Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Avengers #24.1

I've been a fan of The Vision since his first appearance in The Avengers back in the Roy Thomas / John Buscema era.

So I was none too happy when the sythezoid / android was destroyed at the beginning of Brian Bendis' run on the Avengers. Now that Bendis is near the end of his long run on the series, he's finally restored The Vision to his old self - just in time for the return of the Scarlet Witch over in Avengers vs. X-Men #0.

This story takes place before that issue, as The Vision learns about the events that led up to his destruction - and then goes out to track down some of the people who were involved.

Which leads us to several emotional moments for The Vision - and perhaps we see why Bendis wrote him out of the series, because nowhere in here does he behave like his old, analytical self (or the looser, more human character he later became).

Here he's depicted as a child, blundering from one encounter to another in a weepy, angry, aimless manner.

The story may be a letdown, but the art by Brandon Peterson is wonderful. The double-page spread recounting the "death" of The Vision is stunning. The book is worth picking up for the art.

It seems like this issue is missing the point of the "Point" books. I thought they were supposed to be an entry point for new readers to get caught up on modern continuity.

There's nothing in this issue that you can't get in A vs X #0. Sad but true.

Grade: B

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Aquaman #7

Some issues inform, some advance, and some just tease.

This issue of Aquaman is the latter.

It starts with a brutal battle between Black Manta and a woman who can see the future. Apparently she and several other heroes we've never seen before have a connection to Aquaman - but we don't know any more than that.

Arthur is looking for the answer to the question, "Who sank Atlantis?" But his search is rudely interrupted when a member of "The Others" shows up demanding answers.

And that's about it this time around - writer Geoff Johns provides lots of teasing, lots of glimmers of events in the past and future - but not a lot of actual story going on here.

It's easy to forgive, though, since the story moves fast and frenetically, and the art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado is outstanding - I'd say it's the best art being produced for any of the "New 52" comics, and that's saying something.

It's great to see Aquaman and Mera soaring high in a well-written series. They were long overdue for VIP treatment.

Grade: A-


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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Avengers vs. X-Men #0

This year's most hotly-anticipated mini-series (so far) kicks things off with one of Marvel's longest-running heroines - and one of the newest.

The book is split in half between the bittersweet return of the Scarlet Witch and the attempt by Cyclops to protect the woman known as Hope.

It seems like an impossible job, because the Phoenix force is returning to Earth and it's apparently targeting Hope.

(And let me just say, if you're going to do a comic book that features several beautiful heroines, you'd be well advised to give the art chores to Frank Cho, who knocks it out of the park here. I like that he has Wanda back in her (more or less) original Scarlet Witch costume - but she and Emma Frost must go through a lot of glue to keep those costumes in place.)

The whole Phoenix plot is, of course, just an excuse for the upcoming battle that pits Avengers vs. X-Men.

It's a time-honored tradition at Marvel, of course, for heroes to fight each other. It usually happens when there's some kind of misunderstanding, an evil plot that forces a hero to do bad things, or it's a bad person playing the mind-control game.

Whatever the cause, the effect is almost always a lot of fun, and that's why fans are anxious to catch this one.

This is a good start to the series, although I didn't read the Children's Crusade, so I have no idea how Wanda is back (and they don't really bother to explain it). If you haven't been following the X-Men, you're probably just as baffled by Hope, who looks like Jean Grey / Marvel Girl, but isn't. You get just enough info to get by, but not much more than that.

Still, the characters are on stage, the conflict is set - I have high hopes for this one. Bring on the show!

Grade: A-


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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

New Comics for a Spring Day

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

- Aquaman #7 - An undersea JLA?

- New Avengers #23 - The end of the Dark Avengers.

- Avengers #24.1 - I had a Vision.

- Avengers vs. X-Men #0 - Setting up the big brawl with some nice Frank Cho art.

- Captain America & Bucky #628 - Guest starring the original Human Torch!

- King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword #3 (of 4) - Great stuff.

- Daredevil #10 - Grave concerns.

- FF #16 - Hanging out with the kids.

- Flash #7 - The revenge of Captain Cold.

- Hawken #3 - A grisly western

- Spaceman #5 - Odd but interesting.

- Thor #12 - Throwdown with Tannarus!

- The Twelve #11 - Counting down to the big finale.

- Uncharted #5 - Looking for a lost land.

And that's it! Next?

The Classics - News Gods #7

To continue from where we left off with last week's Classics review, Jack Kirby rocked the comics industry in 1970 with the announcement that he was leaving Marvel and joining DC Comics.

When his New Gods comic debuted, I was shocked to find that I wasn't that crazy about it. Today, of course, it's acknowledged as a masterpiece - but I didn't catch on to that until I picked up this issue.

The previous six issues had focused on Orion and his battles with evil threats from Apokolips - so imagine my surprise when I opened this issue and found a completely different story.

This issue, titled "The Pact," gave us what we had been missing - an origin story!

I'm a big fan of origin stories, myself (with rare exceptions) - they're the foundation for all future stories involving the characters.

We didn't really have one for the New Gods, other than the basic setup of two worlds inhabited by powerful beings - one good and one evil.

But here we meet Highfather when he was a warrior named Izaya, and we get more insight into Darkseid (nothing less than the greatest villain in DC history), his rise to power and the clever plans he sets in motion for his own purposes.

It's a tale that is very personal, as Izaya suffers a terrible loss, seeks redemption, and we learn about the fate of two young boys and how they brought an end to a destructive war.

It's also a story that works on a cosmic scale, as an incredible battle rages between two god-like races, with the only limits being that of Kirby's imagination (in other words, there are no limits).

Kirby's art features a raw power that had never really been seen before, as he used Mike Royer to faithfully ink his pencils, staying as close as possible to his original art.

It's an amazing, staggering bit of work - all the more impressive for being contained in a single, 24-page story.

But this is the story that made clear the epic nature of the story Kirby was telling - a story that spilled across four comics - New Gods, Mr. Miracle, The Forever People and (believe it or not) Jimmy Olsen.

Oh, some issues didn't live up to this one, but with the origin told, Kirby's saga took off - and I was hooked but good.

Sadly, within the next year DC would pull the plug on the New Gods series, and Kirby would move on to other creations. But he could point to this issue as the high water mark in the series.

The sudden cancellation was almost as shocking as Kirby's move to DC, and left comics fans everyone wondering that ever-painful question: what might have been?

Grade: A+

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Rocketeer Adventures 2 #1

Glad to see this series back again!

Assuming Rocketeer Adventures 2 is another four-issue mini-series, combined with the first volume, we'll have seen more stories starring the high-flying hero by assorted writers and artists than creator Dave Stevens managed to create. (Of couse, he was focused on quality, not quantity.)

IDW has once again lined up an all-star creative cast to pitch in three 8-page tales, along with a cover and pinup.

Behind that terrific Darwyn Cooke cover we start with "The Good Guys," a rural adventure that finds our hero at the mercy of a humble group of folks who must decide what to do with the vigilante who's dropped into their community. Nice story by Marc Guggenheim and wonderful art by Sandy Plunkett.

The second feature is "The Ducketeer," a cartoonish adventure of sorts that goes for laughs. Written by Peter David and drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz, it's the least of the bunch. The art (while excellent) doesn't quite work for the story. It's too stylized and not, well, cartoonish enough.

The final story, "A Dream of Flying," is a rare "real world" story by Stan Sakai (who usually spends his time with samauri rabbits). It's a little too similar to the first chapter in terms of story, but manages a very clever twist that'll make you smile.

The issue wraps with an awesome pinup by Art Adams incorporating a certain pretty girl, our hero and a dinosaur.

So, a great package bringing the rocket-powered hero to life, as rendered by some of the industry's top talents - great stuff!

Grade: B+

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Monday, March 26, 2012

John Carter: The Gods of Mars #1 (of 5)

As I mentioned in a recent review, I'm a big fan of the film John Carter.

It would make a great basis for a series of movies - but since it got hammered by the critics (I'm baffled as to why), moviegoers are staying away from it, and it looks like Disney will be taking a bath on it (although international sales are quite strong).

Marvel created its own authorized adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' first John Carter novel, A Princess of Mars. It was a fair adaptation, although I have to admit that I didn't really care for the art - it didn't seem like a good fit.

Since we're not likely to see a sequel, it's nice that Marvel has gone ahead with its adaptation of the second novel, The Gods of Mars (many elements from this book were incorporated into the film).

Once again, the story is fine. We really just get enough here to get the ball rolling, as Carter returns to Mars, only to find himself fighting for his life, and taken captive by a strange warlike race.

The art, while much better than the last effort, still doesn't work for me. The problem is that I'm a traditionalist when it comes to this kind of comic, and I'd much prefer to see a more classic style, along the lines of Murphy Anderson, Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum, who all gave this series such a great look during their brief runs on the comics based on Carter.

Ramon Perez is a fine artist, but his style is a bit too frenetic and disjointed for me. Your mileage may vary.

It would be nice to see all 11 of the John Carter books adapted, but I suspect the film will drag down any such plans.

But I'll continue to hope for more of both (movie and comics).

Grade: B

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Fear Itself: The Fearless #11 (of 12)

Carrying on after the conclusion of the Fear Itself miniseries, The Fearless has focused on the efforts by the Valkyrie to gather the mystic hammers wielded by the servants of the Serpent.

This hasn't been a bad maxi-series - each issue has featured some excellent interior art by such talents as Mark Bagley and Paul Pelletier and great covers by Art Adams.

The story has moved along briskly and logically, and has included some flashbacks to the Valkyrie's largely unknown earliest days. It's included some great villains and some strong action sequences.

But the problem is, nothing that happens here is a surprise. Valkyrie fights heroes for the hammers, she fights villains, she faces overwhelming odds - it just feels like the whole thing was written by committee.

At the end of this issue, the creative team throws in a surprise - but it lacks any punch, since the next page features the cover for the next issue which seems to spell out what happens next.

So, not a bad series, but not a particularly memorable one. I'm glad to see Valkyrie getting some time in the spotlight - I've liked that character since she first appeared in The Defenders. (I should note that the character's first appearance was in The Avengers, with the Lady Liberators - but she wasn't exactly herself in that story, he said vaguely.)

Grade: C+

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Wonder Woman #7

I really don't want to be a fan of this new version of Wonder Woman.

It's all about perception. In my mind, this is a character that should be accessible to all ages.

Instead, the stories are grim, dark and grisly, exposing the seamy underbelly of the myths that form the foundation of Wonder Woman's life.

But despite that, and my general feeling that I would hate for a young girl to be handed this comic to read by an unsuspecting adult, I have to admit - I'm really enjoying this series.

This issue continues Diana's attempts to find a way to cope with the machinations of the Greek gods - and rescue a woman who is in great peril. New characters are introduced, more secrets are revealed and WW gets to show why her lasso is a potent weapon.

I really like the artwork by Cliff Chiang - it's unique and distinct, telling the story with a clean and precise style that's visually arresting.

So, great comic, but don't hand it over to the kiddies unless you're looking to expand their education into grownup territories.

But for those of us old enough to handle it, highly recommended!

Grade: A-

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Batman #7

This series continues to impress.

One reason is because it's managed a rare accomplishment - writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo have created a new, memorable opponent for Batman.

How difficult is that? Well, I can only think of two villains created in the last, say, 25 years (and maybe more) that are worthy to stand alongside the usual rogues. Those newbies are Bane (created by Chuck Dixon, Graham Nolan and Doug Moench, I believe) and Harley Quinn, who started life in the animated Batman series (created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm).

But now the Court of Owls, and their enforcer, the Talon, have become a true challenge for the Dark Knight.

They've managed the rare accomplishment of nearly breaking Batman's will - and the challenge has just begun.

This issue is one of those "don't let anyone tell you what happens" issues because several surprising revelations are in included, and story threads lead all the way back to the beginning of Bruce Wayne's secret identity - and perhaps before that.

It's a masterful story, both story and art, and one not to be missed. And it looks like things will be amped up even more next issue.

Take my advice: buy this series. Pick up the back issues if you can. You can thank me later!

Grade: A

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Justice League #7

After the bombastic first story arc, here the Justice League settles down (comparatively speaking) to take care of some business.

Oh, there's action as the team tackles an odd menace, but most of the story is given over to Col. Steve Trevor, who acts an a liaison between the government and the League.

I like these "decompression" issues, because they can give us a good look at how the characters interact, and that can be one of the most entertaining things about a team book.

For my taste, writer Geoff Johns is trying a little too hard to make Green Lantern the team's smart aleck, but it's close enough to his character, so I'll go with it. (I also find it hard to believe that Batman would put up with much guff out of anyone.)

The art on this issue is by Gene Ha, and as always, he turns in fantastic work. Ha's style is unique, and has an interesting, realistic quality to it. His layouts are fresh and his action scenes are frenetic.

This issue also has a backup story, marking the re-introduction of the hero formerly known as Captain Marvel, who shall henceforth be called Shazam.

I understand the reasons behind the name change, they're perfectly logical and it probably makes good business sense - but I think it's a terrible idea, right on par with making the original Green Lantern into Sentinel.

Billy Batson has been Captain Marvel since the first Fawcett issue in the '40s - he should succeed or fail being true to himself.

That said, the Geoff Johns / Gary Frank story gets things off to an interesting (if mysterious) start.

Maybe they should have called him Captain Miracle...

Grade: B+

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Comics Today

Here's what I picked up today:

- Batman #7 - The secret of the Owls!

- DC Presents #7 - More Challengers of the Unknown!

- Fear Itself: Fearless #11 (of 12) - No one expects the Sleeper!

- John Carter: Gods of Mars #1 - Great movie!

- Justice League #7 - Jim Lee takes a break.

- Memorial #4 - This has been good so far.

- Rocketeer Adventures 2 #1 - Great lineup of talent!

- Wonder Woman #7 - Shocking surprises!

My shop didn't get its order of Invincible Iron Man, so I missed that one.

And I received a pdf of Fathom #5 - Mayhem undersea!

And that's it!

The Classics - New Gods #1

I don't think any event in the history of comics shocked me more than the announcement in 1970 that Jack Kirby was leaving Marvel Comics and moving over to DC Comics.

Kirby had been at Marvel through my entire comics-buying life, and (in my mind) he was joined at the hip to writer / editor Stan Lee. Those two built some of my all-time favorite comics creations, including the Fantastic Four, Thor, the Hulk and The Avengers (to name a few).

So I anxiously waited for Kirby's debut - and New Gods #1 arrived like a cannon shot. Behind that fantastic cover Kirby kicked off a new mythology, new characters and amazing creativity.

Imagine my surprise when I finished reading the issue and I realized that I didn't much care for it.

Before you start organizing a tar-and-feathers committee for my heresy, let me quickly add that I eventually "got it." Just not at first.

Some expressed disappointment over the inking by Vince Colletta - I realize his work isn't everyone's favorite. I was always divided on his inking over Kirby - I loved his work on Thor, and didn't care for it at all on the Fantastic Four. Go figure. I thought it worked fine here.

The biggest complaint was that Colletta erased details and backgrounds, and that's supposedly why he was eventually taken off the book - but it wasn't readily apparent to my 15-year-old eyes.

The problem here isn't the artwork (at least not for me) - it's loaded with huge cosmic events, over-the-top battle sequences and incredibly original character designs.

The problem was with the writing. After more than a decade of reading Kirby with Stan Lee's friendly, accessible style, suddenly the dialogue was stilted, heavy-handed, even clunky. No one talked like Kirby's characters.

I would eventually realize that I had to adjust to Kirby's style, and while I would never call Kirby the smoothest writer, he was incredibly inventive (as always), and eventually I came to appreciate and enjoy his style of delivery.

What made each issue of New Gods (and his other comics at DC) well worth collecting was the way he loaded each issue with amazing ideas and concepts - there was enough ingenuity in each issue to fill a modern-day maxi-series.

So how long did it take me to realize Kirby's genius? As much as I hate to admit it, it took seven issues.

That's when Kirby unleashed his masterpiece on an unsuspecting world - and that's what we'll talk about next week in this space.

Grade: A-

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fathom: Kiani #0

Death is almost always a mistake in comics.

I know, there have been great stories that revolved around the death of a character - but anytime that character achieves any kind of popularity, at some point the company will try to figure out a way to bring that character back from the grave.

(See: almost every character in comics.)

For the most recent example, take a look at this issue #0 that explains how Kiani, a warrior who was killed by the beautiful Fathom some time back, manages to stop being dead.

It's a bit of a stretch (as such things always are), but the story by Vince Hernandez accomplishes its goal - namely, setting up the next storyline based around Kiani.

The art is by Oliver Nome, and it's very good. He's especially good at drawing beautiful women in tiny bathing suits, which is the perfect skill for this series. But he also crafts an exotic world to set the story in, and fills it with vivid characters.

I'm not sure this story makes a lot of sense if you're not up on the events in past issues of Fathom, but it brings you up to speed quickly.

If you can buy the reasoning behind Kiani's resurrection (and I've seen lots sillier explanations over the years), then this is well worth tracking down.

Grade: B+

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Green Lantern #7

I think it was ingenious of Geoff Johns to create the other Lantern Corps to offset the Green Lantern Corps.

However, I think he's made a mistake by making those assorted colors (yellow, red, blue, orange, indigo, violet) the (virtually) sole opponents for the past few years in the Green Lantern comic.

This issue is all setup, as Sinestro again recruits Hal Jordan to help him stop the secret plan of the Guardians - but before that happens, the mysterious Indigo tribe appears to disrupt the proceedings.

By the way, don't expect to discover the shocking secret of the tribe in this issue - this is only Part One.

The art by Doug Mahnke, as always, is terrific. His figures are perfectly carved and expressive, his layouts are powerful and the story flows along briskly.

It's too early to judge this storyline, of course - but it's off to a sputtering start. Maybe I'm just suffering from color overload - perhaps they could throw in one issue with a different villain, just to break things up?

Grade: B

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Conan the Barbarian #2

It was unusual for the creator of Conan the Barbarian - Robert E. Howard - to inject much in the way of romance into the stories about his most famous character.

Oh, there are almost always female characters involved, but they were just temporary players in each story - by the next tale, a new cast was assembled. The first true love of Conan's life was Belit, the pirate leader from "Queen of the Black Coast."

This issue sets up the first meeting between those lovers-to-be, as Belit's pirate ship attacks a merchant vessel with a certain Cimmerian passenger.

It's not exactly a "meet cute" scenario, as Conan fights for his life, and death runs rampant.

It's more excellent work from the creative team of writer Brian Wood, artist Becky Cloonan and colorist Dave Stewart.

This isn't the typical Conan adventure, with musclebound brutes slamming against each other - it's a much more realistic depiction of a grim battle - brutal, animalistic and dirty.

As a longtime fan of Conan (going back to the Lancer paperbacks in the '60s), I'm really enjoying the varying takes on the character Dark Horse comics has provided.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A-

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saga #1

Well, this one definitely isn't for kids - but it's mighty entertaining.

Saga follows the time-honored tradition of telling a big story from the very beginning - namely, the birth of the main character.

The humble birth is the result of a forbidden love between a couple from different races - and as a result, many powerful forces are aligning against them and trying to hunt them down.

To tell more would spoil the fun that awaits. The story written by Brian K. Vaughan is a delight, with great dialogue, loads of surprises and wonderful characters.

The art is by Fiona Staples, and it's wonderful - expressive, personal and panoramic all at once, with great character designs and powerful layouts.

My only complaint is that it's very difficult to review this comic without giving away too much. It's a heck of a deal, with 44 pages for a mere $2.99!

All that and a cliffhanger ending - I can't wait to see where this goes from here!

Grade: A

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Fantastic Four #604

First of all: Fantastic Four #604 is the best comic of the year.

So far.

Second, being a manly kinda guy, there are some things I hate to admit - but full disclosure requires me to tell you that the ending of this issue made me shed an actual tear. Maybe two.

Pretty amazing (and rare) when a comic book manages that.

What we have here is nothing less that the wrap-up of one long storyline that Jonathan Hickman has been weaving since he took over the title. We see how a decision Reed Richards made at the beginning of the story has played out into the possible destruction of Earth and the extended FF family.

All the pieces are in place - the four cities, the Negative Zone, the Council of Reeds, the Inhumans, Johnny Storm's death (and return), the Future Foundation, Dr. Doom, Galactus, the Mad Celestials and some guest stars.

The art is by Steve Epting with Rick Bryant, and it's outstanding work, covering everything from massive cosmic battles to small personal moments and everything in between.

I can't talk any more about the comic without giving the events away, but let me just say: it's wonderful to see such a complex story pay off in such a satisfying way. Loved it!

Grade: A

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Avengers Assemble #1

So am I the only one anxious to see the upcoming Avengers movie?

Anticipation is building for it, and as you'd expect, Marvel hopes to tie into the media frenzy as much as humanly possible.

Avengers Assemble is a solid effort in that direction, and a clever bit of work. It manages to use the lineup of heroes from the movie and still fit (as far as I can tell) in Marvel's mainstream continuity.

They've rolled out the top tier of talent creator-wise, with longtime Avengers scribe Brian Bendis providing the story, the excellent Mark Bagley providing the pencils and Danny Miki the inks.

The story starts with the Avengers celebrating the opening of their new headquarters in New York, and you'll spot quite a few heroes that you definitely won't see in the film - but they quickly fade into the background, and when the main action starts, the only Avengers in view are Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye and the Black Widow - with the Hulk being worked in on the side. For some reason, Captain America only gets a cameo in the early part of the issue. (No sign of the Samuel Jackson version of Nick Fury - yet.)

The enemy this time around is a vastly more powerful Zodiac (made up of 12 members, natch - one for each sign), but we barely meet a couple of the members before the issue runs out of space, so we'll see how that goes.

It's not an incredible issue - it's really just the beginning of the story - but it's loaded with action, sharp dialogue, great characters and a general sense of fun.

Looking forward to future issues!

Grade: A-

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Comics!

Here's what I picked up today:

- Avengers #24 - the finale to the latest Norman Osborn tale.

- Avengers Assemble #1 - Tied in to the movie in a clever way.

- Captain America #9 - This has been quite good.

- Conan the Barbarian #2 - Conan meets Belit! Lots of killing before that happens.

- Fantastic Four #604 - The best comic of the week (and maybe month and maybe year).

- Green Lantern #7 - The secret of the Indigo Lanterns.

- Journey Into Mystery #635 - A great book that I'm amazed is still running.

- Lobster Johnson #3 (of 5) - Grim and fun at the same time.

- Powers #9 - A serial killer is targeting gods?

- The Ray #4 (of 4) - This has been a fun series.

- Saga #1 - This one has great buzz.

- The Shade #6 (of 12) - A different kind of team-up.

- Wolverine and the X-Men #7 - Crazy and fun.

And I received a pdf of Fathom: Kiani #0 - Setting up a major battle.

And that's it!

The Classics - Justice League of America #42

In these days when the line-up of any given team tends to change from month to month, it's hard to remember a time when a change was a rare event.

In its first 42 issues, the only additions to the original lineup of the Justice League of America - Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, J'onn J'onzz and Wonder Woman (I know, Batman and Superman weren't in the first appearance, but they were in the later origin story) - were (and I'm going from memory here, so let me know if I forget anyone) Green Arrow, Hawkman and the Atom. (Not counting team mascot Snapper Carr.)

So it was a treat, in 1966, to see this issue featuring the next recruit to the team - Metamorpho the Element Man.

The big twist was his refusal to join! I found that terribly disappointing - I was a big fan of the offbeat hero, and given his brash style and unique powers, he would have made a great addition to the team.

Of course, he wouldn't have fit in with the style of the comic. At the time, everyone on the team was the usual, straight-laced, Boy Scout-type good guy. It would have bucked the status quo to add a bad boy to the mix.

But it could have been fun. Every team needs a joker to keep things light (when needed) or shake things up (when necessary).

The story (I assume by Gardner Fox) is actually pretty weak. When Metamorpho is offered membership, it enrages a powerful alien creature called the Unimaginable. He (it?) attacks Metamorpho in anger, and then tries to force its way into the membership of the JLA.

The team reacts abrasively (they seem very petty with this creature - you'd think they'd want to be a bit kinder to a visitor from the stars).

At any rate, battle ensues and the ending leaves much to be desired.

The art is by Mike Sekowsky, and it's common practice to deride his art as being stocky or stiff - but you'll get no such remarks from me, because I love his work. Sekowsky is first and foremost a storyteller. He manages the constant crowd scenes with ease, keeps the story flowing briskly and directs the reader effortlessly though the strange events that fill the issue.

I know, it's not for everyone - but for the first six years (or so) of the Justice League's existence, he set the standard for team books, and he deserves a lot of respect for his labors.

So, not a great issue of JLA - but it was a real delight for me when I picked it up 46 years ago - and it's still a fun comic today.

Grade: B-

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Charismagic #5

It's always a bit tricky to create a compelling story based on magic.

That's because the rules tend to go out the window when dealing with mystic forces. When the hero or villain can do anything, it takes away the natural suspense any story needs.

But writer Vince Hernandez has (mostly) avoided that trap in the Aspen comic Charismagic. That's because the main character - a stage magician named Hank - only has one superpower. He's able to teleport himself to any location, and that ability has kept him on Earth while most of the population has been sent to another dimension. It also provides limits to the story, so he can't win the day by an unfair trick.

(The Harry Potter books are great examples of how to use magic in a story while playing fair - basically, you establish the rules and then stick with them.)

Aided by his talking demonic cat Sparkles and a beautiful druid named Sudana, Hank seeks out the most powerful magician on Earth as the best hope in stopping an evil, incredibly powerful force.

Unfortunately, things don't go according to plan, and this issue sets up next issue's final confrontation with the evil Samsun.

Having an "apprentice" learn the ropes from a wise (and in this case, beautiful) teacher is a great way to bring the reader along as the ground rules are set and the characters moved into place.

Charismagic also benefits from terrific artwork, as Khary Randolph creates some strong, attractive heroes, beautiful landscapes and kinetic action sequences.

It's not all magic and mayhem - there are some nice romantic touches in there, too, as Hank gets hot for teacher (or maybe that should be "gets the hots for teacher").

The final judgment on the opening story arc will have to wait for the end of the next issue, but so far, I'm enjoying this series, and I admire it for playing fair with the reader.

Grade: B+

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Monday, March 12, 2012

The Manhattan Projects #1

Writer Jonathan Hickman has staked out a place in comics as the guy who tells offbeat science fiction stories using some of history's most famous figures (SHIELD being the best example).

In The Manhattan Projects he uses a (more of less) recent figure - Robert Oppenheimer, one of the key scientists in the development of the atom bomb.

But as the story reveals, the group assembled for that task was devoted to much more than just the A-bomb. In Hickman's creation, those scientists are working on various fringe science fields - and they face attack from a similarly-structured team of assassins representing the Japanese.

It's crazy, over the top, loaded with surprises - and more than a bit of horror. So far, it's a heck of a lot of fun (though definitely on the black humor side of things).

I really like the artwork by Nick Pitarra, whose work I'm not familiar with - but it has a brash, almost underground look to it that works perfectly with the story. It reminds me a bit of Frank Quitely's work (high praise indeed).

The story's off to a roaring start, and promises many more surprises ahead. Different, but in a good way. Recommended!

Grade: A-

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Fairest #1

I've made many mistakes in my comics-buying life (I wish I'd invested in Golden Age books when I was young and they were dirt cheap, for example).

One of my regrets is that I didn't buy the comic Fables.

I know, it's won zillions of awards, gathered innumerable fans, and been ripped off in the form of two different prime-time network TV shows.

One of these days I'll get around to picking up the collections. I did pick up about 10 issues on sale cheap at a comics convention years ago, and I enjoyed those issues - but I still didn't start collecting the series.

(It's one of Chuck's Rules of Comics: you can't buy everything. Unless you're a lot richer than me.)

But when I saw the first issue of the Fables spin-off title, Fairest, with that incredible Adam Hughes cover (almost worth the cover price alone), and the oh-so-enticing issue #1 on the cover, I gave in.

The inside pages are nothing to sneer at, either - the story is written by Fables creator Bill Willingham and drawn by Phil Jimenez with inks by Andy Lanning (he's an inker too?).

The story starts with a thief finding an ancient bottle, which contains... well, almost a Genie. Which is only fitting, since the thief is Ali Baba, who's had some experience with magic lamps before.

He's led on a search that brings him up against a delightful mystery, as he finds more than one Sleeping Beauty.

The story crackles right along with lots of humor and surprises, and the art is tremendous, with amazing background detail, great character designs and stunning layouts.

I should add that this is a Vertigo comic - not a fairy tale for children, especially considering some of the salty language included.

It's a great start for the series, and definitely one to watch. Recommended!

(Don't repeat my Fable mistake!)

Grade: A-

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Dead Man's Run #2

This is a hell of a comic.

Or at least it's set in Hell, although it turns out that the afterlife isn't what you might have expected.

But Dead Man's Run isn't about religion (as near as I can tell) - it's more of an escape flick.

In the first issue we met Sam Tinker, a prison guard who dies and finds himself in Hell - which looks remarkably like a prison.

But Sam has a secret ability. As a cartographer, he has the ability to instantly memorize an map - and he gets a glimpse of the map of Hell.

But to escape, he'll have to forge alliances and overcome some incredible obstacles. (Apparently you can die again in Hell.)

The story by Greg Pak moves along briskly, but there are a couple of potential problems with the comic: we're in Sam's corner, but the rest of his supporting cast is difficult to get behind (not the best class of people in Hell, I suppose); and some of the transitions seem a bit abrupt and even nonsensical. His escape from the jail, for example, seems terribly... convenient. But those are minor complaints.

The art by Tony Parker is outstanding, running the range from dark and deadly to bright and action-packed.

It's the kind of comic where anything can happen - any character might live, die, betray the others or end up being the hero. Should be great fun to see what happens!

Grade: A-

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Friday, March 9, 2012

John Carter - the Movie

I got a chance to see John Carter today, and I'm happy to report that I enjoyed the heck out of it!

It's based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel A Princess of Mars, which was one of my favorites as a youngster. I would never have expected that the world of Barsoom could be brought so vividly to life - amazing what they can do with computer animation!

I can't say it's the greatest movie ever - there are a few slow spots, of course, since there's a lot to explain and set up (it's an origin story, after all) - but there are loads of great action sequences, stunning visuals and convincing (super) heroics.

Purists might balk at some of the changes to the story - I consider them mostly minor - but I thought the filmmakers crafted a fun science fantasy adventure.

I thought the actors did a great job - the leads (and voice work) were very good, and the actress playing Dejah Thoris was a fun character.

The effects were terrific, there were some good humorous touches (though it probably could have used a little more on that score), and the stage is set for sequels.

I walked out with a big smile on my face (the last shot was a delight). I really hope this does well - I'll definitely be buying the eventual Blu-Ray release.

I saw the 3-D version, and it was ok, but not crucial - you won't miss much by going to the 2-D version.

Still, a fun adventure flick - recommended!

Grade: A-

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The Defenders #4

They started out as an odd gathering of "heroes," but The Defenders became famous in the 1970s because of the strangeness of the stories, featuring inspired writing by Steve Gerber.

The new version of the title seems to be trying to follow in those same offbeat footsteps, and so far it's succeeding!

This issue is very Dr. Strange-centric, as he struggles to decipher the mystery behind an ancient machine he's taken into... shall we say, protective custody.

His investigations yield a surprising and emotional result, but he's hampered by the attentions of a student - and a thief.

It's an intelligent, moving story by Matt Fraction, and the resolution is quite surprising (if somewhat out of character).

The art is by Michael Lark, who does a solid job filling in for Terry and Rachel Dodson. He's not quite in their league, but he's close - the art has a nice, dark look to it, with strong layouts and great characters.

Even if the story is serious, there's an undertone of humor that runs through it, and the notes at the bottom of each page add to the surreal feeling. Some notes are ads for other comics, and some feel like a stream-of-consciousness commentary. Very funny stuff there.

There are lots of new books out there vying for attention, so don't let The Defenders get lost in the shuffle - this is one to watch.

Grade: A-

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Action Comics #7

You have to give writer Great Morrison credit - he seems to have no fear (at least when it comes to writing comics).

He starts with a depowered Superman. At the end of issue #5, Morrison recreated the classic story of Metropolis being shrunken and kidnapped by Brainiac. After a slight detour for the past two issues, this one picks up with Superman on Earth - this story takes place five years ago, but he still hasn't learned how to fly - and Brainiac up in space.

His method for closing the gap is - well, frankly, it's kinda silly - but it works. Morrison walks a fine line even more in his depiction of Brainiac (or his master, we're not sure which) as the ultimate collector, with all the good and bad elements that might hold for comic book fans.

The story has some odd turns, as it focuses for a bit on some supporting characters in Metropolis - but mostly it's a good examination about a hero facing overwhelming odds.

The art continues to soar under the skillful pencil of Rags Morales and the pen of inker Rick Bryant. Great layouts, wonderful characters, lots of energy and animation - great stuff!

There's also a nice little backup feature about Steel's efforts to save what's left of Metropolis.

This continues to be my favorite title in DC's "New 52" - it's creative, impossible to predict and clever, with terrific artwork.

A "win" all the way around!

Grade: A-

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Day in Comics

Here's what I picked up:

- Action Comics #7 - Facing Brainiac.

- Defenders #4 - A day in the life of Doc Strange.

- Fairest #1
- A Fables spin-off, worth buying for the cover alone.

- Fatale #3 - A little noir, a little horror.

- Fear Itself: The Fearless #10 (of 12) - A slobberknocker.

- Irredeemable #35 - The path of true love.

- The Manhattan Projects #1 - Any comic with Einstein in it can't be all bad.

- Next Men: Aftermath #41 - More strange events.

- OMAC #7 - Hanging out at the Evil Factory.

- Swamp Thing #7 - A trippy return.

- Winter Soldier #3 - Doomsday!

I also received review pdfs of:

- Charismagic #5 - Magic and mayhem!

- Dead Man's Run #2 - What waits on the other side of death?

And that's it!

The Classics - The Adventures of Superman #424

Back in 1986 DC Comics made a radical move.

The company "rebooted" much of its line (sound familiar?) in the wake of the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and it handed over the Superman titles to writer / artist John Byrne.

Byrne was allowed to rearrange the lineup a bit - he took over Action Comics and he started a new Superman comic beginning with issue #1. So what to do with the existing Superman comic after 423 issues?

He tweaked the title, based on the classic TV show, and The Adventures of Superman began with #424.

But even the speedy Byrne couldn't write and draw three monthly titles (or he decided it wasn't a good idea to try), so "Adventures" was put in the hands of the more-than-capable team of writer Marv Wolfman and artist Jerry Ordway.

The focus was on the Clark Kent side of things, and Wolfman introduced some new cast members at the Daily Planet, including Cat Grant.

But there was plenty of action to go around, too, as Superman had to deal with several giant robots terrorizing the city. It's somewhat prescient, as the terrorists use the robots to destroy skyscrapers in Metropolis. (One panel is eerie as it shows a skyscraper crumbling - it could easily have been a drawing of one of the Trade Towers in New York).

Ordway's art is a real treat here - his style is something of a cross between Wally Wood's power and John Buscema's styling - and that's a fine neighborhood to hang around in.

His heroes are the ideal (as the cover amply demonstrates), his characters are expressive and distinctive, and his women are beautiful. As I've said many times, why isn't he working on a regular title?

"Adventures" was always a solid, dependable title under this team. It didn't quite have the flair of Byrne's work, but it was certainly a step in the right direction for
the newly-revived Man of Steel, and helped create a foundation that lasted for 25 years.

Not too shabby!

Grade: B+

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Ultimates #7

Marvel's go-to book for science fiction has always been the Fantastic Four, but since the higher powers have decided that the FF doesn't exist in the "Ultimate" Universe (shame on whoever made that decision, by the way), apparently the honor has fallen to The Ultimates.

That team is in the middle of a most difficult fight, as the evil Reed Richards (don't get me started) has created the Children of Tomorrow - a vastly advanced city filled with powerful, virtually unstoppable citizens.

The Ultimates attacked and were easily defeated. So now they have to figure a different approach, and they look for help from another powerful city of super-humans. The question is, can they get the help they need - or will they be crushed between two all-powerful forces?

It makes for an interesting (and tense) story by Jonathan Hickman. The only "off" note is the inclusion of another character at the end - and in keeping with the near-total lack of continuity found in the Ultimate books, that character is on the other side of the world from where he was last seen with no explanation of why or how.

But that's just me being picky. So far, this continues to be a taut and surprising story, and there's no telling where it goes from here. Which is a good thing.

The art by Esad Ribic is quite good, with some clever design work and strong characters. My only criticism is that almost every panel is the same, mid-range angle - some more variety wouldn't hurt.

But overall, this is a strong series that plays fair with the reader, maintains a strong science fiction setting and leaves us wondering who's going to be left standing at the end.

Now if they can just stick the landing...

Grade: B+

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Monday, March 5, 2012

FF #15

You definitely get the feeling that this title - since the "return" of the original Fantastic Four title - should be called FF Jr.

But I don't mean that as a put-down. Instead, it reflects the fact that for the past few issues, this comic has focused largely on the young people who make up the "Future Foundation," including Val and Franklin, the children of Reed and Sue Richards.

But it's definitely not a book for kids, as the capable young people are working their part of the huge story that's been playing out in the Fantastic Four's comic - both stories run parallel to each other, but rarely cross paths.

It's a virtuoso performance by writer Jonathan Hickman to keep both plates spinning, both stories arresting, without running into the usual glitches.

He adds to the fun this issue with a guest appearance by Power Pack, a sadly under-utilized super-team made up of kids. It's wonderful to see them again, and they have some fun bits of business along the way.

I like the artwork by Nick Dragotta - he has a clean, classic style, and he manages to keep things moving despite the hordes of characters involved in this story.

I don't know if this title is crucial to following the main story in the other "FF," but it's very good all by itself.

The story is building to a big finish (which you'd expect, since it includes a group of Celestials), and I'm anxious to see where it all goes next.

Grade: B+

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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lord of the Jungle #2

Hey, it's Guest Review time!

Our man Glen Davis checks in with this review of the comic that dares not speak its name (on the cover, anyway). Here's Glen:

Lord Of The Jungle #2 is a bit of an odd duck.

After the rather decompressed origin tale, where we left off with Kala adopting Tarzan after finding him in the marooned Greystoke's cabin, the second issue switches gears, opening with the mutinous crew betraying each other over the treasure.

The writers chooses to skip over several major episodes in the novel, including how Tarzan learned to read and write, learned to swim, found and used his knife, and his first encounters with humans.

We next see Tarzan as a grown man, as the crew leaves Jane Porter and her maid, Esmeralda, her father, Archimedes Porter, and Tarzan's cousin Cecil Clayton.

For those interested in such things, we get a blonde Jane this time.

When the crew leaves, we get pages of Jungle Action, as Tarzan and Cecil fight a crocodile, while Jane and Esmeralda are attacked by a pair of black panthers.

This should have been the first issue, if the team was always going to skip Tarzan's childhood, and as a first issue it's fairly good, but the wrenching of pace and events serves to disorient a reader.

Grade: B+

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Twelve #10 (of 12)

Gad, another issue of The Twelve already? More than three years between issues 8 and 9, and now a new one in less than a month!

Not that I'm complaining - especially since this issue brings together all the (surviving) members of the team for what may be the first time since the first issue, though it's hard to remember that far back. (OK, I'll drop the "overdue" comments.)

They're gathered together in the classic "get all the suspects together in one room" bit, so the Phantom Reporter can solve a murder mystery.

What's that, you say - you didn't know there was a murder mystery involved? None of us did, especially since we saw the robot Electro commit the crime.

But the question to be answered is, who was controlling the robot?

The answer - and the revelations that follow - are pretty shocking. Writer J. Michael Straczynski has done a great job of fleshing out these two-dimensional characters from the Golden Age of comics, and the story just keeps getting more interesting as it draws closer to its conclusion.

Matching the great writing is the fantastic art by Chris Weston. His work is confident and clear - his style is unique, but it's realistic, falling somewhere between Neal Adams and George Perez. Each character is distinctive, the emotions are clearly depicted, the action scenes are fantastic, and the backgrounds are lush - amazing work!

Of course, fans of these characters may not appreciate how they've been updated and their true origins revealed, especially since most of the heroes have been shown to have feet of clay.

It doesn't bother me, since I'd never read any of their adventures before (the Golden Age being before my time). If you're one of those fans, you should probably avoid this book - but for the rest of us, this is one of Marvel's best limited series in far too long.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A-

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