Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's New Comics Day!

A light week, since it's the fifth week of the month. I picked up:

- Daredevil #6 - Really enjoying this book.

- FF #12 - Continuing alongside the returned Fantastic Four comic.

- Herc #10 - The last issue, sadly - but this series hasn't lived up to the previous incarnation.

- Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz #3 (of 8) - Terrific series.

- Spaceman #2 - Giving it a shot.

- Ultimates #4 - Strangly fascinating.

- Uncharted #1 - Based on the videogame series that I adore.

- Uncanny X-Men #2 - Hanging by a thread.

And that's it!

The Classics - Savage Tales #1

I always smile when I look at this comic magazine.

Savage Tales was Marvel's first attempt at the black-and-white "adult" magazine format that Warren Publishing had mastered.

It was published in 1971, and from the grisly John Buscema cover (who knew he could paint?) to the more adult content, it was obvious this was something different.

It makes me smile because I so clearly remember the day I found the issue at the newsstand. I wanted to buy it, but I was nervous.

I was only 15 years old, and there on the cover was a huge warning that the magazine was "Rated M for the Mature Reader!"

At the time, stores were strict about such things. Kids couldn't buy pornographic materials (which were available behind the "adults only" curtain), we couldn't get into "R" rated movies - and I was certain the little old lady behind the counter was going to refuse to sell the magazine to me.

I finally worked up the courage to give it a try, hoping no one I knew happened by as I took my purchase up to the counter. I stacked several comics on top of the magazine, covering the giant "M" while leaving the price (50 cents) clearly visible.

The clerk picked up each comic, ringing up the cost, and finished by placing this magazine on top of the stack, with that huge "M" blaring away. She told me the total, took my money, placed the magazines in a bag and I walked out, amazed I had "gotten away with it."

What I had was a pretty amazing book, including: a Conan story ("The Frost Giant's Daughter") by Roy Thomas and Barry Smith; a Femizons story by Stan Lee and John Romita; the first Man-Thing story by Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas and Gray Morrow; a "Black Brother" story by Sergius O'Shaghnessy (Dennis O'Neil) and Gene Colan; and a Ka-Zar story by Stan and John Buscema.

The artists went all-out on this effort, turning in some of their best work to date. Morrow's work on Man-Thing may be the best work of his career - simply stunning. Smith was really starting to bloom as an artist, Romita seemed to relish the opportunities of working in black and white, and Colan and Buscema also seemed to enjoy the new format.

The stories aren't quite as impressive, mostly because of the limited page count. The Conan story is the only standout, although the Man-Thing story is a solid bit of work, and Stan has some fun with the Ka-Zar and the Femizons story. The "Black Brother" story is the only one that doesn't really fit - it's more of a sleazy political tale, here for its mature story and surprising twists, but it feels like an accident - a story that was intended for a different magazine.

Of course, the magazine was only "adult" by comparison to the regular comics - there was no nudity and most of the violence happened off-camera.

Savage Tales led the way for Marvel's magazine line, which included the long-running Savage Sword of Conan, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, Doc Savage and assorted monster mags.

Some were a great success (those Doc Savage mags are vastly underrated), and some were just OK, but they were a (mostly) welcome addition to the Marvel lineup.

And thank goodness, the later issues didn't carry a rating, so I never had to worry about having to deal with a puritanical clerk!

Grade: B+


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Flash #3

The ideal comic is, of course, one that features a great story illustrated by great art.

Some books have neither, and some have either strong story or art - but not both.

The Flash is a case in point.

Artist Francis Manapul is doing some great artwork on this title, with creative depictions of the Flash's super-speed, clever and artfully executed panel layouts, some nice artistic small touches (with little icons and emblems scattered through the art), Eisneresque uses of background features to build story titles, and lots of other clever bits of business.

But as much as I like the art, I just can't work up much enthusiasm about the story by Manapul and Brian Buccellato. We're getting some glimpses into Barry Allen's personal and work life - but not much more than glimpses so far, though he's apparently not married to Iris West anymore (the "New 52" played hob with weddings).

The story, as best as I can tell, focuses on an old friend of Barry's who has somehow been cloned - and his army of duplicates are tracking him down for mysterious reasons.

It's not a bad challenge for the Flash to face - but it's not exactly a memorable opponent, either.

There are sparks of clever ideas scatttered among the excellent artwork, but so far, this title has been a disappointment.

If all you care about is the art, this is the comic for you. But the story's not holding up its end of the deal.

Grade: B


Monday, November 28, 2011

The Mighty Thor #8

In an odd turn of events, The Mighty Thor has been replaced - in his own comic - by a character named Tanarus.

This all springs out of the tragic conclusion to the Fear Itself mini-series, as (by means not yet revealed) Tanarus has completely replaced Thor in our "reality" - so from his earliest appearances, Thor's place has been taken by Tanarus.

It's all part of a complete change in the status quo. Odin has left Asgard in the control of a trio of goddesses - Freyja, Gaea and Idunn.

They're also rebuilding Asgard from where it fell on Earth (in Oklahoma) and adjusting to some surprising new inhabitants.

As always, the art by Pasqual Ferry is outstanding, from the glimpses of the new Asgard to the depiction of characters both godly and monstrous.

It's an interesting new direction for this book, with lots of surprises and unexpected events. The twist at the end suggests that this story is just kicking into gear.

Very promising so far.

Grade: A-


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Secret Avengers #19

It would be easy to think that the "done-in-one-issue" comic books were a thing of the past.

In the modern era, creative teams seem focused on the four- to eight-issue story arcs, which can then be collected into a trade paperback. This often leads to stories that are padded or otherwise dragged out to fill the alloted length.

Thankfully, writer Warren Ellis is having none of that in his work on Secret Avengers.

Each story is contained in a single issue, and takes Steve Rogers and his fellow "Secret" Avengers all over the world, tackling strange menaces that jump from the super-scientific to the supernatural without blinking.

This issue brings a quartet to the eastern European country of Symkaria (which borders Transylvania and Latveria - how cool is that?), where they're investigating an insidious drug trade which is much more than it seems.

Working with Steve are Sharon Carter, the Black Widow and Moon Knight. It's a group that is underpowered but never outmatched.

The story is fast-paced, smart and economical - there's no wasted space here.

The art by Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano and Brian Thies is perfectly matched to the story - cinematic, dark and often brutal, the story is clearly told and we never lose track of the characters, even though there are few costumes in view. Strong work.

I could quibble about a few points - Steve Rogers seems to turn a blind eye to some brutal tactics - but he is a soldier, and one would expect he could handle such things.

Ellis is putting together a darned impressive series of stories here - and if you missed them, I'm sure they'll be collected, too - even if each chapter stands on its own two feet.

A radical concept, to be sure.

Grade: A-


Saturday, November 26, 2011

We Pause For This Commercial Message...

Hey, it's a good time to say "Thanks" to those who've clicked on the Amazon links at the bottom of posts or on the right side of this page.

Whenever you order something through those links, it puts a little bit of money in Chuck's pocket (which he then spends on more books, natch), at no cost to you.

I should also mention that Amazon has lots of Black Friday deals going on this weekend, so check 'em out and avoid the crowds at the stores (this has been my shopping strategy for years now).

Much appreciated!

Aquaman #3

So far, I'm really enjoying the new Aquaman comic.

It's managed to weed out the sillier aspects of his abilities (he doesn't talk to fish because they aren't smart enough to talk - but he can control them), make him much more powerful (nearly invulnerable, able to leap tall buildings, incredibly strong), and provide him with some interesting supporting characters, including his wife (at least I think they're married) Mera, who's an impressive fighter, too, and a mysterious scientists with links to Aquaman's childhood.

And they're up against a formidable foe - a powerful species of creatures from deep below the ocean that resemble a man-like piranha. And there's a lot of them, but their reason for attacking a small coastal town is something of a mystery.

I really like Ivan Reis' artwork on this series, with strong layouts, heroic characters and nasty-looking monsters. His style evokes "realistic" artists like Neal Adams and Brian Hitch.

The story is unfolding at a gradual rate, but that's fine - writer Geoff Johns has a lot of information to pass along, new characters and settings to establish, and (for all intents and purposes) a new hero to introduce to the readers.

So far, it's very, very good.

Grade: A


Friday, November 25, 2011

Wolverine and the X-Men #2

I was somewhat surprised at how much I enjoyed the first issue of Wolverine and the X-Men - it was fast, funny and entertaining.

The second issue manages to be - with a few exceptions - none of those things.

That's because the story operates under no sense (or rules) of reality.

The story is, basically: Wolverine has reestablished the original Xavier School for Gifted Children in New York, where he hopes to use veteran X-Men (Kitty Pryde, the Beast, Iceman, Husk) to train young mutants in the use of their power.

But before the school gets past its first day, the Hellfire Club (which is now led by a group of children for silly reasons) attacks the school and rains destruction on it.

So far, that's fine. But the attacks all have the smell of Calvinball on 'em (that being the sport invented by the comic strip kid in Calvin and Hobbes, wherein the players make up the rules as they play the game).

So the attacks are just crazy. Mortars shells erupt into hundreds of robotic, flame-thrower-wielding Frankensteins, innocent administrators there to evaluate the school are turned into monsters, the ground attacks the school - that sort of thing.

The entire issue is given over to a chaotic battle between the good guys and the monsters, and none of it feels like it could possible happen in the real world - even the "real world" of comic books.

Give artist Chris Bachalo credit for trying to make sense out of the chaos. There are some awesome renderings here, but there are also numerous fights using unidentified characters, crazy layouts and loads of panels where I have no idea what is happening.

The worst offense is that the only thing of interest that happens in the comic is that one long-time character acts inappropriately with another long-time character.

Aside from that, the issue begins and ends at the exact same point - the school on the edge of destruction. Not good at all.

Grade: B-


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Fantastic Four #600

Give Marvel credit for not holding back on this momentous issue, as the Fantastic Four celebrate their 50th anniversary with a 100-page blowout.

I'm delighted that I managed to read this before any of the surprises were spoiled (the advantage of being away from my computer for a day or so), and I'll do my best not to spoil anything for you.

Writer Jonathan Hickman has been building an epic storyline here, including: several evil alternate Reed Richards; the young members of the Future Foundation; the death of the Human Torch; the threat of Annihilus in the Negative Zone; The Inhumans from five galaxies; the attacking alien Kree Empire; and a gathering of almost all Earth's heroes. Whew!

It's a big canvas, and this issue covers a lot of ground, with massive battles, shocking revelations and hints of more to come.

Even with 100 pages, the story doesn't wrap up in this issue - it's going to take several more to get all this ground covered. But if you're looking for an intelligent, entertaining, plays-fair-with-the-reader story about a great group of characters, this is your title.

It almost feels like a classic Marvel title from the '60s, as it balances action, story, humor and characterization, keeps it all moving at top speed but never loses the reader. But it does all that with a modern, cutting-edge take on the series.

It's impressive that, despite everything that's going on in this issue, I didn't need a recap to remind me of where we were - it's all fresh in my mind from issue to issue. (Not every series out there can make this claim.)

The series is also blessed with great artists. It took a team to get this issue done, including Steve Epting, Carmine Di Giandomenico, Ming Doyle, Lenil Francis Yu and an odd postnote by Farel Dalrymple. Excellent work all around!

Needless to say, big things happen here, and if you've ever been a fan of the FF, you should be reading this comic. It's a series that will challenge and delight you, and I (for one) can't wait to see where it goes from here.

It's an exciting time to be reading the Fantastic Four. They're the First Family of comics, and it's wonderful to see them back in a comic that is, once again, worthy of the title: The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!

Grade: A


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It's New Comic Day!

Here's what your pal Chuck picked up today:

- Alpha Flight #6 (of 8) - Canadians sure are testy - in this comic.

- Aquaman #3 - Taking on a different kind of monster.

- Secret Avengers #19 - A mystery in Eastern Europe.

- Captain America and Bucky #624 - The Winter Soldier takes center stage.

- Fantastic Four #600 - The 100-page 50th anniversary 600th issue extravaganza!

- The Flash #3 - Visually stunning.

- Invincible Iron Man #510 - An old enemy returns.

- The Shade #2 (of 12) - Isn't he dead?

- The Mighty Thor #8
- Sporting a different look these days.

- Wolverine and the X-Men #2
- Lots of destruction!

And that's it!

The Classics - A Fall of Stardust

So, before the review, a confession (of sorts): every couple of years I tackle the job of filing my comics, which I keep in (more or less) alphabetical order by title, each comic bagged and stored in a comic box.

It generally takes several months, because I just file a little at a time - so I figured I'd draw on comics for the classic reviews from whichever box I happened to be filing that week.

Oh, and I file in reverse order - from the end of the alphabet to the beginning - because it's easier to add additional boxes at the front of my storage area.

That's why, if you look back over the past several months of "classic" reviews on this blog, you'll note that (aside from a brief diversion into Treasury Editions), it runs from "Z" to "A."

So as I wrapped up my filing, I thought I would review the first comic book in my collection, which happens to be A Fall of Stardust by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess.

I had quite forgotten, until I opened the bag, that this isn't actually a comic book. Published in 1999, it's a collection of 29 plates by different artists depicting scenes from the excellent Stardust illustrated novel by Gaiman and Vess.

It was created as a fundraiser for Charles Vess' wife, Karen Shaffer, who was badly injured in a car accident (and was making great progress toward her recovery at the time).

I imagine it might be difficult to track down copies these days, because I can't imagine anyone giving up their copy (yet there it is in Amazon's catalog - for $125? Wow.)

It's a pure delight, with wonderful, frame-worthy, full-color art by such notables as William Stout, Michael Mignola, Bryan Talbot, Jill Thompson, Paul Chadwick, P. Craig Russell, Terry Moore, Dave McKean, Jeff Smith, Gary Gianni, Stan Sakai, Michael Kaluta, Moebius and Geoff Darrow.

It also includes two prose sections including work by Neil Gaiman and Susanna Clarke.

Just an outstanding package - what a delight to look it over again. Oh, and Stardust is a great illustrated novel and a fun movie, too. All well worth tracking down.

Grade: A+


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Supergirl #3

Three issues into the series and we know almost nothing about Supergirl, except that she somehow survived the destruction of Krypton - but she doesn't know how, either.

She arrives on Earth, is attacked by a mysterious group of men in robotic suits and finally meets her cousin, Superman - and immediately attacks him.

She's a blank slate - we don't even know if she's a good person (certainly her habit of punching first and asking questions later isn't too endearing).

This is the third issue in a row that's chock full of mindless violence, and skimpy on the character development - and frankly, it's already getting old.

I was ready to drop this series - I only picked up this issue because of the promise on the cover to reveal "The Truth About Krypton," but the only truth revealed is one the reader already knows - so it's a bit of a cheat.

The strongest thing about the comic is the artwork by Mike Johnson. He has a fresh, breezy style, and it seems like a good fit for this comic.

But the story just seems to be floundering, as the plot just takes us from one fight scene to the next. I'm all for action-packed comics, but I'd like a little more story squeezed in along the way.

Grade: B-


Monday, November 21, 2011

Batman #3

Of all the different versions of Batman, my favorite is the "World's Greatest Detective."

It's a skill that's usually underplayed, perhaps because it's difficult to write. Thee's nothing tougher that writing a smart character (except maybe comedy).

But that's the character we're seeing put to the test by writer Scott Snyder. Batman - and Bruce Wayne - are being menaced by an organization of Owls - and one of them almost succeeded in killing Wayne (and they're not done trying yet).

So Batman has to solve the mystery of where the Owl organization hides - no small task - and he has to learn more about that ancient organization that may have been controlling Gotham City for more than a century.

The art by Greg Capullo is wonderful and expressive, evoking the dark environments Batman thrives in and creating a living, breathing city that hides many secrets and dangers.

This one ends with a heck of a cliffhanger. This is the third strong issue in a row, and keeps this title as the best of the Bat-books and one of the better comics in the entire "New 52."

Grade: A-


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hawken #1

I've been a fan of Tim Truman's since he burst on the scene in the 1980s with his amazing art on books like Grimjack and Scout (which he also wrote).

I was lucky enough to interview him at the beginning of his career, and I remember him mentioning his young son Ben, who - at the time - was fascinated by Godzilla.

Amazing to realize that Ben is now grown up and collaborating with his dad on a new comic, Hawken. How time flies!

The comic is a cross between a hard-hitting, no-punches-pulled western, a revenge flick and a horror story (the good kind).

It's the kind of story you could see Clint Eastwood starring in. It's set in a small village in the Arizona desert in 1881. A band of cutthroats attacks, and the villagers are unable to defend themselves.

Lucky for them, a grizzled man named Hawken has been trailing the killers - and what he has planned for them isn't pretty.

The story isn't much deeper than that, but there are quite a few twists, some great dialogue, and plenty of surprises along the way.

It's great to see that Tim Truman's art has only improved with time - his cinematic style captures the era perfectly, he knows just how far to press the horror for maximum effect, and the textures are amazing - from the wooden rifles to the clothing, the sand, the smoke - it all feels real!

Seeing such powerful work is to be expected from the "elder" Truman (who is, after all, one of the best artists in the business), but it's great to see his son has grown into an equally-talented craftsman in the family business.

There are too few westerns around to enjoy these days - but this issue shows why the genre has so many fans.

Mighty entertaining, and highly recommended!

Grade: A


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Wonder Woman #3

It's always a trick to include the mythological gods in a comic book.

Sometimes they seem more like superheroes than godlike figures. Other times they're more like petty children, or even worse, mere villains.

Writer Brian Azzarello is walking that line in Wonder Woman, and so far, he seems to have a good handle on it.

The gods we've seen so far are either terrible in their vengeance, mysterious is the purpose, or whimsical and quite destructive. They don't seem mortal at all - and it remains to be seen if they have any moral side, as well.

This issue takes us to Paradise Island, where Diana learns some long-hidden secrets, and makes a decision that may affect her life forever.

It's almost too heavy-handed in places, but Azzarello is cleverly setting up the character to make more sense in the "real" world, and to give Wonder Woman a reason to live in the land of mortals.

I really like Cliff Chiang's art here. Lots of emotions are brought to the forefront and there's very little action, but the story is taut and compelling all the way through.

Some will love this story, and some will hate it, but I think it's a step in the right direction. And that's what this comic has always needed: a strong direction.

The creative team has chosen one - so now we'll see if it's one that works. Here's hoping!

Grade: A-


Friday, November 18, 2011

The Avengers #19

I'm a big sucker for these "gather the new team" stories.

And it's a long-running staple for The Avengers (although it's only been a year-and-a-half since they gathered the last team - that seems like a very short run). In fact, this is the series that started the whole idea of shuffling a super-team's lineup.

So we have Captain America tracking down heroes new to the team and some old familiar faces to round out the Avengers.

As always, writer Brian Bendis writes clever, funny dialogue and puts the characters through their paces. There are choices that are surprising, some that are logical and at least one that is long overdue.

I'm still a bit on the fence about the art by Daniel Acuna. I like his art a lot - his characters are very expressive, his layouts are strong and the splash panels are impressive. But the painted look seems to flatten out the crowd scenes. When the new team of Avengers gathers, the characters all seem to blend together.

Maybe it's just me. I'm a fan of his style, but I wonder if it might not work better on a different comic.

At any rate, it looks like the next issue brings an end to all the discussion and introspection and gets down to some serious action. That's what we call good timing.

Grade: A-


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Justice League #3

So in case you were wondering, here's what the Justice League comic is all about: lots of action, heroes "meeting cute," and that's about it.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

With the third issue, most of the characters are in place, drawn together by a menace worthy of a gathering of powerful heroes: an alien army is sending waves of invaders to locations all over the world.

These Parademons are strong, dangerous and numerous. But, like Nazis, they make great villains - set dozens of them up so the heroes can knock 'em down, rinse and repeat.

OK, so the plot isn't much. But we are meeting the heroes who will eventually be members of the team, getting some insight into their personalities, how they interact with each other, and what their missions are.

The focus here is on Wonder Woman, and she's much more along the lines of the lighthearted Darwyn Cooke version (if not quite so over the top).

So far (aside from the anemic first issue), the team of writer Geoff Johns and artist Jim Lee have been hitting on all burners.

They're taking their sweet time getting us to the big reveal of the (obvious) big bad, but they're getting there with lots of energy and humor. That last page is priceless.

What a delight to see the Justice League back at the top of DC's line. After too many years of being treated like the proverbial red-haired stepchild, its good to see this comic where it belongs - as the flagship title for the company and one of the best comics out there today.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Comics Today

Wow, almost forgot to post my list today!

Here's what I got:

- Avengers #19 - Building a new team.

- Avengers Academy #22 - A visit from Magneto.

- Batman #3 - Uncovering a secret society.

- Captain America #4 - In a nightmare!

- Conan: The Road of Kings #10 - To the rescue.

- Fear Itself #7.3 - Iron Man talks things over with Odin.

- Fear Itself: The Fearless #3 (of 12) - Battle with (non-sparkly) vampires.

- Hawken #1 - a western by Tim Truman? Cool!

- John Carter: A Princess of Mars #3 (of 5) - Playing games.

- Justice League #3 - Getting the band together!

- Supergirl #3 - The truth about Krypton?

- Wonder Woman #3 - Learning the truth.

And that's it!

The Classics - Action Comics #329

Some comic books hold up amazingly well when you re-read them.

This one, not so much.

Published in 1965, I remember really liking this issue of Action Comics. Perhaps it was the crazed look on Superman's face on the cover, perhaps it was the cool Krypton design on the shield, or perhaps it was the fact that Superman fights against a deadly knight (hey, I was 9 years old - I was crazy about knights).

Whatever the reason, I liked it. Superman finds himself outmatched by a powerful knight in unbreakable armor who's wielding a sword that can cut through anything - even Superman's indestructible costume.

Of course, eventually the Man of Steel discovers the (surprisingly pedestrian) secret behind the knight and defeats the mastermind behind the attack.

Imagine my surprise in reading this comic for the first time in more years than I'd care to admit, only to realize that the story is just silly.

The secret behind the knight's power ends up being a cheat, and Superman's solution isn't much better.

Even the cover is misleading. Superman says that he's been robbed of his super-powers (he wasn't), it promises a duel to the death (no one dies), and it promises "A Great 'Imaginary' Story of Supergirl" - but it's not an imaginary story.

That's actually the best part of the comic. The Supergirl backup story (drawn by Jim Mooney, I believe) has the Maid of Steel being trapped and taken to a distant world, where she tries to learn more about The Circle of Evil, a society that's tracking down and killing heroes across the universe.

The story wraps as she's forced to confront the incredibly powerful Drang the Destroyer, who has all her powers and more! Oh, and for some reason, her powers are gone!

The surprising thing is that it was a continued story - a rarity at DC - and two characters are killed in the story! Granted, they're evil, but it's still very unusual for DC.

Sadly, I don't think I ever read the next issue of Action Comics, so I have no idea how Supergirl survived. That's the great thing about reading this again - it reminded me that I need to track down Action Comics #330.

And since I didn't see it in 1965, that issue has nothing to live up to.

Grade: (Superman) C- ; (Supergirl) B+


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Batgirl #3

Come on, DC, throw me a bone here.

I really want to like this title, I want to support it. I like Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, I'm glad she's back in costume again - but you have to give me something to work with here. (Besides the great covers by Adam Hughes.)

Three issues into this series, and all we've seen is Batgirl failing, being defeated, being outsmarted, being unlucky at love, and being forced to live in substandard housing (yet able to maintain a souped-up motorcycle and superhero gear).

I was hoping things would turn about with this issue - but no. Instead we get a race against death, and half the issue turned over to a guest appearance by Nightwing, in which he and Batgirl seem unable to decide if they like each other or would prefer to fight (and remember, while they're fooling around, a murderer is still running around on the loose).

Writer Gail Simone provides some nice bits of dialogue that feel real, and Ardian Syaf provides some strong artwork - but the story is left behind on the way.

I'm struggling to stay with this series through the opening story arc. Here's hoping for a strong finish, because otherwise - sadly - I'll be dropping this one.

Grade: C+


Monday, November 14, 2011

Kull: The Cat and the Skull #2

You might be surprised to find out that Robert E. Howard's other barbarian king, Kull, spends a good part of this issue having a calm discussion with a cat.

But it's not just any cat - it's an ancient creature known as Saremes, and it seems to know many secrets - and even the future.

There's obviously a lot bubbling under the surface, but action fans will be glad to know that there's a brutal battle with an army of serpent men to keep the story moving along briskly.

This isn't one of Howard's best-known stories, but it's an interesting change of pace and well adapted by writer David Lapham.

I like the art by Gabriel Guzman - it covers the range from brutal, dark and bloody battles to calm and civilized discussions. I'd like to see more in the way of backgrounds, but that's a minor complaint.

I'd also like to see more of Kull's character - since Howard didn't write as many stories about Kull, the character has a lot of room to grow. Hopefully future stories will take advantage of that.

Grade: B+


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Green Lantern #3

The funny thing about the Green Lantern comic since the "reboot" as part of DC's "New 52" is that the only thing that has changed is that the main character is now Sinestro, with Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan placed in a supporting role.

After the War of the Green Lanterns, Jordan was stripped of his power ring by the ever-fickle Guardians, while the villain Sinestro was awarded a green power ring.

None of this sits well with, well, any of the characters - but it's especially difficult for the yellow ring-wearing members of the Sinestro Corps.

That group has taken over Sinestro's home planet and is torturing its inhabitants - so Sinestro recruits Jordan and provides him a green power ring (of sorts).

Needless to say, theirs is an uneasy partnership, and that makes for some entertaining scenes.

Geoff Johns has created an strong story here, thankfully focusing on a couple of central characters instead of a colorful army - and he manages a heck of a cliffhanger.

The art by Doug Mahnke just gets better all the time (though I'm not sure the army of inkers is the best approach here), and whether focusing on individuals or armies of aliens, the art is always clean and powerful - reminiscent of Brian Bolland and Gary Frank.

I'm anxious to see how they resolve the ending here, and curious to see how long this "Odd Couple" of GLs continue to work together. But so far, so good!

Grade: A-


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fear Itself #7.2: Thor

(Sorry to be running a bit late today, friends - had a family medical emergency to deal with, but all is well now.)

When major events (death, destruction, etc.) happen in comics, it usually takes a while before they're "corrected" and the characters involved are brought back to life, returned to normal or otherwise restored to the staus quo.

That's why the "sequels" to Fear Itself have been surprising - they're wasting no time explaining what "really happened."

This time around, it's Thor's turn. (And here's your last chance to turn away if you haven't read the Fear Itself series, as I'm about to mention what happens at the end. I won't spoil this issue, but I can't always help spoiling older comics - sorry.)

The end of Fear Itself followed along with Thor's predicted fate at the end of Ragnarok, facing his death while defeating the Midgard Serpent.

I thought they'd get out of this death because, at the end, the Serpent apparently doesn't die (I think). But instead the story takes a surprising (and more abstract) turn. A new character is introduced, Asgard gains new leadership and only one character smells a rat.

Credit writer Matt Fraction with an original and clever new direction for Thor (maybe).

The art is by Adam Kubert and Mark Roslan, and it's terrific (as always), with great character designs, sprawling landscapes and several emotional scenes.

Of the two issues (so far), the story gyrations here may not be easy to follow, but they're actually easier to accept than those in issue #7.1 (of that makes sense). I'm looking forward to seeing where Thor goes from here.

Grade: A-

Friday, November 11, 2011

The New Avengers #18

I'm thinking I may have to take a hiatus from reviewing issues of the New Avengers for a while.

That's because the storyline that's going to be running through the coming year does nothing for me.

The mastermind behind the Dark Reign, Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin), has escaped prison and is assembling an evil army to take on the good guys.

Exactly like he did during the Dark Avengers saga a couple of years ago, he's building his own team of Avengers, using similarly-powered villains (or dupes he has conned into joining his cause) to create his own team.

And apparently Norman has a hidden power - he can talk anyone into joining his army, no matter what they may have been doing before.

The only thing fresh about the story is the artwork, as Mike Deodato and color artist Rain Beredo pour an inhuman amount of work creating the nearly photographic look and feel of the comic.

Certainly it's rare for writer Brian Bendis to let us down, but this issue - aside from not containing a single Avenger - just feels like it's going back to that same old well, even if most of the cast is new to this comic.

I can't recommend this one.

Grade: C+


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Point One #1

So Point One is (I assume) intended to be a teaser for Marvel's upcoming season of stories, mini-series and special events.

And if that's the case, I have to admit that my overall reaction is: I'm not impressed.

Which is not to say that it's all terrible. It's just a mix of ideas that are interesting with others that... are not.

There are seven story snippets on display here (and I'm not sure if these are excerpts from upcoming comics or original tales designed to stand on their own. My guess is the former).

On the "interesting" side, we have: a short sequence about a mysterious duo who manage to invade the Watcher's home on the moon; a preview of a new Nova story that sets up a major menace; a new and enticing take on the mystical Dr. Strange; and the Avengers facing the "Age of Ultron."

On the "not so interesting" side we have the futuristic X-Terminators and the return of the Scarlet Spider.

Riding somewhere in the middle are the powerful twins known as either Yin & Yang or Coldmoon & Dragonfire. It shows potential, but it's hard to judge from this snippet.

So the real question is: does this make me want to buy any of these comics?

I'll probably pick up the Dr. Strange and Avengers comics, but the rest of them, probably not.

I really can't recommend this issue - there are some high points (Bryan Hitch's art on the Avengers segment, Matt Fraction's writing on Dr. Strange, Ed McGuinness' art on Nova), but not enough here to make it worth the inflated price and page count.

Grade: B-


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

New Comics!

I got:

- New Avengers #18 - More Norman Osborn. Bleh.

- Batgirl #3 - A foot in the face for Nightwing!

- Batwoman #3 - How do you defeat a crying ghost?

- Fear Itself #7.2: Thor - More aftermath.

- Green Lantern #3 - Sinestro pulls the strings.

- Journey Into Mystery #631
- This Loki fellow gets in more trouble...

- Kull: The Cat and the Skull #2 - Sword and sorcery and cats!

- Point One #1 - Marvel starts revving up for the next big thing.

- Renaissance Man #3 - He's still dead.

- Uncanny X-Force #17 - Grim and gritty all over again.

And that's it!

The Classics - Adventure Comics #312

I can't be 100% certain - memory being a tricky thing at best - but I'm pretty sure this was the first issue starring the Legion of Super-Heroes that I read.

Published in 1963, the issue is actually titled Adventure Comics, and it was home to the Legion for several years before they finally got their own comic, almost always co-starring Superboy.

This particular issue made a real impression on me, because the story centered around the attempt to revive Lightning Lad, a team member who had been killed in action.

Death may be as common as a cold in comics these days (and almost as easy to recover from), but it was very rare in the '60s.

The uncredited story follows the Legion as they comb the universe, looking for a way to bring their teammate back to life. They find a number of possible solutions, but only one that works.

The solution requires that one of the Legion give their lifeforce - in other words, someone else has to die to bring him back.

As depicted on the cover, the whole team wants to volunteer, so they decide to let fate decide who will die - they all stand holding little lightning rods. The one struck by lightning will die, and bring Lightning Lad back.

The plot twist at the end is quite clever - certainly I didn't see it coming (of course, I was just 7 years old) - and it made this issue a favorite.

Today's reader might struggle with this comic - there's a lot of wordage (captions and word balloons) and lots of small panels.

I love the art, which is very much in the DC style at the time - but the funny thing is, as many times as I've read this issue (and at the time DC did not allow credits), I never noticed that the splash page has John Forte's "signature" in the lower right corner.

It's to his credit that he manages a huge number of characters, worlds and creatures while keeping the story clean and easy to follow. The characters are all distinctive and likeable, and he ekes every bit of drama out of the life-or-death situation at the end.

I was always impressed by the team's determination to help their friend - most comics just focused on beating the villain, but here was an issue devoted to beating the ultimate "bad guy" - death itself.

This issue made me a devoted Legion fan for quite some time after. With teen heroes, numerous powers, a futuristic setting and inventive enemies, it was lots of fun to follow along.

And death would make a return appearance in the years ahead - but more about that in a future review.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Static Shock #3

I blame the trade paperbacks.

Every comic series these days is written in six-issue story arcs, to make it easier to collect the series later into a trade paperback.

The problem is, some stories lend themselves to an extended series, and some do not.

The opening story in the "New 52" version of Static Shock is a great example. What should have been a one or two-issue story has been extended. We're at issue #3 and counting, but it is not a better story for the padding.

A sure sign of a story that's struggling is when I can't remember the details from the issue before. As best I can remember, the story has Static under attack by some kind of monstrous assassin. The assassin is working with some kind of high-tech gang for hire. They're all trying to assassinate Static because a group of criminals wants him dead for some reason.

Each issue so far is identical - Static shows up and fights the bad guys, only to have them escape. Monster guy tries to kill Static, fails and escapes.

Oh, and Static's real-life sister has a clone, and they each think the other sister is the real clone. No idea where this story came from.

The art by Scott McDaniels is quite good - it has a nice, loose, Gene Colan quality to it. It flows nicely and the characters are easy to distinguish.

It's the writing by McDaniels and John Rozum that doesn't work - they just keep covering the same ground, and the villains are so generic as to be completely unmemorable.

I still say this is a character with tremendous potential - he's smart, powerful and able to out-think and out-maneuver his opponents - when he's written well.

Right now, that potential is going to waste. A pity.

Grade: C

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fear Itself #7.1: Captain America

I picked this issue to review this week before I read it - and now I regret it.

Not because it's a great issue, and not because it's a bad issue (both can be fun to review for different reasons).

It's because it's going to be almost impossible to review without giving away key plot points. But since "no spoilers" is our credo at Chuck's Comic of the Day, I'm going to give it my best shot.

The story spills out of a key event in the Fear Itself series: the death of Captain America (the version played by Bucky Barnes).

We finally get to see the aftermath of that event, with special focus on Steve Rogers, Nick Fury and the Black Widow.

It's written by Ed Brubaker, who is laying the groundwork for stories into the year ahead, and it's drawn by Butch Guice, and I've really enjoyed his work on the Captain America series.

He has a gritty, realistic yet unique style - but you'll occasionally catch glimpses in his work of past influences, including Kirby, Steranko and others. I'm really looking forward to his next project coming up next year.

More than that, I can't say - but if you've been following Cap's comic for the past few years, you'll want to pick this up to bridge the gap into upcoming stories.

Not everyone will like this story - there are parts of it that just feel clunky and forced - but it covers some important ground, and offers some explanations that will make things clear in the months ahead.

Cautiously recommended.

Grade: B+

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Swamp Thing #3

It's funny that we're three issues into this series, but we still haven't actually seen the Swamp Thing.

He's appeared in flashbacks and on covers like this one that depict something that doesn't actually happen in the comic, but the creature itself hasn't shown up. Yet.

What we do see is a horror that's starting to show its power. This particular threat shows up in an unexpected form and with a somewhat surprising origin.

It's difficult to talk to much about the comic without giving away some important plot points, so suffice to say that some familiar faces show up here, give us a much-needed explanation for some of the horrific happenings, and brings matters closer to the inevitable confrontation.

Writer Scott Snyder is crafting a solid horror tale here, one that's a bit more Stephen King than Alan Moore. That's fine, as long as he can craft a solid ending.

The art is provided by two artists - Victor Ibanez and Yanick Paquette split up the pages, but there's no shocking break between their styles - they actually work together very well. Their art is dark and lush and evocative of the swamp. Great stuff here.

I'm enjoying this series and I'm anxious to see where it all goes from here. There have been too many Swamp Thing story arcs that did not stir up that feeling, so good for the new creative team.

Grade: A-


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Avengers Academy #21

I'm beginning to get the sense of desperation out of Avengers Academy.

This is mostly because of the "1st Issue" plastered (tongue in cheek, I hope) next to the actual issue number, with the subtitle "...of a new era."

Following the destruction of the team's headquarters during Fear Itself, they've relocated to the old Avengers West Coast compound in California (which is actually a good idea - lots of opportunities for creative locations for battles, secret missions, and so forth).

But writer Christos Gage has decided to expand the cast from the original six to - well, quite a few more, as the Academy adds many more super-powered teens to its ranks.

That would be fine if we actually met more of them, but instead we get crowd scenes and very few introductions. Perhaps they plan to introduce the characters slowly over time.

The focus is still on the original team, but here they act - well, like children. It's annoying and does not make any of them any more interesting or sympathetic.

The story is salvaged by a few touching scenes and some nice art by Sean Chen - and especially by the big twist on the last page.

I have to admit, I was about to drop this title - in recent months it has been leaning toward becoming a generic young hero title - but the twist has sold me on hanging around for a bit longer to see where it goes.

I think the comic is a great concept, but please, give us a little less angst and some heroes I can cheer for.

Grade: B


Friday, November 4, 2011

Action Comics #3

This continues to be one of my favorite titles and the best of the "New 52."

This issue is a bit odd as we get a closer look at the Clark Kent side of the equation. In fact, Superman is only a very small part of things as the focus shifts to a mysterious menace in the sky.

More importantly, we get a look at events on Krypton when Superman was a baby. This sequence benefits from (I think) Gene Ha's pencils, while Rags Morales keeps up his excellent work elsewhere.

But even more impressive is the script by Grant Morrison, who manages to keep numerous story vignettes up in the air at all times. The story is clever yet easy to follow.

The comic really gives Superman a fresh "feel" to the adventures - this feels like a new character, not one laboring undr 75 years of continuity.

Great comic, terrific art - you should be buying this comic!

Grade: A-

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Uncanny X-Men #1

So, as you can see, I decided to give the new version of the Uncanny X-Men a try.

I figured it was only fair to give the new title a few issues as a try-out, just as I tried to do with several issues in DC's "New 52."

And based on the first issue, this title is on rocky ground.

The problem isn't so much Kieron Gillen's story. It focuses on the restructured team, gives it a slightly different focus and then sends it up against a serious opponent - the reminted version of Mr. Sinister.

No, the problem is that I'm not crazy about the lineup of the team. The team just barely avoids being the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. The lineup is led by Cyclops (who's been acting somewhat dictatorial lately) and includes Magneto, Namor, Emma Frost, Danger, Magik, Storm, Colossus and Hope.

As the story points out, most of those have been cast as villains more than once in the past. It makes it difficult to be sympathetic to the team, although Storm and Hope do help a bit.

Still, it is a powerhouse team, one that is at least in the class of the Avengers.

The art by Carlos Pacheco and Cam Smith is good, but isn't quite up to their usual standards for reasons I can't quite seem to identify. Perhaps they had to rush to finish this one in time? No idea, but it just feels a little... thin.

The shock ending doesn't really work, either - it frankly seems to be lifted from a Silver Age Superman story.

So a rough start, and the clock is ticking on this series. Hopefully the next issue will be a bit more coherent.

Grade: B-


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

It's Comic Book Day!

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

- Action Comics #3 - Occupy Metropolis!

- Avengers Academy #21 - This one seems to be fading fast, though the end is enticing.

- Fear Itself 7.1: Captain America - Well, I saw that twist coming.

- Fear Itself: The Fearless #2 - Vampire hunting.

- Irredeemable #31 - An unexpected twist.

- Mystic #4 (of 4) - Love those covers - and the insides are nifty, too.

- OMAC #3 - Lots more over-the-top action.

- Static Shock #3 - Another old favorite.

- Swamp Thing #3 - The return of an old friend.

- Uncanny X-Men #1 - Giving it a shot.

And that's it!

The Classics - Airboy #1 and #5

In the summer of 1986, Eclipse Comics brought back an almost-forgotten hero from the Golden Age of Comics and presented his adventures in a bi-weekly comic.

I have to admit, I knew very little about Airboy. What little I knew was because of a chapter devoted to the hero in the excellent Steranko's History of Comics.

But Eclipse was smart - they turned the book over to an outstanding creative team, including co-writer Chuck Dixon, co-writer and artist (on issue #1) Tim Truman, and inker Tom Yates.

Together they crafted a hard-hitting saga that was dripping with manly adventure. They introduced the son of the now older Airboy, and turned the mantle, the costume, the supporting cast and the incredible plane known as Birdie over to the next generation.

Wisely, the action was kept at a fierce tempo as mysterious assassins try to put an end to the new Airboy before he gets started. Much mayhem ensues.

Then, just to balance all the macho activities, the creative team added a new wrinkle in issue #5 - sex.

Her name was the Valkyrie, and her popularity was locked in with this cover by the incredibly talented Dave Stevens.

I always loved Steranko's description of the character from the '40s (she started out as a Nazi pilot and, of course, an opponent of Airboy). He said she was wearing a costume that revealed vast amounts of enemy territory. Boy howdy!

The issue reveals that she had been preserved through the years, and she awakens to find Airboy fighting for his life.

The issue is jammed full of action scenes, including a brutal battle between The Heap (the original Swamp / Man-Thing) and the monster known as Misery.

The 13-page bi-weekly issues didn't offer a lot of elbow room, but the creative team managed to squeeze more action in each issue than many of today's biggest event books.

If you're looking for some entertaining, macho tales, you can't go wrong with this series. It'll put hair on your chest, boys.

Grade: A-


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Breed III #6

As a long-time fan of writer and artist Jim Starlin (dating back to his first story in Iron Man), I've been enjoying the latest chapter in the 'Breed series.

It's the culmination of years of stories as the invasion of Earth by a vast army of incredibly powerful Demons is about to take place.

Ray Stoner, a military soldier who is also half demon (or a 'Breed) has sworn to stop them, and believes he has discovered the Prodigal who can save the Earth - but it looks like the discovery has been too late.

Now he stands against the invasion with a ragtag group of powerful allies hastily gathered for the fight - but the list of characters will make any longtime fan smile.

It includes some of Starlin's greatest independent comics creations, including one of my favorites, Vanth Dreadstar, along with Darklon the Mystic, Oedi the Catman, The Wayfarer, Wyrd the Mystic Warrior, D'Jinn the Gargoyle and Kid Kosmos (and if you recognize all of them, you are a serious fan)!

The reasoning behind the gathering is just a thin excuse for bringing them all together - but hey, it works for me! It's a blast to see these characters back in action, even if it's all just marking time for the final plot twist and the preparation for the final confrontation next issue.

There's a good reason why Starlin has such a loyal following - his stories are hard-hitting, sharp and entertaining, and his art is loaded with energy and creativity. He hasn't lost a step, and I can't wait to see where the story goes from here.

And I for one would love to see more appearances by any or all of the guest stars in this issue!

Grade: A-