Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Conan the Cimmerian #25

Sad to see that this is the last issue of Conan the Cimmerian - though, thankfully, our favorite barbarian will be showing up in a new series (and various mini-series).

I've been a big fan of Dark Horse's version of Conan since the beginning, and writer Tim Truman has done an outstanding job guiding those adventures - in fact, this series was #6 on my "Top Ten for 2009" list.

This issue wraps up the adaptation of Iron Shadows in the Moon - not one of Howard's best stories, but even his average stuff is a cut above the rest.

This story will actually read better in the collection, because the events here lean on the incredibly tense lead-in from last issue, where Conan was captured by pirates and bound to a pillar in some ancient ruins, just as the light of a full moon was about to bring an army of statues - iron demons - to horrible life.

As this issue begins, Conan is racing for his life and carrying the obligatory helpless female, Olivia, when he's confronted by a monstrous ape. He battles for his life while the pirates faced the demons.

The art by Tomas Giorello is terrific - dark, detailed, sinister and brutal. It's a bit gory for young readers, but I suppose you can't have a Conan comic without spilling some blood.

It's great to hear that Roy Thomas is returning to Conan, but I have to admit he'll have to work hard to maintain the high level of storytelling we've been seeing on this series.

And considering Thomas started the whole "Conan in comic books" thing, that's saying something.

Grade: A-


Monday, November 29, 2010

Thor: The Mighty Avenger #6

It never fails - you find a new comic you really like, and it's snatched away by the old devil named "cancellation."

As I mentioned in this review, I arrived late to this comic - but am I glad I found it before it disappeared!

Marvel announced this week that it was canceling Thor: The Mighty Avenger with issue number 8 because of low sales, and that's not surprising.

Well, it's surprising because it's such a good comic, but it's not surprising considering that Marvel is flooding the market with Thor-related comics these days (you'd think there was a movie in the works). It's easy to see how this gem could get lost in the sea of product.

It's such a fresh take on the character, placing him in a reality separate from the usual Marvel digs. He's been banished from Asgard and forbidden to return - but he doesn't know why.

While that mystery plays out, he's become involved with Jane Foster, a museum curator and a much more developed character than the original version (forgive me, Stan). Their relationship is sweet.

But don't think the series is action-free. Thor gets plenty of chances to sling his hammer, and has a memorable confrontation in this issue with Heimdall, the guardian of the Rainbow Bridge. That character shows off some amazing (and previously unknown) skills here, and you have to like any fight that includes an appearance by Fin Fang Foom.

The writing by Roger Langridge is terrific, and Chris Samnee's art is original and refreshing. It's different, and it's not the usual blustering God of Thunder that some writers and artists have portrayed - but it's a clever take on the concept.

If you've missed the comics, and you're a fan of Thor, you can pick up the collections that are on the way. I'm a big fan of the original Thor comic, but I enjoyed this one a lot.

Chances are that you will, too.

Grade: A


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fantastic Four #585

Death is certainly a familiar event in comic books, so it's difficult to be too concerned when you hear that the Fantastic Four comic is counting down to a casualty.

Certainly Jonathan Hickman is doing his best to put each member of the team in harm's way - and none more than Reed Richards, who has to confront an angry Galactus.

The Silver Surfer discovered Galactus' corpse (the body had been brought back in time from the distant future). The body was buried deep underground, and the world-eating bad guy wants some answers.

The Thing is pretty vulnerable, too, thanks to a potion that has temporarily returned him to his human form.

The Invisible Woman faces a different kind of danger far below the ocean as she tries to negotiate peace between a surly Prince Namor and an ancient race of Atlanteans that was recently brought to light.

Strangely, the Human Torch seems to avoid trouble this time around. (Which makes him the most likely suspect, right?)

The story is a real treat - it's complex, operating on a really big scale, and constantly throwing in unexpected events.

The artwork is excellent. Steve Epting handles the pencils and inks, with Paul Mounts providing color, and it's outstanding work. From big cosmic scenes to intimate moments with the extended family sitting in the living room, Epting always keeps it interesting.

So will they really kill off a member of Marvel's First Family? Anything seems to go with this creative team, so expect the unexpected.

And that's a very good thing indeed.

Grade: A-


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Secret Avengers #7

I feels like I'm getting whiplash from reading Secret Avengers.

That's because writer Ed Brubaker's story keeps jumping around. Last issue had me riveted, as it brought back Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, and his father Fu Manchu (who is never referred to by name for legal reasons).

This issue features those characters, but they're largely unused. Shang-Chi becomes a hostage and faces death. His father complains to his allies - which seems out of character. The rest of the issue gives us some glimpses of the Shadow Council - and that's about it.

The art is excellent as always. Mike Deodato supplies amazingly lush, detailed art, and the issue is loaded with frantic fight scenes.

The last page offers a nifty surprise, and the mysteries behind the story continue to build, but this issue just felt like a long delaying tactic before the story really gets going.

Hopefully next issue we'll be back in the "riveted" column.

(Oh, and someone left the credits off this issue - or else they hid them very well.)

Grade: B


Friday, November 26, 2010

Batwoman #0

Here's another series I didn't pick up the first time around, due to my general inclination to avoid characters who are direct swipes of existing characters - Spider-Woman, She-Hulk, Supergirl, about a dozen X-teams - the list goes on and on.

(That doesn't mean I always avoid them or that it's impossible to write good stories based on those characters - it just means I usually don't go there.)

That was my loss, according to everyone in the world who writes comic book reviews. They all raved about the Batwoman series that ran in Detective Comics.

So when I saw this issue of the character in her own title (finally), I figured I'd give it a try.

So far... I'm not sold. It's not a bad comic, though a bit slim with only 16 pages of full-color art and a four-page black-and-white preview of the next issue.

The story is straightforward - Batman is investigating Batwoman to determine her secret identity and her battle skills.

The comic is artfully split (so to speak) by dividing the pages between a brief Batwoman sequence, with stunning, lush art by J.H. Williams II, and a look at the character's civilian side by artist Amy Reeder.

The technique works, and both artists are skilled, but Williams is the star here, and everything else suffers by comparison.

This issue is no doubt intended to introduce the character to those (like me) who haven't been following along. It succeeds, but there's not enough here to convince me to keep following the character's story.

The art by Williams could change my mind, though - it's exceptional. We'll see what the future holds.

Grade: B+


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ultimate Spider-Man #150

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

To celebrate the holiday (and yes, I know it's only a holiday in the U.S. - but we're thankful for those of you reading in other countries) let's take a look at the oversized Ultimate Spider-Man #150.

Of course, that number is a good trick since the last issue was what, #15? (Oh Marvel, with your '40s-era random numbering system. And no, I'm not sure how 133 issues plus 15 plus one equals 150.)

Actually, it's impressive that this series has already reached that number, since it has only been around for 10 years. That would add up to 120 issues for most series (if they were lucky) - but it's a tribute to the speed of writer Brian Bendis and penciller Mark Bagley that they're so far ahead of the game.

To celebrate the milestone, this 104-page issue features two completely different adventures. The first story features Iron Man, Captain America and Thor as they flash back to their previous meetings with Spider-Man.

The stories are a great mix of humor, adventure and action as The Ultimates consider how to solve a problem like Spidey.

The second story is a reprint of a past Super Special and it reads like a mash-up of the original Ultimate Marvel Team-Up comic, as Spider-Man suffers a crisis of confidence and seeks advice from as assortment of heroes.

Frankly, the writing is a bit mushy on this issue - it's not up to Bendis' usual work. There are some surprises and quite a few laughs, but the whole thing is just too disjointed - and that's because of the army of artists required to bring this beast together.

There are no less than 11 artists on the first story and 27 (that's right, 27) on the second story. That makes for a fun version of "spot the artist," and there's some great work on display by artists like Alex Maleev, Frank Cho, John Romita, Sr., Michael Avon Oeming, Mark Bagley, Bill Sienkiewicz, P. Craig Russell and Dave Gibbons.

But the shifts in art give the whole thing a "crazy quilt" feel, and the story tends to get lost in the process.

Still, the book is a lot of fun, and the opening story sets up an interesting new direction for the series.

I'm really grateful this comic is still around, since I gave up on the original Spider-Man comic a while back.

As I've said before, this is the best Spider-Man comic around - and has been for 10 years now.

(What's that? They're planning to kill (Ultimate) Spider-Man next year? Son of a...)

Grade: B+


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Be Thankful for Comics!

Whew! Lots of comics to choose from today. Here's what I picked up at the comics shop:

- Batwoman #0 - Everyone raved about her series in Detective Comics, so I thought I'd give it a go. Great art!

- Captain America #612 - The Trial of Bucky continues.

- Conan the Cimmerian #25 - The end - for the moment.

- Fantastic Four #585 - Who will live? Who will die?

- The Incredible Hulks #617 - the big finale!

- The Invincible Iron Man #32 - Going to war.

- Justice Society of America #45
- After the disaster.

- Kull: The Hate Witch #1
- Good to see this comic back again.

- Secret Avengers #7 - More fun with Fu Manchu!

- Secret Warriors #22
- Deeper and darker and mighty good.

- Thor: The Mighty Avenger #6 - They're canceling this comic? Why?

- Ultimate Spider-Man #150 - Marvel's numbering system is so cute.

- Uncanny X-Men #530 - Sick leave.

The Classics - Aquaman #18

Here's a comic that made history - and I missed it.

I didn't buy this issue of Aquaman when it hit the stands (it's cover dated November-December 1964) - mostly because I never saw it. Even if I had seen it, I probably would have passed on it.

By 1964 I was hooked on Marvel's comics, and I was picking up fewer and fewer DC books. I'm ashamed to admit it, because this issue includes some stunning art by an uncredited Nick Cardy, and it includes the first-ever, honest-to-goodness, not-an-imaginary-story wedding between two superheroes (The Fantastic Four's Reed Richards and Sue Storm would finish a close second, tying the knot just a few months later).

There was another big change in this issue, as Aquaman was crowned King of Atlantis. But despite these significant events, the writing falls apart.

The story begins with Mera escaping from her home dimension just before the gate between worlds closes for the last time. (Note that, contrary to the story going on now in Brightest Day, her people let her go with their blessing so she can be with her beloved Aquaman.)

The evil Oceanus also manages to sneak through and uses his water powers to create monsters. Mera goes to Aquaman, who tells her he can't marry her even though he loves her because the King can only marry an Atlantean (gah).

Embittered, she joins forces with Oceanus and they conquer Atlantis - but Mera's feelings for our hero win out in the end.

Amazingly, Aquaman forgives her, devises a solution to their marriage problem and marries her in a single-panel ceremony that features the Justice League and a mob of Atlanteans.

So it's all pretty silly - but the art makes it all worthwhile. Cardy was (and is) an amazing talent - arguably DC's top artist. His heroes are handsome and virile, his women are stunningly beautiful (I had a comics crush on Mera - hey, I love the red hair!), and the settings are lush and detailed.

It's not the greatest comic ever, but the art and the history make it more than worthwhile.

Oh, and if you're wondering, I picked up this issue a few years back at a comics convention, and I was surprised how cheap it was - I think I paid $5 for it. I guess the seller had no appreciation for comics history.

Grade: B


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

DC Universe Legacies #7 (of 10)

So far this series has given us a look at some of the most important moments in the history of the DC Universe - but the events covered in this issue probably received more attention world-wide than almost any other event in DC's history.

It lumps together two of DC's most shocking moments - the death of Superman and the crippling of Batman. The former event received an amazing amount of media attention (presumably it was a slow news day), with stories in every major news outlet.

As a result, sales shot through the roof, and DC followed that event with the equally-shocking near-death of Batman as Bane actually breaks the hero's back, leading to a new Batman - for a while.

Those events are retold (with some nifty story parallels noted) by writer Len Wein and artists Dan Jurgens and Jerry Ordway. Since they both worked on the original stories about the battle between Superman and Doomsday, they're well suited to tackling this recap.

As much as I like the main feature, I have to admit I enjoyed the backup story even more. It's a mash-up of the legends of Camelot, all coordinated with great skill. Longtime fans will certainly enjoy this one, and there are a few surprising revelations.

Oh, and the art is by Brian Bolland, so you know it's excellent.

I have to admit that I'm not as enthusiastic about these stories - the closer we get to modern times, the lower my interest. But it's still a great recap of some key moments in DC history, all spun with some interesting new angles. Good stuff!

Grade: A-


Monday, November 22, 2010

Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil (One Shot)

I've admired Richard Corben's artwork for... well, about as long as I've been reading comics.

His style always makes me think of the Underground comics of the '60s and '70s - raw, earthy, edgy - but always loaded with power and humor.

He's especially good at drawing horror tales, and he's done some outstanding work in recent years working on Hellboy - a match made in... well, you know.

In this one-shot issue he gets to tackle two different stories, both starring Mike Mignola's character - and both written by Mignola, too.

The first story is set in Kansas in 1960, as Hellboy is called in to investige the claims of a man who admits to killing people - but that he's being forced into the acts by his house. Which begs the question, how does Hellboy fight a house? The answer is a lot of grisly fun.

The second story is also based on a classic horror conceit - the evil magician taking control of mummies on display in a museum. Hellboy's reaction is priceless.

Look, do you really need me to say any more about this issue? Surely saying "Mignola works with Corben" should be all the information you need.

It's a fun and funny (in a dark humor-kinda way) demonstration about how old stories can get new life in the hands of the right creators.

And there are few better than these two. Recommended!

Grade: A


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Morning Glories #4

We're four issues into this series and I'm still not quite sure what to make of Morning Glories.

That's not a criticism, because the story has been compelling so far.

This series has been slowly rolling out the mystery of what is going on at this mysterious Academy. It focuses on six students who have been admitted to the school, but now find themselves trapped and experiencing strange and sometimes horrifying events.

With this issue, we see them attempt to fight back - and more mysteries pop up.

I can't help but point out the similarities betwen this series and the new Cartoon Network live-action show called Tower Prep. The characters are completely different, but the premise is almost identical. But Morning Glories is much darker and deadlier, and on the TV show the students all have special abilities.

Hopefully this is just a case of great minds thinking alike and not one medium ripping off the other. The comic is the more mature version, and so far writer Nick Spencer and artist Joe Eisma have done a terrific job.

Next issue wraps up the opening story arc (though I suspect many mysteries will carry over to future arcs), and I'm certainly hooked. It's a dark, well-written series that will keep you guessing throughout.

Hopefully the answers will be just as compelling.

Grade: A-


Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Flash #6

Once again, the Fastest Man Alive is running behind.

The old gag was that Barry Allen was always late for appointments, so perhaps it's appropriate that his comic can't seem to stick to a monthly schedule.

The last two issues have had two-month gaps between them, and that's a shame, because the story - when it finally arrives - is quite good.

It has The Flash - police scientist Barry Allen (think CSI: Central City here) - being hauled into a court in the far future for a crime he hasn't committed (yet). The members of his Rogue's Gallery are on the loose and menacing Central City. His wife Iris is facing death at the hands of the mastermind behind the whole scheme. And he's trying to solve the conviction of an innocent man.

So, even for the Flash, it's a busy day.

This issue wraps up the first storyline for the speedster's new comic, and it's a good one. Geoff Johns does a terrific job bringing all the elements together for a satisfying story, and he also manages to plant seeds of future events.

I really like Francis Manapul's art here (though it may be just a tiny bit cartoony for some). His pages are energetic, his characters are animated and the action is a lot of fun.

Really, the only thing hurting this comic is the delay between issues. Hopefully the editorial side of things will get this sorted out soon.

It's a good comic, it could be great - if it could just stick to the schedule.

Grade: A-


Friday, November 19, 2010

Batman, Inc. #1

Well, that was a surprise.

I had to double-check to make sure this issue was actually written by Grant Morrison.

His Batman stories for several years now have been convoluted, involved adventures that were often difficult to follow. This, the first Batman, Inc. story, is surprisingly... normal.

Let me quickly add that I'm not complaining. This issue is very much a throwback to a more straightforward Dark Knight, and that's OK by me.

It begins in gruesome fashion as the Japanese hero Mr. Unknown is brutally attacked and killed by the skeleton-garbed Lord Death Man.

That villain then turns his (or her) attention on another victim, but luckily Batman is in town to recruit (as he says it) "a Japanese Batman."

I haven't seen Batman: The Return yet (my comic shop's order didn't arrive), but it's obvious that Batman is building a world-wide network of crimefighters to help carry on his work around the globe.

He has some help on hand here as Catwoman lends her expertise to his mission.

And let me just say, not only does Yanick Paquette (with inker Michel Lacombe) turn in some terrific art here, not only are his panel layouts dynamic, not only are the action scenes spot on - he also draws an incredibly sexy Selina. (And hoo boy, what a great final page.)

This is a much more accessible Batman than we've seen in a while, and I suspect that's a good thing.

It's an outstanding (fresh) start for the Batman Family.

Grade: A


Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Avengers #7

Brian Bendis has to be one of Marvel's most dependable writers.

He's produced years worth of (mostly) terrific stories and pushed the Marvel Universe into new and unexpected directions. As prolific as he is, I guess it shouldn't be a surprise if an occasional story seems to stumble a bit - but that's the feeling I got with this issue of The Avengers.

The majority of the issue is given over to the efforts by The Hood (Parker Robbins) to track down the Infinity Gems - a group of powerful items that make the owner virtually invincible.

And that's what leaves me cold. The gems were originally tracked down many years ago by Thanos, and it took every bit of his intelligence, cunning and power to manage that feat.

Now we have The Hood - who's not much more than a street-level punk - working on duplicating that feat. I like Robbins as a villain, but he was terribly overexposed during the Dark Reign, and should be spending some time in prison to atone for his murderous ways.

But the character is obviously one of Bendis' favorites, so he's back and tackling a quest that should be way over his head.

There are other things about the book to dislike: the inclusion of the Red Hulk (a character I find boring); some out-of-character behavior by Wonder Man; and Reed Richards being easily overcome.

But there are good points, too. The art by John Romita, Jr. (with Klaus Janson and Tom Palmer) is terrific as always and there are some good character bits in there, along with a surprise announcement by Noh-Varr.

We're still early in the story, so we'll see where it goes from here - and I often think Bendis occasionally tackles stories that most writers would stay away from just to test his skills.

But it's going to take a lot to bring me around on this one.

Grade: B-


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Comic Book Day!

I forgot to mention that last week, for the first time, every comic I bought was cover-priced at $3.99.

Thankfully, this week it was more of a mix. Here's what I picked up at the Comics Shop:

- Avengers #7 - Hmm. Not thrilled with this storyline.

- Batman Incorporated #1 - Giving it a shot.

- Brightest Day #14 - Nice art, but not so sure about the story.

- DC Universe Legacies #7 (of 10) - It's Doomsday!

- The Flash #6 - The Fastest Man Alive in a slowly-published comic.

- Green Lantern #59 - Hey, the Flash is over here, too.

- Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil #1 (One Shot) - Corben art? I'm there!

- Morning Glories #4 - It's like Tower Prep on a bigger budget (a reference for you Cartoon Network fans).

- Superman #705 - Focusing on a grim real-world problem.

- Warlord of Mars #2 - Finally catching up to the book.

The Classics - Animal Man #1

Grant Morrison is getting a lot of attention these days for his work on the Batman mythos, so just for fun I dragged out (what I believe is) his first work for American comics - Animal Man.

The success of Alan Moore on Swamp Thing kicked off the British invasion of comics, and Morrison was one (if not the) first to achieve the kind of acclaim Moore earned. (By the way, I should mention that Morrison is Scottish.)

Animal Man was certainly an unusual choice for a first project - that hero has always been a lower-level character, having (up to that point) only made a handful of appearances since his origin in the '60s. And let's face it, his power - being able to mimic the abilities of animals nearby - is pretty bland.

But Morrison was sharp enough to realize that almost any character can be interesting with the right approach. (Certainly the Swamp Thing had only received sporadic attention before Moore stepped in.)

This first issue (cover dated September 1988) is extremely laid back as it sets up the premise. Buddy Baker is living a normal existence with his wife, a son and a daughter. His activities as a hero have been limited, and he's decided to put his powers to work again in hopes of making a decent living to support his family.

So he spends some time testing the limits of his powers, which allows the reader to learn more about them, too. We also see the introduction of a mysterious character who will eventually cross paths with Buddy - though not in this issue. Longtime readers will have no trouble identifying that character.

The comic ends with a shocking scene (although it was more shocking in 1988 than today) and we realize that this is not going to be a run-of-the-mill superhero saga.

Future issues took the character into even stranger territory (and some of the events actually made some readers angry as they shook up the post-Crisis reality). Morrison was off to a great start with this comic, and he'd fly even higher in the years ahead.

The art for this issue is by Chas Truog and Doug Hazlewood, and I like their work a lot here - it's solid, well laid out and features clean, professional storytelling. The art only suffers in comparison to the incredible cover by Brian Bolland.

This series quickly became a favorite, and you never knew what to expect with the next issue.

I love that in a comic!

Grade: A-


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Thanos Imperative #6 (of 6)

While there are quite a few heroes whose adventures I'll follow into different titles, there are very few villains that generate the same kind of reader loyalty.

In fact, Thanos is one of the few that I can think of. That's why I followed this mini-series, even though I managed to miss almost all the previous "cosmic" mini-series Marvel has been publishing in recent years, starting with Annihilation.

Now I regret missing them, because this has been a heck of a series, loaded with cosmic-level menaces (and then some) and lots of twists and surprises along the way.

The basic story has the heroes - the Guardians of the Galaxy (which includes Nova, Starlord, Mantis, Gamora and Quasar) - bringing Thanos back from the dead to help stop the invasion from the Cancerverse, an evil alternate reality where Death was eliminated. Now the twisted denizens from that universe are trying to invade our reality.

Thanos is a great character because he's the smartest being in the room (with only rare exceptions), he's incredibly powerful and he's absolutely ruthless - as he demonstrates on the first page of this issue by swearing his allegiance to the masters of the Cancerverse.

What happens next... well, the word "cataclysmic" doesn't seem strong enough. Let's just say that big, cosmic events happen, there's lots of death to go around and it's going to take some wiggling to get around the final page.

Not many writers have the ability to write a character like Thanos - his creator, Jim Starlin, is one of the few - but I think writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have done a terrific job here.

Kudos also to artist Micheal Sepulveda who does heroic work tackling some mind-boggling events.

So an outstanding series, well worth checking out (and one I had no trouble following, even though I hadn't read the earlier mini-series).

More like this would be fine.

Grade: A


Monday, November 15, 2010

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1

DC's track record for reviving heroes who started out at different comics companies has been pretty shaky.

Over the years, DC has acquired (or published stories featuring) heroes from Quality Comics, Fawcett, Charlton, Archie, Milestone and now Tower Comics. There have been some great characters involved and a few minor successes along the way - Plastic Man, Freedom Fighters, Captain Marvel, Blue Beetle, the Shield and Static, for example - but no huge success stories.

The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents are the latest to make their return, and while it's too early to call it a big success, DC is certainly giving it a good shot.

They've hired one of the industry's most in-demand writers - Nick Spencer, whose comic Morning Glories is getting lots of attention (and positive reviews here as well).

The art is by someone named Cafu with inks by Bit (honest!). I'm not familiar with their work, but the art here is solid, with a good balance between action scenes and real-world discussions that illuminate the dark world of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, their opponents in the organization known as Spider, and lots of other mysteries.

This series is a far cry from the original incarnation of the group in the 1960s. While it had hints of a dark edge (the suit that gave Lightning his super-speed was also shortening his life span), it was mostly loaded with straightforward, hoo-hah action sequences that were lots of fun and way over the top.

This version is much more real-world with a dark edge - and there's apparently a connection to the characters in those original stories.

We barely meet the heroes this time around, but so far, I like this series. It's an interesting take on the concept and a fresh start for the team. I'm all for it!

Grade: A-


Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Incredible Hulks #616

One of the problems most comic writers face - especially when dealing with a character as powerful as the Hulk - is coming up with a worthy opponent.

The typical solution is to come up with a character who is either incredibly smart (the Leader), equally powerful (the Abomination) or pure evil (that's a long list).

In pitting the Hulk and his growing family against his second son, Hiro-Kala, writer Greg Pak has managed to create a character who is all three.

He's smart, as demonstrated in this confrontation as he constantly stays one step ahead of the "good guys." He's powerful, as shown by his ability to use the "old power" to move a planet and threaten the Earth with destruction. And he's possibly the most evil character in Marvel's history, since he's already killed billions - and is about to kill billions more.

So how does Hiro-Kala's father stop him without killing him? And is either choice even possible?

It's a great challenge and a smart script, as this story hurtles toward its conclusion next issue.

Kudos to Barry Kitson and Scott Hanna for outstanding artwork here. There's a lot going on as different Hulk "teams" face different obstacles, but the art keeps it all clear and easy to follow, and the action scenes crackle with energy.

So there's one issue to go, and it's tough to see how the creative team is going to wrap this up in a single issue. But I'm anxious to see 'em try!

Grade: A-


Saturday, November 13, 2010

The New Avengers #6

As the first story arc for the New Avengers wraps up with this issue, I find myself feeling somewhat conflicted.

There's a lot to like about this comic. Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger continue to create amazing artwork as they offer a different version of strange dimensions and the creatures that live there.

Brian Bendis' story is also compelling and fun to read - even if it does resort to the hoary "death of a main character in this comic" stunt. I think the problem I have with the story is that it doesn't play by the rules.

The New Avengers are forced to fight the incredibly powerful other-dimensional being known as Agamatto, so they use magic to combine their powers into one hero, using Wolverine as the host.

What follows is a terrific battle, but the good guys don't exactly play fair - which is excusable since all of reality is on the line - but it doesn't really seem right, especially when the set-up to the story tells us one thing, and then the rules fly out the window when it's convenient.

But those problems didn't hurt my enjoyment of the comic, and it's interesting to see the efforts to redefine magic and its rules. (Of course, with magic, there are no rules. Or at least few.)

But this has been a strong storyline to kick off this rebooted series. I can't wait to see where it all goes from here.

Grade: A-


Friday, November 12, 2010

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #6 (of 6)

This issue brings us to the end of the story of the death of Batman, and as you'd expect from writer Grant Morrison, he throws in much more than just the Return of Bruce Wayne.

Here's a story that takes us through time to see the ripple effects of this story, which touches on events across Bruce's journey through time from the distant past to the end of time. We see the plot by Darkseid revealed (and we get some hints about his true nature), and we see how this story affects Batman's origin in a surprising way.

Be warned, it's difficult to follow in places - Morrison is playing with some heavy concepts here - and the reader would be well advised to sit down and read the entire run of the mini-series (or the collected version).

And while this story won't please everyone (it gets deep into the pseudo-science of the New Gods, right down to using Kirbyeque terminology), it does provide a thoughtful wrap-up to the story and brings some new realizations to Batman that will no doubt echo through stories in the years ahead.

The art by Lee Garbett and Pere Perez is quite good (though some of the jumps back and forth between artists are a bit jarring), with a style that's offbeat and futuristic.

It'll be interesting to see where Batman goes from here. This adventure took the character about as far out of his usual realm as possible, and it'll be good to have him back in Gotham - and in the present - where he belongs.

Grade: A-


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Comics One Day Later

I'm back in town after a training session in Boston (a lovely town, even with all the rain we had this week), so I finally made it to the comics shop.

Here's what I got:

- New Avengers #6
- The death of an Avenger!

- Avengers: Prime #4 (of 5) - Are these three Avengers dead?

- Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #6 (of 6) - Hey, guess who isn't dead anymore?

- Doc Savage #8 - The plot thickens!

- The Incredible Hulks #616 - Father vs. son!

- The Thanos Imperative #6 (of 6) - The death count here puts all other stories to shame.

- Thor #617 - Looking for Loki.

- T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 - Now here's a comic I remember fondly.

- Ultimate Thor #2 - Because there just aren't enough comics starring Thor.

And that's it!

The Classics - The Amazing Screw-On Head

(Chuck's on the road today for work, so new reviews will have to wait a day. In the meantime, here's a bonus "Classic" review to tide you over.)

Creator Mike Mignola is best known for creating Hellboy (and tons of incredible art, of course), but he also created another character that was even more light-hearted and offbeat - The Amazing Screw-On Head.

First published in May 2002, that character is summoned into action by a painting (or the image) of Abraham Lincoln. Or maybe it's the real Abe, who knows?

He's alerted to a deadly scheme by Emperor Zombie. What follows is a zany combination of black humor, not-so-black humor, the supernatural, super-science, classic bad guys, monsters and assorted over-the-top, hoo-hah action.

It's all framed by incredible artwork by Mignola - moody and funny and intense, sometimes all at once.

This comic is just a delight from start to finish. I have to admit I haven't seen the animated version yet - it's on my NetFlix list - but I'm looking forward to it.

Mignola's work is always a no-brainer for me - if he's writing or drawing the comic - and especially if he's doing both - then I buy it. And so should you.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Classics - Doctor Solar #7

For a brief time, Gold Key Comics actually had several comics based around heroes - or in this case, their only "real" super-hero - Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom.

This issue, cover dated March 1964, features two Solar adventures and a prescient science feature with Professor Harbinger.

All three features hold up pretty well to today's standards. The first Solar story begins with the ocean levels around the world dropping quickly. Solar's investigation takes him to the bottom of the sea, where he discovers aliens are stealing water by compressing it. Solar's solution to the problem is quite dramatic and surprisingly final, considering that most heroes at the time tried to avoid killing the bad guys. The story also doesn't show us the world-wide devastation that would follow the reversal of the alien's plans - but you can't have everything.

The second Solar story involves a comet being guided into colliding with the Earth. It's all part of a plot to destroy Solar - and it nearly succeeds. Our hero's solution is partly ingenious - and partly silly - but it's all in good fun.

The feature with Professor Harbinger is interesting because he predicts the problem of having to much space junk in orbit around the Earth. It's a problem that's come more into focus in recent years - they've had to move the International Space Station several times to avoid a possible collision - so it's interesting to see it discussed in the early days of the space program.

I enjoy these Solar stories. Their science can be shaky at times (and solid at other times), but they're loaded with imagination and they're visually striking. What's not to like?

Grade: B


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Irredeemable #19

The big problem with a character as powerful as the Plutonian is finding an opponent who can stand up to him. (By coincidence, Superman has the same problem.

Writer Mark Waid has finally accomplished this by bringing in a threat from an unexpected corner - an alien race. To pay off an old debt, the aliens known as the Vespa have returned to Earth with advanced technology.

They quickly go to work, launching a devastating attack on the Plutonian. The planet's other surviving heroes join in the battle, and the results are surprising (although, without giving anything away, we've seen certain events in other comics stories).

Waid has made this issue a game-changer, and it'll be interesting to see where this comic goes from here.

As always, the art by Peter Krause is strong, with intense action scenes, loads of detail and aliens galore.

If anyone thought this series was just going to be an one-note, "evil Superman" series, Waid and Krause have taken this series in unexpected and sometime shocking directions - which is why this comic always pops to the top of my reading stack.

Grade: B+


Monday, November 8, 2010

Ozma of Oz #1 (of 8)

As a longtime fan of L. Frank Baum's Oz, I've been thrilled with Marvel's adaptations of the first two books in that series.

And now, like an early Christmas present, here's the first issue in the adaptation of the third book, Ozma of Oz.

While I enjoyed Baum's second book, The Land of Oz, I have to agree with those readers who felt he'd made a mistake in not including Dorothy Gale in that story.

It's an oversight that is corrected in this book, as Dorothy finds herself thrown overboard during an ocean voyage (she's sailing with Uncle Henry to Australia), and she washes up on the "shore" of Oz.

She has a companion - Billina, a talking chicken. About their adventures (and their amusing debates) I'll say no more, except to urge you to give it a read.

Writer Eric Shanower is a long-time fan of Oz and his enthusiasm shows in his adaptation of the original story - it really has the "feel" of that classic story.

The art by Skottie Young continues to be a pure delight - part innovation, part animation. The characters are lively and delightful, and the scenery is creative, unique and otherworldly (in a great way).

I'm going to keep raving about this series until you rty it, so you might as well give in. I'd hate for anyone to miss this.

Grade: A


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Scarlet #3

I'm still having trouble getting behind this comic.

Scarlet is writer Brian Bendis' newest creator-owned work, and it's definitely different from everything else out there. It follows a young woman who sees the man she loves get killed by a crooked police officer.

When the "system" protects the policeman, she decides to change the world by taking on the corruption herself. As a result, in the first three issues of this comic we've now seen her kill three police officers.

We've seen crooked cops in fiction before, and we've seen revenge killings, but the problem here is that we're only seeing part of the story - and as far as we know, only one of those cops was evil.

There's some comfort in the letters page of the second issue, where Bendis answers those same complaints from a police officer - but it doesn't make the story any less unsettling.

One part that is fantastic is the art by Alex Maleev - it's a combination of near-photographic images with a painted style that's like no other. It's amazing work.

For me, the jury continues to be out on this comic (and it's starting to wonder if I'm ever going to make up my mind). For the art alone, I'm hanging around a few more issues. Hopefully, by then Bendis will give us some satisfactory answers.

Grade: B+


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Avengers Academy #6

Our introduction to the young members of the Avengers Academy has been handled very well, through the clever device of focusing each of the first six issues on one of those characters.

It's worked well for me, because I had never seen any of them before - if they had been introduced in a previous comic appearance, I missed it (remember Chuck's Rule #1 - "You can't read everything").

Other series just tend to pile the characters in, slap a name tag on them in the first splash page in the comic and leave it at that. Here, we're actually learning about the characters, their motivations, their concerns and their aspirations.

This comic is sort of the anti-Thunderbolts. In its original incarnation, that comic was about super-villains who were pretending to be heroes. It was interesting to watch some of them actually become heroes, while others refused to change their stripes.

Avengers Academy, on the other hand, is about a group of young heroes who might just wind up being villains - supposedly the Avengers want to keep an eye on these teens because of that potential.

This issue focuses on Reptil, who can morph into any dinosaur. (Interestingly enough, he's a central character on the animated Super Hero Squad.)

He becomes the Academy's first leader, and finds the responsibility weighs heavy - especially since he's sometimes unsure about his own powers.

So kudos to writer Christos Gage for making this comic much more than the usual super-hero head-banging. Instead it gives us characters we care about, and leaves us wondering what the future holds.

Mike McKone has been doing terrific work on the art side of the equation - his characters are expressive, the layouts are energetic, and the action is fierce.

I wasn't sure about this series at first - perhaps partially because of the Avengers overload we're getting from Marvel these days - but the creative team has really won me over.

They're doing great work here, and it's well worth checking out.

Grade: A-


Friday, November 5, 2010

Chaos War #3 (of 5)

The Chaos War is an aptly-named series because the action here is all kinds of chaotic.

The Chaos King is out to destroy all reality, beginning with the mythical Underworlds. All the humans (and superhumans) on Earth have been thrown into a coma, so it's up to the gods to save the universe.

Unfortunately, they're a fractious lot, and have difficulty agreeing on anything, even when their own existence is at stake. That makes them easy prey for the Chaos King, and he cuts down the defenders using their dead family members - and what could be cooler than seeing Zeus (who's back from the dead for, what, the third time in about a year) take on Galactus?

Luckily for the good guys, the leader of the "God Squad," Hercules, has been granted incredible "Supergod" powers and gives our side at least a fighting chance - though a slim one.

The story, written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, spins out at a furious rate, loaded with action, betrayal, and loads of death and destruction.

The art by Khoi Pham and Thomas Palmer is equally frenetic, loaded with detail, nightmarish events and loads of power. It gets a little too crazy in places, but it's all in service of the growing menace facing the good guys.

They're playing on a big scale here, and so far, it's been a lot of fun to follow along. You might need a scorecard to keep all the characters straight, but the story is an intense battle for survival, and has a lot to offer. Recommended!

Grade: B+


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Batman and Robin #16

It really is amazing, the similarities between Batman's story and the recent storyline in Captain America.

(And no, I don't think one company or the other "ripped off" the idea - I really think it's just the way things go in comics sometimes. Great minds think alike.)

Both heroes were apparently killed, but were actually lost in time, and eventually made their way back to the present. We assume that's what happens with Batman, since the final issue of The Return of Bruce Wayne hasn't been published yet.

You'll remember that the final issue in Marvel's mini-series returning Cap to the present was delayed, so he appeared in other comics before we actually learned how it happened.

Now the same thing has happened with Bruce (Batman) Wayne, as he puts in an appearance in this issue of Batman and Robin - he's back before his time.

But that's modern-day comics publishing, I suppose. At any rate, the final issue of this title written by Grant Morrison is the big wrap-up, and all those disparate story threads are pulled together (more of less - mostly more).

We learn the secret behind the Black Mask, the Joker plays a pivotal role, Professor Pyg's scheme is revealed, Robin (Damien) shows he's a real hero, Dick (Batman) Grayson proves he's incredibly tough, and we get a glimpse of the future path for the bat-books.

Whew! That's a lot of ground for a regular-sized comic.

The art is something of a mixed bag. Three artists handled the duties (I smell scheduling problems), and while some of the changes between styles are a bit jarring, overall the art is quite enjoyable.

I have to say, I've enjoyed Morrison's run on this comic, and I'm sorry to see him go. His stories have been challenging, often convoluted, but well worth the effort to unravel. I'm looking forward to his next project, whatever that might be.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hey Kids, Comics!

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

- Adventure Comics #520 - The first death is the toughest.

- Avengers Academy #6 - Some dino-action (in more ways than one)!

- Batman and Robin #16 - Finally, the answers!

- Brightest Day #13 - The Hawks in action - and some questions are answered.

- Chaos War #3 (of 4)
- The gods duke it out.

- Irredeemable #19 - Has the Plutonian met his match?

- Ozma of Oz #1 (of 8) - I adore this series!

- Scarlet #3 - Still on the fence with this one.

- Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom #6 (of 6) - This has been quite good.

And that's it!

The Classics - Uncle Scrooge #219

While I'm fairly certain that Walt Disney comics (and more specifically, comics that starred Donald Duck) were among the very first comics I read, by the time I was six or seven years old I was hooked on super-heroes and I largely turned away from "kiddie" comics.

Yep, I was a dumb kid.

Some years later I learned about Carl Barks and his work and I tracked down some of his comics - and I had to admit, they were very good. Then I found out about Don Rosa - but not in the comics.

At the time this issue of Uncle Scrooge was released (it's cover dated July 1987) I was working at a TV station. My assignment was to do a mini-documentary about unique artists, and I heard about this guy who was writing and drawing new stories about the Disney Ducks.

His name was Don Rosa, and through a mutual friend I set up an interview at his home. It ended up being one of my all-time favorite interviews - he was funny, enthusiastic about his work and a rabid fan of the work of Carl Barks.

I immediately set out to track down his work, and that led me to this issue of Uncle Scrooge, which was Rosa's first full-length Duck tale.

Titled "The Son of the Sun," it's an incredible, rollicking adventure that pits Scrooge, Donald and nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie against Scrooge's evil nemesis, Flintheart Glomgold.

They launch into a competition to find the lost gold of the Incas, and what follows is equal parts adventure, humor, history and discovery. Like the best Barks stories, it's thoroughly researched, loaded with surprises, twists and shocking events.

(And let me just say: if Disney ever wised up and created an animated Uncle Scrooge feature for the big screen, this would be a heck of a story to base it on.)

Rosa's art manages to live up to the story - it's amazingly detailed, loaded with great action sequences and (literally) Earth-shaking events. He manages to get the maximum out of the incredibly expressive (and virtually animated) ducks.

In other words, this comic is just a pure delight from beginning to end.

And it was just the start for Rosa, who has spent the years since crafting terrific stories around the Ducks - it's a job he was born to tackle.

I can't urge you strongly enough to sample Rosa's work (especially his history of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck) - and it goes without saying that you should also read Carl Barks' stories, which are classics in every sense of the word.

Between the two, they've crafted a number of my all-time favorite comic stories.

So thanks, Don, for helping me see the light - I made my way back to those "kiddie" comics just in time.

Grade: A+


Monday, November 1, 2010

Secret Avengers #6

This issue had me at "Shang-Chi."

As I've mentioned before, I've been a big fan of the Master of Kung Fu series since it began in 1973.

So I was happy to see this issue featuring that character as the Secret Avengers uncover a plot to bring Shang-Chi's evil father back to life.

For those who came in late, his father is Fu Manchu, the original model for villains from the Far East. Presumably Marvel no longer has the rights to the character, so here he is not referred to by name.

Writer Ed Brubaker seems to have a good handle on martial arts characters - he did a terrific job resurrecting Iron Fist, and he does a great job here. The character really "feels" like the original Shang-Chi - ferocious in battle, always in control, yet gentle by nature.

Artist Mike Deodato turns in his usual phenomenal work, with near-photo realism, frantic action scenes and amazing panoramas.

One issue into the five issue series, and already I like this story much more than the first arc. This one is more down to Earth (more James Bond than Star Wars), with a formidable opponent, mysteries to solve and lives hanging in the balance.

All this and Shang-Chi, too! What's not to like?

Grade: A-