Sunday, July 31, 2011

Flashpoint: Project Superman #2 (of 3)

This mini-series is answering the question raised by Flashpoint: what happened to Superman?

The answer is an interesting (if somewhat depressing) science fiction / alternate universe tale.

It seems that Kal-El's arrival on Earth was as part of a destructive rain of meteors that smashed into Metropolis.

The baby discovered inside Jor-El's rocket was taken to a secret research base where's he's being examined for his potential as a weapon.

There we see the conflict between those who would use the child and those who want to help him. It's a grim tale written by Scott Snyder, but there are glimmers of hope and lots of clever plot twists along the way.

I like the art by Gene Ha a lot. He has some unique ways to visualize Kal's super-powers and gives the entire story an feeling of menace and untamed power.

While the jury's still out on the whole Flashpoint event (your feelings will no doubt depend on how you feel about alternate reality-based stories), I'm certainly enjoying this particular corner of it.

Grade: A-

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain America and Bucky 620

I finally got to see the Captain America: The First Avenger film, and I have to say - that was a darned good movie.

I thought Chris Evans was terrific in the lead (especially impressive were the effects that made him scrawny), the supporting cast was spot on (how I loved the Howling Commandos, Tommy Lee Jones provided some much-needed humor (without ever being silly), Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter was excellent (and, not to be sexist, but let me just say - Va-va-voom!), the bad guys were perfect - Hugo Weaving can be menacing with the mere lift of an eyebrow, and his Red Skull makeup was excellent.

It played out on a big scale, although the "Hydra as bad guys instead of the Nazis" bit seemed somewhat forced.

I liked the Thor movie a lot, but I have to admit that this may be the better movie. It's right up there with the first Iron Man. Who would ever have thought we'd get so many quality superhero films?

Bring on the Avengers! (Speaking of which, I advise staying until the end of the credits. Fair warning.)

Highly recommended!

Grade: A

Which brings us to comics, and the newly-retooled Captain America & Bucky, which takes over the numbering of the ongoing Cap comic. (Which took over the numbering of the old Tales of Suspense comic, but who's counting?)

Like this film, this comic is firmly set (so far) in World War II, as we begin to learn the real secret origin for Bucky. The original story of how he became Cap's sidekick doesn't work by modern standards - no hero is going into battle with an untrained child fighting at his side.

In the original version, Bucky accidentally discovered Cap's secret identity, so he was recruited to be Cap's partner. In the modern version, he's given a more believable age, more realistic abilities and a solid backstory.

Whether you like the movie or not, this is a strong story from writers Ed Brubaker and Marc Andreyko as they fill in some major gaps in our knowledge about these two heroes.

I'm delighted to see Chris Samnee tackling the art is this series. He was terrific on the sadly short-lived Thor The Mighty Avenger, and his work is even better here. His layouts are fresh and full of energy, his art and characters are expressive (lots of emotions to depict in this story), and his style is unique - original and different, he's carving his own path here, and it's a real delight.

The story is just starting to unfold, but so far, I'm very impressed. This comic is a more-than-worthy companion to the film, and a great jumping-on point for any new reader.

Grade: A

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Friday, July 29, 2011

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1969

Now here's a challenging book to review.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1969 brings the three surviving members of that team up to the end of the '60s - which is a pretty good trick, since Mina is in her 90s, Allan Quartermain is over 100, and Orlando is about 3000 years old.

They've all been preserved as eternally young thanks to a swim in a certain mystical pool. They use their youth and skills to fight against the forces of evil - in the case of this issue, they're out to stop an ancient plot to create the Anti-Christ as they find themselves up against a foe whose plot extends beyond the grave.

But the story is almost secondary to the experience of reading this book. It's almost like wading through a delightful textbook of characters and events from the '60s, many of them disguised to avoid legal entanglements, no doubt.

I'm anxious to read the analysis of this issue by those who will catch the many references I no doubt missed - but you can find everything in here from Michael Moorcock creations to comic strip characters (hey, it's Andy Capp) to TV stars (Doctor Who, anyone?) and much more.

Mad Magazine was well known for loading some stories with "chicken fat" - lots of in-jokes, references and gags for readers to discover - and that's what this series is loaded with. Almost every panel features a character, a reference, a gag - it's amazing the kind of detail writer Alan Moore and artist Kevin O'Neill can squeeze in without detracting from the central characters and the ongoing plot.

This series isn't for everyone - it's often disturbing, adult in content (both for subject matter as well as language, nudity and sexual content) and very challenging to wade through.

But it's also rewarding, as it spins out a tale that's loaded with heroics, mystery and concepts that strain the imagination.

If you're a fan of Moore and O'Neill, you don't need me to tell you that they're doing amazing work here. I'm anxiously awaiting the next volume!

Grade: A

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

X-Men Schism #2 (of 5)

The second issue of X-Men Schism takes the conflict to the global stage, as countries around the world (over)react to a renegade mutant's psychic attack on the United Nations.

But even as Sentinels are activated, surprising events follow (I'm not going to spoil it for you).

We see more pieces moved into place, as the "new look" Hellfire Club makes its move.

Writer Jason Aaron provides a strong script here, with a good mix of action, humor and plot twists.

But the real star is the art by Frank Cho, who combines dramatic layouts, stunning characters, great action scenes and some entertaining touches of humor. It's a shame he's not faster - I'd love to see more work from him - but I suppose we'll have to be satisfied with these occasional gems.

I'm still waiting for the "Schism" part of the story to kick in (no signs of anything but mutual respect between Cyclops and Wolverine so far), but in the meantime, this is a solid bit of fun.

Grade: A-

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

New Comics!

My local comics shop was missing two titles from its shipment - Secret Warriors and Justice Society of America - so I'll have to catch those next week.

Here's what I picked up today:

- Avengers Academy #16 - Giant-Man in action against two of The Worthy.

- Secret Avengers #15 - The Black Widow is not happy.

- Captain America & Bucky #620 - How it all began.

- FF #7 - Hey, Black Bolt is back!

- Flashpoint: Project Superman #2 (of 3) - Secret origin!

- Incredible Hulks #633 - Hey, it's Umar!

- Kirby Genesis #2
- It's a big ol' goofy world.

- League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1969 - Alan Moore gets psychedelic.

- Next Men #8 - Some important backstory.

- The Mighty Thor #4 - Duking it out with Galactus.

- Ultimate Fallout #3 (of 6) - Checking in on Spider-friends.

- Uncanny X-Force #12 - Dealing with an alternate reality - stop me if you've heard this one before.

- X-Men Schism #2 (of 5) - Taking on the Sentinels.

And that's it!

The Classics - Walt Disney's Donald in Mathmagic Land

Since I had two older brothers, when I was a kid, comic books were always around the house.

I have no idea which comic might have been the first one I read, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was a cartoon-based character like Bugs Bunny, the Road Runner, or one of the Disney characters.

The problem with those issues is that they didn't have specific covers (they were all generic and had nothing to do with the stories within) or issue numbers on the cover, so I only have vague memories of which issues I read.

This comic is one of the rare exceptions. I always like Donald Duck best of all the Disney cartoon characters (sorry, Mickey), though I don't remember which issues I read - with one exception. This one I distinctly remember reading. (Which is something of a surprise, since it wasn't created by the "Good Duck Artist" - Carl Barks.)

Walt Disney's Donald in Mathmagic Land was originally published in 1959 (according to the indicia), but this isn't the original issue I read. My copy had long ago vanished, so I picked up this one several years back at a comics convention (for the princely sum of three bucks).

The comic tackles the difficult task of making mathematics interesting and fun - and amazingly, it succeeds!

(By the way, I'm not sure if the comic was created before or after the animated version, though I assume the cartoon came first. Both were released in 1959, but the animated film would take longer to create.)

After being tricked out of money by Uncle Scrooge McDuck, Donald realizes he needs to learn more about math, and courtesy of an extended dream sequence, he gets the grand tour, and learns about the origins of numbers and the beginnings of geometry and algebra.

It manages to keep a sometimes-difficult subject interesting and accessible - I remember reading it over and over as a kid!

I wonder how many engineers and scientists got their first spark of inspiration from this comic? (I almost went into engineering myself, until I was scared off in college by a Calculus III class.)

It was a precursor of the Schoolhouse Rocks videos that ABC-TV ran during Saturday morning cartoons.

Education and entertainment wrapped in one package - it's a concept that's now as common as a walk down Sesame Street!

Grade: A

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Flashpoint: Wonder Woman and the Furies #2 (of 3)

Yeah, I'm just not feeling the magic on this series.

Wonder Woman and the Furies gives us the background behind the war between Atlantis and the Amazons, which requires piling one implausible action on top of another until the whole story collapses under its own weight.

Which is surprising, since it's written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning - they've turned in some terrific stories in the past, but this isn't one of them.

This issue follows up on the murder of Queen Hippolyta by (it seems) an Atlantean. The Amazons cry for war, but Aquaman tries to negotiate peace with Wonder Woman. He's so anxious, he brings a delegation to Themyscira, to talk terms on the home turf of a bloodthirsty, warlike race. What could go wrong?

The answer, of course, is everything, as both sides continue to escalate the conflict and threaten to tear apart the planet in their search for vengeance.

But there's no mystery here, because the reader can see from the start that this is all part of some ridiculous scheme by the bad guys in the room to bring about conflict. Sadly, as written here, Aquaman and Diana are too dim to see the plot.

The artwork by Agustin Padilla and Jose Aviles is workmanlike and tells the story, but it's not outstanding - the story just feels very disjointed and erratic, with no real flow to the action sequences.

It's funny that Wonder Woman is supposed to be an agent of peace, yet anytime she shows up in an alternate universe, she's a cold-blooded killer.

Not sure what to make of that, but there it is.

Grade: C+

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Uncanny X-Men #541

The first appearance of the Juggernaut in an early issue of The X-Men is one of my favorite issues from that title in the 1960s.

In that issue, the Juggernaut was out for revenge over his step-brother, Professor X (Charles Xavier), and the X-Men found that, despite their best efforts, their enemy was virtually unstoppable.

This issue of the Uncanny X-Men revisits that story, updated for the Fear Itself story. The Juggernaut has been possessed by one of the Serpent's Hammers, making him even more powerful.

He is marching inexorably toward San Francisco, and it's up to the X-Men to try to stop him. It's a tall order, and it may just be an impossible task.

The story by Kieron Gillen keeps things crackling along - the previous issue set everything up, so this one is all about the throwdown between the good and bad guys with some great twists thrown in.

Greg Land's art (with inks by Jay Leisten) is quite good, with lots of hoo-hah action scenes, strong character work and some great expressions (both serious and comical) on the players. His style doesn't always work for me - his action scenes can be a bit disconnected sometimes - but it works very well here.

I'm enjoying this story a lot, although it's taking its sweet time in playing out. Still, this series has bee quite good in recent months - and I haven't been able to say that about the X-Men since the early "Astonishing" days.

Grade: A-

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sergio Aragones Funnies #1

I should confess that I'm a big fan of Sergio Aragones, going back to his work in Mad Magazine and through his extensive comic book catalogue, with Groo the Wanderer at the top of the heap.

I was also lucky enough to meet and interview him a couple of decades ago at a comics convention, and he was just a pure delight - I always knew he was wonderfully talented, and was happy to find out he was a genuinely nice guy, as well.

These days Groo only appears in occasional mini-series, so it's great to see Sergio back with a new comic series.

It would be easy to categorize Funnies as sort of a mini-Mad. It's loaded with a variety of stories, including short gags, puzzles and longer stories. But while some of the gags could easily be printed in Mad, the longer stories are different from anything in the long-lived humor magazine.

My favorite story, without a doubt, is the autobiographical tale of Sergio's experience in college, as he was asked to recruit friends to play extras in a big shoot for a Daniel Boone film. Sergio apparently has a wealth of stories like this, and they're hilarious. More like this, please.

I have to admit that I wasn't a big fan of the two puzzle pages, mostly because my eyesight isn't good enough to pick out the tiny details in his amazing artwork. But that's a small quibble - this is a terrific comic and a must-buy for any fan of Sergio.

And that's everyone who has a sense of humor, right?

Grade: A-

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Daredevil #1

One of the beautiful things about comic books is that the whole industry works on a cycle.

If there's a comic book you like, but the creative team takes it in a direction you don't care for, you just have to be patient. Very, very patient. And with luck, eventually it'll go back to the version you liked.

This issue of Daredevil is a great example. I started buying the series very early on - I think the issue where he first fights the Purple Man was the first one I read (is that issue #4?).

I loved the character - he was brash, funny and clever. He cracked jokes and used his wits to outsmart the bad guys.

Daredevil is, of course, lawyer Matt Murdock, who was blinded as a child when a radioactive cannister struck his eyes. He lost his vision, but his remaining senses were heightened, and he developed a radar sense.

Given his natural athletic gifts, he became Daredevil - a hero much like Spider-Man in style and attitude.

I liked the lighthearted Daredevil, but ever since Frank Miller's dark (but outstanding) series, the hero became more and more humorless, and recent series have left him barely human. His identity revealed, his career ruined - in Shadowlands he became a villain, for crying out loud.

But when that series finally crashed and burned, the character was put in the hands of a masterful creative team - writer Mark Waid and artist Paolo Rivera. So fnially, after years of waiting, the lighthearted Daredevil has finally returned.

Waid kicks the series off with the hero crashing a gangland wedding in order to protect a girl from kidnapping at the hands of The Spot - and it's a fun, fast and furious sequence.

We see Matt Murdoch and his best friend Foggy Nelson trying to rebuild their legal firm and uncovering a mystery in the process.

The artwork is very good - Rivera has a fresh, upbeat style that fits the mood of the title perfectly, as the action sequences are a frenetic treat.

Just one issue into the new run, and I'm sold - the original Daredevil is back in New York, and it's a fun comic to read.

Like Mom always said, "Patience hath virtue." Once again, it has paid off - here's hoping "my" version of DD sticks around for a good long while.

Grade: A-

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Friday, July 22, 2011

DC Retroactive: Wonder Woman #1 (One Shot)

Since I'm a fan of the "Mod" Wonder Woman, I had to pick up this issue in DC's Retroactive (1970s) series.

Of course, it seems almost ungrateful to point out that WW was Mod during the '60s, not the '70s.

Actually, the feature story feels much more like a '60s story written by Robert Kanigher.

Written by Denny O'Neil, the Retroractive tale jumps right into the action, as Wonder Woman approaches the island home of the Amazons, only to see it sink beneath the waves.

She's contacted by an alien creature (of some kind) that forces her to take part in a series of tests - but before she can begin, her costume is transformed into a '60s white jumpsuit.

The story doesn't make much sense (thus the Kanigher link), but I get the feeling that it will be continued in the '80s Retroactive issue (although I may be wrong there).

The art on the issue is by J. Bone, and it's a heck of a lot of fun. It's expressive, animated, energetic and full of fun. It feels like Bone is channeling a bit of Darwyn Cooke and artist Michael Sekowsky.

The issue also features a reprint in the back featuring the depowered WW fighting Catwoman - and it's a wild one, also written by Denny O'Neil, with art by Dick Giordano. And the surprise guests on the last page (not identified, though fantasy fans may recognize them) are a good hook into the next issue.

So, a fun issue if a bit silly in places. Looking forward to the next one!

Grade: B+

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Avengers #15

Certainly any Marvel hero must, at one time or another, go through the rite of passage we call: fighting the Hulk.

It's a tall order most days, but moreso now that the Fear Itself mini-series has the Hulk possessed by an ancient Asgardian demon and wielding a giant magic hammer.

So what better time for Spider-Woman to take on the big green giant? She actually has a little bit of help in this issue of The Avengers, but for the most part Ms. Marvel, The Protector (why don't they call him Captain Marvel or Marvel Boy?) and Hawkeye are out of the fight, so the vastly outmatched Spider-Woman gets her cred as a real Marvel hero.

At this point in the mini-series, the Worthy (as the demon-possessed heroes and villains are called) are impossible to beat - incredibly powerful, virtually indestructible, they defy any efforts by Earth's heroes to stop them. (Something tells me the good guys will soon discover a way to remedy that situation.)

Give Brian Bendis credit for writing a solid, entertaining story here, even though the outcome is never in doubt - but the same can"t be said about the survival of any of the heroes.

The artwork is by Chris Bachalo, and I admit I'm a bit torn on his art. His design and layouts are stunning, and he pumps life and energy into his characters - but characters are heavily distorted in some panels, to the point where they'd fit better in a cartoon.

Still, it's hard to complain - the art is fresh and inventive, and while it's not my style, there are plenty of fans who would disagree.

Bendis continues to give us hints of the bigger picture through the interviews different Avengers are conducting - some after the Fear Itself event.

It's not a bad issue at all, but it drags a bit and it never quite resolves anything.

Come to think of it, the same is true for almost every "hero fights the Hulk" story. Go figure.

Grade: B+

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Another Stack of Comics

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

- Sergio Aragones Funnies #1 - Gotta love Sergio - it's the law!

- Avengers #15 - Spider-Woman vs. the Hulk. Who will win?

- Conan: Island of No Return #2 (of 2) - Conan say, "Beware of traps." Good advice.

- Daredevil #1 - A return to happier times - thank goodness!

- Fear Itself: FF #1 (One Shot) - The Thing is having a bad day.

- Flashpoint: Wonder Woman and the Furies #2 (of 3) - How it all started.

- Herc #5 - Taking on an army with no superpowers.

- Invincible Iron Man #506 - Hanging out with Asgardian dwarves.

- Rocketeer Adventures #3
- Another all-star effort.

- Ultimate Fallout #2 (of 6) - Nice to see Bryan Hitch drawing Thor again.

- Warlord of Mars #8 - Never bring a sword to a machine gun fight.

- Retroactive: Wonder Woman #1 (One Shot) - The return of the Mod Wonder Woman? Couldn't pass that up.

- Uncanny X-Men #541 - Maybe nothing can stop the Juggernaut after all.

And that's it!

The Classics - Dr. Strange #49

Writer Roger Stern turned in long runs on series such as The Avengers, Spider-Man and Superman - but he also took part in two memorable - but short - runs.

One was on Captain America with artist John Byrne (which I'll get around to one day soon), and the other was on Dr. Strange with artist Marshall Rogers.

The two only produced six issues starring the Master of the Mystic Arts (although Stern wrote a few issues with other artists) - but their run is a largely-overlooked masterpiece.

(This issue is actually the second in the series - I just liked this iconic cover better than the one on the previous issue.)

This issue introduces a new supporting character - a woman named Morgana Blessing, who figures prominently through this "limited series." She invites Strange to her apartment not realizing she's being used to lure him into a trap, which has been set by Strange's oldest foe, Baron Mordo.

The two take part in an intense mystic battle that spills across dimensions, and wraps up with an original and downright psychedelic splash page.

Stern holds up his part of the deal with a sharp and clever story, loaded with interesting characters, menace and mystery.

The much-missed Rogers (with Terry Austin providing his usual meticulous inking) also gets to show off a bit, from terrific character work, inventive layouts and panel designs, cutting edge (for 1981) fashions and architectural designs, and fantastic battle sequences.

The only strike against the artwork is the abysmal printing Marvel was using at the time - this work deserves better reproduction than it gets here.

But even with that limitation, readers could tell they were seeing something special here - and as the story continued, they were treated to some terrific time-travel stories that fit neatly into Marvel's continuity, crossed over into Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos and the Fantastic Four, and even answered some questions from the beginning of the Silver Age!

When you think of great Dr. Strange stories, you immediately think of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Roy Thomas and Gene Colan, and Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner - but with a mere half-dozen issues, Stern and Rogers have earned a spot on that list of "top creative teams."

Highly recommended, and the whole series is well worth tracking down!

Grade: A+

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Red Wing #1 (of 4)

And now, for something completely different...

I have no idea why science fiction (in general) does not work in comic books. A significant number of stories are based loosely in the genre, but there are few "pure" or "hard" S-F comics - and when one comes along, it usually doesn't linger.

Perhaps The Red Wing will be different. It's written by Jonathan Hickman, who's one of the hottest writers in the business right now.

It tells the story of a war in the future that's being fought through time. In the face of an alien invasion, humanity has developed a radical technology to fight back using, well, fighter jets that soar through time and space.

This issue serves as a basic introduction to the concept, and there's more that we'll no doubt uncover in the issues ahead.

We also meet a couple of young cadets who hope to follow in the footsteps of their fathers.

The art is by Nick Pitarra with colors by Rachelle Rosenberg, and they make a good team, although a few panels are a bit difficult to follow. But there are some stunning pages of aerial warfare and an amazing representation of what happens when a time-traveling craft crashes.

So I'm thrilled to see an intelligent S-F story in a comic, and while it's too early to make a final judgment, so far I like what I see.

Grade: B+

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Lady Mechanika #2

This is a title that requires patience.

It's been seven months since the first issue of this series appeared, and while there's no denying the quality of the art, that's a long wait between issues.

The steampunk story follows the adventures of Lady Mechanika, an adventuress with a mysterious past - one she's trying desperately to sort out.

The story is written and drawn by Joe Benitez, and the art is fantastic. It's loaded with amazing machines, dark environments and unusual characters, but the real star is the Lady - a stunning beauty with compelling red eyes and an amazing and ever-changing wardrobe.

As a writer, Benitez needs more work - this story is very wordy and the characters spend too much time standing around and talking, instead of actually doing. The major action scene is one of those silly movie sequences where the bad guys have guns drawn and pointed at the protagonist, who still manages to draw a gun and return fire without being perforated. Still, it's all in good fun.

The story is also spooling out slowly - we don't really learn much about Mechanika's history here. That's not a problem with a monthly comic, but for a "seven-monthly" comic, it might be a good idea to streamline (steamline?) things a bit.

Grade: B+

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ultimate Fallout #1 (of 6)

Despite the Ultimate Fallout title, this is actually the next issue of Ultimate Spider-Man.

It picks up where that series left off, with Peter Parker (apparently) dead, and his secret identity no longer a secret.

This issue checks in with the entire supporting cast as they cope with the (apparent) loss of their loved one.

I keep saying (apparent) because nowhere in this issue do we see the body - and in comics, they ain't dead until you see the body, and even that usually isn't proof.

But I have to admit, they do seem to be sticking to their guns here. Certainly the grief expressed (each character in his or her own way) is genuine and touching.

Writer Brian Bendis is again teamed with his longtime co-creator on Ultimate Spidey, artist Mark Bagley - and the focus here is entirely on the raw emotions of the characters, from anger to insight to recriminations and great sadness.

It's fine work by all involved (though it tries a bit too hard to wring a few tears out of you), and it'll be interesting to see how they wrap this up and bring us a new Spider-Man.

Assuming that's the plan, of course.

Grade: A-

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Captain America #1

Even though I've been a fan of the character... well, practically since I started reading comic books in the '60s, I've always thought that Captain America would be a really difficult comic to write.

That's because he is, basically, a big Boy Scout - square, old-fashioned, almost incapable of making mistakes (sort of like Superman).

Shows what I know.

In the hands of a talented writer, Cap's adventures really come to life - and he's had some top wordsmiths crafting his stories over the years, from his beginnings under Joe Simon and Jack Kirby to his rebirth at the hands of Stan Lee, a brief fling with Jim Steranko, excellence by Steve Englehart, another brief but excellent run by Roger Stern and John Byrne, a vastly-underrated long run by Mark Gruenwald, outstanding work by Mark Waid, and now a long, rich run by Ed Brubaker. (No doubt I'm forgetting some fine writers in this "off the top of my head" list.)

Thankfully, Brubaker continues his excellent run on this (renumbered) series. He makes Steve Rogers a real person, relating to friends, mourning a loss, but swinging into action when danger arises.

This issue is a great jumping-on point - and just in time for the new movie. I'm amazed at how many times the comics industry has missed the chance to offer new readers (who might be drawn in by a film) a good place to start reading.

The issue starts with a funeral for a long-time friend of Cap's - an old ally from World War II. That sparks an attack from an old foe (though one that's new to us), and Cap finds himself - and his friends - targets of a deadly opponent.

Brubaker is working with artist Steve McNiven, and his work here is outstanding. Lush, vivid and dynamic, he 's equally at home in quiet character moments and raucous action scenes. Each character is distinct and alive, and the scenery is stunning.

So this series is off to an excellent (re)start here. Hopefully the movie is as good!

Grade: A-

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Green Lantern #67

This issue marks the final chapter in the War of the Green Lanterns, but the story doesn't so much conclude as it just runs out of gas.

It's shocking, really, given writer Geoff Johns' usual superior efforts - but this one doesn't work on many levels.

It's the old problem of building up an impossible menace - in this case, the mad Guardian Krona and the seven Guardians possessed by the powerful emotional entities that power the different Lantern Corps. Outpowered and outmatched, how can the Green Lantern Corps hope to stand against them?

The best solutions to problems like that are the clever, "I didn't see that one coming" variety - but here, the answer is of the "hammer over the head" variety.

Perhaps it was a case of trying to squeeze too much into one series, or just having to accelerate the story to make room for the upcoming "soft" reboot.

Whatever the case, this story was a rare letdown from Johns.

Even the art by the always-terrific Doug Mahnke seems a bit rushed - but more likely, it's just the effect of having four different inkers working on the issue.

I'm a big fan of the series, but I think this story just got away from the creative team. Hopefully the upcoming issue #1 will bring things back into focus.

Grade: B-

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

X-Men: Schism #1 (of 5)

I'll give this book credit - it's completely different from my expectations.

The advertisements I'd seen for X-Men: Schism seemed to indicate a violent rift between the mutants who make up the X-Men. The ads pictured Cyclops and Wolverine battling each other directly, and one pictured Cyclops' visor split into four sections by (presumably) Wolverine's claws.

In other words, I was expecting another Civil War (Marvel's version, not the "War Between the States").

Since I wasn't a fan of that series, the good news is, this issue tells a completely different story.

It focuses on the two heroes on the cover working together to confront the United Nations about the existence of Sentinels in every country - obviously created to hunt and destroy mutants.

The story by Jason Aaron seems to be trying to make a political statement, but it's all very muddy. Is he decrying the hypocrisy of the U.N., which is (according to this story) apparently filled with criminals? Is he equating mutants with terrorists, are are they weapons of mass destruction? Should countries be able to build defense mechanisms against super-powered beings, or should all those devices be destroyed? And do mutants have the right to demand the human race disarm?

Lots of interesting questions, but it all gets tossed into the same basket and ends up a jumble.

Kudos to Carlos Pacheco and Cam Smith for some outstanding artwork here. The characters are spot on and the action scenes are short but mighty impressive.

The mini-series is off to an interesting start, but it'll have to be careful to avoid just being another "Attack of the Sentinels" story.

It's encouraging that this is all happening on a global scale - that certainly helps kick it up a notch. It's too early to tell if the story's going to work or not - but it's a decent start.

Grade: B+

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Boatload of Comics

I picked up a ridiculous amount of comics today (even for me).

I got:

- Alpha Flight #2 (of 8) - Fighting amongst themselves.

- New Avengers #14 - Lots of fearful stuff happening.

- Booster Gold #46 - Taking on Doomsday.

- Breed III #3 - A special guest star that some Starlin fans will recognize.

- Captain America #1 - They should make a movie with this guy!

- The Defenders (One-Shot) - Busiek and Bagley? And this was sitting on a shelf somewhere? What the heck?

- Doc Savage #16 - This story just keeps on going...

- FF #6 - Black Bolt? Isn't he dead? (Silly question.)

- Flashpoint: Emperor Aquaman #2 (of 3) - The war continues.

- Gladstone's School for World Conquerors #3 - A fun book.

- Green Lantern #67 - The (unexpected) end of the war.

- Green Lantern Corps #61 - Aftermath.

- Hellboy: The Fury #2 (of 3) - Now that's a war.

- Incredible Hulks #632 - Monstrous problems!

- Journey Into Mystery #625 - That Loki, he's a tricky one.

- Lady Mechanika #2 - So this is, like, an annual?

- Mystery Men #3 (of 5) - This has been very good so far.

- The Red Wing #1 (of 4) - Time-traveling Jet Pilots? I'm there!

- Ultimate Fallout #1 (of 6) - Time for a funeral.

- X-Men: Schism #1 (of 5) - It's like Civil War, only with mutants.

And that's it! (Whew!)

The Classics - E-Man #1

Here's one of those "lost treasures" - a series that never quite got the attention it deserved.

Published with a cover date of October 1973 by Charlton Comics, I have vague memories of finding this issue of E-Man in one of the early incarnations of a comics shop. This one sold used comics and arts and crafts supplies, which always seemed like an odd combination.

The comic tells about a strange energy being that somehow achieved sentience after a star explodes. While drifting in space, he encounters an alien race that threatens life on Earth. He arrives on the planet and meets a new friend, a beautiful college student named Nova Kane, who's paying for college by being an exotic dancer. (I know, what are the odds?)

With her guidance, the sentient energy takes the form of a man and bases his costume on Einstein's Theory of Relativity - so the logo on his chest is E=mc2 - or E-Man for short. Together he and Nova track down the alien ship and deal with the menace.

E-Man was an original creation written by Nicola Cuti (who was writing tons of stuff at Charlton at the time) and an artist I had never seen before - Joe Staton.

The writing had a fresh streak of humor in it, and the art was a perfect match. Staton's style was deceptively simple (today it might be considered an animated style), but I liked it immediately - it was fresh, expressive and made the characters very appealing.

E-Man's powers included shape-shifting, and that gave Staton lots of room for some Plastic Man-style visuals.

Another thing that made the series fun was the variety of backup strips, which over the course of the run included work by John Byrne, Tom Sutton, Steve Ditko and Wayne Howard.

The series was never a big hit - it lasted for 10 issues at Charlton, 25 in a revival at First Comics and has been seen in occasional mini-series and one-shots since then. It's a shame, because there was great potential in the series, and those original stories are a real treat.

Humor is such a rare quantity in comics these days - we could always use some more.

Grade: B+

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Moon Knight #3

This new series is off to a strong start, thanks to its unique premise.

The story focuses on Moon Knight (Marc Spector), who is apparently one crazy (non-powered) super-hero.

In he first issue, we see Moon Knight talking with three fellow Avengers - Spider-Man, Wolverine and Captain America.

They're working together to try to bring down a new kingpin of crime in Los Angeles - or are they? The nature of the series brings almost anything Spector says or does into question.

It's a brilliant idea, but it also puts the whole series on shaky ground, as we sometimes struggle to determine what is real and what is in the hero's fevered imagination.

After a strong and surprising first two issues, this one is a bit off the mark. Writer Brian Bendis is well known for creating strong dialogue, but that fills up far too much of this issue, which is dedicated to Spector putting together his support team.

The artwork by Alex Maleev is, as always, distinctive, inventive and a pure delight. It's especially impressive since the issue is almost completely made up of quiet scenes - discussions, meetings, that sort of thing.

Because of that, this issue is a bit of a letdown, though it's setting the foundation for future issues. I expect things will pick up considerably next time around.

Grade: B+

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Ozma of Oz #8 (of 8)

This issue wraps up Marvels' adaptations of the first three Oz books by L. Frank Baum, and what a delight they've been!

In Ozma of Oz, the title character works with Dorothy, Billina, Tik-Tok, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, the Hungry Tiger and the (laughable) Army of Oz to try to rescue a queen and her 10 children from the Nome King.

It's no simple task - they're trapped in his underground fortress and the King commands an army of Nomes - and he has a magic belt that allows him to do just about anything, including turn his opponents into ornaments.

But the King has a weakness - one that makes it very handy indeed to have a chicken on hand.

Once again, Eric Shanower writes a perfect adaptation, giving each character just the right amount of stage time - and the proper voice - to play their part. It's amazing that something written so long ago (the original story, that is) can still feel so fresh and new.

I've about run out of superlatives for Skottie Young's art - it's just pure delight and invention from start to finish - funny without being silly or childish, inventive without poking you in the eye for effect, and always in service to the story. Just a great talent, and one to watch closely in the years ahead.

There's a reason why the Oz books have stood the test of time and still have a devoted following today - they're clever, loaded with great characters and imaginative situations. And there's something wonderful about seeing a scrappy girl from the Midwest standing up to powerful enemies and winning the day!

If you haven't been following this series, shame on you - you're missing some of the best comics around. Thankfully, there are collections out there to enjoy - and more stories on the way, as September brings us the beginning of the adaptation of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz!

What a great time to be reading comics!

Grade: A

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Flashpoint: Secret Seven #2 (of 3)

According to rumors there's a future for this title - it's expected that it will be part of the upcoming Justice League Dark (or at least the characters will) - and that's fine by me, because this has been a very interesting title so far.

We continue to follow Shade the Changing Man, who may (or may not) be insane. He summons the members of the Secret Seven, but even that takes a strange and possibly deadly form (although by the end of the issue, you'll know who most of the Seven are - it didn't stay a secret for long).

The story by Peter Milligan takes us "backstage" with some of the Seven, and none of them seem too happy to be around Shade. Especially the ones he (apparently) killed.

It's an odd, rambling story that pays off with a shocking final page - but it's entertaining to see Shade bringing the "band back together."

Other than the (terrific) cover, the artwork isn't by George Perez this time around. Thankfully, the art by Fernando Blanco and Scott Koblish is quite good, with some stunning pages. I especially like the visualization of Shade's powers.

I'm looking forward to the wrap-up of this issue (and Flashpoint) and the (possible) future of the team as an offshoot of the JLA.

Grade: A-


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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Elric: The Balance Lost #1

While it was Robert E. Howard's Conan books that first got me hooked on fantasy, it was Michael Moorcock's Elric stories that really opened my eyes to the infinite possibilities.

For years I haunted "Used Book" stores, trying to track down the stories about the strange hero. A prince of Melnibone, the albino warrior is slight of build but fights the forces of chaos with magic and an ebony sword called Stormbringer.

Unlike the stories of most heroes (where a more-or-less happy ending was assured), Elric's stories had a tragic bent to them - which is understandable, since his sword gave him strength by drinking the souls of its victims.

I think I've read all (or almost all) of Elric's adventures, and I'm a big fan. That character has been adapted for comics by some really talented writers and artists over the years, including Barry Windsor-Smith, Roy Thomas, P. Craig Russell and Walt Simonson.

Now the character is back in a new series, and I wish I could say it was great.

It isn't.

The art by Francesco Biagini has its moments, but it doesn't capture the exotic nature or locales in the story - all the art just feels flat, the characters doughy.

But that could be forgiven if the story by Chris Roberson had been compelling. Instead of focusing on the title character, the issue is loaded with sidetrips to different incarnations of the Eternal Champion, one of Moorcock's most clever creations - but here it's like they're trying to squeeze as many characters as possible into one issue. As a result we meet Elric, the modern-day videogame programmer Eric Beck, Dorian Hawkmoon and Corum. Each one just gets a small slice of the story.

Even worse, the modern-day portion features a political subplot that's dopey. Part of that is just me - I generally don't care for political commentary in comics, no matter which side of the political spectrum you prefer - but if you must include it, at least make it intelligent or subtle. This is neither.

Political machinations over kingdoms or worlds is one thing. Modern day political infighting? Yawn.

So, it's all a real disappointment. There's none of the edge, the lyrical mysticism, the dark heroism that are the hallmarks of the character. I have to admit, I'm amazed Moorcock signed off on this adaptation.

All that potential, and so far, almost none of it realized.

Grade: D

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Friday, July 8, 2011

Fear Itself #4 (of 7)

As we hit the halfway point for Fear Itself we find the Earth in a bad spot - caught between a foe of incredible power (the Serpent) and the threat of destruction from Odin (who seems to have adopted the "we had to destroy the village to save it" philosophy).

Standing up for Earth are the Avengers, but they seem to be up against an unbeatable foe, as eight powerful humans (including the Hulk, the Thing, Juggernaut and the Absorbing Man) have been possessed by hammers of incredible power.

We see the follow-up to last issue's shocking death, and we can't help but wonder if more death might be on the way - especially considering that final page.

Writer Matt Fraction continues to weave a powerful story about ancient evil and the courage it takes to stand up in the face of genuine fear. His characterizations of Thor, Steve Rogers and Iron Man are especially spot on.

As for the art - well, I've raved many times about Stuart Immonen's work, and he continues to turn in page after page of powerful, stunning art. (Did I mention that last page?)

This series is building nicely, and next issue promises to be a classic Marvel fight-to-the-finish between powerhouses. I can't wait!

Grade: A-

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Flashpoint #3 (of 5)

I've been enjoying the Flashpoint series so far, but it occurs to me that this really shouldn't be an event comic.

It would have been a really impressive storyline in the Flash's own comic - but here, puffed up into an "Event," it just seems almost insubstantial, like an Imaginary Story on steroids.

It's the problem with "alternate reality" stories - in a story where anything can happen, does anything really count?

This issue picks up where the last one left off, as the Flash (Barry Allen) tries to convince the Flashpoint version of Batman to help him regain his powers before his memories of the "real" world fade away.

We also get a few hints about other events around the world, such as the freedom fighters in the United Kingdom and some of the secrets behind Project Superman.

As always, Geoff Johns writes a solid story, and this beast of a story really starts moving here. The art by Andy Kubert and Sandra Hope is outstanding, of course, with amazing depictions of frantic action and intense emotional encounters.

So far we still have no idea how the mess that the Reverse Flash has made of the timeline can ever be sorted out - but it's great fun following along.

But I still think having more than a dozen "sidebar" titles is a bit much.

Grade: A-

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Comics!

I picked up these comics today:

- Elric: The Balance Lost #1 - Looks like they're going the "Eternal Champion" route.

- Fear Itself #4 (of 7) - Turning points.

- Flashpoint #3 (of 5) - Looking for the Justice League.

- Flashpoint: Secret Seven #2 (of 3) - This is a strange one.

- Irredeemable #27
- Finally at the end of the alien prison story.

- Jonah Hex #69 - Family reunion.

- Moon Knight #3
- That is one crazy hero.

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

- Uncanny X-Men #540 - Taking on the Juggernaut.

I was going to pick up Solomon Kane, but my shop didn't get its order. Bummer.

And that's it!

The Classics - Fantastic Four Annual #3

I'm amazed that I haven't reviewed Fantastic Four Annual #3 before now, because it is, I believe, my all-time favorite (single issue) comic book.

That doesn't mean it's the best comic book ever made, or even the best drawn.

Before you brand me a heretic for talking that way about writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby, let me explain.

As I wrote in my review of Fantastic Four #43 (it's number four on my list of the "Top Ten Lee-Kirby FF Issues"), I bought this comic when it was issued in 1965, sold it almost immediately and bought another copy.

That copy I read until (years later) the cover came off, so I bought an extra copy - and that's where the above scan came from.

The event being covered is the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm - an event my 9-year-old self wasn't too interested in. But what made the issue a permanent classic is the fact that it includes virtually every single Marvel hero and villain, locked in a deadly battle and all crammed into a mere 23 pages!

It is a pure example of Stan and Jack in their prime, as the action flies fast and furious, the story is loaded with humor, and heroes battle bad guys they've never seen before. For example: the X-Men battle the Mole Man, Daredevil tackles the hordes of Hydra, Thor fights the Super-Skrull, Iron Man battles the Mad Thinker's Android - and on and on!

Now, the ending is a bit too convenient, but the gag in the final panels more than makes up for it.

Oh, the art - as always, Kirby provides incredibly dynamic action sequences that fly off the page. The problem is, the story is inked by Vince Colletta. I don't hate his inking (unlike many Kirby fans) - but while his inks were perfect on The Mighty Thor, for some reason they didn't work as well on the FF - I have no idea why. (Perhaps he was better suited to fantasy than science fiction?)

Joe Sinnott, for my money, will always be the best Kirby inker, and thankfully he had a long, glorious run on the FF.

The annual also reprints FF # 6 (the first team-up for Dr. Doom and the Sub-Mariner) and FF #11 (the first appearance of the Impossible Man). And all that for a quarter!

There are other things to rave about - Kirby uses a photo collage (his first?), that amazing cover that's crammed with characters, a guest appearance by Patsy and Hedy - you get the idea.

There are also mysteries that are never solved. Why is Kirby's drawing of Spider-Man replaced with a stat of a Steve Ditko Spidey figure? Why is the World War II-era Sgt. Fury on the cover and Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD? Why is Kid Colt on the cover? Who tried to drop a safe on Hawkeye?

But none of that detracts from this fun-loving adventure. It may not be the greatest story, it may not have the best art, but it's a heck of a lot of fun from start to finish. Every time I read it I feel like a kid again. I love it!

Grade: A+


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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Justice Society of America #52

It was about 26 issues ago that Geoff Johns ended his run as a writer for the Justice Society of America, and even though some talented writers have taken a shot at it, no one has been able to restore the team to its former heights.

It's a shame, because it's a book with limitless potential - and it's notably not on the list of the 52 "new" titles kicking off the upcoming DC reboot.

So is the team being sent back to Earth-2? Is it returning a little further down the line? Or is it being canceled?

A new approach is definitely needed. Writer Marc Guggenheim has two stories running through this issue, and neither one is particularly compelling. One concerns a mysterious gigantic door hidden below the city where the Flash (Jay Garrick) has become Mayor. (Honest!) The other story focuses on Mr. Terrific, who tries to solve the mystery behind his recent loss of intelligence.

Both stories are mostly annoying and neither one delivers a straight answer, although I'll give some credit to the story about the door for bringing in some beloved guest stars (although I thought one of the guests was dead).

The art by Tom Derenick is quite good and establishes the mood very well - but it can't overcome a lackluster story.

This is a team with an army of great heroes from the past and present to choose from - unlimited potential - but for two years now, the stories have been uninspired. The upcoming reboot offers a good chance to make a fresh start. Hopefully, DC will make the most of it.

Grade: C

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Uncanny X-Men #539

Back in the 1970s Marvel tried to combat the "Dreaded Deadline Doom" by having generic, "evergreen" one-issue stories prepared and kept on file so they could drop them into the schedule if a creative team missed a deadline.

Those issues always stood out, of course, especially when they popped up in the middle of a continued story.

I say all that because this issue of Uncanny X-Men feels for all the world like a generic story that was pulled out of the file to fill a space in the schedule.

That may be unfair - perhaps this one-issue story has been on the schedule all along - but it doesn't do much to advance any ongoing storylines. It's just a "done in one" story that brings together Hope and Wolverine.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad issue (there were plenty of those on exhibit in those fill-in stories in the '70s) - but it's not up to the standards of the most recent story.

Writer Kieron Gillen gives us a generic story about Hope being kidnapped and Wolverine coming to her rescue. There are some silly bits about why Wolverine is doing this alone, there are some decent action sequences - but about all the story accomplishes is to show us that Hope is tough as nails.

The art by Ibraim Roberson is solid, with some striking panels on display, but the coloring gives it all a washed-out look that seems to work against the grim nature of the story.

I'm not sure if the fill-in stories went away or if Marvel just got better at disguising them - and again, I'm not sure if this story falls into that category - but this issue definitely has that "you could skip this issue and not miss much" feel to it.

Grade: C+


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