Tuesday, May 31, 2011

King Conan #4 (of 4)

The issue wraps up a terrific run on the Conan title by writer Tim Truman and artist Tomas Giorello, and I am truly sad to see it end (though I should note that they may yet return at some point).

As a fan of Conan dating back to the original Lancer paperbacks, I've seen lots of terrific work on the Cimmerian's adventures - and lots of less-than-stellar work, too - and this ranks right up there among the best.

That's because it combines excellent writing with outstanding artwork. Truman knows when to stick with Howard's prose and when to give it a different spin for the comics medium. I mean no disrespect to Roy Thomas or Kurt Busiek, both of whom have done great work on Conan, but Truman may be the best yet.

And Giorello's art is fantastic, especially as teamed with Jose Villarrubia's colors. Each panel is lush, powerful and raw. Conan seems a force of nature, and the battle sequences are amazing.

Here they wrap up their adaptation of Robert E. Howard's story The Scarlet Citadel, and it's one of his best, with sinister plots, dungeons filled with monsters that would give H. P. Lovecraft nightmares, and lots of action on the battlefield.

Truly impressive work - highly recommended!

Grade: A

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Secret Warriors #27

I confess I don't understand why writer Jonathan Hickman has been getting so much attention for his work on the Fantastic Four (or FF) and S.H.I.E.L.D., but virtually no kudos for his outstanding work on Secret Warriors.

His work on those books has been outstanding, of course - but I think this is the best of the bunch.

In this series he placed Nick Fury at the heart of a vast plot that revealed the truth behind SHIELD and Hydra - that they were both part of (and being controlled by) a bigger secret organization known as Leviathan.

For the past 27 issues, Fury has been at the heart of a complex plan to bring down Hydra, Leviathan and H.A.M.M.E.R. (still no definition for that acronym) - and with one issue to go in this series, we've seen some truly shocking events, surprising revelations and plot twists galore.

Perhaps the most shocking happens in this issue - something that's been coming for a long, long time.

The issue features rough-edged but compelling art by Alessandro Vitti - it's a perfect match for this gritty comic.

This isn't a series for the faint of heart - it's a complicated story, and now is not the time to start reading it - I recommend the collections.

But it's a rewarding read, and I can't wait to see how it all wraps up next issue - and where the characters and concepts go from here. They're much too good to languish in limbo for long.

Grade: A

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Kirby Genesis #0

It's great to see Jack Kirby getting more attention, since he's arguably one of the greatest creators to work in the comics field.

He was a creative genius, serving as a fountain of ideas during the decades he worked in comics.

And with Kirby Genesis, he's back in the spotlight in a series that promises to bring a large number of his characters back to life.

As much as I admire Kirby and love his work, I have to say that not every character he created was gold - in fact, some of them were downright silly.

More than one comics company has tried to bottle that Kirby magic by building a series or issue around one of his ideas. The mistake that's been made many times in the past is the assumption that the idea is the only important thing - so they've turned lesser talents loose on those comics.

The result, sadly, was a line of comics that were mostly duds.

But this time around they're using the "A" team - they have Kurt Busiek writing and Alex Ross supervising the art along with Jackson Herbert. Judging by this preview issue, the results are going to be very impressive.

This issue sets up the reason why so many strange and alien characters are coming to Earth - and it's going to be interesting to see how the creative team brings it all together.

With Kirby at the heart of the book, they're halfway home. Here's hoping the creative team can hold up their end and bring us a comic that's worthy of The King.

Grade: B+

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Uncanny X-Men #537

For months - no, make that years - I've been buying Uncanny X-Men largely on inertia.

In other words, I buy it because I've always bought it, not because it's the most entertaining comic I read every month.

There have been a few issues I've enjoyed, though none as much as Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's run on The Astonishing X-Men, which began in 2004.

Perhaps the present-day creative team feels the same way, because they have tapped into elements of that story here - and for the first time in a while, I read an issue of X-Men and thought, "That was a good comic."

Writer Kieron Gillen has crafted an exciting, action-packed issue here. The former leader of the inhabitants of Breakworld, Kruun, is out for revenge - and it looks like he might just succeed!

The best hope for the X-Men lies in Kitty Pryde, who's trapped in her intangible state - so how can she hope to stand against a ruthless killer, when the lives of her teammates are on the line?

Well, that's all part of the fun.

The art is by Terry and Rachel Dodson, and it's outstanding. They depict Kitty's fear - and determination - with great skill, and they create a terrific chase sequence - something that's not easy to manage in a comic book.

I've no idea where the story goes from here, and that's a great thing.

It's too soon to say that the X-Men are back to their former standing as Marvel's best comic - but I'd say they're definitely on the right track.

More like this, please!

Grade: A-

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #10

I'll get to the review in a moment, but - at the risk of sounding like a geezer - what the heck is wrong with comics companies these days?

Week after week, I see multiple titles in the same "family" of comics on sale at the same time. Wouldn't it be smarter to spread those titles out over the month?

This week we have three issues in the GL family - Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps and Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors - all on sale in the same week!

Those three issues carry the latest chapters in the "War of the Green Lanterns" story - but why wouldn't they prefer to ship those out one to a week to keep the story flowing until the final chapter in next month's issue of Green Lantern.

Maybe I worry too much about these things - but when comics are three bucks a pop (minimum), it's better to spread that pain out over time, instead of hitting our wallets all at once like that.

OK, end of rant - back to our Emerald Warriors review.

This issue picks up right after the shocking finale to GL Corps, and the death of a vital member of the Corps. Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, John Stewart and Kyle Rayner are doing their best to stop the evil Krona, who has taken mental control over the rest of the Green Lanterns.

In addition, he has infected several Guardians with the entities that power the different Lantern Corps - so our heroes are facing a near-impossible challenge.

Which is only fair, since the story is almost impenetrable, too. Any new reader picking this up would be lost, given the army of characters, colors and villains to sort out.

They have one more issue to sort this thing out, but so far, as events go, the "War" has been mostly disappointing - a few surprises, but aside from seeing the heroes wrapped in different colors, was this trip really necessary? (Sorry, there's my inner geezer coming out again.)

Grade: B-

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine #6 (of 6)

One of the strengths of Marvel's comics has traditionally been its strong continuity.

The characters all inhabit the same reality, their stories are (more or less) logical, the characters stay true to their original model - that sort of thing.

But every now and then a writer comes along who tries to do something different, to throw all that out and go in a different direction. Sometimes it works - but usually it doesn't.

This series written by Jason Aaron - Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine - falls into that second category.

It reads like fan fiction. Wolverine and Spider-Man are tossed through time, where they spend years trapped in the stone age, then in the old west, then on another world fighting for their lives against living planets, caught in a plot involving Mojo, fighting against a gangster who holds a time-traveling diamond-encrusted baseball bat, then Wolverine is possessed by the Phoenix force - a problem Spider-Man solves in the most laughable method imaginable, oh and Spider-Man falls in love with a mysterious woman... and that's just the stuff I remember off the top of my head.

It's all just too crazy and disjointed to make any sense, and the ending makes a feeble effort to tie it all together and fails, thanks to its reliance on the hoariest trick in the book (is that God in the machine?).

The real strength of the series is the artwork by Adam Kubert and Mark Roslan, with colors by Justin Ponsor. While a bit dark and murky in places, the art is fantastic, with some impressive sequences.

I was hoping the whole mess of a story would somehow be worked out in this final issue, but no such luck. High marks for the art, but the rest of the book flunks out.

Grade: C+

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Comics Day!

A big haul today! Here's what I picked up:

- Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine #6 (of 6) - Great art, dodgey story.

- Secret Avengers #13 - This is an odd one.

- Captain America #618 - Fun times in the Gulag.

- Conan: The Road of Kings #5 - That is one gnarly road.

- King Conan #4 (of 4) - Sad to see this terrific series ending.

- FF #4 - Talk about wheels within wheels...

- Green Lantern #66 - Continuing the War of the Green Lanterns...

- Green Lantern Corps #60 - ...more war...

- Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #10 - and more. You'd think there was a GL movie coming out or something.

- Incredible Hulks #629 - Breaking up is hard to do.

- Justice Society of America #51 - Half the issue is dedicated to... politics? Really?

- Kirby Genesis #0 - This promises to be wild, over the top and (possibly) lots of fun.

- Magnus Robot Fighter #4 (of 4) - Apparently the last issue. Bummer.

- Ruse #3 - So far, this has been fun.

- Secret Warriors #27 - Wow. This one is paying off in surprising ways.

- The Mighty Thor #2
- Guess who's coming to dinner?

- Uncanny X-Men #537 - Well, I didn't see that ending coming.

The Classics - Justice League #1

Like most comic books that have been around for a while, the Justice League has been through good runs and not-so-good runs.

Shortly after the Crisis on Infinite Earths series in the mid-80s, DC decided to take the team in a different direction and added new and "hip" characters, keeping only Aquaman and Martian Manhunter from the original team.

The fans were not amused, and they heaped so much derision on the team that the solution was to (virtually) kill off the new characters and start over.

So following the Legends mini-series, fans got a new League, a new creative team and a new issue #1 (they would soon tweak the title to Justice League International). And it worked!

The writing team was Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis, and they built a team featuring only one A-list hero - Batman - and the rest of the team was made up of heroes who sometimes had their own titles, or appeared infrequently (if at all) - Captain Marvel, Martian Manhunter, Dr. Fate, Mister Miracle, Blue Beetle, Guy Gardner, Black Canary and the new Dr. Light.

The new writing style put the emphasis on characters and humor, while keeping plenty of action and adventure. Team comics work well when the characters spark off each other (both physically and verbally), and in this series, the sparks flew!

Behind Giffen's layouts, the art was provided by the (then unknown to me) Kevin Maguire with inks by the incomparable Terry Austin. Their work in this issue suffers a bit from poor printing, but the talent shines through. Maguire would build a reputation as one of the best in the business, especially for capturing facial expressions (often for comedic effect).

The cover, of course, became iconic, too - and has been copied and aped many, many times.

It was outstanding work and helped vault this series back to the top of the heap. I was a big fan for years, and if the humor got to be too much toward the end of their run, it's easy to forgive.

They pumped new life and energy into the series that should be the flagship for DC's line, and - even more impressive - they managed to do it with only one star.

It's an outstanding series that holds up well - and should serve as a guide to "fixing" today's version of the team. Highly recommended!

Grade: A


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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Herc #3

This is a series that continues to surprise me.

I would never have expected that Marvel's version of Hercules could support his own ongoing title - and yet he did, when he took over The Incredible Hulk's title for a while.

It was disappointing when the series wrapped up, but it rolled over into the Chaos War mini-series, so that worked out fine.

Now he finally has a title of his own - Herc - (does anyone actually call him "Herc?") and the surprise this time around is that, as much as I liked his adventures before, this series isn't really working for me (so far).

But, I should hastily add, this issue is the best of the bunch so far. The problem is that they've depowered Hercules so he's just a strong mortal, but they've given him some mythological weapons to balance things out.

He's taken up residence in Brooklyn, establishing a new cast of characters and a new set of opponents.

It's a solid enough premise and as always, writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente offer up a story that's equal parts action and humor. Here they make great use of some second-string bad guys who pick the wrong bank to rob.

There's no problem with the art. Neil Edwards and Scott Hanna create lots of detailed, action-packed panels here, and the characters are expressive and alive.

I think the problem with the series is that Herc has been involved in lots of big, cosmic-sized events in recent years, and this story just feels very small - like the difference between a sitcom and a feature film.

Oh, and I'm not crazy about the new "costume."

Here's hoping the big guy gets powered up and gets back to playing on the big stage again soon.

Grade: B

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Alpha Flight #0.1

Here's a super-team I liked in its earliest appearances, but with a few exceptions, the longer Alpha Flight was around, the more muddled it became.

Most of that was because of questionable decisions by writers working on the group. Puck was revealed to be an old man who had somehow been transformed into a smaller version on himself; Northstar was revealed to be an elf (and then he wasn't); several team members were killed, brought back from the dead, and then killed again.

Thanks to the recent Chaos War, the team has been returned from the dead and most of that strange past seems to have been swept away - all of which sounds like a good idea to me.

Which brings us to this introductory "zero-point-one" issue, which makes a fair attempt at reintroducing the cast, which seems to be as dysfunctional as ever. (What's with Marrina, whose sole contribution is to curse at a cameraman - and why does she look completely different? And where's Puck?)

The team is called to help fight a two-pronged terrorist attack and find themselves fighting a former teammate.

The fight includes the most laughably improbable use for a crowd of people this side of a Looney Tunes cartoon. I'm all for suspension of disbelief, but the writer has to meet me halfway.

Other than that one bit of silliness, it's a pretty solid issue. I like the art by Ben Oliver - his character designs are strong and he keeps the action moving.

It's hard to tell where the series will go from here, but I'm encouraged enough to give it a chance. Starting over from the start isn't always the best idea, but I think it's definitely the best choice for Canada's super-team.

Grade: B


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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Booster Gold #44

It's interesting that the Flashpoint event is changing the face of the DC Universe, giving virtually ever character a makeover - except for Booster Gold.

You can read his backstory here - but the short version is that he's a hero armed with equipment from the far future (a flight ring, a force field, blasters and a mini-computer named Skeets).

He came to our present to become a hero, but now he's a time-traveling hero - one who never gets credit no matter how many times he saves the world.

This comic ties directly into Flashpoint, as the world changes suddenly - yet for mysterious reasons, Booster hasn't changed a bit.

Trapped in a world he never made (sorry, I always wanted to type that. And aren't we all trapped in worlds like that? Just wondering)... where was I? Oh, right - Booster is attacked because no one knows him.

I know that decompressed stories are all the rage, and I suppose they can't give too much away in the first issue in this series, since the main thrust of the story will be in the Flashpoint series - but nothing much happens in this issue!

Booster is attacked, then attacked again, then again... you get the idea. There's a nice jolt at the end, but the story never moves forward from that first flash.

Thankfully, it features the fine art of Dan Jurgens, an outstanding craftsman who knows how to blend words and drawings seamlessly.

I don't intend to buy all the Flashpoint tie-in comics, but I'm making an exception with Booster - he and Barry (The Flash) Allen seem to be the only ones who know about the "real" version of the DC Universe, and it should be interesting to see where they go with that knowledge.

Grade: B

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Avengers #13

It would be easy to hate this issue of The Avengers.

That's because it's all teasing and talking and virtually no action.

Since the recent relaunch of the Avengers line, a backup text feature has featured an oral history of the team through the eyes of different team members. Now that feature has expanded and filled this issue, which is mostly made up of 12-panel grids featuring members taking part in that oral history.

There are a few story and splash panels mixed in, but they just give glimpses of the Fear Itself story.

But I have to admit... I enjoyed this issue!

As always, writer Brian Bendis is a master of clever dialogue. And there's a lot more to the story, too, as the different interviews take place at different points in time (it's up to you to figure out when), focusing on the personalities of the heroes and offering up some surprising insights.

The other big plus is the artwork by Chris Bachalo, who manages to jump effortlessly between small personal moments, crowd scenes and detailed splash pages of intense destruction.

Your mileage may vary - some will not enjoy this comic at all - but I thought it was an entertaining experiment, carried off with great skill.

But hopefully next issue will give us just a bit more action.

Grade: A-

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Rocketeer Adventures #1

When I reviewed an early appearance by the Rocketeer a couple of weeks ago I didn't realize his new adventures would be showing up so soon!

But it's wonderful to see Cliff Secord once again taking to the skies, even if, sadly, creator Dave Stevens is no longer around to guide his adventures.

When the character first hit it big and it was obvious that Stevens wasn't going to be able to crank out regular issues, the plan was to have other artists work on the character - but sadly, that never happened - until now!

I suspect every writer and artist in the business would like to be part of this project, which features short adventures and pin-ups based on Rocketeer Adventures.

And what a lineup for this first issue: behind a cover by Alex Ross (well, on the issue I bought - there are others, of course), you have stories and art by John Cassaday (is this his first writing gig?), Mike Allred, a story by Kurt Busiek with art by Michael Kaluta, and pinups by Mike Mignola and Jim Silke!

The only complaint is that the stories are all very short - just eight pages each - but they're all a lot of fun!

Allred's story is the most offbeat of the bunch (as you'd expect), but it's loaded with energy and a love of flying (is it a continued story? I'm not sure). Cassaday's is a pure romp as the Rocketeer tries to save Betty from some gangsters who have a rocket of their own. Busiek and Kaluta focus more on Betty, but it's a lush and delightful wartime adventure with a killer final page.

So, lots of fun, some terrific art by some of the best in the business. Who could pass this up?

Highly, highly recommended!

Grade: A

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ultimate Spider-Man #158

Thankfully, I've never been shot. But I have it on good authority that it hurts. A lot.

A friend of mine named Dave served during the war in Vietnam and he always laughed about scenes in TV shows and movies where the good guy gets shot (usually a "flesh wound") and carries on with the fight. His favorite was in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Indiana Jones gets shot in the arm but manages to scramble under a moving truck, climb back in and beat up the Nazi at the wheel.

He found those scenes funny because he got shot while he was in Vietnam - just a tiny nick when a bullet clipped his arm. He said his arm immediately went numb - he couldn't move it at all.

I always think about that story (first heard over 30 years ago) when I run into scenes like the one in this issue of Ultimate Spider-Man. At the end of the last issue Spidey pushes Captain America out of the way of a sniper shot and takes the bullet himself.

He's shot through the side, just above the hip (so presumably no organs were hit), and here he wakes up to find Cap has left him alone on the bridge, apparently to bleed to death.

In the best Jack Bauer tradition he gets to his feet and webs up his wound and gets back in the fight of his life (presumably the last fight of his life, depending on what happens in the next two issues).

It's an exciting, action-packed story with the usual fine efforts by writer Brian Bendis and artist Mark Bagley, as they keep us on the edge of our seats - but as much as I'm enjoying this story, I have to admit my pal Dave would be laughing at this issue.

Grade: A-

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Comics for a Wednesday

Here's what I picked up today:

- Alpha Flight #0.1 - Gotta give it a chance.

- Avengers #13 - Everyone's talking. And talking. And talking.

- Avengers Academy #14 - The Sinister Six? Aren't they in the wrong comic? Again.

- Booster Gold #44 - The first Flashpoint tie-in.

- Herc #3 - Digging out some obscure characters here. Which I like!

- Invincible Iron Man #504 - The Grey Gargoyle steps into the Fear Itself spotlight.

- Rocketeer Adventures #1 - Wonderful to see this comic back again!

- Sigil #3 - More pirate adventures!

- Silver Surfer #4 (of 5) - Sputtering along.

- Ultimate Spider-Man #158 - Not dead yet... but getting closer.

- Uncanny X-Force #10 - Trying to save an Angel.

And that's it!

The Classics: Lois Lane #106

Today's classic comic demonstrates that the right cover can sell even the silliest comic book.

I've purchased all kinds of comics in my life, but I have to admit I never bought many comics that were aimed at girls.

(When you're young, you have to guard against cooties, of course.)

So it is that I never purchased very many issues of Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane (the full official title of this comic).

I picked up about 10 issues when The Rose and the Thorn was included as a backup feature - as much for her skimpy costume as for her action-packed stories. This issue features a fine example of such a story with art by the team supreme of Ross Andru and Mike Esposito.

But what made me pick up this issue was the cover. Lois steps into a machine and becomes a black woman! Admit it, you're dying to read that story.

Written by Robert Kanigher, the story has Lois trying to cover a story in Little Africa, the black community in Metropolis - but no one will talk to her because she's "Whitey."

Luckily, Lois' boy friend Superman just happens to have a Plastimold machine that changes her features for 24 hours. She then learns some valuable life lessons.

Oh, the story is thin and moves in obvious directions and is a bit silly - but it's also rather touching despite all that. Lois and the reader learn some important lessons, and it's a surprising story, especially since DC was still as mainstream as can be when this was published in 1970.

The art is by the terrific Werner Roth with inks by Vince Colletta, and it's quite good, with expressive characters and clean, clear storytelling. The only thing that doesn't work is Superman, who seems awkward, but he's not in the story much at all.

If this was the last appearance by the Plastimold, it's a terrible shame - Lois could have used it to explore all kinds of different cultures and lifestyles.

Just imagine: "I Am Curious (Geek)!"

Grade: B+

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Incredible Hulks #628

It's sad to hear that Greg Pak is stepping down soon as the writer of the Incredible Hulk(s), because he's done an amazing job of breathing new life and energy into a comic that hasn't always had such treatment.

After several storylines featuring the "Hulk Family," the latest adventure has pared the cast down to a much more manageable size - it's the Hulk (Bruce Banner), the Red She-Hulk (Betty Ross) and Amadeus Cho (who mostly provides tech support), all taking part in a fast and frenzied battle over an ancient artifact.

It's loaded with smart and funny dialogue as the dysfunctional Banners go from allies (as Betty and Bruce) to enemies who reluctantly work together (when Hulked out).

It's a heck of a lot of fun, aided by the outstanding pencils of the vatly underrated Tom Grummett, who turns in terrific work here, both in the big hoo-hah action scenes and in the more tender moments. He has a classic, heroic style that reminds me of John Buscema with a bit of Gil Kane mixed in. Good company to keep!

Few comics manage to balance big action, thoughtful stories, fine humor and heart-tugging scenes as well as Pak has done.

This book will carry on without him, but it won't be the same.

Grade: A-

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Doc Savage #14

It's been reported that the Doc Savage comic book is being canceled (presumably they're going to wrap up the ongoing story first), and my reaction is - thank goodness!

It's not that I dislike Doc and his fellow adventurers - quite the contrary, as I have written before.

But I can't bear to see what they've done to him, and at this point canceling the comic is more like putting it out of its misery.

There have been (I think) three stories serialized in this series so far. The first one was terrible (story and art), the second one was a bit better (story and art), and the one running now is the worst yet.

I generally try not to be too negative about the work people do in comics - presumably they work hard and are doing the best they can under (possibly) difficult circumstances.

But wow, is this story terrible. Written by J.G. Jones, it just makes no sense at all. Doc and his allies Renny and Monk are (apparently) in an ocean somewhere near Egypt (I think) - I'm not sure, nor are we ever given an indication where they are in this issue.

They start the issue fighting crocodiles (in the ocean?), they are arrested, thrown in jail, survive an assassination attempt by the world's dumbest bad guys, they hop a jet to follow a woman who has stolen some kind of artifact from them (one the opening page seems to show being dropped into the ocean)... and that's about it.

In other words, I don't know what's going on, and there's no effort made to bring the reader up to date.

The art isn't much help, either. Drawn by Quig Ping Mui, the style is a revival of all the worst elements of the early Image Comics style - poor anatomy, terrible perspective, characters who are indistinguishable from each other (why do Renny and Johnny both have mohawk haircuts?) - you get the idea.

It's like this: if DC can't do a better job creating adventures for Doc Savage, I'd prefer they didn't try. Let's leave it to a creative team who has a handle on the character and the elements of basic storytelling.

We're not getting that here.

Grade: D

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

FF #3

I stand in awe of the juggling act writer Jonathan Hickman is presenting in the pages of FF (the comic formerly known as Fantastic Four).

In his relatively short time on the title, he has populated it with a number of new allies, enemies and potential future threats for the team, and with each issue he draws the net tighter around the cast.

At the center is Dr. Doom and his goddaughter Valeria (who is the daughter of Reed and Sue Richards). Here an amazing cast of characters are gathered to find a way to defeat Reed - but not the one you might expect.

We see plots unfold, odd alliances form, and a very real threat of worldwide destruction building, all playing out on a cosmic scale. It's a complex, challenging story, but one well worth tackling.

The art by Steve Epting continues to be spot on - dark and ominous, but powerful with striking layouts and great characterizations.

If you like your stories simple and straightforward, then this comic isn't for you.

But if you're looking for a smart, intelligent story, this is one you should not miss.

Grade: A

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Breed III #1

It's always a pleasure to see one of my favorite comics creators back in action, which is why the return of Jim Starlin and his creation 'Breed is such good news!

Starlin has a well-earned reputation for creating some of the greatest cosmic storylines in the history of comics (both as writer and artist), including his stellar run on Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell), the invention of Thanos, his retooling of Warlock, the creation of Dreadstar and his stories about the demonic warrior known as 'Breed.

But don't worry if you missed the previous two mini-series starring 'Breed, because this issue brings you up to date on the story behind former soldier Ray Stoner, whose mother was raped by a demon. As a result, he has two distinct personas - that of a normal man and a powerful demon.

The story starts out in full action mode, as 'Breed takes on a small army of demons as he tries to protect a woman and her child. The action is fast and furious, and it's good to see that Starlin hasn't lost a step - his art sizzles with brutal action, clear and clever layouts and strong character designs.

This issue covers a lot of ground (including the history behind 'Breed's other-dimensional home), but it's all laid out carefully and it's easy to get up to speed.

Starlin excels at stories like this - a huge setting, hopeless odds, but a resourceful and deadly hero who knows his own abilities and how best to put them to use.

I'm not sure if this is a mini-series (as I suspect) or an ongoing series (as I hope), but it's great to have more Starlin stories to read and Starlin art to enjoy.

Now if he could just manage to find the time to work on some of those other characters listed above, too...

Grade: A-

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Friday, May 13, 2011

The New Avengers #12

This issue of The New Avengers continues the odd mix of Deodato-drawn present-day adventures and Chaykin-drawn 1950s pre-Avenger battles that include the Red Skull and a different Captain America.

The bulk of the action is set in 1959, as Nick Fury invades a castle loaded with everyone’s favorite villains - the Nazis. He also encounters Cap, but can it really be the hero who was revived from suspended animation much later? (Depending on whether you figure it by real time - the ‘60s - or by Marvel time, which would put it permanently about seven years from the present. Oh, and Fury shouldn't be wearing an eyepatch yet, either - he didn't get one until after his meeting with the Fantastic Four in an early issue of that title.)

Fury has assembled a ragtag group that includes Kraven the Hunter, the mutant Sabretooth, Namora, Dum Dum Dugan, Ulysses Bloodstone, Dominic Fortune and the original Silver Sable. They’re a bloodthirsty bunch.

In the present, Mockingbird clings to life after being shot in a recent battle with agents of H.A.M.M.E.R. (And we still don’t know what that stands for. My guess: Haters All Make Mistakes Eventually. Really!)

I still have no idea how writer Brian Bendis plans to knit these stories together. The whole issue is an odd mix of art styles that don’t work together (although I like them both individually) and stories that seem to have nothing in common.

Good twist on that last page, though.

Grade: B+

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A Close Call!

I was starting to sweat whether or not I'd be able to post today!

The host site, Blogger, has had some major problems in the last 24 (or so) hours, and I wasn't sure it was going to return in time for today's post.

But all seems to be well, so another crisis averted!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Flashpoint #1 (of 5)

For all intents and purposes, The Flash's comic has been stalling (or at least that's how it feels) while waiting for Flashpoint to arrive.

By that I mean that the series has been moving slowly, putting the pieces in place (especially the Reverse-Flash) and introducing the characters who will (presumably) play key roles in the upcoming event.

Now that it's here, the first issue... still feels like it's stalling.

Some of that is unavoidable, since the first issue has to set the stage for the story. It begins with a quick recap of Barry Allen's life, and then takes us to the present, where he discovers that he does not have super-speed (or any other power, for that matter).

The story slowly peels back the curtain, letting us see some of the radical changes that have taken place - changes that only Barry seems to know about.

It's a tricky story and a tough balancing act that writer Geoff Johns has undertaken. It's compelling, because the stakes couldn't be higher - but any kind of alternate reality story like this runs the risk of having no consequence to the "real" world - we assume the hero will hit the reset button at some point and all will go back to the way it was.

But I'd be very surprised if that's how this plays out, and I trust that Johns has some good jolts for us along the way (the last page is good example of one).

The art by Andy Kubert and Sandra Hope is, of course, outstanding. It must be a major, Perez-level challenge to re-imagine virtually the entire DC pantheon - and Kubert does it with great skill. One hopes they hang on to at least some of the designs after this is over.

So a fair start to a truly ambitious comics event. How ambitious? In June, 22 comics will tie into Flashpoint - almost all of them altered versions of the original titles.

You have to give DC points for guts. Here's hoping the gamble (and the story) pays off.

Grade: B+

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Today's Comics

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

- The New Avengers #12 - Something old, something new, with a little Red Skull mixed in.

- Breed III #1 (of ?) - Great to see Starlin back in action.

- Daredevil: Reborn #4 (of 4) - Looking forward to Waid's take on this character.

- Doc Savage #14 - Judging by the art, this series isn't about to be canceled - it's being put out of its misery.

- FF #3 - Too many Reeds.

- The Flash #12 - Some shocking moments on the road to Flashpoint.

- Flashpoint #1 (of 5) - Everything changes!

- Hellboy: Being Human #1 (One Shot) - Always glad to see Corben on the art.

- Incredible Hulks #628 - The Bickering Banners.

- Journey Into Mystery #623 - Loki plots.

- Next Men #6 - Lincoln certainly gets around these days.

And that's it!

The Classics - Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1

Jim Steranko cut an amazing arc across comics during his relatively short run and a writer and artist, and he's most famous for his work on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. as it appeared in Strange Tales (I reviewed one of those classic issues here).

But in 1968, Marvel did something amazing - it grew! After years of being limited in how many comics it could publish, the company finally had the opportunity to expand, so it gave new comics to each star of its "split" comics: Tales to Astonish, which featured the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk; Tales of Suspense, with Iron Man and Captain America; and Strange Tales, with Fury and Dr. Strange.

It was a great time to be reading comics, as each of those characters broke free of the old 10-page restraints - and no one made better use of the expanded space than Steranko.

Before, Fury's adventures had been (brilliantly) based on the format of the old movie serials, with a continued string of cliffhanger endings leading you into the next month's issue.

But with this issue, the storytelling suddenly became more cinematic and more sophisticated.

The first three pages have no dialogue or sound effects at all, as we see Fury breaking into a heavily-fortified structure - and then we see him gunned down!

And that's just the beginning of a story filled with twists and turns as we move from location to location, meeting seemingly-unrelated characters and stories that all eventually dovetail together in an explosive and unexpected climax.

There's plenty of terrific action sequences, as Steranko uses the expanded space to throw in amazing designs, op art and a killer double-page splash.

The story is clever, touching and surprisingly adult for a mainstream comic in the '60s.

Sadly, Steranko only did four full-length issues, each one a classic in its own right. But this first issue was possibly the best of the bunch, and it set the bar for the rest of the industry - a mark rarely matched.

Grade: A+

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gladstone's School for World Conquerors #1

I picked up this issue assuming the title character was not Donald Duck's nemesis. I was right.

But the title lured me in - and I'm glad it did.

Gladstone's School for World Conquerors takes the "School for Gifted Students" idea and turns it on its head - instead we have a school for budding super-villains.

The first chapter is the backstory behind the school, and it's the only part of the comic that drags (although it does have its clever moments).

But once we get to the school, the story gets lively. We meet some of the students, like Kid Nefarious, Mummy Girl and the Skull Brothers.

They're studying the skills needed to be future villains, of course - and writer Mark Andrew Smith has fun with some of the typical quirks of comic villains.

I like the art by Armand Villavert - it's not realistic, but it is loaded with life and energy and whimsy. A few panel laouts are a bit tricky to follow, but it's a fresh style and benefits from fine color art by Carlos Carrasco.

It would be easy to make this just a comedic look at the bad guys, but there's apparently more going on than we (or the kids at the school) realize.

It's a fun comic and well worth checking out.

Grade: B+

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Irredeemable #25

The world of comics has many fun topics of debate: Who's stronger, Thor or the Hulk? How can Spider-Man stick to walls through his costume? How can Spawn walk around with a cape that's (at least) 20 feet long?

You get the idea.

One of my favorites is: How does Superman's powers work? The common explanation is that his cells charge up in the light of the yellow sun and power his Kryptonian body. Which still doesn't explain how he shoots lasers out of his eyes, flies, etc. But as comic book explanations go, it's not bad.

John Byrne got in on the debate some years back when he suggested that Superman's powers were psionic in nature, and he hinted at it in his Man of Steel mini-series - but the idea was quickly dropped amid howls from the fans.

All of which brings us to this issue of Irredeemable, where we get an explanation for the Plutonian's superpowers (which, we note, are amazingly similar to Superman's). It turns out that they're psionic in nature, although there's much more to the explanation than that.

It's a well thought-out pseudo-scientific explanation for the myriad of powers, and kudos to writer Mark Waid for sorting out the process - which is more than DC ever did.

In the comic, the Plutonian continues his attempts to escape from an insane asylum at the heart of a sun, while back on Earth there's plenty of drama to keep everyone busy.

The art is by Peter Krause and Diego Barreto, and it's solid, professional work.

I have to admit the "Space Prison" story is wearing thin, but with strong writing and an unpredictable story, this is a book that's difficult to put down - so I continue to hang with it.

Grade: B+

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Sunday, May 8, 2011

More Free Comic Book Day Reviews

Our man Kyle sent in these comments about some of the comics he picked up yesterday, so I thought I'd post this on the main page for all to enjoy.

Take it away, Kyle:
Hey Chuck, another great FCBD. I picked up a load of freebies. As always I end up spending a ton as well. I hit about three different shops in order to pick up as many of the freebies as I can... I feel obligated to drop some cash to support the shops that are doing this so ended up with two Fables TPB's, Fables 1001 Nights of Snowfall HB, Showcase Presents Aquaman Vol 2, and a back issue on a whim (Weird War Tales featuring The Creature Commandos and the G.I.Robot)!

I sure hope some day they release a Showcase of these). As far as different titles from your reviews:

Baltimore was my favorite. Although Mignola did not do the interior art, he always manages to pick someone who fits the story very well. Didn't care for the flip side Criminal Macabre too much.

Young Justice Batman Brave and Bold was another mixed bag. I liked the Batman half. It was another "panel of someone saying something disparaging about Bruce Wayne followed by Batman heroically being the exact opposite" type story... but I'm a sucker for that so it worked for me :). Didn't care for the Young Justice, would have preferred a Tiny Titans, but can see why they are pushing the cartoon (which I have never seen).

Civil War Adventures was certainly interesting. I got the feeling they were trying to be an educational comic with a few text pieces around the two illustrated stories. The stories were good weird western/ weird war style stories. The text pieces were interesting, but wow, don't think I needed to know that much about battlefield amputations!

Darkwing Duck / Rescue Rangers had some really good art and good stories. The DD half was a Dark Knight Returns homage/parody and was better than the RR half.

Atomic Robo was pretty crazy. A dinosaur with guns tries to steal a students project from the science fair at which Atomic Robo was a judge. The Foster Broussard feature had some promise, but the Moon Girl was not good, I couldn't follow what was happening other than two people were fighting for some reason, possible during the day, or possibly at night, and it may or may not have been indoors...

Betty & Veronica was basically a typical Archie comic (which I do in small doses, say once a year) :)... Although it was weird seeing cell phones and YouTube videos in an Archie comic... kinda clashes with how I imagine Riverdale but it works.
Awesome recaps - thanks, Kyle!

Free Comic Book Day 2011

As always, we oberve the holiday known as Free Comic Book Day with some mini-reviews - if you picked up some different freebies, let us know what you thought.

This issue is like an extra issue of Thor The Mighty Avenger by writer Roger Langridge and artist Chris Samnee.

It features Captain America and the god of thunder meeting in a fun, time-tossed story that takes the duo back in time to meet a few famous faces.

As always, great art and a fun story. I love Cap's final line.

Grade: A-

Green Lantern is the third star of a big summer movie in our first two free comics, but here he appears in a reprint of a key part of the Secret Origin series from a few years back.

But it's good work by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis.

The comic also features a preview of the next big event for DC, Flashpoint (starring The Flash, natch), also by Johns with artist Andy Kubert. It's short but enticing.

Grade: B

Elric: The Balance Lost is (of course) a preview of a new series starring Michael Moorcock's mystic hero.

It's a good (if a bit gory) overview of The Eternal Champion, with story by Chris Roberson and art by Francesco Biagini - both of which are promising, though they have some big shoes to fill, as the backup feature shows.

It's especially difficult to follow the likes of Barry Windsor-Smith, P. Craig Russell and Walt Simonson, to name a few.

Grade: B+

Bongo Comics celebrates Free Comic Book Day with a terrific homage to Uncle Scrooge McDuck on the cover.

(Of course, it's silly - what fan would allow his comics to be piled 90 feet deep? Imagine the curling!)

It's fun issue with several short features, including one by Sergio Aragones as Bart and Lisa visit the circus.

Good stuff!

Grade: A-

Richie Rich was always a favorite back when Harvey Comics was in its prime, but this is a different version of that classic character.

The character names are the same, as Richie and the spoiled Reggie, butler Cadbury, robot maid Irona, pet dog Dollar and Richie's pal Gloria have their island vacation interrupted briefly by an erupting volcano.

They're drawn in a slightly more realistic style - which takes some getting used to.

This is a flip comic, with the other side dedicated to Kung Fu Panda, which is pretty much exactly what you would expect.

Grade: B

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Thor (The Motion Picture)

I saw Thor Friday afternoon and without giving anything away, I have to say - I enjoyed it!

I'd put it on par with the first Iron Man movie - entertaining, lots of humor and good action sequences, perfectly cast (the guy who plays Loki is spot on), great effects and a well-constructed story. A couple of good, yee-haw moments in there.

There are a few minor stumbles in the story, but they're easy to forgive - Chris Hemsworth is perfect as Thor, both as the hot-head and the more likeable hero he becomes. He and Natalie Portman have good chemistry, too.

There are a few Easter Eggs in there for long-time readers, and I enjoyed the Warriors Three, Sif and Heimdall, though their parts were relatively small. Anthony Hopkins is spot on as Odin.

Needless to say, don't leave until after the credits - there's an interesting sequence to catch.

Highly Recommended!

Solomon Kane: Red Shadows #2 (of 4)

Solomon Kane has to be one of the most unusual pulp heroes still running around - a puritanical man of God who roams the world in the late 1500's fighting evil in its many forms.

Created by Robert E. Howard in the 1930s, he's appeared in a number of comic book adaptations and was recently made into a film (which I sadly haven't seen yet).

In this issue, he encounters a worthy opponent - a wicked man named Le Loup who has led a gang of cutthroats to rob, rape and murder in France. Encountering one of Le Loup's victims - a young girl - Kane vows revenge.

What follows is a brutal series of events as Kane (shall we say) turns the gang over to a higher power for judgment. But with Le Loup, he may have run up against a superior fighter.

The script by Bruce Jones is lean and effective, bringing out the best in Howard's character.

I like the art by Rahsan Ekedal (with color by Dan Jackson) - it's vivid, with some dynamic layouts and clear characterizations. A few panels are a bit gory for me, but it fits the story, so it's easy to overlook.

So far, this series is the best yet since Dark Horse took over the line - and the previous efforts were good, too!

Grade: B+


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Friday, May 6, 2011

Moon Knight #1

I've liked Moon Knight since his first appearance in Werewolf by Night, but he's never managed lasting success in his own title.

He started out as a mercenary, but when he sparked enough interest to spin off into his own title, a mystic element was added (his origin is cleverly recounted in this issue).

It was the Moon Knight title that gave Bill Sienkiewicz his first moment in the spotlight as his style evolved from "Neal Adams clone" to his own distinctive surreal style.

But the comic struggled over the years - it was canceled, brought back, canceled again - and on and on.

Now he's back again in the care of two top talents: writer Brian Bendis and artist Alex Maleev.

And they're off to a strong start here. The story sets Moon (Marc Spector) Knight up in Los Angeles, where he's part of a TV show based on his adventures. He's approached by the Avengers, who warn him that super-villains are setting up shop nearby.

That's quickly followed by an encounter with a heavy-hitter - and we're not sure if a non-super-powered hero like Moon Knight can survive.

But what sells the issue is that last page, which is a real game-changer.

I can't say enough good things about Maleev's art - his style is unique and compelling - sometimes realistic, sometimes surreal, but always advancing the story. Great stuff!

I admit that I picked this issue up without much enthusiasm, but they've sold me - I'll be anxiously waiting for the next chapter.

Grade: A-

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fear Itself #2 (of 7)

This event is shaping up to be a good one.

No matter the menace, Marvel's superhero community has always had some big hitters who could come to the rescue - but this issue of Fear Itself poses the problem: what do the heroes do when their biggest guns are taken away?

Here we see Thor and the Asgardians being led by Odin into a full retreat from the world of men. The enemy, known as The Serpent (or the All-Father) is gathering his forces - and the power level is off the scale.

There's a strong undercurrent of fear here, as we tap into news reports of disaster and destruction around the world. It's almost a little too real, as anyone who watches the news regularly can attest.

This issue includes one image that's a bit too disturbing - even 10 years later, it's difficult to see images of mass destruction on the scale of 9/11. (Maybe that's just me.)

Writer Matt Fraction has set up a terrific challenge for the heroes of the world, and artists Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger are providing some amazing images.

From the Asgardian exodus, with the landmass of Asgard seeming to follow in their wake, to the unveiling of The Worthy and the mass destruction of the first attack, the art is simply stunning.

The best stories make you wonder: how will this be resolved? I have no idea, but I'm dying to see what happens next.

Grade: A

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