Wednesday, February 29, 2012

New Comics

Here's what I picked up today:

- Avengers #23 - Looks bad for the home team.

- New Avengers #22 - Ditto.

- FF #15 - The return of Power Pack!

- King Conan #2 (of 4) - Conan takes a nap.

- Justice League #6 - Showdown with Darkseid.

- The Shade #5 (of 12) - Will it make it to the end?

- Spaceman #4 - Wild and wacky.

- The Twelve #10 - Two issues in two months - amazing!

- The Ultimates #7 - Fighting an impossible opponent.

- Uncharted #4 - From the videogame to the comics page.

And that's it!

The Classics - Adventure Comics #467

Despite having a great title, DC's Adventure Comics has gone through all kinds of peaks and valleys over the decades since it first appeared.

By the time I started paying attention to it, the comic was home to the Legion of Super-Heroes. When that series ran out of gas (temporarily - it came back eventually in Superboy's comic and went on to bigger and better things), Adventure was turned over to Supergirl for a few years. Then it was home to a variety of characters, including the grisly version of the Spectre and the mysterious Black Orchid.

Then it became a dollar comic and was loaded down with characters, including the Flash, Aquaman, the Justice Society and Deadman.

In 1980 the title took another surprising turn, as it reverted to a normal size (40 cents in those days) and it became a "split" book, with two completely different characters sharing the space.

The first half of the comic was given over to Plastic Man, the Jack Cole comical creation. Written by Len Wein, it was a lighthearted tale, with Plas working for the feds and outwitting a number of henchmen. The art by Joe Staton is wonderful - a perfect match of artist and character.

Unfortunately, the story didn't really succeed as adventure or comedy. It's kinda cute, and the art is great, but that's about all there is to recommend it.

Plas has never really clicked with the modern audience - his short-lived membership in the Justice League is about the best use of the character in a long, long time.

The second half of the book is the real forgotten gem. It features a brand-new version of Starman (having no evident connection to the Golden Age character in the JSA).

As written by Paul Levitz and drawn by the legendary Steve Ditko, this Starman is more Silver Surfer than superhero. He's able to live in space with no protective gear, and he's made a name for himself as a hero who protects the weak and fights the wicked.

The story is pretty lightweight - they only have nine pages to work with, after all - but it's a fun story about a fight with a space pirate and the rescue of a new ally.

Starman didn't last long, although his story was eventually tied up in later, more earthbound versions of the character - but it was fun while it lasted.

Ditko did some vastly-underrated work for DC around this time, including one of my favorites, Shade the Changing Man.

That was the real fun of Adventure Comics - you never quite knew what to expect, but sometimes, you hit gold.

Grade: Plastic Man: B- / Starman: A-

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Broken Pieces #2

I have to admit that I'm a sucker for post-Armageddon stories - and that's what you get in spades in the comic Broken Pieces.

As the story spools out, writer Mark Roslan is a bit vague when it comes to describing just what has devastated humanity (big revelations are in the offing). At some point, some kind of particularly nasty contagion started affecting people - destroying their internal organs.

Quarentine areas have been established, but society is breaking down as people get more desperate to reach safety - or find a cure.

Into the mix we throw a scientist who's fighting to find a way to heal all injuries. She may have succeeded, but she also may have created a monster.

One of her test subjects has pulled a Wolverine - he has recovered from horrible injuries, broken free of the lab and made his way to the outside world - but the corporation funding the research isn't going to let him go without a fight.

So it's an intelligent, dark tale that bounces cleverly back and forth between the scientific efforts in the lab (and the politics threatening the efforts) and the brutal fight for existence in a dangerous world.

The art is by Micah Kaneshiro, and it's quite good - he has a spare, expressive style that bounces effortlessly between the stark lab sequences and the devastated desert regions. He's very good at creating distinct characters, too - a bit of a trick when there are no super-costumes in evidence.

So this series is off to a good start - it's intelligent, well-crafted and moving in unexpected directions. I'm anxious to see where it goes from here!

Grade: B+

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Monday, February 27, 2012

All Star Western #6

I've somehow overlooked this new home for Jonah Hex, but All Star Western continues the tradition of strong storytelling from the previous run.

The twist this time around from writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray is that Hex's adventures are set in Gotham City - and while it's the wrong time frame for Batman to appear, there are more than a few bat references (and menaces) to go around.

Jonah is out to solve the mystery of the disappearance of several children and to track down the men behind the plot.

It's a solid story, with loads of violence and retribution to deal out.

I like the art by Moritat - he has a unique style. It's dark and scratchy and kinetic - a perfect fit for the story.

There's also a backup feature by the same writing team with art by Phil Winslade. The Barbary Ghost is your basic revenge story, but it's a solid one, and the Ghost (I believe she's a new character) is a strong addition to DC's Western lineup.

This creative team has had a long, strong run on Hex, and it continues here - and given the guest stars who appear on the last page of the Hex story, the future should be very interesting.

Grade: B+

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Flash #6

One of the reasons for the loyal following of the Barry Allen version of The Flash is that he has a Rogues Gallery - a group of opponents who are worthy adversaries.

My personal favorite of those was Captain Cold, who used a gun to control ice and temperatures. One reason I liked him was the design of the character - as visualized by the great Carmine Infantino, he was dressed in blue and white, trimmed with fur, he wore rectangular blue protective goggles and wielded a futuristic-looking gun - something Infantino was a master of designing (he got a lot of practice doing that on another favorite, Adam Strange).

The problem, of course, is that the simple way to defeat Cold was to separate him from his gun - without it, he's just a normal man.

This issue of The Flash solves that problem by (somehow) internalizing his power, making him the source - so stopping him is a bit trickier.

Artist Francis Manapul has tweaked Cold's costume to make it a bit more streamlined and modern, and along with co-writer Brian Buccellato, they've amped up his powers to make him more of a menace and more of a challenge for the super-speedster.

This is actually the best issue of this new series so far, although it raises some interesting questions - like, who is Barry Allen actually in love with, Iris or Patty? Is the Speed Force (which powers the Flash) a menace?

Glad to see this series moving in the right direction - but I do miss Captain Cold's gun.

Grade: A-

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Secret Avengers #23

Two issues into a new creative team on Secret Avengers, and - for me - the jury is still out.

There are things I like about it. I like the new members in the lineup, especially Captain Britain, Giant-Man and Hawkeye. I like that this issue gives the spotlight to the new Ant-Man, a good character who's been underutilized so far. I love the Art Adams cover (though the scene on this cover happens nowhere inside the comic).

But that's about it.

I don't like the way the team failed utterly in its first mission (last issue), and doesn't fare much better this time around. I don't care for the squabbling between members, and I don't buy that Hawkeye would be so quick to reject Venom's addition to the team - after all, the archer started out as a criminal, too.

I'm still not sure Gabriel Hardman's art is quite right for this series. His art has a dark, rough look to it - it's good, but the coloring is very pale and washed out, and it makes the characters and panels all run together. Perhaps more vivid coloring would help.

So, I'm struggling here. The villains seem lackluster, there are teases of a bigger conspiracy afoot, but we still don't know who the bad guys really are, why they captured a woman and her child, and how the Secret Avengers got involved.

There's still time to pull this story together, but it seems to be slipping away fast.

Grade: B-

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Aquaman #6

Perhaps it's just my long-running weakness for women with red hair, but the fact is, I've always liked Mera.

The wife of Aquaman is stunning, intelligent and very powerful, although she's had precious few chances to show it over the years.

All that has been corrected with the recent Blackest Night series and her de facto co-starring role in this comic.

In fact, this issue contains almost no Aquaman content at all (a mere two panels at the end), as it focuses on Mera and her venture into the world of grocery shopping.

The basic plot by Geoff Johns veers a bit too close to After School Special territory, as Mera is forced to deal with a couple of men who are knuckledraggers at best - but it does give her a chance to show her own regal nature, and the extent of her power to control water - even on dry land.

I enjoyed this issue a lot, and it's great to see these heroes get a long-needed injection of personality and purpose.

The art is by Joe Prado, who's working over layouts by Ivan Reis, and while it's not quite as good as pure Reis, it's pretty darn close - solid work all around.

I think every issue in this series so far has referenced the fact that Aquaman (and "Aquawoman") are considered to be jokes on the surface world, thanks to comedians who've made fun of him and his power to "talk to fish."

Hopefully this series will continue to mend that reputation. Aquaman is one of the earliest superheroes I encountered, and he's long been a favorite. It's great to see him getting first-class treatment at the hands of some of DC's best creators.

More like this, please.

Grade: A-

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fantastic Four #603

I'll get to this issue in a minute, but first I have to wonder: what's going on with the letters page?

This issue features letters for both the Fantastic Four comic and the companion FF series (in fact, the same letters page is printed in both titles). Half the letters are raves, and half slam the cover artist for this series and the interior artist for FF.

I'm all for honesty on the letters page, but it feels like the editor is lobbying for a change in artists - one letter refers to "Bobillo's (AWFUL) artwork." Criticism is fine, but there's a difference between making troll remarks and offering suggestions or constructive criticism. And that artist has already left the book!

Anyway, back to this issue. Hiding behind an odd cover is a big ol' cosmic brouhaha between some of the Marvel Universe's heaviest hitters. The story brings together the Kree / Earth / Inhumans conflict, the war between four cities, the threat of the alternate Reeds, the return of the Human Torch and throws in a battle between Galactus and the Mad Celestials for good measure!

So you're definitely getting your money's worth here. Another terrific chapter from writer Jonathan Hickman, and excellent interior art by Barry Kitson, bouncing back and forth between the team and the clash of cosmic giants.

Like I've been saying: this is a great series and you shouldn't miss it.

Even though I have to admit I'm not crazy about the art on this cover - mostly because I have no idea what's going on there. Looks like Reed is trying to show what the pretzel he had for lunch looked like. (Well, we can't be constructive all the time.)

Grade: A-

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hey, Kids - Comics!

A relatively light week for me. I got:

- All-Star Western #6 - A Jonah Hex / Batman crossover (sorta).

- Aquaman #6 - Mera
goes shopping!

- Secret Avengers #23 - Recruiting Venom!

- Captain America & Bucky #627 - Guest-starring the original Human Torch.

- Fantastic Four #603 - Galactus vs. the Celestials!

- Flash #6 - The return of Captain Cold!

- Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz #5 (of 8) - An unbeatable foe.

- The Ray #3 (of 4) - First, save your girlfriend.

- The Mighty Thor #11
- Facing the gigantic God-Eater.

- Wolverine and the X-Men #6 - That is one crazy school.

And I received a pdf of Broken Pieces #2.

And that's it!

The Classics - Fantastic Four #120

While there's no denying that the original run on the Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby was loaded with great comics and largely set the standard for the industry, it's also true that the artists that followed on the comic turned in some great work.

After a (very) short stint by John Romita on the FF, the art reins were turned over to John Buscema. He was an excellent choice - few artists could match his power or craftsmanship. Drawing on influences like Hal Foster and Alex Raymond, Buscema filled the page with kinetic images, powerful heroes and beautiful women.

I picked this issue to review because I remember being shocked to the core by the ending - which is rather surprising, because most of the issue is downright ordinary.

It begins with the FF relaxing in the Baxter Building when they're suddenly attacked by a nameless bunch of armed hoods. The danger is easily dealt with, but a new mystery appears in the skies - a severe man walks in the air, observing the world for unknown reasons. His costume almost defies description - he has a sunburst symbol on his chest, he wears a short skirt, red tights, a silver helmet and he seems to have flames emanating from his back, almost forming a cape.

The FF lure him to the roof of the Baxter Building, where the Human Torch, the Thing and the Invisible Girl distract him while Mr. Fantastic searches for answers.

Finally, the Air-Walker speaks, and reveals his true mission.

Here we must pause, because despite my preference to never reveal the ending, in order for this discussion to continue, I'll have to reveal the shocking final page. The comic came out in 1972, so I suppose you've had plenty of time to track it down by now. Anyway...

I remember being thunderstruck by the ending, as the Air-Walker pulls out a giant trumpet. The final page shows him blowing the horn, shaking the very Earth below the feet of our heroes. He then reveals that he is actually the angel Gabriel, sent by God to signal the end of the world!

Well, my 16-year-old jaw dropped open at that. Keep in mind that one of the truly forbidden topics in comics at the time was God and religion (except in the most vague or supportive ways, of course).

Stan had managed to slip in a few references over the years: in one issue, Reed faces death in the Negative Zone, and he realizes that at least he'll learn the answer to the "final question." It was a staggering thought to my even-younger self, the idea of facing death! In another issue, when Sue worries that no one is powerful enough to defeat the villain, Stan has the Watcher say (going from memory here), "There is one, and his only power is love!"

But I was shocked to find this issue, where the FF are apparently up against the end of times as ordered up by the almighty!

Of course, in the next issue, we find things aren't what they seem (and that part of the story I won't spoil for you).

These days, the inclusion of God and his will might be a bit less shocking, but in 1972, it just wasn't done - until Stan and John did it.

It wouldn't be the first time Marvel - and Stan in particular - broke the rules - but I'll save that story for another Wednesday.

Grade: B+

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

DC Universe Presents #6

As my Dad once said, "City boy gets slickered again."

DC must know that there are certain characters I'll follow no matter where they appear. The Doom Patrol, Adam Strange, Metal Men, Metamorpho and the Challengers of the Unknown. So I was tickled to see the cover of DC Universe Presents with an updated version of the Challs.

They even threw in artwork by Jerry Ordway, one of my favorite artists, and a cover by another fave, Ryan Sook.

Unfortunately, they forgot to include the Challengers.

Wait, that's not entirely fair - they're in there. Rocky, Ace, Red and Prof are in the plane that crashes at the beginning of the book - but they're nothing more than supporting characters here.

The focus is on June Robbins, who is the producer for a TV reality show called "Challengers." She's leading a planeload of second-banana celebrities to a site in the Himalayan Mountains when it all goes south.

What follows is a strange, dream-like series of events, which is followed by an encounter with a monster (but not the one on the cover - that scene happens nowhere in this comic) and more mysteries.

The story by Dan Didio and Ordway isn't bad, it's just... confusing. I understand updating the Challs for a modern audience, but this doesn't contain any of the elements of camraderie or humor or adventure - it's more like "Lost" in the mountains.

It might still work out, and I'll buy the next issue at least to see if they can make sense of it all - but so far, this doesn't feel at all like the Challengers I know and love.

Hopefully they'll turn up next issue, and I won't feel like I got snookered.

Grade: B-

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Soulfire #7

One of the ways comics have changed today - some will say for the better, some will disagree - is how they bring new readers up to speed.

Before the 1960s it wasn't necessary to recap anything - there was no real continuity, and the characters and stories were straightforward enough that any reader could easily figure out the basics.

In the '60s, '70s, '80s and into the '90s, continued stories were introduced and continuity became more important, so it was sometimes necessary to include a short recap at the beginning of each story to explain what was happening to any new reader. It was usually presented as part of the story, and while it was sometimes awkward, it was efficient.

These days, most companies prefer to use a text page at the beginning of each issue (or on the inside cover) to manage that. I usually skip over it if I've been reading along, but if it's a comic I haven't been reading - like Soulfire, which I'm about to start talking about, honest - then I'll use it to sort things out.

But even that isn't a lot of help here, as the recap reels off several names of characters, but doesn't really tell me the basics. It needs the five "W's" and an "H," which we were taught in Journalism class that every good story lede should include: who, what, where, when, why and how.

So we're introduced to quite a few characters, and it took me most of the issue to sort them out (the confusion isn't helped by the fact that two characters look a lot alike).

The story is easy enough to sort out - it's your basic "good vs. evil" contest, with the evil Onyx attacking, using a huge dragon made of magical energy, and the good guys fighting back with mixed results - especially when the counterattack unleashes an even greater menace.

The story by J.T. Krul is straightforward and moves quickly, but again, as a newbie, I needed a bit more help sorting out the characters and what all the fighting was about.

The art is by Jason Fabok, and it's quite good - I especially like the design of the dragon and the dark monster, and he draws beautiful women.

The foundation is here for some good stories, but I'll have to track down the earlier issues (or pick up some of the collections) to sort it all out.

The old saying in the business was, "Every issue is someone's first issue." That's why it's always important to keep the stories accessible - you don't want to scare off the reader before the story has a chance to hook them.

Grade: B

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Daredevil #9

Writer Mark Waid has quietly managed to turn Daredevil into one of the best comics in Marvel's lineup (and some months, it's "the" best).

He's managed that by taking the character back to his roots, pruning away some of the recent developments that just don't work, and using some classic villains in new and unusual ways.

So let's examine those points:

BACK TO HIS ROOTS - In his original version, Daredevil was a joking, freewheeling crimefighter who used his heightened senses and athletic skills to fight the bad guys. As Matt Murdock, he would defend those criminals in court. Today, that's pretty much what you're getting here, although as a lawyer Matt has to be a bit trickier in how he helps others these days.

PRUNING AWAY RECENT DEVELOPMENTS THAT DIDN'T WORK - At least they didn't work for me. Those include Daredevil being humorless, brutal and even murderous. The fact that Matt's secret identity has been revealed is used more for humor than anything else. Foggy is back to being an effective partner and friend (with some comic relief thrown in).

USING CLASSIC VILLAINS: A recent story used Klaw, and this time around it's the Mole Man who has sent his Moloids on an odd mission - they're stealing caskets from graves, including the one holding the remains of Daredevil's father.

The story is well served by the artwork by Paolo and Joe Rivera. It's moody, dark and rather horrific (intentionally, I should add).

So if you haven't made your way back to Daredevil yet, I understand - I went away for a while, too. But now's a good time to come back and see what you've been missing.

Some great superhero comics to be found here.

Grade: A-

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Wonder Woman #6

Portraying Gods in a comic book can be tricky - they generally come across as either childish, capricious or just plain evil.

For the opening story arc in this new Wonder Woman comic, she's dealt with all three examples - and there's a crowd of gods on hand for this issue.

The problem is that Zeus has gone missing and his wife Hera is lashing out at - well, everyone who has an... intimate connection to the randiest god of them all.

As a result, a young woman named Zola who is carrying Zeus' child is a target - and so is Wonder Woman, only recently revealed to be a daughter of Zeus.

So how does a demi-god like WW fight back against a god? It's my favorite line from the original Clash of the Titans movie - "A Titan to kill a Titan!"

She arranges a meeting between Poseidon, Hades and Hermes - but as you'd expect when dealing with such powerhouses, things don't exactly go as planned.

But it's wonderful to see Diana dealing with this problem with intelligence and determination - and there are a few fun action sequences thrown in for good measure. Excellent work by writer Brian Azzarello and artist Tony Akins (filling in for the regular artist, I presume, and doing strong work).

This really is the best version of Wonder Woman we've seen in quite a while. Like Batman (as discussed the other day), this really isn't a comic for kids - but for those mature enough to read it, this series is highly recommended!

Grade: A-

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Friday, February 17, 2012

The New Avengers #21

You know how some TV shows use old clips as flashbacks to gin up a "new" episode?

That's exactly what this issue of The New Avengers feels like.

Once again we have Norman Osborn leading a group of Dark Avengers against the good guys, and once again he trots out the Clone Thor (some call him Ragnarok, but I prefer Clor) as a weapon to use against the heroes.

Which would be easier to take if not for the fact that the real (non-clone, accept no substitutes) Thor destroyed the fake one a few months back in his own comic.

It's very Civil-War-and-Dark-Reign-redux.

So the whole issue is given over to a big, messy battle sequence, as Osborn (who is surely a criminal to the public at large after destroying Asgard) uses public relations to somehow brainwash Americans into turning their backs on the Avengers.

I'm just not buying it, so for me it's a rare miss by writer Brian Bendis. Perhaps he's ending his run on this title just in time.

Even the usually stellar artwork by Mike Deodato seems out of control here. The battle sequences are so crammed full of tiny details - debris, speed lines, flailing bodies, lighting bolts, sound effects - that it's difficult to sort out what you're looking at. (And can Clor even control lightning?)

It's too early to outright condemn this storyline, but presumably this story will wrap up soon. The creative team only has a couple of months left before the Avengers vs. X-Men juggernaut takes over the storylines for both lines.

Heaven help us.

Grade: B

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Batman #6

While I've really been enjoying this "New 52" adventures of Batman (at least in this title), I have to admit that part of me mourns the fact that very few of DC's titles are really "all ages" material.

Most mainstream titles are designed to be enjoyed by any reader, no matter their age or sophistication. These days, however, comics seem to be almost exclusively aimed at either adults - or kids.

This issue of Batman, for example, contains numerous scenes of brutality. The Dark Knight in particular takes a pounding here - the blood flies and we get lots of closeups of fear-filled eyes.

There are other horrific images involving the Court of Owls and their henchman, The Talon. It's all what I would consider a bit too intense for younger readers.

Let me quickly add that, as a grownup, I very much admire the work the creative team is doing here. Writer Scott Snyder has crafted an outstanding, grisly tale that pushes Batman about as far as I've ever seen him pushed before - and in as bad a spot as one could expect to find.

Artist Greg Capullo is also doing the best work of his career, creating a nightmarish maze where Batman is trapped, and some truly frightening opponents in the dark.

To say more would be to give too much away, but in this opening storyline for the "new" title they've created a new menace for Batman to face, and it's one that is both compelling and a true challenge for him to overcome.

For the first time in a long, long time, this title is at the top of my reading list. That's the best compliment I can give it.

Grade: A

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

New Comics Day!

Here's what I picked up today:

- Avengers #22 - Are the bad guys about to win?

- New Avengers #21 - Sure looks that way.

- Batman #6 - Same here.

- DC Presents #6 - Hey, it's the Challengers of the Unknown!

- Daredevil #9 - Need some heavy metal for that River Styx cover (Simpsons cartoon reference).

- Fear Itself: The Fearless #9 (of 12) - More shenanigans with hammers.

- Invincible Iron Man #513 - Duking it out with War Machine.

- Winter Soldier #2 - More spy stuff.

- Wonder Woman #6 - Taking on the gods.

And I received a pdf of Soulfire #7.

And that's it!

The Classics - The Flash #133

This week's "Classic" review comes to us by way of Fred Hembeck, who was the first to make a gag out of this cover.

It features The Flash transformed and thinking, "I've got the strangest feeling I'm being turned into a puppet!" As Hembeck wondered, just what does that feel like and how did the Flash know?

Published in 1962, it was one of many transformations The Flash would be forced to endure. Did any Silver Age hero other than Superman go through as many strange transformations as The Flash? (OK, maybe Batman.) Actually, Jimmy Olsen probably wins the goofy transformation contest, but I don't think of him as a super-hero.

Over the course of that time period, The Flash became incredibly fat, grew a huge head, was ejected from his own uniform, and (if I recall correctly) he was somehow transformed into a slab of concrete and placed into a sidewalk so people could walk all over him.

But being changed into a puppet was probably the most humiliating, since he was at the mercy of his foe, Abra Kadabra, and made to perform in a show that made fun of the hero.

But while the cover is funny and the situation bizarre, it's really not a great comic book. Abra Kadabra was one of the least interesting in Flash's Rogue's Gallery. Born in the 64th Century, Abra uses science to create what seems like magic in our world.

As a result, he could do almost anything. The Flash's adventures were always more entertaining (at least for me) when it had some basis, however slim, in the world of science (or science fiction). Those stories best fit the character - and this story had none of it.

What is stellar, of course, is the artwork by Carmine Infantino. His Flash is sleek, his layouts arresting and the architecture he created was always a delight. Lots of artists have taken a run at the character (or some version of him, anyway), but I still think of Infantino as "the" Flash artist.

There's also a back-up story featuring Kid Flash, who gets an important lesson from three boys who are handicapped - but like the opening story, it's thin stuff.

There would be much better issues of The Flash before and after this one - but none had a funnier cover.

Grade: B-

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Powers #8

Here's a comic that's had a spotty publishing schedule of late - Powers.

Which is kind of surprising, because it had a long healthy (and mostly on-schedule) run before the latest round of renumbering.

The comic merges superhero fare with a police procedural format, and it's quite good, in a raw, no-holds-barred, definitely not for kids kinda way.

It focuses on Homicide Detective Christian Walker, a former "Power" (superhero) who lost his abilities, so he devotes himself to solving Power-related murders.

His first partner was Deena Pilgrim, who now works for the FBI. Together, they've faced some gruesome and puzzling murders.

The ongoing story focuses on the murder of several "gods" - a group known as "The Golden Ones," who claim to be deities, but apparently they can be killed.

The most recent murder happened on TV - yet no one seems able to figure out what happened - and that's the challenge facing Walker, his new partner Enki Sunrise, and Pilgrim.

The match of these two never-before-combined (as best as I can remember) formats works very well (and may be appearing in a new TV show - someday), and writer Brian Bendis does his usual phenomenal job of creating "real" characters, with crisp dialogue and murky motivations.

I really like Michael Oeming's art - gritty and gruesome, expressive and dark - it's a perfect match for this series. And he's an artist who started out strong and just keeps getting better with each issue.

This would be a tough issue to start with, since the story started months back and has been hanging ever sense - this is definitely not a "done-in-one" kinda comic.

But if you're looking for a hard-hitting police drama with some superhero curves added, you'll find no better comic around. Highly recommended!

Grade: A-

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Next Men #40

After waiting so long for the return of the Next Men, it's sad to learn that this story is the final arc for that team.

And for that final story (titled "Aftermath"), it seems writer and artist John Byrne has decided to go for broke, throwing in all kinds of unusual elements in this story.

It includes Jazz running for her life from giant feathered dinosaurs, some soldiers from ancient Rome, a caveman, a spaceman (who isn't what he seems), an alien and the crew of a starship.

Just what they're all doing thrown together in this mixed-up, devastated landscape - and what happened to her other team members - we'll have to wait and see. But as it stands, this feels like a really good episode of Doctor Who (and from me, that's high praise indeed).

Much as I hate to see this comic end, I'm anxious to see the rest of this story!

Grade: A-

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Secret Avengers #22

Writer Rick Remender gets the unlucky task of following Warren Ellis' outstanding run on Secret Avengers, and it's a tall order.

And perhaps it's because I'm spoiled by the one-issue gems we've been getting, but this issue was a bit of a letdown.

Some of that is unavoidable, since they're doing a "rebuild the team roster" thing here - writing Captain America out of this series and putting in place some new faces, including Hawkeye, Captain Britain and Giant-Man (all welcome additions).

The team ends up fighting a mysterious new menace - but the opening adventure makes the team look like amateurs (or worse, bumblers). The heroes don't always have to win, but in many Avengers titles lately, there seems to be a movement toward making them inept. I don't get it.

I like the art, though I'm not familiar with Gabriel Hardman's work. It's a unique style with strong layouts and good character designs, but I'm not sure the muted coloring is the best fit.

By the way, am I the only one who doesn't understand why every single artist draws the Beast as a different character? I understand artistic license, but shouldn't there be some kind of basic design for everyone to follow? Some draw him to look like a big cat, some a bear, some a lion - could someone please pick one and stick with it?

Anyway, I'll give the new creative team more time to get a grip on this series - but so far, Secret Avengers is just OK.

Grade: B

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Conan the Barbarian #1

The interesting thing about the Robert E. Howard story "Queen of the Black Coast" (which introduced Conan's first great love, Belit) is that it covers a considerable period in time - but it's a rather short story.

I didn't really pick up on that when I first read the story in a Lancer paperback, but Roy Thomas and John Buscema made it clear when they crafted their original take on this story in the '70s for the first Conan the Barbarian comic - it was a story that continued for years.

This first issue (actually #88 in the series of Conan stories from Dark Horse Comics) gives us another take on that tale - one that's a bit more on the gritty side.

It's written by Brian Wood, who does a masterful job here with Conan, picking up right where The Road of Kings left off. Conan is on the run from authorities and manages to find refuge on a boat sailing away from Argos. But they're sailing in waters frequented by the pirate ship led by the dreaded Belit.

This issue is almost leisurely, introducing the title character, giving us good reason to like and sympathize with him, and bringing to life the characters who round out this cast.

I really like the art by Becky Cloonan - it's not at all the usual Conan art, but it has a realistic grit, and she manages to capture the expressions of the characters in a wonderful, unique fashion. Her work also has a touch of humor and, well, life to it, that many others lack. I'm looking forward to seeing her work on future issues.

This story is going to play out over the next two years (or 25 issues), so Wood and Cloonan have plenty of room to weave Belit's story. It's going to be one to watch for!

Grade: A-

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Kevin Keller #1

So I decided to pick up this issue and get my first look at Kevin Keller, the newest inhabitant of the Archieverse (Riverdale, to be more exact).

I mentioned this comic to two friends who aren't big comics fans. I said, "I picked up this comic Kevin Keller." They both said these exact words: "Oh, the gay Archie."

So it's good to see that the marketing people have done their work well.

This comic is groundbreaking in one important way - I believe it's the first ongoing comic book to star a gay character.

Kevin is presented as being no different from any of the other Riverdale kids. He's clean-cut, has a normal family (whatever that is) with loving parents and two younger sisters. He enjoys writing, he was elected class president, he's handsome, charming and sincere. And he has a good sense of humor. What's not to like?

This first issue, written and drawn by the great Dan Parent, introduces the character to those of us who missed his earlier appearances. Kevin isn't perfect, though - he has at least one failing. When he gets nervous, he becomes clumsy and stupid (just like Archie) - leading to some good laughs.

It's a fun, bright issue that fits right in - in style, tone and content - with every other Archie comic in recent memory, so it's well worth picking up.

One hopes that we're getting very close to the day when having a gay character won't make headlines - it'll just be a regular part of life. The good news is, with efforts like this, that day is getting closer all the time.

Grade: B+

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Wolverine and the X-Men #5

Give writer Jason Aaron credit for taking a big risk with this issue of Wolverine and the X-Men.

There are few more dramatic experiences in life for a woman than being pregnant (it's pretty dramatic for the guys, but not in the same sense), so more than one writer has used it as a plot point in a story.

But it can backfire. One of the most derided Avengers stories has Ms. Marvel mysteriously becoming pregnant and somehow gives birth to a son who grows up to be his own father (don't ask me to explain it - I've blocked it out of my memory).

So when Kitty Pryde is suddenly pregnant, my first thought was: Fanfic (which is to say, fan fiction, where writers can do the most outrageous things to characters without concern for future continuity).

But there's actually a good explanation for what Kitty is experiencing, and that story threads through an entertaining issue that includes a most unusual class field trip, great dialogue and some shocking developments.

It also features the return of one of the most disgusting and lethal opponents the X-Men have ever faced.

I love the art, but that's because I'm a big fan of Art Adams, and here we have Nick Bradshaw doing an impressive imitation of Mr. Adams. The cover is especially effective - one of the most horrific ones I've seen in a while.

I've mentioned before that the first four issues had me split down the middle, with two issues being great and two being poor. As of now, the score is: Great - 3, Poor - 2. On to the next round!

Grade: A-

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Comic Book Day!

Here's what I picked up today:

- Secret Avengers #22 - A new beginning (which is kind of a shame, because I loved Ellis' run).

- Captain America #8 - The incredible shrinking Cap?

- Conan the Barbarian #1 - It's the '70s all over again!

- Green Lantern #6 - Tangling with Sinestro.

- Journey Into Mystery #634 - More fun with Loki!

- Kevin Keller #1 - Joining the Riverdale gang.

- Lobster Johnson #2 - Pulpy fun!

- Memorial #3
- Fun, in a Fables / Sandman kinda way.

- Next Men #40 - Time runs amuck!

- Powers #8 - Back after a long absence.

- Wolverine and the X-Men #5 - Is Kitty pregnant?

And that's it!

The Classics - Black Panther #1

You occasionally get a bit of a jolt when the creative team changes on a comic and things move in a different direction.

But I don't think any comic ever experienced a more radical change than the Black Panther in the mid-'70s.

The early part of that decade featured T'Challa taking over the spotlight in the (formerly) reprint comic Jungle Action. His adventures were written by Don McGregor, who created dramatic, prose-intensive adventures that were more adult than most Marvel Comics, very serious and wonderful to read (one day I'll review one of his issues).

Sadly, the series was finally canceled - only to be brought back in 1976 with a new first issue, and a surprising new writer and artist - Jack "King" Kirby!

No one could dispute Kirby's claim to the character - after all, he co-created the Black Panther with Stan Lee in 1966 in issue #52 of the Fantastic Four.

Kirby left Marvel in the early '70s, and when he returned the company seemed to struggle with what to do with him. Ever creative, Kirby came up with a new, cosmic scale series - The Eternals - and he took over Captain America just in time for an epic bicentennial adventure. (Not to mention Devil Dinosaur, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Mister Machine.)

But in 1976 the King needed a new title to tackle, and they put him on this one.

One suspects he didn't even look at McGregor's series, which was a completely different style of hero. Instead, Kirby played to his strength - wild, over-the-top action, strange characters and exotic locales.

And I don't mean any of this as a put-down for either McGregor or Kirby, because I loved both series - but I distinctly remember my neck almost snapping from the change in direction.

In this issue, the Panther is working with Mister Little, a mysterious man who's hunting a small brass frog known as King Solomon's Frog. It holds a powerful secret - namely, it's actually a time machine - and it's drawing creatures through time, seemingly at random!

Powerful forces are trying to control it, and the Panther is right in the middle of the action.

As you'd expect from Kirby, the art is amazing (it's inked by Mike Royer), with incredible detail, huge action sequences, bone-breaking fight scenes, inventive battles in the air and below ground, and strange villains from the past, present and distant future.

It's just a pure delight though undeniably strange. Kirby's run on this series continued that streak throughout, as ideas geysered out unabated.

Some may not care for this series, because it's complete fantasy and it followed right behind McGregor's more realistic series - there was controversy at the time about it.

But Kirby's work, as always, shines with energy and creativity beyond imagination - it's amazing stuff, and I enjoyed it!

Grade: B+

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Winter Soldier #1

Talk about a character who's been put through the mill!

Bucky Barnes was, of course, Captain America's "kid" sidekick during World War II. During the battle with Baron Zemo that left Cap in suspended animation, Bucky was apparently killed - but he wasn't.

Near death, his body was recovered by the Russians, who saved his life, wiped his memory and made him into a cold war killing machine. He was finally rescued and his memory restored by Captain America, and Bucky even took Cap's role when Steve Rogers was (temporarily) "killed." (It's the "in" thing to do.)

While playing that part, Bucky was apparently killed by the Red Skull's daughter Sin - but he wasn't.

Now this tortured soul is back as the Winter Soldier and he's teamed up with the Black Widow, getting intel from SHIELD and using his skills to deal with some long-delayed business - namely, tracking down some other cold war killers.

It's a dark, spy-novel tale of deceit and danger - something writer Ed Brubaker does better than anyone out there.

But the writing is almost overshadowed by Butch Guice's art. He turns in amazing work here, with panels that are virtually photographic, and wonderful, over-the-top action sequences. He seems to be channeling his inner Steranko here.

I really enjoyed this issue, though it may not be for everyone - it's a bit on the grim and gritty side. But the story takes a surprising turn at the end, and it's going to be interesting to see what happens next, as a major supervillain appears to be entering the story.

A great start!

Grade: A-

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Dark Horse Presents #8

I really like Dark Horse Presents, but I admit that the price tag makes it a tough sell sometime.

At $7.99, it's a hefty price - but you do get the same number of pages that you would if you bought four normal comics for $12.

For me, the selling point is the content. The first few issues had new Concrete stories, and that's a good way to get me to pick it up. This time around, the issue actually has three stories that got my attention.

First, there's a new Hellboy story - sort of. It's actually a B.P.R.D. story, but it follows up on the most recent events in Hellboy's comic.

Second, there's a new Beasts of Burden story by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson, and they've once again woven a clever but haunting (and yes, scary) tale involving the dogs and a cat who protect the town of Burden from the supernatural.

Third, a new series starts in this issue, titled The Once & Future Tarzan, written by Alan Gordon with art by the excellent Thomas Yeates - as a big fan of ERB's ape-man (and Yeates), I wouldn't miss it.

None of that is to take away from the rest of the issue, which features fresh stories by the likes of Neal Adams, Mark Wheatley and Howard Chaykin.

This book is a great package - I need to stop being so cheap and make room in the budget for this one.

Grade: A-

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Fathom #4 (Vol. 4)

One of the interesting things about the comic Fathom is that it feels like it has a split personality.

You could say it's a science fiction / superhero tale about a strong heroine who is fighting against an mysterious and powerful group that has (apparently) killed three of her friends.

You could also say it's all about cheesecake, as Fathom spends the entire issue fighting for her life while wearing... well, I guess it's a bikini. She's sexy and poses provocatively while busting the bad guys upside their heads.

The comic benefits from strong artwork by Alex Konat and Cory Smith - they're not quite in Michael Turner's league yet, but they do a solid job continuing this title in a similar "good girl meets high tech" style.

The story by Scott Lobdell is a bit wobbly in places, as strange things happen, we learn about a quest for revenge, and a few surprises are thrown in - but it all seems to drag a bit.

Still, it's a pretty book to look at - and perhaps future issues will help it all make sense.

Grade: B

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Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Defenders #3

Since I was a big fan of The Defenders in its original version, I'm happy to report that - so far - I really like this version, too.

Part of that is the return of longtime favorites such as Dr. Strange, the Silver Surfer, Namor the Sub-Mariner and Iron Fist. I'm not as big a fan of the Red She-Hulk (did we really need another She-Hulk? Is Jen Walters over-utilized?), but she's used well here, so that's OK.

The series has kicked off by pitting the team against a powerhouse opponent, Nul, and thrown in some other old favorites, including the Knights of Wundagore and Prester John (you can count his Marvel appearances on one hand and have fingers left over).

Throw in some assorted weirdness and the fate of the universe hanging in the balance (and a reference to another beloved - and offbeat - Marvel comic), and you have one entertaining story by Matt Fraction.

The art certainly holds up its end of the deal, with Terry and Rachel Dodson providing lush, action-packed pages. Strong layouts, powerful heroes, beautiful women - what's not to like?

I especially enjoy the little touches, and find the notes on the bottom of many of the pages to be very funny.

Best of all, the opening storyline wraps up in this issue (at least I think it does) - it's nice to see a more compact adventure, rather than the standard stretched-out story that's so common today.

This is a fun, slightly off-center team book that's a lot of fun. Recommended!

Grade: A-

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Action Comics #6

You have to give writer Grant Morrison credit for being very clever.

This issue of Action Comics (and the one before it) are fill-in issues, bridging the gap between the threat of Brainiac (and the destruction of the Earth) and what happens next.

So he creates a fill-in that doesn't feel at all like a fill-in.

It doesn't hurt to have art by the tremendously talented Andy Kubert, but best of all he's got a story that's a bit of a mind-bender.

It's a time travel adventure that features three members of the Legion of Super-Heroes bringing the modern-day Superman back in time to a deadly encounter with the Anti-Superman Army, a deadly force of dozens of powerful villains. And it all takes place "between the panels" of the end of issue #4 and the beginning of #7.

At stake is the safety of the Earth, Superman's own fate and, of course, the matter of his survival. All especially tricky when his enemies have just discovered (or created?) Kryptonite.

It's interesting to see Morrison's take on the grown-up Man of Steel, who is confident and comfortable with his powers, while the one we've been following in this series is still learning the ropes and figuring out what he can do.

I just hope Morrison has a nice long run on this title - so far, it's the best by far of the "New 52."

Grade: A

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Twelve #9 (of 12)

It's always funny - and a bit sad - when a creative team so completely jumps the tracks that we must wait years between issues (we forgive you, Camelot 3000).

The last regular issue of The Twelve was published in October of... anyone want to guess the year?

Go ahead.

OK, ready?

The correct answer is... 2008. So almost three-and-a-half years later, we're finally getting to the final four issues in this series.

If you want a good laugh, here's my prophetic statement from the end of my review of The Twelve #8:
"The real shame is that we only have four more issues to enjoy - it'll be over far too soon."
Ha! Can I call 'em or what?

Luckily, this has been a series that's worth a bit of a wait. It focuses on a dozen heroes who fought in World War II, were captured and put in suspended animation, to be revived in the modern day world.

Each one has a unique story and faces heart-wrenching challenges. With great writing by J. Michael Straczynski and fantastic art by Chris Weston, fans have been hanging on to see what happens next.

The answer is: death, mystery and grim revelations. The focus is on The Blue Blade and the robot Electro, but lots of stories are bubbling nicely here.

Amazingly, the story all came back to me without having to re-read the series - which is a good sign about how entertaining it is.

I'm so glad to see this series back again, I can forgive the long delay. Almost.

Grade: A-


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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Check Out Doc Curmudgeon

By the way, occasional correspondent (and good friend) Clint McElroy has started up a new column over at the WizardWorld site, which he writes under the guise of Doc Curmudgeon.

He's a funny guy and knows his comics - you can read his weekly rants right here.

Add him to your "favorites" list - highly recommended!

First Comics for February

Here's what I picked up today:

- Action Comics #6 - the origin of Kryptonite.

- Dark Horse Presents #8 - with Hellboy (sorta) and Beasts of Burden stories, I wouldn't miss it.

- The Defenders #3 - Fight to the finish.

- Fatale #2 - Comics noir meets horror!

- Fear Itself: The Fearless #8 (of 12) - the plot unfolds.

- Irredeemable #34 - The path back?

- OMAC #6 - sorry to hear this title's being canceled - it's been fun.

- Swamp Thing #6 - things are looking very bad indeed.

- The Twelve #9 (of 12) - no, really?

- Winter Soldier #1 - he's not dead yet...

And I received review pdfs of Haunted City #2 and Fathom (Vol. 4) #4.

And that's it!