Friday, November 30, 2012

All-New X-Men #2

I'm still not convinced that story spooling out in All-New X-Men is a good idea.

Time travel stories are always a tricky thing to manage, and this one seems to break all the rules.

The modern-day Beast is upset by what Cyclops did to Charles Xavier at the end of the Avengers vs. X-Men event (it bothered me, too), so he travels back in time and contacts the earliest version of the X-Men (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Beast and the Angel) and brings them through time to the present - though what exactly he has in mind is difficult to determine.

It breaks all the rules - showing the team their future would put every event that happens in between in danger, which should change the present. So how will they get around it? Mind wipe? Alternate reality? Reboot? Hard to say.

I'll give them this - it's a well-told story so far by writer Brian Bendis, with a great balance between drama, action and humor. And the art by Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger is outstanding, veering from intense confrontations to comic ones (the scene where Iceman past and present confront each other is a real delight).

I have a lot of faith in Bendis and his ability to make even this improbable story work - but I hope he hasn't painted himself into a corner this time around.

Grade: A-


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Uncanny Avengers #2

My review of the first issue of the new Uncanny Avengers series can be boiled down to: great art, weak story.

For the second issue, it's more of the same. Well, that's not entirely fair - the story is a bit better, now that the team is gathered. But most of them spend their time standing around in the aftermath of the destruction that took place last issue - only Rogue gets to take part in an action sequence, and I'm not sure it makes sense.

I know I've missed lots of X-Men stories (there are just so many X-titles out there, who can keep up?), but have Rogue's powers changed? Can she no longer fly, has she lost her super-strength? I have to admit I don't know, but that's apparently the case.

The Red Skull begins to reveal his plan here - but sadly, it's more of the old "let's force humans to hate and kill mutants," which has been a staple of X-Men adventures for about 40 years now.

The saving grace, as always, is the fantastic art by John Cassaday - he's simply one of the best in the business.

Hopefully future issues will give him some more visual events to work with.

Not a bad series at all, but it's still not living up to its promise. Yet.

Grade: B+


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New Comic Book Day

Ah, just like clockwork, time for another shipment of new comics.

Here's what I picked up today:

- A + X #2 - Wait, Black Widow and Rogue locking lips? That ought to get some kids into puberty...

- Aquaman #14 - A meeting with the King of Atlantis.

- New Avengers #34 - Dr. Strange takes center stage.

- Uncanny Avengers #2 - The Red Skull has a new game.

- Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #4 (of 4) - Hanging with President Kennedy.

- Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #4 (of 4) - Wrapping things up on the west coast.

- FF #1 - The beginning of a strange - but fun - trip.

- Flash #14 - Man vs. gorilla!

- Masks #1 - A pulp crossover event!

- Thor #2 - Facing the God Butcher.

- All-New X-Men #2 - Original meets new!

And that's it!

Batman #251

The Joker has had a few makeovers since his first appearance in the Golden Age.

He started out as a crazed, unpredictable killer, but soon became more of a clown - which was more in keeping with the Comics Code Authority. Lots of gags, some laughs, but no real menace.

I admit that my Batman collection is far from complete, but I'm pretty sure this issue from 1973 is the one that propelled the character back into the "crazed killer" category.

The story was written by Dennis O'Neil, drawn by Neal Adams and edited by Julius Schwartz - quite a pedigree! It features the Joker returning to Gotham City to get revenge on four of his former "employees" - one of whom betrayed him.

Readers at the time were shocked to find that this Joker was surprisingly bloodthirsty. Instead of his usual gags (like the exploding cigar referenced in the story), his jokes were now deadly. One man after another is brutally killed while Batman tries to track down his old foe.

Even the Joker's appearance, as drawn by Adams, seems less clownish and more menacing, deranged - downright evil. A far cry from the familiar figure on the '60s Batman TV show.

The art is Adams at his best, with fantastic, articulated figures, inventive layouts and stunning designs (you'll find the iconic image of Batman running, as seen on the first volume of Adams-drawn art below, in this issue).

It's nice to see a great balance between Batman the detective and the action hero, facing death traps, criminals and his greatest foe.

It's a terrific (and much-reprinted) story by the team credited with the rebirth of the Dark Knight. Under their guidance, he made the transition from a campy, lighthearted comic character into a serious crime fighter, a creature of the night and a character - and a comic - to be watched.

Grade: A


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Avengers #34

And here we reach the end of the road for writer Brian Bendis and the Avengers (not counting this Wednesday's issue of New Avengers and the upcoming Ultron War).

He decided to wrap up his run with a big, over-the-top adventure that is loaded with the kind of hoo-hah fun that you'd expect in a classic Marvel Annual - or the wrap-up to an entertaining event book.

Here the original Avengers team tackles a towering menace in an itty-bitty world, and that means an all-out battle with Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and Giant-Man fighting an army - and having a blast.

Along the way the adventure brings back a much-missed character, revives a much-neglected one, and just packs a lot of fun into an oversized package.

The art is something of a jam session, with some outstanding work by the always-excellent Brandon Peterson, Mike Mayhew, Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson - not to mention several others who kick in pages for a wild battle royale.

There's no deep plot at work here - just lots of action, some crackling dialogue and a fun story with a great wrap-up to Bendis' long run.

Who could ask for more?

Grade: A-


Monday, November 26, 2012

Justice League #14

I can't quite put my finger on the problem with Justice League.

It's well written by Geoff Johns, the art is quite good (with Tony Daniels doing his best to channel Jim Lee), it's loaded with some of DC's greatest characters - but it all feels... disconnected, somehow.

And perhaps that's the problem - even with Superman facing death, even with The Cheetah running wild and cutting chunks out of The Flash - it never feels like there's any real danger.

I get that the idea is to convey that this team is very formidable - but aside from the "romance" between Superman and Wonder Woman (which feels artificial, since it doesn't show up in either character's own titles), there's no emotional connection between the characters. You even get the sense that they don't much like each other.

You have to have conflict to spice up a team comic - but there needs to be some camaraderie, as well.

The Shazam backup story is also an odd beast, with great art by Gary Frank, but the story by Johns is grim and gritty - more horror than heroics. It seems an odd fit for that character, even if he's no longer named Captain Marvel.

The main problem is (hopefully) just that the creative teams are setting up story lines to come - but sometimes, as a reader, it's tough to be patient waiting for these things to pay off.

Grade: B


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Indestructible Hulk #1

2012 is shaping up as the year of the Hulk.

He had the fewest lines in The Avengers movie, but he almost stole the show.

Now he has a new first issue and two talented artists working on crafting a new direction.

Taking over the writing duties is Mark Waid, who's done an amazing job with Daredevil (among numerous other titles), and here he provides a new start for both Bruce Banner and the Hulk.

It's a smart, clever approach that gives the creative team a lot of options in the months and years ahead - and it makes the character more accessible for future Avenger duties.

The art is by Leinil Yu, who has a unique, almost abstract style (which reminds me a bit of Ernie Colon's superhero art). It's a powerful, intense look that's well suited to this comic.

A couple of days ago I said Captain America was the best of the "Marvel NOW" line - but it didn't get to hold the title for long. It just got edged out by the Indestructible Hulk.

Grade: A


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Journey Into Mystery #646

As always, we're glad to provide reviews on request here at Chuck's Comic of the Day - and a few days ago we received this one from Dave Sopko:
Really interested in your take on Journey into Mystery with Sif. My daughter (12 years old) really liked what little she saw of the character in the Thor movie. Wondering how this is for her age group.
I like the depiction of Sif in the movie, too (I was especially impressed with her attack on the Destroyer), and I've liked the character since she first appeared in Thor's comic in the 1960s, replacing Jane Foster.

So as much as I enjoyed the stories about Loki in this title, I was glad to see Journey Into Mystery turned over to the adventures of Sif.

The issue is written by Kathryn Immonen, whose work I've enjoyed in the past - and she's off to a good start here.

Of course, any story that starts in a library (even one that's one fire) and centers around a book is already ahead of the game in my view. The story focuses on Sif's desire to become a better warrior - one able to defend Asgard better from the constant menaces it faces.

To do that, she must go on a journey that takes her across wastelands, into the presence of a dragon, and then into the fight of her life. The story seems a bit disjointed - it hops quickly from location to location and doesn't always make clear why - but it certainly doesn't drag its feet.

The art is by Valerio Schiti, whose work I'm not familiar with - but I like what I see here. The characters are nicely done, although the backgrounds seem a bit sparse.

As to whether or not this is appropriate for younger readers - that's a tough call. The story's a bit murky, so I'm not sure younger readers would find it compelling. The comic is rated "T+" (whatever that means - is it for teens who are positive?) and there are a few moments of violence, and the final page hints at something truly gruesome - though it remains to be seen how bad it really is.

Some younger readers might not bat an eye at this, while other may not like it - but there is some violence to contend with.

For older readers, it's a good start to this five-part story - here's hoping for more of the same.

Grade: B+


Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday

Which is not the name of a comic (though perhaps it should be), but the shopping frenzy that hits the U.S. on the day after Thanksgiving.

So it seems a good time to post this reminder! Please forgive the commercial plug, but in this time of shopping online, please remember that "Chuck's Comic of the Day" is an Amazon affiliate. When you do your holiday shopping through the Amazon links on this page, including the searchbox in the right sidebar or the links below each post, you support this blog at no cost to yourself.

Much appreciated - have a great holiday season!

Captain America #1

So far the new first issues for the "Marvel Now" promotion have been something of a mixed bag.

But with this issue of Captain America, we have a new "best issue" - so far.

That's because it offers a fresh approach to the series, one loaded with action, shocks and a lot of heart.

Which is not to take away from the previous series by Ed Brubaker - a terrific, espionage-based series. But this new take is more of a mix of superhero and science fiction.

The story by Rick Remender starts in the middle of a big action sequence, as Cap fights for his life in a plane soaring about New York City - a plane loaded with death. The story never really slows down from there.

This is a Cap who's incredibly capable, tough as nails and incapable of quitting, no matter the odds.

It doesn't hurt that the art is by John Romita, Jr., one of the best in the business today. He creates an intense, high-energy adventure for Cap that runs the range from heroic to gruesome.

The story's just getting started here, but so far it's a very promising start.

Grade: A-


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Amazing Spider-Man #698

I almost hate reviewing an issue of Amazing Spider-Man because I feel like I struggle to give an objective opinion.

It's all because of two things: the bad taste left over from the handling of the ending of Peter Parker's marriage to Mary Jane Watson; and the near-weekly publication schedule for the title, which strains the writer (in this case, Dan Slott) and forces a rotation of the art team - which makes it difficult to build any continuity.

Now the series is about to "end" (which means they're "starting over" with a new issue #1), but first, they have a shocking story to tell.

So I picked up this issue, prepared to be shocked. (And no, I won't reveal the twist ending.)

It was more of a mild tingle.

Yep, something surprising happens, and the next two issues (plus a couple of "point-one" issues) will wrap up the story - but to longtime readers, the story is walking on familiar (and well-trod) ground.

It's very well crafted, and the surprise is expertly managed - but my only reaction was to roll my eyes. (An Ultimate Spider-Man story did it better.) Sorry.

The art by Richard Elson is very nice - clean and clear storytelling, with a nice classic feel to the characters.

But there's nothing here to make me change my mind. This comic is going to have to do better than this. It's going to take some serious retooling to drag me back to the fold.

Grade: B-


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Loads of New Comics

I picked up lots of new stuff at the comics shop today:

- Avengers #34 - The end of the road for Brian Bendis. Sorta.

- Captain America #1 - A new beginning (again).

- Daredevil #20 - Matt loses his head.

- Indestructible Hullk #1 - Waid's writing it? I'm there.

- Iron Man #2 - Battle royale.

- Journey Into Mystery #646 - Loki's out, and Sif takes over.

- Justice League #14 - The mystery of the Cheetah.

- Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom #4 (of 4) - Dueling with dinosaurs!

- The Shadow #8 - Mystery in Paris.

- The Spider #6 - More pulpy action.

- Amazing Spider-Man #698 - Ah, twisty ending.

- Sword of Sorcery #2 - A new princess.

- Wolverine and the X-Men #21 - the circus is in town.

- Wonder Woman #14 - Some New Gods are in town.

And that's it!

The Classics - Batman #497

DC Comics had a problem in the early 1990s.

The company had enjoyed huge success with "The Death of Superman," bringing terrific sales and national media attention.

So how could they follow that up and achieve the same results?

Their answer was to literally break the Batman.

So in 1993, they had Batman face off against - well, everyone.

The powerful character named Bane (created by Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan) pushed Batman to his limits. Bane freed the monsters sealed up in Arkham Asylum, and Batman spent weeks facing them down and recapturing his old foes - so when, exhausted and near collapse, he was finally forced to confront the massive Bane (who was bolstered with augmented strength courtesy of the drug called Venom), he had nothing left.

This issue, written by Doug Moench and drawn by the great Jim Aparo with inks by the also-great Dick Giordano, was the climax of that conflict as Bane conducted a brutal assault on Batman, a fight that raged through Wayne Manor and into the Batcave.

Even by today's standards, it's a painful fight to watch, as Batman is virtually helpless before Bane.

It's certainly not my favorite story, but there's no denying that it's a historically significant one. It was rare for Batman to lose a fight, and he had never suffered a beating so severe or injuries as devastating.

And yes, this was the inspiration for a similar sequence in the recent movie The Dark Knight Rises.

The problem with this kind of overkill story is that it's difficult to top in terms of shock value. Perhaps that's why we haven't seen many stories that compare in terms of getting the attention of the world outside comics.

It takes a major event - like a death or a wedding, for example - to get that kind of attention, and you can only kill a character or marry them off - or break their back - so many times before it loses its impact.

Still, it was a marketing success - they turned the eyes of the world onto the Dark Knight, and DC once again earned headlines.

Batman would eventually "get better," of course, and Bane continues to be one of the more popular members of his rogue's gallery - but I can't help but wish comics could get this kind of attention for great stories and art, rather than just going for the jugular.

Grade: B+


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Once & Future Tarzan (One-Shot)

He's one of the most famous fictional characters in the world, but there are probably few characters who are as misunderstood by the general public as Tarzan.

The image most people have is of the illiterate ape-man depicted in movies by Johnny Weissmuller. Speaking in a primitive, broken English ("Me Tarzan - You Jane."), clad in a loincloth, he fights poachers and rescue Jane and their son "Boy."

But to those who've read any of the original stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs know that Tarzan was meant to be a noble savage - intelligent, educated but capable of reverting to his savage side when the need arose.

Happily, that's the version that usually appears in the comics - and that's certain who you'll find in Dark Horse's The Once & Future Tarzan.

This story takes the jungle lord into the future (luckily he's an immortal) where civilization has largely crumbled - which means his skills are in great demand.

The story written by Alan Gordon is very much in keeping with the Burroughs Tarzan - an intelligent, well-read, extremely capable man who's at home dealing with wild animals and ruthless humans.

Even better, the art is by Thomas Yeates, and it's wonderful to see. Lush, loaded with great action, drawn with a classic, illustrative style that hearkens back to the masters - it's no wonder that Yeates was chosen to take over the art of the Prince Valiant comic strip.

This is a nifty done-in-one issue, and as always, it's great to see the "real" Tarzan back in action.

More like this, please.

Grade: A-


Monday, November 19, 2012

Thor: God of Thunder #1

It's nice to see Thor: God of Thunder enjoying a bit of a revival in the wake of a successful film (with another one on the way) and a star turn in The Avengers film.

Now, after a long, strong run on the title by writer Matt Fraction, a new creative team takes over here as part of the whole "Marvel Now!" event.

Jason Aaron takes over the writing chores, and Esad Ribic provides the art. One issue in and I find myself... firmly on the fence.

The story is an interesting look at three Thors - the version who walked the Earth 1300 years ago, the modern version, and one from the far distant future.

In all three he finds himself faced with a possibly-insurmountable opponent - and they're all connected.

The art has an impressive painted look to it - but it all seems a bit dark and washed-out - but there are some dynamic panels in there.

My reaction to the whole issue is that it's not bad, but not outstanding, either. It's a standard menace, the idea of looking at three different time periods is interesting, and the art is solid.

I'm interested enough to come back for the next issue - but just barely. I was hoping for much more.

Grade: B


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Avengers Assemble #9

It can be a bit dicey when a series brings on a new creative team - especially when they're replacing some of the best in the business.

That's the challenge facing writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Stefano Caselli, as they take over Avengers Assemble from Brian Bendis and Mark Bagley.

I have to admit, I almost didn't pick up this comic, because I'm not familiar with the new team - but I'm glad I did.

It's not an incredible start, but it is a promising one, especially since the issue makes great use of something we don't see enough of these days - humor.

It sets up a challenge between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, as they each team up with another Avenger and race to find an old "friend" who was last seen at a base in the Antarctic.

I like the art - Caselli has an original style with a lot of emphasis on the characters and expressions. He also has a great sense of design.

The only letdown is the actual plot, which is a bit spare so far - but the characterization is strong, and the interaction between the heroes is entertaining.

So far the new team is maintaining the high standards on this (relatively) new title. We'll see where it goes from here.

Grade: B+


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Fantastic Four #1

I have to admit that it's pretty nifty to be able to buy a first issue of Fantastic Four - though I'm not really a fan of renumbering a long-running series like this.

The restart gives the new creative team a jumping-off point, and they certainly have their work cut out for them, since Jonathan Hickman just wrapped up a long, celebrated run on the title.

And so far... it feels very much like the same book. There's a major focus on family and fun, as Reed Richards confronts some disturbing news - and uses it to create a new adventure for his extended family.

And that family has grown in recent years, including Reed and Sue's children (Franklin and Valeria), brother-in-law Johnny Storm, best friend Ben Grimm, and about a half-dozen kids from assorted races and lands who have become part of the Future Foundation (FF).

So far, Matt Fraction has maintained the style set up by Hickman in the series, although this issue does drag a bit as it gets around to setting up the next year's worth of stories.

I'm a big fan of the art by Mark Bagley and Mark Farmer, with colors by Paul Mounts. It's dynamic, features great characters designs (including some subtle improvements to the most recent design for the FF uniforms), strong layouts and clear storytelling.

So, a good start and a promising beginning (again) for Marvel's First Family. Looking forward to seeing where it goes from here!

Grade: A-


Friday, November 16, 2012

Batman #14

Every comic book would kill to have a character like the Joker on tap.

He's Batman's ultimate opponent, his opposite number - and an instant sales draw, which is no doubt why he's part of a big, multi-issue crossover event called "Death of the Family."

He's the perfect enemy for the Dark Knight. Where Batman is grim and deliberate, the Joker is zany and chaotic.

But he's far from being just another insane opponent - the Joker, as depicted in this issue, is evil personified.

That, and his unpredictable nature, make him a fascinating foe. Gone is the comical funny man, no more the bandit - this is a character who lives to match wits with Batman.

His latest plot - which is only beginning to be revealed - has him planning to (somehow) do away with the Bat Family.

And I have to admit - I almost hope he succeeds.

Oh, I don't want to see any more characters die. That's so 1990s.

But I do think Batman as a character suffers a bit by being weighed down with this extended Bat-family. Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl, Batwoman, Batwing, Batman Inc., the Justice League - you get the idea. Batman is a busy guy.

It takes away from the Batman who's a loner, matching his wits against crime's worst elements. When he has an army standing behind him, he seems less formidable somehow.

Scott Snyder again crafts a smart, fast-paced story with lots of twists and turns, and Greg Capullo crafts some amazing artwork.

This is grim stuff and not really suited for young readers (is anything DC publishes as a "new 52" book ok for kids?) - but mature readers will love it.

Grade: A


Thursday, November 15, 2012

All-New X-Men #1

So if your teenage self could meet your older self, how would he (or she) react?

It seems likely that our younger selves would suffer some disappointment - it would have to be discouraging just seeing the ravages the years work on us all - wrinkles, grey hair, a broader midsection, balding (well, I'm mostly talking about me here) - but you get the idea.

That concept is at the heart of the All-New X-Men. (Am I the only one who wonders how long they'll be able to realistically use that title?) Through mysterious means, the original X-Men (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, the Beast, the Angel and Iceman) are making their way to the present to confront their modern-day selves (at least the ones who are still alive).

I'm generally not a fan of time-travel stories, because they tend to buckle under the weight of keeping track of the timeline and the aftereffects of learning about the future. This story is shaping up to be a tricky one - after all, if you know the mistakes you're going to make in the future, would you be likely to repeat them?

Still, new X-writer Brian Bendis has this series off to a strong start, as we see the state of the team in the wake of the whole Avengers vs. X-Men event.

My only question is, why are the "bad guy" mutants fighting? Over in Uncanny Avengers, Captain America is working with mutants to bring them into the mainstream. It seems counter to the ideas being expressed in this comic (which it a throwback to the old "humans hate all mutants" shtick. We'll see how that shakes out.

The series has great artwork on its side, as Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger turn in terrific, high energy artwork that balances between the quiet moments and high-intensity battles.

I'm one of those readers who had given up on almost all the X-books. There are too many of them, with too many characters and an overly-convoluted continuity to keep up with. Add to that some character assassination (such as the one Cyclops is mired in) and it just became too much.

But with this issue - for this series, at least - I'm back on the X-Men side of the fence. We'll see if Bendis and Immonen can keep this momentum going.

Here's hoping!

Grade: A-


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

New Comics Day

A big day at ye olde comics shoppe - lots of "first" issues!

Today I picked up:

- New Avengers #33 - Bendis and Oeming, together again!

- Avengers Assemble #9 - A new creative team! A wacky race!

- Batman #14 - The Joker is back and madder than ever.

- Conan the Barbarian #10 - Facing death with Belit.

- Fantastic Four #1 - A new beginning!

- Saga #7 - Meet the family.

- The Once and Future Tarzan (One Shot) - Thomas Yeates art? Tarzan? I'm in.

- Thor: God of Thunder #1 - Who's killing gods?

- Wolverine and the X-Men #20 - A strange recruiting drive.

- First X-Men #4 - Some familiar foes for the X-Men.

- All-New X-Men #1 - Blast from the past!

And that's it!

The Classics: The Infinity Gauntlet #1

Most event books try to hit it out of the park, and in 1991 Marvel succeeded in a big way by turning the task over to two creators who specialized in cosmic stories.

For The Infinity Gauntlet they turned to writer Jim Starlin, who has few peers when it comes to cosmic epics. He resurrected his formerly-dead villain Thanos and gave him a weapon even more formidable than the Cosmic Cube (with which he almost destroyed the Earth, a fate averted by the space-born Captain Marvel).

Reborn in the Silver Surfer's comic, Thanos then starred in a series of Prestige Books leading into this series. He gathered the Infinity Gems - power gems created by Starlin - each of which was in the possession of a cosmic being, including the Soul Gem once carried by the now-dead (or was he?) Adam Warlock.

Thanos embedded the gems in a glove and created The Infinity Gauntlet, a source of power that made him a god, whose every thought became reality. In other words, an impossible challenge for the heroes of the Marvel Universe - and he strikes before they even know what they're up against.

I remember being delighted to see the artist chosen to draw the series - it marked the return of George Perez, one of my favorite artists, to Marvel's hallowed halls.

He actually started his career at Marvel in the '70s and, after a long run on books like The Avengers and the Fantastic Four, moved over to DC where he spent years working on the New Teen Titans.

This was a book tailor made for his strengths - imaginative layouts, heroic figures, larger-than-life panoramas and stories that include every character ever created.

The only disappointment would happen months later, when he was unable to finish the last couple of issues of the series (though Ron Lim ably filled in) - but he got the event off to a great start!

The series didn't disappoint, as it featured lots of surprises, a seemingly unbeatable opponent and the gathering of every major character into a single story. It was big, bold and brash - and lots of fun.

It's a series that continues to echo, as it set a mark future events would try to live up to. Very few have succeeded.

Grade: A


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Charismagic: The Death Princess #1

Have you ever seen the movie Seven Samurai?

Go watch it, I'll wait.

For those who haven't been able to track it down, it's a classic Japanese film that's (basically) about a poor village being terrorized by bandits, so they pool their resources to hire warriors to protect them. The movie follows the gathering of the samurai and other fighters and their struggle to win against overwhelming odds.

Trust me, it's great.

I bring it up because that same basic plot is behind the first issue of Charismagic: The Death Princess.

Which is not to say that this is a classic by any means - just that it's using a classic concept.

It revolves around a powerful sorceress who uses her power to enslave an army. To fight back, a sorcerer (with a tragic past) sets out to gather an odd group of powerful fighters - each more unusual than the last.

And that's about all we get in the setup here, as the team is gathered and the menace is revealed.

The art by Emilio Lopez is very good - an interesting mix of detailed design and a stylized, almost animated look to the characters.

It's a solid start, but this one has a ways to go to see if it can live up to its premise.

Grade: B


Monday, November 12, 2012

Earth 2 #6

I understand that the traditional model for a super-team isn't in keeping with modern storytelling.

In other words, the idea that the members of a team will get along or even like working together is a thing of the past.

At least that appears to be the idea behind Earth 2, as we see the former Justice Society of America reforming with "updated" versions of each hero.

But while a little dysfunction or rancor can be entertaining, here writer James Robinson seems to be taking it to extremes.

For example: the Atom is in the military and under orders to capture the other heroes; Hawkgirl is abrasive and secretive; the Flash seems somewhat slow on the uptake; Mr. Terrific is apparently a bad guy now; and Green Lantern alternates between being forceful and clever and being egotistical and rude.

With the exception of Hawkgirl and Flash (and we're not even sure about them), no one wants to work together, much less be on the same team - so it makes it difficult to get behind the (so far unnamed) group. Oh, and we're half-a-year into this series.

The art, however, is quite good. Nicola and Trevor Scott (are they related?) provide strong layouts, great character work and lively action sequences.

The idea of an Earth trying to survive in the wake of a devastating war (with an even more deadly attack being foreshadowed) has promise, but so far the only character we can sympathize with is the Flash.

That's a low total for what seems to be a team book.

Hopefully future events will justify hanging with this series, but right now, the only thing to recommend it is the art.

Grade: B


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Iron Man #1

While Iron Man has spent a lot of time as a second-tier character at Marvel, that all changed when the first film became a big hit.

Suddenly the focus was on Tony Stark, and he was (for the most part) treated well during a long run under writer Matt Fraction.

But it's time for a "soft reboot" with a new creative team and a new issue #1, this time with writer Kieron Gillen at the controls.

Gillen has also been pretty hit-and-miss with me, and while it's early in the story, so far... this one's a miss.

It picks up with Tony in his role as a playboy, flirting with a beautiful blonde while Pepper Potts steams nearby. He rushes away when he learns about the return of an old threat (one that may have ties to the new Iron Man 3 movie, you'll be shocked to hear).

But it's all cut-and-dried - there's little of the (now) trademark Stark quick wit, no emotional tie to a brutal death - Tony seems to be sleepwalking through the adventure.

The art is by Greg Land and Jay Leisten, and as always I'm conflicted. Land draws beautiful characters, has great layouts - but there's almost no storytelling going on here. Each panel could be a pretty photo, cut out and dropped into place. They don't flow together, they don't seem connected at all. Pretty to look at, but they don't seem to be working together.

So a disappointing new start for this series. Here's hoping for better things from the creative team.

Grade: B-


Saturday, November 10, 2012

AvX: Consequences #5 (of 5)

It's become traditional for every "Event" book to be followed by a series (or series of one-shots) that resolves some or all of the loose ends left behind.

That would be fine to justify AvX: Consequences, but let's face it, it's really just an excuse to mine another $20 out of the pockets of fans.

The focus is on Cyclops and the other former members of the Phoenix Five, all of whom are being sought (and treated as criminals) because they had the misfortune to be controlled by a cosmic being. That'll help heal that rift between heroes and mutants.

As the only one who was actually captured, Cyclops has been through the mill - imprisoned in a hellish (and mysterious) prison, he sees another prisoner (a mutant) killed by brutal inmates.

And keep in mind, this is the prison Captain America sent him to - it conveniently allows heroes like Iron Man and Wolverine to pop in and question (or threaten) Cyclops, but provides no protection for the mutant who almost destroyed the world.

We're supposed to buy the changes in these characters as they move to a darker place. Yeah, that always works.

So my advice is to pass on this one - the art is solid, but the story just rambles around and ends in a bad place, with heroes acting completely out of character. Was this trip really necessary?

Grade: C


Friday, November 9, 2012

Action Comics #14

One of the big traps many Superman writers fall into is that they focus on his physical powers.

The good writers - like Grant Morrison in this issue - also shine a light on his intelligence.

For a good bit of Morrison's run on Action Comics he's been teasing a fast-approaching (and world-destroying) threat, and in this issue it arrives - on Mars.

Which is unfortunate for the manned mission that's establishing a base there.

Somehow Superman gets their alarm message and makes an amazingly-swift trip to Mars (a hint of the Silver Age version of our hero, perhaps?), where he faces the menace that only one other had ever stopped - his father, Jor-El.

One of the things I love about Morrison's version of the character is his self-confidence. He doesn't know how he'll stop the menace, but he knows his intelligence is up to the challenge.

The art is excellent, too. Rags Morales and Mark Propst have a fresh, dynamic style that's really appealing.

I should also mention the excellent and touching backup story by writer Sholly Fisch and artists Chris Sprouse and Karl Story, which includes a real-live celebrity (among fans of science).

Oh, there's a twist ending that seems to come out of left field - but that's a small quibble in an issue that's just packed with wonderful moments. This is still one of my favorites from the "New 52."

Grade: A


Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Avengers #33

Any comic book writer who manages a long run on a single title is bound to have some hits and misses, and Brian Bendis has managed more of the former than the latter.

The "End Times" story wraps up his run on The Avengers, and he's going out on a strong note.

He does that by bringing back the "original" team - Thor, Iron Man, Giant-Man and Captain America (perhaps the Hulk was busy) - and sending them on a mission to a mysterious world to rescue an old friend (who shall go unnamed here).

There's loads of sharp dialogue, some comical bits, battle sequences and interaction between some old friends. I can't talk too much about the story without giving key points away, but it's sort of a throwback issue to a better time in comics.

The art is a real treat, too, including the Brandon Peterson cover and the interior art by the always-excellent team of Terry and Rachel Dodson. Great layouts, powerful character designs, and sexy women - gotta like it.

It's really just a basic superhero tale - an adventure is a strange land, some fighting, good friendship, a difficult opponent to face and a smidgen of romance on the side. A great mix and a fun story.

If only there were more comics like this one!

Grade: A-


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

New Comics Day

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

- Action Comics #14 - Facing an unbeatable foe, and defeating it with intelligence?

- AvX: Consequences #5 (of 5) - Lining up the bad guys.

- Avengers #33 - Yep, really enjoying this story with the original Avengers team.

- New Avenges #32 - Death comes calling.

- Popeye #7 - What a delight this series is.

- Defenders #12 - An impossible finish.

- Earth 2 #6 - Showdown with Grundy,

- Fairest #9 - A strange tale.

- Green Lantern #14 - Taking on the Justice League.

- Iron Man #1 - The return of a major menace.

- Road to Oz #3 of 6 - What a jackass.

- The Shadow #7 - Taking on a big challenge.

- World's Finest #6 - Robin vs. Huntress.

And that's it!

The Classics: Giant-Size Invaders #1

Comics fans owe writer and editor Roy Thomas a huge debt of thanks.

Through his efforts, the Golden Age heroes of two companies - Marvel and DC - were given new life.

His first success was with this issue, printed in 1975 - Giant-Size Invaders, which immediately led to a regular series (they dropped the "Giant-Size" out of the title).

The idea seems obvious in retrospect - building a team out of the top heroes from the 1940s - Captain America, Sub-Mariner, Human Torch, Bucky and Toro.

Having them work together to take on the ultimate evil - the Axis powers in World War II - made for endless story possibilities, and other heroes and super-teams were added along the way.

Thomas managed to incorporate Timely's continuity with actual historic events - it made for an entertaining series.

The only problem for me at the time was the art. Frank Robbins is acknowledged now as an innovative cartoonist, but his work then didn't seem a good fit for super-hero action. His figures were a bit rubbery and awkward.

They tried to make his work seem more heroic by having Vince Colletta ink it (heavily), but it still didn't feel like Marvel's usual art.

But whatever his failings, Robbins was an excellent storyteller, and his style actually gave the stories a Golden Age feel - so eventually, it worked for me.

Thomas would eventually move over to DC and revive the All-Star Squadron, but this was his first major effort at giving new life to classic heroes - and it was a great success.

Most comics companies seem happy to leave their past buried while they focus on what's new and flashy - but for a while, they celebrated their roots and reminded fans of the reason why these characters were - and still are - classics.

Grade: B+


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom #3

As much as I enjoyed the recent Rocketeer mini-series (and their mini-stories), I'm getting a bigger kick out of the Cargo of Doom story.

It's a feature-length story written by Mark Waid - one of the best in the business - and he realizes that this hero belongs firmly in the world of pulp adventure, so he piles on lots of action, dinosaurs, mysterious opponents, gruff sailors and more than a few surprises along the way.

It makes for a tasty treat, aided ably by the art by Chris Samnee, who was born for this kind of rough-and-tumble, monsters-men-and-mayhem-loaded adventure.

What more do you need? Great characters, over-the-top action and terrific art. Shouldn't you be buying this already?

Grade: A


Monday, November 5, 2012

AvX: Consequences #4

While I (mostly) enjoyed the whole Avengers vs. X-Men series, I find that I don't care much for the AvX: Consequences series that seems intended to wrap up the loose ends left behind.

That's because none of it is particularly believable.

Cyclops, who had been possessed by the Phoenix, is in prison because of his actions during that time. Really, Avengers? None of you has been possessed by the bad guys, forced to do something against your will?

And you're trying to hunt down the other members of the Phoenix Five? Treating them like criminals, too?

Even worse, the prison the heroes put Cyclops in puts his life in danger. Would Captain America really allow that? Would Iron Man? Would even Wolverine?

Like I said, it's just very difficult to accept.

The art by Mark Brooks is solid, though he doesn't get to draw much in the way of action scenes - it's mostly lots of talking heads, as characters stand around and talk interminably.

Which is another problem with the series.

It's best not to expect too much out of these "follow-up to events" comics, but this one is weaker than most.

Grade: C+


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Joe Kubert Presents #1 (of 6)

It's terribly sad that the legendary artist, editor and writer whose name is in the title isn't around to see the series Joe Kubert Presents in print (he passed away a couple of months ago).

He obviously had a lot of enthusiasm for it. This issue includes four stories - two by Kubert and two by some of his favorite creators.

The issue kicks off with a stunning Hawkman story, a 21-page "stand alone" tale that doesn't fall into continuity. If actually feels like a cross between a Tarzan tale and a Hawkman adventure.

The writing is a bit shaky - it indicates that Hawkman's homeworld is in our galaxy (though how this is possible isn't really explained). Hawkman and Hawkwoman (Katar Hall and Shayera) are dispatched to investigate the Earth. They land in a primitive part of Africa and have a brief adventure trying to save a tribe from a poisonous threat.

It's all very slim, but my, what stunning art!

The second story stars the Angel and the Ape, a detective team of a beautiful woman and, well, a Gorilla. It's all very silly and funny with some excellent comic art by Brian Bruniak. Lightweight, but funny.

There's a short story called Spit by Kubert that appears to have been reproduced from his pencils. Stunning work here, as he starts the tale of a boy who seeks to survive poverty by going to work on a ship.

The final tale is a short but grim return to the World War II experience of life on the U.S.S. Stevens, as written and drawn by Sam Glanzman.

It's a grim tale, but an important one.

A very strong showing for the first issue, and it's worth it just to see Kubert back drawing Hawkman again - after all, he drew the Silver Age version's first appearances.

Sad that we've lost Kubert, but great that he still has the ability to move and surprise us. I can't wait to see the rest of the issues in this series!

Grade: A


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Wolverine and the X-Men #19

I had lunch with a couple of good friends today, and one of them (let's call him Clint) thanked me for recommending this series, Wolverine and the X-Men.

He caught up on the series by picking up the first two collections. I knew he'd like it because he has a great sense humor - and so does this comic.

This issue is a great example, as the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning is in the market for a new instructor - so much of the issue is given over to the interview process.

It's a lot of fun to see who tries out for the job (I won't spoil it, but there are quite a few surprises in there - and quite a few improbable applicants). There are several other plot lines flying around in this issue, including the search for the assassin who may have killed the alien Broo, the Beast frantically searches for a cure, there's a new occupation for the Angel, the members of the Hellfire Club plot their revenge, and a budding romance seems doomed.

It's a fast-paced, funny issue that keeps things crackling along. It's a lighthearted story (with a few serious bits) that is a lot of fun to follow.

The art is outstanding, with Nick Bradshaw and Walden Wong turning in art that owes a lot the the style of the excellent Art Adams.

In some issues the humor works better than in others, but overall it's a great comic that puts the fun back in the X-Men family. And boy, did that line need it...

Just ask Clint!

Grade: A-


Friday, November 2, 2012

Aquaman #13

I continue to be impressed with the work Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis have done in this first 14 months of Aquaman.

They've made him a formidable hero, given him an interesting supporting cast, a powerful look, a tragic backstory, lots of mysteries to unfold and a strong romantic interest. What's not to like?

In fact, the only thing I don't like about this series is the casual way death is dealt - and sometimes, the way it isn't dealt.

Which is to say, Black Manta is the bad guy here, and he gleefully kills people.

In the "old days" (the '60s and before), it was extremely rare for a villain to kill anyone - and when he did, you knew that he'd end up paying the ultimate price, too (though usually being killed by his own acts - not by a bloodthirsty hero).

But in modern tales, they can't bear to lose a good villain, so he or she kills at will and rarely answers for it. Oh, he might end up in jail, she might seem to get killed - but they never actually die.

And that's the only real flaw in this story, (mild spoiler here) that Manta kills more than one hero but never really pays for his deed.

But it's a common flaw - that why the Joker is still breathing, along with Dr. Doom, Luthor, ad infinitum.

Aside from that quibble, this is a terrific series, and it continues to build to further revelations. As long as Johns is involved, I'll keep hanging around.

Grade: A-


Thursday, November 1, 2012

A + X #1

"Marvel Now" is upon us, and the latest entry is another follow-up to the Avengers vs. X-Men event.

A + X is a bit of an odd duck - it's a team-up book that brings together an Avenger and an X-Man into a split comic, featuring an 11- and a 10-page story.

That's not a lot of room to develop a story, and Dan Slott and Jeph Loeb keep it basic, with a time-traveling team-up between Captain America and Cable, and a slugfest with Wolverine and the Hulk and the Hulk and Wolverine (that's not a typo).

Given so little room to work with, the stories are slim, and not a good reason to buy this comic.

The art, on the other hand, is excellent. Ron Garney tackles the World War II tale and provides powerful, high energy action, while Dale Keown returns to the Hulk with cinematic, larger-than-life art.

It's all meant to be fast and fun and lightweight - and it succeeds, I suppose, but there's not much meat on those bones.

If great art is enough, pick this one up. If you want some story in your comics, keep looking.

Grade: B-