Monday, January 31, 2011

The New Avengers #8

One of the greatest achievements of Brian Bendis' run on The New Avengers has been making Luke Cage one of Marvel's top heroes.

As someone who bought the very first issue of Luke Cage, Hero for Hire back in the '70s, I always liked the character and thought he had a lot of potential - but he seemed to be stuck in that second tier of characters like his friend Iron Fist, the Defenders, Ghost Rider and - well, you get the idea.

But by making him the leader of The New Avengers, he's been brought to the front lines, and his character is living up to that original potential. He's smart, resourceful, powerful, courageous and funny.

He gets to show off all those traits in this issue, which is focused on the relationship between Luke and his wife, Jessica Jones. She's debating whether or not to become an active superhero again, and the two discuss it over dinner.

(By the way, one splash panel uses the same winding, back-and-forth word balloon technique used in a recent issue of Spawn - the difference being that here, the writer conveys the voice of the character so well, there's no doubt which one is speaking in any of the balloons. You couldn't say that about the ones in Spawn.)

This is a superhero comic, so the discussion is interrupted by a ship crashing in town - and things heat up when Dr. Doom steps out of the ship.

The art for this issue is by Daniel Acuna, and it's terrific. The painted pages ripple with energy, the layouts are powerful and the characters are expressive and fun to watch.

It's not a big issue - it's mostly setting up future events - but it does so very well indeed. And the former Power Man is long overdue for the spotlight.

Grade: A-

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ultimate Spider-Man #152

I don't like it when smart characters are made to do dumb things.

In this issue, (Ultimate) Iron Man is ready to give Peter Parker his first lesson in being a super-hero - so he shows up at Aunt May's house asking for her nephew.

It's hard to believe that someone as smart as Tony Stark wouldn't know that Spider-Man had a secret identity - or that he would be endangering Peter's loved ones with his appearance.

It's played mostly for laughs - but it fell flat for me (which is unusual for writer Brian Bendis - usually his gags are on the money).

The whole issue is loaded with short scenes designed to clear up loose ends and set up the next storyline - because of that, there's almost no actual Spider-Man content in this comic.

We see lots of Peter Parker, as he and Gwen Stacy have an overdue heart-to-heart. We see the Black Cat (and her impressive cleavage) as she steals a powerful artifact from another criminal. And that's about it.

The issue features two artists - Sara Pichelli and David Lafuente. Their styles are similar enough that the switch back and forth isn't too jarring (with Sara handling the Black Cat sequence and David everything else - I think). But their styles are loaded with energy and a sense of fun.

So, not a bad issue, but not a great one - we're spoiled by so many great comics in this series that an average issue like this one feels like a let-down. But I still say this is the best Spider-Man comic on the stands.

Grade: B

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Chaos War #5 (of 5)

This series spilled across 19 different comic books - of which I read seven (the Chaos War mini-series and two issues of The Incredible Hulks).

I'm glad to say that I apparently didn't miss too much, because I had no trouble following the story. But then, it's pretty basic: the Chaos King wants to destroy everything, and Hercules (who has become a super-god) gathers a "God Squad" of heroes to fight back.

Events unfold on a big canvas here as the battle takes place on a cosmic scale - and there are quite a few clever bits of business and plot twists to keep things crackling along.

As always, writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente do a great job tying up the loose ends (though some things are managed a bit too handily, considering the mess caused by the Chaos War), and one event in particular will delight some long-time fans.

The art by Khoi Pham is outstanding, although that aforementioned event could have been played for more impact. Still, there's a stunning double-page splash in there that takes cosmic to a whole new level.

Overall, a strong effort, and a great wrap-up to the Incredible Hercules series. And the next chapter looks like fun, too!

Grade: A-

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Friday, January 28, 2011

The Avengers #9

Brian Bendis is one of Marvel's best writers and one of the most prolific.

This week alone he has two Avengers titles out, an issue of Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate Doom. He's had long runs on the first three books (much longer than their newly-rebooted numbering would indicate), and his work has been strong throughout, with only a few minor stumbles.

If he has a weakness as a writer, it would be his love for extended dialogue scenes and his affection for certain characters.

The dialogue I can forgive, because it's always sharp, funny and real. But the other problem shows up in the same villains that he uses over and over.

During the Dark Reign stories, it was Norman Osborn. For over a year, that character appeared in virtually ever Marvel comic on the stands. But the other character Bendis can't seem to get enough of is The Hood.

That thug was a constant presence in the Avengers titles as the source of his power was revealed (a demon). When those powers were taken away, he sought out another source - the Asgardian Norn Stones which Loki provided. The Hood's an interesting character, but it was time for the readers to get a break from that character. But Bendis has brought him back to the fore - yet again - in the latest issue.

Deprived of his powers again, he is now in the hunt for the Infinity Gems, which were divided up among the members of the Illuminati, a secret group organizaed by Iron Man with the idea of being more proactive about dealing with serious problems.

In this issue we flash back to see how The Hood learned about the gems, and we see the present-day fallout when the Avengers learns about the secret Illuminati group.

This story just isn't working for me, mostly becaue I'm tired of The Hood.

John Romita, Jr.'s art (with Klaus Janson's inking) is terrific as always.

But the comic doesn't work for me (aside from the art), because there's too much talking, and too much of The Hood.

Even a weak Bendis script is better than most, so this comic is still fun to read. But I can't help but wish for a different opponent for the team. As I've said before, The Hood is an interesting character, but he's no Thanos.

Grade: B+


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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fantastic Four #587

Wow.

An outstanding issue here, as the creative team brings us the finale of several storylines that have been building over the past year or so.

Not to worry, I won't be spoiling the widely-publicized death in this issue (I'll leave that to the hacks at the Associated Press - they'll also be glad to tell you about "Rosebud" if you haven't seen Citizen Kane).

That makes it tough to talk about the details of the story, of course, but all four members were facing dire peril when we left them last issue.

This issue just ramps it up even more. Reed is trying to save Nu-World from Galactus. Sue is at the center of a war between two undersea kingdoms. Johnny and Ben are facing an overwhelming invasion force from the Negative Zone.

While I won't say who dies, I will say that it's a powerful and moving scene, and one fitting for a true hero (or heroine).

Writer Jonathan Hickman has really made this book his own, building stories that use existing history and build on it in new and clever ways. The beauty of this story is that all four members face death here, and any one of them could have been the one to fall.

Artist Steve Epting is also doing amazing work, depicting all kinds of events - from the edge of space to the bottom of the sea - and he does it all with great skill and confidence. And if that final page doesn't touch your heart, I don't know what will.

Hey, I'm as jaded as any other comics fan, but this story left me with a lump in my throat.

Just an outstanding effort, and more proof that everyone should be reading this comic.

Grade: A

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Comics Today

A ridiculously big day of comics today, after two light weeks. I got:

- The Avengers #9 - The Illuminati revealed!

- The New Avengers #8 - Luke Cage vs. Dr. Doom? Again?

- Secret Avengers #9 - There just aren't enough Avengers books this week.

- Captain America #614 - Legal hijinks!

- Chaos War #5 (of 5) - The wrap-up.

- Conan: The Road of Kings #2 - Great to see Roy Thomas writing Conan again.

- Fantastic Four #587
- Three is a magic number.

- The Incredible Hulks #621 - Read Chaos Wars before reading this one.

- Justice Society of America #47
- Death and destruction.

- Kull: The Hate Witch #3 - Back in the old hometown.

- Ultimate Doom #2 - I hate to think the bad guy is really who they say it is.

- Ultimate Spider-Man #152
- Iron Man vs. Aunt May?

- Uncanny X-Force #4 - The final confrontation.

- Uncanny X-Men #532 - Quarantine continues.

- Alter Ego #99 - A focus on one of my favorites artists, George Tuska.

And that's it!

The Classics - Wonder Woman #1

I have to admit that before this issue (cover dated February 1987) I didn't have much interest in the comic book starring Wonder Woman.

I had picked up a few of the "New Look" issues (when WW was depowered and became Mrs. Peel), but that was about it. As a kid, I thought it was a "girl's comic," so I stayed away.

But in the wake of the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC Comics was making some impressive moves to re-invent itself. Superman was rebooted by John Byrne, and the powers that be were smart enough to tap another great artist to "fix" Wonder Woman - George Perez.

With this issue, Perez teamed with scripted Greg Potter and inker Bruce Patterson to clean up the often-messy backstory for the original Princess Diana.

They did that by going back to the very beginning of recorded history, wading through the pantheon of Mount Olympus (setting up Ares as a key enemy for WW - a badly-needed worthy opponent), detailing the origin of the Amazons (including their rise and fall), the birth of Diana and hinting at the origins behind her uniform.

It was a lot of ground to cover, and it's a comic that is dense with both words and amazingly detailed artwork - in fact, the artwork is (in places) too detailed for the lousy printing at the time. There's a stunning splash panel showing off Perez's design of Olympus, but many of the details are lost.

Still, it's an impressive issue and just the beginning of a long, strong run on the book by Perez. He managed the near-impossible task of clearing up the errors and mashed-up mythology of the gods, he would give Diana a purpose in "man's world," and - even more impressive - he made this a comic that was accessible to all readers.

And as a result, I added Wonder Woman to my list, and I picked up every issue Perez worked on. It was an outstanding series, and certainly stands today as a classic in every way.

Grade: A

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Thanks a Lot, News Media!

A mini-rant... (don't worry, no spoilers here).

Marvel has been building up to this week's issue of the Fantastic Four, wherein one of the four is killed. They've bagged the issue to protect the secret.

So why did they leak the identity of the one being killed to the media? I clicked on an AP video story this morning, and they led with the name of the member who dies!

It's not like they've ruined the story for us - but why promote the secret and then spill it before anyone can buy the issue? Amazing.

OK, I feel better now.

Scarlet #4

I hate to admit defeat, but Scarlet has beaten me.

I like the creative team so much, I assumed that I'd enjoy this title - but I was wrong.

It's not that it's not well crafted. The story by Brian Bendis is well constructed with great dialogue, and the art by Alex Maleev is fantastic - rough and raw and realistic all at the same time. Some of the pages are just amazing in their detail.

But I'm dropping this comic, and it's because I'm just not enjoying the story at all.

The idea is that this young woman sees the man she loves gunned down by a crooked police officer (she is also nearly killed). When she recovers, she vows revenge, and she does that by killing crooked police officers.

I know, the story of revenge is one of the cornerstones of comic books, and Scarlet's call on everyone to get involved and change the world is laudable - but I can't get enthused about a lead character who deliberately kills three police officers.

People certainly need to stand up and be counted when evil gets the upper hand - but going on a public murder rampage doesn't seem like the best way to bring order.

Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but as a friend once said, I prefer to read stories about real heroes - not criminals who pretend to be good guys.

It's well crafted but distasteful, so I'll pass on the rest of this series and look forward to this team's next project, whatever it may be.

Grade: C+

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Thor #619

While I've been enjoying the new creative team's take on Thor, and I'm thrilled that they've finally returned Odin to Asgard, I have to admit that this issue didn't really work for me.

That's mostly because the entire story seems to grind to a halt while everyone stands around talking. Odin talks about the powerful menace that's closing in on Asgard, the kid who is apparently Loki gets scared and runs, Thor goes after him, and there's more discussion.

The only action in the book is an ill-advised battle near the end of the issue, and it's distasteful for completely different reasons.

Still, next issue promises a big confrontation and perhaps a wrap-up to this storyline as we get ready for the reboot of Thor into a new issue #1.

The art by Pasqual Ferry continues to be terrific, although at times the panel arrangements can be a bit tricky to follow. Still, powerful and lyrical work on display here.

And I like Matt Fraction's take on the Asgardians. They have a unique air about them, and while it doesn't make them particularly likeable (especially Odin), it is fun to read.

Even if this issue is a bit of a stumble, the series has been excellent overall, and I'm anxious to see how it all wraps up. Recommended!

Grade: A-

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Invincible Iron Man #500

Thanks to Marvel's odd numbering system, The Invincible Iron Man celebrates issue #500 - and it does so with style.

This oversize issue feels like an annual - and actually is a sequel of sorts to the recent Iron Man Annual.

It's both a team-up and a tale across time. In modern times, we see Tony Stark tracking down Peter Parker to uncover a mystery about a weapon Tony was working on before he lost his memory during his battle with Norman Osborn.

They discover a terrorist cell that has plans for Stark's forgotten invention, and that's where the team-up with Spider-Man begins.

Meanwhile, in the distant future, we see an Earth-shaking battle between forces controlled by the Mandarin and those loyal to Stark - and we see how the present-day battle ultimately influences that apocalyptic confrontation.

Four different art teams kick in on Matt Fraction's story, but it all works thanks to the clever way it's all pieced together.

I won't say this is the greatest Iron Man story ever told, but it's quite good, and a powerful celebration for this milestone.

Now, how long before they reboot with a new issue #1? (When is the Iron Man 3 movie hitting theaters?)

Grade: A-

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Morning Glories #6

With this issue Morning Glories takes a sideways step and gives us a look behind the curtain.

It takes advantage of the freedom the comic book format allows, and takes us to a different time.

It's difficult to discuss the issue without giving too much away (and some of it I'm not sure I understand anyway), but we get a glimpse of the secret behind the big, mysterious and powerful conical object the students discovered recently.

We also meet different characters in very different situations.

This would be a terrible first issue - I suspect a new reader would be lost - but the next issue is supposed to be a great jumping-on point, if you're arriving late to the show.

As always, the scripting by Nick Spencer is clever and carefully managed, and the art by Joe Eisma is quite good, with some endearing quirks.

So far, this book continues to evoke the feel of the Lost TV show without directly copying its story and style.

Morning Glories is intriguing, very smart and well worth checking out.

Grade: B+

Friday, January 21, 2011

Avengers Academy #8

I've really been enjoying this series up to this point, and I expected to like this issue - after all, it focuses on Tigra, a character who has been a favorite of mine for a long time (and who is now an instructor at the Avengers Academy).

But for me, this is the first issue that didn't work.

That's because this story veers a little too close to the "After School Special" territory (and even jokes about it - but that doesn't make it less true).

When the students at the Academy discover online video of Tigra being humiliated and brutally assaulted (though not raped) by The Hood, they ask her how she got revenge, and her answer is: they put him in jail.

That's not enough for three of the students, so they set out to humiliate The Hood to avenge their teacher. The whole thing just comes off as improbable and preachy - and the final page "twist" is wrong in many ways.

The art is terrific as always, but it can't make up for the shortcomings in the story department.

Every series is going to stumble now and then, and I'll be back for the next issue - but this one just didn't work.

Grade: C+

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Wolverine and Jubilee #1 (of 4)

This was an impulse buy.

I certainly have fond memories of Wolverine and Jubilee becoming friends when she first joined the original X-Men comic book in the '90s. (Or was it earlier than that?)

Writer Chris Claremont apparently intended her to play "Robin" to Wolverine's "Batman" (at least that's how it looked, based on the "Boy Wonder" color scheme of her costume) - and it worked pretty well for a while.

I have to admit that I lost track of Jubilee's character long ago - I'm not sure if she was just written out of the comic or was shipped out to be involved in one of the multitude of peripheral X-Men titles.

She was brought back recently just in time to become involved with the battle between the X-Men and an army of vampires - and as a result, Jubilee is now a vampire.

(I know I'm in the minority on this, but I am really bored to tears with vampires in every way, shape and form! OK, just had to get that off my chest.)

The X-Men are tying to cure her condition - with limited success - so Wolverine decides to take control of the situation to try to bring her back to "normal."

I'm a fan of Kathryn Immonen's writing (she's the reason I picked up this comic, to be honest), but so far this series is really leaving me cold (see paragraph #6 above). The characters at least speak like real people - but everyone is just angry all the time, and the story takes a bizarre turn toward the end.

Phil Noto's art is strong as ever, but he doesn't get much room to stretch here - almost the entire issue is about people sitting around talking. It's tough to make that visually interesting, though he gives it a good shot, and the emotions of the character play well.

It's a shame this series is burdened with having to deal with vampires and the like. This could have been a fun, breezy adventure, if it had been about these characters as they existed when they first met.

Instead, it's all dark, angst-y and bloody. Sorry, it's just boring. Pass.

Grade: C+

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Comics Today

You know how some weeks, when Monday is a holiday, the comics don't arrive until Thursday? Apparently those days are over.

With the new process Diamond is using - shipping on Tuesday instead of Wednesday - it doesn't matter if Monday is a holiday, comics will still come out on Wednesday. On holiday weeks, they'll arrive Wednesday morning instead of Tuesday evening (or so my comics shop guru tells me).

Anyway, here's what I got today:

- Avengers Academy #8 - It's all about revenge.

- Brightest Day #18 - Some closure for the Hawks.

- Invincible Iron Man #500 - Marvel's numbering system is so weird.

- Morning Glories #6 - That is one messed-up school.

- Scarlet #4 - Power to the people!

- Thor #619 - Odin's back? About dang time!

- Wolverine and Jubilee #1 (of 4) - I have no idea why I bought this.

The Classics - The Fantastic Four "Top 10"

I wanted to do something special to celebrate passing a thousand posts here at Chuck's Comic of the Day - so here it is: For this week's "Classic" review, I'm going to list my personal Top 10 issues from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's run on the Fantastic Four.

I'm not including their Annuals in the list (but I'll get around to reviewing them eventually, I hope). These are the issues that I remember most fondly, for various reasons.

The glaring omission is probably the first issue - it's historic, but frankly not that great a comic. The team was still working out the kinks, frankly.

Anyway, here goes - my top 10, in reverse order (natch).

#10 - Fantastic Four 28

This comic is another great example of the Marvel formula wherein the good guys fight each other because of a misunderstanding.

Here the Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master team up (for the first time, I believe), take control of Professor X and pit the Fantastic Four against the X-Men.

The comic features loads of action, some fun plot twists and a great battle.

It's not deep, it's not meaningful, but it is a heck of a lot of fun.


#9 - Fantastic Four 18

I can't swear that this was the first issue of the Fantastic Four that I ever read - but it's the first one I remember reading.

It was loaded with mind-blowing concepts - alien races threatening the Earth! The Super Skrull, who copied the abilities of the entire FF! A battle royale where the good guys seem to have no chance of winning!

And this was one of the earliest issues where Kirby really started having fun with Mr. Fantastic's abilities, as he forms a giant hammer with his hand and turns into a human glider.

It was an action-packed issue, and as a kid I knew this was something special. The FF shot to the top of my comics list. (Even though the ending of the story was a bit of a cheat.)


#8 - Fantastic Four 4


This is a comic I first read as a reprint, and even though the style of it was a bit crude compared to later efforts, it's loaded with power.

This one starts out with the Human Torch quitting the team (each member had a turn at this - some more than once). He hides out in the Bowery, where he finds a bearded bum who has amazing strength. He gives the guy a shave with his flame (kids, don't try this at home), and the bum is revealed to be the Sub-Mariner!

Recovering his memory, Namor goes to war against the human race, and dredges up a Godzilla-sized monster to help destroy New York City.

This one holds up amazingly well today, and managed to work in some romance and heroism in there, too.


#7 - Fantastic Four 23


If earlier issues sparked my interest in the series, this comic sealed the deal.

Dr. Doom plans a series of traps to try to eliminate the FF. He empowers three men (The Terrible Three - not Lee and Kirby's greatest creations) with specific abilities and manages to catch our heroes.

But when they escape, Doom triggers his biggest trap - a Solar Wave, which (somehow) slowly opens a portal to space. As the expanse of space spilled across the floor toward our heroes, I was transfixed.

The series was really getting its creative juices flowing, and I would be there the rest of the way (which is to say, I'm still buying this comic every month).


#6 - Fantastic Four 26

One of the things Marvel did better than any other comics company, bar none, was fill an issue with action.

And few issues can beat this one, as we have the Fantastic Four and the Avengers teaming up to fight the Hulk in New York, with loads of destruction and mayhem along the way.

The heroes don't exactly work well together - they practically stumble over each other in their eagerness to tackle the Hulk - but it was a blast to read and, I suspect, Stan and Jack were having as much fun as the readers were.


#5 - Fantastic Four 46

By this point, the creative team as really hitting on all cylinders.

After a few glimpses the issue before, with this issue we finally meet the Inhumans, as Black Bolt and the Royal Family attack the FF (they were confused about a lot of things at the time).

The issue is packed with amazing sequences, as The Seeker tries to track down the Inhumans, captures the monstrous Dragon Man, all while the battle is raging.

The issue is loaded with amazing visuals, characters and concepts. By this point, Lee and Kirby and working on a different level from the rest of the industry.


#4 - Fantastic Four 43


What agony this issue caused!

It was the wrap-up to an exciting story wherein the Frightful Four had brainwashed the Thing and the Human Torch into becoming evil and attacking the Fantastic Four. All seemed hopeless - and this issue had the answers.

But... it arrived at the news stand the same day as Fantastic Four Annual #4, which featured the wedding of Reed and Sue! My family was on the way to my Grandparent's house to visit some cousins who were in town, and my 9-year-old self only had a quarter - enough to buy one issue or the other, but not both!

After much agonizing, I bought the annual. When we arrived at my Grandparents house, my cousin Jon loved the FF Annual and offered to buy it from me. When I hesitated, he offer 50 cents - so I sold it to him and talked Dad into stopping at the news stand again on the way home, and I gleefully bought both issues.

Lucky for me! It's a terrific issue, loaded with surprises and drama.


#3 - Fantastic Four 40

This could almost be my favorite issue.

The second of two parts, it features an FF who have lost their powers - yet they must confront Dr. Doom, who has taken control of the Baxter Building (their headquarters), and is turning Reed's inventions against the team.

Aided by a Wally Wood-drawn Daredevil, the team faces overwhelming odds. They regain their powers through a bit of trickery by Reed (kind of a dirty trickery, at that), but it leads to a powerful moment.

The team needs the help of the Thing to defeat Doom - but Ben hates being trapped in his monstrous form. After the change, he takes his anger out on Doom in a battle that is both brutal, intense and gripping.

I'd compare that final sequence to the classic Lee - Ditko scene where Spider-Man was trapped under machinery (actually, that issue was published after this one). The Thing battles through on courage and heart alone. It's a powerful sequence, and one of my all-time favorites.


#2 - Fantastic Four 51

Lots of fans will tell you that this is the best issue of the Fantastic Four - but they're wrong.

It is a great issue! It's a sad tale of a scientist who manages to steal the Thing's powers and appearance, intending to kill Reed Richards. Instead, he learns the most important lesson of his life - and redeems himself.

It's one of the most emotional issues of the Fantastic Four, and one of the best-written, too.

As a side note, this is also the issue where Reed discovers the Negative Zone - another example of Lee and Kirby kicking out ideas (seemingly) without even breaking a sweat.


#1 - Fantastic Four #49

Most fans call it the "Galactus Trilogy," but this is the issue at the heart of the series. The previous issue just set up the confrontation, and the next issue wrapped up the story quickly.

But here we have the FF fighting the impossible battle, as they fight God. I mean, Galactus, the world eater.

There's so much story crammed into this issue, it's staggering. We discover the purpose of Galactus and see an image of the fate Earth faces. The FF attack him and are immediately defeated. We meet the Silver Surfer (who recites one of the great lines in comics: "Nay, it is supremely credible!") The FF attack Galactus again (with somewhat better success). They fight the Punisher (not the guy with the skull on his chest). The Human Torch flies across the universe with the help of the Watcher. The Silver Surfer decides to attack his master!

These days, it would take a 12-part mini-series to cover that much ground.

This was Lee and Kirby at their best, combining action, cosmic concepts, romance, adventure - adding a lot of heart, and weaving it all into an amazing tapestry.

It's a stunning body of work, and it's still my all-time favorite comics series. Classics indeed!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3

Three issues in and this series continues its slow reveal.

This issue focuses on one of my favorite T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, the blue-skinned android named NoMAN.

As originally conceived, he was a hero who couldn't be killed. If something damaged or destroyed his android body, his mind was shifted into a "spare" body. That made him the perfect agent to tackle any dangerous assignment.

Add to it his iconic look - blue skin, eyes always in shadow - and his invisibility cloak, and he was a formidable force.

This issue takes us back and forth from the modern-day attempts to bring NoMAN back into action for T.H.U.N.D.E.R. to glimpses of his history with the organization.

There's a lot going on here that we don't know about - and an especially dirty trick by writer Nick Spencer to bring NoMAN back - but it's another clever issue with a great twist at the end.

The art is split by era and by artist, with Cafu handling the modern-day events and the legendary Howard Chaykin handling the flashbacks, and turning in incredible work as always.

I'm not sure how most fans of the original series will feel about this book - it's very different in style and substance. But if you know that going in, I suspect you'll enjoy this series - it's smart, sneaky and full of surprises.

Grade: A-

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Monday, January 17, 2011

The Incredible Hulks #620

It's a time-honored storytelling device, when working with a really powerful character (like, say, The Hulk), to hit him on a mental level (where presumably the playing field is more level).

That's the tactic used in this issue, and to good effect, as the Hulk Family must face opponents who are dead - including the monstrous version of Bruce Banner's father, who is powered by the Hulk's own childhood fears - and thus, more powerful than the Hulk.

Writer Greg Pak gives us some great character moments (and dialogue) between the living and the dead - especially the reaction of his dead mother to Bruce's wives.

The art by Paul Pelletier and Danny Miki is outstanding as always, with some amazing splash pages on display.

But I have to make special mention of the back-up feature, a thin story with the Hulk testing his rocky friend Korg - but it's notable for the artist, Simon Bisley, who seems to be having a lot of fun drawing loads of mayhem.

I'm still not crazy about the Chaos War tie-in (I still don't like the mix of magic and the Hulks), but there's no denying this is a powerful issue with some great moments.

Grade: A-

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Heroes for Hire #2

Here's the second issue of Heroes for Hire, and it's... an awful lot like the first issue.

Once again we're dropped into the middle of an ongoing menace - this one has a supernatural angle to it - and Misty Knight serves as Oracle - I mean, as the behind-the-scenes guidance for several Marvel characters to tackle the mystery and take out the mastermind behind it.

Notice I didn't call them Marvel "heroes" - that's because none of them seem particularly heroic, with the possible exception of Paladin (and I'm not even sure about him).

Of more interest is the secret force working behind Misty without her knowing it - but that mystery will be apparently a while in being solved.

For me, this comic still sits firmly on the fence. The writing by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning is sharp, but the comic still feels more like a random team-up issue than part of a team book.

The art by Brad Walker and Andrew Hennessy is quite good - dark and moody with a painted look to it. A few of the panel layouts seem odd, but overall their style works for this comic.

I'm interested enough to keep hanging on for now - but unless it all starts pulling together more (and soon), I doubt I'll make it past the first story arc.

Grade: B

Saturday, January 15, 2011

1000 Posts!

Hard to believe that this is post #1000 for Chuck's Comic of the Day! (It snuck up on me, sorta like Christmas always does.)

It's one of those statistics that only I care about, but still... I'll have to cook up something special for the occasion. An extra-special "Classic Comic" post this week, perhaps. I know just the thing...

At any rate, thanks for reading along! Our numbers keep ramping up, and my keyboard shows no sign of burning out anytime soon, so I'll keep cranking out reviews. As always, your comments and suggestions are most welcome.

It occurs to me that if I were writing a novel, I'd be finished by now. If only I had a good idea for a novel...

Spawn #200

Well, no one's more surprised than me to see that Spawn is still being published - and it's made it to issue 200!

If success were measured by art alone, I could believe it - the comic has a long history of outstanding artists turning in fine work (even if the subject matter is often repulsive), starting with artist and writer Todd McFarlane, who created the comic back in 1992. (I covered the first issue in this "Classic" review.)

This is the first issue I've bought in about 17 years (although I've read a handful of issues since then). My first impression is: not much has changed.

The one big change surprised me - the original Spawn, Al Simmons, is apparently out of the picture (Dead? Disappeared? Who knows?), and a new victim (some guy named Jim) is now wearing the Spawn costume.

Otherwise, it feels like the same comic. The art is quite good (though watching a demon puke an ocean of vomit on another demon doesn't do much for me). The credits are a bit confusing - the layouts and pencils are credited to McFarlane and Michael Golden - though I don't see much of either artist in the finished product. Maybe it's me.

But there are loads of detail, all kinds of gory action... yeah, that's about it.

The story makes no sense at all (though I'll grant that part of the problem may be that I haven't read - or don't remember - any details from the last 185 issues). There's some kind of unbeatable monster version of Spawn - the Omega Spawn - and it attacks Spawn and the Clown (the demon known as the Violator, who is pretending to be Spawn's friend).

The Violator ends up fighting the Freak (who's hiding a big secret) while the Spawns duke it out - sort of.

It all just reads like it could be issue #16. Big fights, clunky dialogue, no heart to any of the characters, no boundaries to the action (hey, it's magic and demons - they can do anything!), no purpose - just lots of noise and smashing.

After 18 years, Spawn is still all style and no substance. My advice: avoid it.

Grade: D+

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Daredevil Reborn #1 (of 4)

Daredevil is a comic that, when it's good, it's one of my favorites; but when it's bad, I drop it like a brick.

As a result, I missed the whole Shadowlands storyline - when it was obvious that Daredevil was recast as a villain (and one who murders his opponents), I knew that comic wasn't for me - so I stopped buying. (I did the same thing a decade or two back during the "organic armor" DD stories.)

Now Shadowlands is done and as a result, in Daredevil Reborn, Matt Murdock is... walking across America? Where have I heard that one before?

Nah, it doesn't really bother me - going out to find yourself is a time-honored tradition, and if any character needs a good scrubbing, DD's the guy.

So here we have Matt wandering through a small town in New Mexico (though I'm not sure how you go south from New York and end up in the desert). He runs across a town of people who are obviously hiding a secret - but since he's not a hero anymore (or so he tells himself), why should he care?

This isn't a bad book at all - the story by Andy Diggle is a step up from the last DD issue I read - and I like the art by Davide Gianfelice. It has a strong, stark look to it that fits the story well.

It's too early to tell how successful they're going to be in bringing Daredevil back, so they haven't won me back yet - but this is a good first step. We'll see how it goes with the other three chapters.

Grade: B+

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thor The Mighty Avenger #8

Here we reach the end of the run of this comic that earned a spot on my Top 10 list for 2010.

It's not quite the final issue for Thor The Mighty Avenger, as the creative team will be doing a comic for Free Comic Book Day that will serve as issue #9 - but whatever the case, it's a shame to see this title end.

This has been a Thor comic that's part action / adventure, part exploration of a different version of the Marvel Universe, and part romance story as Thor and Jane Foster fall in love.

This issue covers all the bases. We have Thor captured by a team of scientists who control an army of robots, and we get some hints about the true nature of Thor's memory loss. We meet Tony Stark as he pilots an early, cruder version of his Iron Man armor (and Giant-Man and the Wasp put in a cameo as well). And Jane's love for Thor is what makes the rescue possible.

I hope the fans will keep flocking to this book and (through strong sales) force Marvel to bring the creative team back for a further run. Congrats to writer Roger Langridge and artist Chris Samnee for an outstanding run on this title!

It's funny to note that this issue is number "8 of 8," as though this had been intended as a limited series all along.

I'm OK with that, as long as there are more series like it in the future.

Grade: A

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Cold Day for Comics

But you can't let a little snow get in the way!

Here's what I picked up today:

- Daredevil: Reborn #1 (of 4) - Hope springs eternal.

- Doc Savage #10 - Been enjoying this storyline.

- Heroes for Hire #2 - Lots of 'splosions here.

- The Incredible Hulks #620 - It's a family affair (but no Buffy or Jody or Uncle Bill).

- Spawn #200 - The first issue of this comic I've bought since #15 (or so).

- Thor The Mighty Avenger #8 - The final issue (sorta).

- T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3 - Focus on NoMan.

And that's it!

The Classics - Lost in Space #1

I should admit that I was a big fan of the original Lost in Space TV show, though even as a kid I knew it was often silly and campy.

As a science fiction show, it paled next to the original Star Trek series - but I enjoyed it just the same and watched faithfully.

The concept was basic enough - a space ship is launched to travel to the star Alpha Centauri, but it is sent off course, and the crew (which is mostly made up of a family named Robinson) is lost. They travel to different planets (often crashing) and have all kinds of adventures.

It was a fun show, with adventure (mostly handled by the father, John, and the pilot of the Jupiter 2, Major West), human interest (the family interaction) and comedy (Dr. Smith and the Robot).

My Dad watched it, too, and often remarked that he'd have had Dr. Smith shot right from the start, and the family would have had no problems after that. But I digress.

Gold Key had its own Lost in Space comic book (I reviewed an issue here), but despite the similarities, it was all about a different Robinson family.

It wasn't until this comic from Innovation Corporation in 1991 that the TV show made it into comic book form.

This issue got the series off to a rocky start. The story started in the middle, with the family and their ship being attacked by some destructive alien plants and monsters.

They manage to clear and repair the devastated ship and rebuild the Robot (which was destroyed in the attack) in a few hours (which seems improbable at best, given the amount of destruction).

The shaky script was provided by Matt Thompson and David Campiti, and they also work in some of the backstory of the crew, including some interesting hints about why Dr. Smith was sent to sabotage the mission. (And thankfully Smith here is back to his original nasty made, instead of playing the comic stooge.)

The art by Eddy Newell and Mark Jones is pretty uneven, although there are some flashes of genius on display. But the issue is marred (at least for me) by more than a few cheesecake poses by the girls (who are a bit older than they were in the original show, thank goodness). The cover is a good example of that excess - thankfully one that was soon dropped from the series.

There were better days ahead for this series, as Bill Mumy - who had played Will Robinson on the series - took over most of the writing chores, and turned in some excellent stories.

This first issue was very rough around the edges, but it was a great to see the Robinsons back in action again. It was a good idea whose time had come.

Sadly, it didn't last - the comic folded a couple of years later, at the same time that Innovation did. But it was fun while it lasted!

Grade: C+

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Jonah Hex #63

This is a comic I pick up from time to time, and then kick myself because I don't pick it up regularly.

Jonah Hex is about as straightforward as a comic can be. The title character lives in the "Old West" (at some point shortly after the Civil War) and makes his living as a bounty hunter.

He's hired to track down a murderous monster named Loco, who specializes in killing and torturing women and children. When he hears about the horrible things Loco has done, Hex flashes back to his own childhood and remembers a particularly unpleasant event.

His search for Loco shows why Hex is a virtual force of nature - especially when he's properly motivated.

The story by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti is lean, clever and brutal - think of the movie Unforgiven and you have the feel of this comic.

The series is also blessed by some amazing artists. This time around the art is by Jordi Bernet, and it's impressive. The landscapes are terrific, the emotions and intensity of the story are vivid, and the raw nature of the life and death struggle is splashed across each page. Great, great work here!

Hey, there's a good New Year's resolution: I promise to not miss any more issues of this outstanding series. (And there's a resolution I can stick to!)

Grade: A-

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Monday, January 10, 2011

The Thanos Imperative: Devastation #1 (One-Shot)

I've been missing out on the "Cosmic Corner" of Marvel's Universe, so I didn't read about the Annihilation Wave or the other mini-series that were related to the Guardians of the Galaxy series (which is apparently my loss, considering what rave reviews those series received).

I did pick up the just-wrapped mini-series about The Thanos Imperative, and enjoyed it a lot (it narrowly missed making my top 10 list for 2010).

In the wake of that series we have this one-shot, Devastation, which bridges between the previous adventure and the one coming up next.

This issue is one of those "assembling the team" events, as we see how the scattered members of the next cosmic team are brought together.

It's a fun issue as written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. It offers a nice balance between action, humor and character interplay. The personalities involved here are interesting and a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to seeing where it all goes from here.

Like the recent Avengers books, what we see here is a gathering of heavy hitters - sort of a Cosmic Avengers (though they don't go by that name).

The art is my Miguel Sepulveda, with colors by Rain Beredo, and it's very good. They take us to a number of different settings, with some striking vistas and strong action sequences.

You definitely get the sense that the creative team is "turning up the volume" on the cosmic corner, and judging by the surprise appearance on that final double-page spread (which got a hoot out of me), the fun is just beginning.

Grade: A-


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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Brightest Day #17

After far too many issues where not a whole lot actually happened, this issue of Brightest Day finally kicks it into gear.

The focus here is on three different events. At the end of the previous issue, it appeared that Firestorm had managed to destroy the universe. Thankfully, that wasn't the case (sorry for the spoiler, I trust that doesn't surprise anyone). Here we find out where he/they are and we get some clues about where they're off to next (Firestorm is two heroes in one, as two young men - Ronnie and Jason - merge to form the entity).

Then we look in on Deadman (who's now alive) as his relationship with Dove continues to grow. He decides it's time to set things right with his loved ones.

The action part of the issue belongs to Hawkman and Hawkgirl as they step into Green Lantern's turf and find themselves in the middle of a war on Zamaron, the home of the Star Sapphires - and their new queen, Carol Ferris.

The art, as always, is a bit of a mix, with four different pencilers at work here - but the art is (mostly) very good, with some outstanding splash pages.

I'm not sure if it's the bi-weekly publication schedule or the large cast of characters that populate this series, but this comic has been dragging lately. But the good news is, this issue seems to have the story back up to speed - and something very interesting happens on that last page.

So I'm going to keep hanging in there, hoping for more issues like this one.

Grade: B+


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Saturday, January 8, 2011

John Byrne's Next Men #2

As I mentioned in this post, I was a fan of John Byrne's Next Men during the book's first incarnation, and I'm happy to see it back again.

But despite that, I feel a bit lost in this story so far - but I suspect that's the general idea.

We pick up this issue with three of the story's main characters separated and lost in time.

Federal Agent Tony Murcheson finds herself in the South during the Civil War - which is especially bad since she's African-American. Byrne pulls few punches here in his depiction of life among slaves.

Nathan, whose vision-based powers are beginning to fade, finds himself on the front lines during a battle between the Allies and the Nazis in World War II.

Jasmine, who we see only briefly, seems to have landed in Elizabethan England.

I have no idea why they've been tossed around in time, but Byrne has a great handle on time-traveling tales, so I trust all will be made clear soon (and the "Next Issue" art indicates that might be the case).

It's a solid tale with some of Byrne's best artwork on display - each time period has its own feel, and the emotions of the characters are intense and real.

So far, this series if off to a great (re-)start, and I'm anxious to see where it all goes from here. Recommended!

Grade: A-

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Friday, January 7, 2011

Ultimate Captain America #1

Well, I'm really torn over this issue - there are things about Ultimate Captain America that I really like, and things that I really didn't like.

First, the good news: the art is terrific. Artist Ron Garney has tackled Cap before, and he always does a terrific job. His style is unique - rough-edged and kinetic, with great layouts and stunning images. I can see a touch of Kubert in there - but it's mostly Garney's own, ever-evolving style on display.

But the art is the only reason to buy the book - the story by Jason Aaron really falls flat.

That's mostly because it seems like a direct copy of the recent confrontation between Cap and the Red Skull over in the Ultimate Avengers comic. Once again, Cap is up against an opponent who seems unstoppable.

It's one thing for Cap to get defeated occasionally, but this guy is the ultimate soldier - yet every time we see him he's getting his head handed to him.

There's some fun bits of dialogue on display here, but otherwise, it's just more of the same.

It would be nice to see a writer try to do some more with Cap as a person - surely he's not the ass-kicking soldier 24/7.

Give him a life - and then we'll be getting somewhere new, instead of visiting the same old territory over and over again.

Grade: C+

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Avengers: Prime #5 (of 5)

I've really enjoyed Avengers: Prime, even though I consider it deeply flawed.

I like the idea behind it - to throw the "Big Three" Avengers together into one hoo-hah adventure, and show how they overcame past animosities and went back to being good friends.

The great thing about the book has been the artwork by Alan Davis. This issue in particular would have given most artists a stroke, since it involves more than one splash page featuring hundreds of creatures, all fighting for their lives. Davis makes it look effortless - his pages just crackle with energy.

I love his depiction of Thor, Captain America and Iron Man - each one iconic and heroic, but real characters just the same. I've never seen him do anything less than excellent work, and his art makes any issue an automatic purchase.

Brian Bendis' story mostly works, but there are a few problems that make it difficult to accept. The worst offense is Steve Rogers (apparently) falling in love with a beautiful Elf - this is the guy who's in love with Sharon Carter, right? Making him unfaithful does not make him a more interesting characrter.

Then there's the big bad of the series, Hela. Her appearance here does not fit well with her recent storyline in Thor's own comic (there they were allies - here, they're fighting to the finish). A little tweaking could have fixed this.

My other complaint is that the wrap-up to the series is a bit too pat, and happens too quickly.

Despite those quibbles (and I'll grant that these are things that won't bother about 95 percent of readers out there), this is an entertaining series and I'm sorry to see it end.

(That's what Marvel needs - another ongoing Avengers comic!)

Grade: A-

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Comic Book Day - In Theory

I'm on the road today, so I may not get back in time to post the list of what I bought today - so instead, let's look into the future.

Here's a list of what I plan to buy:

- Avengers: Prime #5 (of 5) - An outstanding series, I'm sorry to see it end.

- Brightest Day #17 - This one, on the other hand, has dragged quite a bit.

- Irredeemable #21 - It'll be interesting to see what happens when the Plutonian wakes up...

- Jonah Hex #63 - Always a heckuva good comic.

- John Byrne's Next Men #2 - So glad this is back again.

- Ozma of Oz #3 (of 8) - One of my top 10 comics from 2010.

- Thanos Imperative Devastation (One Shot) - Really enjoyed the mini-series.

- Ultimate Comics Captain America #1 - Giving it a shot.

And thats it! (Maybe.)

UPDATE: Well, I was close. The store didn't get its copies of Ozma of Oz, so that'll have to wait until next week. Bummer. Otherwise, my list was spot on.

The Classics - Lone Wolf and Cub #1

Before buying this comic in 1987, I had heard about Lone Wolf and Cub - but I'd never seen it.

The series was a huge hit in Japan. Written by Kazuo Koike and drawn by Goseki Kojima, it tells the story of Itto Ogami, who was once the Executioner serving the Shogun. An evil plot leaves him dishonored, his wife murdered, and his master orders him to commit suicide. But Itto decides to walk a different path, and roams the country with his infant son in a baby carriage (of sorts).

It's easy to see why the series is popular. The art and the story are terrific and they work together seamlessly. Itto is forced to live by his wits and his incredible fighting skills. He hires himself out when needed and often faces overwhelming odds - but through his intelligence and skill he manages to survive.

Some of the elements of the story are, no doubt, lost in the translation. Certain motions are emphasized - the movement of a foot, shrugging off a piece of clothing - that would no doubt have more meaning to someone more familiar with the traditions.

Even coming at the story with no knowledge of the history or culture behind the events (as I did), you'll still find yourself mesmerized by the ingenuity of the story and the intense, powerful art on display.

This series has been collected many times in different formats, and I urge you to check it out. This is the art of comics at its most pure.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A+

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ultimate Thor #3

During the original Stan Lee / Jack Kirby run of The Mighty Thor, each issue included a backup story called "Tales of Asgard," focusing on stories of the Norse Gods from long ago.

It was a great way to learn some of the backstory behind the characters, and lots of fun to see young Thor and Loki in action against assorted giants and monsters.

In Ultimate Thor, we have a similar effect, as the story spills over three different eras: the Asgard of ages ago, when Thor, Loki and Balder were close friends; the Asgard of 1939 when the home of the Gods faces a devastating attack; and the modern day, when doctors are examining a man who claims to be Thor.

In the hands of writer Jonathan Hickman, we're getting a terrific story of life and death, destruction and damnation - and perhaps we'll learn why Thor ended up being analyzed in modern times.

The art by Carlos Pacheco and Dexter Vines is outstanding - they jump from quiet moments to rollicking action sequences effortlessly. They're working on a big canvas and making the most of it.

Hopefully next issue will answer the biggest question of the all: why does his hammer keep changing shapes?

So far, this has been an excellent series and a worthy successor to the Lee / Kirby work. Higher praise than that would be hard to imagine.

Grade: A-

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