Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ultimate X #4

Well, it's only about eight months overdue.

Nice to see the newest issue of Ultimate X, which is a new and different version of the X-Men, as assembled by the only survivor of that team - Jean Grey.

There's some irony in that, of course - since she's the only member of the original team who's "dead" in the regular Marvel Universe. But she is the most powerful telepath on the planet, so it's a natural fit.

This issue takes us to a high school where the two children of a certain member of the Brotherhood of Evil are going to school - and it won't take you long to sort out who "Dad" might be.

The story by Jeph Loeb is a bit thin - it's just introduction, high school drama and violence - but the characters are solid and it's interesting to watch the team come together.

The art is the real selling point. Art Adams is doing fantastic work here, with great details and characterization. You can tell what the characters are thinking by the expressions on their faces - and you can't say that about the work of many comic artists.

So this comic continues to be very entertaining - but you have to be very patient. Luckily, it's worth the wait!

Grade: A-

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Comics Today

Here's what I picked up today at the Comics Shop:

- Avengers #11 - Ah, that last page - it's about time!

- Secret Avengers #11 - Hidden adventures from WWII? Cool!

- Captain America #616 - the 70th Anniversary issue! Lots of talented people kicked in on this one.

- King Conan #2 - An iconic moment for Conan in "The Scarlet Citadel." Great stuff!

- The Incredible Hulks #625 - the wrap-up to a nasty visit to the Savage Land.

- Incognito: Bad Influences #5 (of 5) - This has been mighty good.

- Justice Society of America #49 - Wrapping up some dirty business.

- Thor #621 - The spectacular finale to the alien invasion story.

- Ultimate X #4 - Hey, they're still publishing this?

- Alter Ego #100 - at $20 a heck of a bite - and probably my last regular issue (though I'll pick up future ones depending on the subject matter). I enjoy the title but this seems like a good jumping-off point.

And that's it!

The Classics - Superman #233

Even though he is one of the greatest superheroes in the history of comics, I have to admit that I've always been a sporadic buyer of the comic books starring Superman.

I read his adventures often when I was young, but I drifted away at some point in the mid-'60s.

But this issue in 1971 caught my attention (the iconic Neal Adams cover didn't hurt) and I stayed around for a while.

As companies tend to do when their main characters are struggling (sales-wise), DC wisely assigned some of its top talents to the comic - and the editorial reins were given to one of the industry's all-time greats, Julius Schwartz.

He (in turn) turned the writing chores over to Denny O'Neil, who had worked wonders (and won numerous awards) with his work with Adams on Green Lantern/Green Arrow.

O'Neil immediately pumped some new blood into the franchise. He took Clark Kent away from the Daily Planet and put him on the air as a TV reporter/anchor. He "permanently" eliminated Kryptonite (a change that held for decades), but gave Superman some mysterious weaknesses and power failures that would plague him for months to come. He also created a mysterious new figure made of sand that would haunt Superman for months.

O'Neil established Morgan Edge, the owner of the Daily Planet and WGBS-TV as something of a foil for Clark, and eventually he would bring in several new members to join the supporting cast.

So the writing was fresh and moving in new directions. That left Schwartz with the challenge of what to do about the artwork.

He solved the problem by teaming up one of (if not the) best Superman artists - Curt Swan - with one of (if not the) best inkers in the business, Murphy Anderson. The result was a fresh, modern look to the title, with dynamic layouts, expressive characters, and new designs - especially for Lois Lane, who lost that "Jackie Kennedy" look (finally).

It was a great new start for the Man of Steel, and it breathed new life into what had become a somewhat tired and stale franchise.

And it was successful - it got the attention of fans, and it brought me back to the fold and kept me hanging around - and reading - for quite a while.

Grade: A-

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Uncanny X-Force #6

While I've never been a fan of zombie stories, I have always liked the Deathlok character.

Created in 1974 by Rich Buckler and Doug Moench, the character lived in a post-apocalyptic future - is there any other kind? (It was set in the then-distant future of 1990 - honest!)

Deathlok is a man who has been brought back to life as a cyborg - kind of a zombie soldier. And now a version of that character (there have been several different Deathloks over the years) is appearing in this issue of Uncanny X-Force.

He (it?) joins forces with Fantomex in a battle against numerous super-hero versions of Deathlok - if I understand Rick Remender's somewhat murky plot correctly, they're from an alternate reality where humans conquered the heroes and put them to work as controlled cyborgs.

Both good guys and bad are searching for an object known as The World, which apparently can be a great weapon for good or evil. What follows is lots of hoo-hah action, ably (and darkly) rendered by Esad Ribic and John Lucas.

While it's one of the grimmest comics around - not my favorite genre - I have to admit that X-Force is one of Marvel's best books right now.

Go figure.

Grade: A-

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Batman, Inc. #4

Grant Morrison's writing on Batman, Inc. has been a wonder to behold.

Namely, I wonder how he gets away with it.

I suspect someone made a bet with him that he couldn't include elements of the Batman from the '50s and '60s in a modern story and make it work.

Because that's exactly what's happening here, as we see flashbacks to the original Batwoman - Kathy Kane - and how she set out to win Batman's heart.

The story spools out as the modern Batwoman battles the bad guys at a circus once owned by the original Batwoman.

We see scenes of the early Batmobile,a young Robin and a grinning and lovestruck Batman - all quite a shock in this era of grim and gritty, "no camp for me, thanks" stories.

In the modern side of the story, Batman is trying to get out of a death trap that has him fighting his old friend El Gaucho to the death.

It's all played fast and loose and it's actually quite a bit of fun - but I'm still amazed Morrison was allowed to tell this story. The flashbacks are almost cartoonish, and Batman comes across as, well, henpecked!

The art by Chris Burnham is different but very effective, as we jump back and forth from flashback to the present day. The art is loaded with detail and lots of energy.

It occurs to me that Morrison may be trying to bring the same sensibility to this title that he managed on All-Star Superman. If so, I'm all for it - that was one of the best limited series in recent memory.

I'm not sure how his stories will line up with established continuity, but he earns points for being daring and different. You never know what to expect from this title, and (so far) that's a good thing!

Grade: A-

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ultimate Spider-Man #156

Nothing against the fine artists who tackled Ultimate Spider-Man after his epic run on the title, but I'm thrilled to see Mark Bagley back on the art for this comic.

The series continues to move toward the "Death of Spider-Man," and this issue moves all the pieces in place for that to happen.

The last few issues of this title have been all about Peter Parker getting his life back together. He's once again dating Mary Jane (which is as it should be), his circle of friends is supportive, and he's being trained by members of the Ultimates.

This issue, he faces training from Captain America, and it's an interesting contrast between two polar opposites - but unfortunately, we don't see much of this.

Instead, shocking events occur that promise lots of pain for Spider-Man, as (for the umpteenth time) his most dangerous foes escape from the Triskelion (SHIELD headquarters).

It's all setting up next issue's deadly confrontation, but the real treat here is Bagley's work - he brings such a fresh energy to the title (which is funny, since he drew more than 100 issues on his last run). His layouts are dynamic, his characters individualistic, and his action scenes really pop.

Great to have him back. Now, the question is: how much longer will (Ultimate) Spider-Man be hanging around?

Grade: A-


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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Green Lantern #64

While Green Lantern has thrived during writer Geoff John's run on the title, in recent months the whole thing has been rather muddled.

That's mostly because Hal Jordan was becoming a secondary character in his own title. With all the multi-colored Lanterns hanging around and dealing with different mysteries and menaces, it was hard to keep a focus on GL.

Thankfully, this issue shakes things up and brings the story into sharp focus, and GL is at the heart of it. It also kicks off the next big mega-event, although instead of being a mini-series, it looks like this one will be contained in the GL "Family" titles - Green Lantern Corps, Emerald Warriors and this title (natch).

Here we finally begin the long-promised "War of the Green Lanterns," but there are quite a few surprising events along the way.

At the heart of the menace is GL's most powerful foe, the rogue Guardian named Krona. In the span of this issue he manages to shake up the status quo, eliminate GL's allies and create a universe-shaking menace.

It's an impressive turn of events and it pays off the methodical work by Johns of putting all the pieces into place.

The art is terrific as always, as Doug Mahnke creates stunning splash pages and terrific fight sequences. He's rapidly becoming one of my favorite artists, as he turns in strong work every month right on schedule.

If you haven't been following Green Lantern this might be a tough jumping-on point - there's a lot going on here, and quite a few characters to sort out.

But the story promises to be an epic one, and I can't wait to see where it goes from here.

Grade: A-

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Friday, March 25, 2011

FF #1

This issue is supposedly a new beginning, but to be honest it feels like more of the same - just with new costumes.

But don't think that's a criticism - in the case of FF, it's a compliment, considering what came before was an original and outstanding run on of the Fantastic Four.

Here we see the team and its extended family picking up the pieces after the (apparent) death of the Human Torch. The first order of business is lining up his replacement - Spider-Man, who obviously wasn't busy enough in his own comics and as a member of both the Avengers and the New Avengers (only Wolverine has a more hectic schedule).

The issue, written by Jonathan Hickman, gives us a quick overview of the new setup and launches right into a new adventure, as a classic villain makes his move. We meet the primary members of the Future Foundation - Reed, Ben, Sue and (now) Peter - and their support, made up of a diverse group of characters. The most surprising addition is saved for the last page (which I won't spoil here, of course).

The artwork by Steve Epting is outstanding, although I'm still warming to the new black-and-white suits (although I actually prefer the black version to the white one). I also like the graphic design of the groups' new logo, although I have to admit I'm not sure what it represents.

Spider-Man seems like a good fit for the team, as he takes up the smart-alec end of things - but shouldn't one member of the team be able to fly?

At any rate, it's a good beginning for a series that has some big stories bubbling just below the surface. The Fantastic Four has been a "must-buy" for the last few years, and this comic continues that tradition with ease.

Grade: A

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

New Comics One Day Late

Finally got to the comics shop, where I picked up:

- Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine #5 (of 6) - Great art, but the story makes no sense at all. Perhaps deliberately.

- Batman, Inc. #4 - A Batwoman flashback for longtime readers.

- FF #1 - A fresh start!

- Green Lantern #64 - Of course you know, this means war.

- Silver Surfer #2 (of 4) - Now with 100% less Silver Surfer!

- Ultimate Doom #4 (of 4) - Hopefully that's the end of that - a terrible mini-series.

- Ultimate Spider-Man #156 - Getting closer - and glad to see Mark Bagley back on the art!

- Uncanny X-Force #6 - It's all Deathlok, all the time.

- Uncanny X-Men #534 - The end of the epidemic.

And that's it!

The Classics - Thor Annual #1

1965 was a good year, too.

Since I had it handy (and work kept me away from the comics shop today), I figured, why not tackle the first Thor Annual?

Of all the Annuals Marvel published that year - as big a fan of Thor as I am - this is probably the weakest effort. In fact, I suspect this story was originally intended as a regular issue of Journey Into Mystery.

(Interestingly, in the indicia the issue is actually titled Journey Into Mystery Annual #1).

The lead feature, which gives us the first-ever meeting between and (naturally) battle between Thor and Hercules, is only 15 pages long! The issue itself is 72 pages long, but aside from the two-page map of Asgard, the other 57 pages are reprints - making this a slim Annual by 1965 standards.

Of course, even with just 15 pages, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby create magic. The story couldn't be easier to recap: Thor falls through a secret portal into Olympus, where he meets Hercules. They fight a lot. All is resolved, and Thor returns to Asgard.

Of course, that doesn't begin to capture the ingenuity of their battle, the delight in the wordplay or the power of the confrontation. Once again, action is king and this issue is just pure fun (you can tell by looking at the cover - my copy has been read to pieces over the past - ulp! - 46 years).

Even the reprints are choice - they include the first appearance of Loki, the Radioactive Man, the Lava Man and the never-to-be-seen-again Duplicator.

It's slim in original material, but it's all choice. And it cost a quarter!

Grade: A

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

No New Comics Today?

Sadly, work took me out of town today, and I wasn't able to get to the comics shop before closing time - so no new comics today for me. (I know, it's tragic.)

I'll post a "Classic" review for tomorrow, and hopefully I'll make it to the shop tomorrow and get things back on track.

The Classics - Thor Annual #2

The early Marvel Annuals (such as this one from the summer of 1966) fell into two categories: they told big-event stories (the wedding of Reed and Sue, Spider-Man's first battle with the Sinister Six, Atlantis invades New York) or they were just lots of fun (Spider-Man teams up with Dr. Strange, Thor fights Hercules).

You can put this issue in the second category.

I almost reviewed the first Thor Annual, and then realized that the Destroyer plays a part in the upcoming Thor film (which looks pretty good, at least according to the last trailer I saw), so I decided to go after this one.

It's a fast-paced Asgardian romp as the greatest warriors gather for the Tournament of Titans to duke it out for top prize - a suit of gold armor.

That's all the excuse needed by the creative team - Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, of course (with Vince Colleta providing the inks and Sam Rosen the lettering). From there they provide a fast-paced, action-packed and (often) very funny battle royale.

Thor and his friends, the Warriors Three - Hogun the Grim, Fandral the Dashing and Volstagg the Voluminous - team up for the tournament, which is loaded with the usual amazing Kirby visuals and battle sequences.

Lee keeps the whole thing rolling briskly with clever, flowery dialogue and lots of humor (especially with Volstagg).

Just to add to the mayhem, the invincible Destroyer is animated by Loki and threatens to kill Odin (just for starters).

If the solution to the problem seems a bit convenient, it's easy to forgive - especially after enjoying 30 pages of mayhem. By this point, Lee and Kirby were at the top of their game, crafting issue after issue of gems like this.

And this issue really is a typical Marvel Comic - it's loaded with great characters, action sequences, heroic challenges, moments of valor and genuine peril, all tied together with fantastic artwork and a sharp and clever script. What more could anyone want?

(But wait, there's more!) The annual also includes reprints of two earlier Thor stories, including the first appearance of the Enchantress and the Executioner. And it only cost a quarter!

Was 1966 a great year or what?

Grade: A

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ruse #1

I am, like all right-thinking people in the world, a fan of Sherlock Holmes.

The same is apparently true for writer Mark Waid, who offers his own version of The Detective in Ruse, the second title Marvel has revived from the former company known as CrossGen.

I'd heard raves about the earlier incarnation, but for some reason I never picked up a copy - which I regret now, because this issue impressed me.

It takes us to Victorian England, where Simon Archard has become famous for his ability to solve the most puzzling crimes. The ingenious twist on this is that his "assistant" is a woman (she prefers to be referred to as a partner) named Emma Bishop who is just as sharp as Simon - though she gets little credit for it.

As is only right, the story begins with a locked-room murder to be solved (quite cleverly), and the investigation takes the pair into some grim situations.

The script is sharp and clever, and the art by Mirco Pierfederici is excellent, capturing the era and the action with equal skill. I've not seen his work before, but it's well worth watching out for.

My only complaint is that the end of the issue arrived far too quickly - always an indicator of a great comic.

So, if you're looking for a smart story with a great sense of humor in it, and you're a fan of detective stories, you should definitely try Ruse.

Now excuse me, I need to see about tracking down those back issues...

Grade: A

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Monday, March 21, 2011

The Spider #1

I've long been a fan of the pulp heroes (though I wasn't around the read them when they first appeared on the newsstands - but I enjoyed the reprints in the '60s and '70s) and I generally try to support those characters when they show up in comics - but all too often I'm disappointed (see the recent Doc Savage comic).

You can add The Spider to the list.

I should admit up front that I have read very few of his pulp appearances - the same is true about Operator 5, who stars in the back-up story.

But pulp stories are usually entertaining, with lots of action, exotic locales, larger-than-life events and destruction on a massive scale - the equivalent of today's disaster films. Fun, if not thought-provoking.

But these stories fail on that level. The Spider story involves mummies, mad scientists, a beautiful woman and lots of mayhem - but the story is erratic and makes almost no sense at all.

The one good thing is the artwork by Pablo Marcos, who did tons of great work in the '70s and '80s on horror and barbarian comics - but the oddly muted coloring on the comic doesn't offer much help to the art.

The backup story features uncover agent Operator 5 as he infiltrates a hate group. The story manages to be confusing and offensive (though most of that is deliberate to establish the villains).

I'd urge the creative teams to go back to the basics here. Give us some background on the characters - who they are, how they operate, who their supporting characters are - and then plunge into the story. It'll make things easier on the readers.

I really want to support this pulp revival, but the writing is making it difficult.

Grade: C-

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Invincible Iron Man #502

While I've been enjoying the Iron Man comic for the past couple of years, I have to say that this issue did not work for me - in fact, it was downright irritating.

The story by Matt Fraction has Tony Stark being held captive by Spider-Man's opponent, Dr. Octopus.

That villain is suffering from brain damage - the result of too many super-powered blows to the head - and he is trying to force Stark to "fix" him by threatening Stark's friends and by threatening to detonate a nuclear weapon in Manhattan. Doc Ock has two of his associates - Sandman and Electro - threatening one of Stark's friends.

So here's where this issue goes wrong. It treats these three villains like they're fools and bumblers - not worth Iron Man's time and effort, since they've been defeated so many times in the past by a "loser" like Spider-Man.

I suspect that attitude was meant to be taken as just more of Stark's snarkiness (if that's a word) - but it comes across as a real slam to these classic villains and to Spidey.

Making matters worse is the fact that Pepper Potts uses her repulsor technology to hold her own in a fight with Electro and Sandman. Again, nothing against Pepper, but these are villains who have gone up against some of Marvel's heavy hitters - the Sandman took on the Fantastic Four, for crying out loud. They deserve better treatment than this.

The final sin is that by the end of the issue, nothing has changed and all the characters are right where they started.

The bright spot is the art by the always-outstanding Salvador Larroca - but otherwise this issue leaves me cold.

No doubt rabid Spider-Man fans will heat things up...

Grade: B-

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

DC Universe Legacies #10 (of 10)

This issue wraps up this limited series that offers a short history lesson - but DC Universe Legacies doesn't as much end as run out of gas.

The story written by Len Wein has been framed as a history as seen by a retired police officer who witnessed some of the key events in DC's past - and I've enjoyed that part of it.

Unfortunately, the framing device falls apart at the end, as it suddenly becomes a key factor for us to find out who Paul Lincoln has been telling this story to - and the answer ends up being rather depressing.

But perhaps that's fitting, because events in the DC Universe are pretty depressing by this point, as Sue Dibny is brutally murdered and the Omac invasion hits home.

The art by Scott Kolins, Jesus Saiz and Tom Derenick is solid and professional, though there's so much crammed into this issue that there's not much room for them to spread their wings.

Even the backup feature is depressing, as it focuses on the Silver Age Blue Beetle - there's no happy ending there, either (though it does feature nice art by Gary Frank).

As I've mentioned in previous reviews, I thought this was a terrific series, although the closer it got to modern times, the weaker my interest in it. So I look forward to the next project from Wein and the array of outstanding artists who have worked on this series, but I'm glad to see we're done here.

Grade: B

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Avengers Academy #11

I've talked before about my general dislike for omnipotent characters - but in this issue of Avengers Academy, writer Christos Gage manages to use one such figure well.

The god-like figure in question is Korvac, a man from the future who once defeated the entire roster of The Avengers - but he seemingly died at the end of that original story.

You can't let a little thing like that stop you in today's comics! When one of the members of the Academy accidentally materializes a mystery woman, Korvac quickly follows - which leads to an all-out battle.

But even as the story rolls along and the stakes rise, the story moves in an unexpected direction - and the members of the Academy learn some valuable lessons.

The art is by new series regular Tom Raney (with Scott Hanna on inks), and it's a strong effort all around, especially considering it's one of those "everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink" kind of stories. The issue is loaded with action scenes, and with very minor exceptions, the art is powerful throughout.

After a few recent missteps this series is back on track and lots of fun to read. Recommended!

Grade: A-


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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fear Itself Prologue: Book of the Skull #1 (One-Shot)

Fear Itself is the next mega-event from Marvel Comics, and so far - I like it!

This prologue has one foot set in modern times and another back in the days of World War II as the Red Skull hatches yet another plan that won't see fruition for 70 years.

That was something of a specialty of the Skull's, like his robotic Sleepers... but I digress.

Here the Skull attempts to use mystic powers to conjure up a weapon to help the Nazis win the war - but three of the Invaders show up to spoil his plans.

It's great to see Captain America, Bucky and the Sub-Mariner in action (heck, it's even fun to see the Red Skull being his old menacing self), and this issue is loaded with wild battle sequences.

The art is also terrific, as Scot Eaton and Mark Morales tell a powerful story of evil unleashed. The pages just drip with foreboding.

So it's a good start, although we don't really get much information about what the upcoming storyline will be about.

But I'm all for any excuse that gets the Invaders back in action.

Grade: A-

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hey, Kids - Comics!

Here's what I picked up today:

- Avengers Academy #11 - Hey, it's Korvac. Isn't he dead?

- Brightest Day #22
- With two issues to go, they have a lot of ground to cover here.

- DC Universe Legacies #10 (of 10) - The finale!

- Fear Itself Prologue: Book of the Skull #1 (One-Shot) - It's amazing how much stuff the Red Skull got accomplished during the war.

- The Invincible Iron Man #502 - That Dr. Octopus, he's all hands. (Too obvious?)

- Morning Glories #8 - More mysteries unfold.

- Ruse #1 - Hey, the World's Greatest Detective - they need him in that last comic.

- The Spider #1 - A shot of pulpy goodness (one hopes).

- Warlord of Mars #5 - Fighting giants to the death - what fun!

And that's it!

The Classics - Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1

I'm not sure why the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents didn't succeed when it first appeared in the '60s. It had great artwork (spearheaded by Wally Wood), fun stories, loads of action - I loved the series.

I suspect the 25-cent price tag was the deciding factor, but for whatever reason, the line folded after four years. A revival was attempted in 1983 by JC Comics, but it wrapped after just a few issues.

No doubt one of the reasons the series struggled was because of the legal wrangling over who (if anyone) owned the rights to the characters.

In 1984, Deluxe Comics decided the series was in public domain and released a new T.H.U.N.D.E.R. title. It was a short run - five issues, I think - and then another lawsuit determined that the rights to the characters belonged to John Carbonaro, and Deluxe shut down.

But what a run it was! Editor David Singer assembled some of the industry's top talent, and their enthusiasm and love for the characters shines through.

Among the creators involved were: George Perez, Dave Cockrum, Keith Giffen and Steve Englehart, with pinups by Steve Ditko, Jerry Ordway, Stan Drake and Leonard Starr.

The stories included the Raven, the android NoMan, Lightning, Menthor and (of course) Dynamo.

It was outstanding work all around - it's just a shame it couldn't last. Of all the attempts at bringing back this series, this one did the best job of recapturing the energy of the original series.

Which is not intended as a slam against the modern comic - it's moving the story in a different direction. But there's a good reason why this series was titled "Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" - and while he might not approve the legal standing, I have to think he would have enjoyed the top-notch work printed on those pages.

Grade: A

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sigil #1

Last week Atlas Comics returned, and now CrossGen is making a comeback. Who'da thunk it?

I have to admit that I didn't read the original Sigil series from CrossGen (which is now owned by Marvel via Disney - what a world!). But, hearing that this was something of a reboot (or fresh start), I thought I'd give it a go.

And it's not bad. Not great, but not bad.

It's the standard comic book gimmick of a teen who has seen tragedy but holds a secret power that will change her life. At school, she's bullied and misunderstood - but when her power kicks in, all that changes.

The teen is Sam (Samantha) Rey, who keeps having strange dreams about different worlds and a mystic symbol.

It's all familiar, Spider-Man and Harry Potter-ish ground to a long-time reader like yours truly - but the fact is, this comic isn't aimed at me. Writer Mike Carey targets young readers (especially young women), and I suspect they'll like it a lot.

It has a likeable, attractive lead character, teen drama, a mystery about how her mother really died, and loads of adventure.

The art is also very good, as Leonard Kirk and Ed Tadeo take us from high school to the high seas. The art is clean, attractive and tells a strong story.

I may not hang around for the rest of the story, but if you know of any young readers looking for an entertaining comic, this would be a great starting point.

Grade: B

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Captain Action Winter Special #1

As I've mentioned before, I was a big fan of the original Captain Action comic book published by DC, and I'm glad to see that character back at work in new adventures from Moonstone.

His latest appearance was in this week's Captain Action Winter Special (just in time, considering the warm weather this week). I was looking forward to picking it up - but my shop sold out before I could get there. I have seen a pdf of part of the comic, however, so I'll limit my comments to that.

The good news is, it's the best Captain Action story I've read since those original '60s comics. It's a short tale by writer Beau Smith and artist Eduardo Barreto, and it's a lot of fun.

It's a short tale that could just as easily star James Bond, as the Captain gets involved in a cold war-era adventure that features spies, long-hidden artifacts and a Yeti.

This is exactly the kind of hard-hitting story I'm looking for in a "throwback" hero like this - lots of humor, cliffhangers (literally) and bare-knuckles action.

I can't give the whole special a grade until I track down a copy - but it's worth picking up for this story alone, which gets an "A."

This is the kind of series you want a Beau Smith or a Chuck Dixon writing - they have the knack for this sort of "Roughneck / Real Man" adventure.

Thank goodness!

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris #1

Any comic being published should know what its strengths are, and there's no doubt what the folks at Dynamite Entertainment are depending on for this Warlord of Mars spinoff: sex.

The Princess of Mars, Dejah Thoris, has long been a fan favorite for her role in the series of Edgar Rice Burroughs stories starring John Carter.

And let's face it, one reason for that is the skimpy outfits she wears, as immortalized by numerous artists - most famously Frank Frazetta.

But this series takes the notion of "skimpy outfits" to the extreme - if Dejah's costume were any skimpier in this comic, she'd be naked. Her costume consists of a tiny thong bottom and two pasties.

I find it difficult to complain too loudly about a beautiful woman being scantily clad - my heart's not in it to be upset - but it just seems like a blatant effort to gin up sales. It's sad to think that John Carter needs that kind of help. (I should also note that the men wear equally-small costumes.)

But Carter doesn't appear in this story - it's set long before he appeared on Mars, and the story by Arvid Nelson focuses on the political (and warlike) struggles between the twin cities of Helium. A solution to end the civil war may be at hand - but it calls for a sacrifice on the part of Dejah.

The art by Carlos Rafael is quite good, with Carlos Lopez supplying some excellent color work. They don't get much chance to show off - the story involves a lot of shots of people standing around talking - but the characters are expressive and the story easy to follow.

But the story doesn't hold up its end of the deal - it's mostly dull political discussions, and every plot twist was obvious from the start.

This story is based on the Burroughs character, but it has no basis in ERB's original Mars stories - and it shows.

If you want to see some nice drawings of a virtually-naked woman, this is your comic. If you're hoping for a good story to go along with it, keep looking.

Grade: C+

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

The New Avengers #10

This is what I call a "whiplash" comic.

That's because writer Brian Bendis' run on New Avengers up to last issue was terrific - funny, adventurous, unpredictable, loaded with great action sequences - it was at the top of my reading lost.

But this issue - not so much.

That's because the issue is split between two stories that make little sense. One part takes us back to 1959, where Nick Fury is assembling a team of Avengers to tackle a secret mission for the President. He gathers some familiar names - but it's all just cameos and cute dialogue. It features some excellent artwork by Howard Chaykin (always a favorite) - but his stylized art doesn't work well alongside Mike Deodato's ultra-detailed, kinetic work. Both are excellent on their own - but the mix doesn't work.

The modern-day story is bizarre, too. The Avengers attack a warehouse that they somehow know is being used for evil purposes - but we don't know how they know. Luke Cage removes a truck by picking the whole thing up and carrying it, which is a good trick since the cab and the trailer are not a single solid piece. It would have made more sense for him to just drag the vehicle.

At any rate, we get lots of violence, but no new information about the mystery villain named Superia (except that she's quite powerful).

You can't help but feel that Bendis has been watching Jonathan Hickman jiggering with the Marvel timeline in S.H.I.E.L.D. and wanted to give it a go - but so far - for this story - it isn't working.

Grade: B

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Batman, Inc. #3

This issue of Batman, Inc. arrives with a couple of strikes against it.

For one thing, it's late. Three months late, in fact, which is pretty bad for a monthly comic.

For another, the artistic cover fails completely. It tries to combine numerous elements to form a textured image - but it just ends up looking like mush. I looked at the issue several times before realizing what it was - the logo is almost invisible.

And finally, the whole idea of Batman roaming the globe to assemble an international Bat-team just seems... odd. The heroes he's encountered already seem to be friendly - what more does he need?

This issue takes us to Buenos Aires and an adventure with El Gaucho, which features a sloppy Batman - one hero is badly wounded and a small army of bad guys (apparently) killed by a trap - and so is the strange villain (not to mention a weird lead-in vignette to the issue).

Writer Grant Morrison seems to be trying to balance his quirky writing style with a more traditional comic book adventure - so we have Batman and El Gaucho walking into an obvious trap, and faced with a difficult decision.

There's no flaw to the art - Yanick Pauette, Michel Lacombe and Pere Perez turn in some dynamic work here, running the gamut from rough-and-tumble action to a sexy dance sequence.

To be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about this comic. I like the old school touches, but some of the stranger aspects of the story are already wearing thin.

I'm finding it harder to care about international Batman. I think I prefer him prowling the streets of Gotham - surely there's enough work there for his family business.

Grade: A-

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ultimate Spider-Man #155

This issue of Ultimate Spider-Man wraps up the prelude to Spidey's "death," and as such it's a very quiet story indeed.

But it's a fun one! First of all, it's loaded with terrific art, as Chris Samnee brings his wonderfully expressive style to the book. His shots of Spider-Man swinging through the city are pure poetry.

Writer Brian Bendis also has his usual fun with dialogue, as Peter Parker and J. Jonah Jameson have an interesting meeting about secrets shared and employment opportunities.

It's - surprisingly - a happy issue for the web-slinger, and a much-needed one after recent intense moments in his life.

Presumably it's all leading up to an even more intense sequence, so it's nice to have this moment to set things right and bring the readers up to date.

There may not be a lot of action on display, but the comic makes up for it with a lot of heart and several surprises.

After seeing the travails the original Spider-Man comic went through for the last couple of years, it's great to have this haven for outstanding stories. If you haven't been following this title, you're missing out.

Grade: A-

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mom Called Them "Funny Books"

Here are the "Funny Books" I picked up today:

- New Avengers #10 - Apparently the secret origin of this team is that it started out as "Mad Men." Go figure.

- Batman, Inc. #3 - A cover with an almost-invisible logo? Could that be intentional?

- Conan: Road of Kings #3 - Some mighty big varmints on that road.

- Doc Savage #12 - Once again, the end for Doc. For now.

- The Incredible Hulks #624 - Why did it have to be giant bugs?

- Sigil #1 - I never read the original Crossgen comic, but I figured, what the heck.

- Ultimate Spider-Man #155 - Still not dead yet.

- Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris #1 - Wearing only pasties and a thong, the title character manages to win the title of "skimpiest costume in the history of comics" from Vampirella - the next step would be complete nudity.

And that's it!

The Classics - X-Men Annual #3

For quite a few years, Marvel celebrated the summer with Annuals - each one loaded with a special story using the company's top talents.

It was a tradition this 1979 annual observed, and even though it's the third in the series, it's the first "new" X-Men Annual - the first two were actually reprints.

For this one, they brought out the big guns - including a still-in-his-prime Chris Claremont as writer, and George Perez and Terry Austin on the art.

The story begins with Arkon, a powerful barbarian from another dimension, invading New York City looking for the Avengers (and specifically, Thor).

But that hero is out of town, so Arkon is forced to go to plan "B," and goes in search of another hero who can control lightning - which brings him to a certain school for gifted students, where a terrific battle ensues - one that spills over into Arkon's homeworld.

The story isn't terribly deep - lots of fighting, humor and misunderstandings to go around - but it's a lot of fun, as Perez gets to go wild piling insane amounts of detail into every panel - and Austin thrives on that kind of art.

The only bad thing about the issue is the printing quality - thankfully, they've come a long ways in terms of clarity and paper stock. But even with those drawbacks, this is a powerful, entertaining story that starts fast and never slows down.

It's a fun issue and it shows off the strength of those annuals - with more pages to work with, the creative team had more room to flex its considerable creative muscles. What fun!

Grade: A

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Secret Warriors #25

While writer Jonathan Hickman has been getting rave reviews for his work on Fantastic Four and S.H.I.E.L.D., he's also been crafting a heckuva tale in the often-overlooked Secret Warriors.

But I should add that this is a tough series to start reading at this point, because he's been layering in more and more detail into his story of the modern-day S.H.I.E.L.D. and its conflict with Hydra and the secret organization called Leviathan.

This issue really opens the door and reveals some of the long-held secrets behind the war Nick Fury has been waging, and it includes a link to the ancient organization (also named S.H.I.E.L.D.) and the somewhat-more-recent group known as Zodiac.

I can't help but notice that some elements of the tale conflict with previous stories. For example, in the original Steranko story, Fury wondered "Who Was Scorpio?" - yet here, in a flashback that predates that comic, he sits across the table from him.

But there's no need to get picky. For those who have been following this comic, we're finally getting the story behind it all, and it looks like the final showdown is almost at hand - and it's not clear whether or not Fury is going to survive, or even wants to survive.

It's a complex story that will make you think, and I suspect the whole thing will make even more sense when read all together - but so far, it's a very impressive achievement.

It's not for everyone. Lots of readers will find themselves lost with the events unfolding here, but for those who've been following along since the beginning, the rewards are great.

Now let's see if the creative team can stick the landing.

Grade: A-

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Monday, March 7, 2011

First Wave #6 (of 6)

I hate it when a series I like is canceled.

But I can't really say that about First Wave. I like the characters involved, and this story was good, the art was terrific - but it took far too long to get through it.

The first issue of this six-issue series was published a year ago, and given the long gap between issues, when I opened this final chapter I realized that I had almost no memory of the five previous issues - and that's always a bad sign.

But the concept was strong. The idea was to lump the pulp characters (Doc Savage, The Avenger) and other non-super-powered DC characters (Batman, Rima, The Spirit, The Blackhawks) into an alternate reality more in tune with their pulp origins.

This story included elements from early Doc Savage stories - the country Hidalgo and his recurring foe, John Sunlight - and added in giant robots, dinosaurs, a hidden city.

It was a worthy effort, but it all ends up in a hodge-podge of fights, explosions and swordplay.

I think this would have worked better if it had been published monthly - but now the line has apparently been canceled, so we'll have to wait for the next incarnation of these classic characters (except for Batman, natch).

I really like the art by Rags Morales (with Rick Bryant and Phil Winslade inking) - his characters are powerful, kinetic and sharply sculpted.

It's a shame this series (and the First Wave line) didn't catch on - it was a worthy effort at giving these characters a proper vehicle for their adventures. Hopefully the next attempt will be more successful.

Grade: B-

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Wulf #1

If there was a more spectacular flameout in the history of comics than the short-lived Atlas Comics line in 1974, I can't think of it.

The line of comics was reportedly created by former Marvel publisher Martin Goodman out of anger because of the treatment his son Chip received at the hands of Marvel's (then) new owners (although some dispute that story).

So Goodman started a new comics company and hired some of the industry's top talents to create an assortment of comics - superhero, horror, science fiction, pulp and sword-and-sorcery. Almost without exception, the first two issues were great - and then it all fell apart.

One of my favorite Atlas titles was written and drawn by Larry Hama - Wulf the Barbarian. It was an interesting take on the genre, with sharp scripts and excellent art.

Now, after 37 years, the Atlas line is back.

I had to pick up the first issue of Wulf, just out of fondness for the original - and I'm happy to say that it's actually a good comic.

Written by Steve Niles, it starts with Wulf's world being hammered by meteors. Armageddon seems to be at hand, but Wulf decides to use his final hours to fight against the evil of the man named Sanjon.

That horrific creature opens a door to another reality - one that also opens the door for a new and different direction for this comic.

The issue is a bit slim, story-wise (yet another example of the popular decompressed storylines), but it's a good setup.

The art is by Nat Jones with colors by Mai, and it's quite good - dark, moody, grisly and intense.

My biggest complaint is with the sequence on the last couple of pages - I wasn't sure what happened there, and the art doesn't guide the reader quite as well as it could have.

Still, it's a promising start and a unique story, so I'll hang with it for now. Hopefully it won't all go south with issue number three.

Grade: B+

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Saturday, March 5, 2011

John Byrne's Next Men #4

Finally, with this issue, we start getting an explanation about what the heck is going on with the members of the team, several of whom are facing death (or worse).

This issue takes us to the recent past and picks up the Next Men trying to settle into a normal life (or as normal as it can be when you have super-powers).

The four active members of the team gather at the site of a new Supercollider, where scientists hope to uncover the secrets of the universe. When things go wrong (and boy do they ever), the team must scramble - and one faces true horror.

The art is exceptional as always (although the double-page spread of "the event" is a bit confusing). Byrne is a master craftsman, and the layout and design reflect it - for example, when all hell is breaking loose, the panel layouts become chaotic, too, adding to the tension of the scene.

It's a sharp, intelligent science fiction story that is playing out here, and I have to admit that I have no idea how it's all going to be resolved (assuming he doesn't plan to actually kill off the team members, of course).

I can't wait to see what's next (no pun intended)!

Grade: A

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Friday, March 4, 2011

Green Lantern #63

While Geoff Johns can occasionally stumble on individual issues, when it comes to the big storylines, he's one of the best writers in the business (see the Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night).

He's about to get another chance to prove that reputation as he gets ready to roll out the War of the Green Lanterns, with this issue serving as a prologue.

The story provides some background on Green Lantern's most dangerous and powerful enemy, Krona, a renegade Guardian who has captured the entities that power the different Lantern Corps.

Green Lantern is trying to track Krona, but seems to be suffering from a crisis in confidence - or perhaps battle fatigue. And he has even bigger problems on the way.

All of which is to say that the pressure is building nicely here, though it's still not clear why the Green Lanterns will be at war with each other - but waiting for the reveal is all part of the fun.

The art is provided by Ed Benes and Adrian Syaf (plus several inkers), and it's quite good with some stunning splash pages.

Big things are in the works here, and we get some answers to some long-running mysteries, including who was responsible for the destruction of the population of Atrocitus' planet.

The best sign of a good comic: I can't wait 'til next issue!

Grade: A-

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Annihilators #1 (of 4)

It's the "Superman Problem."

When you have a really powerful hero on your super-team, it makes it tough for the writer to come up with an opponent that can challenge the powerful but not overwhelm that less-powerful members of the team.

It's not easy to overcome, and it's an even bigger challenge in the limited series starring the team known as Annihilators, since every member of the team is an incredibly powerful cosmic hero.

Writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning tackle the problem head-on and bring back a space franchise that will delight older fans - the Spaceknights (although no direct mention can be made of Rom, since Marvel no longer has the rights to the character).

(Interesting that Marvel has at least three characters who played a big part in past continuity, but can't be mentioned by name in modern comics - Rom, Fu Manchu and Godzilla).

Where was I? Oh yes, the Annihilators are a heavy-hitting team, and they find themselves up against a deadly villain - and a galaxy-shaking threat which should challenge even these heavy hitters.

The art by Tan Eng Huat and Victor Olazaba is good, although I'd recommend more variety in the layouts - almost every panel is "viewed" from eye level.

There's also a backup feature starring Rocket Raccoon and Groot - yep, you read that right - by Abnett and Lanning, with art by Timothy Green II. It's a lot of fun, and the art is unique, fun and quirky in a good way.

I'm not sure if this series is quite worth the hefty $4.99 price tag, though you get a lot of pages for that price. The potential is there for another excellent cosmic event, but we'll have to wait until next issue to see where it goes from here.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

New Comics Today

Another week, another stack o' comics!

Here's what I picked up:

- Annihilators #1 (of 4) - Cosmic heroes and the Spaceknights, too!

- Giant-Size Atom #1 (One Shot) - The title seems like a contradiction. Or is it?

- Avengers Academy #10 - Good comic, weak cover.

- Brightest Day #21 - A meeting of the Martian minds.

- First Wave # 6 (of 6) - A sad end to a promising idea.

- Green Lantern #63 - Warming up to another War.

- Incognito: Bad Influences #4 (of 5)
- How about some grit in your pulp?.

- Irredeemable #23 - Is this running out of gas?

- Jonah Hex #65 - A winter wonderland.

- Next Men #4 - Finally, some answers. Maybe.

- Oz Primer (One Shot) - Neato!

- Powers #7 - Soon to be a major TV show.

- Secret Warriors #25 - Dark secrets revealed.

- Wulf #1 - Atlas Comics are back? Who'da thunk it?

The Classics - Xombi #1

Picking a "Classic" comic to review is a random process (at least for me).

For instance, I decided to tackle a Milestone comic because of the passing of Dwayne McDuffie, the creative force behind the line. I had the last box in my collection handy (because of last week's Zot! review), so I pulled out the first issue of the series that DC is about to bring back - Xombi.

McDuffie didn't write it (he's the editor), and I probably haven't read this since I bought it (the cover date is June 1994), so it was interesting to tackle it again.

All of Milestone's comics took a fresh angle on different storylines - and here the focus is on horror. This issue reads like a Vertigo comic - it's intelligent and loaded with dark ideas.

As written by John Rozum, the story follows David Kim, a scientist who has made some amazing breakthroughs in the field of nanotechnology. The text-heavy story explains his research in amazing detail.

But dark forces are on the move, and some truly strange creatures invade his lab to steal his research. They leave him mortally wounded.

His only hope is to use his nanites to repair the damage to his body - but the results are terrifying (though I can't say why without spoiling the story). He's also nearly immortal, as the nanites in his blood repair any damage.

The art by J.J. Birch is good, especially since he (or she) has to cover quite a few pages of characters talking in a lab. There are some rough edges here and there, but the characters are distinct, the layouts are fresh, and the energy is strong.

Because the series was written with intelligence, I forgave the violence and gore (not my favorite topics). This was a good series, though it wasn't perfect. The dialogue was overdone and the art was a bit rough.

But as horror series go, it was pretty good. It'll be interesting to see how the new version compares to the original.

Grade: B

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