Monday, April 30, 2012

The New Avengers #25

This is one of those issues you read and then ask yourself, "What the hell?"

I know, they have to find a way to tell sidebar stories in the main Avengers and New Avengers titles while the whole Avengers vs. the X-Men story plays out - but writer Brian Bendis has gone to extremes here.

What's unusual is that the issue spills out with not a single Avenger in sight (except for the cover). Instead, it takes place long ago in the mystic city of K'un Lun, which is the birth place, of sorts, to Iron Fist.

The ruler of the city, Master Yu Ti, is visited by visions that somehow connect the Phoenix Force to the power of the dragon that gives Iron Fist his name. Yu Ti investigates - and that's about it for this time around.

Lest you think you're getting shortchanged, let me add that artists Mike Deodato and Will Conrad create some amazing visuals here, as violent, pyrotechnic dreams spring to life and the city of K'un Lun is expertly designed.

Presumably we'll have to wait for future issues to learn just what is going on here - but for now, though the story may be puzzling, the artwork is simply amazing.

I'm not sure you have to read this to follow what's going on in the AvX event, but fans of Iron Fist should probably enjoy this - and the rest of us may agree once we see where it's all going.

Grade: B+


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Aquaman #8

It's consistently one of the best of DC's "New 52" comics, and that's because Aquaman arrives with a (more or less) clean slate.

Writer Geoff Johns has efficiently filled in some gaps in the life of Arthur Curry, but there's still a lot we don't know.

The issue tantalizes us with the idea that Aquaman was once a member of a super-team known as The Others - and apparently his old teammates are being stalked by his deadliest foe.

Add to this the addition of new characters, including the scientist who offers a link between Aquaman, Mera and the mystery behind the sinking of Atlantis, and the never-before-seen heroes (as far as I know) who make up The Others.

We learn a little bit more about the "jungle girl" Ya'Wara (who looks like she stepped out of an issue of The Warlord - not that I'm complaining) and her companion, a large jaguar.

The artwork is a real joy, and Ivan Reis and Joe Prado turn in page after page of beautiful, dynamic art that feels like a cross between Neal Adams and George Perez (in the best sense possible).

There's still a lot of story to unfold here (this is just chapter two), but I'm certainly hooked.

Grade: A-


Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Twelve #12 (of 12)

With this issue we finally reach the end of this maxi-series, and it's a (mostly) satisfactory wrap-up to this story about 12 heroes who were put into suspended animation during World War II and reawakened in the present.

Last issue was actually the climax of the story, as the surviving members of the team confronted the one behind several mysterious murders.

This issue is dedicated to wrapping up all the loose ends, providing one final origin story and putting an ending to things.

It's mostly successful with this, although any issue like this is always something of a letdown - it's just the nature of such things.

Looking back at the overall series, though, I have to say that I enjoyed The Twelve a lot - it wove some interesting stories around some Golden Age characters I wasn't familiar with, gave them added dimension and new purpose.

Fans of a few of the characters might not feel the same, since some of the characters didn't fare well here - but overall, I though it was well done.

Kudos to writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Chris Weston for their outstanding work - a bit of a wait for those of us buying the individual issues, but it should be an even more solid package in collected form.


Grade: A-


Apologies and Excuses

A quick note to apologize for the erratic posting of late - give your old pal Chuck another week and things should be set right.

The real world has had me hopping lately, so while I've continued to post a review every day, it's been close a few times - and some of the reviews have been a bit terse.

Hang in there, things should calm down soon. Apologies all around!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Uncanny X-Men #10

I'll give Marvel this much - at least they've been making an effort to coordinate the events in Avengers vs. X-Men as we see scenes playing out from different perspectives.

Other event stories haven't always had their continuity act together - a good example is the Final Crisis at DC, where we saw New God Orion getting killed several times by different means.

Events here are matching up well - the only problem is, the events are all "reruns" of actions we've already seen.

Colossus hurls through the air to strike the Helicarrier, Cyclops confronts Captain America, Hope is going through a strange transformation, Wolverine prepares to commit a brutal act.

That would all be fine if the reader hasn't been following the other series - but if you have, this is all stuff you've already seen, just from a slightly different angle.

Sure, it's fun to watch the Red Hulk slugging it out with Colossus/Juggernaut, and there are some interesting revelations about Namor - but Kieron Gillen's story just seems to be marking time.

Greg Land's art is quite good, but a bit of a mix. The poster shots are wonderful: lush and perfectly posed. His women are beautiful and sexy, his men handsome and powerful. But I don't care for his fight scenes - the panels never quite connect to tell a story.

So, kind of a mixed bag here. Not a must-buy, especially if you're already picking up the AvX comic - this is just a sidebar to the event.

Grade: B-


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Versus #1 (of 6)

You have to give Marvel credit for guts.

Versus ties directly into the Avengers vs. X-Men series by the simple expedient of focusing on some of the battles that spin out of that event.

And that's all there is to it. There are two "stories" in each issue, but there's not much actual story there - it's just a knock-down, drag-out fight between two characters.

The first story pits Iron Man against Magneto (a fight that sounds one-sided on the surface, but becomes much more), while the second story pits Namor against the Thing.

Both feature nice art by Adam Kubert and Stuart Immonen, a good dose of humor from writers Jason Aaron and Kathryn Immonen, and that's about all there is to it.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad comic at all - it's just one with very little story content. The two sides fight, one side wins. That's it.

It's a bit of lighthearted fun, and there's nothing wrong with that - though it's certainly not going to be everyone's cup of tea.

Grade: B

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Comics Today

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

- Aquaman #8 - Before the JLA?

- New Avengers #25 - Iron Fist vs. Phoenix.

- Secret Avengers #26 - Avengers in space!

- Captain America & Hawkeye #629 - The Odd Couple.

- King Conan #4 (of 4)
- Great, great mini-series.

- Daredevil #11 - Wonderful, a crossover.

- FF #17 - Hanging out with pals.

- Flash #8 - Super-speed complications.

- Popeye #1 - He is what he is and that's all he is.

- Spaceman #6 - Strange and interesting.

- Mighty Thor #13 - Awesome cover.

- The Twelve #12 - The end at last?

- Ultimates #9 - Heading for the big finish.

- Uncanny X-Men #11 - Slugfest!

- Uncharted #6 (of 6) - Wrapping up this one.

- Vs #1 - More slugfests!

I would have picked up Captain America #10, but my shop got shorted.

A killer of a week!

The Classics - Avengers #58

Continuing our look back at classic issues of The Avengers, let's take a moment to sing the praises of the writer who was second only to Stan Lee in importance to the growing Marvel Universe: Roy Thomas.

It was Roy who had the unenviable task of following Stan on most of Marvel's biggest titles. He was a perfect fit on this comic because of his command of continuity. Stan had woven Marvel's titles into one big interlinked picture, but it was Roy who tied everything together with amazing skill.

In this issue, for example, we see the origin of the Vision and Ultron, which is tied to Goliath (Giant-Man) and the early Avengers battle with Wonder Man. (Years later, Steve Englehart would expand even further on the continuity threads, but that's a review for another day).

Roy even manages to include Thor and Iron Man in this story - a rare event since their "retirement" from the team almost four years before.

It's a tale of exploration and action, with plenty of humor and even some touching moments included. That last page put a tear in the eye of many a fan, and that's a tribute to Roy's skills.

The issue also features Roy's best partner in art, John Buscema (here inked by George Klein). I loved Buscema's work on this title, as he loaded it with kinetic layouts (the cover is particularly wild), heroic figures and powerful, emotional moments.

The two had a long, glorious run on this title - and then they moved over and put in even more great work on Conan the Barbarian.

They were a crucial element in Marvel's growth to becoming a dominant force in comics, thanks in no small part to their amazing work on The Avengers!

Grade: A

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Wonder Woman #8

Another crunch of a day, so, alas, another quick review.

Wonder Woman continues to be an interesting cross between horror and mythology. Lots of room for both in this issue as Diana takes a trip to Hell to try to rescue her friend Zola, who was kidnapped by Hades.

Writer Brian Azzarello was created a dark journey that depicts a truly unusual take on the afterlife - and you might be surprised by the forms Hell takes.

The excellent art is by Cliff Chiang, and as always it's outstanding, with dark, imaginative places, brutal battles and great characters. Hey, if that outstanding cover doesn't lure you in, I don't know what will.

Definitely not for kids, but loaded with surprises, unsettling images and an unusual tale. Recommended!

Grade: A-


Monday, April 23, 2012

The Avengers #25

It occurs to me that I could almost do a daily review of an Avengers-related comic, as Marvel cranks up the machine to get ready for the upcoming movie.

This issue faces the tried-and-true problem of "how to deal with the fact that the entire team is involved in the big event rolling out in Avengers vs. X-Men?"

The answer this time around is to crank up the flashback machine, as the majority of the issue is handed over to the business of dealing with the leftover story threads from the recently-wrapped return of Norman Osborn.

So it's largely an action-fest, as scads of Avengers take on armies of AIM minions.

Not a lot of brainwork involved for the reader in this story by Brian Bendis, but it is fun, and there are a few nice character moments.

I especially enjoy the addition of artist Walter Simonson - a longtime favorite of mine, whose powerful and kinetic art capture the chaotic battle nicely.

Bendis also places a few nods to the Simonson fans out there, which are much appreciated.

So, it doesn't have much to do with "AvX" (other than a nifty splash page), but it is mighty entertaining.

I wonder how they'll cover the event problem next month?

Grade: A-


Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Shadow #1

He's the only character from the pulps who has achieved enough fame to be familiar to the general public - but The Shadow is actually famous for the old radio show and a movie from a couple of decades back, not for his pulp adventures (most people probably have no idea what "pulp" means) and certainly not for his comic book stories.

The obvious inspiration for Batman, The Shadow is much more along the lines of The Punisher - a hard man who provides final justice for those beyond the reach of the law.

In other words, he's perfectly happy to use his .45 automatics to gun down the bad guys - he's not out to reform anyone.

When the character has appeared in comics, he's generally been watered down into a more generic crimefighter. The less said about his Archie incarnation in the mid-'60s, the better.

Since then he's fared well in comics - especially with such luminaries as Denny O'Neil, Michael Kaluta, Russ Heath and Howard Chaykin on duty - but the character has never been popular enough to sustain his own comic.

Perhaps that's about to change, as Dynamite Comics hands the reins over to writer Garth Ennis. He sets the story (it seems) in the 1930s, the perfect time for the character to flourish.

Sometimes the Shadow has been portrayed as a normal man, sometimes he's a mystic with superhuman powers - or is he just using clever tricks to make it appear that he has powers?

This version definitely seems to follow in the "superhuman" category, and he's ruthless in his war against evil - but we do see a human side to the character (thank goodness).

This is definitely a character in touch with his pulp roots - and while I'm not a big fan of gore, I certainly appreciate Ennis' ruthless, brutal approach.

The story is illustrated by Aaron Campbell, and I really like his work here. Lush yet stark, he evokes the era nicely - and has a good hand for the brutal action sequences, too.

I've been a fan of The Shadow since discovering Bantam's short-lived paperback reprints of the original stories in the '60s, and it's great to see him back in comics - and back to his old self.

Grade: A-


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Justice League #8

Holy moley, the day almost got past me without a review - sorry about that, readers!

(I'll spare you my rants about the new Blogger update that is giving my aged computer fits.)

Anyway, here's a quick review to keep things on target: Justice League #8 is all tease and no deliver.

It gives us a glimpse of the League, who seem to be all business - there's almost no hint of fun about this team at all, or hints that they even like each other. They're a monolith of heroic power, destroying the bad guys and going to great effort to keep their numbers limited.

The gag here is that Green Arrow wants to join - and he doesn't take "no" for an answer.

We also get a tantalizing bit of info about a past adventure - but other than that, not much gets accomplished here.

Even the Shazam backup story doesn't provide much more than an introduction of the supporting characters.

Hopefully next issue will get things back up to speed, as writer Geoff Johns reunites with artist Jim Lee.

This issue is mostly forgettable.

Grade: B-

Friday, April 20, 2012

Batman #8

My interest in Batman has always been sporadic over the years.

I started reading the comic in the early '60s, back when the usual opponents were aliens and most stories involved Batman undergoing a strange transformation.

Then I stopped reading for a while, only to be brought back by the TV show in the late '60s.

Then I stopped reading again, only to be brought back by Archie Goodwin's stint as editor alongside some all-star artists.

Then I stopped reading again, only to come back when Steve Englehart made his historic run on the title.

You get the idea. I've been a fickle Bat-fan, but I have to admit that I'm really enjoying the story writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo have been crafting in this new version of the Batman comic.

They've established a small army of virtually-unbeatable villains known collectively as the Court of Owls - and this issue kicks off the Bat-line-wide crossover that has the Talons (the enforcer for the organization) attacking residents in Gotham City - so how can Batman hope to stand up to this menace alone?

Just how capable are the Talons? They manage to catch Bruce Wayne by surprise. Not an easy task, and it's not clear if Bruce can survive the attack.

With terrific art and lots of twists, this is a story to watch.

That doesn't mean I'll be buying every issue as the story crosses over into books like Nightwing, Batman & Robin, Catwoman and Birds of Prey (to name a few). But nice try, DC - I'll just be following in the Batman title.

Still, it's an excellent story, loaded with great art, lots of surprises and a serious challenge to the Dark Knight.

Looks like I'll be sticking around for a while.

Grade: A-

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Avengers vs. X-Men #2

Excuse the slight detour here, but this Avengers vs. X-Men series reminds me - in a good way - of pro wrestling.

I've run hot and cold in my interest in the "sports entertainment" known as professional wrestling (it's a bit cold right now), but the event I always enjoyed most, generally, was the Royal Rumble.

The idea is simple enough. Two wrestlers face off in the ring, and every two minutes, another wrestler joins the match. A total of 30 wrestlers take part. Contestants can only be eliminated by being thrown over the top rope and to the floor below.

The format offers many variations - there can be one dominant wrestler who keeps the ring clear, or there can be more than a dozen in the ring at once. It allows for lots of action, team-ups, double crosses, near misses, surprising twists, that sort of thing.

And that's really what Marvel has oh-so-cleverly set up here. We have two super-teams hammering each other. There are obvious match-ups (Iron Man vs. Magneto) and some not-so-obvious ones (Namor vs. Luke Cage).

Both teams have the best of intentions, of course. The X-Men think they're trying to save the mutant known as Hope from being taken over by the world-destroying Phoenix Force. The Avengers want the same thing, but (natch) they each have their own idea about the best way to accomplish it, so LET'S FIGHT!

'Tis all in good fun. We get lots of action, some of the best art in recent memory by John Romita, Jr. (with Scott Hanna inking), a few surprising twists and a good hook at the end.

There's not a lot of thinking required, but I have to admit that it's a lot of fun to sit back and see who's next to get tossed over the top rope.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Loads o' Comics

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

- Batman #8 - Attack of the Owls! (This has been very good.)

- Avengers #25
- Unfinished business - and Simonson artwork!

- Avengers vs. X-Men #2
- Heating up.

- DC Universe Presents #8
- The Challengers - sorta.

- The Defenders #5 - Undersea mystery.

- Invincible Iron Man #515 - The end of War Machine?

- Irredeemable #36 - Surprising turns.

- John Carter: Gods of Mars #2 (of 5)
- Facing the gods.

- Justice League #8 - Guest starring Green Arrow.

- Manhattan Projects #2 - Rounding up more scientists.

- Next Men: Aftermath #42 - All I can say is, groovy.

- Rocketeer Adventures 2 #2 (of 4) - Weird numbering system for a comic.

- The Shadow #1 - Totally. awesome.

- Wolverine and the X-Men #9 - Which side will he fight on, the X or the A?

- Wonder Woman #8 - Highway to Hell!

And that's it! (Whew!)

The Classics - Avengers #28

Continuing our focus on The Avengers (leading up to the movie), I'll resist the urge to just review stories from the first dozen issues and instead move to the "second phase" of the title: Cap's Kooky Quartet.

A phrase I never cared for, by the way.

Following the "retirement" of Thor, Iron Man, Giant-Man and the Wasp, Captain America stayed on to lead the new team, which included Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.

As a team, they were underpowered but managed to succeed using their unique skills and teamwork.

About a year after their retirement, Giant-Man and the Wasp returned to the team - but there were changes. Now known as Goliath, Hank Pym no longer had easy control of his size-changing powers. Now he could only grow to 25 feet tall, and then he had to remain that size for 15 minutes.

The Wasp had been captured by The Collector, a strange character who was collecting super-heroes, so he lured the Avengers into a trap. What follows is a wild, action-packed battle between the team and the traps created by the Collector.

There are those who think writer Stan Lee only did his best work with artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, but this issue is outstanding, and includes some excellent artwork by the sadly-underappreciated Don Heck (here inked by "Frankie Ray").

The layouts are strong, the heroes powerfully depicted, the storytelling crisp and clear - just a great issue! Stan holds up his end with the usual sharp dialogue, lots of humor, drama and even some pathos.

Starting with this issue, the days of the "quartet" were over - but the team and its stories would just keep getting bigger and better.

Grade: A-


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fantastic Four #605

Hey, it's guest review time!

My good friend Len LaCara, who's a heck of a fine journalist out there in the real world, sends along this review of one of my favorite titles:

It's easy to forget, a half-century after its debut, how extraordinary Fantastic Four was for its time.

Not for its artwork - although Jack Kirby certainly was no slouch in that regard. And not for the cosmic scope of its adventures, courtesy of the fertile mind of Stan Lee.

Mr. Fantastic, the Thing, the Human Torch and the Invisible Girl were more than teammates. They were family. And families look out for each other, fight, joke, bicker and - above all else - love each other.

Which is why Fantastic Four #605 is a quiet treasure, and the best single issue of a comic I've read in a long time.

After all the noise and battle of the past few issues, writer Jonathan Hickman dials it way down to focus on fathers and sons (literally) and brothers (figuratively).

There isn't much action in this story. Nor are there major plot revelations - at least, none I could discern. But to dub it a filler issue would be an serious slight. It reinforces the core values of the series in a way that is both poignant and heartfelt.

I have not bought FF since the John Byrne era, and only started again after reading Chuck's glowing reviews. I can see why you are so fond of the book, my friend.

If you haven't kept up with the Richards family lately, this would be a good place to start.

As Chuck would say, "Highly recommended."

Grade: A+

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fathom: Kiani #1

I believe it was editor / writer Jim Shooter who said of comics, "Every issue is someone's first issue."

In other words, no matter how successful your comic book may be, keep in mind that not every reader has read all the back issues. If you drop your reader in the middle of events, confusion can result.

That's certainly my reaction to the first issue of Fathom: Kiani. Even after reading last month's issue #0, I found myself (you should pardon the phrase) lost at sea.

The story shows us an undersea city where the residents hate humans for some reason - they vow revenge. We then cut to an undersea base where an ambassador is due for a visit, but his marine convoy is attacked by our title character, who doesn't show much indication of being at all heroic.

She's certainly stunning as depicted in the excellent artwork by Oliver Nome. My only fault with the artwork is that the script doesn't give him more interesting things to draw - there are far too many "standing around and talking" scenes.

Writer Vince Hernandez is setting things up here, so some exposition is required - but as a relatively new reader, I'm left in the dark about who Kiani is and why she's attacking humans. (I do know she was apparently dead - but she got better.)

Fans of the series will no doubt be way ahead of me on this - but a paragraph on the title page would have gone a long way toward clearing things up for a newbie.

Words to the wise.

Grade: B+


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Green Lantern #8

In creating the various colored Lantern Corps that now populate the Green Lantern comics, writer Geoff Johns spelled out the motivations behind most of them - but the Indigo Corps remained a mystery.

The group seemed benevolent, but recent activities have brought that into question.

As this issue begins, both Hal Jordan and Sinestro have been captured and imprisoned by the Indigos - and while Sinestro faces indoctrination, Hal confronts one of his oldest enemies, Black Hand, who had led the Black Lantern Corps, and has been part of the Indigo Corps since the end of the Blackest Night event.

Here we uncover some more information about the Indigos - but an even bigger mystery presents itself.

I admit that I've been feeling some burnout with the "other" Lantern Corps, since their stories have been omnipresent in this title - but the mystery introduced here certainly holds great promise.

Artist Doug Mahnke continues to quietly do spectacular work on this title, though I'm not sure if the "army of inkers" approach provides the best consistency. Still, excellent work here.

I still hope we'll get a break from the Lantern stories - it would be nice to see one focus on Hal Jordan, who's been sharing the spotlight generously in his own title. But if we must focus on other colors in the spectrum, we can be glad that the stories are entertaining.

Grade: B+

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Saga #2

Among the weaknesses of too many comic books out there today are: a shortage of likeable characters involved; no romance; little to no humor content; and a lack of surprises - most stories are all too predictable.

The good news is, you'll find none of those problems on display in Saga.

The second issue finds us three days in on the life of baby Hazel, whose parents are trying to find a way to escape from an alien planet. They're under attack from (seemingly) all sides, and their solutions are alternately delightful and harrowing.

We're slowly learning about the universe this new family inhabits, and it's a strange setting, full of wonders and horrors alike.

We're seeing masterful work here. The story by Brian K. Vaughn just seems to spill out effortlessly, but it's expertly crafted and propels you along until you run up against that last page, which leaves you begging for more. We're still learning about the characters, but the odd love story at the center of events is very touching.

The art by Fiona Staples is a real delight, as she brings alien landscapes to vivid life and populates it with all kinds of creatures - some beautiful, some terrifying.

We're going to have to be patient - that last page for both of the first two issues screams, "You gotta wait 30 days for more, pal!" - and the story is building slowly.

Ah, but it's certainly worth the wait. Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Friday, April 13, 2012

America's Got Powers #1 (of 6)

I should admit up front that I'm not much of a fan of reality television. I watched the first few seasons of Survivor and a couple of seasons of American Idol - and that's about it. I've never seen an episode of Jersey Shore.

The problem, at least for me is that so much of it feels fake and pre-scripted - you can see the hand of the producer and director, trying to create good guys and bad guys, and enticing you to support one player over another. (And I know, millions out there love those shows, so your mileage may vary.)

I worked in TV for a couple of decades, so that may have something to do with it, too.

That thin veneer of entertainment over a more seamy reality is the clever basis for the new comic mini-series, America's Got Powers, which is set in a world where an extraordinary event leaves a significant portion of the population with super-powers.

Instead of going out and fighting evil, those super-powered characters instead fight each other in a battle arena. We're not sure if that's by choice, or if this is a Battle Royal / Hunger Games sorta thing.

The main character is an (apparently) powerless young man named Tommy Watts - he's struggling through life as a regular guy in an extraordinary world. But there's more to the games - and the powers - than meets the eye.

The story is written by Jonathan Ross, who's best known for his work in television for the BBC - and here he shows a gift for plot and dialogue. It doesn't hurt that he's working with one of the best and most distinctive artists working today, Bryan Hitch, who turns in stunning work here, loaded with emotion, detail and near-photographic renditions in some panels.

I'm not sure where this series is going - there are lots of mysteries set up to explore - but I'll definitely be tuning in for the rest of the series.

Grade: A


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Avengers Assemble #2

The toughest thing about writing a super-team like The Avengers has to be coming up with an opponent that can actually offer a challenge.

And at first brush, you might think the first opponent in the new Avengers Assemble comic is a poor choice. After all, the Zodiac have been convenient whipping boys for Marvel's heroes for decades.

But give writer Brian Bendis credit - he's recrafted the team of bad guys into a genuine threat. In fact, you now wonder how the Avengers, even with powerhouses like Thor and the Hulk, can stand up to them.

The origins of the Zodiac's new powers is explained - sorta kinda - at the top of the issue, and most of the rest of it is given over to action, as artist Mark Bagley and inker Danny Miki put the heroes through their paces.

I'm impressed that they've managed to craft a team that mirrors the movie lineup and keeps the characters in line - mostly - with their big screen versions, all while keeping the story set firmly in the "real" Marvel Universe.

There are still lots of questions to be answered, but in this year of the Avengers, this is a strong addition to the lineup.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Comics in April

I picked up some good ones at the comics shop today, including:

- America's Got Powers #1 - For Bryan Hitch's art, mostly.

- New Avengers #24 - Setting up the fight with the X-Men.

- Avengers Assemble #2 - A serious challenge from Zodiac.

- Secret Avengers #25 - Wrapping up the last story to get to the X-story.

- Conan the Barbarian #3 - Doin' the deed with Belit!

- Fantastic Four #605 - A visit to the future.

- Green Lantern #8 - Secrets revealed.

- Journey Into Mystery #636 - Fighting the Fear Lords.

- Saga #2 - Expect the unexpected.

- The Shade #7 (of 12) - Showdown with a devil.

- Mighty Thor #12.1 - Some backstory.

- Winter Soldier #4 - Working with Doom.

And I recieved a review pdf of Fathom Kiani #1 - the return of a deadly warrior!

And that's it!

The Classics - The Avengers #3

With a certain blockbuster movie hitting theaters in a few weeks, it seems like a good time to use our "Classic" reviews to focus on some of my all-time favorite issues of The Avengers.

And what better issue to start with than the first issue I bought - from 1964, issue #3. Sadly, my copy is long gone (how could I have ever let it slip away?), so here's the cover from the Masterworks reprint.

It was one of those rare comics that just blows your mind. Here we see writer Stan Lee, penciler Jack Kirby and inker Paul Reinman having a blistering good time.

They packed an incredible amount of action into a single 25-page story!

It starts with the team (made up of Thor, Iron Man, Giant-Man and the Wasp) trying to track down the Hulk, who quit at the end of issue #2 (making his membership a short one). Iron Man sends a hologram of himself (via an Image Projector) to ask for help from other Marvel heroes, including the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and the X-Men!

Team "mascot" Rick Jones helps them locate the big green lunk, who has become uncontrollable, and a huge battle ensues, loaded with all kinds of creative twists. At one point, the Hulk strips the needles off a cactus with such velocity that they strike like bullets.

The Hulk escapes, makes his way out to sea and encounters the Sub-Mariner - so they fight each other (of course), and then agree to team up, and the two of them fight the Avengers together in another amazing brawl!

The sequence that always stuck with me was a moment in the fight where Namor and the Hulk are trying to take away Thor's hammer - but even using both hands, the Hulk can't tear Mjolnir out of Thor's hand. It was such a pivotal scene that Stan and Jack used it as the basis for an entire issue of Thor (Journey Into Mystery), as it revealed the "untold story" of Thor's battle with the Hulk.

It's entirely possible that my copy of this comic is gone because it finally disintegrated from being read so many times. There's not a lot of deep thought in this issue, but it's one of the most action-packed and purely entertaining comics I can remember reading.

It set the bar high for the series, and made The Avengers an instant favorite!

Grade: A+


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Swamp Thing #8

Well, it took seven issues to get around to it, but finally the character whose name is in the title made an appearance in Swamp Thing.

But if you're a fan of horror, then it was well worth the wait. A battle has been brewing between The Rot and The Green, and the champions of each are in place.

One one side we have the newly transformed (again, sorta) Alec Holland, who has again become the champion of The Green. At stake in the battle is every living thing on Earth - and Abigail Arcane, the Swamp Thing's true love.

It's a grim and driving story by writer Scott Snyder, well served by the amazing art of Yanick Paquette. His style is so detailed, so dense with activity, you wonder how he can possible keep to a monthly schedule.

But thank goodness he does! The art is unsettling in places, but his landscapes and his version of the Swamp Thing are stunning.

Definitely not a comic for kids, but a welcome return of quality and terror to an old favorite.

Grade: A-


Monday, April 9, 2012

Secret Avengers #24

I realize that I was spoiled by Warren Ellis' recent run on this series, but so far I can't say I care much for the new take on the Secret Avengers.

The news isn't all bad - I like the cast fine, and it's great to see characters like the original Human Torch and Captain Britain in action.

The problem is, each of the heroes seems to have no sense, no ability to get along with each other, and none of them seem particularly likeable.

They're invading a mysterious city that seems to be home to a variety of artificial life forms - robots, androids, LMDs, cyborgs - all gathered by a mastermind who looks for all the world like General Immortus, the old enemy of the Doom Patrol (I'm assuming it's not actually him).

Upon arriving, Captain Britain's armor stops working, leaving him helpless, under attack - and then he flies away as though nothing is wrong. The artificial creatures worship the Human Torch - and then he flies away. The Beast suffers the exact same injury he suffered in this week's issue of Wolverine and the X-Men.

Basically, there's a lot of fighting and smashing and by the end of the issue, nothing has changed and we don't know much (if any) more than we did at the beginning.

The issue just seems to be trying too hard to keep us in the dark, and as a result it's difficult to care too much about the whole thing. Hopefully the next issue (out this week) will clear things up as we careen toward the whole Avengers vs. X-Men thing.

Grade: B-


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Fairest #2

Progress. That's what we want to see in any comic.

Give us some more information, move the characters along, tell a story.

We get some of that in this issue of Fairest, but we don't actually make much progress.

It starts with a "meet cute" bit between the thief, Ali Baba, and the beautiful Princess Briar, with some commentary on the side by the imp Jonah. They're on the run because they're being pursued by the wicked Snow Queen and an army of ice creatures.

There's enough running to satisfy any Doctor Who fan, and a few glimpses into the background of the princess, but when we get to the end of the issue, we are (for all intents and purposes) right back where the whole thing started.

Which is not to say that it's a bad issue. As written by Bill Willingham, it's just one of those "laying the foundation" stories that are pretty much unavoidable in any new comic.

The art is a real delight, from the terrific cover by Adam Hughes to the outstanding interior art by Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning. It's a story filled with monsters, goddesses, sweeping landscapes and an amazing depiction of a throne room filled with royalty.

I'm new to the Fables universe, so that may be getting in my way. The issue just seemed to spend a lot of time running in place, and ended up being a bit of a disappointment, especially after an outstanding first issue.

Grade: B


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Wolverine and the X-Men #8

If you made a graph of the success and failure of this comic, it would look like a roller coaster.

That's because Wolverine and the X-Men keeps gyrating between being a fun, entertaining comic, and being a dopey, fan fiction mess.

This issue falls into the latter category.

I'm not even sure I can recap the story by Jason Aaron - it's all over the place. We have Wolverine struggling to recover from a devastating injury, the return of the kids (literally) who control the Hellfire Club, a terrible attack by Sabretooth with a massive body count that no one seems to care about, a class of students off on a highly illegal and dangerous mission (they're playing hooky in space).

Chris Bachalo and Tim Townsend provide the art, and (like the story) it veers wildly from amazing images to panels where I have no idea what's happening.

I appreciate the humor, I appreciate the attempt to do something different - but I'm having trouble finding a character in this comic to like and support. Does everyone have to be a killer?

Surely not.

Grade: C+


Friday, April 6, 2012

Action Comics #8

There's a lot to like about this issue of Action Comics - but I find it didn't really work for me.

It's the first misstep for writer Grant Morrison, who's been pretty flawless up to this point.

The issue begins with Superman facing off against Brainiac, the alien creature that has captured the city of Metropolis (he shrank it down and placed it in a bottle of sorts).

Superman must also fight a human who has become a cyborg and a slave to Brainiac (not to be confused with Cyborg, a member of the Justice League).

I've been praising the artwork by Rags Morales on this series, and he has some nice work on display here - but he falls down in one important part of the book: the fight scenes.

There's a real art to making a fight sequence flow naturally, so the reader gets the impact of the struggle, but the story keep moving forward (Kirby was the master of this). Here, we see lots of punches throw, bodies flying around, objects smashed - but we don't get a sense of how the pieces fit together.

Did we ever get a good look at Brainiac? Was he a snake-like creature, a many-headed hydra or something else? How did the cyborg fit in? You get the idea.

There are some nice bits of business here, some great artwork and some clever resolutions - but when the action sequence is the key event in the issue, it's vital that it carry its weight.

Morrison has set up numerous stories to keep this book percolating far into the future - but this one was a bit of a stumble.

Grade: B-


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Avengers vs. X-Men #1

This is an issue where I can feel an internal conflict raging.

Not in the comic - in my fanboy heart.

The critical nerd in there wants to slam Avengers vs. X-Men because the story is standing on the most spindly of legs. The Phoenix is making a beeline toward the Earth, and everyone knows it's coming for the young X-Man named Hope.

Since the Phoenix has this nasty habit of destroying planets, everyone's understandably concerned.

But will the X-Men agree to work with the Avengers to face this menace? Don't be silly. Cyclops is the character in this series who has to behave irrationally, refusing to work with the Avengers. Guess what happens next.

Ah, but that's where the hopeful nerd takes over. I look at this comic, I see the two sides lining up against each other, the battle is about to break out, and I feel like a kid again.

This is exactly the kind of story Marvel does well - "faces" fighting each other for flimsy reasons.

It's just a fun, pro wrestling-style excuse for a knock-down, drag-out fight. It certainly doesn't hurt to have the excellent John Romita, Jr. providing the artwork.

The stakes are high, the outcome grim, and the war is about to begin. Save me a seat!

Grade: A


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

New Comics!

Here's what I picked up today:

- Action Comics #8 - Superman vs. Brainiac!

- Avengers vs. X-Men #1 - Everyone vs. everyone else!

- Daredevil #10.1 - Is this a weekly series now?

- Fairest #2 - Once again, worth buying for the cover.

- Fatale #4 - Mystery, pulp and horror - a nifty mix!

- Fear Itself: The Fearless #12 (of 12) - The fearful (and fatal?) finale!

- Secret Avengers #24 - Another amazing cover.

- Swamp Thing #8 - More horror more often.

- Wolverie and the X-Men #8 - Logan gets the Professor X treatment.

And that's it!

The Classics - Mystery in Space #70

So when I was in Junior High School, one of the students brought his science project to our Science Class.

It was a large flat disc that projected sideways from a little mechanism. As it spun around, it created sparks of static electricity.

It was impressive. I took a look at it and said, "You built a Wimshurst Machine."

He was stunned. He asked, "How did you know what it was?"

I lied and said I'd seen a picture of it somewhere - because I didn't want to admit that I'd read it in a comic book. (By Junior High, kids were supposed to be too old for comics.)

To be exact, I'd seen it in a recent reprint of Mystery in Space #70, which starred Adam Strange. (The reprint was an issue of Strange Adventures, as I recall - but above I've posted the cover as printed in the second Adam Strange Archives collection.)

The beauty of the comics that Julius Schwartz edited was that they usually included some actual science facts along with the usual action and adventure - and that was especially true in the Adam Strange stories, since that hero had no super-powers, and was forced to defeat an assortment of monsters, aliens and evildoers with only his wits and ingenuity.

When faced with the attack by an alien Dust Demon, Strange discovers its weakness and sets a trap using a Wimshurst machine - which writer Gardener Fox helpfully explains.

So in addition to the exceptional art by Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson, readers actually learned about science. Is it any wonder that this series was my favorite?

(What can I say? I was a science nerd.)

Grade: A


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Daredevil #10

If they gave out an award for "Most Improved" comic, Daredevil would have to be the runaway winner.

The relaunched version with writer Mark Waid and artists Paolo and Joe Rivera has recrafted the series into a pure, delightful example of a superhero comic - even when it ventures into the field of horror.

And that's where we find our Man Without Fear - trapped in the underground world of the Mole Man, a hideous creature who has used his Moloid army to steal caskets from a cemetery - among them, the one belonging to Matt Murdock's father.

Daredevil faces a tall challenge - how to stop a wiley and powerful opponent who has an army, monsters and more than a few traps. And lest you think that Mole Man is a pushover, keep in mind that he's fought the Fantastic Four many times and lived to tell the tale.

Even given the grim nature of the story, Waid manages to infuse some much-needed humor - and let me just say again how glad I am to have the "real" Daredevil back, instead of the grim, humorless imposter who's been hanging out in the pages (before Waid).

With great stories (with subplots and compelling supporting characters, no less) and lush, wonderful art, this is a comic that's not to be missed.

Grade: A-


Monday, April 2, 2012

The Mighty Thor #12

Marvel's heroes were roughed up quite a bit during the Fear Itself event, but none of them had a tougher time than The Mighty Thor, who was (for all intents and purposes) wiped from existence.

Luckily, he got better.

This issue, written by Matt Fraction, finally resolves the conflict over Tanarus, who had somehow replaced Thor in everyone's memory, wraps up a small war at Asgardia (which has finally been rebuilt after its destruction in Dark Seige), introduces some new characters and generally lets Thor cut loose.

The art is by Giuseppe Camuncoli with inking by Klaus Janson, and the artwork often seems to be channeling Walt Simonson (which is a very good look for this series, needless to say).

For all that, it's not really a great issue - all the plot threads are tied up a bit too quickly and easily, and we never really get a good explanation for the whole Tanarus thing.

But, it's loaded with action, a good gag by Volstagg, and it's great to see Thor back in time for his next movie appearance - so it's hard to complain.

Grade: B


Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Twelve #11 (of 12)

As The Twelve draws near the end, the team is forced into a deadly fight with a powerful, pitiless enemy.

And the team is at a real disadvantage, because most of the members are normal humans, or only have a very specific (and limited) power.

To its credit, this issue feels like a throwback to the issue of Alan Moore's Marvelman / Miracleman, where the hero is suddenly forced to fight a frightening and powerful opponent.

It's a difficult issue to talk about without giving away key plot points, but it brings to a conclusion some of the storylines have been running through the series - although I suspect there are a few more surprises waiting in the final issue.

It's tempting to be dismissive of this issue, if just because it's been so long in arriving - but it's a sharply written comic (as you'd expect from J. Michael Straczynski) and the artwork by Chris Weston is wonderful - hard-hitting, realistic and telling a powerful story.

I hate to see this series ending, but I have to admit that I can't wait to see how it all wraps up. I know, I confuse myself sometimes.

Grade: A-