Friday, October 31, 2008

Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns #1 (One Shot)

You would think that comic fans would be suffering burnout after so many years of Mega-Events in comics.

It seems that every month there's another big series from one or more comics company, and the next series after that is always just over the horizon.

That would be fine if the series being promoted ended up living up to its hype. But all too often, it falls short - way short. Infinite Crisis and Civil War are the two best examples that leap to mind of stories that wanted to be Earth-shaking, nothing-will-ever-be-the-same-again events, but at the end the reader could hear the comic tones of a trombone playing "wah-wah-waaaah." (If you get my drift.)

The jury's still out on the two Mega-Events rolling along right now - Secret Invasion and Final Crisis - and in the wake of the latter, here comes Geoff Johns to show 'em how it's done.

Johns wrote the best big event in recent years - the Sinestro War. It was a story that kept you guessing, sitting on the edge of your seat, it had consequences, and it set up some big changes in the universe-spanning saga of the Green Lanterns.

It set up a galactic battle between numerous different Lantern factions, each set off by a different primary color, and each representing a different emotion. It's a terrific concept and the battle promises to be.. well, big.

Which brings us to Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns, as we learn about the origins of the Red Lanterns, the terrible source of their power and the disgusting way their power manifests itself.

Which is to say, this comic may be a bit too harsh for young readers - there's death and destruction aplenty, as the pieces are moved into place for the Darkest Night story, which is the next Mega-Event from DC.

Thankfully, it's shaping up to be a story that'll be worth buying into. And that's what a Mega-Event should be!

Grade: A-

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #3

The rap against the Ultimate Spider-Man series is that it's just rehashing old adventures, giving them a fresh coat of paint and stretching out the stories that Stan and Steve told in 20 pages over multiple issues.

And there's some validity to that, although writer Brian Bendis deserves credit for giving everything a fresh spin and taking the stories in unexpected directions.

But with the Ultimate Spider-Man Annual, Bendis treads onto new territory - the sex life of Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker. What's even more impressive is that he does it in a way that's both realistic, touching and believable.

And I can't help but wonder if he's using the stage to tweak recent events in the original Amazing Spider-Man comic, as he depicts a young couple who are most definitely in love with each other and happy to be together.

There is, of course, a villain in the story - one of Spider-man's classic foes who hasn't popped up in the Ultimate universe until now. But the main story is the love story, and it's well worth the investment.

Also quite wonderful is the artwork by David Lafuente - it's just brimming over with energy, enthusiasm and genuine affection for the characters. It's not perfect - in a few panels Spidey's eye shields virtually cover his entire mask, and in another panel he looks like a bobblehead - but those are minor quibbles. Lafuente's work is just plain fun, and I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future.

Marvel's original Annuals were once the home for some very special stories, such as Reed and Sue's wedding, the birth of Franklin Richards or Spider-Man facing the Sinister Six. I couldn't tell you what happened in most annuals in recent years - but this is one story I'll remember.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Week in Comics

Or should I say my week in comics?

Today I picked up:

- Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns #1
- A prequel to the next mega-event in Green Lantern's comic. If it's anything like the Sinestro War, it'll be well worth following.

- Hellboy: In the Chapel of Moloch (One Shot) - Hey, Mignola's handling the art and story! I feel like I won the lottery!

- The Incredible Hercules #122 - If someone had told me this was going to be a fun book that I would look forward to each month, I wouldn't have believed them.

- Justice League of America #26 - An alternate reality? Again? Will the real Dwayne McDuffie please stand up?

- Solomon Kane #2 - Hoping for a bit more of that R. E. Howard spark this time around.

- Amazing Spider-Man #575 - My comic book shop owner asked my why I passed on the Amazing Spider-Man Annual. I told him Marvel was lucky I was still buying this comic.

- Superman #681 - The New Krypton saga continues. Or should I say begins?

- Thor #11 - This must be "Thor month" - he's everywhere!

- Thor: Secret Invasion #3 (of 3) - See?

- Trinity #22 - I'm hoping this comic turns things around soon. What's it about? Alternate reality.

- Ultimate Captain America Annual #1 - No idea what to expect with this one, but hope springs eternal.

- Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #3 - Tackling the forbidden subject - S-E-X!

Thor: The Truth of History #1 (One Shot)

It's difficult to remember so far back in the past, but I'm pretty sure Thor was the first Marvel Comic hero I collected regularly.

I have clear memories of reading Journey Into Mystery #100, which was the original title of the comic that would eventually be taken over by Thor. That story featured the Thunder God's battle with Mr. Hyde, and I was fascinated.

He was completely different from the heroes I had read up to that point. As Thor, he was strong, he was fast, and he carried a cool weapon - a hammer (which would later be identified as Mjolnir) that was indestructible and would return when he threw it.

He also had a weakness - if he lost contact with his hammer for more than 60 seconds, he reverted to puny Dr. Don Blake. He was in love with his assistant, Nurse Jane Foster, but had to hide his secret identity from her. And it was a romance his father objected to, so that added to the drama.

The funny thing is, I almost stopped buying the comic. When issue #102 hit the stands, it featured a battle between Thor, Mr. Hyde and The Cobra. I thumbed through the issue and peeked at the last page - and then put it back on the rack. It was a continued story! I didn't want a comic that only told half the story.

The next month, I did pick up the second half of the story and immediately regretted not buying the previous issue. I was hooked for good, and I had learned to appreciate those continued stories.

Fast forward to today, and Thor is one of Marvel's hottest titles, thanks to the recent reboot and plans for a film version of the hero. As a result, Marvel has been flooding the market with Thor-related comics, including this issue: Thor: The Truth of History.

The comic is the equivalent of a feature-length version of the old Tales of Asgard back-up series that ran in those early Thor comics. It features Thor in the ancient past - about 4,000 years ago - as he and the Warriors Three go off on an adventure in Egypt.

The story is, to be honest, a little on the thin side - but it provides a great excuse to show off the fantastic artwork of Alan Davis, one of my all-time favorite artists. As always, he's teamed with inker Mark Farmer, and they provide the kind of dynamic, high-spirited artwork any fan should appreciate.

I especially enjoy the fact that this is the "original" Thor, with the classic Kirby-designed costume. The speech patterns don't quite match Stan Lee's pseudo-Shakespeare dialogue, but it's close enough.

Best of all, it's not a continued story - so even my pre-teen self would be happy to buy it. But I have to admit that the $3.99 price tag would have been another matter.

But this from a guy who refused to spend $20 to buy the first issue of Amazing Spider-Man because that was "too much money for one comic book." (Hey, I was a kid, and in those days, $20 was a lot of money... oh, who am I kidding - I was an idiot.)

Still, this comic is a lot of fun and for any old-timers out there, it's a real blast from the past.


Grade: B+

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Superman: New Krypton #1 (One Shot)

It's always interesting to see things come full circle.

When I first started reading comics in the early '60s, gathering up the survivors of the destruction of Krypton would have created quite a crowd scene. In addition to Superman, there was Supergirl, Krypto the Superdog, a Phantom Zone filled with criminals, the population of the shrunken city of Kandor, and numerous others who'd pop up for single issues here and there.

On the up side, it was obvious that anything was possible in the Superman universe. On the down side, it made Superman a common commodity. If something happened to him, there were dozens of replacements close by.

When John Byrne was handed the reins of the Superman line in the wake of the original Crisis on Infinite Earths (which sorta kinda rebooted DC's universe), he decided to correct that, and once again Kal-El was the sole survivor of Krypton.

In the years since, that idea has again been eroded away, and now we again have a Supergirl (Kal's cousin from Krypton) and Krypto (every boy needs a dog). Even the Phantom Zone has returned, still populated with an army of criminals, scheming to get free.

Now, in the recent storyline in Action Comics, writer Geoff Johns has finally taken the next step and reintroduced the bottle city of Kandor. But he's taken the idea to the next level, as the city is returned to normal size on Earth, meaning we now have 100,000 super-powered aliens setting up shop next to Superman's Fortress of Solitude.

The setup for that turn of events arrives in the form of this special issue, Superman: New Krypton. It begins with Clark dealing with a terrible loss, and ends with him dealing with the overwhelming idea of a city full of Supermen and Superwomen.

It's a big turn of events for DC, and the ramifications promise to be far-reaching, both for the citizens of Earth and for Superman, who's not so unique any more.

I'm anxious to see where the story is going, and I'm confident that Geoff Johns, James Robinson and Sterling Gates have some great stories in store - but I can't help but hope that when the story is done, the Superman family won't be quite so crowded.

Grade: B+

Monday, October 27, 2008

The New Avengers #46

For a super-hero to succeed, he or she needs one important ingredient. Without it, failure is almost guaranteed.

Of course, I'm talking about a good villain.

It sounds simple enough - the good guy needs a bad guy to fight, of course. But the villain must be just as interesting - and sometimes more interesting - than the hero being opposed.

The villain creates the conflict that's at the heart of any story - without it, the hero will just be on patrol forever.

The cover of this issue of The New Avengers features Skrully versions of some of Marvel's greatest villains, and they exemplify why Marvel has been so successful - it has some great villains to draw on.

The cover is an homage to the cover to Stan Lee's collection titled Bring on the Bad Guys, and I just wanted to mention how much I've enjoyed the practice of doing new takes on classic covers on the Secret Invasion issues of the Avengers.

And this issue is filled with bad guys and gals, as we learn how the Hood's Syndicate of Criminals discovered the Skrulls and their plans for the Secret Invasion. It forces the villains into the uncomfortable position of having to think about a bigger cause than their own concerns.

The issue focuses on writer Brian Bendis' strong suits - snappy dialogue and unexpected plot twists - and it'll be interesting to see where he takes these characters next. The art by Billy Tan and Matt Banning is dark and menacing, which is perfect for this story.

The comic also reveals some of the secrets behind The Hood, who certainly has the potential to become one of Marvel's most deadly villains, and the power to back it up. The question remains, can his personality be interesting enough to allow him to make the jump from a good villain to a great one? What makes him a bad guy?

The answer to those questions will decide it.

Grade: B+

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Usagi Yojimbo #115

The eternal frustration of the comic book fan is not being able to buy all the comics published each month. (Or perhaps I should say that it's a frustration for those of us who aren't incredibly wealthy.)

At any rate, I know there are comics out there I'd enjoy if I'd just take the trouble to collect them - yet somehow I don't make the commitment.

Usagi Yojimbo is a great example of that kind of comic. I've picked up quite a few issues over the years, but for some reason I don't buy the comic regularly.

My loss, really, because this is an excellent comic book.

If you haven't read it, Usagi is a masterless samauri - a ronin - who wanders across the face of Japan in the early 17th century, selling his services as a bodyguard. Humans are replaced by anthropomorphic animals - thus our hero is a rabbit. In fact, his name literally means "Rabbit Bodyguard." But these aren't "Funny Animals" (though occasionally there is humor on display) - it's an adventure series, and a darn good one.

Usagi often faces difficult choices, and this issue is no exception. He learns that a caravan is about to be attacked, so he must decide whether or not to warn them. If he does, the samurai in the caravan may attack him - and if he doesn't warn them, everyone in the caravan may be killed.

It's an interesting story, well written and drawn as always by Stan Sakai, who has guided the character since its creation way back in 1984. This book has developed a devoted following, and they're rewarded with a consistently top-notch comic.

If you're not reading it, you should give it a try - every issue I've ever read stands on its own. And if you enjoy it, most of those back issues are available in collections.

I regret not making this one a regular purchase, and I plan to correct that oversight. Go and do likewise.

Grade: B+

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ultimate Spider-Man #127

Watching Brian Bendis write the Ultimate Spider-Man comic is like watching a high-wire act.

At any moment you're convinced he's going to stumble and fall, or slip or stagger or something. But no, he just keeps cruising along, smiling to the world like he's having the time of his life.

He's handled this comic with incredible skill, giving us issues of straight super-hero action, some that are almost pure romance, others that evoke horror, and always with a laugh or a joke just around the corner.

Who else would have the guts to resurrect the cloning saga - surely the most hated Spider-Man storyline ever (wait, I forgot about the one about Gwen's babies - and "One Day More"). OK, one of the most hated storylines ever. Even more amazing - he made it work.

Who else would put Spidey in the middle of the filming of a Spider-Man movie, while Kingpin corners the market on Spidey merchandise? Oh, and he made that one work, too.

Who else would have brought Gwen Stacy into the book, only to kill her - and then bring her back as one of Spider-Man's scariest villains? That's the story that's unfolding in this issue, as the horror of her situation is revealed.

At the same time, Peter is wrestling with a moral dilemma, and there's no one he can turn to.

I'm constantly impressed that Bendis can maintain this kind of emotional balance, while telling stories that are moving, fun and very smart. It doesn't hurt that he's teamed with the outstanding art team of Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger. Mark Bagley is a tough act to follow, but the book hasn't lost a step with this team. They're able to handle superhero action and the more personal, real-world illustrations with great skill. And that final page is absolutely chilling.

If you're not reading this comic, you're missing one of the best Marvel has to offer. The book has maintained an incredibly high standard since the first issue, and even though I keep waiting for it to fall, so far, it's sitting pretty at the top of the line.

Grade: A-

Friday, October 24, 2008

Final Crisis #4 (of 7)

It's amazing to realize that the writer who worked such magic in the All-Star Superman series - Grant Morrison - is the same guy who is serving up the virtually impenetrable Final Crisis series.

You can tell it's impenetrable because it's almost impossible to summarize the story so far. Here, just for fun, let's try: first the New God Orion got killed by some kind of magic bullet that was fired through time. The bullet was being chased by the Flash (Barry Allen), who wasn't able to stop it - but he and Wally West ran so fast in trying that they ended up in the future, in which (surprise!) Darkseid has conquered the world. Other than the cover of this issue, we really haven't seen much of Darkseid, because he's now showing up in human form and is apparently burning through human bodies. Oh, and Metron traveled back to the dawn of humanity to give some kind of information to Anthro, who somehow met Kamandi in some kind of dream sequence. After Orion was killed, the Alpha Lanterns arrived on Earth, accused Hal Jordan of murder and whisked him off to Oa to stand trial. Oh, and Granny Goodness captured Batman and shipped him off... somewhere. Superman failed to stop an explosion at the Daily Planet, and Lois is in a hospital, clinging to life. And Darkseid somehow released the Anti-Life Equation, which gives him control over everyone on Earth - except for the heroes hiding out at several Watchtowers - though how they escaped the whole mind-control thing is a bit hazy.

I'm sure I'm leaving out lots of stuff, and I realize that was a snarky way to recap the first three issues. I'm all for big stories and pushing the boundaries, but I've been reading DC's comics for decades now, so if I'm feeling lost through most of the story, I can only imagine the reaction of a new reader.

And what's up with changing Kalibak into a tiger? It's one of the many "What the?" moments in the series.

The original Crisis tried to fix DC's tangled continuity and partially succeeded, the Infinite Crisis series tried to.. well, sell comics, I guess, and it managed that - but it certainly didn't do anything to organize DC's Universe, other than giving the hated Superboy-Prime the ability to punch holes in existing continuity.

Now here's the Final Crisis, and once again the intent seems to be to bring some clarity and modernization to DC's line, with the focus being on the New Gods. But there are so many characters involved, so many plotlines spinning around, and so many scenes and events that barely seem connected, it makes for a story that's really difficult to follow.

Perhaps it'll make more sense when it's collected into one book - but I'm doubtful.

Look, the art by J.G. Jones is terrific, and the pages done by Carlos Pacheco are solid, and there are some really good scenes in here. I especially like the ones with Barry Allen and Wally.

But Morrison is going to have to pull some serious magic to bring the disparate (and strange) stories together. Of course, if anyone can manage it, he's the one. But so far, this book has been a disappointment.

Grade: C+

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Secret Invasion #7 (of 8)

Is it wrong to admit that I spent more of my youth than I'd like to admit watching Pro Wrestling?

I only bring this up because in reading this, the next-to-the-last issue of Secret Invasion, I kept hearing in my mind the voice of Jim Ross screaming, "We've got a real slobberknocker going on here, folks!"

There's just no better word to describe what is simply an issue-long fight scene between almost everyone on Earth who has super-powers and an endless swarm of Skrulls who are also super-powered.

Which is not to say nothing at all happens. There's some clever examples of Brian Bendis' patented dialogue. There's some terrific art by Leinil Yu and Mark Morales, although some of the fight scenes are just a mess. Which is to say, I have no idea what's going on in some panels - the bodies are just flying around.

There are lots of dramatic moments, and I find the final scene has me actually worried for reasons that will have to wait a month (in other words, I can't talk about it without spoiling the scene for you). Jessica Jones makes a dramatic (and potentially disastrous) decision. Marvel Boy puts in an appearance. So does Howard the Duck (but don't blink or you'll miss him).

There are plenty of moments that would have the announcer screaming, "I can't believe what I'm seeing!" or "Holy $%#@*&!"

I've been a fan of the series so far, and while this issue suffers a bit from being severely over the top and over-crowded, it still maintains that sense of fun and adventure that has made the Secret Invasion a blast.

Now let's see if Bendis can get this story in a figure-four leglock and take the title. (I know, I'm stretching here.)

Grade: B+

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wednesday Is Comic Book Day!

The title of this post was lifted directly from this week's episode of the very funny TV show The Big Bang Theory.

Here's what I picked up this week:

- New Avengers #46 - Bring on the Bad Guys! And the origin of The Hood - maybe?

- Captain America #43 - Batroc the Leaper? Sacre Bleu!

- Daredevil #112 - The origin of Lady Bullseye. Did we really need a Lady Bullseye? Was Elektra busy?

- Final Crisis #4 of 7 - Still kind of a mess, but I love the scenes with Barry Allen.

- Hulk #7 - Hey, it's a split book! The lesson: when you have slow artists, only ask them to draw half a comic.

- Secret Invasion #7 of 8 - It's what the wrestlers call a slobberknocker. All fighting, all the time. But the ending has me worried. (Which, I suppose, shows I care.)

- Amazing Spider-Man #574 - A serious change-of -pace type story.

- Superman: New Krypton #1 (One Shot) - Clark deals with recent tragic events - and some unexpected reunions.

- Thor: The Truth of History #1 (One Shot)
- I don't know what it's about, but it's great to see Alan Davis' version of the original Thor.

- Trinity #21 - It's backstory time for the bad guys!

- Ultimate Spider-Man #127 - Gwen Stacy: Dead? Alive? Dead Again? Alive again? Clone much?

- Usagi Yojimbo #115 - Can't resist a good guy who's also a bunny rabbit.

And that's it!

Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #2 (of 5)

I have friends who don't care for George Perez's artwork. "It's too busy," they say. "Too much detail."

They're good people, my friends, but they obviously have no taste in comic artwork. In my opinion, Perez is one of the best in the business. The sheer joy he has for the characters and the stories just drips off the page.

If he squeezes too much detail into each panel, it's only because he's having the time of his life, working on a comic populated with an army of characters from decades of Legion of Super-heroes stories, living any fanboy's dream.

And that's exactly what this mini-series is: a Legion fan's dream come true. What more could you ask than to have DC's best writer, Geoff Johns, the industry's best artist, George Perez, the excellent inking of Scott Koblish, dozens of Legion heroes and and an army of the team's greatest villains, along with Superman and Superboy-Prime? (Well, I could care less about Prime, but the rest is choice!)

The issue is almost worth buying just for the double-page spread on pages 26 and 27 of three world's worth of Legionnaires. And for the meeting between three Brainiacs. And the line, "We'll need to split into groups," which give me nostalgic tingles. And on and on.

Is it a bit confusing? Heck yeah. The Legion continuity has become so tangled over the years that I have no idea which Legion team is the "real" one, and which ones are from alternate Earths. I have to admit that I haven't followed the Legion in a while for that reason. But it doesn't really matter - this is the kind of rollercoaster-of-a-story where you just hang on and enjoy the ride.

The creative team has set up a huge event here, and I can't wait to see what they do next.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Amazing Spider-Man #573

This issue brings us to the end of the first good storyline since the "Brand New Day" version of the Amazing Spider-Man was launched.

It's a guest-star-filled extravaganza, as Spider-Man goes up against the Green Goblin (Norman Osborn) and the Thunderbolts, with the newly-created Anti-Venom thrown in for good measure.

And even though I haven't read the most recent version of the Thunderbolts comic, I'm certainly glad to see the reinvention of Norman Osborn as Lex Luthor. Norman was previously just another nutty rich inventor - now he's incredibly intelligent, calculating and always one step ahead of the other guy. Smart villains are always my favorite, and they provide a great challenge to both the hero and the writer of the story.

In this issue Spidey and Anti-Venom team up, and what follows is one heck of a fight. The comic succeeds because of the excellent art by John Romita, Jr., and Klaus Janson. They careen between dynamic splash pages, intense fight sequences and emotional moments with the assurance of master craftsmen. It's a shame they can't provide the art for every issue of this almost-weekly title.

Writer Dan Slott supplies an excellent script here, combining lots of action with a good helping of humor. There's indication that there's more going on than meets the eye, especially as far as Harry Osborn is concerned, and future plot lines are set up.

The only bad thing about the comic is that it never really resolves anything. All the players are right back to the place they were at the beginning of the story, with the exception of the Anti-Venom, a character that is kinda interesting - though he seems to be a one-note character (but then, the same is true of Venom).

The big question, of course, is can the army of creative folks behind Spider-Man maintain the high standards set by this story?

I hope the answer turns out to be "Yes," but the record for the past year is pretty thin.

Present company excepted.

Grade: B

Monday, October 20, 2008

Grant Morrison's Doctor Who #1

When I first saw an episode of the Doctor Who TV show on a local PBS station, I was mystified.

I had heard of the show, and I knew it was a huge favorite on the BBC, but frankly, it didn't make sense. An eccentric guy flying around in a phone booth, facing bargain basement monsters? I gave up almost immediately.

Thankfully, Harlan Ellison came to my rescue. I read an essay he'd written about the show, in which he explained the basics of the show. After reading it, I gave the show another try - and I loved it. I've been a fan ever since.

For those who missed that essay, here's my poor attempt at recapping the concept of Doctor Who: the lead character (who never refers to himself as "Doctor Who" - he just calls himself "The Doctor") is a Time Lord, a member of a long-lived race that discovered how to move through time and space with the aid of a device called a Tardis. The Doctor's Tardis is stuck in the shape of a Police Call Box (which, to an American audience, looks like a blue phone booth). It's much bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. The Doctor and his ever-changing friends and companions travel through space and time, righting wrongs, saving the universe and thwarting evil plans. Oh, and The Doctor gets killed every now and then - but he's able to regenerate in a new form (which happens to look like a different actor), and his adventures continue.

It was designed to be a children's show, providing educational and moral guidance - but it's also a heck of a lot of fun for grownups, too. The newest version of the classic show is a huge hit on the BBC, and is enjoying quite a bit of success over here.

Which brings us to this comic: Grant Morrison's Doctor Who. Unfortunately, IDW doesn't include any background information about the stories included in this comic, but as near as I can tell, these predate Morrison's work at DC and Marvel.

I believe both incarnations of The Doctor in this issue appeared before Tom Baker, the version I first saw in the late '70s (thus, he's "my" Doctor Who). There are two short stories in this comic, and each one shows some of the promise of what we'd see in the future from Morrison. The stories are fun, clever, and often unexpected.

The first story is drawn by the excellent John Ridgway, who provides some outstanding cinematic images, as he takes us to alien worlds. The second story is an early effort by Bryan Hitch, and while it's a bit rough compared to his modern work, it's still a strong effort.

The stories are full of the kind of intelligent and imaginative adventures that are so much a part of Doctor Who. You don't have to be a fan to enjoy it - but fans will absolutely love it.

Grade: B+

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ultimate Origins #5 (of 5)

I was one of the doubters when it came to the addition of the Ultimate line to Marvel's comics lineup.

The idea seemed shaky - to restart Marvel's Universe from the beginning, offering a modern take on classic concepts and giving the characters a fresh start. It had been tried before to less than stellar success (Heroes Reborn, anyone?)

The line has been around for, what, almost a decade now (can that be right?), and the results to date have been mixed.

The Ultimate Spider-Man comic is definitely the jewel in the crown, an excellent retelling of Peter Parker's life during his high school years. Writer Brian Bendis has turned in some of his best work on that title, and it continues strong today.

Almost every other title has been a mixed success. The Ultimate versions of the Fantastic Four and X-Men have had some strong stories, but also some poor ones. The Ultimates title has suffered from incredibly long delays between issues - and don't get me started on Ultimates 3.

The rest of the brand's comics have been similarly hit-or-miss, though many have featured excellent artwork. Of late the focus seems to be on big event crossovers, like the interminable Ultimate Galactus series.

Now along comes the Ultimate Origins series, which also features excellent artwork by the underrated Butch Guice. But for a book that promises lots of answers, it really only serves as a prologue for the next "Big Event," Ultimatum.

The promos for Origins touted it as showing how everything in the Ultimate Universe is tied together, and I guess it sorta kinda does - but it adds up to a big "Is that all there is to it?"

Oh, there are a few revelations, and some readers may be shocked to discover what was really going on in that Weapon X lab - but for the most part, it's just connecting the dots and setting up the next story.

I was hoping for a little more out of this series than a sales pitch for the next one. At this point, the Ultimate line is living up to my original (low) expectations - I've been dropping the titles one by one, and Spider-Man's the sole survivor at this point.

If the line could live up to that title's quality, I'd still be along for the ride - but as it is, I'm losing interest fast. And Ultimate Origins may have sealed the deal.

Grade: C-

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ghostbusters: The Other Side #1

The original Ghostbusters movie was always a huge favorite of mine, as it combined humor, mild horror and science fiction with some eccentric characters and funny lines, and mixed it all together into an entertaining film.

It's great to see the franchise enjoying something of a resurgence, with a new videogame on the horizon and renewed talk of the long-delayed third film (which we can only hope will be more like the original and less like the mixed bag that was Ghostbusters 2).

Now IDW has started up a new series starring the team - or is it a mini-series? At any rate, Venkman, Egon, Ray and Winston are back in action, tracking down ghosts and trapping them with their high-tech gear. The story seems to pick up shortly after the events in the second film.

Sadly, IDW apparently doesn't have the rights to the actual likenesses of the original actors, so the characters depicted here only sorta kinda resemble the originals.

I really wanted to like this title, and the idea of delivering new stories with these characters sounds like a lot of fun - but unfortunately, the story kind of sputters and never really takes off. Writer Keith Champagne makes the mistake of almost immediately taking Venkman out of the mix - which eliminates virtually all the comic relief - and there's no real snap to the dialogue. The lines of the characters are pretty much interchangeable.

The art, like the writing, is just ok. Tom Nguyen provides serviceable work here, but the fight scenes are jumbled and difficult to follow.

The story does take an interesting and unexpected twist at the end, and it's just barely enough to bring me back for the next issue - but that's about the only reason.

So far, the comic is shaping up as more like a Viggo and less like a Gozer. (To translate: it's more like the second movie than the first.) Bummer.

Grade: C-

Friday, October 17, 2008

Justice Society of America #19

For years now one of the best books DC Comics has produced has been the one starring the first super-team, the Justice Society of America.

As written by Geoff Johns, the series has included huge, world-shaking events and small, personal moments that bring a tear to the eye. Every story has felt important, and the stories were intelligent and thoughtful. Best of all, the classic characters from DC's earliest days are treated with love and respect, demonstrate why they're among the elite in the DC Universe, and have taken their place as leaders and parents.

But the book seemed to stumble slightly when the series was rebooted a year-and-a-half ago with the inevitable "new" issue #1. Suddenly Johns was bringing in an army of new characters, and the comic started to feel a bit top-heavy. There were so many heroes running around, you almost needed a scorecard to keep them straight.

Then the book introduced the "Kingdom Come" Superman - and then a seemingly omnipotent God-like character - and I was almost convinced that Johns had lost his magic touch.

But this storyline featuring the powerful Gog kept moving in odd directions. Gog is fearsome looking, but seems to be benevolent, as he cures the sick, feeds the hungry and generally goes around granting wishes.

But we're starting to see that things may not be as rosy as they seem - and this issue clears up the reason for the addition of so many characters (though I won't say why and spoil the treat for you).

Johns has several big stories building here, and it's difficult to say which one will crest first. It's been a slow story to unfold, but it looks like the patience of the reader is about to be rewarded in a big way.

The art is also excellent, from the terrific Alex Ross covers to the excellent interior art by Dale Eaglesham and Nathan Massengill. The art carries a crackling intensity that serves the story well. Terrific work!

Unless I miss my guess, this is a book that is about to shake the super-hero community to its roots. Definitely a story to keep an eye on.

And just let me apologize for ever doubting Johns. It won't happen again.

Grade: B+

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Mighty Avengers #19

When the Marvel Comics version of Captain Marvel first appeared in December 1967, I thought he was an interesting character. (And I loved the Gene Colan artwork.)

I'm not old enough to have bought the original (Fawcett Comics) Captain Marvel, and the character wasn't being published at the time, so it never occurred to me that Marvel was staking out its claim to the name.

Mar-vell (that's his real name, which earthlings "misheard") was a Captain with the warlike Kree (an alien race that had been introduced in the Fantastic Four's comic). He was sent to Earth to spy for the Kree, but soon found his allegiance shifting to our team, and he eventually rebelled against his superiors.

But the good Captain struggled to find an identity. He soon traded in his original green-and-white spacesuit for the cooler red-and-blue tights. He was trapped in the Negative Zone, and could only escape when Rick Jones found the Nega-Bands and struck them together, so the two could switch places temporarily.

Under Jim Starlin's skillful storytelling, he fought against Thanos, gained cosmic awareness, almost died, was saved, had more cosmic adventures, worked with the Avengers, found true love on Titan, and in a terrific graphic novel by Starlin, he faced death again - and lost.

And if Marvel had left it there, it would have been fine. The Captain Marvel title was passed on to other characters, but it never lasted. The "real" Cap made a few appearances (usually involving time travel or some kind of mystic hoo-hah), but it wasn't until the Civil War that Marvel Comics really messed with Mar-vell.

In a one-shot issue tied to that event, Mar-vell appears out of nowhere, having apparently been pulled from the past at some point before he died. Longtime fans everywhere let out a groan. The storyline seemed to have been plucked out of mid-air, and never really amounted to anything. They kept Cap off to the side before finally publishing a mini-series that revealed that Mar-vell wasn't who he seemed to be.

Which finally brings us to this issue of Mighty Avengers. (Whew!) The entire issue almost feels like an apology, as the ersatz Mar-vell spends the issue beating the whey out of super-powered Skrulls, and performing some stunts that would have been beyond the ability of the original Mar-vell (at least I don't think he could punch his way through spaceships like Superman - maybe I'm wrong here).

The story also brings in Grant Morrison's Marvel Boy (who's also a Kree), as fate brings the two Marvels together.

This isn't a bad issue, but it's not one of writer Brian Bendis' best efforts. It's just one long drawn-out fight sequence that doesn't really tell us much about the Skulls and their invasion plans - but it does seem to be setting up the next step for Marvel Boy.

The art by Khoi Pham is good for the most part - he handles the expressions of the characters and their physicality very well - but sometimes it's difficult to tell just what's going in from panel to panel. For example, on page 12 Cap is flying in an odd pose - it looks like he's twisting his body so his legs won't stick out of the frame. And there's not much flow to the fight sequences - we just see bodies being thrown around willy-nilly.

As to the story, I think the point was to show that even a fake Captain Marvel is a great hero, and in that way they honor the legacy of the original.

But to the editors at Marvel, let me just say: the best way to honor the original is to quit dragging his corpse out of the grave! Let him and his heroic legacy rest in peace.

Grade: C+

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Mom Still Calls Them "Funny Books"

A big week this time around. Here's what I picked up today at the comics shop:

- Mighty Avengers #19 - More Secret Invasion stuff, this time focusing on the Skrully Captain Marvel.

- Booster Gold #13 - a new creative team takes over. Do they have what it takes?

- Brave and the Bold #18 - the Supergirl and Raven team-up continues.

- Conan the Cimmerian #4 - This has been very good so far.

- Grant Morrison's Doctor Who #1
- And I thought the Doctor belonged to the world.

- Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #2 (of 5) - Johns and Perez and a few dozen Legionnaires? Couldn't pass that up.

- Final Crisis: Rogue's Revenge #3 (of 3) - Johns again. He's everywhere, isn't he?

- The Flash #245 - Looking forward to Barry's return, though I enjoy Wally's adventures, too.

- Justice Society of America #19 - Johns has been laying the groundwork for something big here, and it's finally breaking loose.

- Ghostbusters: The Other Side #1 - Couldn't pass it up.

- Amazing Spider-Man #573
- Guest starring Stephen Colbert?

- The Spirit #22 - Hope springs eternal.

- Star Trek: Romulans: The Hollow Crown #2 - The first one was good, so hopefully this is more of the same. Only different.

- Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #1 (of 1) - Wow, it's been a while since the last issue came out.

- Trinity #20 - Five months down, seven to go.

- Ultimate Origins #5 (of 5)
- Presumably, it'll all be explained here. Maybe.

- Uncanny X-Men #503 - I haven't read the story yet, but the cover is awesome.

And that's it!

The Twelve #8 (of 12)

It's always amazing to watch a creative team take a time-worn idea and make it work. That's exactly what writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Chris Weston have managed to do with The Twelve.

The story focuses on 11 heroes who were placed in suspended animation when they were captured by the Nazis during World War II. The 12th member of the team is the robot Electro - it was essentially turned off and left with the others.

Is there a World War II hero other than Namor who wasn't put in suspended animation and revived in "modern" times? Yes, I'm exaggerating - but you have to admit it's a long list. Heck, even the Red Skull used that excuse!

Anyway, the 12 heroes are revived when their tomb is uncovered in 2008 - and now they try to adjust to a world that is very different from the one they knew.

The team is made up of B-list characters who were featured in Timely Comics (today the company is known as Marvel Comics, natch), so you have an interesting mix of masked vigilantes with no powers and a few incredibly powerful figures.

Straczynski has done a masterful job of bringing us up to speed on the lives of these characters, and the terrible ramifications of losing 60 years of your life. Despite the large cast, he's maintained a good balance between super-heroics and the human story of these people.

Weston is a vastly underrated talent, and he's doing incredible work here, and putting a stunning amount of realistic detail into his work. The book is worth buying just for the art!

Having said all that, I have to admit that this issue is one of the weakest in the run, although it's still superior to most comics on the stands - it just suffers by comparison to the other issues in the run. This issue focuses on the one female in the group - The Black Widow (no relation to the modern-day Marvel super-spy).

As past issues have shown, she hunts down evildoers at the behest of some kind of demonic power - but her origin ends up being just the standard deal with a devil - I was hoping for more.

Still, this has been an excellent series and seems to be building up to a big finish. The real shame is that we only have four more issues to enjoy - it'll be over far too soon.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Trinity #19

The idea of a weekly comic book has been tried before, but it wasn't until two-and-a-half years ago that a successful weekly appeared - DC's 52, which branched off from Infinite Crisis.

That success led to last year's follow-up, the less-successful Countdown, which was intended to lead into the Final Crisis, though it did so in a clumsy manner.

Now we have Trinity, which doesn't seem to have any connection to another series at all (though presumably it could be leading up to one). The book's focus is on the "Big 3" - Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman - and so far it's been something of a roller coaster ride.

Which is to say, some issues have been very good, and some have been just so-so. The basic idea is that the "Big 3" are somehow linked as a trinity, and their influence has affected the real world of the DC Universe. Along comes three bad guys - Morgana, Despero and Enigma, who set out to take the place of our heroes and reshape the world.

As this issue picks up, the bad guys have succeeded, and the last two issues have been laying the groundwork, explaining the new reality to the readers.

It's obvious that writer Kurt Busiek has put a lot of work and a lot of thought into the new status quo, but the story is pretty deep in the weeds, as heroes and civilians try to understand their place in the new world. I'm not sure they're any more confused than the reader.

I think the problem I have with the comic is that we've had an overload of these "retooled reality" stories, and while Busiek is a good enough writer to carry it off, I'm just tired of the concept. Busiek did the same thing when he took over the Avengers (with George Perez), Loeb did an alternate reality story in the Superman/Batman comic, and we're seeing it now in Final Crisis - and those are just three off the top of my head!

Mark Bagley continues to serve up excellent artwork here - I really think he's the heir apparent to the mantle of Gil Kane. Their styles are somewhat similar, though Bagley gives it his own spin. And the fact that he can maintain this 12-pages-a-week schedule is a tribute to his professionalism.

DC deserves a lot of credit for managing to serve up a weekly comic like this - the logistics must be a difficult chore at best - and the quality of the work is strong. But this single issue isn't the best of the bunch, and would be an impossible spot for a new reader to jump on - it's just too much to sort out. Hopefully it'll all clear up soon.

Grade: C+

Monday, October 13, 2008

Avengers / Invaders #5 (of 12)

This comic should be the equivalent of comics porn for longtime fans.

Anytime you provide a crossover between two super-teams, most superhero fans will start salivating. For a longtime Marvel fan, the idea of the modern-day Avengers meeting the World War II-era Invaders sounds fantastic! (Of course, it's happened before, and past events were fun.)

The comic has lots of great characters, lots of story possibilities - and it's the brainchild of painter Alex Ross, who sits at the top of most "fan favorite cover artist" lists.

So why am I not enjoying this comic? Where should I start?

The biggest problem is the plot, which is what's known as an "idiot plot." In other words, it only works if everyone involved keeps acting like an idiot. From the first meeting of the teams, it's been the old Marvel standard "heroes meet, have a misunderstanding, fight, then figure it out and work together." Unfortunately, five issues in and we're still stuck on level #3 (fighting). Let's move things along, shall we?

The story falls somewhere before the Secret Invasion, so you have the Mighty Avengers being opposed by the New Avengers - a storyline the Invasion has apparently put an end to, and none too soon - it was a weak idea. And it just rolls on and on in this story, adding yet another level of frustration to the events.

There are certainly lots of differences in America today, but it's scarcely commented on - wouldn't that have made for an interesting storyline? Surely tuning into what passes for television entertainment would be a shock to Cap's system. Maybe it was too obvious.

The main failing of all time travel stories is that we know, in the end, all will be put right, and in this story, we have Bucky and Namor meeting their modern-day counterparts, who say, "I remember this." Neither one seems particularly worried about the turn of events.

For time travel stories to work, the writer must keep track of all the time elements - so how does the original Human Torch remember events from 1945 when he was brought back in time from 1943?

Enough negatives - there are good things about this comic. The covers by Ross are great - this one captures that crowded feel of Golden Age covers nicely. The interior art by Steve Sadowski and Patrick Berkenkotter is also very good, and they manage to keep order despite a literal army of characters to deal with.

And while I haven't been crazy about Alex Ross and Jim Kreuger's story so far, the ending to this issue does introduce an interesting plotline involving the Torch.

So I'll keep buying the Avengers/Invaders comic - I just wish I enjoyed it more.

Grade: C-

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Green Lantern #35


It's difficult to stretch my brain back to the first days of my comics-buying habit (this being the early '60s), but my interest was held by DC's comics, with occasional purchases of Superman and Batman-related comics.

But I'm pretty sure the first hero whose adventures I followed faithfully (or as faithfully as local distribution would allow) was The Flash. That comic quickly led me to Barry Allen's best friend among the DC heroes, Green Lantern (of course, I'm talking Hal Jordan here).

As depicted by Gil Kane, GL was a natural for comics, wielding a ring of power that could create virtually anything. His early adventures were terrific, and even though the later years were often unkind to Hal, you could always see the potential there, and often it shone through.

At least up until the point where they made Hal a mass murderer. At that point I walked away from the GL title for a long time.

It's a real credit to Geoff Johns that he was able to correct the many injustices perpetrated on Hal, and restore him to his proper place at the top of the DC pantheon. (I look forward to seeing him do the same with Barry Allen.)

Since that revival Johns has crafted some amazing stories, including the recent Sinestro War. The DC Universe is presently mired in the Final Crisis, so Johns was clever and dedicated the last seven issues of Green Lantern to telling Hal's Secret Origin, which clears up a number of questions from Hal's early days and thankfully seems to excise the terrible "Hal as a drunk driver" storyline we suffered through before.

Which brings us to the latest issue, in which Hal and Sinestro (who's still a Green Lantern at this point) form a grudging partnership and must face a blistering interrogation from the Guardians of the Universe. It's another excellent addition to the story Johns is building, and offers more insight to the schemes at work in the present day.

The art is quite good - penciller Ivan Reis manages to make an interrogation exciting, interesting and easy to follow - not many artists could do that. And he makes the Guardians menacing - that really surprised me.

As a long-time fan, it's heartwarming to see one of my childhood heroes back in top form, and being handled with intelligence and respect. Every comics character should be so lucky!

Grade: A-

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Goon #29

Unless you have more money than you know what to do with, it's pretty much impossible to buy every comic every week.

What that means is: sooner or later, a comic you would enjoy reading flies under the radar. As a result, many comic fans find themselves scrambling to catch up on the ones that got away. (For example, I didn't start reading Sandman until issue #8. Thank goodness for collections!)

Several of my comic book reading friends have been raving about the comic book starring The Goon, so I finally decided to give it a try.

I told my friend James that I had picked up issue #28, and he told me I had made a mistake. "It's a fill-in issue," he said. "It's the worst issue of The Goon I've seen. Be sure to buy the next issue."

So I decided to reserve judgment until the next issue. And now that I've read it - I still don't get it. Oh, the art by Eric Powell (who also wrote the comic) is a lot of fun, and his enthusiasm leaps off the page. I also enjoyed his recent run as artist on Action Comics.

And my problems with the story may very well be tied to the fact that I'm not familiar with the characters. The title character is a brute of a guy who hangs out in a bar, dishing out punishment or abuse to just about everyone who shows up.

For obscure reasons, a supernatural creature shows up at the bar, looking for a character called The Priest, and a big fight ensues.

I'll grant that I need to read a few more issues, or perhaps a collection or two before I can get a handle on The Goon, but my first impression is that it's just a knockoff of the excellentHellboy comic.

But I'll reserve judgment until I have more information to go on.

Some years back, someone pointed out that every comic is potentially someone's first issue - so it's a good idea to give that new reader the basic information they need to follow along. In that, The Goon fails miserably. But I'll give the comic a few more tries to show me what it is that made my friends such big fans.

Grade: C-

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Invincible Iron Man #6

Iron Man was one of my favorite Marvel heroes for years. Then he wasn't. Then he was. Then he wasn't. Now he is again.

I know, I'm fickle - but let me explain. The original concept of Iron Man was absolute genius. We start with the millionaire playboy Tony Stark (this being a time when a million dollars was a lot of money). You probably know his origin story - he was caught in an explosion, captured by the enemy, forced to built a suit of armor to keep his heart beating, decided to dedicate his life to fighting the bad guys, etc.

So here's a hero who could be any of us, if we only had that cool suit of armor. And a few million dollars. Despite his tragic heart condition (which offers lots of chances for drama), he's a brilliant inventor, leads an active social life with supermodels chasing after him, and he's a founding member of the Avengers. Did I mention that he's incredibly rich?

This was the Iron Man I grew up reading in Tales of Suspense and into his own title, and I enjoyed his adventures - including such classics as his first battle with the Titanium Man (by Stan Lee, Don Heck and Wally Wood), his battles with the Mandarin (including art by Gene Colan) and his later struggles with alcoholism (by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton).

Then they decided to reboot him as teenage Tony Stark (don't ask), and I lost interest. Then they restored him to the status quo, and I was interested again. Then came the Civil War, and they managed to make Tony into one of the greatest villains in the history of the Marvel Universe, as he created gulags, imprisoned heroes, employed villains as muscle, and created a murderous clone of one of his best friends. For the first time in about 40 years, I stopped buying the Iron Man comic.

Then the movie came along, and Marvel was smart enough to do a comic that featured the film version of Tony Stark (I trust you all saw the movie) - which brings us the The Invincible Iron Man, the newest incarnation of the character.

It features a story by Matt Fraction and art by Salvador Larroca, and both are excellent. The story brings Tony back to his origins, as a brilliant inventor, a daring hero, fighting overwhelming odds with intelligence and compassion. Oh, and now he's a billionaire. The comic has been exceptional, and once again, I'm a fan.

Glad to have you back again, Tony. Loved your movie, too.

Grade: A-

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Action Comics #870

It's an indication of just how much a part of modern culture comic books have become. Still, it was a surprise to turn to the news this morning and see stories devoted to the story events that unfold at the end of this issue of Action Comics.

What a difference! Comic books have spent the better part of a century being considered little better than trash, or fit only for children. Most adult readers my age spent years hiding the fact that they read or collected comics. I remember running into a woman I knew at a newsstand years ago - I was buying a few comics. She saw my selections, looked down her nose and said, "Going through your second childhood, Chuck?"

Now comics are the basis for the biggest movies of the year (Batman and Iron Man, of course). Graphic novels are regularly reviewed in newspapers and entertainment magazines. I'm not sure we've reached the point where an adult can sit on a park bench and read a comic without "fear" of being judged, but surely we're close. When major news outlets are reporting on plotlines like the death of Captain America, the unmasking of Spider-Man, or the events in this issue, you have to think the long-awaited "sea change" must be at hand.

Since the management at Chuck's Comic of the Day is devoted to reviews that don't spoil the story, I'm not going to say what shocking event happens - it's the kind of thing you should read for yourself.

But we can talk about the comic in general! As the story begins, we find Superman trapped by Brainiac, who has just fired a missile at the sun. When it hits, the sun will explode in a supernova and the Earth will go the way of Krypton and many other worlds Brainiac has destroyed.

The titanic battle which follows, as created by writer Geoff Johns, penciller Gary Frank and inker Jon Sibal (& Bit), is perhaps the best conflict we've seen in a Superman comic in a decade, and the story alternates between brutal fights, moments of tenderness, a sense of wonder and terrible tragedy.

The events in this issue really do change the status quo for the Man of Steel - in a way that lays the foundation for any number of stories in the future.

It's very simple: if you're not reading Action Comics, you're missing a classic.

Grade: A

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Day in Comics

Here are the comics I picked up today at the comics shop:

- Action Comics #870 - An excellent wrap-up to the Brainiac story, with a shocking and sad conclusion, well handled, that actually made the news reports today.

- Avengers/Invaders #5 - As much as I like the idea behind this book, and as much as I like Alex Ross' art, this story has been leaving me cold so far.

- The Goon #29 - Somehow this book has flown under my radar, but at the insistence of friends who love it, I'm giving it a shot.

- Green Lantern #35 - This has been one of DC's best books of late.

- Green Lantern Corps #29 - This has been a good companion book to GL.

- Inhumans: Secret Invasion #3 (of 4) - This one has been solid so far, as the Royal Family heads out on a rescue mission.

- Invincible Iron Man #6 - This has been very good so far, mostly due to the fact that it's a story about the film version of Tony Stark, rather than the Civil War version or the smarmy Ultimate Universe version.

- Trinity #19 - This one got very interesting a couple of issues back, but now it's deep in the alternate reality thing. Bleh.

- The Twelve #8 - A good, if dark, story is unfolding here. An excellent book.

- Alter Ego 81 - Which actually came out last week, but I missed it. An excellent magazine and an invaluable archive devoted to comics history.

That's it!

Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake: The Laughing Corpse #1 (of 5)

I have to admit right up front that I've never read any of the numerous books written by Laurell K. Hamilton about Anita Blake, who's known as The Executioner.

Anita lives in a world where supernatural creatures are a fact of life, and vampires and werewolves are common. Anita is a multi-talented woman - she's an Animator, which has nothing to do with cartoons. She can raise the dead as zombies, which comes in handy if you need to interview someone to find out how they were killed. She's also a court-appointed vampire executioner, so she obviously leads a busy life.

The comic is an adaptation of the original story by Hamilton, with Jess Rufner handling the writing, and comics veteran Ron Lim providing the art, with colors by June Chung.

And when did Lim start channeling John Byrne? Some of the faces look like they were lifted right from Byrne's playbook - see page 4 for several good examples. Despite the similarities, Lim is no Byrne. Lim's art has always been solid, though unexceptional - he's a solid, dependable artist. You rarely get anything flashy from Lim, but it is a professional job.

As to the story, it's a decent beginning, as several different storylines are put in place, including a strange request from a wealthy man, the trials of being a bridesmaid, and an investigation into a gruesome murder.

Perhaps it's natural in an adaptation like this, but the comic leans a bit too hard on captions to tell the story - the first two pages are especially word-heavy. My only other major criticism is that the comic doesn't end or lead into the next issue - they just seem to have chopped off the story virtually in mid-sentence. Perhaps it was originally intended for a different format? Whatever the case, this should have been fixed.

This isn't a bad comic at all, and I suspect fans of the original books will enjoy it a lot. I'm not sure if superhero comics fan will care for a book with virtually no action and a smattering of horror, but it's certainly worth a try - although they might be better advised to wait for the collection.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Supergirl #34

It's the question that has plagued comics companies since they began publishing their four-color wares: why can't a super-powered female be the star of a successful comic?

The only exception to the rule is Wonder Woman, though some might argue about the success of her sales.

The companies have certainly tried, and the quarter bins are littered with well-intentioned comics (some of them quite good) that just didn't catch on: Spider-Woman, Amethyst, Elektra and Hawkgirl, to name a few.

Add to the list several different incarnations of Supergirl, from her original appearance in the 1960s as Superman's cute little cousin, to her later growth into a young adult who was killed in the first Crisis on Infinite Earths. She was eventually brought back as some kind of android, which was merged with a young woman who was sort of an angel, then they did away with that version and brought her back as Kara Zor-El, once again Superman's cousin and a teenager again. (Ah, the magic of reboots.)

But despite a strong start (her return was featured in the Superman/Batman comic), the character has been meandering around the DC Universe ever since, sometimes being fun and interesting (see Waid and Perez's Brave and the Bold), and sometimes barely necessary.

If the plan is to give the Girl of Steel an actual direction, this comic is a good start. It's a quiet issue (aside from the opening battle with the Silver Banshee), as Kara realizes she's made some mistakes and begins to question her purpose. She seeks guidance from the ones she trusts the most - and finds a kindred spirit along the way.

It's a nice start by writer Sterling Gates, who does a good job fleshing out the supporting cast, and making Kara more than a paper-thin character. The artwork is also excellent, and penciller Jamal Igle and inker Keith Champagne turn in a strong effort, both with the action sequences and the quieter moments. Supergirl is depicted as an actual teenager - cute, but not ridiculously oversexed or pumped up.

The creative team still has a lot of work ahead of them, but they're off to a great start. If they keep up the momentum, maybe Wonder Woman will have some company over there on the "success" side of the aisle.

Grade: B+

Monday, October 6, 2008

Marvel Apes #3 (of 4)

My first reaction to the Marvel Apes book was, "Who thought this was a good idea?"

Let's face it, when DC does stories with apes, it's cute. It has a little nostalgic kick for those of us who were buying comics in the '50s and '60s, when DC would regularly put a gorilla on the cover to boost sales.

That's where Gorilla Grodd came from, and Beppo the Super-Monkey, and Titano, the Giant Ape, and Congorilla, to name four. Sales figures showed that comics with monkeys on the cover sold well. (Hey, it was a simpler time and comics fans were easily distracted.) It's a time-honored tradition at DC, and they trot it out every now and then for long-time fans and the artists who just like drawing monkeys (I'm looking at you, Art Adams and Frank Cho).

But for Marvel to do a book like this, it just feels like a cheap dig at the competition. Marvel has its own traditions to draw on - teams splitting up, giant space aliens with cool names like Goo Gam or Tim Boo Bah or Zzzax attacking the Earth, heroes battling each other after a misunderstanding - these are Marvel's touchstones.

Marvel Apes is not a funny animal takeoff (see Peter Porker, Spider-Ham), but a (relatively) serious alternate universe where simians are the dominant life-form, and virtually every hero from Marvel's Earth has an ape-based counterpart.

Crossing over to this planet is former Spider-Man villain-turned-hero The Gibbon, and he finds himself in the middle of a battle between a decades-old evil and the heroes of this reality.

And it almost works, thanks to the skills of writer Karl Kesel and artist Ramon Bachs, who should both be given a better concept to tackle. More than once, I was reading along, thinking, "This is a great idea and should be used in the real Marvel Comics line." Then I realized I was reading about monkeys, and they were spouting the usual bad puns - it pulled me right out of the story.

I have nothing against animal-based stories, and I have a near-complete collection of Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew to prove it.

But I just can't get past how "off" the concept of Marvel Apes feels. Marvel made its name being "The House of Ideas" - and frankly, swiping an old shtick from your competitor just seems like a bad idea.

Grade: C-

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Justice League of America #25

I really had high hopes when I heard that Dwayne McDuffie was taking over as writer of the Justice League of America.

He's done excellent work in the past, most notably on the underrated Static and a recent strong run on the Fantastic Four. Even better, he wrote some great stories for the recent cartoon version of the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.

Sadly, that Dwayne has not been much in evidence yet. Perhaps it's because the title has been plagued by company crossovers, or maybe he just hasn't been there long enough to put his stamp on the book - but for whatever reason, the comic has just been... ok.

Maybe it's all about expectations. The book hasn't been bad at all, it just hasn't been exceptional. He does have a good grip on the characterization of each member, and they all speak in a distinct voice.

This issue is another good example, as we get some closure with the Red Tornado's story and some insight into the Hawkgirl / Red Arrow romance. That all works fine, but the main storyline shows us the reasons behind Vixen's recent problems with her powers, and there the comic just spins its wheels. Despite the fact that it's a double-sized issue, the League doesn't have much to do, and most of the story is a dream-like series of events that will obviously be quickly undone.

There's an all-star lineup of artists on display in the issue, and they turn in some excellent work - including Ed Benes, Doug Mahnke, Darick Robertson, Shane Davis, Ian Churchill, Ivan Reis and an army of inkers.

I really want to like this comic, and I keep thinking it's going to be great - but I'm still waiting for the real Dwayne McDuffie to turn up and show us how the JLA is done. I know he's out there somewhere!

Grade: B

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Top 10: Season Two #1

Just when it seemed the brand was dead and gone, America's Best Comics springs from the grave, bringing with it one of the line's best titles: Top 10. (Though to be fair, the line didn't have any poor titles - they were all very good.)

For those who missed it the first time around, Top 10 is what you get when you throw the Hill Street Blues TV show into a blender, toss in a healthy mix of super-powers, a dash of soap opera, mix it all up and place it in a dark but darned interesting alternate universe. To translate: it's a superhero cop show.

Virtually every character in the comic has some kind of super-power. Some are useful, and some are marginal, and the combination of characters and crime drama make for a really interesting foundation.

Under Alan Moore, this was a terrific book (I know, you're shocked), so the question is, how does new writer Zander Cannon (with Kevin Cannon) manage? The answer: quite well, thank you. He brings in some new characters that are very promising, and kicks off "Season Two" with a powerful mystery, as a dozen bodies materialize on the steps of the police station. Add in several other storylines, including a new cop on the beat, a drug investigation that leads to a shocking suspect, and a new boss, and you have a good mix percolating.

Thankfully, the art continues in the more than capable hands of Gene Ha, who co-created the book with Moore. Ha's work is fantastic, very detailed and filled with Easter eggs - keep an eye on those wide shots, you never know who's going to put in a cameo. (Is that Granny Goodness and Black Goliath on page 4?) The coloring seems a bit muddy, but that goes along with the feel of the book.

It's still early, but Top 10 is off to a great start, and well on its way to joining the hit parade.

(Sorry.)

Grade: B+

Friday, October 3, 2008

Punisher: War Journal #24

The Punisher is probably everyone's favorite comic book mass murderer, with the exception of Wolverine, although Frank Castle almost certainly has a higher body count.

This issue of Punisher: War Zone certainly adds to the tally, although the victims are all Skrulls, so that takes some of the sting off. And how amazing is it that this issue crosses over with the Secret Invasion? Fighting aliens isn't really the Punisher's usual turf. Even more stunning - there's not a word on the cover promoting the fact! You'll never pump up the Punisher's sales without promoting your wares, Marvel!

The Punisher has been around for quite a while now. He first appeared in an issue of Amazing Spider-Man in the '70s (if I remember correctly) and was presented as an obvious knock-off of the popular paperback vigilante Mack Bolan: The Executioner, as written by Don Pendleton. Their origins were similar: criminals kill their families, and each Vietnam War veteran vows revenge and uses his skills to kill lots of criminals. The Punisher was one of the first "good guys" to actively try to kill the "bad guys."

As this issue begins, Frank is a high-tech prison, but he's released when the Skrulls attack nearby Manhattan. Seizing the opportunity, he loads up on weapons and goes on a gleeful killing spree, taking out truckloads of green-skinned targets.

Despite the odd choice of opponents, the story by Matt Fraction and Rick Remender is sharp and well managed. It's thin on plot - there's not much in the way of analysis going on here, just lots of killing - but it's fun in a grisly way and moves at a breakneck pace.

The art is fantastic, and why is it no one told me that Howard Chaykin was doing the art on this comic? Chaykin's a long-time favorite, having turned in decades of excellent work on everything from the original adaptation of Star Wars to the classic American Flagg (to name only two). He hasn't lost a step, providing dynamic art, including a striking double-page spread of the invasion, and some great closeups - note Frank's gleeful expression in the closeup on the bottom of page 16.

I should admit that I've never been a huge Punisher fan, although there have certainly been some excellent stories in the past. The art in this one is great, and the story's solid, but it's just barely a Punisher story - so it's only recommended for Secret Invasion completists or fans of Chaykin. Or those who like to see lots of bad guys getting killed.

Grade: C+

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Batman #680

It seems amazing that just when Batman stars in the movie of the year (the second-highest grossing movie ever), that's when DC unleashes Grant Morrison and lets him write the most impenetrable Batman story ever.

I'm not saying it's bad, although it is a bit difficult to follow from month-to-month (and will probably read better as a collection). A better label would be to say it's unsettling, as we follow Batman through a mind-bending, insane battle with a strange group of opponents who have, seemingly, destroyed his life.

As I understand the story so far, Batman has suffered an attack on his mind from a group led by The Black Glove. The bad guys have taken over the Batcave and Wayne Manor, kidnapped all the immediate members of the Batman family, and have prepared a final trap.

Throwing a wicked monkey wrench into the works is the Joker, who has been reimagined by Grant Morrison into the spitting image of the movie version played so chillingly by the late Heath Ledger.

I really don't want to like this story - I was never a fan of the "hero goes crazy" stories (see the Genis version of Captain Mar-Vell). But Morrison won me over by tying this story back to the classic comic, "Robin Dies at Dawn," which I first read in a '60s Batman Annual. By coincidence, I picked up at Beat-To-Heck copy of the original comic at a convention a little over a year ago - and it held up well. I also have to smile at Morrison's inclusion of the Bat-Mite, as the reader wonders if the character is real, or a product of Batman's insanity.

The story is well-served by the solid artwork of Tony Daniel and Sandu Florea, who provide a moody and somewhat surreal look to the action.

It's tough to give this one a grade, since so much depends on the final issue next month. And some events are very fragmented - for example, what happens to Nightwing after the events on page 5? I have no idea, since I don't read that comic.

So far it has been a tough read, but we'll see if Morrison can sort it all out. But I definitely wouldn't recommend this book to a new reader - heck, I've been reading Batman for years and I'm confused.

Grade: B-

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Chuck's Comics & Stories

Wednesday is comic book day, so here's a list of the comics I picked up today.

It was a lean day - in fact, I had to pick up a few books I usually don't buy just to make it through the week.

I got:

- Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter: The Laughing Corpse #1 of 5 - I know nothing about it, but is that a long enough title or what?

- Batman #680 - the next-to-the-last issue of the RIP story. Perhaps it'll start making more sense now.

- Justice League of America #25 - I believe this is the comic that last issue's cover was meant for.

- Marvel Apes #3 of 4 - I just don't know what to think of this. Usually, anything is better when you add a monkey - but this may be the exception.

- Punisher: War Journal #24 - Amazingly, it's a Secret Invasion tie-in, but there's no mention of it on the cover.

- Supergirl #34 - the Superman books have been great lately - let's see if that carries over to this title.

- Top 10: Season Two #1 - An excellent series under Alan Moore - hopefully Xander Cannon can fill some big shoes.

- Trinity #18 - Another day, another reality shift.

And that's it!

Hulk #6

If bad comics are more fun to review, then this issue should be a blast.

In case you haven't been following this version of the Hulk, the storyline started after the (somewhat disappointing) end of the World War Hulk miniseries.

Bruce Banner, the green Hulk, was imprisoned by the military, but a new creature appeared - the Red Hulk. Each issue mainly consisted of big Red either killing a character (using a really big gun) or just beating the tar out of someone for no apparent reason.

The story was also set up as a mystery, with the question being: who is the Red Hulk? The goal seemed to be creating more and more preposterous stories and situations. In that, they succeeded.

My personal favorite moment took place in issue #5, as Red Hulk fought Thor, and in the battle Red grabbed Thor's hammer, jumped along with the Thunder God to the moon, and then jumped back again, landing in the desert.

Now, I'm all for suspending my disbelief, but this is so preposterous that I'd have to take my disbelief out back and hit it with a sledgehammer. Jumping to the moon is a stunt you would usually only see in a Silver Age Superman comic (my personal favorite is Superboy standing on his head and moving the Earth slightly out of its orbit). Remember, kids, the moon is incredibly far away. It took the Apollo astronauts three days to reach it, traveling at incredible speeds! (This hearkens back to the Nick Fury issue in the '80s where Nick flew a space shuttle from Earth orbit to the moon "because the moon was closer," landed, fought a monster, took off again, and returned to Earth. It took all my self-control to keep from burning that comic.) So many impossibilities, so little time.

So this issue has Iron Man gathering powerful heroes to fight Red - but instead they have to keep San Francisco from sliding into the ocean. The fight is between the (now freed) original Hulk and Red, with Thor and a few other characters popping up out of the blue to chime in.

I try not to spoil any plot points at this site, but I have to tell you, after teasing the big mystery of "Who is the Red Hulk," the comic manages to top its previous silliness by reaching the end without solving the mystery! All the suspects somehow materialize at the site in the desert long enough to show that they're not Red - but the question still hangs at the story's end.

I should point out that none of the blame for this story should hang on penciller Ed McGuinness or inker Dexter Vines - they turn in artwork that's powerful, energetic and larger than life.

The heat has to go on writer Jeph Loeb (or his editors). I suspect he was just trying to build a big, fun-loving story about a murdering monster, but this one got away from him, lost its sense of internal logic and fell apart at the end.

It will be interesting to see where the real Hulk goes from here, but we can only hope we've seen the last of big Red. I don't mind the Hulk going back to his original simple-minded self, but I hate it when his stories are dumb.

Grade: D