Thursday, September 30, 2010

Avengers Prime #3 (of 5)

The first thing you should know about Avengers Prime is that the artwork is incredible.

Alan Davis is one of the top artists in the business, and this issue shows why. Aided by inker Mark Farmer, Davis presents a setting that's filled with magic and majesty, and the kind of power that been all too rare since Jack Kirby left us. He brings Asgard (or rather, the nine realms) to vivid life, and populates it with stunning creatures, heroes and beauties.

Each hero is drawn completely in character - from Thor's righteous anger to Cap - er, Steve Rogers' steely determination to Tony Stark's never-ending smugness, even when stripped naked.

The story by Brian Bendis is played fast and breezy (though with some dark edges), as each hero faces some overwhelming odds. Readers of Thor may find some plot points that seem out of place, given the events in recent issues of his comic, but it's all in good fun, so we can forgive (especially since we haven't seen the whole explanation yet).

As this series hits its mid-point, it's still a lot of fun and - if for the art alone - well worth picking up.

Grade: A-


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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Day for Comics

Yep, it's new comics day, and here's what I picked up today:

- Atlas #5 - The end of the line.

- Avengers Prime #3 (of 5) - Thor goes to Hel - again?

- Captain America #610 - Showdown with Zemo!

- First Wave #4 (of 6) - Welcome to the jungle!

- Justice Society of America #43 - A father and son chat.

- Powers #6 - Interesting range of stories here, from cosmic to street level.

- Secret Warriors #20 - Looks like it's revenge time.

- Wonder Woman #603 - Diana goes to Hell, too!

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The Classics - Brain Boy #6

Today's "Classic" comic is an obscure one that I had almost forgotten about.

A few years back my friend Rolf mentioned it in an email, and it jogged my memory. Brain Boy was a short-lived Dell comic that caught my interest - though I'm not sure why.

The title character is Matt Price, a normal-looking blond hero who wears normal clothes - no super-hero duds for him. Even his powers are (visually) bland - he is telepathic, can control the minds of others and levitate (with some difficulty). He's recruited to work for a secret government agency - and that's about the size of it.

I suspect I was drawn to the comic by the title and the cover painting - but what probably caught my attention was the surprisingly horrific story inside.

The issue was apparently written by Herb Castle and drawn by Frank Springer, although there are no credits listed. Cover dated September-November 1963, the issue is surprisingly copy-heavy - almost a third of each panel is filled with dialogue or captions. Springer's art is strong as always, but he doesn't get much room to maneuver here.

The story begins quietly, as Brain Boy goes on vacation. After several harrowing adventures (in previous issues) he decides to get away from it all, so he travels to a lodge by a secluded lake in Canada.

There he finds the residents acting strangely, carrying out odd missions and resisting his telepathic powers. The mystery revolves around the lake - something about the water seems to sap the will of everyone who comes in contact with it.

It's a story reminiscent of the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where the hero can tell everyone's acting strangely but he doesn't put the pieces together until it's almost too late.

There are a couple of genuinely horrific scenes in the story, including one where Brain Boy is in a rowboat on the lake and a dozen residents swim after him like zombies, tying to pull him into the water. OK, it doesn't sound scary when I write it out, but it was scary to my 7-year-old self (and it's still a creepy scene today)!

The secret to the mystery (which I won't reveal just in case someone out there actually manages to track down a copy) is a clever bit of science fiction storytelling, and very effective.

I remember looking for more adventures of Brain Boy after this issue, but I never found one - and for good reason. This was the last issue in the series.

It's probably just as well. Soon they would have put Brain Boy in a standard costume and had him fighting corny villains. Perhaps it's better for his run to have ended on such a satisfyingly creepy note.

Grade: B+

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fantastic Four #583

This title (to a degree) and its author, Jonathan Hickman (to a greater degree) have come under some fire recently, as a recently-revealed comment by a prominent writer indicated that he didn't think much of Hickman's work.

In some ways, it's a fair criticism - Hickman's comics do not follow the typical style set for most mainstream comics.

Comic books are usually straightforward with clear storytelling and easy for new readers to pick up and follow, since (as Jim Shooter said - I think) every issue is someone's first issue.

But Hickman's writing for the Fantastic Four, S.H.I.E.L.D. and Secret Warriors is anything but clear. The stories are involved, convoluted and often confusing. I can't imagine a new reader picking up any of those comics and being able to follow along.

However, for the reader who's willing to follow along, pay attention and dig a bit deeper, the stories are very rewarding. I'm enjoying this title in particular as we see the seeds of past stories start to grow and bear fruit.

For example, the stories of the four cities is starting to spill over into the Marvel universe, as war breaks out between the powerful residents of two cities. At the same time, we see Valeria, the intelligent daughter of Reed and Sue Richards, following a secret plan of her own - one that involves an incredible amount of danger.

This issue is the first for new series artist Steve Epting with Paul Mounts providing the colors, and a terrific team they are. The art reminds me of Gene Colan at the height of his powers, with fluid character flourishes and lots of powerful scenes with cosmic confrontations. Great stuff!

This issue is actually a good jumping-on spot, because it kicks off a new storyline that promises the death of one of the members of the team. Ordinarily that would produce a yawn, but Hickman has proven himself to be good at creating surprising plot twists, so we'll hang on for the ride.

This comic certainly isn't for everyone, but frankly, if you're not picking up this comic - you're missing out.

Grade: A-

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Avengers Academy #4

Here's where I forgive Avengers Academy for the latest storyline.

Oh, not that it was a great experience - actually, not a lot happens in this issue (other than the team being in a prison for super-villains and almost causing a riot).

But last month I chastised the title for having a crossover with the Thunderbolts so early in its run - but if there is a crossover, it was relatively seamless, as we didn't miss anything since last issue (as near as I can tell).

This issue focuses on Mettle, the crimson teen (apparently) made of steel. His origin is a clever bit of work, and is far more interesting than anything else that happens in this issue.

Mettle works with Hazmat and Veil to track down Norman Osborn (him again?) with a simple goal in mind: they plan to kill him for what he did to them (since their powers all manifested under his guidance).

As always, the art by Mike McKone is outstanding, with strong layouts and great character designs. He stumbles a bit in the riot sequences, where things get too confused - but that's a minor complaint.

I'm enjoying this series, but the whole prison set-up for the past two issues just doesn't ring true. If the Avengers were trying to guide these young people to the right path, why would they expose them to so much potential danger?

I like the idea that this book is (partly) modeled after the original concept of the X-Men - young heroes being trained in how to use their powers - but I get the sense that this comic seems to be struggling a little bit to find its way.

My advice is to get the team out in the field fighting the bad guys - after all, the X-Men didn't spend all their time in the Danger Room.

Grade: B

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Justice League of America #49

Looking back over my reviews of this comic for the past couple of years, I've been pretty hard on the Justice League of America.

That's mostly because the comic just hasn't been living up to its potential. It should be the top comic at DC, with the company's greatest heroes taking on major challenges.

But this comic hasn't been living up to that promise for a long, long time - and this issue does nothing to change that perception.

That's because this is apparently a "filler" issue, designed to carry us over to the next issue, which will be #50.

So we have a few cameos with most of the members of the JLA while the majority of the issue focuses on Donna Troy and Jade as they take on a third-rate villain in a distasteful cop-out of a story.

Once again, I wonder, "What happened to the James Robinson who wrote so many outstanding stories?" (Still no good answer to this question.)

The art is by Pow Rodrix with Robson Rocha and no less than nine inkers! The art's not bad, but it's a mish-mash of styles with some odd anatomy here and there.

So when will this comic get its act together? I've about decided that it's a casualty of the ongoing need for events in comics, and since those stories affect the biggest stars at DC, perhaps this comic is destined to continue to be a home for second-banana characters. A shame, really.

Grade: C

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Thor #615

I approach the latest issue of Thor with lots of hope for the future and its new creative team - but it's tough to judge by this comic. It's really just the first step on the path to wherever the creative team is going.

I don't much care for the framing sequence where a scientist is explaining his theory that something bad is on the way - and we see signs that his prediction is correct. But that's a minor quibble - the character is there to provide exposition that sets up the conflict in the months ahead.

On the good side, we have the introduction of an unstoppable foe, and a glimpse into the beginning efforts to restore Asgard. And Thor has a few heart-to-heart conversations with assorted characters (including himself, sort of).

The best thing about the comic is the artwork by Pasqual Ferry, who provides some stunning images and a nice, ethereal look to the locations, from alien worlds to the ruins of Asgard.

I have to admit that I have never been crazy about some of the ideas introduced in this comic in recent years - running off Odin, placing Asgard on Earth - it all seemed like poorly thought-out snap decisions. Hopefully the new creative team will correct some of these poor choices and get this comic back on track.

The story has a lot of potential, and it's good to see a new and powerful menace being introduced. The jury is out on the story, and so far things are off to a (mostly) slow start, but there's a lot of promise on display.

I'll be sticking around.

Grade: B+


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Friday, September 24, 2010

The Flash #5

I've really been enjoying the opening storyline for the new Flash comic, so I can forgive the two month span since the last issue.

But it's a shame, because the story has really been moving along nicely. On one side we have the Rogues, Flash's traditional enemies who delight in making his life difficult and dangerous.

On the other side we have the Renegades, a heroic version of the Rogues from the distant future. They've traveled to the present to arrest the Flash for murdering the future version of the Mirror Master - a mission that's complicated by the fact that the Flash hasn't actually committed the murder - yet.

In the meantime, the Rogues have unveiled a weapon left behind by the original (and now deceased) Mirror Master - and if it's utilized, the results could be devastating for our hero and his loved ones.

A bit wonky in its logic, but Geoff Johns is weaving a compelling story here with lots of twists and turns.

The art is by Francis Manapul, and I really like his style. It's fresh, original and charged with energy - a good match for this series.

My one quibble with the story is the brief (and almost nonsensical) intrusion of the Brightest Day storyline into events here, but it's over quickly and is relatively painless.

Hopefully the creative team can keep this title up to speed and on schedule - there's a lot of good here, and I'm certainly anxious to see where all this is going.

Grade: A-

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Avengers #5

Time travel stories (and the usual paradoxes therein) are as common as fist fights in the Marvel Universe, so kudos to writer Brian Bendis for coming up with a new and different temporal angle in the latest issue of The Avengers.

We find the team split into two factions - one trying to maintain some semblance of order while time fractures around them, and the other team jaunting off to the future to try to find the reason behind the fracture.

Along the way they meet some (shall we say) interesting individuals and discover there's a lot more to the problem than they realize. To reveal more would be too much of a spoiler, but there's a timeline that you'll want to study - it offers some tantalizing glimpses at the future of Marvel Comics.

As always, the art by John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson is terrific - a powerful look at Marvel's most incredible characters.

If you haven't been reading up to now, you might as well wait for the trade collection - but if you've been following along, you know what a hoot this story is.

Grade: A-

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Comics Day!

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

- Avengers #5 - Interesting take on time travel.

- Avengers Academy #4
- Prison break!

- Fantastic Four #583 - Who will die?

- Flash #5 - finally, a new issue!

- Justice League of America #49 - taking on the Teen Titans?

- Legion of Super-heroes #5
- well, that's a surprise ending.

- Secret Avengers #5
- Who is the other Nick Fury?

- Thor #615 - a new creative team!

- Ultimate Mystery #3 (of 4) - This has been pretty good, if a bit thin.

- Ultimate Spider-Man #14 - Usually awesome, though I'm not crazy about
this storyline.

- Uncanny X-Men - more Hope for the future.

And that's it!

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The Classics - Captain Action #1

For whatever reason, most comic book adaptations based on movies, TV shows or toys leave me cold. I've felt that way since I was a kid - a comic book version of even a beloved TV show always seemed pale next to the real thing.

So I wasn't really expecting much when I picked up the first issue of Captain Action, which was cover dated October-November 1968. I was a big fan of the toy, so I was quick to snap up the comic even though I had been disappointed many times in the past by similar ventures.

The cover (which has been credited to Irv Novick) didn't promise anything special, even with a guest appearance by Superman.

Ah, but then I opened the comic - what a surge! The interior art was by the legendary Wally Wood, and while the art seems a bit rushed in places, it's still outstanding work, loaded with Earth-shaking fights, dynamic figures and imaginative storytelling.

It was completely different from the usual DC fare at the time - as proof, check out this explosive panel from page two, as Cap takes on the evil Krellik.

The script by Jim Shooter, doing his best Marvel-inspired action-packed comic.

The challenge with the character is that the comic book character couldn't be the same as the toy. The action figure was able to "transform" into other characters - Batman, the Phantom, the Green Hornet, Captain America, and so on. Since those characters are all owned by different companies, the couldn't be used in the comic - so Shooter had to dream up a different power source.

The solution is to have archaeologist Clive Arno discover ancient coins that were imbued by the gods from all the pantheons with individual powers - so if he holds the coin of Odin, for example, he can tap into that god's wisdom. With Vidar's coin, he has great strength.

It was a clever idea that opened up a wide variety of powers and situations for the character. He was opposed by his former assistant Krellik, who finds the coin of the god of evil and plots to steal the rest of the power coins.

Their battles are imaginative and powerful, and this issue is a heck of a lot of fun (even if a few plot points are a bit silly).

Captain Action didn't have a long run - only five issues at DC - but they all featured outstanding and unique stories and art. Sadly, Wood only drew the first issue - after that, Gil Kane took over for the rest of the run - and if you can't have Wally, Gil's not a bad consolation prize.

I'm not sure why the comic was canceled so quickly. Perhaps sales were poor, maybe the toy line was fading out by then - whatever the reason, it's a real shame, and I'd love to see these stories collected somewhere, somehow. They're too good to sit unappreciated on the shelf.

Grade: A

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #2

I've written before about how I like Guy Gardner (when he's done right), and I was looking forward to this new series focusing on him.

But this is going to be my last issue (for now). And there are two reasons for that.

First of all, this is just the second issue in the series and, frankly, nothing happens here. Guy thinks about what an honor it is to be in the Green Lantern Corps. He plans to go on a secretive mission. Friends decide to go along. They travel. That's about it.

The second reason I'm quitting is, I'm tired of the gore. I get it, some fans like it, that's fine - but it's not a selling point for me. From the cover featuring an alien puking blood onto Guy to a scene of two characters being burned alive to a bad guy who spits up snakes that pluck out the eyes of... well, you get the idea. A little bit of that kind of stuff goes a long way with me (which is to say, I don't get the entertainment value in it).

If you can get past all that, the artwork by Fernando Pasarin and Cam Smith is quite good - detailed, strong layouts, great heroic figures - but it's all in service of a story that doesn't really do much.

Hopefully this is just a stumble for the creative team, and better days are ahead - but this is where I hop off. Sorry.

Grade: C-

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Brightest Day #10

As the Brightest Day rolls, the focus this time around is on two storylines - Aquaman and the new Aqualad; and Firestorm's deadly secrets.

Both stories are fine, but too brief. As always, you get just enough story to start building up interest, and then the issue's done. (By the way, that scene on the cover? Doesn't happen in this issue.)

After several teasers in months past, this issue gives us some of the details behind the mysterious new Aqualad, an underwater invasion and a showdown between old enemies.

The Firestorm chapter seems designed to amp up the menace factor, as we learn new information about the true origin of that hero, the threat he (they) pose to the universe, and the secret behind the mysterious third inner voice.

The art is pretty solid, though I'm not sure which of the three artists involved drew which pages - but it's a pleasing product and the styles don't clash.

I think the problem with this series is that it's trying to cover too much ground. Even for a comic that's published twice monthly, there seem to be too many storylines going on to keep up with all of them.

Perhaps it would all have worked better in several mini-series, rather than an extended maxi-series.

Still, it succeeds for me because it brings back beloved Silver Age characters - I love seeing Aquaman back in proper form, for example. I also think this is the first issue in the series that doesn't visualize a brutal murder, so that's a step up, too.

Grade: B

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Incredible Hulks #613

So it seems the Hulk has two sons out there running around. Skaar has been the focus for the past year or so, as he journeyed to Earth to get his revenge on his absentee father - only to find that the Hulk was actually the, uh, better man.

Now the other son no one knew about is on his way for a family reunion - but there's a difference. Hiro-Kala has no redeeming qualities, having destroyed planets and killed billions of beings - and now he's using his incredible power to bring a planet to our galaxy as he tries to track down the father he hates.

Greg Pak and Scott Reed continue to craft this story as a bi-weekly split book, with half focusing on Hiro-Kala and the other half on the extended Hulk family. It's an entertaining balancing act, with Hiro-Kala setting up his world-shaking plans, and the Hulk dealing with family squabbles with his ex-wife Betty Brant (Whoops! make that "Betty Ross")(Red She-Hulk).

It's an emotional tale, and it's difficult to see how this can wrap up with a happy ending for everyone.

The art by Brian Ching (part one) and Ron Garney (part two) is excellent, loaded with power and emotion.

I'm on record as not being a big fan of the whole "Hulk Family" thing, so it's a credit to writer Pak that he's been able to incorporate the stories of the two sons of Hulk and make me care (especially since I didn't read the mini-series based on those characters).

The writer skillfully brings you up to speed and compels you to keep reading. That's what good comics are all about!

Grade: A-

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

DC Universe Legacies #5 (of 10)

You really have to admire the all-star cast of creators lined up for DC Universe Legacies.

Two legendary artists join writer Len Wein for this issue: George Perez and Walt Simonson. That would make this issue an automatic purchase, no matter what.

The main chapter of the book brings Perez back to his most influential assignment: Crisis on Infinite Earths. He also depicts the dark turn the DC Universe took after the death of the Doom Patrol (don't worry, they got better).

For the fifth issue in a row, this title offers a great recap of a key section of DC history as we see the ultimate disaster through the eyes of ordinary citizens.

Perez's artwork is stunning, and he has several chances to illustrate incredible crowd scenes and some old-fashioned action scenes.

The backup feature is drawn (in awesome fashion) by Simonson, and it gathers most of DC's "space" heroes, including (my personal favorite) Adam Strange, Captain Comet, Tommy Tomorrow and Space Ranger. It's a fast-paced bit of nostalgic fun, although the ending is a bit too pat. Still, always great to see those characters back in action.

So yet another outstanding issue in a strong series. We're halfway to the finish, but already I hate to see this series end!

Grade: A

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Morning Glories #2

This is a comic with quite a bit of buzz going on, so you may have a tough time tracking down copies of the first two issues.

And there's a good reason for the interest - it's a well-written, dark and mysterious comic.

The story by Nick Spencer focuses on six teens who have been enrolled in a mysterious academy. On the surface, it seems like a normal setting for gifted students - but there's a dark undercurrent beneath (quite literally in this issue, as the cover indicates).

But so far, the students are not your typical superpowered kids - in fact, none of them seem to have any powers at all.

The students begin realizing that something is going on when they call home and their parents don't know who they are. One student actually sees her parents killed at the school.

In this issue, the six find themselves in detention in an obvious shout-out to the movie The Breakfast Club, complete with a reference to actor Judd Nelson.

But there's also a lot of Lost in the story, with strange events, sinister plots and great characters.

The art is solid, with terrific covers by Rodin Esquejo and strong interiors by Joe Eisma, who manages to keep all the characters distinct and interesting.

So far, the tone and mood of the comic is spot on, and I'm anxious to read the next chapter. If you don't mind the dark tones, it's a comic I highly recommend.

What can I tell you? I love a mystery.

Grade: A-

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine #3 (of 6)

Fan Fiction (FanFic) can be fun, because the stories have a kid of freedom that most comic books can't emulate. Anything can happen to the characters, where in regular continuity the story has to maintain a status quo to keep the "never ending" story going.

Too much change (like, say, Spider-Man revealing his secret identity) and you've done serious damage to the franchise.

I say this because Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine feels like FanFic. The series started with the two heroes being sent into prehistoric times, then returned to a present radically changed by their activities in the past.

They've made such a hash of reality that it's difficult to see how they can correct it all without resorting to a completely improbable ending.

The running gag in the series is that the two heroes can't stand each other, so they're constantly bickering. The solutions created for their problems are beyond absurd - when a living planet calling itself Doom attacks, Spider-Man devises a bullet that is powered by the Phoenix force. When things get more dire, he creates a cosmic cube. Honest!

The story by Jason Aaron may be shaky, but there's no complaints about the artwork. Adam Kubert and Mark Roslan provide stunning visuals (including an impressive tri-fold page) of strange worlds and intense battles.

So buy it for the art, but steel yourself for a story that barely makes sense and seems to continue spinning out of control. That Cosmic Cube is going to have to work overtime to clean up this confusion.

Grade: B+

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Comics Day Back On Wednesday Where It Belongs

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

- Astonishing Spider-Man/Wolverine #3 (of 5)
- The art is great, but the story reads like FanFiction.

- Brightest Day #10 - My, Aqualad, how you've changed!

- DC Universe Legacies #5 (of 10) - Art by George Perez and Walt Simonson? Sold!

- Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #2 - Not enjoying the gross-out stories. This is it for this comic.

- The Incredible Hulks #613 - A family reunion on the way.

- Morning Glories #2 - Lost meets The Breakfast Club.

- Steve Rogers Super Soldier #3 (of 4) - Despite the title, here he's not-such-a-super-solider.

And that's it!

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The Classics - Captain America #113

So what's the big deal about Captain America dying? This issue (cover dated May 1969) was all about his death and funeral.

Of course, in those days these stories were resolved a bit faster.

This issue was written and drawn by the legendary Jim Steranko and inked by the talented Tom Palmer, and it picks up from the shock ending of the previous issue, wherein Cap is gunned down in a hail of bullets while jumping into the Hudson River.

Officials recover Cap's uniform (riddled with bullet holes) and a Steve Rogers mask (similarly riddled). Steve had recently revealed his secret identity, and as a result he and Rick Jones (who had taken up the role of Bucky) were ambushed by an army of Hydra agents.

We meet the woman behind Cap's death, the sexy and mysterious Madame Hydra, as she plots a trap for the Avengers and Nick Fury at Cap's funeral. I believe that was one of the few times Steranko drew the Avengers, and I particularly enjoyed his version of Thor.

(Excuse the spoilers that follow - but nothing here should come as a surprise.) Of course, just when thinks look hopeless, Captain America roars onto the scene, hurling his body into the fray as his high-tech motorcycle crashes into Hydra's agents.

What follows is a series of pin-up worthy action shots of Cap looking heroic and invincible as he tackles an army of bad guys. The wrap-up to the story is a stunning display of artistry.

As I have written before, I'm a huge fan of Steranko's work - both art and story. This issue wrapped up his short run on this comic and was his swan song on superhero continuity work for Marvel, although he would go on to supply a horror and romance story, a number of covers, spot illustrations and other projects.

It was the end of an era, and while I've enjoyed his other projects, including the two volumes of The History of Comics and the Comixscene / Mediascene / Prevue magazine, it's a shame his comics work is so rare.

His run in comics was relatively short - a few years on Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, a few issues of X-Men and Captain America, and that's about it - but thanks to his storytelling and his sense of graphic design being incorporated into stunning artwork, his effect is still being felt on the industry today - and there are only a handful of creators who fit that category.

It was great fun re-reading this issue today - with a fast-paced adventure story and incredible art, it deserves the title of "classic."

Grade: A

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom #2

So here's the problem with Doctor Solar - he suffers from Superman syndrome.

Which is to say, he's so powerful that (apparently) nothing can harm him. As a result, he approaches each challenge with a bored air about him.

For example, he faces a giant that causes destruction left and right, but its most powerful blow doesn't make Solar blink. The menace at the end of the story would give most heroes pause - but Solar is unimpressed.

It's a fun little character bit, but if the Doc is going to last any time at all, I'd suggest he needs to be de-powered a bit and allowed to have some real human emotions.

The artwork in this issue is an improvement over the first issue, as Roger Robinson takes over the title and turns in some energetic work with bolder lines.

The weight on this book continues to be on the writer, Jim Shooter, who seems to be trying to create a mainstream comic that tackles some bigger questions. But this opening story arc, wherein a writer somehow brings his creations to life, smacks too much of magic. The emphasis in this comic (in my opinion) should be on hard science, not fantasy.

This comic is entertaining, but I have to admit that I prefer the original version of the character. He was a bit on the dull side, too, but he had limitations and used his intelligence to solve problems.

As it stands so far, I'd be happier with the return of that version of the character.

Grade: B+

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Doc Savage #6

As I'm mentioned in previous reviews, I've been disappointed in DC's First Wave version of Doc Savage.

The first story arc was a mess, and the art was terribly uninspired (to put it nicely).

But with this issue, I feel a surge of hope.

For one thing, the art by Nik Klein is much more stylish and dynamic - Doc is a powerful figure here, often intense - and while his aides are still not quite as distinctive as I'd like, at least I can easily tell them apart.

The story by Ivan Brandon and Brian Azzarello is also a great improvement, as Doc is drawn into a mystery in the Middle East. A strange, child-like duo send a cryptic mystery to the U.S. Government, but is it a threat or a promise of something more?

Against his wishes, Doc is drawn into the mystery and makes his way to a strange land filled with danger and scientific miracles.

It really does "feel" more like a pulp adventure, and while there are a few improbable events, at least it's moving at a rapid pace and it has the promise of more pulp-style storytelling.

Here's hoping!

Oh, and there's an Avenger back-up in this issue that's quite good, too. Up until this issue, the back-up was the best reason to buy the book. This time, they're both enjoyable.

Grade: A-

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Green Lantern #57

My first reaction to this cover was, "Green Lantern's sales must be dropping if they have to resort to a bondage cover." (I'm assuming having Star Sapphire wearing a dog collar qualifies as bondage.)

The bigger sin is that this cover scene doesn't take place anywhere in this comic. And its not like they didn't have lots of intense scenes to choose from: we have a possessed and powerful Hector Hammond attacking Green Lantern and Larfleeze; there's the return of The Predator (not the movie version); revelations about that character's true nature; lots of fighting in Las Vegas; and an interesting solution to a big problem.

In other words, this issue is all over the map, with lots of crazy things happening, but none of it really comes together convincingly. Lots of action and destruction, though.

The art continues to be terrific, though Doug Mahnke's work in this issue is made a bit uneven by the fact that four different inkers worked on it. Still, lots of powerful scenes here and great character work.

It's impressive that writer Geoff Johns manages to keep so many stories in play without ever losing the reader - but maybe it's time to focus on whittling down all those sub-plots into a more manageable number.

Then maybe they wouldn't have to rely on sexy covers to sell their comics. (Not that I'm complaining, mind you.)

Grade: B+

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Batman and Robin #14

This is an odd little nightmare of an issue.

We begin with a confrontation between the Joker and Robin, one that revives the long-dormant "child endangerment" issue.

We have Batman fighting against overwhelming numbers, and outmaneuvered at every turn.

Commissioner Gordon's in a bad spot, and Pyg's still the most disgusting Batman villain in recent memory.

Mix it all together and you have an insane story, packed full of disturbing moments and grim events. This is definitely not one for the kids.

The artwork by Frazer Irving is quite good - dark and moody and nightmarish - but I wasn't crazy about the story. Kudos for writer Grant Morrison for making the Joker a riveting character again, but the rest of this issue just feels like an attempt at stalling the story while waiting for the return of Bruce Wayne.

Not a bad effort, but the story's still a mess.

Grade: B-

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Happy Anniversary to the Comic of the Day!

Amazingly enough, it was two years ago today that I first started this blog! (Although to be fair, I didn't post my first review until the next day.)

It hasn't always been easy, but it's been a lot of fun. I'm surprised that I've managed to keep up the pace - I haven't missed a day yet, although there were quite a few close calls when I've been sent out of town unexpectedly for work.

I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who takes the time to check in and read along, with a special salute to those who send along comments - much appreciated, amigos! Our numbers keep going up, so we must be doing something right!

I have no plans to break my string at this point - I'm still having fun!

So keep tuning in, and please send along any suggestions - there's always room for improvement!

On to the next year!

The New Avengers #4

For some reason, I always get nervous when Brian Bendis includes Dr. Strange in a New Avengers storyline.

No doubt a lot of that stems from the fact that he stripped the Doc of his "Sorcerer Supreme" title and left him depowered, just a shadow of his old self.

So now the opening storyline to this "Heroic Age" version of the Avengers is all about magic, and once again it seems the good Doctor is getting roughed up. Last issue's cliffhanger revealed (apparently) that the force behind the ongoing invasion of demons is an old friend of Dr. Strange - one who has been dead for decades.

How he is involved in the story, and why Strange is blamed for the demon invasion of New York - well, that would be telling. It's also a bit troubling that Bendis seems to be making some changes to Strange's career. Maybe.

The art by Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger continues to be outstanding - dynamic, powerful stuff.

Like any good story, this one has me on edge. I'm hoping the result is a return to glory for the Doc - but I fear the end result will be the opposite. We'll see.

But so far, despite my fears, I'm enjoying this story.

Grade: A-

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Thursday's Comics

Running late this evening - it's been a busy day!

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

- Adventure Comics #518
- A blast from the past!

- The New Avengers #4 - Things get more interesting.

- Batman and Robin #14 - The Joker vs. the Black Mask.

- Batman Odyssey #3 (of 13) - More fighting. More science. And fashion!

- Doc Savage #6 - Much better.

- Doctor Solar #2 - The Doc has to be the mist laid-back hero ever.

- Green Lantern #57 - A bondage cover? How retro!

- The Invincible Iron Man #30 - Tony goes on the wildest date yet.

- Irredeemable #17 - Just when you think you have the Plutonian figured out...

- The Thanos Imperative #4 (of 6) - People die and are reborn so quickly around here...

- Thor #614 - A holiday in Hell.

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The Classics - The Brave and the Bold #60

(New comics don't arrive until Thursday this week, so here's another "Classic" review to fill the gap.)

Continuing with The Brave and the Bold, this issue presented the second appearance of the Teen Titans (although it's the first time they were called by that name) - and it included a huge mistake.

The team included Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash (whose costume is mis-colored inside, though it's fine on the cover) and Wonder Girl.

And that's where the mistake came in - there was no such character as Wonder Girl! Well, not exactly. Wonder Girl had appeared in issues of Wonder Woman's comic - but they were the adventures of a teenage Wonder Woman.

But in this issue we see Diana and Hippolyta waving goodbye to Wonder Girl as she flies off to join the team. It was a continuity glitch that several writers and artists have tied themselves in knots trying to fix. I'm not even sure what the last "fix" was.

All that aside, this is one wacky issue. The Titans are summoned to the town of Midville when a giant lumpy red hand starts damaging buildings. They arrive and find the town under attack by the body parts of the titanic Separated Man. (As far as I know, this was his only comics appearance. Shocking, I know.)

The story (credited to Bob Haney) is fine, though nothing extraordinary, but the art by Nick Cardy is outstanding, with lots of great action scenes, beautifully illustrated characters and terrific layouts. Cardy would go on to a long and happy relationship drawing the adventures of the original Titans.

As a 9-year-old kid reading this comic (which is cover dated June-July 1965), I have to admit that I wasn't crazy about sidekicks, but I did enjoy this team and followed the Teen Titans for years.

Heck, I didn't even know about the mistake with Wonder Girl for years, because I didn't read Wonder Woman. Perhaps readers were more forgiving in the years before the Internet. Or perhaps ignorance really is bliss.

Grade: B+

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Classics - The Brave and the Bold #31

I can't be sure, but I think this is the comic book that first got me hooked on reading comics.

I learned to read at a very young age, thanks to my Mom and my brothers helping me along (I was reading comic books before I started Kindergarten), and comics were always around - but the only ones I remember from a young age were Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny comics.

One summer my cousin Jonathan's family visited, and he let me read one of his adventure comics - and I was hooked. Memory can be a tricky thing, of course - and I have no idea if I was looking at a brand new comic book or one he's bought some time before.

I just remember that it starred Cave Carson, and that there was a giant lava creature. Cave didn't have the most enduring career in comics - he appeared in a grand total of eight comics in the '60s - five times in The Brave and the Bold, and three times in Showcase. (He's had quite a few guest appearances since then, but he never had his own comic.)

Several years ago I tracked down this issue at a comics convention, and it does seem to match my memory of that pivotal comic. It carries a cover date of August-September 1960, which matches the time frame about right - I would have been about five years old.

What I didn't realize is that (according to Wikipedia) this issue was the first appearance of my old pal Cave, and this issue was reportedly created by writer France Herron and artist Bruno Premiani (there are no credits listed).

What really amazes me is how well this issue holds up after (gulp) 50 years.

Oh sure, the story is improbable - it follows the underground adventures of Cave and his friends Christie Madison (a geologist) and Bulldozer Smith (a former sandhog, whatever that is). Using their vehicle, the Mighty Mole, they explore the subterranean world, encountering strange monsters, including dinosaurs, menacing plants, lava creatures and a magnetic monster!

But if you're willing to accept the premise (and I've seen movies with lots shakier ground to stand on), the story is a fun ride as the team races from one danger (and narrow escape) to the next, all beautifully illustrated by the masterful Premiani.

There are no superheroics on display, but there was plenty of action and the promise of more amazing worlds to discover. After reading this again, I can see why I was hooked!

So thanks, Cave, for getting me off on the right foot!

Grade: A

(By the way, a sandhog is an urban miner - a construction worker who works underground on a variety of excavation projects. Thanks again, Wikipedia!)

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Freedom Fighters #1

I have to admit that I haven't been following the modern-day adventures of the Freedom Fighters. The last time I paid attention to the team, they were still the surviving super-team from Earth-X, where the Nazis won World War II. (No doubt the last Crisis did away with all that.)

The team has obviously been updated by recent mini-series adventures, but I missed those. But writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray are pretty dependable - I enjoy their work on Jonah Hex and I loved their version of Power Girl.

But for me, this issue is a stumble. It's not bad, it just seems... busy. We're introduced to the team as different members tackle different disturbing menaces. Black Condor and Firebrand tackle some stereotypical super-powered racists, the Human Bomb tackles an asteroid threatening the Earth, and Phantom Lady and The Ray visit a small town that's been taken over by a particularly disgusting alien blob. Their leader, Uncle Sam, just delivers a lecture.

Since I'm not that familiar with the characters, it would have been nice to have seen some kind of intro - who they are, why they work together - that sort of thing. No doubt future issues will help fill in the gaps, but this one left me mostly wondering what was going on.

I like the artwork by Travis Moore and Trevor Scott - a few of the panels are a bit crowded, but the layouts are strong, the figures dynamic and I really like their version of Phantom Lady, who's sexy without being dressed in a porno costume.

I think, like most group hero books, this title has a lot of potential - but this issue didn't get it off to a great start.

Grade: B-

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Scarlet #2

I was unsettled by the first issue of this series, which depicted the title character murdering a police officer.

For the second issue of Scarlet, we get more of the same, and a bit more illumination about why she's behaving this way.

But we're still only seeing part of the story, and (presumably) there's a lot more to learn about this character.

One of the unique things about this story is the way the title character will often turn and directly address the reader (at least I hope this is what the comic shows - I'd hate to think I was the only one Scarlet is talking to).

It's a clever storytelling trick, but I'm not sure it works - it tends to pull you out of the illusion of the story.

But if the story still leaves me cold, I have nothing but praise for the artwork. Alex Maleev does an amazing job depicting real-world people and settings and making them dramatic and vivid.

It's the story I'm struggling with. As always, Brian Bendis' dialogue crackles, and the characters "feel" like real people.

But the series feels like a different take on the Punisher - instead of criminals, Scarlet hunts down crooked police officers.

Here's what I said about the first issue of Scarlett (and it's all still true):
I have to admit that I'm still on the fence with this comic. Part of me fears it's just going to be about a crazed vigilante out for revenge, and part of me is dying to see where it goes from here.

I'm going to hang around for a few more issues and see which way this thing is leaning. Whatever happens, it promises to be an interesting ride.
So far, I'm still hanging. But I feel my grip slipping.

Grade: B

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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Conan the Cimmerian #23

I'm sad to see this incarnation of Conan the Cimmerian coming to an end, but it's good to know that there's even more of his adventures on the way.

Dark Horse has announced that this series will end in two issues as the Iron Shadows in the Moon adaptation wraps up, and after that writer Tim Truman and artist Tomas Giorello will move over to the King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel mini-series, while the timeline from this issue will be continued in Conan: Road of Kings, which will be written by a writer familiar with that character - Roy Thomas.

But that's all in the future. For now, let's focus on the second chapter in the "Iron Shadows" adaptation, which is based on an original story by Robert E. Howard.

I'm always impressed with how well Howard's stories adapt to comics - no doubt because they're a great mix of action, horror, great characters, implied sex, heroism and terrific storytelling.

This issue picks up with Conan and the beautiful Olivia exploring a mysterious island. They discover a number of demonic iron statues, and Olivia has a vivid dream that the full moon will bring the statues to life.

They have other problems to deal with, as a monster seems to be watching from the jungle, and pirates are also on the way. Oh, and the moon is about to rise...

It's yet another gripping story by Howard, brought to vivid life by this amazingly talented creative team. The art is lush, with amazing detail in evidence, strong layouts and powerful emotions written on the faces of the characters.

I believe Thomas and the legendary John Buscema tackled this story in The Savage Sword of Conan magazine, and this version may be even better - and that's saying something!

As I've said before, this comic is highly recommended - one of the best on the stands!

Grade: A

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Astro City: Silver Agent #2 (of 2)

The mystery of the Silver Agent has been lingering around the Astro City series practically since the beginning of the run 15 years ago, and those questions are finally answered in this issue.

The series is famous for telling its stories through a "ground level" character - usually an ordinary person thrust into a superhero storyline. This issue takes us on a journey with the Silver Agent and shows us his final fate.

Some of the story we already know. The Silver Agent is Alan Craig, a man who gains amazing powers after a strange encounter with The Silver Artifact, an alien creation he discovered deep in Mount Kirby.

He is accused and convicted of murder, and executed - and then his innocence is discovered. But that's not the end of his story. His sacrifice inspired a futuristic Legion (ahem) of followers, and they plucked him out of time.

He had many adventures and eventually began skipping through time, headed toward his inevitable fate - execution. But along the way he demonstrates true heroism and quite a lot of humanity.

If the Dark Age series (recently wrapped) left me kinda cold, this two-part series has rekindled my faith. Writer Kurt Busiek, interior artist Brent Anderson and cover artist Alex Ross are back in form again, telling stories that are moving, intelligent and darned entertaining.

I'm very happy to see this series back on a (more or less) regular schedule, and it's great to finally - finally! - get some closure for the tragic Silver Agent.

Now, if only Steranko would get around to publishing that third volume of The History of Comics.

Grade: A-

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Friday, September 3, 2010

The Incredible Hulks #612

The secret to success with the Hulk is apparently to do the unexpected.

About four years ago writer Greg Pak took over a faltering Incredible Hulk title and moved the character completely off-world, placing him on a distant, barbaric planet. In so doing, he breathed new life into the series, introduced new characters and gave the franchise a much-needed shot in the arm.

The Planet Hulk series led into World War Hulk mini-series, which led into a run of stories with no Hulk at all, eventually focusing on Bruce Banner and his son Skaar. Then came World War Hulks, and now we're starting in on the Dark Son storyline.

The quality of the stories has been mostly great, but there have been a few stumbles (World War Hulks). As a result, I'm not sure what to expect here.

Frankly, I'm not wild about the whole "Hulk Family" thing. The lead story in this issue has no less than seven powerhouses (six of them Gamma-powered), and four of them are directly related to the Hulk - either by blood (Skaar and the original She-Hulk), marriage (Red She-Hulk) or genetics (Savage She-Hulk). And that doesn't count his other son, Hiro-Hala (Skaar's twin. You heard me), who stars in the second half of this comic.

The first half of the book is a nicely-done chapter focusing on the relationship (or lack thereof) between Banner and the surprisingly-alive Betty Ross. When this family feuds, stuff will be smashed.

The second half of the book gives us the backstory on Hiro-Hala, who (we presume) is moving his alien planet in our direction - if he lives that long.

Each chapter has a different artist - Tom Raney on the Earth chapter, Brian Ching on the K'ai chapter - and both turn in solid work here (though not terribly spectacular).

The problem with having "Too Many Hulks" is that it dilutes the original and makes him a lot less special. But Pak's done so much good work, I'm willing to hang in there with this story and hope he keeps it interesting. It seems like a safe bet.

But I also hope the Hulk Family doesn't stay too long. A visit is fine, but it's possible to have too much family togetherness.

It's like my Grandma would say after a visit by our raucous family. As Dad was loading me and my brothers into the car, she's say, "Glad to see you all come visit, and glad to see you go!"

Grade: B+

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