the good guys are up against impossible odds - an army of thugs, a hidden coven of the super-rich, entertaining themselves with a life-or-death game - and then mix in the ultimate wild card, The Joker, and you have a surreal final confrontation between the forces trying to control Gotham and destroy The Batman.

Don't expect too many answers, though - the murky ending leaves the status of Batman in doubt.

I suspect this story will read much more easily in a collection, especially if it includes notations to explain some of the more obscure references - but taken in one-issue increments, the R.I.P. story is a difficult one to follow.

Hardcore fans of the Bat will enjoy it, but the casual reader will be lost. I recommend holding out for the upcoming "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" story.

Grade: B-

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Today's Funny Books

Here's what I picked up today:

- Batman #681 - The anxiously-awaited wrap-up to R.I.P. But will it make sense?

- Captain America #44
- I almost didn't pick it up, because the cover is almost identical to last issue's - I thought it was the same comic.

- Daredevil #113
- Month after month, this continues to be a darn good comic.

- Incredible Hercules #123 - Still a surprisingly fun comic.

- Hulk #8 - Awesome art by Art Adams and Frank Cho. The story, on the other hand...

- JSA: The Kingdom #1 (One Shot) - The pieces are moving into place, and the tension continues to rise. Just what does Gog want? You might be surprised...

- Secret Invasion: Inhumans #4 (of 4) - This series lost its way a bit last issue - let's see if it gets back on track this time.

- Superman #682 - The "New Krypton" story continues, as the Kandorians make a move.

- Thor: Man Of War (One Shot) - Odin vs. Thor - just like old times!

- Trinity #26 - Halfway!

- Ultimate Spider-Man #128 - This one has more twists than any other comic I've read in a while.

- The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #1
- It's actually issue #7, but it's the first one I've read, if that matters.

The Flash #246

The Flash seems to be a book at the crossroads/ We've seen the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen, make his long-overdue return in Final Crisis, and reports have been circulating for a while that Geoff Johns is crafting a new series starring that character.

So where does that leave the Bronze Age (and current) Flash, Wally West? Will he continue in the title, or will he step aside to make room for Barry? Those questions will be answered in the months ahead, but in the meantime we have a four-part story written by Alan Burnett that may (or may not) be setting up some major changes for Wally.

In this issue (which is part three), we see Wally's wife, Linda, lying near death after a supervillain's attack.

The comic provides a nice flashback into how Wally and Linda met and fell in love.

The issue focuses on the family Wally has built, and his struggles to save the woman he loves - which are complicated by the fact that he seems to be losing control over his super-speed.

It's a touching story, and one hopes they won't do anything crass like kill off Linda - but of course, they killed off Barry a couple of decades ago, so I suppose anything's possible.

The artwork in this issue by Carlo Barberi, Drew Geraci and Jacob Eguren is OK, but not much more than that. It tells the story clearly, but there's not much variety to the panels - just lots of mid-range shots.

The story's interesting and worth following, but I can't shake the feeling that they're just marking time until Final Crisis wraps up. Which is bound to happen eventually. We hope.

Grade: C+

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Avengers / Invaders #6 (of 12)

So here we are at the halfway point in this maxi-series, and I continue to be stunned by: 1) How good the cover art is; and 2) How bad the rest of the comic is.

And I'm a big fan of The Invaders! I should be loving the idea of seeing the real Captain America again, along with the criminally-underused original Human Torch, the also underused Namor, Bucky and Toro. Instead, I look at this comic and wonder where those characters are and who the imposters are in their place.

This issue focuses on the Human Torch, who has decided that SHIELD's army of LMDs (Life Model Decoys) equates to slavery, so he's decided to set them free. Somehow this desire on his part causes all the LMDs to immediately turn on SHIELD and the Mighty Avengers, and a big fight scene breaks out. The Torch seems awfully certain that no one's going to get hurt, especially considering the LMDs are all armed with big scary guns. Which they're firing. At humans.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Toro makes a shocking discovery - in the present, he's dead! Of course, he does the natural thing - he blames the Torch!

Maybe my expectations were too high for this series, or maybe it's just that the story can't live up to the great cover by Alex Ross.

Whatever the reason, writer Jim Kreuger's story continues to leave me cold, and even the interior art by Steve Sadowski and Patrick Berkenkotter seems rushed and uneven.

Maybe the story will be redeemed in the last half of the series by a shocking twist that'll bring it all together. But so far, it's just been very disappointing.

Grade: D+