Friday, April 30, 2010

Mighty Avengers #36

This issue brings us to the end of the Mighty Avengers series, and to say it's been a mixed bag would be an understatement.

The comic started out as a close companion to the New Avengers title (both of which were written by Brian Bendis), but it stumbled almost immediately when artist Frank Cho was unable to keep up with the schedule required to produce a monthly comic.

For the past year or so it's been given over to a new creative team, and presented as an alternate Avengers team, running around the edges of the ongoing Dark Reign stories (which are thankfully about to end).

The great thing the comic did was to restore Hank Pym to the forefront of Marvel heroes by focusing on his intelligence and establishing him as the Earth's "Scientist Supreme" (which is somehow connected to the idea of a "Sorcerer Supreme").

With that being said, this final issue didn't live up to my expectations. The previous issue ended with a revelation about the nature of Pym's "Infinite Avengers Mansion" that had me hoping for the return of a certain beloved character, but that story didn't play out here (though presumably it could somewhere down the line).

Instead, we have yet another confrontation with Ultron, lots of improbable battles and over-the-top plot twists, and a bit of a spoiler for the final issue of Siege.

You get the sense that writer Dan Slott had too many ideas to cram into this final issue - it has that "20 pounds of potatoes in a 10-pound bag" feeling.

Khoi Pham's art also seems a bit uneven - outstanding in places and thin in others. Of course, any artist would have to pause when asked to draw 10 billion Jocastas.

It'll be interesting to see where Pym and the other members of the team go from here, but there are lots of Avengers titles in our future, so hopefully they'll find a good place to light.

Grade: B

Thursday, April 29, 2010

New Avengers #64

We're maintaining our spoiler-free zone here, but this issue of New Avengers doesn't make it easy.

That's because events in the issue (slightly) spoil a few key events from Siege, although they are (hopefully) only minor spoilers.

The issue focuses on The Hood, a clever criminal who has been running the super-powered underworld for Norman Osborn.

Past issues revealed the source of his original powers, which were magical in nature, and when those were removed he was given new, even more lethal powers by Loki.

Here we see The Hood's part in the attack on Asgard, and how it parallels (and diverges from) Ronin's experience in the same battle. It's a clever bit of storytelling, and the end result spins The Hood into a new direction.

Since the Siege started, this title has been a sidebar to the main events, and while it's been fun, it's not really vital to the story in the mini-series. Next issue is the wrap-up to the New Avengers title, as the group spins off into a few dozen new Avenger comics (or maybe it just seems that way).

Kudos to artist Mike McKone and colorist Dave McCaig for providing the moody but powerful artwork here. Brian Bendis, as always, provides a strong script with sharp dialogue and a fast-paced, action-packed story.

If I had to complain about something, I would wonder why The Hood fires a dozen shots but we only see one person hit, and he obviously isn't hurt - yet earlier the Hood's bullets are shown to have devastating force. Well, it's a minor quibble for an entertaining comic.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New Comics Day

Here's what I picked up today:

- New Avengers #64 - Some minor spoilage of the finale of Siege?

- Mighty Avengers #36 - The final issue, also a bit of possible spoilage.

- Captain America #606 - Wrapping up the fight with yet another Captain America.

- Conan the Cimmerian #20 - Vicious battles with the Kozaki.

- Fantastic Four #578 - Playing on a big field of ideas here.

- Green Lantern Corps #47 - Wrapping up loose ends from Blackest Night.

- Invincible Iron Man #25 - He's been torn down to the ground, so it's time for the newest version of the hero.

- Justice Society of America #38 - Continuing the story of an alternate future.

- Secret Warriors #15 - And here, they turn the knife on long-time fans. Or do they?

- Siege: Secret Warriors #1 (One-shot) - The God of Fear attacks the White House?

- Amazing Spider-Man #629 - Wrapping up the Juggernaut story.

- Thor #609 - Now with even less Thor, but more SSiege sideline action.

The Classics - John Byrne's Next Men #0

In the early 1990s the comics industry enjoyed a real growth spurt, largely sparked by the success of Image and Valiant Comics.

Lots of writers, artists and writer/artists decided to try the independent waters, including the guy whose name is part of the title of John Byrne's Next Men.

By the time this issue was published (with a cover date of February 1992) Byrne was well established as one of the industry's top writers and artists. To his credit, instead of producing just another brainless superhero knockoff (which seemed to be the specialty of Image), he created a thoughtful and unique science fiction-based super-team.

The story unfolds in parallel stories. In one, we follow the attempt to hide the discoveries in an advanced lab - discoveries that focus on genetic research.

In the other story, we meet the Next Men. They are five young people who seem to live an idyllic life in a beautiful Garden of Eden-type setting. Whatever they wish for - food, for example - appears the moment they wish it.

But then changes start happening. The towering Jack develops amazing strength. The group's leader, Nathan, has super-vision. The beautiful blonde Bethany is impervious to injury. Young Dan moves at amazing speed. And the slender Jasmine has amazing agility.

And just as they're beginning to understand their powers, everything changes, and they find themselves facing a stunning mystery.

It was a great beginning for the series, and the issues that followed (with few exceptions) maintained a great mix of intelligence and adventure.

The entire comic - pencils, inks, letters (all except for Matt Webb's colors) - were created by Byrne, and it's powerful stuff. You get the impression that he really put his heart into it. Loads of detail, powerful emotions, raw action, lots of super-scientific equipment, clear storytelling - all the work of a true professional and a heck of an artist.

Future stories took the series in a dark direction, as the logical next step for each character - and the dark side of their powers - was examined.

The series continued for 30 issues, and thankfully the run was reprinted by IDW in large collections. Byrne has said that the series had another 20 (or so) issues still to be told, so we'll have to keep hoping that those will finally see print - someday.

The series never attained the sales levels of the top Image comics, but that is no measure of quality. This comic was one of the (sadly few) truly intelligent comics out there in the '90s, and is well worth tracking down.

Grade: A

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Spirit #1

It's funny that a character who was so often roughed-up in his comics adventures has been just as badly thumped by the companies who have carried on his stories.

The Spirit (Denny Colt) was created by the great Will Eisner in 1940 as a man who apparently died and came back to life. He wears a simple blue mask and a regular suit and fights the bad guys in Central City.

His adventures continued for a dozen years, and from time to time he was brought back again in (mostly) reprints of his classic adventures. And, I should note, that the last half of those dozen years resulted in some of the best comics stories ever told - Eisner was a genius.

While (mostly) stellar under Eisner, The Spirit hasn't always had as much luck under other creators.

At least not until 2007, when the character was revived by DC Comics and placed in the hands of Darwyn Cooke, who produced about a dozen outstanding issues. After that, the character fell on hard times again under an assortment of writers and artists who seemed to think the comic should be either a sitcom, a murder mystery, or both. (And don't get me started on the movie - a sad misfire of an idea.)

Now the Spirit is back in a new comic and a new line - DC's First Wave series, which takes non-superpowered heroes from comics and the pulps and places them in their own "reality."

DC has wisely turned the comic over to two outstanding talents - writer Mark Schultz and artist Moritat. The issue's only failing is that it has to spend so much energy setting up the characters and the conflict (but at least they didn't go through the trouble of recapping his origin). Basically, The Spirit is fighting to uncover the plans of the Octopus and his family of crime.

The art is quite good - moody and dramatic, detailed and intense - excellent work. But so far the comic is just a good start - we'll have to see how the story goes from here.

The backup story is also a treat. It's a short Spirit tale as written by Denny O'Neil and drawn by the great Bill Sienkiewicz, and it's much more in the style of the original Spirit stories - short, lean, creative and expressive, it's a neat "done-in-one" tale of love, hate and revenge.

So this issue's off to a good start, with a few reservations - but it's great to see this character back in the hands of writers and artists who "get it." Here's hoping for more of the same in the months ahead!

Grade: B+

Monday, April 26, 2010

Her-oes #1 (of 4)

I realize this isn't a title aimed at a guy of my advanced years, but c'mon - is Her-oes the best title they could dream up for this comic about a group of super-powered teens in high school? Was "She-roes" already taken?

Strange title aside, this is a comic that may throw longtime readers because it takes Marvel heroines and places them in a completely different continuity (not that there's anything wrong with that).

The focus in this issue is on Janet van Dyne (who's happily still alive in this version of the Marvel Universe). She's a student at Cresskill High School and facing the usual teen problems - fitting in, feeling like an outcast, trying to work up the nerve to ask a cute boy out - that sort of thing.

We meet her friends and enemies and the setup seems at least somewhat more realistic than, say, an issue of Betty & Veronica.

We have no clue about the origins of the powers demonstrated here - Janet, for example, hides her powers from her friends and family, and is surprised when additional abilities appear.

Perhaps it'll all be cleared up in future issues. Writer Grace Randolph has provided a reasonable foundation for future stories here, although until the final page, the issue is mostly low-key.

The art by Craig Rousseau (with colors by Veronica Gandini) is fun, with a light, graceful touch. The characters are expressive, likeable and easily identified - not always easy when there are no colorful costumes to set them apart.

This is obviously aimed at the "young girls" market, to which I can only say - good on 'em! It's long past time for the comics companies to reach out to different audiences and expand their line.

It may not be my cup of tea, but there should be plenty of young readers who would really enjoy this comic - if they can find it.

I just hope they aren't driven away by the silly title.

Grade: B

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Justice League of America #44

The team-ups between the Justice League of America and the Justice Society of America were once an annual event, and one to look forward to.

Part of the attraction was the fact that, when they first started in the '60s, I didn't know the history of the JSA - it was like having a new team of heroes appear.

These days, the crossovers are a bit less frequent and they lack that sense of being a "big event," perhaps overshadowed by the event comics that are so common today.

It would be easy to read this issue of the JLA and not realize it was a crossover - the two teams never meet, the JLA is still busy trying to settle on a new lineup, and the issue is given over to a series of big battles, with little story to get in the way.

Writer James Robinson seems to be trying to tie it all into the Brightest Day, with mixed results.

Artist Mark Bagley's work is the best thing about the book, as he depicts an armada of heroes, several battle sequences and loads of action along the way.

This book finally seems to be getting back up to speed after a detour into the Blackest Night - but the ever-changing lineup isn't doing the comic any favors. Find a team and stick to it.

Grade: B+

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ultimate Spider-Man #9

Here's an issue that's an interesting mash-up of several different stories, mostly lighthearted, and then taking a sudden turn into serious territory at the end.

Much of the issue focuses on the Ultimate Spider-Man clone, Spider-Woman, and the aftereffects of her team-up with the Human Torch.

The issue also has some fun with artist David Lafuente's round-headed version of Spidey, and comes up with an interesting (if rather silly) explanation for it. I'm still enjoying his art, although there are a few panels here and there where it gets just a little too cartoonish. But there's a great splash page of Spider-Man in action around the city.

But this issue is mostly setup for the next story, so it's just a slightly above-average outing this time. Of course, this comic usually operates at a higher level, so even an average issue is better than most other comics on the stands.

Grade: B+

Friday, April 23, 2010

Green Lantern #53

Wow, ol' Chuck is dragging this evening (it's been a busy day), so forgive me if this is a short review.

As things wind down from the wrap-up to the Blackest Night, this issue of Green Lantern is given over to wrapping up a few loose ends and focusing on Hal Jordan and his former (and possibly future) love interest, Carol Ferris (Star Sapphire).

New mysteries are set up: we get a hint about what happened to the demon Paralax, which vanished during the Blackest Night; we discover the White Lantern is still on Earth and calling to someone; and we're reminded that Sinestro is a jerk.

As always, a great story by Geoff Johns as he sets the wheels for future stories in motion, and great art by Doug Mahnke, who is turning in fantastic work here.

It's early yet, but the Brightest Day looks very promising so far - and it looks like a certain member of the Green Lantern Corps is stepping back into the spotlight, so that's a good thing indeed.

Green Lantern continues to be one of (if not the) best comics DC publishes. Highly recommended!

Grade: A-

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ultimate Avengers #6

It would be easy to get the impression that writer Mark Millar, when trying to think of a story, simply considers what might be the craziest, most outrageous thing that will get a response from fans, and then creates his story from there.

That's certainly where this version of the Ultimate Avengers seems to come from.

The story centers around Captain America being confronted with the new Red Skull, who is actually his illegitimate child (from a fling he had during World War II).

This Skull is a murderous fiend who is able to face down the latest version of the Avengers thanks to his newest weapon - a Cosmic Cube, which converts thoughts into reality.

With it, he seems unbeatable - but Cap has a solution to every problem, and the one he offers here will leave you, the reader, saying aloud, "Good grief!" (Or perhaps, "Oh, brother," depending on your preference.)

The art is certainly good, as Carlos Pacheco (with Dexter Vines inking) turns in some outstanding work here.

The Ultimates series has been both interesting and, aside from great artwork, largely disappointing. Perhaps it's because the comic takes a great team - the Avengers - and turns them all into murderous jerks.

Or maybe it's just me.

Grade: B

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Today's Comics Haul

Lots o' comics in today's catch. Here's what I picked up, and there would have been more if the rascals weren't so expensive - that Guardians of the Galaxy issue with Thanos was especially alluring.

I got:

- Avengers vs. Atlas #4 (of 4)
- A fun series with characters from past and present versions of both teams.

- Brave and Bold #33 - Who can pass up a bevy of comic heroines?

- Green Lantern #53 - More of the Brightest Day.

- The Guild #2 - Enjoyed the first issue, so I'm back for more.

- Her-oes #1 (of 4) - Had to see if this is as dopey as it looks.

- Hercules: Fall of an Avenger #2 (of 2) - Has Herc really joined the choir eternal?

- Justice League of America #44 - To celebrate the Brightest Day, how about a JLA / JSA team-up?

- Marvelous Land of Oz #5 (of 8) - This is a pure delight.

- Power Girl #11 - Another pure delight, yet for completely different reasons.

- Amazing Spider-Man #628 - More from writer Roger Stern.

- The Spirit #1 - Hoping for a return to goodness here.

- Ultimate Avengers #6 - If this doesn't make you say "Good Grief,"
nothing will.

- Ultimate Spider-Man #9 - Good to see the return of Ultimate

The Classics - Untold Tales of Spider-Man: Strange Encounters #1

As always, we take requests here at Chuck's Comic of the Day, and last week Kyle mentioned this issue featuring the (retrofitted) first team-up between Spider-Man and Dr. Strange.

This story was part of the (sadly) short-lived series Untold Tales of Spider-Man, with writer Kurt Busiek telling the stories that happened in between the earliest issue of Amazing Spider-Man.

As I recall, this special issue from 1998 wrapped up that series, and this was a good note to end it on. Co-written with one of my favorite Spider-Man authors, Roger Stern, the story features a couple of hoods accidentally stealing a mystic artifact with incredible power.

Spider-Man encounters the crooks, but only when he teams up with the Master of the Mystic Arts, Dr. Strange, is he able to track down the thieves - but it's a journey that will take him and his friends to another dimension and some surprising revelations.

It's interesting to note that this is the early version of Dr. Strange, with Asian features, a blue cape (which apparently allows him to fly) and the small, square Amulet of Agamotto around his neck.

The art is by Neil Vokes with inks by Jay Geldhof, and they do a good job of capturing the spirit of Ditko without being an outright swipe of his style. They're especially good at capturing expressions, action sequences, and creating a truly strange alien dimension.

This is a solid, fun bit of work, and another good example of the odd way in which Spider-Man and Dr. Strange work well together in a team-up.

But that's about all there is to it. Otherwise it's just a solid example of good comics craftsmanship. So it's nothing outstanding - but it is a fun "read."

Grade: B

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Phantom - Captain Action #1

Now here's a comic that's tailor-made for me.

It combines two of my favorite heroes from when I was a kid - The Phantom (a character I covered in this review) and Captain Action, the hero based on one of the earliest action figures for boys.

The toy version of Cap was a clever concept that would probably be impossible to manage today. You bought the action figure dressed in the classic blue togs, and you could buy additional hero "disguises" to "transform" him into other heroes, including the Phantom, Captain America, Batman, Flash Gordon, the Green Hornet and many others.

The success of the toy spawned a short-lived (and outstanding) comic from DC - but then both faded away and were not seen again for decades.

Now both Captain Action and the Phantom are being published by Moonstone, so they created this comic to team-up the two icons.

I just wish it ended up being a better comic book. The Phantom is caught in a trap as the story begins, and he's not a factor for the rest of the issue.

His wife, Diana Palmer-Walker, heads up a security agency of some kind, and is involved in some kind of espionage investigation (I know it doesn't make much sense - I read the comic and I don't understand it, either). She realizes her husband is in trouble, so she calls an old friend for help - Captain Action.

The story by Mike Bullock just doesn't seem well developed. Diana sets up two poorly thought-out traps for no apparent purpose, the Phantom has little to do and Cap is written as a jerk.

The art by Rene Maniquis and Keith Williams rates a "good try," but the action scenes are jumbled and the faces of the characters are inconsistent. It's not bad, it's just not great.

It's difficult to give this comic a low grade, because of my childhood attachment to both.

But there's no getting around the fact that this comic wastes two great characters in a pedestrian story. A shame.

Grade: C

Monday, April 19, 2010

Black Widow #1

It's good to see the Black Widow getting her chance in the spotlight, although it's obviously happening because of her appearance in the Iron Man 2 movie (which I'm really looking forward to, by the way).

Natasha Romanoff has actually been around almost as long as Iron Man himself. She first appeared as a Russian spy trying to steal secrets from Tony Stark. Over the years since she's gone from stereotypical bad girl to reformed super-hero, Avenger and SHIELD super-spy.

Her first issue is kind of an interesting mish-mash of stories, hints and odd sidelines, as a mysterious figure from her past attacks and leaves the Widow in a surprisingly vulnerable condition.

The story by Marjorie Liu hints at several possible future storylines and establishes the supporting cast for the Widow, but it makes Natasha almost a secondary character in her own comic - perhaps it would all go down better if we saw more of the Widow in action.

The art by Daniel Acuna is quite good - dark and moody, with some outstanding paint effects.

At this point, it's difficult to give this one a strong recommendation - it's a good setup, but the story is still too deep in mystery to tell if it's going to actually be a good one.

The best advice is to wait for the collection. Or the movie.

Grade: B-

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Doc Savage #1

Let me say that I'm thrilled to see Doc Savage back in publication, since I've long been a fan of his pulp adventures.

And we suddenly have a wealth of Doc comics, as the Man of Bronze also stars in the First Wave mini-series.

For those not familiar with the character, Doc is Dr. Clark Savage, Jr., the original "superman." He has no special powers, but through a lifetime of training he has honed his body and mind to near-perfection, and devotes his efforts to helping those in need, which often brings him up against fantastic menaces and powerful foes.

He's aided by his five assistants - Ham (an attorney), Monk (a chemist), Renny (an engineer), Long Tom (an electrical engineer) and Johnny (an archaeologist).

DC is not creating these as period pieces, but the creative team is going the extra mile to place the series in its own reality (much like Batman: The Animated Series did), where you can easily interpret the adventures as being modern - or set in a bygone age.

The story by Paul Malmont captures that pulp feel, as the story starts with an attack on Doc and accelerates from there as Doc's allies and his headquarters suffer a devastating assault from the sky.

The only thing about this comic that didn't work for me was Howard Porter's art - which is surprising, since I really liked his work on Justice League. But here his work seems thin in places, and the faces of the characters just seem too simple. Plus, I don't care for the visualization of Doc's aides - Monk just looks like another guy in a hat, instead of having simian features. Maybe it's just that I have my own pictures of the team in my head, and the art is different.

Still, complaints about the art aside, I enjoyed this issue and look forward to further adventures.

The issue also includes a backup feature starring The Avenger (no relation to Marvel's super-team), who heads up the team known as Justice, Inc.

It's a short feature written by Jason Starr with some excellent art by Scotty Hampton - and while it's too early to tell much about it, so far the story's off to a good start.

Grade: B+

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #1

For whatever reason, Marvel is relaunching its line of Marvel Adventures titles, which offer an interesting take on the Marvel Universe.

I wouldn't categorize these as comics for kids (like the Super Hero Squad), but instead it seems to be aimed at the tweens, who are too old to be interested in the comics for younger readers, but not yet ready for the more grim goings-on in comics for mature readers.

As such, I have to say - this is a good comic! The story gives us a different version of The Avengers (don't ask me why the cover features only Iron Man - he's in here, but he plays a small part). In addition to the Armored Avenger, the cast includes Captain America, Thor, the Vision, the Invisible Woman, Nova and the Black Widow.

The story by Paul Tobin is the perfect jumping-on spot, as we see the team trying to establish itself as fighting for justice, but not under the control of any government or agency. At the same time, there's a menace from Magneto and members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (or whatever they're calling themselves these days).

What ensues is a straightforward, mainstream and clever comic book battle - a breath of fresh air, really.

The art by Ronan Cliquet and Amilton Santos is quite good - clean, professional, with strong layouts, some powerful sequences and easy-to-follow storytelling.

This really is an "all ages" comic that manages to capture the feel of the Silver Age of comics with a focus on characters and story. Recommended!

Grade: B+

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Flash #1

So has it been almost two years since Barry Allen returned in Final Crisis?

Since then he's starred in two mini-series (The Flash: Rebirth and Blackest Night: The Flash) and had a leading role in a third (Blackest Night).

Finally, the preliminaries are out of the way, and The Flash is back in his own ongoing title. As a big fan of Barry Allen, I couldn't be happier. He's the Flash I grew up reading, and some of his early adventures were the first comics that got me hooked.

This book wastes no time getting to the point, as Barry returns to his old life as a Police Scientist (a cool occupation to have these days, considering the popularity of the CSI shows).

His long absence is quickly explained away, and he goes about reestablishing his life as both superhero (kicking the issue off with a nifty high-speed chase), police scientist (examining a dead supervillain) and husband (flirting with his wife via high-speed text messages).

Writer Geoff Johns gets this series off to a strong start, establishing the city, the surroundings and the villains quickly, and then throwing us all a curve with a surprising cliffhanger.

Artist Francis Manapul's style is growing on me quickly. A little rough in places (with a few odd angles), but the action scenes sing, and I like his use of multiple images and crackling energy to convey the Flash's high-speed heroics.

The future looks bright for the Silver Age speedster, and we get a Johns-patented peek into the future of the title, which includes something called Flashpoint.

It's a promising return for a beloved speedster. All I can say is: welcome back, old friend!

Grade: A-

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Brightest Day #0

Following on the heels of the Blackest Night mini-series comes... yet another mini-series!

Brightest Day follows up on the resurrection of a dozen characters in the DC Universe - some heroes and some villains. Here we get a quick look at how they're coping with their return to the land of the living, and what changes have happened in their lives.

It's all kind of a jumble at this point, although writer Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi do a solid job of keeping it all moving along briskly and (for the most part) clearly.

The story centers around the character whose return to life was the biggest surprise - Deadman, who may have to get a new name, considering the power his white ring apparently gives.

The art is quite good, with Fernando Pasarin providing the pencils and six different inkers chiming in. The art features lots of detail, strong heroic figures and clear storytelling. Impressive stuff here.

As a long-time fan, it's a thrill to see some of my all-time favorite Silver Age heroes back in action again, and I look forward to seeing how they all tie together and why they were brought back (and whether or not they're the only ones to return).

So far, so good!

Grade: A-

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New Comics Day

Here's what I picked up today:

- Black Widow #1 - Always liked Natasha.

- Brightest Day #0 - Looking forward to this.

- Doc Savage #1 - Always glad to see Doc back in action.

- The Flash #1 - Finally! Barry Allen is back in his own comic. And you get a Flash ring with each purchase!

- Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #1 - Despite the cover, this issue stars all the Avengers.

- The Phantom and Captain Action #1 - How could I pass this up?

- Powers #4 - Solving a murder. Maybe.

- Siege: Captain America #1 (One-shot) - Glad to see Cap back.

- Siege: Loki #1 (One-shot) - Loki's been pulling the strings invisibly on this mini-series - interesting to see what he's been doing.

- Ultimate Enemy #3 (of 4) - A mysterious foe, loads of destruction, a cheesed-off Sue Storm - what's not to like?

The Classics - The New Mutants #1

There's a sure sign of success: excess.

When the X-Men became one of Marvel's top sellers, the powers that be decided to try to tap into more of that money-making potential by creating another team of young mutants who needed to be trained in the use of their powers - the very idea that had been at the heart of the original X-Men.

(Of course, the real excess would come later as additional X-Men based titles were created and the cast expanded to the breaking point. But I digress.)

This team first appeared in a graphic novel, and was then spun off into its own comic, The New Mutants (cover dated March 1983).

The writing was handled by Chris Claremont, who was going strong on the original title - no doubt Marvel thought, why mess with a good thing? The story here isn't up to his usual standards, but that's because so much of it is devoted to setting up the premise and introducing the characters - so we have lots of pages of characters filling up word balloons talking about their feelings, their powers, their lot in life - the usual teen angst.

The art is by Bob McLeod with Mike Gustovich inking. McLeod was mostly known for his inks up to this point, but he turned in excellent work on this title. The characters are expressive, the layouts and design strong, and his style has a good Buscema feel to it.

This is a title that had some growing to do, as we learn about the members of the team - Cannonball, Sunspot, Psyche, Wolfsbane and Karma.

It's telling that 27 years later, none of those characters are "big names" in the Marvel universe - but they did grow into strong supporting characters, and the title would eventually become a "must buy" comic for Marvel.

This issue, while well done, was just the tip of the iceberg for these characters. There were much better days ahead.

Grade: B

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

S.H.I.E.L.D. #1

First impressions aren't always correct.

A quick skim of this book and I thought, "Wow, I'm going to hate this one." Quick images of Leonardo da Vinci in a flying batsuit and Galactus visiting Earth 400 years ago - while wonderfully drawn - left me thinking this issue was going to have all the historic accuracy of an episode of The Wild, Wild West (a TV show, I should hastily add, that I loved despite the way it played fast and loose with historic technology).

But then I read the issue, and guess what? I liked it!

Writer Jonathan Hickman seems to specialize in really big concepts, and he has one here. He's tracing the "true" origins of S.H.I.E.L.D., an organization devoted to protecting the world from menaces beyond normal human understanding.

That story (apparently) dates back to the dawn of civilization, as humanity faced down an alien invasion. We see some of the key moments in history, and learn of the existence of another organization - the SPEAR.

We learn just enough to incite our curiosity about this secret organization - what it knows about the past and the future, and the nature of the young man who's been drawn into its mission.

And for those (like me) who wince at the liberties taken with actual history, we get some indications that there's more going on here than we realize (which may help excuse the excesses).

It's all helped by some fantastic art by Dustin Weaver, with colors by Christina Strain. I'm not familiar with Weaver's work, but it's very impressive - incredibly detailed with imaginative angles, amazing battle scenes, vivid landscapes and heroic figures.

I'm not exactly sure what's going on here, but the story is very appealing and thought-provoking, and the artwork is outstanding. Recommended!

Grade: A

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Flash: Secret Files: Origins 2010 #1 (One-shot)

I admit I'm not a big fan of the Secret Files comics that DC publishes.

Too often, it just seems like an excuse to separate the comics fans from a few bucks. Each issue generally includes an original story about the title character(s), provides some clues about upcoming storylines, and offers loads of pin-ups and facts about the characters, their headquarters, their friends and enemies - that sort of thing.

That's exactly what you get with The Flash: Secret Files: Origins 2010 (laughably numbered as the first issue, as though there will be another before 2010 runs out).

None of which is to slam the quality of this issue. The opening story is a touching look at Barry Allen and his past, with lots of cameos and some foreshadowing courtesy of the Rogues Gallery. It's written by Geoff Johns with art by Scott Kolins, so you know it's a solid piece of work - but frankly, it doesn't add all that much to the coming series.

The supporting pin-ups are a cut above the average, and instead of the usual dry facts and figures they actually shed some light on corners still wrapped in mystery after Barry's return to the present.

Still, I'm not sure this would be of interest to any but the most fanatical Flash fan (like me, for example). It's fun and well crafted, but readers should be able to follow along in the soon-to-be-released ongoing Flash comic.

That's the one to watch for.

Grade: B-

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Spider-Man: Fever #1 (of 3)

This comic book features what must be one of the strangest stories ever to feature the ol' wall-crawler.

In Spider-Man: Fever, our hero is having what he would consider a normal day: hanging around, making jokes and fighting one of the members of his rogue's gallery.

At the same time, Dr. Strange is examining a new discovery - a book with mystic connections to a horrific dimension. When that dimension reaches into ours, it leaves Spider-Man the victim of a truly horrible fate.

Writer and artist Brendan McCarthy (with colorist Steve Cook) has put together a genuinely disturbing story here, and his surreal art manages to tap into that Steve Ditko / unearthly dimension feel that not many artists can capture.

He also teams up two characters who shouldn't work together. Spider-Man is a "street-level" character, working best when he's dealing with real-world problems. Dr. Strange is at home in weird dimensions, fighting bizarre creatures and tackling magical menaces.

Yet for some reason they both work well together. Perhaps it all goes back to the fact that both characters were created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, or perhaps they just have good chemistry together because they're such an odd couple.

Whatever the reason, this comic works (against all logic), and it sets up a heck of a cliffhanger. It might be too disturbing for young readers, but if you're looking for something out of the ordinary, this is a good place to start.

Grade: A-

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Superman: Secret Origin #5 (of 6)

This series continues to trundle along as a well-crafted, thoroughly professional series that recaps some of Superman's earliest adventures, placing them into a logical format and setting the stage for a new and slightly different status quo.

(In other words, it's following the format of the recent Green Lantern and Flash "Secret Origin" series.)

In fact, I'd say it's almost too effective, too antiseptic. It's trying so hard to build the Superman mythos into an amalgam of the Christopher Reeve movie and a more serious take on the Man of Steel's mythos that it seems to lack some of heart that is more typical of a Superman story.

Instead of being embraced by the public, this Superman's image suffers from Luthor's efforts to make him out to be a dangerous alien - in fact, here Luthor convinces the U.S. military to attack Superman, which seems like an extraordinarily stupid thing to do with someone that powerful - wouldn't they try to recruit him first?

Writer Geoff Johns (does he write everything at DC?) and artist Gray Frank are doing excellent work here - but I can't help but feel that they're trying a little too hard to give us the "Marvel" version of DC's classic hero.

It may all be for the best - but we'll have to see how it goes in the final issue and on into the future from there.

Grade: B+

Friday, April 9, 2010

Ultimate X #2

The second issue of the Ultimate X series comes as something of a relief.

That's because after the first issue, I was convinced that this comic was going to be devoted to the adventures of "Wolverine Junior."

Thankfully, that doesn't seem to be the case. Instead, this issue focuses on a different mutant. She goes by the name Karen, but her true identity isn't too difficult to deduce.

She's another mutant in hiding, trying to lead a normal, humdrum life, but everything changes when some old friends pay a visit and violence follows.

Writer Jeph Loeb has struggled in recent years to put together stories that hold the reader's interest without resorting to cheap tricks like death and mass destruction. But with this series he seems to be back on track, and so far this has been enjoyable.

Perhaps he's inspired by his co-creator, artist Art Adams. From the stunning cover to the lush, detailed interior artwork, Adams is at the top of his game. He does terrific work, whether drawing quiet scenes at a typical shopping mall or slam-bang battles between super-powered mutants.

So far, this series has been a lot of fun (though I'm still on the fence about Wolvie's son). As long as that continues, I'll keep buying it (and hoping for no relapses on Loeb's part).

Grade: A-

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Batman and Robin #11

According to the cover of this issue, the return of Bruce Wayne begins here. (I know, you're shocked that somehow he's not actually dead.)

But the story actually started last issue with Dick (Batman) Grayson investigating some hidden rooms below Wayne Manor. His investigation continues this issue as he uncovers more Bat-related secrets that point to a long association between those flying rodents and the Wayne family.

At the same time, writer Grant Morrison has a murder mystery (and a murderous gang) being tackled by Robin and the mysterious Detective Sexton, who we are obviously meant to think is really Bruce Wayne - but that would be too easy.

We also see that Talia is going for the world record in the "Most Controlling Mom" category.

With lots of mystery, some tantalizing clues, a deadly gang and a (seemingly) murderous turn for Robin, there's a lot in this issue to like.

It's all bolstered by an outstanding job on the art by Andy Clarke and Scott Hanna. From a moody rumble in a cemetery to the mysteries under the mansion, the art is clean, detailed and expressive.

The creative team is doing good work here, telling a compelling and involved story, but one that doesn't lose the reader along the way.

If you're ready for (the real) Batman's return, you should probably be jumping on here (or better yet, last issue). So far, it's shaping up nicely.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Comics Today

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

- Batman & Robin #11 - Starting the return of Bruce Wayne.

- The Flash: Secret Files and Origins 2010 #1 - Have I mentioned how glad I am to have Barry Allen back?

- Jonah Hex #54 - An outstanding "modern" style western.

- JSA All-Stars #5 - Oh goodie - more magic-based stories.

- S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 - The organization has an ancient, secret history. Who knew?

- Spider-Man: Fever #1 (of 3) - An odd-looking team-up with Dr. Strange - I couldn't resist.

- Superman: Secret Origin # 5 (of 6) - Luthor goes to war.

- Ultimate X #2 - Can't resist the Art Adams artwork.

- The Warlord #13
- After last issue's shocking turn, I'm anxious to see what's next.

- Uncanny X-Men #523 - Oh good, a big crossover event into comics I'm not buying. Always fun.

The Classics - Nexus #1

While the 1980s had its share of average comics, Nexus was a series that towered over the others.

This was a comic that combined diverse elements into an intelligent composite of science fiction and superhero adventure stories - that is, if you pumped the whole thing up on steroids and threw in lots of humor along the way (not to mention a dash of Kirby and a smidgen of Ellison).

This wasn't the character's first appearance - he starred in three black-and-white magazines before moving into this color comic (in 1983) from the short-lived Capital Comics line (later migrating to First Comics).

Nexus had the strangest origin of any character in comics. Some 500 years into the future, a young man named Horatio Hellpop gains incredible powers, but they come with a curse. He is stricken by terrible dreams about mass murderers who have escaped justice, and his only release from those dreams is to kill the murderers himself.

Yep, the star of the comic is a killer who otherwise devotes his life to his friends, his lover Sundra Peale, and the protection of his home on the moon Ylum, which has become a haven for political refugees.

The stories by Mike Baron are frantic, hilarious and charged with energy, with loads of plot twists, unexpected events and some of the greatest characters in comics. His writing style is unlike any other, and while others have since tried to imitate his style, no one has ever done it better.

This was also the breakout comic for artist Steve Rude, whose style is original in its power and beauty, while showing touches of inspiration from artists like Kirby and Steranko. His men are handsome, his villains horrible, his comic characters hilarious and his women incredibly sexy. He's simply one of the best artists in comics.

So what happens in this issue? Well, Nexus and Sundra try to go on vacation, where they first meet the brutal-yet-refined Judah Maccabee (The Hammer), another powerful warrior who is following Nexus' example.

Back on Ylum, an army of sentient heads are plotting their own attack against the man who decapitated them, and a mysterious woman confronts Sundra about her secret mission.

I can't recommend this series highly enough, especially the issues done by Baron and Rude. Loaded with outstanding art, great humor, a terrific story and lots of mysteries to sort out, it has something for everyone.

Most of these comics are now available in reprints from Dark Horse Comics - well worth the investment.

Grade: A+

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cloak and Dagger #1 (One-Shot)

There are certain comic book characters who keep getting another shot at a comic of their own - but it never seems to succeed.

At Marvel alone, we have (off the top of my head) She-Hulk, Sub-Mariner, the Thing, the Human Torch, Dr. Strange, Spider-Woman and Cloak and Dagger.

They've all been part of some good stories, and all have enjoyed some degree of success - but it never seems to last.

A lot of that can be chalked up to the creative teams involved - for whatever reason, they just didn't click. But in the case of Cloak and Dagger, a lot of the problem is because of the basic concept.

The duo gained their powers when they were given an experimental drug. That's their origin. Pretty thin stuff.

Since they gained their powers, they've been runaways. Dagger is Tandy Bowen, a beautiful blonde who throws energy daggers. Cloak is Tyrone Johnson, a young black man who controls some form of dark energy and can teleport thanks to his billowing cloak.

Different creative teams have tried various approaches to the characters. They've been loners. They've been members of the X-Men (and were thought to be mutants at one time).

This issue seems to be an attempt to get them back to their roots, but first it has to jump through lots of hoops and clean up some continuity, since these days the duo are firmly wedged into the X-Men family.

The story by Stuart Moore isn't bad, but it suffers from the same problem as past attempts - Tandy and Tyrone are just one-note characters, with no real personality to speak of, other than their devotion to each other.

The art by Mark Brooks and Walden Wong is quite good, with a unique, watercolor-ish look to it. Unfortunately, everyone spends entirely too much of the book standing around and talking - but they look good doing it. Tandy seems much more, uh, well-developed here, and as a result her costume must require a lot of double-sided tape - but that's a minor quibble.

It's a promising start, but not really good enough to bring anyone to demand a new title for these characters. They're really a blank slate, and the right team could work wonders with these characters - but it's a take we haven't seen yet.

Grade: B-

Monday, April 5, 2010

Fantastic Four #577

The Fantastic Four is a comic that works on several fronts, but the stories in focus with the new creative team are exploration of the unknown and expanding the scope of already-existing corners of the FF Universe.

Having already discovered new aspects of the realm of both the Mole Man and Atlantis, this issue takes us to the Blue Area of the Moon, which is home to both the Watcher and (when they're not involved in Wars with Kings) the Inhumans.

When a gigantic starship lands on the Moon, the Fantastic Four go to investigate, and discover something both amazing - and frightening - as the Marvel Universe expands a bit more.

Writer Jonathan Hickman is playing with some big concepts here, and while there seems to be a thread connecting them, it's one I can't make out yet - and that's part of the fun.

Artist Dale Eaglesham is turning in inspired work - the best of his career (and that's saying something)! And thankfully he's ditched the short-sleeved uniforms for the FF.

For the first time in a while, the FF feels like a "big" comic again - and I can't wait to see where this story is going.

Grade: A-

Sunday, April 4, 2010

God of War #1

By coincidence, today I finally got a chance to start playing God of War III, so it seems like a good time to review the comic book based on the popular videogame.

For those who came in late, both game and comic book focus on Kratos, a Spartan warrior who was invincible in combat, but became a pawn of the gods (most notably Ares and Zeus).

When his servitude leads to tragic results, he turns on the gods and vows revenge, fighting his way through an army of mythological creatures, giants, warriors and (of course) the gods themselves.

The videogame is loaded with amazing action sequences, more than its share of gore and quite a few story twists. The games are all lots of fun, though not really suitable for young gamers.

So here's the comic, and they wisely turned the writing over to experienced pro Marv Wolfman, who sets this story before the first game, so we learn more about Kratos and how he became involved in the affairs of the gods.

The writing is solid (as one would expect), but the style of art employed by Andrea Sorrentino really doesn't work here. Instead of trying to match the lush and detailed look of the game, she instead uses a painted approach that is dark and murky. It's a stylized look that fits the grim mood of the comic, but doesn't evoke the game at all (unlike the excellent cover by Andy Park).

There are pages and panels where I have no idea what's happening, and this style just seems to be wrong for this comic.

Sorry, I really wanted to like this comic - but there's nothing here to make me want to put down the game and pick up the comic. Pity.

Grade: D+

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Justice League of America #43

So finally, the tumult of the Blackest Night is over, Cry for Justice has mercifully wrapped, and we wonder if the Justice League of America can finally settle down and become something it hasn't been for quite a while - a self-contained comic about a super-team.

Of course, it may be expecting too much in the modern world of event comics. This issue touches on the "Rise and Fall of Green Arrow" storyline, but it's mostly a glancing blow.

Most of the issue is given over to sorting out the new lineup of the team (at least until Superman, Wonder Woman and the original Batman return), but even that is a confused mash of meaningless fights, mysterious villains (some of whom owe a Coke to the New Gods), lots of heroes coming and going with no real rhyme or reason, and a tease for an upcoming crossover with the Justice Society of America.

In other words, there's no real story here, just a collection of scenes with no resolution. Writer James Robinson still doesn't seem to have a grip on this comic, though as always there's a lot of potential there.

The real plus for this comic is the artwork of Mark Bagley, who seems to be having a blast drawing the original JLA and a few dozen other heroes and villains. His style is crisp, clean and loaded with energy - the perfect fit for this comic.

Now if the story would just get focused, we'd be getting somewhere.

Grade: B-

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Amazing Spider-Man #627

There are certain writers who have shown themselves to be dependable. Every story they write may not be gold, but they have earned my trust, so I buy just about anything they write.

One of the names on that list is Roger Stern, who's responsible for some of my all-time favorite stories - most memorably on the Amazing Spider-Man, Captain America, Dr. Strange and The Avengers.

So when I heard he was returning to script a three-part story in this comic, and it was going to be a sequel (of sorts) to the classic "Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut," I was ready to pick up my first issue of "Amazing" since dropping the comic with issue #600.

It didn't hurt my interest to find the art was by Lee Weeks, an outstanding penciller and inker who gives Spider-Man just the right lean but athletic look (too many artists make him a musclebound, generic superhero). The art is lively and fun - a good fit for this comic.

The story begins with an object rocketing out of the night sky and crashing into Central Park. Spidey is first to the scene, and finds an unconscious Juggernaut. Someone - or something - was powerful enough to bring down one of Marvel's biggest powerhouses. But who? That's the question that runs through the issue.

It's a fun mystery, and the story rolls along nicely, with perhaps a few sidesteps that seem unnecessary.

We'll have to see more of the story to see if this one ends up being another classic - but I have faith that Stern will deliver.

And while I'm here, why oh why doesn't Marvel have Stern chained to a computer, writing a book or two for them? Surely there's a place for a craftsman who's a true pro? I can think of a few books that would benefit from his talents...

Grade: B+

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Blackest Night #8 (of 8)

Do I even need to review this issue?

Surely anyone who's been following the Blackest Night story wants to see how it all wraps up.

This issue features the final showdown between the forces of light (and life) and the forces of darkness (and death). There are quite a few twists along the way and more than a few surprising turns of events.

Writer Geoff Johns has crafted a solid ending to the series, with lots of good scenes along the way that will bring a smile to the face of most fans.

Penciller Ivan Reis with inkers Oclair Albert and Joe Prado and colorist Alex Sinclair deliver stunning visuals here, with numerous full-page and double-page splashes, every one stunning in detail and powerful images. Kudos to the art team for doing fantastic work and delivering it on time!

The ending leaves plenty of room for future storylines, and the series itself serves as a good springboard for the future of DC Comics.

It's shaping up to be a brighter tomorrow, thanks to this series (and despite its dark and sometimes grisly moments). I'm anxious to see what the future holds for DC, and fans should thank Geoff Johns for his efforts in getting DC's house in order.

Now if only the other creators can go forth and do likewise...

Grade: A