Monday, October 31, 2011

FF #11

Happy Halloween, everyone!

It's not unusual for the creative team on the Fantastic Four to go to the stock supporting characters and villains, but few (if any) have done so in as many creative and unexpected ways as writer Jonathan Hickman.

His latest story has been winding its way through the Human Torch-less FF and is reaching its climax with next month's Fantastic Four #600.

He's using some of the book's classic characters in unusual ways - for instance, the Inhumans have been retooled, the Kree are back in a big way, and the Earth is facing deadly threats from several different angles. Oh, and there's still no sign that Johnny Storm is still alive (wink, wink).

The main criticism of Hickman's series is that you can't just pick up an issue anywhere and follow along - and that's true. But if you have been following, you've been treated to a big story that never forgets the heart at the core of the FF family.

The art by Barry Kitson (and a small army of inkers) is outstanding, and he gets to draw a few mind-blowing events in this issue.

The series is highly recommended, especially to those who've been around long enough to know the characters involved. They're in very good hands here.

Grade: A-

--------------

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Secret Avengers #18

Do remember the work Warren Ellis did on Planetary, as a small group of operatives tackled some amazing "Fringe Science" threats to the universe?

Well, he's doing it again in the pages of Secret Avengers.

The last three issues have each been "done-in-one" adventures wherein a small group of heroes, led by Steve Rogers (in his Super Soldier guise), have tackled some amazing threats to our world.

Each one has been intelligent, cutting-edge and extremely entertaining.

This time around he uses one of my favorite characters, Shang-Chi, to great effect, as the team invades a space station (of sorts) where guns can't be used. Sharon Carter also gets a chance to shine here.

The art is outstanding, as David Aja and Raul Allen create an environment that almost hurts to look at, as the laws of physics bend. The action is well-staged and brutal in its execution, and it's great to see Shang-Chi going all "Bruce Lee" on the bad guys (though it's a bit graphic in places).

Oh, and speaking of Planetary, the cover by the artist of that series, John Cassaday, is amazing.

The comic is smart, fast and sharp as can be. Highly recommended, especially if you're a fan of Ellis' work on Planetary.

More like this, please.

Grade: A

----------------

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Incredible Hulk #1

Every time a new creative team takes over the adventures of The Incredible Hulk, they seem to feel the need to invent a bold new direction.

As a general rule that's fine. The Hulk is largely a blank slate and a strong enough concept that his adventures can fit many different styles, from the classic "dumb Hulk" to the gray "mobster Hulk" to "intelligent Hulk" and the more recent "Hulk Family."

One of the most radical changes was at the hands of the last team, as writer Greg Pak created Planet Hulk and the years of excellent stories that spooled out from that.

Now it's time for another reboot, another issue #1, and yet another take on the Hulk. This time around, it's writer Jason Aaron at the helm, and the story - as near as I can tell - is a mess.

It starts off with the title character seemingly back on Planet Hulk, fighting gigantic monsters and trying to survive.

But things aren't what they seem, and the Hulk has changed as well. Somehow he's been split from Bruce Banner (we don't know how), and now Banner is acting like - well, like a ripoff of a famous character create by H.G. Wells.

In the meantime Hulk is attacked by somebody who wants his help, but only after wreaking untold destruction and (presumably) death. Did I mention that the story is a mess?

The art is by Marc Silvestri, who has a strong style and a huge following, but I have to admit I'm not a big fan. His style is (to my eyes) very over-rendered, with loads of sketchy lines covering everything - there's scarcely an open space on the page.

The action scenes are chaotic, and there are many panels where I'm not sure what's happening.

Look, the Hulk has been through good stories and bad, and the character will survive this (heck, he survived the "mindless Hulk" storyline and the Bruce Jones "everything is a mystery" arc).

But for a bold new start, this all seems very... derivative.

Grade: C+

----------------

Friday, October 28, 2011

Aquaman #2


If you read my review of the first issue of Aquaman, I could save both of us a lot of time by just saying, "More of the same here."

But that sounds a little too laid-back for what is, after all, one of the better of the "New 52" comics.

We start with the menace this time around, as a fishing boat is attacked by a strange race of (for lack of a better term) man-like pirana that have arisen from the bottom of an ocean trench.

They're hunting for food and (apparently) slaughtering every living creature they meet.

Which brings us to Aquaman, who's enjoying some quiet time with his stunning wife Mera. Their discussion is interrupted when a policeman arrives to ask for their help in an investigation over the attack on the boat - and that puts Aquaman into the heart of the action.

Ther's a lot to like here. The artwork by Ivan Reis is very good, with horrific monsters, powerful heroes, beautiful women, great action sequences and great attention to detail.

I like Geoff Johns' story - it makes Aquaman a bit easier to relate to and sets up a great conflict for the opening story arc.

I'm glad they toned down the graphic violence a bit here, although there's still plenty on display.

My only criticism has to do with the story itself, which is spooling out very slowly.

Next time around, let's home more is better.

- Grade: B+

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Wolverine and the X-Men #1

OK, so after much internal discussion I decided to give this first issue of the new Wolverine and the X-Men a try.

I made the decision based on the expressive, animated art by Chris Bachalo and a few early reviews I'd seen. They were praising the book - and I can see why.

Unlike most of the deadly serious X-books out there, this one has a definite sense of humor (although the characters don't show much sense along the way).

It starts with the opening of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, built on the ruins of Charles Xavier's X-mansion. And a wild-looking building it is - it looks like something out of DisneyWorld by way of Star Wars.

The Headmasters are Wolverine and Kitty Pryde, and the issue is dedicated to an exploration of the new building and the cast of characters who fill it.

They face a number of challenges, especially the indifference by everyone at the school to the inspection that could shut the building down. It's all played or laughs, right up to the final page that reveals a truly strange menace that could cut the school year short.

I have to admit - I enjoyed this issue. After far too many X-Men stories that are deadly serious and have the fate of the world hanging in the balance, it's nice to see one that isn't afraid to have fun.

What we have here is a very good start.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Comic Book Day!

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

- Aquaman #2 - This has been good, though this one looks a bit gory.

- Secret Avengers #18 - Was thinking of giving this up, but Warren Ellis writing and Shang-Chi guest starring won me over.

- Avengers Academy #20 - The old order changeth!

- Breed III #6 - Teaming up with Dreadstar? How awesome is that?

- Captain America and Bucky #623 - The horrors of war.

- Daredevil #5 - An assassin targets DD!

- FF #11 - Building up to Fantastic Four #600.

- The Flash #2 - Think fast!

- The Incredible Hulk #1 - Yay for first issues!

- Journey Into Mystery #630 - the Aftermath of Fear Itself - and Volstagg tells a bedtime story!

- Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz #2 (of 8) - Great series!

- The Red Wing #4 (of 4) - Fun with time travel.

- Spaceman #1 - It was only a buck.

- The Mighty Thor #7 - The adventures of Odin as a boy!

- Wolverine and the X-Men #1 - Another number one!

And that's it!

The Classics - Archie and Me #80

While I've managed to hang onto a good percentage of the comics I've bought over the years, there are some titles that I didn't keep - and now I regret it.

One of those would be the dozens of issues of assorted Archie comics that I bought, read and then discarded (mostly by trading with friends for other comics).

When I was very young, kids my age read cartoon-based comics - Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, etc. Those were read and lost to the ages.

As I got a little older, I gravitated to comics starring Archie Andrews (and they were legion). They were funny and they felt a little more "grown up" - if just for the fact that there was romance involved and these were stories about kids who were in high school - perhaps it would help us prepare for that?

The art was a bit on the cartoony side, but - based on the work of the great Dan DeCarlo - it seemed more mature than the usual animation style, and it also managed to evoke the latest styles, fashions and trends in a way that very few comic books did.

The stories were usually light but fun - a variation on Archie's attempts to romance either Betty or Veronica, or his clashes with authority (most notably the school principal, Mr. Weatherbee), or general hijinks with friends like Jughead.

But the stories manage - amazingly enough - to hold a timeless quality. This issue of Archie and Me is a good example (it was published in 1976, so it's several years after I was first buying Archie's comics - but it's one of the few older issues I still own).

It includes four stories, and only the fashions (and an offhand reference to the energy shortage) give away the publishing date. Among the stories: Archie fights to save a tiny plant from the ravages of winter, only to find an unexpected ally in Mr. Weatherbee; the kids and Weatherbee clash with the school's cook, the cranky Mrs. Beazly; Archie accidentally destroys Mr. Weatherbee's clothes and winds up in an odd costume; and Archie's suggestions wreak havok on the school - and have surprising results.

So, a few laughs, some fine art (sadly, the artists and writers aren't identified), and four average-at-best stories. It was typical for the time, and while it doesn't do much for the adult version of yours truly, it's a comic the teen Chuck would have enjoyed (though the book needed more of Archie's usual supporting cast).

The issues I've read in recent years continue the tried-and-true formula, and that's one of the strengths of the series - it's always in tune with modern events and usually a step ahead of the latest fashion, so it resonates with young readers. And at the center of each story is a group of likeable characters we care about and identify with - and the story is almost always entertaining, funny or thoughtful.

But as it took me a while to realize, Archie isn't just for kids - we geezers like these stories, too.

(And you know, I'd swear I had a shirt in the late '70s just like the one Jughead's wearing on the cover.)

Grade: C+

----------------

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Wonder Woman #2

Well, there's no doubt about it - this is not a Wonder Woman for little girls.

Last issue the Amazon Princess rescued a woman who was being attacked by two horrific monsters. This issue takes us to Paradise Island, where Diana hopes to find refuge and protection for that woman who carries a big secret.

But as the cover indicates, Diana finds herself in the middle of a deadly battle where the ancient gods have little concern for the lives of mortals - including the Amazons.

It's another gritty, grisly story by writer Brian Azzarello, but the most interesting thing about it is the confrontation between Diana and a goddess - and the (potential) revelation on the final page, which could change what we know of Wonder Woman in a significant way.

I really like the art by Cliff Chiang - the characters are expressive, the locations lush, and the action sequences are a lot of fun. His style is unique and very enjoyable, while maintaining the dark feel of the book.

I like the story, too, although it bothers me that this character that should be accessible to young readers really isn't appropriate for kids, but it seems to be the norm at DC these days.

Speaking as a grownup reader, it's interesting to see Wonder Woman traveling in some dark directions, and it's a refreshing change from the days when no one knew what to do with the character. At least now she has a mission.

Grade: A-

------------------

Monday, October 24, 2011

Uncanny X-Men #544

This is the final issue of Uncanny X-Men (well, not really, but let's pretend).

The old "relaunch with a new #1" bit has become standard procedure as a way to boost sales and reader interest (DC's "New 52" being the ultimate example), so it's no surprise to see Marvel "pulling the plug" on its oldest continually-numbered-and-never- renumbered-until-now title.

There is a slight danger in starting over, of course. What makes a good jumping-on point for some also makes a good jumping-off point for others. Like me, for instance.

I've followed the X-Men virtually since the beginning. I think issue #5 was my first issue - or was it #3? I've followed it through the high points (Lee and Kirby, Thomas and Adams, Claremont and Cockrum and Byrne and Smith and Lee, Whedon and Cassaday, and there are others I'm forgetting). I've followed it through the low points (they are legion).

But aside from a few stories here are there in the past several years, this is a series that has been coasting on its reputation. Once the best comic in the industry, it's become a victim of its own success - so instead of one really incredible X-Men comic every month, we have dozens of X-Family comics.

It waters down the brand and leaves the franchise, well, dull. For quite a few years I've only been buying the flagship title and an occasional tie-in that looks interesting (right now I'm enjoying the Uncanny X-Force, for example).

But with the new #1, I've been seriously considering dropping the title. I probably won't decide until I see the issue at the comics shop - I'll give it a quick look and decide if I want to start over.

Right now, I'm on the fence - I hate to give up a title I've followed so long, but it feels like it might be the right time.

Oh, I haven't reviewed this final issue, have I? Nice, low-key wrap-up with some nice tips of the hat to the original concept and the first issue. Excellent art and a killer double-page splash that flashes back on the team's history. Makes Cyclops look like a jerk. Story by Kieron Gillen and art by Greg Land and Jay Leisten.

Is it the end or a new beginning for me? Stay tuned...

Grade: B

--------------

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Batman #2

One of the tricks to crafting a good Batman story is providing him with a worthy opponent.

His Rogue's Gallery is the usual place where writers go to tackle that problem, but those characters are well-worn. That's why I think writer Scott Snyder is smart to create a new challenge for the Dark Knight.

I won't spoil the identity of his opponent(s) in this issue, but it's a promising creation.

I like the fact that this series (so far) has managed a good balance between both Batman and Bruce Wayne, and the fact that Batman actually uses his detective skills to try to unravel a mystery.

But most of all, I like the vision of Batman as less the grim avenger and more the athletic daredevil, managing hair-raising stunts with a grim smile. That's the Batman I most fondly remember from the stories I read as a youth, and it's good to see that element showing up again.

The art by Greg Capullo is excellent - moody and dark, and Gotham City is a living, breathing part of the story. As with last issue, I could do with a bit less gore, but that's apparently a key part of the "New DC."

Still the best of the Bat-books by far!

Grade: A-


--------------

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Avengers #18

It's an entirely unplanned bit of synchronicity that I recently reviewed the original Avengers #16, which was the first "change the team's line-up" story, and now I'm reviewing Avengers #18, which is the newest take on that tale.

But it's a story that has ties not only to Fear Itself, but also previous "Events" like Civil War and Secret Invasion, and it looks like the Avengers aren't the only ones putting a new team together.

While this issue is obviously designed to take care of old business and set up future storylines, I have to admit that I'm not sure why Captain America decides to make a line-up change, since he just needs to replace those who didn't survive the attack of the Serpent (presumably that'll be explained next issue).

Still, it's a strong showing for Cap, as he takes on the leadership role with a fervor that seemed to be missing the last time around. Brian Bendis does his usual stellar work crafting the sharp dialogue here.

The issue also marks the first for new artist Daniel Acuna. I wasn't sure how his style would work on the Avengers, but I like it a lot. His style in unique and gives the issue a painted look that feels "real" without being overly concerned with being realistic, if that makes sense. He moves from Cinemascope splash pages to small moments of personal anguish with surprising ease.

So where does the team go from here? That's going to be the fun part over the next issue (or more), and as per that last page, a big showdown is in the works.

Grade: A-

-----------------

Friday, October 21, 2011

Justice League #2

The good news is, the second issue of Justice League is much better than the first.

The bad news is, after two full issues telling the origin of the team, we've still only met four heroes (five, if you count the one who isn't a hero yet). In the first issue, we only met three heroes, and the last one showed up on the final page.

This issue uses the classic Marvel shtick of "heroes meet, fight because of a misunderstanding, then team up." It's an oldie and a goodie, because it works - it gives the heroes a chance to show what they can do, and as the characters meet each other, the new reader learns more about them.

It's a model of efficiency, and it's managed well here - with one exception. Batman has to face an angry Superman at the beginning of the issue, and while I don't expect the Dark Knight to defeat the Man of Steel, I would certainly expect him to put up more of a fight than he does here.

Green Lantern and the Flash are used well here, and it's nice that they've teamed up before this story (though perhaps a bit annoying to think they teamed up before Batman and Superman, who should be the premiere heroes in the DC Universe, and the first to team up. But then, I suppose, they'd have no reason to fight here. But I digress).

Jim Lee continues to hold a clinic in "how to draw a terrific-looking comic." His heroes are virile, the action chaotic, the layouts powerful and the story rockets along briskly. (And a note to my pal James: loads and loads of detail work here.)

I suspect this story will read much better as a collection, because events are moving very slowly and at this rate it'll be issue five or six before we finally see all the heroes working together as a team.

Still, this is definitely moving in the right direction. More like this, please.

Grade: A-

------------------

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fear Itself #7 (of 7)

So the big problem with Marvel's "Event" books has been that, of late, they keep wrapping up with an anticlimactic finish.

Here I'm thinking of Civil War, when one side just quits fighting, or Secret Invasion, where a pile of superheroes beat up a pile of Skrulls (this is a strategy?), or Dark Reign, where a pile of superheroes kill the major menace (again, where's the plot twist?)... you get the idea.

There are certainly major events in this finale of Fear Itself, with a huge battle royale, some major deaths, a surprising twist or two and the setup for some future stories.

The problem is that everything that happens here was set up plainly in the previous issue, where writer Matt Fraction essentially said, "Here's what's going to happen." In this issue - it happens.

There are some satisfying moments, a few emotional scenes, a great speech at the end - but it all doesn't quite manage to live up to the buildup. Perhaps the problem is spending six issues building up these unbeatable foes, only to arrive at the seventh issue and have to wrap it all up quickly.

I should hastily add that the artwork is wonderful. Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger get to cut loose here, with great double-page splashes of the battle, casts of hundreds and some tense moments. Outstanding work!

It wouldn't be an event without new comics spinning off from it, and in the back of this issue you get a sample of four comics that do that, including The Defenders and the Hulk.

And the story doesn't actually end here - it spins off into The Fearless, and there are three Fear Itself follow-ups (numbered 7.1, 7.2 and 7.3 - isn't that cute?)

Overall I give this series good marks, thanks to a strong story, some plot twists and lots of excellent art. It's actually a cut above the "Events" I listed earlier - but it didn't quite manage to stick the landing.

But it was oh so close!

Grade: B+

-----------------

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hey, Kids - Comics!

Here's what I picked up today:

- Avengers #18 - Lo, the old order changeth yet again!

- Batman #2 - So far, the best of the Bat-books.

- Conan: Road of Kings #9 - It's zombie time!

- Fear Itself #7 (of 7) - The final showdown - who lives and who doesn't?

- The Fearless #1 (of 12) - About those hammers...

- Herc #9 - Make room for daddy!

- Invincible Iron Man #509 - Read this one before Fear Itself.

- John Carter: A Princess of Mars #2 (of 5) - That title just doesn't work.

- Journey Into Mystery #629 - Loki's plan unleashed!

- Justice League #2 - We're up to four heroes now!

- Supergirl #2 - Family feud!

- Wonder Woman #2 - Not for little girls.

- Uncanny X-Men #544 - The final issue!

And that's it!

The Classics - Avengers #16

In these days of ever-changing lineups for superhero teams, it's hard to remember what a shock this issue of the Avengers was when it hits stores in 1965.

It wasn't unusual for a team to vary its lineup a bit in those days. For example, any issue of the Justice League might feature some members, while others were off on a mission - but the missing members were still on the team.

This issue threw the status quo out the window. Written by Stan Lee with layouts by Jack Kirby and finishes by Dick Ayers, it starts off with the usual mayhem, as four Avengers (Thor, Iron Man, Giant-man and the Wasp) square off against the Masters of Evil (The Executioner, the Enchantress, the Black Knight and the Melter), while Captain America is fighting his way through a jungle after his final battle with the original Baron Zemo.

The battle ends with surprising speed and the four heroes return to the mansion to await word from Cap - and that's when the shocking part begins. Thor disappears immediately to take part in the "Trial of the Gods" in his own comic, and the three remaining heroes decide it's time to retire from the team!

It was a shocking move, to take the best-known members of the team out of the comic. Like me, I suspect most readers thought it was just a temporary thing - that they'd all come running back to the fold for the next story.

But this change stuck for a long time. The team almost immediately began a search for new Avengers, and the replacements arrived from the other side of the law. Hawkeye had planned a life as a hero, but a misunderstanding (and the manipulations of the then-evil Black Widow) landed him in the villain role - until this issue.

Joining him were two former members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants - Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.

So why make the change? Perhaps Stan was tired of dealing with the tangled continuity challenges of working around the ongoing stories in each character's own comic. (At the time, I believe Cap's adventures in Tales of Suspense were flashbacks to his World War II adventures.)

Or maybe it was too difficult to come up with menaces powerful enough to challenge a team with so much firepower.

Or maybe he just wanted to see if it could be done - to build a comic around second and third-tier characters. Of course, he hedged his bets by keeping Cap around to lead and train the new team - and surprisingly, it all worked!

Cap's "Kooky Quartet" (as some wag called it) had some great adventures courtesy of some terrific creative teams. Eventually Giant-man and the Wasp returned (with an interesting twist), and other heroes would join, as the line-up changed with some regularity.

It kept the Avengers fresh and innovative - you never knew what to expect next!

Stan's gamble paid off, and now the change in every super-team's lineup is a regular event. But this is the issue that paved the way.

If you look closely at the cover at the top of this article, you can see it's well-worn. That's because I loved this issue and read it to pieces in the 46 years since I bought it. A true classic!

Grade: A-

----------------

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Resurrection Man #2

Here's one of the "New 52" that I missed the first time around, but my friend Clint recommended it, so I gave it a shot. (Luckily, I was able to pick up a copy of both the first and second issues last Wednesday.)

Resurrection Man is a character I've never read before (he had appeared in the "old DC"), but it's certainly an interesting premise.

The title character is a mystery to us and to himself - but for some reason a lot of people want him dead. Fortunately for him, death is not an obstacle - just a new beginning.

Every time he dies, he returns to life with a different super-power. Which comes in handy, since he's constantly threatened by assassins - including this issue's guest stars, the voluptuous Body Doubles.

It's a clever premise by writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, and it pulls us right in. The title character is sympathetic, the "new powers" angle is unique and the plot twists are plentiful.

The art is by Fernando Dagnino, whose work I'm not familiar with, but his style works well with this title. Sometimes his art is realistic, sometimes stylistic, but always creative and in service to the story.

So I can see why Clint recommended this comic - the central mystery is intriguing and it'll be interesting to see it unfold. Part science fiction, part superhero, part supernatural (maybe), it's an interesting mix that promises something for everyone.

It's a little early to pass final judgment, but so far, I like what I see.

Grade: A-

-----------------

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Shade #1 (of 12)

Writer James Robinson's work has been a bit erratic for me lately. I am a huge fan of his work on the Starman series, and he did a lot of good work before that - but his recent efforts on Justice League left me cold.

How good, then, to see him back to form in this 12-issue series devoted to The Shade, the former criminal and now defender of Opal City.

The Shade is a classy (and classic) character - an immortal who is a bit jaded by life but still filled with passions, including his love for the woman in his life (and what a breath of fresh air she is), his city and his friends.

The story opens with a leisurely discussion with the new Starman, who escaped from the last incarnation of the JLA.

We meet the key people in The Shade's life, but before things get too tedious, we get a blast of action and a surprise ending. What more could you ask?

The art is by Cully Hamner, and he's an excellent choice, being a master of shading and using inks to control the mood and tempo of the story - excellent work all around.

We'll see if the creative team can keep this series from becoming too dark - but the title character is one of the more interesting figures in DC's stable, when he's handled properly - and so far, no worries there.

Grade: A-

---------------

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Green Lantern #2

In these humble reviews I usually focus on the story (and thus, the writer), because that's the most important element to me. When it comes to art, I only know what I like (you should forgive the hoary saying).

And I certainly like the work Doug Mahnke has been creating for Green Lantern.

He's done great work and he somehow seems to improve with each issue. His layouts are powerful and his characters are very well-defined. The raw emotions are in evidence on the faces of the characters, and his action sequences are visual, clever and easy to follow.

He has a great sense of design for the aliens that GL runs into, and he creates an especially horrific one for this issue.

His work actually reminds me a lot of Brian Bolland (one of the best in the business), with a bit of Gary Frank thrown in there (no slouch he).

It's all in service of Geoff John's story, which finds Hal Jordan in an unusual position - the Guardians have taken away his power ring. Even worse, it's now owned by Sinestro - who visits Hal and makes an offer that can't be refused.

It's an interesting tale, and (so far) it's an improvement on recent storylines in this series.

Even if that wasn't the case, this story would be worth picking up just for Mahnke's art. If he's not considered a superstar yet, he soon will be. Just wait.

Grade: B+


-----------------

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The New Avengers #17

I'm amazed at the mood swings the New Avengers suffer through.

In its latest version, the comic has gone from being one of my favorites to one of the most ho-hum titles around.

The team already suffers a bit in comparison to the Avengers, which is loaded with powerhouses like Thor, Iron Man and the Red Hulk. The New Avengers has the Thing (who only appears on the cover in this issue), Luke Cage and Ms. Marvel. Not bad, but still a step down in raw power, though the characters are all very interesting.

They also have another problem: they keep losing. As this issue opens the team rushes to the aid of Iron Man, who's facing a giant robot. They attack without a plan and ignore the advice Iron Man provides, and generally get their heads handed to them.

Even worse, the story features an all-too-familiar foe and a few familiar faces recycled from Secret Warriors.

One might expect writer Brian Bendis to stumble occasionally, since he writes so many comics, but this makes several issues now where the team has struggled. Perhaps it's fallout from the Fear Itself series that's throwing everything off, but whatever the case, the team just doesn't seem to be up to its usual standards.

Mike Deodato's art is as exciting as ever, and he has some stunning, wildly imaginative pages on display here. But it can't make up for the story.

Hopefully they'll get past this story and back to the usual high standards soon.

Grade: B-

----------------

Friday, October 14, 2011

Batgirl #2

Two issues in and Barbara (Batgirl) Gordon is still a hero with issues.

Mysteriously recovered from her crippling injury (by which means we have not yet discovered), she throws herself back in action as Batgirl, and in her first case... well, she looks like a rank amateur.

She's up against the powerful and mysterious Mirror, who is targeting seemingly innocent people for reasons that are impossible to discern (until he explains it all).

Throughout their battle, she comes across as virtually helpless against him, and is much worse for the wear. She solves the mystery of the Mirror with ridiculous ease, but stopping him physically is a much bigger challenge.

Writer Gail Simone provides some nice quiet moments in the comic between Barbara and her roommate, and Barbara and the guy who is her (apparent) new love interest, but the fight sequences are just clunky. She can't be expected to outmuscle brutish opponents, but she can surely out-think and outmaneuver them. Right?

The artwork by Ardian Syaf is pretty strong, although there are a few action sequences that are difficult to follow as the "camera" gets in a bit too close.

Overall, a somewhat better effort this time around, but still a long way from restoring Batgirl to the upper ranks.

First, she has to win a fight.

Grade: B

-----------------

Thursday, October 13, 2011

DC's New 52 - A Look at All Those First Issues

As mentioned before, I wasn't able to read all 52 "Number One" issues of DC's relaunch - but my pal Clint did, and he provides this insightful review of the effort. (Thanks, Clint!)

He calls it:


Playin' 52 Pick-up

by Clint McElroy

Oh DC, DC, DC, DC...

...You blew it.

It was all there, laid out for you: the whole enchilada, the whole chinchilla, the whole chinchilla enchilada! You had Marvel on the ropes, gloves dropping, eyes glazed… and you couldn’t get the knockout.

I’m speaking, of course, about the New 52.

We were all ready. We were pumped, braced for sweeping changes, clean slates, new beginnings... and what did we get?

Collars.

Barbara Gordon can once again do the Lambada (the Forbidden Dance, in case you had forgotten). Starfire likes doing the Tube Snake Boogie (which is NOT a dance). Morgan Edge went all Nick Fury / Samuel L. Jackson and changed races. And you slapped collars on everybody.

That’s about it for the Sweeping Changes Department.

I bought and read every first issue of the New 52. Then I read them again. Then I sat quietly. Quietly and sadly (Even sadder than when I read T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents) Why so sad, Clinton? Missed Potential.

(Okay, maybe too soon to mentions T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents... it makes me sound bitter).

Well, I am. Bitter, that is.

You had us, man! You KNEW we were going to gobble up those first issues! Have you SEEN the sales figures? For the love of Herb Trimpe, THAT’S WHY YOU DID THIS IN THE FIRST PLACE!! Fifty-two chances to make a first impression! We could have opened those books and been blown away by compelling writing, brilliant new concepts and remarkable art. The Collective Hive Mind that IS the comic consuming public would have said as one: “This is what I shall spend my disposable income upon!”

(For those lucky people who actually HAVE disposable income.)

I realize you are a powerful multi-national corporation, DC (May I call you D?).
I know you could snap your ink-stained fingers and my family and I would be sleeping with the fishes (Which no longer talk to Aquaman... I forgot THAT sweeping change) so let me cover the McElroy Family’s posteriors by stating very clearly: I LOVED some of the books.

My favorites were the titles where you cowboy-ed up and took a chance: Men of War, Resurrection Man and All-Star Western. You stepped out on a limb and tried something different.

I also loved the books with strong, character-based writing, great dialogue and real honest-to-God plots! I really dug Red Hood and the Outlaws, Stormwatch, Catwoman and Aquaman. (Yes, Clint McElroy enjoyed Aquaman: THAT JUST HAPPENED!)

But the new directions and earth-shaking changes were few and far between.

Ironically, the character you changed the most drastically is the most beloved, iconic character in your pantheon! Kal-El! The Man of Steel! The Last Son of Krypton! The Dude We Never Really Saw In Any Episode of Smallville!

Grant Morrison took Superman, put him in a t-shirt, Levis, Hushpuppies and a bath towel, and turned the whole story on its ear.

And it was AWESOME!

THERE’S your template, True Believers! (Sorry, wrong lexicon.) If we had been presented with 52 number ones like THAT, it would be a seven-run lead in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and Mariano Rivera coming to the mound. (Oops, another sports reference; I need to watch that.)

I can hear it now: “Not every book is for every reader, you grubby little man!” Good point. I’m sure all the Twilight fans will buy I Vampire. All the fans of hot strippers will pick up Voodoo (Note to self: Keep Voodoo on pull list) See? I am a little bit grubby. And the other part is true as well. I can only speak for myself. I can only spend MY money. When it comes to comic book patronage, everybody is a critic... LITERALLY. Your review is the money you plunk down on the counter at Ye Olde Comic Booke Shoppe.

By the way, D, I plunked down $155.48. It was darn well worth it because I
wanted to be fair and try out each new issue. The price tag could have been a lot higher. I for one, really appreciate the whole “Hold the Line at 2.99” thing. Of course, as a comic book fan from the 1960s I can also remember a time when you could “Clear the Shelves, They’re All Priced .12!”

I appreciate the effort. I really do. I WANTED to be blown away by every book. As it turned out I was blown away by a few books, and some aspects of others: Justice League was beautiful to behold, the layouts for Blackhawks were awesome, and the new Amanda Waller was hot.

So I am keeping 13 of the New 52 on my pull list. That’s not bad, right? A batting average of .250 is pretty darned good! (Uh-oh! Another sports reference. I am getting out while the getting is good.)

But, before I go..about the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Some New Comics for October

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

- Alpha Flight #5 - Starting a life of crime?

- New Avengers #17 - Has this become Marvel's most inept team of heroes?

- Batgirl #2 - Another inept hero - it's a trend!

- Batwoman #2 - Great artwork.

- FF #10 - Building to a big finish!

- Green Lantern #2 - Sinestro's in charge?

- Irredeemable #30 - Darker and darker.

- Kull: The Cat and the Skull #1 - Always glad to see Kull back in action.

- Resurrection Man #1 and #2 - Picked up on the recommendation of my pal Clint.

- S.H.I.E.L.D. #3 - Four word balloons? Well, this won't take long to read.

- The Shade #1 (of 12) - Continuing the Starman story (sorta).

- Uncanny X-Force #16 - The Dark Angel saga continues.

And that's it!

The Classics - Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man

We've been looking at Treasury Editions in our "Classic" reviews recently - the oversized comics Marvel and DC published back in the 1970s. Here's one more before we go back to "regular" comics.

Having cooperated on the publication of MGM's Marvelous Wizard of Oz, and noting that the world didn't end, Marvel and DC gave it another shot with their best-known heroes - so in 1976, we were stunned to see a 92-page publication called Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man.

The story is by Gerry Conway and (of necessity) it reads like a Silver Age Superman story. Lex Luthor embarks on a scheme that threatens the Earth and uses assorted scientific devices (especially giant robots) to thwart the omnipotent Man of Steel. The whole thing actually reads like an extended issue of Brave and the Bold (or perhaps I should say World's Finest or DC Presents) - Spider-Man almost feels like an afterthought, and he seems ineffectual next to a powerhouse like Superman.

Spidey does have his moments and puts up a surprisingly effective fight against Supes when they pull the traditional Marvel "heroes meet and fight because of a misunderstanding" bit.

I should add that Luthor teams up with Doctor Octopus, who also largely plays second banana. It's a problem of scale, of course - Spider-Man and Doc Ock are "street level" heroes, working best in settings that could exist in the real world, while Superman and Luthor operate (at least in 1976) in a science fiction playground.

Don't get me wrong, the story is fun, well plotted and makes sense - it's just a very odd mix of styles and characters.

The art is by Ross Andru and Dick Giordano (and I'd swear there are some panels by Neal Adams and John Romita in there). I should admit that I like Andru's art on many comics, but I never warmed to his version of Spider-Man. That hero needs to be limber and athletic, and Andru's version always struck me as being a bit stiff.

Still, Giordano's inks add power to the proceedings, and the tale has an appropriately epic feel to it.

The book was popular enough that it spawned a sequel, and several other crossovers between the two companies (including Batman and the Hulk, and the X-Men and the Teen Titans, to name two).

It was interesting as a stunt, but I have to admit that these stories usually left me cold - it was just too odd a mix to bring the characters together, and the stories were so staid and safe - presumably out of fear of offending one group of fans or the other.

Right now we seem to be in a "no crossovers" era, and that's fine - they should only do them when a creative team has a great idea (like the more recent Justice League / Avengers series). Otherwise it becomes - like this issue - an interesting stunt, and nothing more.

Grade: B-

----------------

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

OMAC #2

According to some reports, OMAC was one of the lowest-selling issues in the "New 52."

That's a shame, because (of the ones I read) it's also one of the most fun.

More than any comic in recent memory, this series reads like an issue of The Hulk from the '70s - which is to say, lots of action, great visuals and just enough plot to keep things moving briskly.

OMAC (or O.M.A.C., for those who like periods) is actually Kevin Kho, a manager at the secret science lab called Cadmus. Somehow he's been infected with a virus that can turn his body into a One Man Army Corps (actually, these days it stands for "One Machine Attack Construct"). He's being controlled by the mysterious intelligent satellite known as Brother Eye - and that's all you need to know.

Kho is wandering through the countryside, he encounters a powerful foe, they fight, buildings are destroyed - all good fun.

The story is by Dan Didio and Keith Giffen, with Giffen and Scott Koblish providing the frenetic (and Kirbyesque) artwork.

Don't pick this one up expecting a lot of deep thought - but it is a lot of fun.

Grade: B+

-------------

Monday, October 10, 2011

Swamp Thing #2

You'd have to think that writing Swamp Thing would be very intimidating, since you'd be forced to follow in Alan Moore's footsteps.

His run on the series was a high water mark in the history of horror in comic books, and it's hard to imagine anyone working at the level again.

But Scott Snyder is giving it a good shot in this "New 52" version. This first story arc is obviously setting up the "new" Swamp Thing, and so far it's very well crafted.

He's building on the mythology as laid out by Moore, using the Brightest Day events (which resurrected Alec Holland) as a starting point.

Moore's series began with a shock - that the Swamp Thing wasn't a man (Holland) who had been changed into a plant, but was actually a plant who thought it had been a man.

Now we're back to the man again, and he's faced with a new horror and the possibility that he may have to become the Swamp Thing again.

There's some nice bits of business here (including a tip of the hat to the original "Swamp Thing", The Heap), some shocks and surprises. So far, so good.

The art more than holds up its end of the story, as Yanick Paquette turns in lush, flowing art (ably assisted by Nathan Fairbarn's colors) - sometimes it's dreamlike, sometimes horrific (deliberately so, I should add), but always compelling.

It's too soon to tell if the story will end up being as good as Moore's work - that's a lot to ask. But so far, the creative team is in the right neighborhood, and that's a rare accomplishment.

Here's hoping for more of the same.

Grade: A-

-------------------

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Justice League International #2

Beau Smith recently remarked that every creative team on a comic book should write as though they only have six issues before their comic is canceled, so the stories will have a sense of urgency.

That's good advice, but you get the sense that writer Dan Jurgens didn't get that note before taking on Justice League International.

(By coincidence, "Beau" has a cameo in this comic, although they've colored his hair grey by mistake).

After spending the first issue getting the members of the team in place, this issue the team spends its time getting smacked around by an iron giant and complaining about getting smacked around by a giant.

The issue is all setup, bringing us a brief look at the next big menace heading our way, with no clue as to who or what it is.

The art is nice. Aaron Lopresti provides strong layouts, distinctive characters and clear storytelling.

But we're two issues in and so far there's nothing about the team or its members that makes this a must-buy comic.

It might get there eventually, but right now it's slow going.

My recommendation: follow Beau's advice and pick up the pace. A lot.

Grade: B-

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Avengers 1959 #1 (of 5)

I've always been a big fan of writer and artist Howard Chaykin, but I hesitated to pick up this issue.

It spins out of a recent story in the regular New Avengers comic that was written by Brian Bendis and drawn by Chaykin, and it didn't really work for me.

Part of the problem is the fuzzy timeline Marvel has. Since modern-day heroes (such as Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, etc.) can't age in "real time," their origin date has to slide with the real calendar. After all, if the FF first appeared in 1961, and Reed Richards and Ben Grimm had fought in World War II, they'd be in their 90s by now. Spidey would be, what, in his 60s?

That's why the company, quietly, long ago, set up a "sliding scale," which sets the origins of the modern-day Marvel Universe about seven or eight years ago. And it'll always be that long ago (I think John Byrne gets the credit for this, but I could be wrong). That way, the past adventures are still valid, and the heroes stay as young as they need to be.

Yet here's a title locking down several Marvel characters in 1959 - and calling them The Avengers.

The series feels like it's struggling under its own weight. Chaykin mixes in some trademark sexy situations, some sharp banter and a developing menace, and provides strong, creative artwork that seems to be buried under murky colors by Jesus Aburtov.

It all trudges along, with lots of attacks by cookie-cutter Nazis (or Hydra or whatever they are), lots of dry one-liners and no real reason to much care one way or the other.

Even Nick Fury, one of my favorite characters, seems to sleepwalk through this. But then, he must be an imposter, because on the first page he says he's never been prouder than of the time he's spent in the company of this new group of Avengers. Really, Nick? You think so little of the Howling Commandos, with whom you fought in World War II?

OK, now I'm being picky. But I have to think Chaykin was having an off day when he tackled this issue. No doubt it'll pick up from here - but the series is off to a shaky start.

Grade: C+

----------------

Friday, October 7, 2011

Action Comics #2

If someone held a gun on me and forced me to pick the best of the "New 52," I'd have to go with Action Comics (though keep in mind that I haven't read all of them).

After writer Grant Morrison had such a great run on the All-Star Superman series, I was hoping he'd turn in similar high-caliber work on the Man of Steel in this series - and so far, it's been very good.

Perhaps that's because his take is unexpected - it's very different from the usual version of Superman at the beginning of his career - though interestingly enough, it's very similar to the character's first appearance in the "real" Action Comics #1.

There he was a rough-and-tumble character, thinking with his fists, full of good humor and self-confidence, and though powerful, he's operating at a lower, less-than-invincible level.

The same is true here, as Superman finds himself a captive of the military, and under Lex Luthor's guidance, they try a variety of methods (including torture) to try to unlock his secrets.

That's the only part of the story that feels overly abused - the whole "government is bad" thing, most recently beaten within an inch of its life during Flashpoint.

But if you get past that, you get a good adventure story, a fun look inside this new Superman, some surprising revelations, and (of all things) - actual humor!

This Superman actually gets some laughs - who would believe it?

The art is phenomenal, as Rags Morales, Brent Anderson and Rick Bryant bring the characters and the settings to life. The physical stunts have real-world heft to them, and the characters are animated and lively.

With a strong story, lots of plot twists and some intriguing characters, this is what the DC reboot should be - but mostly hasn't been.

This is the good stuff!

Grade: A-

-----------------

Thursday, October 6, 2011

X-Men Schism #5 (of 5)

As seen in this final issue of X-Men Schism, apparently Cyclops and Wolverine are, together, the stupidest heroes around.

As this issue begins, a gigantic Sentinel is walking across the bay / harbor / ocean / whatever to attack the X-Men's home island called Utopia. It plans to kill all the mutants it finds.

So of course, as it approaches, the two heroes decide instead to fight each other in a no-holds-barred match.

The point of the story, of course, is to split the massive X-Family up into smaller teams that can more easily fill the dozen or so X-books that are about to relaunch.

As with the other issues in the series, the artwork is great. Here it's provided by Adam Kubert and Mark Roslan, and they provide some amazing visuals. The only problem is, writer Jason Aaron decided to let a good part of the book go without any dialogue - so there are several panels where I'm not sure what's going on. Sometimes a few words can be helpful.

The series accomplishes its goals - it resets the Hellfire Club (as a laughable home for villainous tykes), it splits the team up (with Wolverine announcing his reason for leaving, taking some of the X-Men with him, and then going off to do the exact same thing he was complaining about), and it sets up a bunch of new comics. Because there aren't enough X-titles to go around right now.

Surely all that could have been accomplished without this five issue series, and then at least we could pretend Cyke and Logan were intelligent. Ah well.

With the upcoming reboot and renumbering, is it time to jump off the X-Men bandwagon? We'll talk about that in two weeks.

Grade: B

-----------------

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A New Month, Some New Comics

After a wallet-crushing week, this was a bit more reasonable.

Here's what I picked up today:

- Action Comics #2 - Still the best of the "New 52."

- Avengers 1959 #1 - Always glad to see Chaykin's work.

- Justice League International #2 - Fighting giant robots is always fun.

- Mystic #3 - This has been a treat.

- OMAC #2 - Lots of destruction.

- Static Shock #2 - I do enjoy smart heroes.

- Swamp Thing #2 - A heart to heart.

- X-Men Schism #5 (of 5) - Fighting giant robots is always fun.

And that's it!

The Classics - MGM's Marvelous Wizard of Oz

Continuing our look at Treasury Editions, this issue is the first-ever joint publication by Marvel and DC!

Apparently both had independently started working on an adaptation of the Oz movie, so they decided to pool their resources and create this adaptation of the beloved film, MGM's Marvelous Wizard of Oz. (But how did Marvel get away with the obvious plug in the title?)

It was published in 1975, which seems surprising - after all, the movie premiered some 37 years before - but the film was given new life when it became an annual feature on television (this being before the days of home video, of course).

The issue shows little sign of DC's input - it was written by Roy Thomas, drawn by John Buscema and inked by "The Tribe" (I see lots of Tony DeZuniga in there), all Marvel stalwarts.

The oversized comic (both in dimension and in number of pages) is just a pure delight! It's obvious the creative team had great affection for the original film (as should we all), yet the art is not traced from frames of the film.

Buscema captured the feel of the original but never actually copied it - he offered fresh layouts and fine caricatures of the actors.

The story follows the film very closely (which means it wanders away from L. Frank Baum's original book here and there), although as you'd expect, it can't reproduce the music - so they don't really try.

As far as I know, this has never been reprinted, and that's a shame - you'd be hard-pressed to find a more faithful adaptation of that classic film.

It may be hard to find, but it's highly recommended!

Grade: A+

-----------------

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Voodoo #1

Ah, comic books by way of Cinemax!

That would be one way to describe the exploitative Voodoo, which manages to spend the entire comic with only the most incremental amount of story progress, yet virtually every page features naked or nearly-naked women (ok, seven pages have no naked women featured).

I know, sex sells - and that's obviously the thinking here, as we're treated to page after page of the title character dancing in a strip bar or providing a lap dance.

What we don't get is a reason to like and/or sympathize with Voodoo. She's a loner, a stripper with a dark secret but no heart of gold (like all the other strippers in this comic).

The art by Sam Basri is pleasant enough, with lots of beautiful, well-endowed women just covering up enough of their attributes to give the title a "Teen Plus" rating (whatever that means).

I really haven't decided what to think about this comic. Should I laugh at its obvious attempt to use T & A to lure in randy readers? Should I assume that future issues will explain Voodoo's dark secret and give me a reason to care about the character? Should I care about the mystery behind the government agents tracking her movements?

None of it really matters, because this is the only issue of this series I'll be picking up for the foreseeable future - and I suspect the series won't be around for long, anyway.

Sex appeal is fine, but the comic needs some kind of story to back it up - and there's just not enough here to support following this series.

Pretty pictures, though.

Grade: C+

-----------------

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Flash #1

As a big fan of The Flash (especially the Barry Allen version), I've been enjoying the focus DC has placed on the character - but I approach the "New 52" version tentatively - what changes might be in store?

It's apparently a "clean" reboot, starting near the beginning of his super-career - the story picks up with Barry already powered up - and while some changes seem cosmetic (some tweaks to his costume, for example), some are more significant. Barry is no longer married to Iris West, and is apparently dating a co-worker named Patty.

Iris does appear as a reporter who has some connection to "police scientist" Barry - he's a source of information to her about police investigations, which seems somewhat shady for both as professionals.

The comic is written and drawn by Francis Manapul, with co-writing credits going to colorist Brian Buccellato, and so far, it's a fair start.

The art is tremendous - I really like Manapul's breezy, fresh style, and he uses some creative page layouts to emphasize the Flash's speed and power. The coloring, however, seems a bit washed out and muted for a high-speed adventure.

The story... well, it's still a bit early to sort out. It sets up the characters well enough, and we get a good action sequence to kick it off (though I'll never understand how even an army of bad guys can successfully run away from The Flash), and we get a snippet of a personal backstory for Barry and a long-time friend, plus a good mystery on the final page - but it'll be a few more issues before we can tell if the story works or falls flat.

I think they were smart to avoid the usual Rogue's Gallery - they've been a bit overused of late.

So, this series is off to a fair start - one of the better of the "New 52" - but the creative team still has a ways to go to prove itself.

Grade: B+

-------------------