Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Incredible Hulks #615

It's been interesting to watch this comic change from one focused on a single character to one about a super-team.

In this case, we have Bruce Banner assembling a small army of Hulk (or Hulk-like) powerhouses into its own version of the Avengers.

And it's a family organization, including the Hulk, his son Skaar, his ex-wife Betty (Red She-Hulk), his cousin Jennifer (She-Hulk), his old friend Rick Jones (A-Bomb) and his brother-in-arms, the alien Korg.

In this issue the Hulks fly through space in a stone spaceship (just go with it) to meet the Hulk's son Hiro-Kala, who plans to destroy the Earth by hitting it with a planet.

What I really, really like about this comic is that it's loaded with smart characters. Any writer can handle the "Hulk Smash" end of things, but Greg Pak is one of the few who can manages the clever plot twists and unexpected shifts that come from writing intelligent characters.

Banner is playing chess against a number of opponents, and he's doing his best to save his family at the same time. It's a heck of a challenge, and his solutions have been very clever - but there are other forces at work here, and not all the Hulks are on the same page.

The art in this issue is terrific, and it's always great to see the talented Barry Kitson's work. His figures are powerful, his settings are detailed and his layouts are terrific.

The great thing about this comic is that - like all the best stories - you never know what to expect.

That's a tribute to the creative team and the job they've done building this storyline.

Oh, and if you don't care about smart characters, the good news is: there's a lot of smashing in there, too.

Grade: A-

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hellboy / Beasts of Burden #1 (One Shot)

So here's a comic that, on the strength of the concept alone, has to be one of my favorite comics of the year.

After reading it, I'm happy to report that it's even better than I hoped it would be - which is pretty amazing, because let's face it, most team-up / crossovers end up being crap.

Perhaps this one works because both comic creations - Mike Mignola's Hellboy (the demonic creature who was adopted by mankind and fights on its side against horrors of all kinds) and Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson's Beasts of Burden (dogs in the neighborhood of Burden Hill carry on the long tradition of protecting the people in the town from supernatural horrors) - are a similar mix of horror and humor, triumph and tragedy.

The two are brought together in a touching way. as a mysterious dog tugs on Hellboy's coat and leads him - somehow - to the dogs and cat who make up the "Beasts."

Somehow Hellboy can understand them. In their own comic, the Beasts can talk to each other, but not to humans (think Watership Down), though this is never exactly explained.

They go in search of a horror that lives deep underground, and the lives of our heroes hang in the balance.

You might expect horrific images in a Hellboy story, but don't let the inclusion of cute dogs and a cat fool you into thinking this is a fuzzy animal story - the Beasts of Burden tales are just as grisly, horrific and often heartbreaking as any comic I can remember reading.

This issue is written by Evan Dorkin and drawn by Jill Thompson, and it's just amazing. The characters are expressive, the settings haunting and beautiful, the monsters horrific - it's just a scary delight from start to finish.

If you're not a fan of horror, then this isn't for you.

But if you enjoy it, this is a comic you must not miss. And it's the perfect way to celebrate Halloween!

Grade: A

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Avengers #6

First of all - see that cover image? Doesn't happen in this comic (though it would be very cool if it did).

This issue of the Avengers is the wrap-up for the inaugural storyline, a big-time, hoo-hah time travel story to end all time travel stories.

Kudos to writer Brian Bendis for taking a fresh approach to what could have easily degenerated into standard fare. There are several twists, some unexpected shocks, the groundwork is laid for a future event, and we see some more of the "baby" Avengers - what's not to like?

It doesn't hurt that the art is provided by John Romita, Jr., whose style combines elements of his father's art (natch), John Buscema's slick but rugged approach, and Jack Kirby's raw power and intensity. There are quiet moments and mind-boggling battle scenes, intense confrontations and funny bits. Great stuff!

This comic may not be universally loved - time travel stories aren't for everyone. But for a glimpse at a possible future for the Avengers, some major league battle scenes and several good examples of smart heroes making smart decisions, this new version of America's Team (sorry, Dallas Cowboys) is off to a flying start.

Grade: A-

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Action Comics #894

I was lucky to get this issue - I got the last copy at my comics shop (which is what I get for waiting until after work to stop by).

Of course, Action Comics isn't usually in such demand - but this issue has a special guest star - namely Death, the sister of Dream in Neil Gaiman's classic Sandman series.

DC has (at least so far) been willing to leave those characters alone, leaving them in Gaiman's control. He obviously signed off on allowing writer Paul Cornell and artist Pete Woods to include her in this series (and reportedly Gaiman actually wrote her dialogue in this issue).

The result is an interesting comic. At the end of the previous issue, Lex Luthor was apparently killed, which leads to his meeting and discussion with Death.

Here we have Luthor way out of his element, dealing with an entity he can't control, outwit or deal with in any way - and he doesn't take it well.

Death is written perfectly - light, mysterious, playful and unstoppable - what a delight to see her in action again (no pun intended).

The art by Pete Woods is quite good and only suffers in comparison to the outstanding cover by David Finch (which I would have sworn was drawn by Chris Bacholo).

I haven't been following this title (sorry, but Luthor just isn't that interesting to me), so I have no idea what's going on with the Vandal Savage subplot, and the backup story starring Jimmy Olsen (really?) was ok, if mighty thin.

So this is a one-and-done comic for me - but I'm glad I managed to score this issue. It's worth it to see an old favorite, even if she's just putting in a cameo appearance.

Grade: A-

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lots of Comics Today

It's been feast or famine at the comics shops lately - and today it was a bumper crop. Here's what I picked up:

- Action Comics #894 - Got the last issue at the shop - it features Sandman's sister, Death.

- Avengers #6 - Saving the future?

- Captain America #611 - Cap goes on trial.

- Fantastic Four #584 - The Thing has a night on the town.

- Hellboy / Beasts of Burden #1 (One Shot) - Perhaps my favorite comic of the year.

- Incredible Hulks #615 - Father meets son!

- Incognito : Bad Influences #1 - Glad to see this series back.

- Justice Society of America #44 - A new creative team, just in time.

- Secret Avengers #6
- Shang-Chi returns - and can Fu Manchu be far behind?

- Secret Warriors #21 - Things get darker.

- Superman #704 - A Lois-centric issue.

- Ultimate Mystery #4 (of 4) - Mystery solved! (Sort of)

- Ultimate Spider-Man #15 - Peter tries to pick up the pieces of his life.

- Wonder Woman #604 - Showdown!

- Uncanny X-Men #529
- Lots of intrigue going on here.

Abd that's it - whew!

The Classics - Justice Society of America #1

This blog tends to focus on writing and story for a simple reason - I don't really know much about art (although I know what I like).

But for this week's "Classic Comic," I wanted to focus on an artist who was with us for entirely too short a time.

When the Justice Society of America was finally released from its post-Crisis on Infinite Earths purgatory, the team got a try-out mini-series and then graduated to its own comic (which was cover dated August 1992).

It was written by Len Strazewski, who did excellent work on this and every other series he worked on.

Mike Parobeck was tapped for the art duties (with Mike Machlan inking) and his art was a real delight.

At a time when comics were focusing on grim and gritty, here was an artist whose style was light-hearted, fun and downright optimistic. It was a perfect match for the scripts, which brought the first super-team back as the "greatest generation" of heroes. They were wiser and older - though not as old as they would have been in reality, thanks to some rejuvenation.

The first issue actually has the team retiring from super-heroics, only to realize that it's not easy to walk away from your life's calling.

Parobeck's art is credited by some as kicking off the "animation" look for comics, but I really think his art is rooted more in classic, deceptively simple styles by artists like Alex Toth and (more recently) Steve Rude.

His layouts were lively, his characters distinct and heroic, and his enthusiasm for his work just spilled off the page.

Sadly, despite strong sales, this series was canceled after 10 issues - reportedly because the editors didn't like the idea of "old" heroes - and they didn't like the art. As someone who bought and enjoyed all those issues, I can only say, "Pshaw." (Of course, the series would return in 1999 - this time to stay.)

Parobeck went on to greater success drawing Batman Adventures, but his career was cut short when, at age 30, he died (he had been diagnosed with Type One diabetes).

It's a real shame, because his style was timeless, and he brought a breath of fresh air to an industry that really needed it. His work lives on, of course, and his style is more widely accepted today - but it's a shame he's not around to see it.

Grade: A-

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Justice League of America #50

I think I need to take a break from this comic.

Which is difficult to do, because the Justice League of America has always been one of my favorites. But every issue I've read for the past couple of years has been, frankly, disappointing.

I mean, this comic should be a no-brainer. Combine the world's greatest super-heroes, pit them against a powerful opponent, throw in some characterization, a dash of humor, a few cliffhangers, and you have an entertaining comic.

But the Justice League hasn't been like that for some time now. It doesn't feature the "A" list heroes - just the character with almost the same powers. So instead of Superman / Batman / Wonder Woman / Green Lantern / Flash, we get Supergirl / Batman (Dick Grayson) / Donna Troy / Jade / Jonni Quick.

All fine characters, but all living in the shadow of the original.

I also can't help but note that the problem with this team is a repeat of the "Detroit Justice League," which was mentioned in the most recent issue of DC Universe Legacies. In it, Paul Lincoln says, "Really? This is now the Justice League? They're supposed to be the world's greatest super-heroes, damn it, not some third-string little league."

Different decade, same problem.

It's almost a shame to see a fine artist like Mark Bagley working hard, turning in great artwork (although some of the inking in this issue is shaky), all for a team that's more Teen Titans than JLA. (Not that there's anything wrong with the Titans - I was a big fan of that comic for many years, too. Lately, not so much.)

The story features the return of the Crime Syndicate, the Earth-3 "evil JLA," and there's plenty of fighting, story threads and sub-plots going on (not to mention some casual slaughter and semi-nudity), but after I put the comic down it felt like nothing had happened - like the book is just spinning its wheels until the "big three" return.

I think I'll likewise take a break from future issues until the powers that be decide to bring the JLA back.

Grade: C+

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Monday, October 25, 2010

DC Universe Legacies #6 (of 10)

It's a tribute to the power of the original Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi-series that it merits coverage in two issues of DC Universe Legacies.

It also covers the Legends series that followed the Crisis, as DC became a company (for good or ill) that focused more on event comics.

Once again, writer Len Wein has done a terrific job of balancing the job of recapping past events and giving us a fresh perspective on it, as we look through the eyes of policeman Paul Lincoln.

It's an unusual viewpoint for a DC comic, and it works well here.

The comic also has fantastic art by penciller Jerry Ordway (one of my all-time favorites), with inks on half the book by George Perez (who also provides the cover) with Scott Koblish inking the second half.

As good as that opening story is, I think I enjoyed the backup even more, as Wein and artists Keith Giffen and Al Milgrom offer a humorous look at the first meeting between Superboy and the Legion of Super-heroes. I suspect this one isn't really in continuity, but it's very funny - Legion fans should get a kick out of it.

So it's another outstanding issue in the series that should help educate new readers about the history of DC, while reviving great memories of past stories for those of us who were there to witness it the first time around.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A-

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Morning Glories #3

You have to give credit to writer Nick Spencer - he just keeps amping up the "strange" factor in Morning Glories.

The first issue had just some glimpses of supernatural things. The second issue featured students in detention who almost drowned in a classroom. But with this issue, things really start getting weird.

The comic focuses on two characters - Casey, the willful and smart student who is doing her best to get to the bottom of some of the odd incidents at the school, and Jade, a girl who finds herself in the Nurse's office from hell.

(Oh, and some helpful advice to students out there: if you're running away from the bad guys, it's generally a bad idea to try to escape through the basement. There just might be bad things down there.)

This comic keeps the streak of strong issues going, as the mysteries behind the school continue to mount up, as we see that the curriculum may have been going on a lot longer than anyone realizes.

There are lots of questions to be answered: Why are the students being tormented? What happened to their parents? What's the meaning of the phrase uncovered in this issue? Do these students have special abilities? Why do they all have the same birthday? Patience is required if you want to follow this issue.

The art by Joe Eisma continues to be strong, clear, clever and intense. The cover by Rodin Esquejo is outstanding, too.

So far, this series has set up a dark and challenging mystery for the reader to tackle. I'm anxiously awaiting the next chapter!

Grade: A-

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Ultimate New Ultimates #4

Ah, here's another new issue of Ultimate New Ultimates - the comic with the silly title, incredibly slow publication schedule (it's been three months since the last issue of this "monthly" comic), dopey story and terrific artwork.

You almost get whiplash just reading this comic. You have all this amazing art by Frank Cho, who provides numerous splash pages of massive fight scenes with monsters, heroes and insane amounts of detail. And then there's the story, such as it is.

Writer Jeph Loeb tries to piece together this narrative, but it's mostly just an excuse for Cho to crank out some amazing splash pages. The story is this: Loki has led an invasion army of monsters (and suchlike) from Asgard. The Ultimates are fighting back, but the odds are against them.

And Thor isn't much help, because he's dead. But oh wait, turns out he's not dead yet - but his return to the fray just makes things even more difficult for his team.

And let me just ask - what the heck is up with Thor's hammer? The Ultimate version of the Thunder God wields a hammer that's laughably oversized (which I've written about before). In this issue his hammer looks like the version used by the original (Marvel) Thor. Are they just bringing the character in line with the upcoming movie, or is there another explanation?

At any rate, this issue is all about big fight scenes, lots of screaming and some monologues by Loki. It's not bad, it's just thin. Loki's plan seems based on shaky reasoning, and just the fact that Thor is dead should have cut short Loki's whole plan. But you can't let something like that get in the way.

Once again - the story is lame, but the art is awesome!

Grade: B

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Batman and Robin #15

Writer Grant Morrison has been weaving a strange and often convoluted story since the Batman and Robin title began just over two years ago. And it looks like most of those plots threads are about to be wrapped up in spectacular fashion.

With that said, heaven help a new reader who picks up this issue cold. You're basically walking in on the last five minutes of the movie here.

But what a conclusion! We have the Joker at his insane best, using Robin against the monsters who threaten to destroy Gotham City. We finally get some hints about the clues behind the apparent return of Thomas Wayne, Bruce's father who seems to have faked his own death. We have a drug bringing madness to the population of Gotham, the threat of nuclear destruction and the apparent death of one of the main characters.

And I haven't even mentioned what happens on the last page. (Nor shall I.)

This story isn't for everyone. It's often confusing, sometimes infuriating, and Morrison plays by his own rules. But the story definitely seems to be building towards a major conclusion, and we'll see how these disparate story threads come together at the end (or fail to come together).

I really like the artwork by Frazer Irving - it's a dark, painted look loaded with surreal scenes, horrific images and some amazing layouts and designs. It's perfectly suited to this strange but compelling storyline.

Can't wait to see how it ends!

Grade: A-

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wednesday's Comics on Thursday

Finally made it to the comics shop today (barely) - and here's what I picked up:

- Batman and Robin #15 - Ah, that last page.

- Brightest Day #12 - J'onn on Mars!

- Chaos War #2 (of 5) - A god-sized battle.

- Conan the Cimmerian #24 - Monsters and a giant gorilla!

- DC Universe Legacies #6 (of 10) - Post-Crisis and a great backup feature about the real perils of time travel.

- Doctor Solar #3 - A different kind of god war.

- Justice League of America #50 - The return of the Crime Syndicate.

- Legion of Super-Heroes #6 - She's sleeping with him?

- Morning Glories #3 - Some rude awakenings.

- Steve Rogers: Super Soldier #4 (of 4) - Rage against the machine(smith).

- Ultimate New Ultimates #4 - What, a new issue already? (Sarcasm off.)

- Alter Ego #97 - The horror!

The Classics - Kamandi #1

This particular issue of Kamandi really shocked me when I bought it - though not for the reason you think.

I didn't buy this issue when it was first published (the cover date is October-November 1972), though I'm not sure why. I generally bought everything Jack Kirby wrote or drew. Perhaps the issue was sold out by the time I got to the local newsstand, or perhaps I didn't have enough money. (I know, it only cost 20 cents - but that was a lot of money to a kid in school!)

Perhaps it's because I wasn't a big fan of Planet of the Apes, the obvious inspiration for the comic (although Kirby denied ever seeing that movie).

At any rate, it was years later that I made the effort to track down those old issues I had missed. I remember finding this one in a local comics shop incredibly cheap - it was priced at a dollar.

I picked it up, took it home, opened to the first page, and there was the shock. At the bottom of the page, the issue was (apparently) autographed by Kirby!

You can see it in this scan - and of course, there's no way to know if the signature is real of faked (although it certainly looks like Kirby's writing). I wonder to this day how someone could let this slip through their fingers? Was it an accident? Did they just not care? Had they forgotten? Is it a forgery?

I was never fortunate enough to have met Kirby, so I like to think it's real - a slender connection to one of the greatest artists in comics history.

Getting back to Kamandi - the comic tells the story of "The Last Boy on Earth," who finds himself in a post-holocaust world filled with all kinds of marvels (no pun intended) - including talking animals, mutants and incredible monsters.

It gave Kirby a chance to let his imagination run wild, and the comic is as big and over-the-top as possible. It's not too deep, but it sure is broad and loaded with action.

I find it funny that this comic - which I consider one of Kirby's lesser efforts - ended up being the longest-running title of those he created for DC in the '70s. Shows what I know!

But despite its shaky premise, it's a comic well worth tracking down - after all, Kirby could have made the phone book exciting.

And Kamandi was always good for a surprise or two.

Grade: A-

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

No New Comics Today?

No comics for me today! I spent the day taking my Mother to the doctor's office for a minor procedure, but by the time I got back home the comics shop had closed - so I'll have to go tomorrow.

Oh, and Mom is doing great, so all is well.

Sorry for the delay - this means I'll have another "Classics" review for you tomorrow, and then hopefully we'll be back to some new issues afterwards.

The Classics - Ka-Zar #14

One of the great unsung writers whose comics career got started in the '70s is Doug Moench.

An amazingly prolific writer, he turned out a vast number of scripts, especially during his early days at Marvel - and while every script might not be a classic, he had a very high batting average.

One of his tactics was to take each comic he wrote into new and unexpected directions, and a great example of that can be found on his run on Ka-Zar. His first issue is #14, which is cover dated February 1976.

The character is Marvel's version of Tarzan, right down to the fact that he's a wealthy English Lord in the civilized world and a brutal barbarian in the jungle.

Thee are a few differences - Ka-Zar is friends with Zabu, a sabretooth tiger, and he lives in the Savage Land, a jungle that somehow flourishes in Antarctica and is home to countless dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures.

After 13 issues featuring the usual battles with dinosaurs and savage creatures, the comic was turned over to Moench, and he immediately turned the series on its head.

He loaded it with all kinds of fantastic menaces and unusual settings. He brought in Klaw, the master of sound, to be a powerful opponent for our hero. Moench took Ka-Zar out of the Savage Land - first bringing him to civilization, and eventually to another dimension, complete with flying sharks, barbarians and super science all duking it out for supremacy.

This first issue teams Moench with Larry Hama, who is a darned good artist (these days he focuses largely on writing). He turns in solid work here, although the thin inking style doesn't go well with Hama's strong pencils.

After this issue, Val Mayerik would take over, and his unique, organic style was a good match for Ka-Zar.

I wish I could say that this series was a big hit, but actually it only ran up to issue #20, and then the series was canceled in mid-story. Perhaps the story was too weird (and it was odd), or maybe it was just too much of a change for most readers - but for whatever reason, the story was shut down and ends on a cliffhanger!

I don't remember if it was ever properly wrapped up - I seem to recall a quick recap being posted in a comic somewhere, but I don't remember where.

It was a shame, because the series was lots of fun and unlike anything being published - Moench, Mayerik and Hama were really kicking out the stops on this series.

That's the danger of swinging for the fences - sometimes you hit a homer, and sometimes you strike out. This series may have been cut off before its time, but it was certainly a fun, glorious and entertaining failure.

Grade: B+

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Magnus, Robot Fighter #2

With the second issue, the creative team behind Magnus, Robot Fighter seem to have a better handle on the feel and direction for this comic.

This issue starts in the middle of a big fight scene, as Magnus finds himself up against some big opponents and overwhelming odds.

The issue is loaded with action sequences but doesn't skimp on the characterization, either. We learn more about Leeja Clane, a tough and willful woman who puts herself in harm's way in order to shut down an operation that deals in slavery and worse. We also see that Magnus is a smart fighter, and doesn't just rely on his steel-smashing strength.

I like the relationship that writer Jim Shooter is building between the two. In the original series, they were almost instantly romantically involved, but here there's more tension and playful banter - we're not sure if they'll end up together or not.

The action is a lot more gritty than the original version of this character, as he has to face down all kinds of creatures - not just killer robots.

I like Bill Reinhold's art for this comic. It's loaded with detail, great character designs, sexy women and a futuristic world that seems to be real.

So far the comic manages to walk the thin line between being too dark and too light. It definitely has the feel of those early Valiant issues.

I'm enjoying the series, so here's hoping that balancing act continues!

Grade: A-

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Warlord of Mars #1

Since I'm not a completist when it comes to buying comics, I tend to be immune to the "alternate cover" scheme, whereby comics companies release a title with several different covers, in hopes that collectors will buy 'em all.

I generally just pick the cover I like best (or whichever one's cheapest, if there's some kind of "rarity mark-up" involved), but I trust you can understand, gentle reader, why I chose this eye-popping cover by J. Scott Campbell, even if he has made the (common) error of giving Dejah Thoris a bellybutton (she's not a mammal - she was hatched from an egg, like most Martians).

It seems fitting that this comic would have an eye-catching cover, since it was the Frank Frazetta art on the cover of A Princess of Mars, the Edgar Rice Burroughs story released in the '70s by the Science Fiction Book Club, that got me interested in the original stories.

Now the Warlord of Mars is back in the spotlight (thanks in no small part to an upcoming film adaptation, I presume). Here we have something of an introduction to the characters in sort of a prequel to that first adventure.

We meet John Carter in 1866 as he tries to make his fortune out west - only to discover that the War Between the States still affects his life. Half the comic is about his struggles and the other half is about his future ally, the giant Martian named Tars Tarkas.

It's a pretty thin intro as written by Arvid Nelson, but then it only costs a dollar, so it's difficult to complain. It's all about setting up the story to come, and it does that well (and I enjoyed the reference to a certain character played by John Wayne).

The art is by Stephen Sadowski, and it's quite good, with a vivid, painted look to it. However, the action does get a bit gruesome, so I wouldn't recommend this for young kids.

It's too early to tell how faithful this adaptation is going to be, or if the creative team plans to follow its own path - but for an intro, this is pretty good. And the price is right (especially if you can find this cover).

Grade: B+

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Thor The Mighty Avenger #5

I have to send thanks to my friend Pete for recommending this version of Thor - I had somehow passed it up, but luckily I was able to pick up the issues I'd missed in a single visit to ye olde comics shoppe.

Thor The Mighty Avenger is a series set in its own reality, so it arrives without the usual truckload of continuity behind it - instead, it's rolling out the story of Thor's adventures on Earth a little at a time.

And there are some key differences from the original Thor. For example, there's no Don Blake alter ego - when Thor first shows us at the museum where Jane Foster works (she's not a nurse or doctor here), his powers are gone and his memory is fragmented - he doesn't remember why Odin sent him to Earth.

I really like this story by Roger Langridge - it's a fresh look at the Thunder God (who seems much more down-to-Earth and less godlike in this version), his supporting cast and the other heroes and villains he meets. As the Ultimate universe shows (when it works), it's often liberating to lose all the history and start with a clean slate.

I also like the artwork by Chris Samnee. It's not a Kirby riff, but he has an energetic style with great layouts, terrific character designs and a real sense of fun spilling out of every page.

This issue involves a meeting with Namor, the Sub-Mariner, and it's loaded with surprises. And let me just say how happy I am to see a writer who has a grip on Namor's character - it's been far too long.

So, if like me you've been missing this one, you might want to give it a try. It's a comic that really captures the Silver Age sensibility with a modern storytelling style.

Thanks again for pointing this one out to me, Pete!

Grade: A

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Superman #703

As Superman's "Grounded" series continues, readers are no doubt still wondering whether or not the idea is working. (OK, perhaps that should be "I'm still wondering").

That's because, for the third issue in a row, not much happens. Well, that's not quite fair - Superman has a conversation with Batman (Dick Grayson), and then has a big fight in the middle of a small town.

But if this series was supposed to reveal hidden sides of the Man of Steel, or provide a different kind of story, than so far it's just not getting it.

Perhaps Superman's too powerful for these kind of "street-level" stories. They're fine once in a while, but a steady diet of them is, so far, just a bit on the boring side.

The art is good, and Eddy Barrows and J.P. Mayer have a good command of expression and anatomy, but the action sequences are disjointed, with no real flow from panel to panel.

The series just feels... disappointing so far. I'm usually patient with an attempt at something different, but so far J. Michael Straczynski's efforts here are just so-so.

I was hoping for exceptional.

Grade: B

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Friday, October 15, 2010

The New Avengers #5

Well, I'm feeling a bit conflicted with this issue of New Avengers.

One the one hand, I'm really enjoying the focus on Dr. Strange (one of my all-time favorite characters). But on the down side, not a whole lot happens this issue.

The previous issue set up a conflict between Dr. Strange and Iron Fist, who had (somehow) survived a visit to another dimension and an encounter with the Doc's teacher, the Ancient One.

Only... it seems that we weren't getting the whole story there, which makes the whole setup something of a cheat. We get a few teasers about the true origins of the Eye of Agamotto, a key icon for the Earth's Sorcerer Supreme, we get set up for a major battle, and then the issue ends.

So, it's not a bad issue, it just seems a bit... off. Lots of great dialogue, some clever bits of business, but it still comes off as a pause between Acts.

The art is still terrific, as Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger continue to do outstanding work - but they just get a few chances to shine, since it's one of those talk-heavy issues.

Next issue wraps up the story and promises a big event, so I trust we'll be back in the "A" column then. But for now, it's sadly just a "B."

Grade: B

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #5 (of 6)

After a bit of a stumble last issue, this issue of Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne brings us back to the top.

But before we look at the story, I have to say how fantastic the art by Ryan Sook is (with inks by Mick Gray). His lush, stylized work is perfectly suited to this "film noir" storyline, with great use of shadows, craggy-faced henchmen, beautiful women and the ornate settings around Gotham City.

Which makes it a shame when, 22 pages in, a different artist takes over. That's no slam on Pere Perez, whose style matches reasonably well with Sook's - it's just a bit jarring when styles change in mid-stream. It's a problem this mini-series has experienced before, and it seems to be a curse that's following writer Grant Morrison around. (I'm looking at you, Final Crisis.)

There's certainly nothing wrong with the writing here - Morrison seems to be having a lot of fun playing with the "hard boiled detective" genre here, as Bruce Wayne awakens in a hospital bed with no memory of being shot or traveling through time, and quickly finds himself involved in the mysterious schemes of a beautiful woman.

The story is really picking up speed now, as we see the answers to some puzzling earlier scenes and we start to understand the depths of Darkseid's reasons for launching Batman through history.

Despite the art problems, this is an excellent series - hopefully the wait for that final issue won't be much longer.

Grade: A


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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Comics on a Wednesday

Here's what I picked up today:

- Adventure Comics #519 - I like the Atom backup feature. The Legion's good, too.

- The New Avengers #5 - An Avengers mash-up.

- Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #5 (of 6) - Batman is a dick? (As in detective - get your mind out of the gutter!)

- Doc Savage #7 - Danger in the Desert!

- Green Lantern #58 - All kinds of colors at work here.

- The Invincible Iron Man #31 - Tony goes for a drive.

- Irredeemable #18 - Dealing with an alien invasion in a very unusual way.

- Magnus, Robot Fighter #2 (of 4) - Taking on an army of slavers.

- Superman #703 - Walking through Cincinnati.

- The Thanos Imperative #5 (of 6) - Closing in on a big conclusion.

- Thor #616 - Big trouble afoot.

- Thor The Mighty Avenger #5 - I'm late to this series, but catching up.

- Warlord of Mars #1 - I'm a big fan of the original book - here's hoping the comic lives up to it!

And that's it - a big week!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Classics - Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #1

Back in September Nate suggested a review of Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight - and we certainly try to cover requests like that here at Chuck's Comic of the Day, so let's take a look at the first issue in that (darned impressive) series!

It's an issue that's so important, it has two covers! The outer one (up there on the left) touts this as the first new "solo" Batman book since 1940 - which is pretty amazing, since the cover date on this issue is November 1989!

These days, hardly a week goes by without a new series starring Batman. (But I digress.)

And of course, in true '80s fashion, the comic was issued with four different colors (though I only picked up one - with two young kids at the time, I wasn't made of money!).

The inside cover (that's it below on the right) was the first of five themed covers (one for each of the first five issues in the series), each one featuring a different mask.

DC certainly lined up its "A" team for this book, with writer Dennis O'Neil, one of the best writers to ever work on Batman; penciller Ed Hannigan and inker John Beatty, both outstanding and vastly underrated artists.

The story takes us back to the very beginning for Bruce Wayne's crime-fighting career as he faces death atop an icy mountain in Alaska. As the story unfolds, we see how his experiences there influence his life and his strategies.

This issue actually makes a solid companion piece to Frank Miller and Dave Mazzucchelli's Batman: Year One, although this is a more spiritual story - but it is crafted to fit into place without disrupting that story (which was issued two years before).

The five-issue series follows Batman's growth as a new hero in Gotham, and it's interesting to see a hero with great ability - but some lingering uncertainty. It's the human side of the hero that we rarely see - but one that O'Neil excelled at.

And I want to emphasize the great art on this series. Hannigan was probably best known for his cover work, but his comic art was strong and original, with dynamic layouts, clear storytelling and excellent "acting" by his characters.

And this was just the first story in a long run - LotDK ran for more than 200 issues and seven annuals, with a majority of those issues featuring some of the industry's top talents.

There are quite a number of outstanding stories in the series - just ask Nate!

Grade: A

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Chaos War #1 (of 5)

It's nice to see Hercules back from... well, wherever they've been hiding him for the past five (or so) months.

He returns to Earth at an opportune moment, just as Marvel's reality is about to be attacked by the god-killing Amatsu-Mikaboshi, who is going by Chaos King (which is much easier for me to type, so I'm all for it).

The series actually starts with a shocking death, as a character who has been around since the mid-'60s is taken down. From there, it just gets bigger and badder as Hercules uses his newfound-and-even-more-godlike power to assemble a vast array of heroes to try to stop the Chaos King.

Writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente have this series off to a vicious start, and so far, it's outstanding.

The story is well suited to Khoi Pham, here working with the legendary Tom Palmer, and together they provide a unique art style that is both organic and dynamic, as power and intensity just sings through each page.

(By the way, be sure to pay close attention to the sound effects used - some are very funny!)

So the Chaos War gets off to a good start here. I won't complain about all the upcoming tie-ins, because I've made that point many times before - but I'll definitely be following the main title. It's shaping up to be good fun!

Grade: A-

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Monday, October 11, 2010

S.H.I.E.L.D. #4

(Almost back to normal, everyone, and so are the reviews.)

As I've mentioned before, writer Jonathan Hickman has been criticized for the fact that his stories are complex and sometimes difficult to follow. For that reason, they're not for everyone, but for those readers with the patience and the desire to sort out the puzzle, his stories pay great dividends.

Nowhere is that more true than with S.H.I.E.L.D.

This story spans centuries, includes famous historical figures in quite unexpected ways, and mixes in healthy doses of Marvel's cosmic tapestry. The end result is a real delight, if a very improbable one.

In this issue we have Leonardo da Vinci, one of the key architects of the organization (which may or may not be related to the modern-day SHIELD), somehow turning up alive in 1956 to take part in a cosmic event.

Also taking part in events is an immortal Isaac Newton, whose motives seem quite dark, and other famous names that I won't spoil here.

It's great fun to follow along as Hickman continues to weave his story, revealing events slowly and carefully. There are also some "Easter Eggs" for longtime fans to enjoy.

The story is well served by the amazing art of Dustin Weaver, who provides images with breathtaking scope and amazing detail.

This comic isn't for everyone, but if you liked Lost and The DaVinci Code, you'll probably get a kick out of this, too.

Recommended!

Grade: A-

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lady Mechanika #0

(Still under the weather folks - though doing a bit better - but here's another short review.)

This is a comic I picked up on a whim - I'm not really a fan of steampunk, though the designs certainly are impressive and fun.

This preview issue of Lady Mechanika gives artist and writer Joe Benitez lots of opportunities to take us deep into this steampunk reality, set in 1878.

We meet the title character, a beautiful woman who is hunting demon-like creatures - but she finds a lot more than she bargained for.

Benitez's art is terrific (if a bit dark and muddy here), and he's equally at home with the incredible detail of this reality and the action sequences. And of course, he's one of the best when it comes to drawing beautiful, sexy women.

Since this is a preview, it's short and to the point, but it's a good introduction to the character. If you're into steampunk, you'll definitely want to check it out.

Grade: B+

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Saturday, October 9, 2010

Brightest Day #11

I have to admit that I'm feeling under the weather today, friends (apparently something I ate is fighting back with a vengeance), so this is going to be a short review.

Brightest Day continues to focus on the return of Silver and Bronze Age heroes, and while it's nice to see Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter back in action, but the story just seems to be stumbling badly, with lots of fighting and yelling and not much in the way of actual story or explanation about what's happening.

As the cover indicates, this issue sees the return of (some) Black Lanterns, and that's disappointing, too - as villains, they're no real challenge to the heroes. Just set 'em up and knock 'em down.

The art's pretty good, if uneven. We're 11 issues in, and the story is still awfully muddy. Again, it's great to see these characters return (that was long overdue), but we need more than that.

Grade: B-

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Ultimate Thor #1

These days Marvel's in the middle of a Thor overload. But that's to be expected, since the Thunder God is starring in an upcoming feature film (which hopefully will live up to the trailer released several few weeks back).

In addition to the real Thor, we have assorted mini-series, specials, alternate reality versions and now, Ultimate Thor gets his own comic.

And let me just say up front that, as much as I like Bryan Hitch's original design for the character, the giant hammer is just too over-the-top. It's completely impractical and almost comical.

OK, now that I have that out of my system, I have to say that I enjoyed this comic quite a bit. Jonathan Hickman (who seems to be trying to take over the "I write everything at Marvel now" title from Brian Bendis) turns in an excellent script here, as we jump around in time from "Eons Ago" to 1939 and into modern times.

We see Thor and his comrades facing powerful opponents in Asgard, we see the growing menace from a familiar Nazi face, and we meet a confused guy who thinks he's Thor in today's world. Oh, and we also meet Dr. Donald Blake.

The story's just beginning, but it's already got its hooks in me, as we see characters and settings that are familiar - yet very different at the same time.

The artwork by Carlos Pacheco is outstanding. He jumps with equal ease from brutal battles to clinical discussions with a fluid and powerful style that's well suited to the roughshod ways of the Asgardians.

I've often said that Ultimate Spider-Man is a better comic than Amazing Spider-Man. It's too soon to say the same about this comic as compared to the regular (and formerly Mighty) Thor comic, but I will say this: it's on the right track.

But I still think the hammer's silly.

Grade: A-

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Uncanny X-Force #1

I think I'm genetically disposed toward buying first issues of X-Men-based comics. But even with that, I go into this first issue of Uncanny X-Force with low expectations.

What I expect from this issue is lots of grim and gritty action, a dark tone and lots of death and destruction. If anything, the issue was a bit toned down from that.

It's certainly dark. This team is (essentially) a Black Ops team working to bring down the big menaces as quickly as possible.

The team is led by Wolverine (natch) and includes Psylocke, Deadpool, Archangel and Fantomex, all dressed in their darkest (and virtually colorless) costumes.

Written by Rick Remender, the story centers around the team's efforts to track down a newly-resurrected villain, which brings them in conflict with a powerful entity - and each other.

But for a first issue, here we get mostly setup and very little actual story advancement. The issue's big reveal is mostly an anti-climax, and the story mostly centers about introducing the characters and sending them up against some (mostly) lame bad guys.

The art by Jerome Opena is solid, with some great layouts, good character designs and fun action scenes - but it is overwhelmingly dark and grim, and a few panels are a bit tough to make out.

So will I buy future issues? I might go one or two more issues to give the team a chance to get their "sea legs" - but I hope future issues have a bit more story packed in there.

Grade: B

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Comics Day Again

Here's what your pal Chuck picked up at the comics shop today:

- Avengers Academy #5 - the focus this time around is on the lightning-powered Striker.

- Batman Odyssey #4 (of 13) - what an odd book this is turning out to be.

- Brightest Day #11 - Not the Black Lanterns again!

- Chaos War #1 (of 5) - Nice to see Hercules back in action - and a surprise death kicks off the issue.

- Lady Mechanika #0 - just for the heck on it.

- SHIELD #4 - the mystery deepens.

- Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom #5 (of 6) - battling an army of killer robots.

- Ultimate Thor #1 - more Thor, more often!

- Uncanny X-Force #1 - just can't pass up those X-Men-related first issues.

The Classics - The Brave and Bold #57

I wish I could remember what I thought when I saw this issue at the newsstand late in 1964, but I must have been amazed. The first appearance of Metamorpho had to be the most un-DC-like comic that company had ever created.

Here was a hero who wasn't handsome or particularly clean-cut. In fact, he was downright gruesome and managed to be both tragic and comic at the same time.

Even the art and writing was an unusual mix. The story by Bob Haney (uncredited here) is mostly serious and straightforward (with some comic banter by the hero), but the art by the incredible Ramona Fradon is fantastic and often comical.

Her character designs are stunning, including the bizarre Element Man, the beautiful Sapphire, the brutish Java and the cartoonish Simon Stagg.

The story is straightforward: adventurer Rex Mason works for Stagg, a wealthy scientist. Mason's also in love with Stagg's daughter, Sapphire. Mason searches a pyramid for the Orb of Ra and finds himself in an ancient trap, entombed with a meteor that radiates power.

He somehow survives but is transformed into a strange new form. He finds he's able to change his body into other elements - magnesium, cobalt or hydrogen gas, to name a few. It's a terrific visual gimmick, and Fradon makes the most of it, bending his body into numerous strange shapes.

Even his name is out of the ordinary - I sure had no idea what a "Metamorpho" was. And he actually doesn't receive that name until the next issue!

So there were lots of reasons why this comic shouldn't have worked - and yet, by some magic (alchemy?), the disparate elements came together and formed an entertaining and energetic comic.

The mixture of dark and comic story elements were irresistible, and this comic (and his soon-to-follow solo title) became immediate favorites.

Unfortunately, the creative teams that followed couldn't maintain the balance between serious and comic adventures, and the comic veered too far into the comic realm - but when it was good, Metamorpho was one of the best.

Grade: A

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Secret Warriors #20

Right on the heels of the dark and impressive "Last Ride of the Howling Commandos" story in Secret Warriors, writer Jonathan Hickman begins what appears to be the final story arc for Nick Fury and his young (but powerful) team.

And this storyline promises to be just as intense as the one before it. Hydra, the Leviathan organization and Nick Fury's agents are taking turns launching devastating attacks against each other, resulting in countless deaths and massive destruction.

I have to say that, even nine years after 9/11, it's still disturbing to see these kinds of attacks depicted. Fury decides it's time to bring the conflict to a close, so he puts a plan in place.

But there are other forces at work, and Fury may have some surprises ahead.

The art by Mirko Colak gives a dark, painted look to the adventure, and I like it a lot. It's not perfect - it's difficult to follow the action in a few panels, and a few of the characters don't look quite right - but that's just being picky.

I've been enjoying this comic a lot, which is somewhat surprising since it focuses on a different Nick Fury - here the Colonel is deadly serious and focused on doing the right thing, even when that means making difficult and life-altering decisions. It's not all jokes, cigars and high-tech trickery - this is a battle to the finish against a powerful enemy and overwhelming odds, and it's tough to see how Fury is going to win this fight.

It's a serious story that this comic has been building to since the first issue, and I can't wait to see where it goes from here. Recommended!

Grade: A

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Monday, October 4, 2010

Justice Society of America #43

Has DC decided to move the original Green Lantern offstage again?

A decade or so back Alan Scott was renamed The Sentinel and moved to the back burner as the focus was placed on a single Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner). It was writer Geoff Johns who restored the original name and brought GL back to the forefront of the revived Justice Society of America.

But this issue seems to be putting things into reverse. Over the course of an incredibly dry (and frankly dull) conversation between GL and his son Obsidian, we learn that the powerful Starheart (which GL now controls) has erected a home for wayward magical creatures on the far side of the moon.

It strikes me as nothing more than a fancy ghetto for all these beings, but maybe that's just me. At any rate, to maintain this new realm, GL must focus at all times on controlling the Starheart. That seems a lot to ask of anyone - does he ever sleep? Watch a movie? Go on a date? You get the idea.

He also predicts a future event that seems a safe bet for a future crossover, especially since in includes vampires. Here's a prediction from me: I won't be buying it.

The art here is by Jesus Merino with inks by Jesse Delperdang, and while the cities and fantasy buildings are spectacular, the heroes seem to suffer from odd anatomy in a few places.

Look, this is a poor comic that spends a lot of effort setting up a magical environment on the moon, but gives us no good reason to care. GL and Obsidian spend most of the issue whining about recent events, and as a reader I found it really difficult to care.

This issue could have been presented as a short subplot in a regular issue. As a stand-alone story, it's mighty weak.

Grade: C

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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Captain America #610

While I've been a big fan of most of writer Ed Brubaker's work on this series, I have to say I'm not as enthused about the "Bucky-as-Captain America" stories.

This issue wraps up the latest story as the modern Baron Zemo expends a great deal of effort to taunt Cap with the notion that he doesn't deserve to wear the uniform or carry the name.

As psychological torture goes, this is mighty thin gruel. For those who came in late, Bucky (during World War II) barely survived the explosion that left Cap in suspended animation. Bucky lost an arm and was rescued by the Soviets, who brainwashed him and turned him into the Winter Solider, a covert assassin.

In the present we have Zemo confronting Bucky with the hero's murderous past, all of which is leading up to the next issue, the Trial of Captain America. Let's just hope his trial doesn't last as long as the Flash's did (we're talking years, literally).

While the story didn't impress, the artwork does. Butch Guice is doing some of his all-time best work here, and that's saying something. Powerful layouts, great characters, loads of detail - it's very impresive.

While Bucky has been a good fill-in Cap, I have to admit that I'm ready for the "Real McCoy" to get back into the uniform. I'm all for Bucky sticking around with a different costume and a better hero name, but it's past time for Steve to get back to business.

Oh, and this comic's backup feature was very weak. How about turning that space over to the Falcon or Bucky? (I'm just teeming with helpful suggestions today.)

Grade: B+

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