Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Avengers #12.1

I've been (mostly) skipping the "Point One" issues Marvel has been producing.

The idea behind the issues is to provide background on the star of the title and to give readers a good "jumping on" place.

Since I've been around practically since the beginning of the Marvel Age, I don't feel the need to cover that ground again.

But I made an exception for this issue of The Avengers, mostly because it was penciled by Bryan Hitch. He's one of the top artists in the industry right now, thanks to his dynamic, amazingly detailed work.

Here he lives up to his own reputation as he draws an issue loaded with almost every Avenger, a small army of super-villains, and lots of hoo-hah type action.

Writer Brian Bendis also lives up to his reputation, with a story that's loaded with great dialogue, over the top action and a great setup for the next big Avengers event.

Any more discussion would give away too much, but if you're an Avengers fan, don't skip this one just because it has a ".1" at the end.

Grade: A

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Mighty Thor #1

I've been a fan of The Mighty Thor practically since the beginning (the first issue I bought was actually Journey Into Mystery #100).

So I'm glad to see the character get some much-deserved attention. His film opens in a week (and word is that it's very good), he stars in several comics from Marvel, and now he has a new first issue.

The art is fantastic! Olivier Coipel and Mark Morales are back on the title, and the art is lush and exotic. I could quibble that a few of the pages are hard to read - should I go to the panel on the right next or the one below it? But those are minor problems.

The big problem is the story, which takes us in several directions at once - from a psychedelic journey to the heart of the World Tree; to the other side of the universe, where Galactus is destroying a world; to a small church where a preacher talks about living next to a city of gods.

It's all very thoughtful and interesting and out there - but it seems like a poor introduction to the character for those readers who (unlike me) haven't been around since the get-go.

Hopefully next issue Thor will actually get to take center stage in his own comic.

But I do love the art!

Grade: B+

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Brightest Day #24

This issue brings us to the end of the Brightest Day series - and all I can say is, thank goodness.

It seemed like a series that was tailor-made for a fan like me. It focused on returning Silver Age heroes who had been brought back to life at the end of the Blackest Day mini-series.

But despite its title, which promised more upbeat stories, it was pretty relentless in its violence, as numerous civilians were brutally killed.

The series had numerous storylines to wrap up in this issue, and it largely succeeded, although some of the goals of the White Lantern seem downright pointless.

Apparently the main goal of the series was to bring Swamp Thing back into the main DC Universe after his (its?) long exile on the Vertigo side of the street. Of course, given the gore presented in this series, I don't know that there's much difference between the mainstream titles and the Vertigo comics.

Writers Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi leave lots of bread crumbs (story ideas) for future series to follow up on, and they manage to cook up a (mostly) satisfying ending to the series.

There are no less than 10 artists listed in the credits. They actually do a fairly good job of keeping the art somewhat uniform, and there are a few strong full-page splashes in there. But there are also panels whee I have no idea what's happening.

So was this trip necessary? I bought into it for heroes like Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Deadman and Firestorm, and the book delivered there.

But like most weekly (or bi-weekly) series, there seemed to be a lot of wasted energy in there, padding out the story to fill 24 issues.

It's not a bad series at all, but it doesn't live up to the Blackest Night series. It is a worthy effort and I'm happy for some of the end results - but I think they could have told this story in half the space.

Grade: B

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Pile o' Comics Today

Picked up a ridiculous pile of comics this week, including:

- Avengers 12.1 - Some serious butt-kicking going on here.

- Secret Avengers #12 - Flashing back to some horror from WWII.

- Brightest Day #24 - The end at last - and the return of a certain someone.

- Captain America #617 - Life in the Gulag.

- King Conan #3 - More horrors in the dark.

- Conan: The Road of Kings #4 - A meeting with an iron maiden.

- FF #2 - The Doctor is in the house!

- The Flash #11 - OK, now we're getting somewhere.

- Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #9 - The GL War continues.

- The Incredible Hulks #627 - The bickering Banners.

- Justice Society of America #50 - A step in the right direction.

- Morning Glories #9 - Twins? Really?

- Ruse #2 - Going for a swim in the sewers.

- The Mighty Thor #1 - A new first issue? What a surprise!

- Warlord of Mars #6 - The great escape.

- Uncanny X-Men #536 - Aliens can be tricky.

Whew! And that's it!

The Classics - Spectacular Spider-Man #200

For today's "Classic" comic, we turn back to 1993 and a great example of the excess of the time - a foil-covered issue of Spectacular Spider-Man (a title that started, I believe, as Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man).

The scan doesn't really show the cover in its glory - the background behind the figures is actually silver with webbing on it. For that, and the larger page count, the issue cost a (then) staggering $2.95!

The story by J. M. DeMatteis features the final showdown between Spider-Man and the second Green Goblin, Harry Osborn.

The tale's rather uneven. It takes an unusual approach, in that Harry is obviously losing his mind, but he seems to be trying to stay true to his friendship with Peter and Mary Jane.

Despite that, the Goblin begins stalking Peter everywhere he goes, and his plans for revenge take shape despite his feelings.

For all its extra length, the story spends way too much time on characters wondering what to do about Harry and agonizing over it all. When we finally get to the big fight, it never really gets off the ground. The conclusion is a clever approach, but it took far too long to get there.

The real star of the issue is artist Sal Buscema. Brother to superstar artist John, Sal is one of the great unsung artists in Marvel's history. For year after year he provided terrific art for Captain America and The Avengers - but he did some of his best work on this title.

I saw him interviewed at a comics convention a few years ago, and he mentioned this issue as one of his favorites, and it's easy to see why. His art carries the conclusion, and the intensity of the characters throughout - from Harry's insanity to Peter's intense anger and Mary Jane's fear.

It's an important comic in the history of Spider-Man, even if more recent writers unraveled the story's key events - but it promised a turning point for that hero, and it held for about 15 years.

But I still don't understand the need for the foil cover. (I know, it was all about sales - but it adds nothing to the comic.)

Grade: B-

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Uncanny X-Force #8

While grim and gritty superhero comics have largely faded in popularity, here's a title that bucks the trend by being one of the darkest books around.

It doesn't hurt that the Uncanny X-Force team is made up of characters who are either killers, psychos or killer psychos.

I didn't really think I'd like this comic, since I'm among the many who have burned out on grim comics - but this title is well worth tracking down because it knows how to handle its relentlessly downbeat attitude.

Writer Rick Remender does that by providing intelligent, hard-hitting stories loaded with bad guys who deserve the worst our "heroes" can dish out. The stories are clever, the plot twists are well planned and there's quite a bit of humor to balance things out.

This issue focuses on Psylocke, a character who's been through the mill over the decades. Here she meets up with an old, powerful enemy who manages to turn her team against her.

The art by Billy Tan is tremendous - dark, brooding, with strong layouts and some powerful sequences. Kudos also to the color art by Dean White - it's a subdued color scheme, but very impressive.

This book really isn't for all readers - the story is following some dark, twisted paths, and we're never quite sure why some characters are involved with this team - but it's a series loaded with surprises as it explores the dark underbelly of the Marvel Universe.

Recommended!

Grade: A-

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Sigil #2

I reviewed the first issue of this series in this post, and the temptation this time around is just to say, "Ditto."

That's because almost nothing happens in this issue of Sigil that would surprise anyone who read the first issue.

We continue to follow teenager Samantha Ray who has mysterious powers thanks to a mysterious symbol on her chest. She finds herself mysteriously transported back in time and onto a pirate ship where a powerful enemy is attacking.

You get the idea.

It's not a bad issue at all, but it's doling out the information at a snail's pace.

Since I didn't read the original series, I have no idea why this pirate ship is important, what the nature of the powers being thrown around might be, and how Samantha figures into all this.

The upshot is that it's all a jumble and that makes it difficult for the reader to understand what's going on.

There's nothing wrong with the art - Leonard Kirk and Patrick Olliffe provide strong layouts and clear storytelling. Their characters are distinctive and the action scenes pop.

I trust that the next couple of issues will clear up my confusion, but after a promising first issue, this series - for me - stumbled badly with this chapter.

Grade: C+

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Dark Horse Presents #1

I've always liked anthology titles, and certainly Dark Horse Comics pulled out all the stops to make the newly-revived Dark Horse Presents into something special.

They did this by including some of the industry's top talent. Among the stories herein:

- Concrete
returns in a short story by writer and artist Paul Chadwick - and it's an excellent addition to the character who first appeared in the original version of this comic.

- Xerxes is the follow-up to 300 by writer / artist Frank Miller - and while we only get a short preview here, the issue also includes an interview with him.

- Speaking of print features, Harlan Ellison provides a short story - how awesome is that?

- Neal Adams provides a disturbing tale called Blood - it defies description.

- And you'll also find stories and/or art by Howard Chaykin, Richard Corben, Paul Gulacy, Michael T. Gilbert, Paul Gulacy and Geof Darrow.

All of that, piled into an oversize publication, which includes 80 pages for $7.99.

So is it worth the steep price? That's a definite "yes" from me. Certainly some stories are better than others, of course, but overall it's an amazing collection of talent, stories and art - and many of the features will continue into future issues.

I like the short form version of comics, and it's an art form that's almost lost to the industry, so it's great to see Dark Horse getting back to its roots and bringing new life to the genre.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Avengers Academy #12

What makes the Avengers Academy series interesting is its dark underbelly.

The idea is that the Avengers set up a special training facility for six young people who have super-abilities - but the reason they've been targeted for training is because of the possibility that they might use their powers for evil purposes.

So you watch these characters develop and you wonder, which way will they go? Like the earliest version of the Thunderbolts, we're not sure how this will end up - and that makes it more fun to play along.

In this issue, they're facing an unbeatable foe. Korvac, who wields god-like powers, is looking for his wife Carina (who has similar powers). He attacks the Avengers, and the entire squad shows up to stop him - and is promptly defeated.

That leaves it up to the last line of defense - the members of the Avengers Academy. But as an added twist, Carina gives the students their adult bodies - and as a result, the team is surprisingly powerful.

But once again, there's a grim side to the realization of what the future may hold for some of the team members, and it leads to a particularly tender moment.

The art by Tom Raney and Scott Hanna is solid, and they do a good job keeping the storytelling clear while the chaotic battle rages.

The danger, of course, is that the book will become too grim - but the next issue tease promises some lighter fare. So far, writer Christos Gage has done an excellent job balancing the big action sequences with more personal moments - and he even manages some here, despite all the cosmic-scale combat going on.

A year into its run and this title continues to be an entertaining addition to the Avengers family. I'm not ready to say it's the best of the Avengers titles - but it's right up there.

Grade: A-

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Green Lantern Corps #59

I started to write that I was worried about writer Geoff Johns - and then I remembered that he doesn't write Green Lantern Corps.

But I suppose he still has to take some heat if the "War of the Green Lanterns" event isn't working - and so far, it isn't.

Oh, it's not terrible - it just seems to be way off course. The story is running through the three GL books, and it follows the events after the mad Guardian named Krona manages to take control of every being who wears a Green Power Ring - except for Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, John Stewart and Kyle Rayner, who manage to avoid control by taking off their green rings.

As the cover to this comic gives away (ditto for Green Lantern, which was also released this week), those four heroes have powered up by using the rings left behind when the Black Book of Oa swallowed up the leaders of the other colorful Lantern Corps.

They each spend most of this issue trying to figure out how their new rings work - which makes for a pretty dull issue, despite a huge battle between the Corps and the Guardian named Ganthet.

There's a big surprise on the last few pages, but that doesn't make up for an issue that otherwise just seems to run in place. (I should note that the issue is written by Tony Bedard.)

The art by Tyler Kirkman and Batt (?) is pretty solid, though it's difficult to get much in the way of storytelling when the events in the issue are either wildly chaotic or completely static.

We're halfway into this series, and it mostly suffers in comparison to other Johns-created events, like the Sinestro War and Blackest Night. There's still time to right the ship here - and if not, I guess we'll have to hope for better things from Flashpoint.

Or at least a return to form by Johns.

Grade: C+


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Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Avengers #12

Brian Bendis' run as a writer on the Avengers and the New Avengers has been (mostly) stellar, so we can certainly forgive him if he doesn't bat a thousand (after all, no one does).

It was a mighty effort to carve out a cosmic storyline, as The Hood tries to collect the Infinity Gems that would make him unbeatable.

Those gems were last seen in the keeping of the Illuminati - Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Professor X, Namor, Dr. Strange and Black Bolt.

But their secret is exposed, and the entire roster of the Avengers is assembled to try to stop The Hood from gathering the gems.

The issue features some sharp dialogue and some terrific art by John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson, but the story lacks the kind of clever twist or unexpected turn it really needed to bring all the elements together.

We're left with a conclusion that's frankly disappointing, as no one learned anything or accomplished much.

So a rare stumble, but still a better comic than most. That's the problem with doing consistently excellent work - it's hard to avoid an occasional slip.

But it doesn't bother me - I appreciate that the creative team is aiming high and swinging for the fences. Everybody hits a pop fly now and then.

(Can you tell baseball season is here?)

Grade: B

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Comics Haul of the Day

Here's what I got today:

- The Avengers #12 - the wrap-up to the Infinity Gauntlet story.

- Avengers Academy #12
- Growing up is hard to do.

- Dark Horse Presents #1
- With work by Chadwick, Chaykin, Adams, Miller, Corben, Gulacy and Ellison!

- Green Lantern #65 - The GL war continues...

- Green Lantern Corps #59 - ...and continues!

- Invincible Iron Man #503 - Eh, I'm not feeling it.

- Sigil #2 (of 4) - Hard to dislike a comic with pirates in it.

- Silver Surfer #3 (of 5) - Neither silver nor a surfer.

- Uncanny X-Force #8 - It's all in the mind.

And that's it!

The Classics - The Sensational She-Hulk #1

My reaction to the news in 1989 that John Byrne would be writing and drawing a comic book starring The Sensational She-Hulk was... well, surprise.

Byrne had established himself as one of Marvel's top talents with his work on X-Men, Fantastic Four, Avengers and Alpha Flight - why would he tackle a character that had never built much of a following?

Obviously he liked the She-Hulk - he used her as a substitute for the Thing in the Fantastic Four when that character was written out of that comic (and given his own series).

I never cared much for the original version of the Savage She-Hulk - another "dumb Hulk" type character - but I liked Byrne's version. She was smart, funny and a powerhouse - so I picked up the first issue.

It was a surprising issue - in that it was very much a normal super-hero comic. It starts with She-Hulk visiting a circus to test her strength against the elephants - but of course, she doesn't realize she's visiting the Ringmaster's Circus of Crime, and she's quickly hypnotized and made part of the criminal band.

The art, of course, is terrific (Bob Wiacek provides the inks), with lots of creative layouts and imaginative action sequences on display.

But it all reads just like a normal comic - until you hit the next-to-the-last page. There she's complaining about the mystery villain behind things, and she says, "... I know how these things work! It'll be at least my third issue before I find out who it is!" She turns, looks at the reader and says, "Although you readers will probably find out on the next page..."

Yep, she totally broke the "fourth wall" (the imaginary plane that separates the character on the page from you, the reader). It wasn't unusual in comics (or stage or movies or TV, for that matter) - in fact, she does the same thing on the cover - but it had never been done inside a comic set in the Marvel Universe (aside from the occasional gag).

But it was just the beginning, as future issues not only tore down the wall, but also made great comedic use of the idea, poking fun at standard comic book practices, including cut scenes, ad pages and clothing that doesn't tear.

It was clever and very funny - and while Byrne had already established himself as an excellent writer, who knew he had a gift for comedy?

It made the comic a lot of fun to follow, and as long as he was writing and drawing it, I bought it.

The character's fortunes have been hit or miss ever since, and other creators have turned in some excellent She-Hulk stories, but no one delivered a better (or funnier) She-Hulk. At least not yet.

Grade: A-

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Journey Into Mystery #622

With its usual numerical slight of hand, Marvel has turned the numbering of Thor's comic book over to this "new" comic, Journey Into Mystery.

Of course, geezers like me remember a time when Thor's comic was actually titled Journey Into Mystery. Thor's first appearance was in the former monster / mystery comic, and soon the title was turned over to the God of Thunder.

With the movie about to be released, Marvel decided to give Thor a new title and a new number one, so what to do with this title?

Interestingly enough, the focus here is on Asgard in general and the newly-reborn Loki in particular.

Loki was killed during The Siege, but was (somehow) returned to life as a mischevous young teen who apparently has no memory of his earlier, evil self.

This makes him a much more interesting character as he learns about the world around him and tries to determine what he wants to do with his life. He's also uncovering secrets - some dark and some vital to life.

Kieron Gillen provides an interesting, thoughtful script here, loaded with some delightfully off-beat ideas and creations.

The brotherly discussion between Thor and Loki, the examination of modern technology, the discovery of a well-hidden legacy and the mystic journey of seven magpies are just some of the high points in this story - which is to say, it's a creative and thoughtful tale.

I like the artwork by Dougie Braithwaite with Ulises Arreola providing colors. It has a painted look to it, and aside from some odd angles, it's vibrant and always interesting.

To be honest, I wasn't expecting to like this book. Imagine my surprise when I thoroughly enjoyed it!

I'm looking forward anxiously to the next issue.

Grade: A-

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hellboy: Buster Oakley Gets His Wish (One-Shot)

This has to be the most daring Hellboy comic yet - and hoo boy, is that saying something!

But with this issue, creator and writer Mike Mignola takes the character into dangerous territory.

Hellboy is at home, of course, in the realm of the supernatural - monsters, demons, vampires, that sort of thing. But for the first time (that I can remember), Mignola takes the character in a different direction, as he dips his toes into the world of science fiction.

I have to admit that it didn't feel right at first - it's a step way outside the comfort zone. But after I got over the initial shock, I found that I enjoyed the issue quite a bit.

Part of the reason for that is because Hellboy is such a great character, he can tackle any situation.

Another reason is the fantastic artwork by Kevin Nowlan - in fact, Nowlan did everything - pencils, inks, colors, even the lettering! It's a rare treat these days to see his work, and a real delight to see it on this odd issue.

The final reason this issue works is that it's loaded with action and lots of humor. Would that more comics would follow its lead.

I can see where some Hellboy fans wouldn't care for this issue - it's different from the usual.

But I enjoyed it!

Grade: A

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

S.H.I.E.L.D. Infinity

I have to admit that I'm not sure about the purpose of this issue.

As an introduction to the S.H.I.E.L.D. series, it doesn't work. We're dropped into the middle of several different stories, and any new reader would be lost.

For the same reason it doesn't work as a promotional item.

It's apparently just aimed at the serious fans of the series - the goal of which is to open the door on a secret society with surprising and often shocking links to the history of the Marvel Universe.

Here we get some additional clues about some of the events that shaped our world, including a surprising battle between the Colossus of Rhodes and a certain familiar alien invader! There are secret messages, murderous events and surprising turns.

In other words, a typical issue by Jonathan Hickman.

The segments are drawn by four different artists, and while the results vary, they generally do solid and interesting work here.

So to recap: this is for fans of the series only, and if you have any interest at all in science or history, you really should be a fan of this series.

Yep, that about sums it up.

Grade: A-

Saturday, April 16, 2011

John Byrne's Next Men #5

Give writer and artist John Byrne credit for a lot of courage here - he's certainly putting the Next Men through the mill.

He's doing it in a clever story that makes optimum use of time travel. Not many writers have the knack - it's easy for time travel stories to get bogged down in their own messy nature, or to conflict with the established storyline - but here Byrne keeps it contained and sticking to the rules, all while steadily upping the danger for the time-lost team members.

So how bad is it for the team? One member is blinded (his eyes were surgically removed), one is an abused slave in the south during the Civil War, one has contracted the plague, and one is dead (eaten by a dinosaur).

However, the one behind this torture by time travel has been unmasked, and that person's motivations are slowly being revealed - but can anyone reverse the events and save the Next Men before they're wiped out?

As always, Byrne's art is terrific, with powerful layouts, great characterization and loads of detail in both the figures and the settings.

The story has put everyone in a corner, and it should be a real trick to manage a rescue (assuming such a thing is possible).

But the best sign of the success of the comic is: I can't wait for the next issue!

Grade: A

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Friday, April 15, 2011

The Flash #10

I admit I'm getting frustrated with this comic.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of The Flash and I'm thrilled that Barry Allen is back in the title role.

I think writer Geoff Johns has a great handle on the character and the supporting characters here, and I like the "C.S.I." angle to Barry's job with the police force.

I really like Francis Manapul's art, and he just keeps getting better and the art more kinetic with each issue.

The frustration comes from the fact that this monthly comic consistently shows up late (I know, it's Barry's schtick - but it doesn't work in the real world). The last issue was published two months ago, and considering the slow pace of the ongoing stories, that's a heck of a gap between issues.

Yes, the story is building toward the next event - Flashpoint - but it's doing it at a snail's pace.

In this issue we meet Hot Pursuit, a man with a mysterious agenda who rides a cosmic motorcycle. He unmasks, there's a brief discussion and then he's gone. Kid Flash shows up (I still want to call him Impulse) and then he's gone.

All the elements of the story are spooling out slowly. Why is Barry avoiding his super-speed family? Who's behind a recent bizarre murder? Who's the new assistant at the crime lab?

As it's shaping up, this will make great reading in collected form - but in bite-sized slices, it's taking too long to get a satisfying meal out of this title.

And it's distressing to hear that this comic will be "canceled" in the near future, though I assume (and hope) that just means an eventual reboot.

Hopefully once Flashpoint arrives, it will get the Flash family back in top gear, where it belongs.

Grade: B+

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ultimate Spider-Man #157

He's still not dead yet - at least at the beginning of this issue.

But judging by the subtitle of this comic - "The Death of Spider-Man" - it doesn't look good for Ultimate Spider-Man.

And certainly the situation is dire. The issue begins with Spidey discovering that the New Ultimates and the Ultimate Avengers are in an all-out war in the city (that fight you can catch in the mini-series running parallel to this comic).

At the same time, all of Spider-Man's greatest foes have escaped from prison, including the Green Goblin, Dr. Octopus, Sandman, Kraven, Electro and Vulture.

And if you thought the Marvel Earth's version of Norman Osborn was crazy, the Ultimate version makes him look mild-mannered in comparison.

This issue includes a truly stunning event that has somehow gone without spoiling - and I won't cross that line, either - but it's a credit to writer Brian Bendis that he managed such a surprise on his readers.

I have to admit I haven't been following the other mini-series, but aside from the last couple of pages, I don't feel as though I missed much - and even that sequence is self-explanatory.

Nothing against the artists who have worked on this comic since he left - they're all talented, frankly - but this book really feels right with Mark Bagley back on the art. Over his 110-plus issues, he really put his creative stamp on it, and it gives the book a feeling of having come full circle.

He's lost nothing in his absence - his work crackles with energy, emotion and enthusiasm, and runs the gamut from tender scenes to brutal super-powered battles.

This story has been building slowly, but this issue - and the next - will tell the tale about whether or not this "Death" is all it's been built up to be. Here's hoping!

Grade: A

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Comics Today

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

- New Avengers #11 - The issue that gives the phrase "To Kill a Mockingbird" new meaning...

- Doc Savage #13 - The last issue? Maybe not.

- Flash #10 - Gearing up to Flashpoint...

- Hellboy: Buster Oakley Gets His Wish (One-shot) - The strangest Hellboy yet?

- Incredible Hulks #626 - Sort of a "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" thing here.

- Journey Into Mystery #1 - Giving it a shot.

- Next Men #5 - This one is taking some wild turns.

- Secret Warriors #26 - Closing in on the crazed finale.

- SHIELD Infinity - Great series so far.

- Ultimate Spider-Man #157 - Not dead yet... or is he?

- Uncanny X-Force #7 - More Deathlok.

- Uncanny X-Men #535 - No Deathlok - but Breakworld is in there.

And that's it!

The Classics - Star Spangled War Stories #124

I remember reading quite a few issues of Star Spangled War Stories as a kid - probably because it's simply one of the most ingenious ideas for a comic book ever!

The concept is simple: combine World War II battles and dinosaurs! What kid in the '60s wouldn't love that?

Most stories centered around an island in the Pacific Ocean where the battle between the Allies and the Japanese military could be framed - and then into the mix they'd throw some random dinosaurs.

It made for lots of hair-raising, non-stop action. I suspect it was also lots of fun for the artists involved, and some of DC's best worked on the title. This issue, for example, features incredible art by Joe Kubert, with a backup feature by Jack Abel (the writers aren't identified).

But even a great concept like this needs more than just a great idea and terrific art - and that's where many issues, including this one, dropped the ball.

I should admit that I picked this issue at random. Most of the ones I read as a kid vanished over the years, and this one I picked up at a convention a couple of years ago for the princely sum of a dollar. I grabbed it for the great cover and the title of the backup feature - "Hillbilly with a Heater!"

But the writing is pretty bad. The first story features a soldier forced to fight a friend and fellow soldier who has somehow been transformed into a dinosaur (a giant red T-Rex, naturally). The dinosaur spends the story attacking and begging his friend to kill him. Yep, it's as bad as it sounds.

The "Hillbilly" feature is a more straightforward (if silly) war story about a hick who hates wearing Army boots - but must suffer through it while fighting a never-ending wave of German soldiers. All with nary a dinosaur in sight.

The comic is fun, of course - but it needed better writing or some ongoing characters to cover up its weaknesses. But I loved these comics as a kid, and that's why I consider them classics.

If you read them when you were a kid, I'll bet you agree.

Grade: C+

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Herc #1

I've been looking forward to this issue, because I was a big fan of The Incredible Hercules series and the mini-series that followed.

Unfortunately, this comic - Herc - is apparently taking a different approach.

Where the former series was loaded with humor and larger-than-life exploits, this finds Hercules depowered (after the events in the Chaos War) and largely humorless - but still fighting the good fight.

He's living in Brooklyn where he finds plenty of thugs to deals with - and he wields some amazing weapons to help offset his lack of godly power.

But is a mortal Hercules really interesting? He's reduced to fighting street thugs and is (presumably) outmatched when forced to tackle one of Spider-Man's old foes.

It's like watching an action film from the '80s - the good guy saves a shopkeeper from the mob, is offered a place to stay - is there any doubt what will happen next?

The art by Neil Edwards and Scott Hanna is solid, with some great sequences (the fight in the subway car is quite good), but some panels are hard to follow. In one, it looks like a thug is pointing his gun at his own face.

So I'm not really bowled over by this series as I had expected. There's no Amadeus Cho and no Avengers allies in view.

I hope I'm wrong, and that writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente are going to surprise me - but so far, aside from a terrific Neal Adams-ish cover by Carlo Pagulayan, there's not much to recommend this series.

Grade: B

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Jonah Hex #66

Month after month, Jonah Hex has to be one of the best comics on the stands.

Yes, it's a western, so too many readers will crinkle their nose and call it old hat - but the writing team of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti consistently spin great stories.

This issue finds Hex (who is a bounty hunter) bringing in some captured criminals when he's caught in a terrible snowstorm. He manages to make his way to a nearby town, but there he finds a group of people who are trying to hide a terrible secret.

To say more would be to give too much away, but the writers stay true to the character - he's no hero, but he's not a monster, either - though he's certainly run into his share of horrific situations.

I have mixed feelings about the artwork in this issue. Fiona Staples provides some pages that are beautifully done (the opening splash page, for example), while other panels are awkward. Still, the storytelling is clear and strong.

And that last statement is true for this series. Unlike other series that pile on a convoluted continuity, Jonah Hex's stories are lean, mean and sharp. There's no wasted effort, and it makes for a very satisfying read.

Grade: B+

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Solomon Kane: Red Shadows #1 (0f 4)

Robert E. Howard's puritanical demon hunter Solomon Kane is back in a new mini-series, and thankfully he looks more like is old self - which is to say, he's not being depicted as an albino.

Instead, he's what Howard always described - a pale man dressed in black clothing, hunting down the agents of Satan on Earth.

This time around his adventures are being written and/or adapted by industry professional Bruce Jones, who's a long-time master at twist endings and surprising story twists.

In this first chapter of the mini-series "Red Shadows," Jones starts out with a fairly standard tale of a monster on the moor (it's not a giant hound, thank goodness) and the tale of revenge and murder behind the monster.

The art is by Rahsan Ekedel, whose work I'm not familiar with - but he turns in a strong effort here, with dark, scenic layouts, a truly horrific creature and some good character work. He's ably supported by the striking color art by Dan Jackson.

The ending doesn't feel quite right to me, but overall it's a strong effort and seems an improvement on earlier comics in the series - and they weren't bad at all.

Looking forward to the next chapter!

Grade: B+

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Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Annihilators #2 (of 4)

What an odd comic this is.

The Annihilators are an unlikely team of some of the galaxy's heaviest-hitters, including the Silver Surfer, Gladiator, Quasar, Beta-Ray Bill and Ronan. They've teamed up to tackle the big threats, and they find one here.

On the planet Galador, home of the Spaceknights, we see space ripped open to allow the Black Sun to appear, which heralds the return of the Wraiths.

That sentence will actually make sense to fans of the comic Rom, which was based on a toy (presumably writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning fall in that group). Marvel no longer holds the rights to that character, so Rom is only mentioned in passing (he's missing for some mysterious reason).

In the meantime, we have lots of shots of The Annihilators fighting the monsters created by the Dire Wraiths, loads of energy blasts and a mystery to solve. In other words, lots of sturm and drang and not much actual story.

I could forgive that if the art had been stronger - but it doesn't really work for me. Tan Eng Huat and Victor Olazaba have some strong pages in there, but too often the anatomy is off, and the faces change from panel to panel. Worst of all, the Silver Surfer looks dingy - here he's the Grey Surfer.

The backup feature with Rocket Raccoon and Groot has its moments, but there are too many questions to be answered before we'll know if the story actually works. So far, it's pretty funny - but a bit thin.

This book is loaded with great characters and has lots of potential - but it hasn't quite arrived yet.

Grade: B-

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Brightest Day #23

First, a warning: if you like being surprised, avoid most of the reviews out there of this issue of Brightest Day.

Too many sites gleefully spoil the ending (an urge we try to resist at this blog), and sometimes the company itself does the spoiling (though Marvel has been most guilty of this lately).

But they managed to keep this issue's ending under wraps (mostly), and it's a lot more fun that way.

But it does make it difficult to review this comic.

Here goes: this is the next-to-the-last issue of this series, so writers Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi have a lot of ground to cover.

The series was intended to revolve around the characters brought back to life at the end of the Blackest Night series. All well and good, but the series has been surprisingly dark (and sometimes grisly), and the story still doesn't make a lot of sense - even with this issue's revelations.

If I didn't know better, I'd swear that the White Lantern just brought those characters back so it could jack up their lives even more.

However, this issue reveals some of the motivations behind the Lantern's actions, and there does seem to be a goal - but we'll have to wait for next issue for all the reasons to be revealed.

The art is the usual mix of styles and artists, with some outstanding splash pages in there.

We won't know how the final surprise (and the series itself) works until the next issue, but so far it's been a fairly enjoyable book, if a bit dragged-out. Not great, but not bad, either.

Grade: B+

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Fear Itself #1 (of 7)

While I'm as tired of "EVENTS" as the next reader, I have to admit that Fear Itself is off to a stunning start.

I admire the fact that you don't need to know any backstory to appreciate Matt Fraction's story (although it couldn't hurt, I suppose). It begins with The Red Skull's daughter Sin uncovering an ancient artifact - a mystic hammer.

When she touches it, she sets in motion a series of events that will have far-reaching and devastating effects.

The beauty of this book is that it brings together characters from The Avengers, Thor and the gods of Asgard, and the aftershocks from the Siege into a solid story that makes sense. There's no sense of patchwork storytelling, of characters shoehorned into a story where they don't belong.

In other words, it feels like a classic "big" Marvel story. There's a real sense of big events coming, and Odin brings about some shocking changes to the status quo.

The art is fantastic. Stuart Immonen just seems to get better every month, and here he's asked to draw an army of heroes, gods, dragons, mystic events and down-to-Earth protests - and it all looks amazing! Outstanding storytelling and beautiful art, with power crackling on each page.

This is what Event Comics should be - great story, top-notch art, mysteries to unravel and a genuine sense of, yes, fear. Great stuff!

Grade: A

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Comics Haul

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

- Annihilators #2 (of 4) - Dire Wraiths and Spaceknights? It's 1980 all over again!

- Brightest Day #23 - With a special guest appearance by... well, that would be telling!

- Fear Itself #1 (of 7) - Now that's an event comic!

- First Wave Special #1 - Doc Savage, Batman and The Avenger. What's not to like?

- Herc #1 - Depowered but still dishing out "The Gift!"

- Irredeemable #24 - Trapped in a madhouse.

- Jonah Hex #66 - Trapped in a town hungry for help.

- Ozma of Oz #5 (of 8) - Confronting the Nome King.

- Solomon Kane: Red Shadows #1 - No relation to "Red Nails," I assume.

And that's it!

The Classics - Star Wars #1

When this comic came out early in 1977, I didn't know much about Star Wars.

The movie hadn't been released yet, and other than a fleeting mention in the movie column in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, I was oblivious to the juggernaut that was heading my way.

As part of director George Lucas' plan to market the movie, he arranged for the six-part comics adaptation to start appearing before the movie hit theaters.

It didn't really work for me - I bought the comic because it was written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Howard Chaykin, an artist who has always been amoung my favorites.

The comic was... ok. The art was great, but there was so much information to cram in there, it was difficult to keep it all straight.

I kept buying the series for the creative team, but the stories didn't really make a big impression on me - until the movie was released. I remember standing in line for hours to see that first showing in my hometown (it had been released weeks before, but it took a while for it to be shown nationwide). I was stunned and delighted by the movie - it all worked perfectly: the story, the special effects, the music and the characters were all captivating.

I was captured from the opening credits on, and I returned to see the movie again and again - to this day, it's one of my all-time favorite films.

In those days before VCRs and DVDs, your options to enjoy the film outside the theater were limited. There was the movie soundtrack (which I listened to over and over) and there were the comic books (which I read over and over again).

The real delight in this first issue is that it includes scenes deleted in the film, as Luke Skywalker (on Tattooine) discusses joining the Rebellion with his friend Biggs - a character who shows up again in the movie's final battle. If you read the comic (or the novelization), that final scene is much more affecting.

It's also fun to pick out the mistakes - on the cover, Darth Vader is colored green, Princess Leia is a redhead, and Luke is much more mature than the film version.

But at a time when I was crazy for all things Star Wars (to be honest, I'm still crazy about it), this comic helped bridge the gap between visits to the theater.

The series ran for more than 100 issues, and the quality was up and down throughout (you could say the same about the movie sequels, I suppose) - but I still get a warm buzz of nostalgia just looking at the cover of that first issue. It really was the start of something big!

Grade: A-


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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Thor #621

In short order, writer Matt Fraction has made Thor a must-read comic - though a lot of credit also goes to artists Ferry and Larroca, whose styles match perfectly with the new adventures of the Thunder God.

This issue wraps up the ongoing story about an invasion of Asgard by a strange race of creatures that have destroyed everything in their path.

But with the return of Odin (and a delightfully dour All-Father he is), the Asgardians have a fighting chance.

As a last attempt, Odin transforms the Asgardians into the Blood Legion - towering creatures that barely resemble their original form. It's an imaginative battle between good and evil, and definitely a different take on warfare.

Sadly, this is the last issue of Thor - at least until next month's all-new Thor #1 (I know, you're shocked). But this title won't exactly go away - it returns to its original title, Journey Into Mystery, and it will (apparently) focus on Loki and other Asgardian goings-on.

Of course, with his feature film debut just about a month away, it's no surprise to see so much attention being focused on Thor. As long as the quality stays this high, you'll hear no complaints from me.

Grade: A-

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Monday, April 4, 2011

King Conan #2

So what would happen if Conan were to meet the monsters from the imagination of H.P. Lovecraft?

You can find out in this issue of King Conan, as it continues the adaptation of Robert E. Howard's story, "The Scarlet Citadel."

Many people claim this as their favorite Conan story, and it's easy to see why. The barbarian is trapped in an underground labyrinth that is inhabited by the monstrous creations of an evil sorcerer, and it's easily one of the most horrific sequences in Conan's career.

Writer Tim Truman does a fantastic job of bringing the story to life, as a chained Conan confronts the gigantic snake Satha - and that's just the beginning of his problems!

Artist Tomas Giorello continues to turn in incredibly detailed art, and teamed with color artist Jose Villarrubia, they're creating some of the best Conan art ever - and that's saying something!

Add in a fantastic cover by Darick Robertson and Dave Stewart, and this is a series you should not miss.

If you've ever been a fan of Conan, this series is highly recommended!

Grade: A

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Captain America #616

Seems like we get an "Anniversary" issue of Captain America just like clockwork.

The comic celebrated its 600th issue just over a year ago, just before that they celebrated the 50th issue of Captain America (Marvel has numbering issues - no pun intended), and now they're celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the first appearance of Cap.

This issue features almost 100 pages of art and story, including modern-day stories written by Ed Brubaker and art by Mike Deodato, Ed McGuinness and Travis Charest, and five other "throwback" stories by a variety of writers and artists, most of whom have never tackled Cap before.

The result is kind of an interesting mix. Howard Chaykin writes and draws an interesting adventure about the story behind a World War II painting of Cap.

Cullen Bunn and Jason Latour team up on an offbeat story about the aftermath of a natural disaster and the evil it uncovers, as Cap is challenged in an unusual way.

Mike Benson and Paul Grist give us the most unusual story in the comic, as an anemic-looking Cap tackles Baron Blood, the Nazi vampire.

Frank Tieri and Paul Asceta offer a story that has Steve Rogers setting up an art exhibit with an art dealer who has a horrific secret.

The final story is by Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel and Pepe Larraz, and it features Captain America and Captain Britain teaming up to defend a town from a Nazi attack. It's a hard-hitting tale that owes a bit to "Saving Private Ryan."

So overall, a pretty solid issue and an interesting experiment. It's essentially an anthology book, with no real unifying theme other than the main character.

Luckily, he's interesting enough to make it worthwhile.

Grade: B+

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Justice Society of America #49

This is a title that has been in a bit of turmoil for the past couple of years.

After several years of stories about an extended family, in more recent times the Justice Society of America has been more like an army - and a dysfunctional one, at that.

I get that writer Marc Guggenheim has been tearing the team down in order to (hopefully) build it back up, but so far the process has been pretty painful.

We've seen the city of Monument Point torn apart. (Does DC really need another fictional city?) We've seen Green Lantern (Alan Scott) crippled, Mr. Terrific is losing his intelligence, one hero (Lightning) is at death's door, and numerous others have been badly beaten.

This issue marks the final chapter in this opening salvo, so we get some resolutions here, but it mostly feels like it's setting things up for next issue's milestone (50 issues).

I really like this team - it is in many ways the foundation of the DC Universe, with characters from the Greatest Generation teaming with (and teaching) today's heroes, and that's a great dynamic.

Hopefully one of the first "fixes" we can look for will be for the original Green Lantern, who returns to action here in what has to be the most hideous costume I've seen in quite a while - which is surprising, since Scott Kolins is such a talented artist. The new design looks like a cross between a robot and a pot-bellied stove.

The rest of the issue is filled with dark, intense artwork, loads of action and enough characters to choke George Perez - but Kolins handles it all with great skill.

I'll certainly be hanging around to see what happens next, hoping to see a return to past glories. But I'd love to see more emphasis on the characters and less on the carnage.

Grade: C+

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Friday, April 1, 2011

The Avengers #11

In reviews of the last few issues of The Avengers I've been complaining about the way The Hood has been built into a cosmic-level threat by his discovery of the Infinity Gems.

Since the character is (more or less) a clever gangster, not a cosmic threat, it seemed almost insulting that he was on a par with characters like Dr. Doom or Thanos.

After reading this issue, I realize that perhaps I should have had a little more faith in writer Brian Bendis.

That's because he addresses the issue head-on. While The Hood is fighting The Avengers for possession of the Gems, The Watcher shows up and provides some much-needed exposition about what The Hood is doing and the unknown consequences he faces by tampering with cosmic forces like this.

All of which makes this issue much easier to take - and that last page surprise doesn't hurt, either.

The art by John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson is huge - in fact, almost every page of the story is a full-page splash panel, each one featuring cosmic-level events.

I'm glad to see this story that I had almost given up on suddenly righting itself and upping the ante. I have to admit it - I'm impressed!

Grade: A-

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