Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Top Ten Comic Books of 2009

Personally, I hate those "Top 10" lists - I never agree with them, they seem arbitrary, and there's always a comic out there somewhere that's left off unfairly.

Despite that, I always read them - what can I say?

Here, then, is my personal list of the best of 2009. I looked through the (approximately) 300 reviews of new comics I wrote this year (!!), and selected the ones with the highest grades for the final cut. I was surprised to find that only four comics received the highest grade (A+) - so that's where the top four came from.

(By the way, if you're wondering what the worst comic of the year is, it's Ultimatum.)

I will cheat a bit and list some "Honorary Mentions" - darn good comics that just missed the cut. They are:
- Blackest Night
- Invincible Iron Man
- Secret Warriors
- Kull
- Jonah Hex
- Scott Pilgrim
- New Avengers
- Power Girl
- Incognito
- Ultimate Spider-Man
Now, on to the finalists:

#10 - Planetary #27

It was a mighty long wait for this one, but well worth it.

Planetary tells the story of a small group of super-powered heroes who roam the world, solving mysteries and putting together the pieces of a universe-shaking puzzle.

The series was the perfect team-up of two terrific talents. Writer Warren Ellis managed to work in an amazing number of references to past comics, pulps, science fiction and films, all bound together by a compelling story that stretched the bounds of comic books.

Artist John Cassaday used this comic to show that he's one of (if not THE) best artists working in comic today. With a style of his own, he also manages to combine the best of Steranko, Severin, Wood, Perez and McGuire. His images are big, bold and dynamic, and he brings iconic characters to life, evoking the inspiration without copying outright. If you doubt it, just pick up the comic and look at the fold-out cover, which recaps the series all by itself. What a poster it would make!

This final issue intelligently wraps up one last plot point and points the characters into the future in a touching way. I'm not sure it would make a lot of sense to anyone who hadn't read any of the previous issues, but to fans, it's a great wrap-up to an outstanding series that should enjoy a long life in collected form.

#9 - Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #3

If there was an award for "geekiest comic book series of the year," then Legion of 3 Worlds would win by a landslide.

And I don't mean that in any sort of derogatory sense - I write those words with respect to a team who is writing the ultimate Legion story.

I imagine writer Geoff Johns smiling the whole time he was writing this comic. He's loaded it with all kinds of characters from the Legion's past, he's infused it with drama and humor, and tons of in-jokes and asides that only diehard Legion fans will get.

I suspect artist George Perez had that same smile on his face while he was penciling these pages, loading them with insane amounts of detail, dozens and dozens of characters, both familiar and obscure, and putting together not one but two team splashes with an army of Legionnaires filling the panel. He also provides a double-page battle splash that has to be seen to be believed.

In fairness, I also suspect inker Scott Koblish had a near-heart attack when he saw how detailed some of these pages are. But he still did an amazing job.

The story? It boils down to all the bad guys teaming up to fight all the good guys. It's a terrific series, and one no Legion fan should miss.

#8 - Green Lantern #46

Geoff Johns is one of the most successful writers in comics today, and one of the reasons for that is: he knows how to plant seeds. Which is to say, he manages to place information in earlier stories that seem to be insignificant at the time. Then he adds more information as the story builds, until he finally unveils the secret behind that seed, and the reader can only say, "Wow."

A good example in this issue of Green Lantern goes back to an earlier story that mentioned the loving couple at the heart of the Star Sapphires. They are unidentifiable and frozen like statues, and it's a bit of background information you don't give much thought to - until the secret behind their true identity is revealed, and all you can say is... well, you know.

And that's just a small part of this issue, as the Black Lanterns attack, Sinestro finally faces Mongul for control of the Yellow Lanterns, and... well, lots of stuff is going on here. It's to John's credit that despite the numerous storylines running, you never feel lost as you follow along, and the story just keeps building on itself.

I don't want to overlook the outstanding work being done by artist Doug Mahnke, who's turning in excellent work on a heck of a challenging assignment, given the huge cast and the big events he's depicting. And that double-page spread at the climax of the fight between Sinestro and Mongul - it's the kind of thing that makes you say "Wow," too.

#7 - Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #7

One of the many real delights in stories about Hellboy is how he reacts when faced with his dark destiny.

Can he change his future? Do the whispers in the shadows truly reveal the end of the world? Can a creature like Hellboy fight fate, or is he doomed to follow the path laid out before him?

That's the powerful story Mike Mignola is unfolding before us, and it's one not to be missed.

And if Mignola only has time to draw the covers, we can be thankful that the interiors are in the skilled hands of Duncan Fegredo, whose style complements Mignola's while offering his own dark, detailed and powerful visions.

Here Mignola draws Hellboy into one of England's most potent mythologies (and my personal favorite), and there's no telling where the story goes from here.

Isn't that great?

#6 - Conan the Cimmerian #13

Here's a comic that seems to fly under the radar of most fans.

That's a shame, because Conan of Cimmeria is consistently an excellent read.

This issue wraps up the six-part adaptation of Robert E. Howard's story Black Colossus, and it's outstanding. Writer Tim Truman has an excellent grasp of the Hyborean Age, the brutality of armed combat and the dark magic that fills the shadows (and our nightmares). I'm not sure how much of the comic script is Howard and how much is Truman, but it all reads like Howard, and that's the highest compliment I can pay any writer.

The art is by Tomas Giorello, with color by Jose Villarruria, and what a fantastic job they do here, especially considering it's one of those jobs that has to be a nightmare for any artist. "Draw 500 horsemen racing down a hill toward an invading army of thousands of Stygians." But they manage it with great power and skill. They evoke horror, fear and brutality, and still manage to draw one of the sexiest women in comics with the barely-covered Princess Yasmela.

Back when Roy Thomas left the Conan books in the '80s and other writers took his place, I thought the series could never be that good again.

That's one of those rare moments when I'm glad to be proven wrong. Kurt Busiek got this series off to a great start, and now Truman is carrying the banner high. If you're not reading this series, you're missing out.

#5 - Captain America: Reborn #1

We can be thankful that fiction isn't bound by the same rules as the real world.

In the world of imagination, death is overturned all the time, and characters who had gone to join the heavenly choir are often able to make the trip back to join the living.

After a couple of years, Marvel is finally doing just that to Captain America.

It's hard to imagine any fans out there believing that Cap's death was any more permanent than Superman's was or Batman's will be - but the true test of a story is how the dramatic twist is resolved.

Spinning out of issue #600, we have a special Reborn mini-series explaining just how Cap could still be alive - quite a trick, since we saw his cold dead body.

Thankfully, they're not copping out with a silly explanation - the reveal provides a story that has a good science fiction legacy (paging Mr. Vonnegut), and has the comic's entire supporting cast working to solve the mystery and bring Steve back from the "other side."

As always, writer Ed Brubaker provides an outstanding script, and the book features top-of-the-line art from Bryan Hitch, one of the best in the business, and Butch Guice, an artist who used to be really good, but now I'd categorize as nothing less than great. His recent work has reflected his growth as an artist, and his work packs a powerful, realistic punch. The styles of both artists mesh very well - they're the perfect team to work on this book.


#4 - Detective Comics #853

This is the second half of Neil Gaiman's "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" story (the first half appeared in Batman #686).

This issue of Detective Comics almost defies reviewing - or at least it's difficult to talk about without revealing key points. And what a unique, unusual and original story it is! So nice to see Gaiman's work in comics again.

He's well matched with the art of Andy Kubert, who manages to meld together a number of different art styles, characters and settings to create one of the most unusual Batman stories ever. Just amazing work here.

As to the story, it continues where the first issue left off. Characters from Batman's long history gather at what appears to be Batman's funeral. Each one gets up to speak about how Batman died, and each one tells a completely different story.

As the mystery unfolds, we learn more about why this is happening - and we learn about the true nature of Batman.

I suspect this story will divide fans to some extent, in that some will love it and some will not, but I see it as a clever testament to the eternal nature (and the eternally-changing nature) of the Caped Crusader.

#3 - The Wonderful Wizard of Oz #4

I'm quickly running out of superlatives for this comic.

The retelling of the original Wonderful Wizard of Oz story is just a delight (which should be no surprise, since the original has ever been thus).

Eric Shanower adapts the story with great skill, and Skottie Young's artwork just seems to get better with each issue.

In this story the quartet - Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion - arrive in the wondrous Emerald City, where they finally meet the Wizard of Oz - and if you haven't read the original book, you might be surprised at his appearance.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. A real delight.

#2 - Sandman: The Dream Hunters #4

It's sad to see this series come to an end, because for each of four months it was the best comic around, and the one I've looked forward to the most.

The final issue wraps up the adaptation of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: The Dream Hunters. The series has featured some of the best work yet from artist P. Craig Russell, with pages of stunning beauty, quiet horror, raw emotion and sensuality.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating - in a long and distinguished career of outstanding work, this may be the best of Russell's career.

It seems to be a simple enough story, as a mystical fox falls in love with a young monk. But their love is threatened by an evil magician with schemes of his own. Reading that back, it sounds corny and old-fashioned, but it's a timeless tale in the hands of a masterful writer.

Something about working with Gaiman seems to bring out the best in Russell, and this series is a testament to the talent of both men.

It's a sweet, sad and moving story of love, murder and revenge - and just when you think you see where the story is going, it moves into an unexpected direction.

Highly recommended!

Now if we could only coax more Sandman stories out of these two...

#1 - The Flash: Rebirth #4

You may be surprised at this selection, since the overall series has been getting some mixed reviews (and I share some of those qualms about the other issues in the series). But this issue was my favorite comic this year.

When reviewing the third issue of The Flash: Rebirth, I wrote:
What this series really requires of the reader is patience and trust that the creative team knows what it's doing. I wouldn't go along with that idea for most comic books, but with this issue, I'm on board.
And this issue, judging by the genuine chills, cheers and emotional moments, pays back that trust. After the surprisingly slow build-up for this series, and the threat of a dark, grim and gritty future for the character, this issue delivers the goods in spades.

It does this by finally introducing the mysterious villain behind the disruptions in the Speed Force - our old friend, the Reverse-Flash.

Here writer Geoff Johns finally starts revealing those plot points he's been carefully keeping just out of sight, and artist Ethan Van Sciver turns in another outstanding issue, with striking layouts, emotional splash pages and high-powered pencils. Colorist Brian Miller also deserves lots of kudos for his outstanding work here.

Finally, the mysteries around the true nature of the Speed Force are revealed, and that's when... well, stuff really starts happening.

I know Barry Allen has been back since his appearance in the first issue of Final Crisis, but with this issue, we see the return of The Flash. (No offense intended to those who think Jay Garrick or Wally West are the ones deserving of the title.)

If you're a Flash fan, you must read this issue - it's the best comic of 2009.

In my book, anyway.

Classics #9 - The Amazing Spider-Man #27

Taking ninth place in my list of "Top Ten Spider-Man issues by Stan and Steve" is "Bring Back My Goblin To Me," which provides the wrap-up to the story of the Master Planner.

This one ranks high on my list because it's such an offbeat story. In an ordinary super-hero comic, the good guy is faced with a puzzle and solves it with Sherlock Holmes-like efficiency.

Not Spidey. He's faced with two mystery figures - the Green Goblin and the Master Planner, both of whom are trying to take command of the gangs in New York. He spends the issue trying to track down the real identity of those mystery figures, and seems to be on the right track - but shockingly, he gets just about every fact wrong. In fact, it's the police who ultimately solve one of the issue's big mysteries - not Spidey.

What kind of hero is he, anyway? The issue begins with Spider-Man unconscious, captured by the Goblin and presented to the gangs as proof of the Goblin's leadership skills. The gang members quickly wrap chains around Spidey, and are about to unmask him when he regains consciousness, and a wild fight breaks out.

Spider-Man is rescued by three policemen (responding to a tip) who wade into the gang of criminals and hold their own until Spidey can free himself and join the fun. I don't know that anyone has ever matched Ditko for the Spider-Man style of acrobatic, freewheeling combat.

Of course, Ditko always gets praise for his original, energetic art style, but here he also deserves credit for the story plot, which winds around through numerous characters, keeping the reader guessing but never able to see those final twists. The story is loaded with humor, sight gags (especially Spidey's slipshod costume), action and some sweet moments between Peter Parker and Aunt May.

Stan's dialogue, as always, is spot on and keeps the reader focused on the story and characters. Each character has a distinct voice, and even the secondary characters stand out as individuals.

I also think Stan doesn't get nearly enough credit for his work as an editor. As proof that he's one of the best ever, I'd like to point out that (in my opinion) every artist who worked with Stan turned in some of his or her all-time best work under Stan's guidance. Of course, I wasn't there - maybe they gave their best efforts because he simply gave them the freedom to tell the stories they wanted to tell. Or perhaps it was because of his incisive guidance every step of the way. Whatever the answer, his method worked, and he should be honored for it.

This issue can be Exhibit "A."

Grade: A

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Classics #10 - The Amazing Spider-Man #37

OK, so here's the deal: for the next week I'll be counting down my personal list of the top ten issues of The Amazing Spider-Man created by the team of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Some are chosen for quality (there's not a bad issue in the whole 39-issue run, frankly) and some I selected for sentimental reasons, so take 'em with a grain of salt. The two Annuals the team did aren't included - they're both "Special" issues and would automatically be in the top ten, so just for fun we'll exclude them (you can read my review of the first annual here).

#10 - The Amazing Spider-Man #37

I have to admit that this one was selected because I have such fond memories of reading it when it first appeared - and for the fact that the whole issue is dripping with the pure fun that made Spider-Man Marvel's top hero.

The story centers around Professor Stromm, an inventor who swears revenge against Norman Osborn (at this point, readers only know him as Harry's rude father). Upon his release from prison, Stromm immediately creates a robot designed to destroy Osborn's property.

And what a creation! More a blob than a mechanical creation, it starts a fire at one of Osborn's plants, and when Spider-Man investigates, he is attacked and nearly killed.

Later, as Spider-Man tries to track down Stromm, he has to fight another robot (this one with a more standard design, though just as deadly).

It's amazing how much story is packed into this issue: we get glimpses into Peter Parker's personal life at college as he flirts with Gwen Stacy and she begins to show some glimmers of interest; we check in on Peter's freelance career at the Daily Bugle; we catch up on the stoolie Patch (who has a secret identity); and a mysterious killer is on the loose - one with surprising powers. The only one who gets a break this time around is Aunt May!

The real stars of the issue, of course, are Lee and Ditko. By this point in their efforts, Ditko is both plotting and drawing the comic, and turning in amazing work. The story covers an amazing amount of ground with quite a few characters, yet a new reader could pick this issue up and read it cold and have no trouble following the events.

The art shows the skill of a master craftsman - the pages flow, the characters are distinct and unique, brimming with emotions and energy, and the action scenes are perfect, showing off Spider-Man's power and acrobatic skills.

Lee also shows why he's the master of dialogue - his writing is crisp, and he knows when to work the drama and when to be funny - and no one writes better quips for Spidey.

It's amazing to realize that Lee and Ditko only worked together for a little over three years on Spider-Man stories, and in that short time they built the foundation of the character whose popularity endures (and continues to grow) to this day.

Grade: A

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Week Ahead

OK, so tomorrow marks the "skip week" for comics, giving shop owners a chance to take a well-earned break. My local shop isn't taking part in the Blackest Night #6 promotion, so I won't have anything new to review in the week ahead.

So here's what I'm going to do. The Classic reviews are popular, so I'm going to put together a week of those reviews - but just to give it an added twist, let's dedicate the next week to my personal Top Ten list of Stan Lee / Steve Ditko issues of The Amazing Spider-Man.

That means I'll have more than one review on some days, so keep an eye out!

On Dec. 31 I'll also be posting my personal list of the Top Ten Comics for 2009. That list will be compiled from comics I've reviewed on this site - I don't read everything, after all - and it'll focus on the "floppies," as the kids call regular comics now.

I've only been doing these reviews since 2008, so I'm not going to attempt a "Decade in Review" list. Check back in 2019 - if I'm still here, I'll give it a shot then.

So it's going to be a busy week for yours truly - wish me luck!

Fantastic Four #574

This is one of those "change of pace" stories, which gives the characters (and the creative team) a chance to catch their breath and get things lined up for upcoming stories.

So this is a quiet issue, but that doesn't mean nothing happens. Actually, several things take place that will have a major effect on the status quo of the team, as some familiar old faces - and some new ones - are welcomed into the Fantastic Four's "nuclear family."

The issue centers around a birthday party for Reed and Sue's son Franklin (though I don't think they ever mention just how old he is. The poor kid seems stuck at 10).

Still, it's a heartfelt, touching issue, and just when things seem calm, a shocking event sets up a major future storyline for the team.

I continue to be impressed with the writing of Jonathan Hickman, who really seems to "get" the big story potential of this team.

I'm not quite as impressed by guest artist Neil Edwards, who seems to struggle in a few places with the look of some of the characters. Still, there's some nice work here, and I do like that final panel.

So another good issue and a good jumping-on spot, with the caveat that this is just the set-up. Things should really start cracking next issue.

Grade: B+

Monday, December 28, 2009

Thor #605

It has to be a trick to take over an existing title, especially one that has quite a few tangled storylines to deal with.

That's the challenge facing new writer Kieron Gillen on Thor. His predecessor, J. Michael Straczynski, left behind some gnarly story threads: Thor in exile from Asgard, the Asgardians (rather inexplicably) relocating to Dr. Doom's kingdom Latveria, and Doom conducting experiments on Asgardians with Loki's help.

Adding to the problem is the fact that Doom is everywhere these days, apparently competing with Norman Osborn for the title of "villain appearing in the most comics this month."

Gillen gives it a game shot here, and there are some strong moments as Thor gets to cut loose - something we don't see often enough. But the story really struggles under the weight of the set-up, and never really takes off.

The art is quite good, as Billy Tan turns in some powerful, detailed pages, and really shines in the last pages.

I'm hopeful for good things out of this team once they get this mess cleaned up - the potential is there, but right now they're fighting against the current.

Grade: B-

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Blackest Night: JSA #1 (of 3)

The Blackest Night spin-offs that I've read have all taken the same basic angle: deceased friend or teammate rises as a Black Lantern, attacks the star(s) of the comic and is ultimately defeated by some trick or another.

So does this Justice Society of America comic follow suit? So far, yes (except for that last line).

But it has the advantage of being written by James Robinson, who certainly knows his way around Golden Age characters, and he has wisely here focused on three specific deceased members of the team - the original versions of Sandman, Dr. Mid-Nite and Mr. Terrific.

It's interesting to follow those characters and the efforts by the modern-day JSA to fight back, but this issue is overloaded with characters frantically fighting for their lives (or to take lives), and I can't imagine a new reader being able to pick this issue up and understand it.

I have to say I'm not crazy about the art by Eddy Barrows and Marcos Marz - at least when the focus is on the battle raging in the streets. The art is dark and frenetic and it's difficult to tell what's happening. One the other hand, the quiet scenes work very well.

So this is a book I would only recommend to big-time JSA fans or Blackest Night completists. There's still time for this story to redeem itself, but so far it just looks like more of the same.

Grade: B-

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Captain America: Who Will Wield the Shield #1 (One-Shot)

The things I do for you, gentle readers.

Since this issue with the somewhat silly title Captain America: Who Will Wield the Shield
takes place after the not-yet-published final issue of Captain America: Reborn, ordinarily I would just set it aside and wait to read the issues in the proper order.

But I figured I should look it over and be ready to warn others whether or not it's safe to read this comic. However, I did avoid reading the summary page at the beginning of the issue (which apparently gives away the details of the ending of "Reborn") - I recommend you do likewise.

Of course, the ending of "Reborn" has already been spoiled to a degree by The New Avengers Annual and the Invincible Iron Man, and this issue offers the same amount of spoilage, so there's that.

It also offers an interesting flashback to Cap and Bucky in World War II, and then brings us to their modern-day predicament, which doesn't seem like a difficult problem to solve - but you might be surprised at what happens.

The art by Butch Guice and Luke Ross is very good, with strong layouts, great detail and lots of action and emotion spilling off the pages.

Ed Brubaker continues his strong run at the helm of this storyline, and I'm really looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.

But I'd still like to read that last issue of "Reborn" before things go any further.

Grade: A-

Friday, December 25, 2009

Archie #604

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I wanted to review an upbeat comic for this happy day, and what better choice than the latest issue of Archie, which features his wedding to Betty!

Of course, it's the flip side of his walk "up" memory lane, as he imagines what life would be like if he married Betty instead of Veronica.

This is, of course, the pairing that all right-thinking fans would expect, if the day ever arrived when Archie had to choose between the two.

It's an enjoyable tale as the young couple deal with the working world and try to make their way with limited resources.

What else is there to say? Great art by Stan Goldberg and Bob Smith in the classic Archie style, an excellent story by Michael Uslan, and another solid chapter in this entertaining look at an alternate reality for the eternal teen.

The next issue wraps up the series, and then (presumably) it's back to high school for the gang - which is where they belong, after all.

Grade: B+

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The New Avengers #60

Last issue ended with a heck of a cliffhanger, as the readers learned that the just-rescued Luke Cage had some kind of tiny technological device planted on his heart - but the Avengers gathered around him were oblivious.

This issue tells the story of what happens next, and it's a tense tale that keeps the reader on edge throughout. To say more would give away too much, but it's a strong tale (even though there's not a lot of action on display) and it sets up the next big series event, Siege, which looks very promising indeed.

The dialogue is the usual sharp Brian Bendis wordplay (although I could have done without one joke that was in poor taste), and the story includes more than its share of surprises.

The art by Stuart Immonen is quite good - in fact, I'd say his style seems to be more raw, stark and powerful for this series, and it works very well on this title.

From here it's on the the next big event, which we can only hope will end in some kind of actual resolution, instead of merely bridging into the next big series.

It's not easy to be optimistic, since House of M, Civil War and Secret Invasion all led into the next event - but here's hoping.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Last Comic Book Day for 2009

Next week is the first-ever "skip week" for comics, giving shop owners a well-deserved week off, so this week's shipment was a big one!

(So what will I do in this space next week? I have a few ideas - we'll talk.)

Here's what I picked up today:

- Archie #604 - Archie marries Betty!

- The New Avengers #60 - Luke Cage has heart trouble.

- Blackest Night: JSA #1 (of 3) - Now here's a group with quite a few dead former members.

- Captain America: Who Will Wield the Shield? #1 (One-Shot) - Is this a rhetorical question?

- Fantastic Four #574 - A big day for Franklin Richards - I really like the new team on this comic.

- Green Lantern #49 - Spotlight on John Stewart - and an informative backup story.

- Hellboy: The Bride of Hell (One-Shot)
- Always glad to see more art from Richard Corben.

- The Incredible Hercules #139 - Gods fighting it out - fun stuff!

- Irredeemable #9 - Things get more and more interesting...

- Justice Society of America #34 - An old menace returns.

- Powers #2 - A grisly beginning going into an action-packed issue.

- Secret Warriors #11
- The beginning of what looks like another darned good story.

- Spider-Woman #4 - A meeting with Madame Hydra.

- Thor #605 - Hey, it's Dr. Doom again!

And that's plenty for now.

The Classics - Mystery In Space #81

It would be difficult to name a favorite DC comic book character from the 1960s.

I was a big fan of The Flash and Green Lantern, and always looked forward to their adventures - but if you forced me to choose, I'd say my favorite character was Adam Strange, whose adventures appeared in Mystery in Space.

He was just a regular man - an archeologist who was struck by the Zeta-Beam, which immediately teleported him to the distant planet Rann. Thanks to his quick wits and scientific knowledge, he became the planet's greatest hero.

After a set period of time, the effects of the beam would wear off and he'd return to Earth. In every issue he would intercept the Zeta-Beam (now that he knew where it would strike) and be whisked to Rann, usually just in time to face an apparently unbeatable menace.

There were several reasons to like the comic - the stories (mostly written by an uncredited Gardener Fox) were clever, they were usually based in science fact, the stories played fair with the reader but always managed a good twist, Adam got to fly around via a jetpack, and Adam was a likeable character, overcoming his lack of superpowers and defeating the bad guys with his intellect.

But the best thing about the comic had to be the art by Carmine Infantino. The book gave him lots of room to invent exotic locales, alien architecture, strange weapons and any number of monstrous opponents. He was at the peak of his powers here, and few in the business could match his slick, professional style.

Another thing I liked about the comic was that it seemed more adult. Adam was in love with Alanna, the beautiful daughter of the scientist who invented the Zeta-Beam. That's what kept drawing him back to Rann, and their relationship was free of the usual secret identity shenanigans that occupied most heroes. They loved each other and fought the bad guys as a team.

Of course, the comic owes a lot to past heroes like John Carter of Mars and Buck Rogers - but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable.

I picked this issue as today's "Classic" because it's the first issue I remember seeing. Cover dated February 1963, I read it at my cousin Jamie's house, and the cover stuck in my mind - you can see why.

The comic features a full-length adventure that has Adam facing two menaces - on Earth, he has to deal with a Cloud-Creature that freezes time - and on Rann, he must face a foe who holds an unbeatable weapon and is able to read Adam's mind!

But Adam is definitely the luckiest hero around - while most of them were trying to preserve their secret IDs, Adam was kissing two different Alannas on two different planets!

Grade: A-

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Brave and the Bold #30

This is a comic that fell off my regular purchase list, but I'll still pick up if there is a character involved I'm particularly interested in.

For example, I picked up the recent issue that featured Robbie Reed, the star of Dial "H" for Hero. This one I picked up for both stars - Green Lantern and Dr. Fate.

So why do we like the characters we like?

Green Lantern I've been a fan of since I started reading comics sometime around 1960. The cool costume, the most awesome weapon in the world, he was a test pilot in "real life," he had intergalactic adventures, incredible art by Gil Kane - what's not to like?

Dr. Fate is a little more difficult to explain, since in the '60s he only appeared during the annual Justice League - Justice Society crossovers, and in a couple of team-up appearances with Hourman.

So why did I like him? It was probably a combination of his awesome costume design - love the gold helmet that covered his face - and the lightning bolts that shot from his fingers as he cast spells. But he never had much character besides being a hero, so there wasn't much to latch onto - but I always liked him. Some characters just click, and others don't - who knows why?

I'm happy to see that this issue is actually a flashback to the days when Kent Nelson was Dr. Fate. He has a brief encounter with Green (Hal Jordan) Lantern and it leads to a follow-up discussion years later in an alien land.

It's an interesting issue with a clever discussion between the two characters about their basic natures, but it may be a little too thin for the fans who don't have a connection with these characters.

The story is by J. Michael Straczynski and the art (which is quite good) is by Jesus Saiz.

I enjoyed it, and fans of these characters will probably enjoy it - but your mileage may vary.

Grade: B+

Monday, December 21, 2009

Justice League of America #40

It's sad to note that the Justice League of America - a comic that should be the top book in the DC Universe - has for years now been dragged around by the company's mega-events.

The team suffers for having to bend its stories around other events, and this issue is just the latest example.

It actually has a double whammy against it - not only must it deal with the Blackest Night events (without including any of the main players), but it also has to mark time until the end of the Cry for Justice mini-series.

As with most comics that shoehorn events into the ongoing mega-series, it's not a great fit. Here we have the second-stringers - Vixen, Gypsy, Dr. Light, Plastic Man and Zatanna - returning to the Hall of Justice to face Black Lanterns in the form of Zatara (Zatanna's dad), the evil Dr. Light, and former JLA members Vibe and Steel.

It all adds up to an issue-long fight scene with some racist comments thrown in against the Japanese and the Gypsies. Thoroughly repellent and completely unnecessary. I expected much better from writer James Robinson.

The art, on the other hand, is outstanding, but Mark Bagley's considerable skills are wasted in this effort. I've said it before: great art can't save a bad story. (Ironically, a great story can redeem poor art.)

Hopefully this book will eventually takes its place again as DC's flagship title. But it's not there yet.

Grade: C-

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Power Girl #7

After a bit of a stumble last issue, here we see writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti back on their game, as Power Girl is confronted by an opponent who is, as we said in the old days, a male chauvinist pig.

I have to admit that I'm not familiar with Vartox of Valeron, though his appearance is obviously modeled on actor Sean Connery as he appeared in the movie Zardoz.

But you don't need to know anything about him to enjoy this issue. The story gives you the information you need as Vartox discovers a terrible fact: the people of his home planet are unable to have children. His solution is to recruit a new wife - and who better than the vivacious Power Girl?

Vartox has all the romantic skills of a 13-year-old, and in the course of his attempts to win PG, he injures Dr. Mid-nite, severely injures a wannabe villain, and may wind up destroying the Earth.

It's good to see this comic back on its game, mixing humorous adventures with sexy adventures and just plain ol' adventure adventures.

The art, as always, is phenomenal, and well worth the price of admission alone. Amanda Conners is perfectly suited for the combination of humor, sexy and adventure. From PG's expression of aghast horror on page 13 to a cool design for a new monster and the unique appearance of Vardox's spaceship, there's no telling what surprise waits on the next page.

It would be easy to dismiss this comic as just being centered around one of DC's most prominent sex symbols, but this comic is much more than that. With strong writing and fantastic art, it's well worth checking out!

Grade: B+

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Green Lantern Corps #43

As much as I'm enjoying the Blackest Night mini-series and the ongoing Green Lantern comic, I find I'm struggling to maintain interest in the Green Lantern Corps.

I think that's because it's trying really hard to be a hard-hitting action fest (and succeeding to a large degree), but it often just feels like the equivalent of someone screaming constantly - the story is all noise and explosions, and not enough actual story development.

The past few issues have focused on the war with the Black Lanterns, but it's all fighting and killing and ranting and little else.

Most issues have a shocking development, and this time around (as you can see on the cover), we have Guy Gardner becoming a Red Lantern, as a tragic event causes his rage to consume him.

Guy is mostly written as a volatile character, but even for him this change to a rage-filled monster is just way too extreme - it just happens for shock value, not because it makes sense.

I like Patrick Gleason's art here, although like the story it's sometimes too frenetic to keep up with - lots of energy crackling, explosions, bodies hurtling hither and yon - all done with great skill, but a quiet moment or two wouldn't hurt.

I will say that the ending was very well done, and more than anything else in the issue makes me want to come back for the next chapter.

This comic badly needs a resolution, but it's safe to say we probably won't see one until the Blackest Night wraps. Until then, expect lots more screaming.

Grade: C+

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dark Avengers #12

With this issue, you have to wonder if writer Brian Bendis is feeling invulnerable.

That's because he has resorted to the lowest, most desperate solution to being painted into a literary corner - the Deus Ex Machina.

That translates to "God from the machine," and it boils down to this: when a story problem seems impossible to overcome, you simply have God show up and solve it for you. No muss, no fuss.

It's a very difficult trick to manage, and as much as I enjoy Bendis' work, I have to say, he doesn't manage it here at all.

Perhaps it's all part of his overall plan for the comic, but it still feels like a cheat - or at least a cheap trick.

The comic picks up after the Dark Avengers have confronted the Molecule Man. It didn't go well for the team - they've all been (more or less) destroyed, and only the intervention of... well, let's just say God... keeps them from staying that way.

The art, I should quickly interject here, is fantastic. Mike Deodato fills the pages with lush detail, raw emotion, amazing characters and fight sequences, and man can he draw lovely women. He more than carries his half of the comic here (and is the only reason this comic doesn't receive a failing grade), but unfortunately, the best art in the world can't save a really bad story.

What an odd month, where both Geoff Johns and Brian Bendis write one of the worst stories I've ever read by either author. Hopefully they got it out of their system, and things can get back to normal.

Grade: D+

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Captain America: Reborn #5 (of 6)

Just to make sure I'm not cracking up, I went back and checked, and sure enough, previous issues of Captain America: Reborn indicated this was a five-part mini-series - but now it's a six-parter.

Which is fine, because this is one of those stories that's so good, you almost hate to see it end.

With this issue writer Ed Brubaker moves the pieces into place for the final showdown between Steve Rogers and his allies and the Red Skull and his cronies.

After spending who-knows-how-long jumping through time and reliving key moments in his life, with this issue Steve realizes something is different - he's in an alternate New York as it might have been 70 years ago, if the Nazis had won World War II.

And that's just the beginning to the adventure that finds Captain America's body back in the present, but someone else in control.

That may be the one fault I have with this series - Cap has been a victim throughout, unable to save himself from the Red Skull's time trap. However, there's still time for that plot point to turn around.

The art continues to be amazing, as Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice load in dynamic splashes, insane amounts of detail and intense, emotional scenes throughout.

With one issue to go, this has been one of Marvel's best stories from the past year. Here's hoping it has an equally-dynamic conclusion on the way.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Yep, It's Comic Book Day

Here's what I picked up today:

- Dark Avengers #12 - Great art, but not exactly Bendis' best writing here.

- Black Panther #11 - The whole "female Panther" story is just ok by me.

- The Brave and the Bold #30 - Picked up for the team of Green Lantern and Dr. Fate.

- Captain America: Reborn #5 (of 6) - Maybe I'm cracking up, but I thought this was a five-issue series. Hmm. Still awesome, though.

- Green Lantern Corps #43 - Guy Gardner gets red.

- Justice League of America #40 - More Blackest Night action.

- The Marvelous Land of Oz #2 (of 8) - Can't say enough good things about this series of adaptations.

- Power Girl #7 - PG's latest suitor is muy macho!

And that's it!

The Classics - Conan the Barbarian #1

As the 1960s came to an end and the '70s began, the comics industry was rocked as Jack Kirby left Marvel and moved over to DC Comics.

But as surprising as that was, there was another event that shook me even more and had me anxiously scouring the stores - it was the publication of the first issue of Conan the Barbarian!

I first learned about it in a house ad in Marvel Comics (this being long before I was aware of comics fandom), and I practically jumped for joy, because I had become a huge fan of Conan courtesy of the Lancer paperback reprints of Robert E. Howard's original stories (augmented by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter).

Here's how it happened: when I was in the 6th or 7th Grade, I was visiting my Aunt Rudy (who lived nearby). She was a wonderful, slightly eccentric and cantankerous older woman, but she had one flaw - she hated that I read comic books.

In those days, most kids gave up comic books by the time they hit my age, and Rudy did her best to get me to fall in line. Her grown son Harry was in the Navy and had left behind a room full of cool stuff, including a bookcase featuring a number of paperbacks - including military, historic, fantasy and science fiction.

Rudy was always urging me to take any of the books I wanted to read, in hopes that if I read more "real" books, I'd give up comics. I always hesitated, because I wasn't sure Harry would want me swiping his books - but finally I gave in and picked out a couple, including the book called Conan the Warrior.

(By the way, later I offered to return the books I'd borrowed to Harry, but he said to keep them - so my conscience was clear.)

To say that paperback had an impact on me would be an understatement. The book collected three Howard short stories - "Red Nails," "Jewels of Gwahlur" and "Beyond the Black River." They were loaded with action, horror, monsters, beautiful (and sometime naked) women, (implied) sex - all the things my teenage self was interested in!

I tracked down every other Conan paperback in existence (ordering several from the Captain Company, which some of you old-timers might remember) and read them immediately.

So as a huge fan, I was anxious to see the Conan comic book. And when it finally arrived... I was a bit disappointed.

That's because the art was by Barry Smith (later he became Barry Windsor-Smith), who had not impressed me much up to that point. He had drawn a terrible issue of the X-Men (reportedly penciled while sitting on a park bench) and a couple of issues of Daredevil that were only a little better.

I had to admit that his art was improving - there are several striking pages in this issue - but the problem was, of course, he was no Frank Frazetta, whose incredible, animalistic paintings appeared on the cover of those Lancer paperbacks.

But a funny thing happened. Smith's art started improving rapidly, and it grew on me more and more. By the time he wrapped up his run a couple of years later, he had become an amazing artist, putting insane amounts of detail in his work, and filling each page with incredible characters and images.

I don't think I've ever seen an artist improve so much in such a short period of time. His Conan became the definitive image of the character, and he's still one of my all-time favorite artists.

Oh, and I should extend kudos to Roy Thomas, who was responsible for bring Conan to Marvel, and did a fantastic job scripting the book for a decade (and maybe more).

But for me, none of it would have been possible if not for Rudy. She's at the big library in the sky now, but I hope she realizes how much I appreciate the difference she made in my life.

She couldn't make me give up comics, but she taught me a greater appreciation for reading. What a wonderful gift!

Grade: A-

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Incredible Hulk #605

One thing that's been missing from too many comic books these days is one of the most difficult things to write - humor.

And it's the ingredient that is really spicing up the stories in The Incredible Hulk.

And let's face it, coming up with an original storyline for the green-skinned galoot can't be easy - the Hulk has been through any number of character permutations - what could be left?

Writer Greg Pak has the solution - he's removed the Hulk from the comic, provided the monster quotient through the Hulk's son, Skaar (who has traveled to Earth to kill his father), remade Bruce Banner into the world's most dangerous (and most capable) human, and put the two together as father and son, teacher and pupil, as Skaar awaits the return of the Hulk before taking his revenge.

Pak keeps the story fresh by loading the book with plot twists, guest stars (like this issue's turn by the Fantastic Four), fun villains (Mole Man and Tyrannus at his sneering best) and lots of action.

With this issue he has two fine artists to work with - Ariel Olivetti and Paul Pelletier - although the change in styles is rather jarring.

The real test for the creative team (whoever it is) will be to keep things fresh while the next mega-event takes hold, as the Fall of the Hulks hits just in time for winter. Go figure.

Grade: B+

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Invincible Iron Man #21

This story is titled "Stark Disassembled," and it's a kick to see the creative team getting "the band" back together.

In other words, here we see Pepper Potts, War Machine, Maria Hill, Dr. Don Blake (Thor), the Black Widow and a certain other Avenger (who's been popping up the last couple of weeks, just ahead of the obvious ending for Captain America: Reborn) as they gather to help reassemble the mind of Tony Stark.

The road back for Stark (whose mind was completely wiped to protect information from Norman Osborn) is at times clever and often completely improbable - but it's all in good fun.

The Invincible Iron Man is rolling up on its second year of publication, and through the skills of writer Matt Fraction and artist Salvador Larroca, it has been (and continues to be) one of Marvel's best books.


Grade: A-

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Groo: The Hogs of Horder #2 (of 4)

Why? What possessed me to review another issue of Sergio Aragones' Groo: The Hogs of Horder?

Of course, I have to review something if I'm going to live up to the title of the blog. And Groo was the next issue in the stack.

But Groo reviews are all the same: Aragones is a genius, his art is fantastic, the comic features lots of laughs and clever bits of dialogue by writer Mark Evanier, and Groo does what he does best! What more could you ask? (Well, maybe more cheese dip jokes, if you're into that sort of thing.)

Of course, Groo's comics can be deceptive - as Bill Cosby used to say, you might just learn something before it's done.

For example, the slapstick and pratfalls might keep you from noticing that the story is actually an economic lesson about what's going on right now. (But you have to substitute horses for cars. And Khitai for China. And Kopins for Dollars. And... well, you get the idea.)

That this book manages to balance between saying important things and making us laugh is just another tribute to the amazing skills of the creators involved.

Now go away, Groo, and don't make me review you again.

Grade: B+

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Adventure Comics #5

Congratulations to writer Geoff Johns, who has written some of the best DC Comics in the past several years - and with this issue of Adventure Comics, he's also written one of the worst DC Comics in memory. (To be fair, he had help from writer Sterling Gates.)

This all-Superboy issue kicks off with the second half of the Superboy-Prime / Blackest Night story. I actually liked last issue, as it broke the fourth wall and had fun with the Earth-Prime concept.

Here, however, the whole thing jumps the track. We have Superboy-Prime fighting a bunch of Black Lanterns, smashing through DC's offices to allow lots of cameos of staffers screaming and running for their lives, and then the story gets even more bizarre and inexplicable, as things happen that make no sense in relation to the ongoing Blackest Night story. Finally, a twist ending is tacked on that makes even less sense.

The only redeeming factor (which keeps this issue from earning a failing grade) is the terrific art by Jerry Ordway. His work is always outstanding, and he does his best to make this work - but the finest art can't save a truly bad story.

As if the opening feature wasn't bad enough, the second feature has the "real" Superboy displacing the Legion of Super-heroes (not a fair trade at all).

It's a silly story involving a friend committing vandalism, which Superboy does nothing to discourage, and a "surprise" ending worthy of the most lightweight Silver Age storyline. (Superboy can't see through a door because it's painted with lead paint? Is the glass in the door also covered with lead paint?)

I don't slam too many comics, perhaps because I know a lot of effort goes into each one, even if the story isn't always successful - but the impression here is that Geoff Johns is just trying to write too many comics.

This one is really hurting his grading curve. A terrible comic.

Grade: D-

Friday, December 11, 2009

The New Avengers Annual #3

Hey, the Lady Liberators are back! Well, sorta.

That team made up of only female heroes appeared in an issue of The Avengers back in the day, and aside from a quick appearance here or there, hasn't been seen since. (Which is a shame, because it always seemed like a good idea.)

Well, they're not really back here, either - at least not by name. This story in the New Avengers Annual immediately follows New Avengers: The List, wherein Ronin (Clint Barton, the original Hawkeye) decides to kill Norman Osborn, and sadly doesn't succeed.

This story picks up with the rescue attempt immediately following, but only the female Avengers happen to be around, so they go solo with the help of Jessica Jones, who makes a rare appearance in her super-hero costume (and fits in it quite well, considering she had a baby not long ago).

The story's pretty much down and dirty, with little wasted time or the patented Brian Bendis pages of talking heads delivering clever conversation. It's a fun, fast-paced story, with a surprise ending that should provide a jolt or two.

I really like the art by Mike Mayhew, with color art by Andy Troy. It's a lush, painterly look that works very well - although one page where Spider-Woman is clinging to the wall looks odd - maybe she's supposed to be floating in the air instead?

But that's a minor quibble - most of the art (especially during Ronin's escape attempt) is outstanding.

The comic also reinforces the coming end of the Dark Reign story (thank goodness).

Hey, maybe they'll have room for that Lady Liberators comic now!

Grade: B+

Thursday, December 10, 2009

DC Universe Holiday Special '09 #1 (One-Shot)

This book jumps to the top of my list this week because things have been hectic in the real world lately, and I'm trying to get into the Holiday spirit.

Oh, I don't expect any Scrooge-like transformations just from reading an anthology comic - but I figure it couldn't hurt.

As is traditional with these things, the DC Universe Holiday Special '09 offers a cornucopia of assorted DC heroes and villains, all taking part in brief stories that touch on the holidays.

Some are pretty good, and some are quite forgettable.

On the good side we have a rare appearance by B'Wana Beast, as delivered by writer Beau Smith and artist Gray Kwapisz - it's a clever bit of manly fun. (Why aren't these guys doing a regular B'Wana Beast comic?)

There's a fun story about the Flash (Wally West) doing his best to keep up with the impossible holiday schedule.

The Doom Patrol story (focusing on Beast Boy) wasn't particularly subtle, but it still brought a big smile.

The two war stories - one with Sgt. Rock and the other with Enemy Ace - both strain credulity, but both feature terrific artwork.

I also liked the Huntress mini-adventure and the Adam Strange feature, even though the ending of the latter made no sense.

Put them all together with the other 10 stories and you have a nice holiday package featuring a nice mix of writers and artists taking a shot at some holiday fun.

And while I'm still not quite there when it comes to the Holiday Spirit, reading this comic at least has me moving in the right direction.

Overall Grade: B-

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hey, Kids - Comics!

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

- Adventure Comics #5 - After a promising start, a not-so-promising end.

- The New Avengers Annual #3 - The ladies hit the town - and the HAMMER helicarrier.

- Booster Gold #27 - Booster and Blue Beetle vs. Black & Blue Beetle.

- DC Universe Holiday Special '09 #1 (One-Shot)
- These are always fun, and this issue includes B'wana Beast!

- Groo: The Hogs of Horder #2 (of 4) - More mayhem with everyone's favorite mendicant!

- The Incredible Hulk #605 - Always glad to see a monster mash.

- The Invincible Iron Man #21 - Putting the band back together.

- SWORD #2 - More wacky alien fun.

- Alter Ego #90, with a cool Kirby cover drawing I last saw as a teen - it was on a donation barrel for Toys for Tots.

And that's it!

The Classics - Justice League of America #31

Relying on memory for comic book chronology can be a tricky thing.

It's a concept my pal Rolf first brought up (if I remember correctly). It's the confusion that sometimes results from misremembering when you actually read a comic when you were a kid.

This issue of Justice League of America is a good example. I would have sworn this was one of the first JLA issues I ever read - but that can't be right.

Cover dated November 1964, I would have been 8 years old at the time, and had been reading comics for almost three years. I remember reading the first crossover with the Justice Society (which predated this story), but did I read the original comics, did I trade a friend for a copy, or did I read a reprint?

So many years later, it all gets jumbled together. It's possible this one just stands out because it was such a fun issue.

For one thing, it included Hawkman (one of my favorite characters), who finally is invited to join the team. (I had to smile, reading the scene where the Atom extends the invitation, and then has to explain to Hawkgirl that the team only offers one membership at a time. She accepts gracefully. A bit of sexism that wasn't corrected until years later.)

I was also impressed by the image of the team hanging on for dear life while the meeting room in their headquarters is hurled into space.

The story is faithful to the formula that writer Gardener Fox and editor Julius Schwartz had developed for the team. A mystery appears (in this case, three criminals somehow protected by a thin yellow hoop), the team investigates, is stumped, discovers a solution through intelligent analysis, confronts the menace, big fight, they face defeat, and once again win the day through cleverness (Hawkman gets the honors this time around).

The only gimmick not used is the "break into teams to investigate" bit - and that's because the team is small this time around, using only five members.

The menace (when finally revealed) is a bit on the silly side, but artist Mike Sekowsky has lots of opportunities to create some fun visuals and several entertaining fights.

Sekowsky is an artist who is not a fan favorite - his figures can be a bit stiff and his characters tend to look the same - but I've always been a big fan. His storytelling is strong, he keeps the story popping, his pages flow and he just knows how to make a comic more fun. His style's not for everyone, but I am a fan.

As a kid I was an avid reader of comics, and the Justice League was one of my favorite books to follow. I may not remember which comic I read first, but this was an issue that made a real impression on my young mind, and set me on the path I still walk today.

That's why I consider it a classic.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jonah Hex #50

While I enjoyed Western comics as a young'un, I have to admit I don't buy them much these days.

My pal Beau Smith always says good things about the Jonah Hex comic, and it hits a milestone this week, so I thought about picking it up. Then I saw that Darwyn Cooke was the artist, and that sealed the deal.

As you'd expect, the art is fantastic, running the gamut from mythical west to fiery action to the hinges of hades itself.

None of which is intended to take away from the story here by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, which is solid as a rock. It weaves a tale of lust, sex, tragedy, revenge and a serious heap o' killing. Who could ask for more?

The story is very much in the vein of a Clint Eastwood Western (is there higher praise?), as one of Jonah's fellow Bounty Hunters decides to go straight, but picks a bad town to do it in. To say more would be to give away too much about a ripping good tale.

A fiftieth issue should be something special. Boy, does this fill the bill.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ultimate Spider-Man #5

It's been interesting to watch writer Brian Bendis take this comic in a new direction.

Since most of the Ultimate comics have folded, he's taking advantage and reeling in characters from the defunct Fantastic Four and the X-Men comics (along with a mysterious addition or two), and is building his own version of (dare I say it?) Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.

It may sound goofy, but it's actually very entertaining as Aunt May moves from being the frail matriarch to becoming more of a House Mom, providing a welcome place for several characters who are suddenly homeless.

It gives the book more of a team dynamic, where you have lots of interesting characters bouncing off each other. It's a different feel for Ultimate Spider-Man, but so far it's working.

In the main storyline, Spider-Man is caught in a deadly trap by the Ultimate version of Mysterio, and if I read the signs right, next issue will give us the Ultimate version of one of my all-time favorite Lee / Ditko Spider-Man stories.

The art by David Lafuente continues to be a real delight, and he honestly seems to get better with each issue.

So far, the new direction is working - and considering how good the comic was before, and how bad Ultimatum was for the Ultimate line, it's an impressive achievement.

Grade: A-

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #518

After an enjoyable all-action issue last time around, this issue of the Uncanny X-Men gets into clean-up mode, dealing with plot points left laying around.

For example, there's the matter of the slice of the Void (taken from the Sentry) in Emma Frost's mind, a problem that can only be solved in the world of the psyche.

There's the problem with the team's new home, the island called Utopia, sinking into the ocean. And then the Beast is suffering through his own conflict, and he seeks help from a friend.

In other words, it's just a typical issue of X-Men. It's a decent story by Matt Fraction, but it doesn't do much more than set up a cliffhanger that doesn't really feel like much of a cliffhanger.

The issue does feature outstanding art by Terry and Rachel Dodson, specializing in lots of very attractive women.

But other than that, not much to recommend this time around. I know these kinds of stories are necessary from time to time, but it seems like the X-Men spend more time setting up stories or cleaning up afterwards as opposed to just telling good stories.

Grade: C

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Blackest Night: The Flash #1 (of 3)

It's a bit of a surprise to see Blackest Night: The Flash start up before The Flash: Rebirth has wrapped, but I suspect DC just couldn't put it off any longer - and at the rate "Rebirth" is going, the Blackest Night event may be over by the time that final issue appears.

Thankfully, there doesn't seem to be anything in this issue that spoils events in "Rebirth," which is a good trick since both issues feature the original Reverse-Flash.

This issue fits neatly between the pages of the Blackest Night mini-series as Barry Allen races to warn the heroes of Earth about the danger posed by the Black Lanterns.

Along the way we get a nice recap of Barry's life so far, we're reintroduced to the Flash's Rogues Gallery (the members of which promise to play a major role in this series), and we catch up on an old Flash-friend who's not doing well.

The story is by Geoff Johns, who is somehow able to write about 90 percent of the comics being published by DC. The art is by Flash veteran Scott Kolins, and it's great to see him back at work on that character. He's adjusted his style a bit to capture the high-speed effects on display in the "Rebirth" series, but his unique style shines through.

It's not really an indispensable issue in the Blackest Night series, but it's quite good and expands a bit on the world of the Flash, and it's always interesting to see the Rogues go into action. So far, so good.

Grade: B+

Friday, December 4, 2009

Siege: The Cabal #1 (One-Shot)

Finally we're at the inevitable story about the collapse of The Cabal - Norman Osborn's "secret" organization of super-villains - and the beginning of the next mega-event, The Siege.

About which I can only say: it's about time! The whole Dark Reign storyline has been going on far too long (over a year), and it's time to give Osborn a vacation.

But don't expect it to happen soon - judging by the checklist in the back of the book, this is a story that won't be wrapped up until next Summer. But it promises to be an eventful Spring.

In this issue we see the beginning of the break-up, as Osborn and Dr. Doom have (shall we say) a disagreement. We get another glimpse of Osborn's mysterious "enforcer," a new look for Loki (he's a male again), and a new member joins the Cabal.

As set-ups go, this isn't bad. It's the usual solid story from Brian Bendis, setting up some major conflicts ahead. There's also some powerful storytelling from penciler Michael Lark, with several impressive battle pages.

It may just be relief at seeing the story move forward, and it's too soon to render any judgments, but The Siege is off to a promising start.

Grade: B+

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Day Late, A Pile o' Comics

New comics day finally arrives, so here's what I picked up:

- Dark Avengers Annual #1
- Some fine-looking Chris Bachalo art here.

- The Flash: Blackest Night #1 (of 3) - Surprising to see this before the end of Flash: Rebirth, but that series is way late, so they probably ran out of time.

- Grimjack: The Manx Cat #5 - One issue left in this series, which has been quite good.

- Jonah Hex #50 - Art by Darwyn Cooke? I'm there.

- JSA All-Stars #1 - The spin-off title debuts with loads of violence.

- Marvels Project #4 (of 8) - The death of... no, I can't say it.

- Siege: The Cabal #1 (One-Shot) - The evil partnership finally falls apart.

- Strange #2 (of 4) - Searching for Stephen.

- Thor #604 - There goes the neighborhood (which is to be expected, when Dr. Doom is your neighbor).

- Warlord #9 - More Mike Grell story and art - awesome!

- Ultimate Spider-Man #5 - Aunt May is running a flop-house for homeless superheroes?

- Uncanny X-Men #518 - Didn't the last issue just come out last week?

And that's it!

The Classics - The Incredible Hulk #140

We're tuning into the request line here at Chuck's Comic of the Day, and this review goes out to my amigo Paul, who's a big fan of the Hulk.

Even in the Silver Age, writing for comics wasn't exactly a prestige job, and most professional writers avoided comics work, except when writing under a pen name.

In my memory, the first big name writer to kick open that door and say proudly, "I enjoy comic books," was also one of America's best: Harlan Ellison.

In 1971 he plotted two comics for Marvel (both cover dated June) - Avengers #88 and The Incredible Hulk #140.

Both issues featured a fearsome alien named Psyklop, whose mysterious plot involved sacrificing the Hulk to the Dark Gods. When the Avengers intervene, the Hulk is reduced to microscopic size and finds himself on a barbaric, subatomic world where the people are green-skinned.

He defends them against attackers and is welcomed by Queen Jarella. The two fall in love and the Hulk finds happiness, love and contentment for the first time. Jarella would go on to become an important character in the Hulk's supporting cast (though her appearances were irregular), and she was even mentioned in the most recent issue.

The story is full of romance, action, adventure, tragedy and unexpected twists, and it stands up as well today as it did then.

Roy Thomas provides the dialogue and does his usual fine work, although perhaps he went a bit overboard in trying to work in the titles of various Ellison stories.

The art is by Herb Trimpe and Sam Grainger, and it's not a terrific combination - some of the anatomy is awkward - but while Trimpe never had a particularly slick style, he was always a solid storyteller and there are several powerful pages on display here.

As you'd expect from Ellison, the story is a different take on the Hulk, and I'd say it's the best Hulk story from the Silver Age.

But I admit to being a bit prejudiced, because Ellison is one of my all-time favorite writers, and I believe his work here raised the bar for comics writers everywhere.

These days it's not usual to see big names writing comics - but it all started with the tiniest Hulk of them all.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Superman: Secret Origin #3 (of 6)

The holiday continues to mess up ye olde schedule, as new comics don't arrive until Thursday - so we'll run our "Classic" review tomorrow and run one more review from this week today.

Here we see the Superman: Secret Origin as re-imagined by Richard Donner and Geoff Johns.

Johns is the only credited writer, but this book's story is lifted cleanly, with just a bit of alteration, from the Donner-directed Superman: The Movie. Thankfully, Johns used some of the best bits.

The depiction of Clark Kent by artist Gary Franks also does a great job of emulating actor Christopher Reeve without being a direct copy. I consider that a good thing - Reeve was definitely the living embodiment of the Man of Steel, and if DC wants to give that hero a more realistic look, I can't think of a better model to follow.

The rest of the supporting cast is depicted along the lines of their traditional comics appearance (although Lois may have a tinge of Terri Hatcher going on there).

Here we see Clark moving to Metropolis, but it's not the shining city of the future - it's a city suffering under the thumb of Lex Luthor, and one of his main targets is the Daily Planet, the newspaper that has just hired Clark.

I'm enjoying this series, although I'm hard-pressed to explain why these minor tweaks to continuity are necessary. But Johns is taking a more personal approach to Superman's origin, and so far, it's a good story.

Grade: A-