Sunday, February 28, 2010

Batman and Robin #9

This issue wraps up the third story arc since the Batman and Robin comic began, and I'm still not sure how much I like it.

I should say, there are things about it I like a lot. I like Dick Grayson's turn as Batman - if anything, he reminds me of "my" Batman - the early '60s version that smiled and had fun fighting crime (while at the same time being a great fighter and terribly efficient), as opposed to the grim and tortured creature of the night that the character later became.

I mostly like Batman's son Damien as Robin. He's cocky, tough and smart, but at times he crosses the line into being obnoxious. However, the character has lots of room to grow, and so far, I'm enjoying the process.

What I'm not crazy about is the tone of the stories Grant Morrison was written so far in this series - they've been very dark, with gruesome mutilations, murders, deaths and near-deaths. The stories seem to be working against the new Batman's persona.

Last issue Dick Grayson managed to resurrect the Batman body brought back by Superman at the end of Final Crisis. In this issue we realize that something is terribly wrong, and the creature resurrected isn't Bruce Wayne.

What follows is a tense battle between Batmen, Robin and guest-star Batwoman, with an assist by Alfred.

I like the art a lot, and I'm sorry to hear that this is Cameron Stewart's last issue (for now). He has a clean, powerful style and I really like the way the panels seem to leap around the page during the action sequences.

I may be on the fence about this comic, but it's always interesting, and I'm certainly curious to see where it goes from here - so I'll keep hanging around.

Grade: B+

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The New Avengers #62

Here we're in "prequel" territory, as writer Brian Bendis gives us a look at the events leading up to the final page of Siege #1.

But first, The New Avengers are under attack from the Hood's minions, who've been powered up by the Asgardian Norn Stones now in the hands of their leader.

(By the way, this is yet another Marvel cover that has nothing to do with the story inside. The Hood appears nowhere in this comic, although the fights are provided by his allies. Doesn't count.)

It feels like a filler issue, as the two Captain Americas (Bucky and Steve Rogers) fight the Living Laser and the two Spiders (Man and Woman) fight each other because one of them is under mind control (hoary plot device #47).

It's all nicely drawn, although it's the work of two different artists - Stuart Immonen and Daniel Acuna - and their styles don't mesh well.

It's not a bad issue at all - in fact, there are some nice moments, and it's worth it just to see Steve back in action again - but it just seems slim, like they're killing time until the end of the Siege, when the creative team can adjust to the new status quo.

So if you're following Siege, you'll want to pick this up. If not, just be patient a couple of months and the new and improved Avengers will be here.

Grade: B+

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Flash: Rebirth #6 (of 6)

I really had high hopes for this series.

The first three issues of The Flash: Rebirth were pretty solid (though not exceptional), but it was the fourth issue that really hit it out of the park for me. In fact, I liked it so much that I named it my Favorite Comic of 2009.

Sadly, like the fifth issue, this one doesn't live up to the promise of issue four.

The last two issues have been mostly about clearing up loose ends and dealing with the villain of the piece, the Reverse-Flash.

Perhaps my hopes were just too high. This issue isn't bad, it just isn't outstanding. It's almost entirely devoted to wrapping up loose ends and setting up the upcoming regular series starring the (Barry Allen) Flash.

But so many emotional moments just fall flat, and even the art doesn't seem quite up to Ethan Van Sciver's usual high standards (although the first half-dozen pages are outstanding).

I'm tempted to place the blame on editorial interference rather than Geoff Johns' story, but the fact is, the series peaked with issue four and then coasted downhill to the end of this issue.

I do think part of the problem can be tagged onto several long delays between issues. (The final word balloon in this issue does take a playful jab at that.) For example, the good guys use a device in this story that I had completely forgotten about, even though it was a central part of an earlier issue.

Still, the stage is set and I anxiously await the new Flash comic that starts up soon. I've been looking forward to Barry's return for a heck of a long time, and I'm glad that the wait is over.

Overall, I enjoyed this series, even though it had some pitchy moments in there. So, two grades:

Overall series: A-
This issue: B-

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Blackest Night #7 (of 8)

It would have been easy for writer Geoff Johns to take the obvious route with Blackest Night.

He could have settled for the menace of every dead hero and villain rising up, fighting the living, and then when all seems lost, the multi-hued Lanterns would team up, combine their lights and erase the shadow that's fallen across the universe.

Instead of playing it safe, here he eliminates the obvious solution quickly and then builds on the existing mythology and makes it even more involved. That's good, because since about the halfway mark this series has teetered on the edge of becoming tedious.

Virtually every spinoff story has been the same - the undead attack, it looks bad for our heroes, and they manage to elude death at the last moment by some mechanism or another.

Even the main series has been guilty of marking time while events played out. But Johns has managed to keep it fresh (if a bit gruesome at times, with grisly deaths aplenty) as unexpected events continue to pile up.

The series also leans heavily on penciller Ivan Reis with inks by Oclair Albert and Joe Prado and colors by Alex Sinclair. Reis turns in loads of stunning work here, with more than one impressive splash page (including an amazing cavalry charge page).

There are a couple of big plot points that I can't really discuss without giving too much away - one makes for a good cliffhanger, but another revelation is mighty difficult to swallow, given what we know about the DC Universe - but as origins go, it's not so major that it harms the story in any way.

So far, this has been a darn good series. We'll see if the creative team can seal the deal with the final issue next month. Here's hoping!

Grade: A-

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Comics Today

Here's what I picked up today:

- Archie #606 - The epilogue to the "Married Veronica and Betty" story.

- New Avengers #62 - Setting up The Siege.

- Batman and Robin #9 - Its should be called Batman vs. Robin.

- Blackest Night #7 - More mysteries revealed, as we build to the final chapter.

- Blackest Night: JSA #3 (of 3) - Power Girl vs. Superman (sorta).

- Fantastic Four #576
- Hickman is doing great work here.

- The Flash: Rebirth #6 (of 6) - Finally! (Please be good.)

- Irredeemable #11 - More secrets revealed.

- Justice Society of America #36 - Taking on the Nazis again.

- The Marvelous Land of Oz #4 (of 8) - I love this comic.

- The Marvels Project #6 (of 8) - This has been much better than expected.

- Secret Warriors #13 - This story is heating up nicely.

- Thor #607 - There's that Siege thing again.

- Ultimate Enemy #2 (of 4) - Nick Fury in action - always a good thing.

The Classics - Green Lantern #39

Why do we love certain comics?

There are comic books in my collection that virtually everyone would agree is a classic and is universally loved and adored.

And then there are comics like this issue of Green Lantern, that as far as I can tell, only I adore.

Cover dated Sept. 1965, the issue includes two stories, both written by the legendary John Broome and both drawn by the legendary team of Gil Kane and Sid Greene. I have to admit I was never crazy about Greene's inks on Kane - his style just seemed a little heavy for Kane's work - but even so, the issue is filled with amazing artwork.

The first story is a generic adventure featuring Black Hand, back when he was just another bad guy whose gimmicks were stealing power from Green Lantern's power ring and constantly reciting hoary proverbs ("Seeing is believing!"). (This was obviously long before he became a death-worshiping monster.)

It's the second story that I adore. It's a silly bit of business involving a towering alien called Brutus Force, who is essentially an intergalactic version of "Hulk" Hogan.

"Bru" has fought and defeated fighters all across the universe, but everywhere he goes he's told that Green Lantern is the greatest fighter. It happens so often that he develops a burning, murderous rage every time he hears GL's name.

He comes to Earth to prove he's the best, but GL refuses to fight him, because he only fights against crime. Undeterred, Bru goes on a crime wave, and only stops (natch) when GL agrees to fight him.

Here at the Comic of the Day we try not to give away the ending to comics - and I won't tell you about the outcome of the fight - but the next paragraph will talk about the last page of the story, so consider this your SPOILER WARNING, just in case you ever plan to track this issue down.

Here goes: obviously, GL wins the fight, Bru returns the stolen items and leaves the Earth. We see him on an alien world, where his manager is trying to cheer him up, saying that Green Lantern only won by trickery. Bru angrily cuts his manager off. "Don't ever say a word against Green Lantern! He is the greatest fighter in the universe - just like everyone said! Anyone who says different - has got to answer to me!"

His manager, of course is stunned at this turn of events (as was I, reading the issue). The final shot is of Bru's gruesome face, smiling at the reader, saying, "It was a good fight! He beat me fair and square..."

The idea of this fearsome foe turning out to be the ultimate good sport (and great sportsman) was entirely unexpected - and made for a surprisingly heartwarming ending to the (somewhat silly) story.

But I still think that's exactly the attitude everyone who takes part in sports needs - the ability to accept victory modestly and defeat with just as much grace. The world would be a better place, I tells ya!

Everytime I read that issue, I can't help but smile at that uplifting ending - that's why, for me, this issue is a classic!

Grade: A-

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Uncanny X-Men #521

There's something about this comic that leaves me confused, and I'm not sure what.

There are lots of things to like about the Uncanny X-Men. They've streamlined the continuity and reduced the number of characters featured, so it's a bit easier to keep track of everyone. The art is very slick and professionally done. The story features plenty of twists and turns and the ending made me happy.

But I still didn't like the issue.

It is (basically) devoted to two storylines: Magneto is up to something mysterious; and a strike force of X-Men are investigating the mysterious team behind a recent attack on their headquarters.

Of the two, only the Magneto story is interesting, and it consists of him sitting on a mountaintop meditating. The other story features lots of character doing impossible (or improbable) things, lots of fighting where no one gets hurt, and for every impossible menace one character pulls out of thin air, another character has an equally-impossible solution. To put it simply, writer Matt Fraction is playing Calvinball*.

That brings up to the art. I really like Greg Land's artwork - it's lush, detailed and he has a great realistic approach. Each page is a virtual poster. However, when it comes to storytelling or just putting together a coherent fight scene, he falls short. There are lots of panels with heroes grimacing, blood flying, punches being thrown - but I have no idea what's really happening. Who's winning the fight? Is anyone being hurt? It reminds me of the films where the director brings the camera in so close during the fight scenes that you can't tell what's happening.

It feels like this comic is right at the edge of being special again, but it's just not there yet. Your mileage may vary.

Grade: C+

(* Calvinball is the game played by the title characters in the "Calvin and Hobbes" comic strip where they make up the rules as they go along.)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Blackest Night: The Flash #3 (of 3)

Looking at that cover you might think the colorist had popped a valve or something, but fear not - the Flash is sporting the color blue as part of his involvement in the Blackest Night event.

Barry Allen was welcomed into the Blue Lantern Corps because his strongest emotion is Hope - and I have to admit I like the idea.

The Flash has (for the most part) always been an upbeat, optimistic hero, so the ring fits.

This final issue of the mini-series fits in right after Blackest Night #6 as the team of color-powered New Guardians take on Nekron and his colorless minions.

The story is actually split between the activities of the Flash and those of the members of his Rogue's Gallery, as the living members square off against the dead ones.

It's a clever story, setting up an interesting parallel between the heroes and villains. And there are some nice, heartfelt moments between Barry Flash, Wally Flash and Kid Flash.

As always, it's nice to see Scott Kolins providing art for the speedsters, and Geoff Johns' story fits nicely into the continuity of the ongoing events.

This issue isn't really vital to following the Blackest Night series, but I would recommend it to anyone who plans to follow the Flash into his new ongoing title, as events here will no doubt spill over into those stories.

Grade: A-

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Captain America #603

If anyone picked up this issue hoping for more political controversy like that stirred up in the previous issue, they were no doubt disappointed.

That's because this issue dealt entirely with Captain (Bucky) America infiltrating the militia group being led by the crazed Cap from the '50s.

As explained in a '70s story written by Steve Englehart, the Cap that appeared in the '50s was actually an imposter who tried to fill Caps boots, right down to having his looks surgically altered to resemble Steve Rogers. Unfortunately, the process that gave him his strength and athletic abilities also left him mentally unbalanced, so he was placed in suspended animation.

He awoke in modern times (more or less) and has fought the real Cap more than once.

So in this issue, we see Bucky Cap and the Falcon putting their plan into action - and I have to say, it's a terrible plan. Why not call in the authorities or the Avengers or somebody to deal with this army, instead of trying to take them out alone?

Ah well. The comic features outstanding art by Luke Ross and Butch Guice, but the whole thing just feels like the creative team is stalling for time.

The comic features a backup feature with Nomad, the female Bucky from another world (sorry, I'm not explaining this one because I don't think I understand it, either). I read it and I couldn't tell you what happened because I just don't care. Sorry.

I say enough with the fill-in Caps - how about bringing back the real thing?

Grade: B-

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Incredible Hercules #141

Here we have what seems to be the last issue of The Incredible Hercules.

The first clue can be found on the first page of the comic (the recap page). There we see tiny reproductions of each cover from Herc's 30-issue run as the new proprietor of the old Incredible Hulk numbering. You'll also find a fun recap of each issue in tiny type at the top of the page.

The issue wraps up the "Assault on New Olympus" story with the usual Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente-written twists and turns, as Hercules takes part in a truly punishing battle.

The issue clears up several long-running plot points, and the surprising ending leads into a couple of one-shot specials and... well, we'll have to see where it goes from there.

Kudos to Rodney Buchemi for doing an outstanding job on the art, handling extreme violence and tender moments with equal skill.

Oh, and pay special attention to the sound effects in the big fight scenes - they're very funny.

This comic is the gold standard if you ever want to make the argument that good writing can save any concept. I would never have expected Marvel's version of Hercules to star in anything more than the occasional mini-series, but here Pak and Van Lente show that by combining intelligent, funny writing with great action sequences and a great supporting cast, almost any character can be made into a star.

If you haven't been following Herc's stories, you've been missing out on some great comics.

Grade: A-

Friday, February 19, 2010

Green Lantern #51

By now I should know better than to be put off by what seems like a "bad" issue written by Geoff Johns.

As I wrote in this review, I wasn't crazy about the 50th issue of Green Lantern because it rehashed too many elements from some of the comic's weakest moments in the past.

Once again, Hal Jordan has been possessed by Parallax, because it's the only way to defeat the Black Lantern version of The Spectre, who also once possessed Hal (sorta).

Give Johns credit - he shows here that there's a method to his madness (or a madness to his method) and manages to make this story work.

There's one little dirty trick toward the end, but since it's obviously something that will tie in to a future storyline, it's forgiveable.

Doug Mahnke continues to turn in some amazing artwork on this comic, with several outstanding full-page spreads.

This story ties directly into the next issue of Blackest Night, and while it's probably not needed to enjoy that series, it does add a lot to the story.

Green Lantern continues to be one of (if not the) best comics in DC's lineup. After a bit of a stumble last time around, here it's back on the track and building up a head of steam.

Grade: A-

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dark Avengers #14

One of the many balancing acts Norman Osborn has managed through his year-long run as the head of the Dark Avengers has been keeping the Sentry under control.

That's quite a trick, since the Sentry is incredibly powerful and always at the edge of losing both his self-control and his fragile sanity. In this issue, we see what happens when he gives in to the Void, his personal dark side. It's not pretty.

In fact, according to writer Brian Bendis, it's downright Biblical. Driven to the brink by a violent confrontation with his wife, the Void comes to the surface and rains destruction on New York City, all drawn with incredible detail and style by Mike Deodato.

It's up to Osborn (who has sanity issues of his own) to bring both sides of this dangerous figure under control, and his survival - and that of the city - depend on finding a way to deal with the devil he's helped unleash.

If Bendis' goal with this series was to turn the Sentry into one of the most powerful menaces in the Marvel Universe, I have to say: mission accomplished.

The problem is, the character is too powerful - how can anyone stand up to him? That's the story that will (I assume) be told in the next couple of months. It has me hooked!

Grade: A-

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Comic Book Day!

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

- Avengers vs. Agents of Atlas #2 (of 4) - Great to see the original Avengers again!

- Dark Avengers #14 - The Sentry wigs out again.

- Blackest Night: The Flash #3 (of 3) - Barry looks good in blue.

- Captain America #603 - What political firestorm will this issue unleash?

- Green Lantern #51 - Parallax vs. the Spectre!

- Green Lantern Corps #45 - GL Corps vs. Red Lantern Guy Gardner.

- The Incredible Hercules #141 - Is it the end of the world as we know it?

- The Incredible Hulk #607 - Those Hulks just keep on fighting.

- Justice League of America #42 - Loads of guest stars here - I like it!

- Marvels: Eye of the Camera #6 (of 6) - I wondered what had happened to this issue, Late much?

- Power Girl #9 - Two words for you: shower scene!

- Spider-Woman #6 - Fighting the Thunderbolts.

- Uncanny X-Men #521 - Magneto is doing something very cool.

The Classics - Godzilla #1

More than two decades after the creature first appeared and captured the imagination of film audiences, Marvel decided to give Godzilla his own comic.

Cover dated August 1977, this series placed the towering creature on the shores of Alaska - the beginning of his march across the United States - and set up the basic premise of the series.

For the next couple of years, the big, green, fire-breathing lizard would face off against the forces of SHIELD (largely led by Nick Fury's second-in-command, Dum Dum Dugan) in a back-and-forth battle that left in its wake lots of smashed buildings, bridges, SHIELD aircraft and loads of destruction in general.

Marvel wisely turned the writing chores over to the prolific Doug Moench, whose work seems largely overlooked these days. I always considered him one of Marvel's most creative writers, with a darn good batting average on numerous titles, with (probably) his best work being featured on Master of Kung Fu.

Moench was what I consider a dependable professional, always turning in solid stories and an impressive volume of work - especially on Marvel's monster comics.

It had to be a challenge writing a character that is, basically, a force of nature - but he came up with some great story angles along the way, and I especially enjoyed the issues set in New York.

To illustrate the comic they brought in an artist who was an old hand at big green monsters - Herb Trimpe, with another pro, Jim Mooney, handling inks. The finished product wasn't flashy or outrageous, but the storytelling was strong, the layouts clear and easy to follow, and the finished product always thoroughly professional.

This wasn't what I would call a great comic, if just because the lead character could never be much more than a sympathetic figure, and even that was pushing it. But for the length of the run, it was a fun series of stories.

Godzilla has a huge following - perhaps because there's something primal in seeing all that widespread destruction, knowing that no one is actually being hurt. Perhaps it's just goofy fun, seeing a guy in a lizard suit, pretending to smash models of cities.

Whatever the reason, this comic captured that primal attraction and ran with it. Heck, I enjoyed it. This series is worth checking out if you're any kind of monster fan.

Grade: B

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Strange #4 (of 4)

See, this is a comic that looked like it was custom made for me.

That's because I'm a huge Dr. Strange fan. Have been since picking up some of his earliest adventures in Strange Tales. How I loved those Stan Lee / Steve Ditko adventures!

I stayed faithful as the book weaved its way though other hands - sometimes to spectacular results (Steve Englehart / Frank Brunner and Roger Stern / Marshall Rogers being two good examples), sometimes to cringe-worthy results (I don't remember the names of these creators, but they know who they are).

So when I heard that Mark Waid was going to write a Strange mini-series, I thought I was in for a treat.


Boy, was I wrong. It's not that the mini-series has been bad, it's the disappointment of it being just... average. It's all in your expectations, I suppose.

Instead of a Master of the Mystic Arts (much less a Sorcerer Supreme), we get a Dr. Strange who seems virtually powerless against his foes, and if that's not bad enough, he endangers a young woman who shows heart and great potential in the mystic arts.

For this final issue, magic is having a seizure (of sorts), and it's up to Strange to set things right. But can he do that and save his young apprentice at the same time?

We can only hope they're planning a follow-up mini-series, or perhaps an ongoing one, because this issue leaves lots of dangling plotlines to be resolved.

I like the art by Emma Rios, though it's a bit muddy in places, and something of a struggle to follow the action at times. Still, she shows a lot of potential.

If they do bring the Doc back, I can't help but hope that they go back to the basics here. Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America - all those characters, for whatever changes they've undergone, are still based on the original Lee / Kirby / Ditko concepts.

I don't understand why each new creative team feels like it has to re-invent Dr. Strange - there's a perfectly good version sitting on the shelf, waiting for the right team to put him back in the game.

Hopefully they'll figure it out eventually.

Grade: C+

Monday, February 15, 2010

S.W.O.R.D. #4 (of 5)

Originally planned as an ongoing series, S.W.O.R.D. will reach an abrupt halt with the next issue - and it's a shame, because this book had a lot of potential. Thankfully, writer Kieron Gillen had intended the first five issues to cover a single story arc, so the readers won't be left hanging.

The idea behind S.W.O.R.D. was right out of Men in Black - it's an organization designed to monitor aliens on Earth and protect the planet from invasions. The group's leader is the green-haired Abigail Brand, and despite being smart, tough and incredibly capable, she finds herself on the outs in her own organization, as Henry Gyrich takes control and decides to deport all aliens from the planet.

Brand and her boyfriend, the Beast, must find a way to deal with numerous alien incursions, deal with Gyrich and face another impending invasion.

I'm not sure why this book didn't hit it off with readers. Perhaps there was just too much going on in the opening storyline - focusing more on Brand and less on the army of supporting characters might have been advisable.

More than a few have pointed at the art by Steven Sanders as being at fault (mostly for his unique version of the Beast), but I'm not so sure that's the culprit - he has a straightforward storytelling style and he makes it easy to tell the characters apart - not always easy with a big cast.

I suspect the book is more a victim of the economy - you can't buy everything, after all (or at least I can't) - and perhaps there are just too many other books taking attention away from this one (note that Dr. Voodoo is also canceled).

Whatever the case, hopefully we'll see these characters again in a supporting role somewhere along the line (almost certainly they'll show up in Spider-Woman). And in a better market, perhaps S.W.O.R.D. can make a comeback.

Grade: B

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Solomon Kane: Death's Black Riders #2 (of 4)

As a creation of Robert E. Howard, Solomon Kane obviously isn't as popular as Conan, and probably falls behind Kull with many fans - but the dour Puritan also has a strong contingent of fans, including yours truly.

Here's a character who fights evil with sword, pistol and his wits, pledging his abilities to doing deadly work for the Lord. Roaming Europe in the 16th century, he encounters all manner of evil creatures, including demons, monsters and humans.

In this series he makes his way across the Black Forest and finds himself allied with a mysterious swordsman against some strange four-legged monsters that look like horses from hell - or perhaps centaurs from hades.

The duo seek shelter in a dark inn, but find that evil takes many deadly forms.

Writer Scott Allie has been doing a good job writing in Howard's style, and this issue is very much in the vein of Howard's brand of horror, with unseen, suggested terrors firing the imagination and lurking in the dark.

The art by Mario Guevara fits the dark mood of the story, but the style is very sketchy, and there's not much variety in the "shots" he chooses - it's all presented in medium shots, with few closeups or establishing shots, and not much flow between panels. It's not bad, but with some more variety it could be even better.

But those are relatively minor criticisms - it's great to see this character back and featured in a comic that's faithful to the original. Keep 'em coming!

Grade: B-

Saturday, February 13, 2010

JSA All-Stars #3

More and more, the idea to split the JSA into two comics seems like a bad idea. Or half a bad idea.

The original title, Justice Society of America, seems to be cooking along just fine, but the spinoff comic, JSA All-Stars, seems to be missing the mark badly.

Last issue revealed the big bad guy targeting the JSA as the supernatural villain Johnny Sorrow. The team decides to create a strategy so they'll be ready to fight Sorrow and his team of bad guys the next time they meet.

And in this issue - they train. And argue. And fight each other. And fight some more. And then the issue ends, with zero advancement of the plot. All these great characters, and the creative team can't think of anything for them to do except bicker?

The art by Freddie William II isn't bad, but it doesn't seem suited to this title. It has a slight cartoonish look to it, the panels seem very disjointed and unconnected, and some of the fight sequences are just clumsy. And why is Power Girl wearing a different costume from the one she has in her own comic? Shouldn't that be the standard?

The backup story with Liberty Belle and Hourman is even worse. The Jen Van Meter story has the duo chasing a pair of super-villains who are after a book for some reason - darned if I can remember why. They meet, they fight, they escape. Who cares?

Nice art by Travis Moore, though, with a slick, solid superhero style.

I love the JSA, but this comic just seems unnecessary.

Grade: C-

Friday, February 12, 2010

Ultimate Spider-Man #7

You have to give Brian Bendis credit for shaking up the status quo on this comic.

After an outstanding run on the first version of Ultimate Spider-Man, one might expect that he'd continue telling stories in the same vein. Instead, he's taken the comic starring one of the biggest loners in comics and turned it into a team book.

And it fits perfectly, because that's so much a part of being a kid - running around with friends, sharing day-to-day events, having fun - and that's what this comic is all about.

It the wake of the Ultimatum (ptooey) story that devastated New York City and split up the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, homeless heroes have been gravitating to May Parker's house, which (out of the kindness of her heart) she's made into something like a group home for wayward superheroes.

To be exact, she has Spider-Man, the Human Torch and Iceman all under the same roof, with Kitty Pryde a frequent visitor. And yet another character may be added to the list after the ongoing storyline, which presents a familiar teen named Rick Jones who has developed an unusual condition.

It's a story with some major ramifications, but it's also a fun romp that includes a quick visit to Ann Arbor (of all places).

Regular series artist David Lafuente gets a break this time around, providing only the cover, with the interior art by Takeshi Miyazawa, who does an excellent job evoking the same high-spirited energy that Lafuente brings to the comic.

Every month, this comic jumps to the top of my reading stack. It's funny, adventurous, surprising and always entertaining. In other words, it's the same kind of comic I enjoyed in the 1960s when it was called The Amazing Spider-Man.

Grade: A-

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Batman and Robin #8

I suppose it wouldn't be a proper Grant Morrison story without a few moments in there where you think, "What the heck?"

And there are a couple in this issue of Batman and Robin.

The story picks up shortly after Dick (Batman) Grayson places the corpse of Bruce (Batman) Wayne in a Lazarus Pit (famously used to revive the dead Ra's Al Ghul more than once).

When the no-longer-dead body emerges, that's when things get interesting (and somewhat confusing). Is this Batman reborn - or is it something else altogether?

We're confused because, even though the story is set outside London, it includes a guest appearance by Batwoman (who seems to drop in out of the sky), a New Gods-related cameo (aren't they on a different world altogether now?), and lots of Batman versus Batman-type action.

Despite the confusion, this is a fast-moving adventure that doesn't let up and ends on a great cliffhanger. I really like the art by Cameron Stewart - he has a clean, clear and kinetic style that suits this story nicely.

Despite the story's quirks (or perhaps because of it), this series continues to be a lot of fun to read - and there's certainly nothing wrong with a few challenging twists here and there.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Weather Outside is Frightful, But the Comics So Delightful...

So I braved the snow storm, assembled the dog sled and made my way to the comics shop today (where amazingly they did receive this week's shipment).

I got:

- Batman and Robin #8 - Batman versus Batman?

- Groo: The Hogs of Horder #3 (of 4) - Gotta like Groo.

- Jon Sable: Freelance #5 (of 5) - Another old favorite I'm glad to see again.

- JSA All-Stars #3 - Lots of punching going on here.

- Solomon Kane: Death's Black Riders #2 (of 4) - Those are some ugly horses.

- Strange #4 (of 4) - This has been good so far (though not great).

- S.W.O.R.D. #4 - This has already been canceled? (The next issue is the last.) That was quick!

- Ultimate Spider-Man #7 - Always a favorite.

And that's it! Bring on the hot chocolate!

The Classics - DC 100-Page Super Spectacular #6

It's easy to forget that we're living in the Golden Age of Reprints.

These days there are hundreds of books out there (both hardback and softback) reprinting comic books and comic strips from the 1930s to the present. It's an amazing wealth of material that's now available to readers all over the world.

It wasn't always like that. From the '60s until the late '80s, the only reprints were in the back of annuals, and in a few special publications like this issue in the DC 100-Page Super Spectacular series.

This issue is actually best known for its Neal Adams cover, with most of the Justice League on the front cover and the Justice Society on the back, all posing as though for a group photo. Some hated it because it was too static, but I was among the many who loved it. It was unique for the time, and stands up today as an amazing piece of art.

And what a fantastic selection of reprints inside! DC makes great use of the 100 pages, including two issues of the Justice League featuring the first meeting between the JLA and the JSA! The title of the first issue resonates today: "Crisis on Earth-One!"

Also included is a '40s adventure with The Spectre, '50s stories with Johnny Quick and The Vigilante, a never-before-published Golden Age tale of the Wildcat, and from the Silver Age, an early adventure of Hawkman and Hawkgirl!

These were treasures undreamed of in 1971 (the cover date of this issue). Golden Age comics were impossible to find (at least in the rural area where I grew up), and early Silver Age issues weren't exactly plentiful, either.

Comics like this one opened the door to the vast history of comics that seemed virtually out of reach.

Thankfully, today the companies have realized the value of those old stories, and they're making them available to today's readers (though sometimes at a hefty price).

The cover was the only thing new about this comic, but oh, what a treasure for fans!

Grade: A

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Doom Patrol #7

I keep trying to like the Doom Patrol, and they keep chasing me away.

I liked the team when it first appeared in 1963. It was made up of Robotman, Negative Man, Elasti-Girl and the Chief.

They were an odd team of misfits but they dedicated their powers to helping others, and despite some bickering they obviously cared about each other. Their adventures were often fun, occasionally dark and sometimes silly, but (almost) always entertaining.

The book was canceled, only to be brought back time and again. The only revival that could be considered a success was the one written by Grant Morrison, which was loaded with strange characters, insanely clever stories and incredible plot twists. It was a comic like no other, and it finally sputtered out after a change in the creative team.

Even John Byrne struggled with a recent attempt at the Doom Patrol, and his version didn't last.

Which brings us to this effort by writer Keith Giffen and pencillers Matthew Clark and Cliff Richards. They seem to be taking on a herculean task - merging all the past versions of the DP into one semi-coherent continuity.

To manage this, Giffen is taking elements from all those past versions and trying to jigsaw puzzle it all together. For example, this issue features the return of a couple of favorite characters from Morrison's run. It also features a classic villain (who indulges in some mass murder just for the fun of it), a mysterious force behind the Doom Patrol, an ex-Challenger, a New God sidekick, and lots more I'm probably forgetting.

I admire Giffen's courage for tackling something like this, but for me, it's not working. The run up until now has been a mishmash of violence revolving around unlikeable characters, with lots of strange events and not much hope of things being cleared up anytime soon.

I actually only held on this long because of the backup feature, The Metal Men, written by Giffen and J. M. Dematteis, with art by Kevin Maguire.

Those stories have been the polar opposite of DP: funny, light, short and to the point. This comic I would buy.

But this is the last issue for the backup feature, so it's a sad "so long" to the Doom Patrol.

When it comes back again a few more years down the road, I'll pick it up and give it a try, hoping for a return to the dark but likeable heroes from the '60s. But I'm not going to hold my breath waiting.

Grade: D

Monday, February 8, 2010

Conan the Cimmerian #18

In the original Conan stories written by his creator, Robert E. Howard, our barbaric friend found himself... entwined, shall we say... with a different beautiful woman in every adventure.

But with one exception (Belit), we never know what happens to those women between one adventure and the next. Like James Bond, Conan generally ends his adventures canoodling with his newest lady - and she's never mentioned again.

One of the challenges, I suppose, of the ongoing Conan the Cimmerian comic, is that the creative team has to deal with those messy details.

This issue wraps up a three-part story that shows us how Conan and Princess Yasmela ended their relationship - and as you might expect, it's not exactly a harmonious split.

Writer Tim Truman turns in another strong effort, showing how Conan falls out of favor with the Princess - and it's to be expected, since she is royalty, and Conan is far from it (especially at this point in his adventures).

Truman also provides more than half the art in the issue, and that's a treat, because his powerful, gritty style is perfectly suited to Conan's adventures. Tomas Giorello provides the art for the framing sequence, which has Conan is a very tough spot, struggling to survive. Dark, raw and unforgiving, his art fits well alongside Truman's.

Conan is a fascinating character - tough, unflinching, loyal to those who deserve it, and quick to deal with those who oppose him. He's direct and to the point (so to speak) - it's very refreshing and always entertaining.

With outstanding art and writing, this continues to be one of the best books on the stands. As I've said before, if you aren't already, you really should be reading this comic.

Grade: B+

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Invincible Iron Man #23

Marvel's continuity continues to walk a thin line between (more or less) good timing (Thor and Iron Man) and complete mess (Captain America).

But they're cutting it mighty close in The Invincible Iron Man. This is the fourth chapter in a five-part story designed to restore Tony Stark to his old self, so it looks like - assuming he survives - he'll be back on his feet just in time to jump into the Siege.

This issue takes place in two settings - inside Tony's mind and back in the real world, where his body faces a terrible threat.

In his mind, Tony is getting some assistance from Marvel's other mustache master, Dr. Strange (whose abilities seem to change depending on which comic he's appearing in). Tony seems to be fighting the recovery process, but we (and he) don't know why.

In the real world he's being menaced by the Ghost, who seems to be setting the record for taking the longest to find someone in a tiny town. A better explanation for why it's taken so long would be that he was waiting for the superheroes (Cap, Thor, the Black Widow) to leave town.

Matt Fraction's writing is as strong as ever (though I have to admit this particular story is not his best), and Salvador Larroca's art is as powerful as ever, though somewhat subdued by the settings involved.

Next issue's the payoff, and I'm looking forward to seeing how this all wraps up.

Grade: B

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Jonah Hex #52

This comic is an underappreciated gem.

Month after month, in each issue of Jonah Hex, writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti serve up a cracking good story set in the wild west.

Using a style that would be right at home in the best Clint Eastwood westerns, we follow Hex as he fights to survive against all odds, through circumstances as grim, harsh and pitiless as the prairie sands.

In this issue, we find Hex struggling to survive after being ambushed by an unusual thief. He stumbles to a lonely cabin, where a widow lives a solitary life with her baby. As she patches Hex's wound, he tells the story of how he wound up at her door.

Alone, without ammunition, he has to find a way to survive when a vengeful family of murderers comes after him. It's a brutal tale and a darn good one. Gray and Palmiotti have crafted some outstanding Jonah Hex stories, and this is another great one to add to the list.

They're also skilled at writing stories that fit the style of the artist working on the comic. Here those duties fall to Jordi Bernet, and while his work may not be familiar to most American readers, he's done some outstanding work on several issues of Hex. He has a gritty style that's somewhat reminiscent of Joe Kubert, with some Milton Caniff and Will Eisner thrown in for good measure (which is not to say he's copying - those are just the influences my uneducated eye sees).

Jonah Hex lives in a hard, unforgiving world, and he makes no apologies for what he has to do to survive. These aren't stories for the squeamish, but they are expertly crafted and full of surprises.

If you're not reading this comic, you're missing the manliest comic on the stands.

Grade: A-

Friday, February 5, 2010

Ultimate X #1

Whether or not to buy this issue - it was a tough call.

On the plus side, Ultimate X is drawn by Art Adams, who's one of my all-time favorite artists, and one of a limited number whose work I'll buy no matter where it shows up (well, almost).

On the negative side, it's is written by Jeph Loeb, who has done a lot of great work in the past, but in recent years has been turning out some shaky comics - Ultimatum, anyone?

Finally, Art trumped caution, so I picked up this issue - but I still find myself on the fence.

As expected, the artwork is tremendous. Loaded with creative angles, loads of detail that bring each scene to life, beautiful women and handsome men, and lots of powerful emotion, Adams' work makes the issue sing with life and energy.

But as I feared, the story just kinda lays there. It focuses on young Jimmy Hudson, a teen who is apparently related to Wolverine.

Sadly, Logan was killed during Ultimatum (or was he?), and his adopted parents have never told him about his true parentage, so Jimmy has to learn these things through a car crash and a message left behind by a surprisingly-thoughtful Wolverine.

Most of the exposition is provided through captions, which are more confusing than helpful - especially when several captions apparently go missing around page 17.

This issue is all setup and origin, so I'm willing to give it a few more issues to get things sorted out - but at this point, it's only the stunning artwork that makes this comic worth buying.

Grade: B

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Siege #2 (of 4)

The pacing on the Siege mini-series is interesting.

It's being billed as the wrap-up to a long run of event comics, yet the story is squeezed into a tight four-issue series.

The first issued seemed to move slowly, putting the pieces in place. This issue also seems to drag in places, although there are some major confrontations here and the pace is definitely picking up as we hit the halfway mark.

The issue is advertised as including the death of an Avenger, and it has that in spades. In fact, it's one of the most gruesome deaths I can remember seeing in a mainstream comic, and while it's certainly a stunning moment, I don't say that with any admiration. It's unnecessary and disgusting, and not fit for a comic that will no doubt be read by lots of young people.

But wait! Get out your magnifying glass and look in the lower right hand corner of the cover - there's the teeny rating for the comic - it's "T+" (whatever that means). Pitiful.

Not that the comic doesn't have some great scenes written by Brian Bendis and excellent art by Olivier Coipel - it has that in spades. And I love that last page.

I'm not going to condemn the whole book for one distasteful bit, but it's definitely a stain on an otherwise entertaining comic.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hey, Kids - Comics!

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

- Conan the Cimmerian #18 - Good stuff!

- Doom Patrol #7 - My last issue on this.

- The Invincible Iron Man #23 - Tony's on the comeback trail.

- Jonah Hex #52 - Great artwork!

- Siege #2 (of 4)
- The most disgusting death ever depicted in a mainstream comic.

- Ultimate X #1 - What a dilemma! To buy or not to buy - it's written by Jeph Loeb, whose track record has been abysmal lately - but drawn by Art Adams, whose work I love.

- The Warlord #11 - Speaking of great art, Mike Grell is back on the job!

And that's it!

The Classics - Crisis on Infinite Earths #1 (of 12)

By 1985, when this maxi-series first began, DC's Universe was in desperate need of help (or at least that was the prevailing wisdom at the time).

The problem was all about continuity and the lack thereof in DC's titles.

It was one of the things fans loved about Marvel's Universe - the stories all fit together reasonably well, characters crossed over, and its history made sense even when it was adjusted to explain its heroes from World War II.

DC's continuity was a mess. There were heroes on parallel Earths - the Justice League on Earth-1, the Justice Society on Earth-2, their evil counterparts on Earth-3, the Quality Comics heroes on Earth-X, the Shazam (Marvel) Family on Earth-S... you get the idea.

DC's editors were smart enough to realize that something had to be done to bring the modern DC Universe into some kind of order, so they did a very smart thing: they turned the job over to two of their top creators - Marv Wolfman and George Perez, who had made The New Teen Titans a hit.

Working off a plot by Wolfman, Len Wein and Bob Greenberger (and able boosted by outstanding inks by comics legend Dick Giordano), the team crafted Crisis on Infinite Earths, a sweeping series that would touch all the corners of DC's Universe, with the goal of ultimately bringing it all together and making it more accessible and palatable to modern readers.

The art by Perez was outstanding, loaded with amazing detail, excellent versions of a host of characters, and lots of eye-popping events (as the front and back pages of the cover, displayed here, clearly demonstrate).

The writing was some of Wolfman's best, pulling you into the mystery behind the destruction of parallel universes and the creature known as The Monitor, gathering an offbeat collection of heroes from different worlds and times, and hitting them with the knowledge that the end of the universe was at hand.

I really enjoyed this series, and anxiously awaited each issue as it was released over the next year. In fact, there was only one problem with Crisis - and that's the fact that they didn't go far enough.

The series mostly succeeded in organizing DC's line, but there were still problems that lingered. Superman and Wonder Woman's titles and origins were rebooted, but not Batman's. There were still continuity problems - who was Donna Troy, anyhow? Who were the original members of the Justice League? Worst of all, Superman was no longer the first superhero!

So when I say they didn't go far enough, I mean that they tried to half-reboot DC's universe, when they would have been much better off to wipe the slate clean and give it a fresh start, with new origins and new beginnings for all its heroes and super-teams.

Of course, it's easy to understand why that didn't happen. DC didn't want to lose its long history of heroes dating back to the late '30s / early '40s. Some corners of its universe didn't need fixing - Batman was working fine, and so was the JLA.

But don't let my gripes put you off of this series - it was terrific, with shocking deaths, surprising plot twists and events that shaped the DC Universe for decades to come.

It was a truly historic series, and well worth tracking down!

Grade: A

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ultimate Enemy #1

Interesting to realize that 9/11 was almost nine years ago, and it still bothers me to see images of skyscrapers in New York being blown up.

Apparently it doesn't bother writer Brian Bendis, though, 'cause he blows up several buildings in the first issue of the Ultimate Enemy mini-series. (I suppose we can be relieved that he's not picking on Chicago again, like in Siege.)

So this story is easy to summarize: we check in on several of the survivors from the Ultimatum (ptooey) series. They witness some kind of giant spore-monster destroying buildings they are in (or near), but they're not sure what the creature is - which is only fair, because the reader also has no idea what's happening.

Near the end, a mysterious (and mostly unseen) figure shows up, says a few cryptic words, and destroys another building.

However, we can be glad that, unlike Ultimatum (ptooey), there have been no gruesome deaths so far. It's really too soon to pass judgment on this story, because we've barely been introduced to the cast so far.

The art by Rafa Sandoval and Roger Bonet has a nice fluid feel to it, with lots of energy but not a lot of variety to the "shots" - it's all medium and wide shots, and almost all from the same angle. But there's a lot of potential there.

If I gave out "Incomplete" grades, this issue would get one, since it barely gets started when we run out of pages. This one could go either way right now.

But we don't give out "I's," so for this issue:

Grade: B-

Monday, February 1, 2010

Archie #605

This issue wraps up the six-issue storyline, "What would happen if Archie married either Betty or Veronica?"

For the final chapter, we see Betty and Archie returning to their roots and taking jobs that put them right where they belong - at Riverdale High School!

It's a fun story by Michael Uslan, if a bit heavy on the sitcom humor - especially when Archie has to rush Betty to the hospital.

But it's all in good fun, and there are more than a few surprise developments along the way (wait 'til you see what happens to Jughead)!

As always, the art by Stan Goldberg and Bob Smith is outstanding, although I'm still a bit thrown by the "grown-up" versions of the gang.

I've been away from Archie's comics for a while (of course, they're not exactly aimed at my age group), but it's been fun to check in with the Riverdale cast - I'll have to do this more often!

Grade: B