Sunday, March 31, 2013

Uncanny Avengers #5

I've been amazed to find that I haven't enjoyed the Uncanny Avengers series.

The art has been excellent, with John Cassaday managing the first four issues and the cover for this issue, and Olivier Coipel and Mark Morales providing this issue's art.

But writer Rick Remender seems to be missing the mark completely. I'd recommend that he watch The Avengers movie to see a great blend of interesting characters, exciting action sequences and (this may be the most important bit) a great sense of humor.

Those three things are missing here. We have a team that was intended to show solidarity between the mainstream heroes and the Earth's mutants, and instead it seems like an odd mix of characters who don't like each other - and they keep adding more unlikeable characters!

In this issue we bring aboard Sunfire (who is self-loathing and nearly suicidal), Wonder Man (who recently waged war against the Avengers for some silly reason) and the Wasp (a lighthearted character who is immediately shoved to the back).

Perhaps the silliest bit has Havok leading a press conference and talking about the fact that he finds the term "mutant" offensive. After 50 years of being called mutants, and now it's vulgar? Seems like a heck of a reach to me.

Throw in some story elements dating back to Remeder's run of X-Force and you have a story that, for those who haven't read those stories, makes little sense.

And I won't even get into the big fight sequence at the end of the issue, which seems to have most of the team standing around doing nothing.

I had high hopes for this series, but unless you're just buying it for the art, I'd recommend giving it a pass.

Grade: C+


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Guardians of the Galaxy #1

I have a friend who isn't happy about the title of this comic.

He believes that the Guardians of the Galaxy is a team from the future whose adventures were told in a series of stories in the '70s and '80s.

But these days the team is a modern-day gathering of assorted cosmic heroes, dedicated to fighting to protect the Earth from assorted cosmic menaces.

The team is also scheduled to star in an upcoming Marvel film, so don't expect them to go away anytime soon.

The team is made up of Star-Lord (Peter Quill), who's half-human and half-alien (his father is the King of the Spartax system), Gamora, the most dangerous woman in the universe, Drax, a powerhouse, Rocket Raccoon, pretty much what the name indicates, and Groot, who is, well, Groot. Just ask him.

This issue zips right along, introducing the cast, bringing Iron Man into the mix as part of the intergalactic exploration mission he's on in his own title, setting up the challenge (defend Earth without actually landing there) and bringing in the bad guys (an invading force of Badoon warriors).

As you'd expect from writer Brian Michael Bendis, it's sharply written, funny and action-packed. The art is by Steve MicNiven and John Dell, and it's a real treat. The character designs are outstanding, the emotional impact is skillfully depicted, the page layouts are powerful - and it's just a heck of a lot of fun.

This is a team book that doesn't bother with the usual "gather the team" storyline for the first issue - it just hits the ground running and dares you to keep up.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Friday, March 29, 2013

Batman Inc. #9

As always, we try to avoid spoilers on this site, but once again the news media has defeated our efforts, since the events of the last issue of Batman Inc. were heavily reported.

We'll try to remain discreet, for the handful out there who missed the news or haven't read the last issue or looked at the last two covers or the covers of the last month's Bat-books. But suffice to say, the Batman Family has suffered a terrible loss.

This issue continues that story as the heroes are attacked by the organization Leviathan, which is headed by Talia and her warriors, including a nearly-indestructible fighter who's intent on killing Batman - and he very nearly succeeds.

It's a brutal fight for survival, and it extends around the world. The attack is focused on Wayne Tower in Gotham City, but other members of Batman Inc. are also fighting for their lives - and another team member has lost his life, while the death of another seems imminent.

It's a sad, intense story, and sets up an impressive opponent for the heroes - and a great story of revenge.

This is the final storyline by Grant Morrison, who seems to be drawing up the final plotlines he's been weaving together during his run on the Batman titles.

The art is by Chris Burnham, who has an organic, exciting style that's reminiscent of Frank Quitely - which is to say, it's very good. The story also feature four pages by Jason Masters, working in a similar (but more mainstream) style.

The story calls into question Batman's decision to start a public organization to fight crime - and just how safe the other members of his family are. One might well ask, should the grim knight be working with others - and should young people be out there fighting crime at all?

Perhaps those answers are forthcoming.

Grade: A-


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Age of Ultron #3

You have to give credit to writer Brian Michael Bendis - he likes to work with a big canvas.

For the Age of Ultron mini-series / event, he's operating in the present-day Marvel Universe - but one that has been devastated by an overwhelming attack by the robot Ultron (who apparently has an vast army of doubles).

He's destroyed most of New York and other major cities, he's apparently killed the majority of the world's super-heroes, and is in the process of finishing off what's left of the human race.

As with the previous two issues, the amazing artwork is provided by Bryan Hitch, with Paul Neary inking and Paul Mounts providing the color. It's amazing work - no one does widespread destruction and larger-than-life cityscapes like Hitch. Throw in powerful character designs and you've got work by one of the best in the business.

The story has the remaining heroes acting out of desperation, trying to find a way to fight back against overwhelming odds. It's a compelling story - but there are problems with the continuity.

Spider-Man is apparently Peter Parker, unlike the repellant current story in his comic. He's also unmasked - didn't they learn anything from the last time that happened? The number of heroes who have (apparently) been killed leads one to believe that the story will have to end with some kind of reboot, wiping out some of the more terrible events that have happened.

Of course, there's plenty of time to explain these things away or resolve the problems - but it's going to be a tall order.

Despite those problems, it's been an outstanding series so far, and I'm anxious to get the next chapter.

Which is a lot more than I can say about most event books these days.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

New Comic Book Day

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

- Age of Ultron #3 - Selling out a friend to the machine.

- Aquaman #18 - The trials of being the king.

- Uncanny Avengers #5 - Crank up the Avengers PR machine.

- Batman Inc. #9 - The aftermath of a death in the family.

- FF #5 - What's bothering Medusa?

- Fantastic Four #5AU - Tie-in to Age of Ultron.

- Flash #18 - Chasing the Trickster.

- Guardians of the Gslaxy #1 - Fighting for the Earth!

- Joe Kubert Presents #6 (of 6) - Sadly, the final issue.

- Journey into Mystery #650 - Wrapping up a Sif story.

- Wolverine & X-Men #27 - Survival in the wild.

- Young Avengers #3 - On the run.

And that's it!

The Classics - Strange Adventures #153

As discussed in this review, in the early 1960s DC had an amazing variety of comics for sale.

But it also was known to repeat certain elements that (presumably) resulted in strong sales. Gorillas is the best example - hardly a month went by without one of DC's titles featuring a gorilla.

Another one that made recurring appearances in the pages of Strange Adventures (such as this issue from 1963) was The Faceless Creature.

This was (I believe) the third appearance of that menace, and by this time the idea of a giant orange alien with a human body, pointed ears and no eyes, nose or mouth, was apparently running out of steam.

(In case you're wondering, apparently that alien race had evolved out of the need for eyes, a nose and a mouth. Go figure.)

There are no credits on that story, but it appears to be drawn by the great Gil Kane (though I admit I'm not the best at spotting art styles, so I may be wrong).

Whoever wrote the story was wise to keep his or her name (and face) hidden - the story is mighty weak sauce. The alien escapes from the trap they put him in last issue, threatens to destroy the Earth and his home world, and is thwarted through a perfectly silly method.

The excellent art is the only reason to read this story.

But the backup series is lots of fun, as the Atomic Knights travel to a devastated Detroit where the community is trying to rebuild the auto industry (a story torn from today's headlines).

It's worth it for the final panel, where Gardener Grayle brags that, now that he has a car, he can properly court his sweetheart Marlene.

How good is it? It's one of the rare stories where - in DC's pre-credit days - they allowed the artist, the superb Murphy Anderson, to sign his work!

Well worth tracking down for the backup story. The Faceless Alien may get the cover and the attention, but his days were numbered. He was effective, but he was no gorilla.

Grade: B


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Soulfire #4

Thanks to the Game of Thrones book and TV series, dragons are once again all the rage.

And you'll get more than your daily dose of those creatures in the latest issue of Soulfire, as an evil being gathers a powerful force of what I'll call elemental dragons - some are made of ice, some of fire - you get the idea.

A gathering of sorcerers, warriors and royalty are trying their best to come up with a way to fight back against their enemy's overwhelming power - but can they get along with each other? (Hint: expect some Marvel-style in-fighting here.)

The story by J.T. Krul doesn't really move things forward much - but it does set up a cataclysmic confrontation next issue (judging by that final page).

The art by Mike DeBalfo is something of a mixed bag. Some of the pages are outstanding - I especially like those dragon designs - but other panels are surprisingly crude, like those pages were taken away before he had a chance to finish them.

So, a solid, fantasy-based adventure, but one that needs to pick up the pace a bit. The series has a large cast of fighters and a towering menace to confront - so let's get to it!

Grade: B


Monday, March 25, 2013

Action Comics #18

It seems that Grant Morrison's final story for Action Comics (at least for now) kept growing and spilled over into a couple of extra issues.

Lucky for us!

Morrison's final story arc has been a mind-bending, almost psychedelic battle between Superman and an evil imp from the 5th Dimension - no, not the mischievous Mxyzptlk (though he certainly figures into the story), but instead it's the evil Vyndktvx who has assembled a team of killers to attack the Man of Steel - in fact, Superman is being attacked simultaneously in different time periods.

Luckily, he has some powerful friends, including the Legion of Super-heroes and a new team of space-faring heroes (or at least a new version of that team).

But even with their help, it'll take all of Superman's skills and intelligence to survive.

What I love about Morrison's writing is that he doesn't play Superman as just the world's most powerful hero. He's also the world's smartest hero, and wins the day time and again by being more clever than the other guy (which is quite a trick when you're up against alien intelligences or Lex Luthor).

This series has been a real high mark in the adventures of Superman, and I'm certainly sorry to see it end.

But (thanks also to the excellent art by Rags Morales and Brad Walker) it's a heck of a wrap-up. Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Sunday, March 24, 2013

New Avengers #4

Just four issues in and we're already in the deep end of the pool.

This series could just as easily be called "The Illuminati," as it features the handful of heroes who have appointed themselves as the guardians of the Earth.

They're facing a monstrous decision as a mysterious event is causing Earths from alternate dimensions (or is it alternate realities?) to collide. The only way to avoid destruction is to destroy the other planet - but at what cost?

The members of the Illuminati are determined to find a way to protect the planet, but can they devise a solution in time - and will they be willing to enact it, at the cost of billions of lives?

Adding to the tension is the appearance of the world-devouring Galactus, who presents another interesting challenge to the team - do they allow him to consume the other Earth, or will they fight to protect both worlds while trying to find another solution?

It's a big cosmic story by Jonathan Hickman, and I have no idea how it's all going to be resolved - which is half the fun. I'm also enjoying the characterization of the team, from the Black Panther's stoicism to Namor's delight in their impending (possible) destruction - it's wonderful to see these characters so well defined.

Steve Epting's art is perfect for the story, from world-shattering confrontations to quiet and chilling dark moments with Dr. Strange.

It's an outstanding story and, frankly, I can't wait to see where it goes next!

Grade: A


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Justice League #18

After a year-and-a-half of keeping the same lineup, this issue finds the Justice League finally relaxing their oddly-demanding standards and welcoming some of the second tier heroes to their ranks (or at least giving them an audition).

It's a time-honored tradition in team books, and (as per said tradition), it's an issue where not much really happens, aside from introductions and interactions.

Writer Geoff Johns provides plenty of entertaining character interaction and a rather pointless fight sequence - and we meet a new version of a classic hero.

Jesus Saiz provides some excellent artwork, with strong layouts and well-crafted character designs.

But otherwise the comic is just kind of a placeholder, as we get ready to plunge into the next story arc.

So, a solid issue, but not exactly a classic.

Grade: B


Friday, March 22, 2013

Avengers #8

OK, among the list of "things I never thought I'd see," bringing the StarBrand into the mainstream Marvel Universe has to be way up there.

Yet, as the cover shows, here it is.

It takes a heck of a writer to manage something that audacious, and - luckily - Jonathan Hickman is just that.

He's managed to take at least two of the New Universe characters out of the '80s, reinvented them, developed a new backstory to explain it all (including the devastating "White Event"), and folded it all into the latest issue of The Avengers.

The only problem is that the Avengers... don't really act much like heroes.

They investigate a devastating blast that kills thousands and leaves a mile-wide crater, but (aside from an initial attempt at sympathy by Captain America) the team decides to take the "Hulk smash" approach to subduing the young man who may be the world's most powerful being.

I know it's a Marvel tradition for heroes to meet and fight right away, but it seems like a bad approach this time around.

Still, with exemplary art by Dustin Weaver and a riveting, growing and unpredictable storyline, this is a compelling series - if you're not already, you really should be reading it.

Grade: A-


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Saga #11

This one definitely isn't for the kiddies.

But the grownups will love it.

Saga is telling the story of a hero, and with this issue, we go back to the very beginning of that hero's story. And when I say beginning, I mean the moment of conception.

Which is to say, the opening page features her parents doin' the deed.

And that's the delight of this series - you really have no idea what's going to happen next.

That can be good, as we find our odd family unit flying in a rocket ship that's made out of a tree trying to escape from a "giant evil space fetus" while bounty hunters are terribly close by. I know, it sounds crazy, but it's actually pretty awesome.

Writer Brian K. Vaughn knows his craft, and he's weaving an adult, involved science fiction epic loaded with great characters, unexpected twists and turns (including several in this issue), action sequences, some delightful dialogue and lots of humor.

And the art by Fiona Staples is a constant delight, with creative layouts, original designs, expressive characters and clean storytelling.

Buy the collections, pick up the back issues - if you liked Y the Last Man or just enjoy science fantasy / science fiction, this is a wonderful, rewarding series.

Just not for kids.

Grade: A


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

New Comics Day

I picked up lots of comics today, including:

- Action Comics #18 - The finale for Morrison, sad to say.

- Avengers #8 - Hey, we haven't seen Star Brand in a while...

- New Avengers #4 - Galactus pays a visit.

- Captain America #5 - A hopeless fight?

- Conan the Barbarian #14 - Storming the castle.

- Daredevil #24 - Who's targeting DD?

- Indestructible Hulk #5 - Under the sea.

- Justice League #18 - Recruitment drive.

- Justice League of America #2 - First mission.

- Nova #2 - Learning curve.

- Saga #11 - Where's my hanky?

- Spider #10 - Stuck but good.

- Sword of Sorcery #6 - The return of Eclipso.

- Savage Wolverine #3 - Getting more savage all the time.

- Wonder Woman #18 - Battle of the gods.

- All-New X-Men #9 - Making new friends.

And that's it! (Whew!)

The Classics - Strange Adventures #144

In the early 1960s, DC (or National Comics to those purists out there) had an amazing amount of diversity in its comics lineup.

It had superheroes, westerns, dinosaurs, war stories, romance comics, humor, fantasy, science fiction and a few others I'm probably forgetting.

And let me tell you - it was great!

As a kid, I wasn't really concerned about buying superhero comics - I just bought comics that were good. So I'd pick up Sea Devils or Sgt. Rock or Challengers of the Unknown or Metal Men or Batman - whatever looked good.

One of my favorites was a pseudo-science fiction series that was relatively short-lived - not to mention difficult to track down, because in 1962, the distribution of comics like Strange Adventures was spotty at best.

Every three months or so, issues would include the adventures of the Atomic Knights. Set in the far-distant future of 1991, it told the story of a small community of humans trying to survive in the wake of a nuclear war that destroyed virtually all plant and animal life. (The disaster happened on October 9, 1986.)

So how did they deal with the radiation? They wore suits of medieval-style armor that were (somehow) radiation-proof. How did they get around with no horses or cars? They road giant dalmatians.

It was all great fun. Of course, the series had a secret weapon - artist Murphy Anderson, one of the best in the business. He used creative layouts, dynamic character designs and a wonderful, classic illustrative style that made him one of the best in the business.

The adventures written by John Broome were clever and exciting, avoiding the usual depressing setting in post-apocalyptic tales. This story actually reveals a long-hidden secret - the cause of the atomic war that devastated the world. The knights track down a hidden race threatening to take over what's left of the world.

The knights had a short run - only 16 adventures in the '60s, with a few other appearances since (they've been adapted into a modern day unit since then), but they were prime stories - some of the best from the '60s.

They may seem a bit silly looking back from today - almost 27 years after the nuclear disaster that might have been - but they're strong, uplifting tales of heroism that were inspiring and entertaining.

Would that today's comics had room for stories like this!

Grade: A


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Star Wars #3

I have to say, I'm still a bit puzzled by this new Star Wars series.

On the one hand, I'm delighted that it picks up where the first film left off: the Death Star has just been destroyed, the Rebels are searching for a new base and dealing with a spy, Darth Vader is facing the repercussions of his failure during the Battle for Yavin, and Han Solo is off on a mysterious mission.

I'm puzzled because the story by Brian Wood continues to move at a slow, methodical pace, with a few bursts of action and adventure. The spy story isn't compelling, the budding romance between Luke Skywalker and another X-Wing pilot seems to come out of left field, Han's mission seems vague (does he shoot a guy in the back because he doesn't trust him?) and Vader is mostly on the fringes so far.

But despite that - I'm really enjoying this comic. For one thing, it has the voice of the characters down, and I'm so happy to see them in action again that I can forgive all the setup we've been going through. Also, the last couple of pages indicate that our patience is about to pay off.

The art by Carlos D'Anda is very good, with dynamic layouts and good (if not quite spot-on) depictions of the main characters. The cover by Alex Ross is terrific!

I do appreciate the efforts to keep the stories not only in the "real world" (of Star Wars, that is), but to make it a logical follow-up to that original film.

Whether you buy it for nostalgia or for love of the characters, there's a lot to like in this series.

Grade: B+


Monday, March 18, 2013

Shrugged #1

A classic bit has been used in cartoons and live-action films to indicate the eternal conflict between our good and bad side.

Traditionally it's been represented by a tiny angel on one shoulder and a tiny devil on the other. They argue, they debate, they fight - it's all in good fun.

And now we have a comic book that bases the entire concept around that idea.

In the second volume of Shrugged (and I should admit that I missed the first mini-series) we meet young Theo, a high school senior who has a guardian angel named Ange looking over him and a devil named Devonshire appealing to his base urges.

We don't get much more than an introduction here, though it's apparent that Theo is somehow able to wield the powers of either angel or demon in times of stress - and judging by the final page, he's got lots of stress on the way.

The art is by Jonathan Marks and Micah Gunnell. It's very good - a nice combination of good girl stylings and more comedic moments.

The story is by Frank Mastromauro - it mostly sets up the concept, though it throws in some events in what appears to be a different dimension (presumably the home of the angel and demon, but it isn't explained at all). Since I'm new to the story, I felt like I needed a little more help understanding where the angels and demons came from and why they're tied to Theo - but perhaps future issues will clear that up.

This issue is the latest in the "10 for 10" series, and costs a mere dollar - and it well worth checking out, especially at that price.

Grade: B


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Fantastic Four #5

I love the way life throws little surprises at you.

For example, I recently attended an excellent community theatre production of Shakespeare's Richard III. Just days before, they discovered the bones of the real-life Richard under a parking lot.

This week, I attended another excellent community theatre production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Then I picked up the latest issue of Fantastic Four, which features an appearance by mighty Caesar himself. Needless to say, I'm impressed with the PR efforts of these local theatre groups.

But I digress. This issue features an excellent story by Matt Fraction (although I thought the Four were off on a trip to explore other worlds, not all of time and space. Ah well, maybe they got bored.

It's a clever, literate story with some surprising twists and turns along the way, and a smart science fiction angle.

The art by Mark Bagley and Mark Farmer continues to excel, capturing the spectacle and the emotion of the story perfectly.

There was some concern about the new creative team keeping up the standards the series set under Jonathan Hickman.

I'm happy to report: they're doing just fine, thanks.

Grade: A-


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Wolverine and the X-Men #26

I think it was a terrible idea to give Wolverine an origin.

The character works much better with a mysterious background - but the mini-series Origins spelled it all out - and serves as the basis for this issue's story.

It centers on flashbacks provided by Logan's brother named Dog (you read that correctly), as he recounts his miserable life and his attempts to track down his brother.

You won't see much of the characters that fall under the "and the X-Men" part of the title - this is a Wolverine story.

Jason Aaron's story is fine, as it rambles across some familiar territory via flashbacks, but the modern-day stuff takes a decidedly weird turn - one that's mightly hard to swallow.

I like the art by Ramon Perez, as he uses an interesting, washed-out painting style for the flashbacks - and his style for the modern adventure has an interesting, Will Eisner-influenced look.

But the issue never really comes together, and just leaves us wondering why someone thought it was a good idea to create a character named "Dog."

Grade: C


Friday, March 15, 2013

Batman #18

The recent shocking death in the Bat-family continues to echo through this issue of Batman - and surprisingly, the issue seems to be introducing the replacement for the character who died.

So much for a period of mourning, right?

All that aside, this is the first issue of Batman since the beginning of the "New 52" that just manages to be average.

The art by Andy Kubert (Chapter 1) and Alex Maleev (Chapter 2) is outstanding, although the two styles don't really go together at all - Kubert's is all energy and angst, while Maleev is mood and emotion.

But the script by Scott Snyder doesn't have the complexity we've become accustomed to - instead, it's a thin tale about Batman taking out his violent anger on a bunch of hapless crooks, and an attempt by a friend to bring him back down to Earth.

It's no doubt setting up future storylines, but there's not much meat on the bones for this issue.

Hopefully the next issue will get this series back on to the high standards we've been spoiled by for the previous 17 issues.

Grade: B-


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Wolverine #1

As the old saying goes, you can't swing a cat by the tail in a comics shop without hitting a Wolverine first issue.

And here's one now, making the mutant hero a featured character in more comics than any other Marvel or DC hero. (I'm just guessing - I haven't the spirit to actually try calculating those numbers.)

I haven't picked up Wolverine's solo comics in quite a while, but I made an exception here because of the artist. Alan Davis is one of my all-time favorites, a pro who has created an amazing body of work, and he shows no signs of faltering.

The art here is terrific - dynamic layouts, strong designs, emotional depictions, a bit of humor - as Davis works with his usual partner, inker Mark Farmer, and creates the kind of powerful work most artists would give their eyeteeth to achieve.

The problem with the issue is entirely on the story by Paul Cornell. It centers around a hostage situation, as a man armed with an exotic weapon (seemingly of alien origin) takes hostages in a bank.

That would be fine, but the story includes the brutal killing of a number of innocent hostages, while Wolverine is helpless to intervene. Even more annoying is the fact that a young child is in jeopardy throughout - and that, to keep the story moving, Wolverine must commit a couple of stupid and short-sighted mistakes.

With a long life and lots of experience, you would expect Logan to be the most capable hero around. Instead, he leads with his chin, doesn't think things through, and seems almost unconcerned about a murderous rampage being unleashed on the city.

You expect violence and rage in a Wolverine comic - but it would still be nice to see some more heart in evidence.

Buy it for the art, not the story.

Grade: B


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

New Comics and New Pope Day!

In breaking news, apparently a new Pope has been named! Congratulations to all our Catholic readers out there.

And, I picked up a bunch of new comics today (I haven't had a chance to look at 'em yet, so I'll just take a wild guess as to the contents, based on the covers):

- Batman #18 - Mourning a loss.

- Before Watchmen: Ozymandius #6 - Cooking up an alien.

- Defenders #2 - It's all about the gals.

- Fantastic Four #5 - Why do space explorers always run into Roman or Greek-based civilizations?

- Manhattan Projects #10 - More weird science.

- Rocketeer: Hollywood Horror #2 - I see explosions in your future.

- Shadow #10 - I'm guessing evil lurks in the heart of somebody.

- Star Wars #3 - More fun with Han, Luke and Leia.

- Thor: God of Thunder #6 - The Godkiller doesn't know when to quit.

- Wolverine #1 - Alan Davis art, so I'm there.

- Wolverine and the X-Men #26 - Family business.

- Uncanny X-Men #3 - Everyone looks so angry on these covers.

As for Age of Ultron #2, my shop's order was shorted, so I'll have to be patient.

And that's it!

The Classics - Strikeforce Morituri #1

Comic book companies are always looking for a different take on the traditional super hero tale - and on rare occasion, they succeed.

For example: from 1986, Strikeforce Morituri.

It was a real departure for Marvel Comics - an adventure set in an alternate (which is to say, non-Marvel) future, one where an alien invasion has devastated the planet and left mankind desperate for a way to fight back.

The solution is to develop a scientific method for creating real-life superheroes - the Morituri Process - but there's a deadly cost involved.

Everyone who goes through the process gains great powers - but only for a year. After a year, each hero dies.

It was (and is) a shocking and unexpected take on super-heroes, and made for a a great, hard-hitting series of stories. The comic was written by Peter B. Gillis, and it was one of his better efforts (and that's saying something).

The art was by Brent Anderson (pencils) and Scott Williams (inks), with three "comic book" pages by Wilce Portacio. It was impressive work (especially considering the limitations of the printing process at the time) - early in his career, Anderson was already showing his strengths - powerful layouts, clear storytelling, creative character designs and distinctive features.

This was a series that was grounded in science fiction, but with plenty of leeway for larger-than-life superhero action, and an infinite variety of characters and powers. And it didn't shy away from its deadly premise - a number of heroes lost their lives - either because of the process or through heroic sacrifice.

The series lasted a respectable 31 issues (plus a five-issue mini-series) and wrapped up the storyline (more or less) during the run.

By the mid-'80s, comics were growing up - and this series helped lead the way.

With outstanding art and story, it's well worth the trouble of tracking down.

Grade: A


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Road to Oz #6 (of 6)

What a delight to see that, more than 100 years after its first appearance, the magical land of Oz can still captivate audiences.

Of course, most of America is focused on the film Oz, the Great and Powerful - a prequel to The Wizard of Oz that was the top film at the box office this weekend, and promises to spark a series of Oz films.

(I haven't seen the film yet, though several friends tell me it's wonderful - I hope to catch it later this week.)

While this resurgence is going on, how wonderful that the excellent series of adaptations by writer Eric Shanower and artist Skottie Young continues.

This issue wraps up the adaptation of the L. Frank Baum book Road to Oz, a sweet tale about Dorothy's "latest" visit to Oz, and the new friends she makes along the way (including the Shaggy Man, Button-Bright and Polychrome).

But the majority of the issue is all about a birthday party, and the mad variety of inhabitants in Oz, including talking animals, animated candy and animated objects. It's a delight, it's whimsical and just a heck of a lot of fun.

If you want to see the origins of the magical world of Oz, this series of adaptations is a great tribute to their lasting charm.

Highly, highly recommended!

Grade: A


Monday, March 11, 2013

Legend of the Shadow Clan #2

Everyone likes ninjas, right?

But the new series Legend of the Shadow Clan takes an unusual approach to the concept.

It focuses on a present-day ninja organization that uses modern equipment and hires itself out to the highest bidder. It has operated flawlessly - until a recent attempt at corporate espionage goes badly.

A (seemingly) normal man, Richard Himura, is working late one night when he inadvertently interrupts an attack on the high-tech business where he's employed. But when one of the ninjas tries to kill him, the ninja dies instead - apparently by accident.

Or was it? Is Himura a normal man, or does he harbor secret abilities? And where does his family fit into the events?

We're really not sure, and this issue doesn't clear matters up - instead we learn a bit more about his children, we briefly meet his mysterious father, and we see a deadly circle closing around him.

It's an interesting take on a well-trod concept, and the members of his family are an interesting bunch. Some are "normal" kids, other seem extraordinary.

The story by David Wohl and Brad Foxhoven, and the art is Cory Smith and colorist John Starr, and it's a strong effort so far.

They're asking the readers to be patient, as they continue to set up the story - but so far, it's paying off as an interesting departure from the usual ninja antics.

Grade: B+


Sunday, March 10, 2013

All-New X-Men #8

One of the interesting things about the original (1960s) X-Men is that there really wasn't a "breakout" character - one that became more wildly popular than the others (like Wolverine did with the New X-Men in the late '70s).

The original team was made up of Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Iceman and Beast. They were all good characters - likable, solid heroes, and each got their turn in the spotlight - but none of them really stood out as being anything more than a solid Marvel-style hero.

But if young Chuck had been forced to name a favorite at the time, it probably would have been the Angel. Which seems surprising, when I think about it, because he was the weakest of the bunch.

His power was: he could fly. That's it. No ray beams, no super-strength - just flying.

But one of the things I liked about him was the fact that he reveled in his abilities. When he flew, he'd talk about the wonderful feeling of freedom - it made it sound like lots of fun. There were lots of heroes who could fly, but the difference is, they all acted like it was nothing unusual. The Angel loved it as much as - I suspect - I would.

In the intervening years, they've worked over the character (sometimes for good, sometimes for ill). They made him into the Archangel, with mechanized wings that fire immobilizing blades.

More recently, after nearly being transformed into the evil Apocalypse, the Angel's mind was wiped and his powers altered.

So I was happy to see this issue with the spotlight on the new Angel (who's much more upbeat) and the original version (who has time-traveled with the rest of the team to the present).

It's an odd little tale, but it gives the Angels a chance to shine, and brings the whole time-travel business to the attention of a certain powerful super-team.

It's a solid issue, though the ending seems to twist a couple of heroes (including a certain favorite of mine) into actions that seem out of character.

But this continues to be a very entertaining story, which is more than I've been anle to say about an X-Men comic for a long time.

Grade: B+


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Earth 2 #10

There are very few comics that I'll hang with through tough times, expecting that they'll get better - but Earth 2 is one of them. So far.

I mostly stick with it because I'm such a fan of the Justice Society and the whole alternate Earth concept - but despite the title and the use of modern versions of the original characters, this series is far removed from that original concept.

Writer James Robinson has been slowly building the foundation - in fact, 10 issues in and the heroes still don't gather as a team (the one battle they fought working together was more coincidence than anything else).

For this issue, the focus is on the "new" Dr. Fate and the Flash, who face off against a powerful sorcerer - and confront the ultimate challenge in the Tower of Fate.

It's not bad - a basic quest - but it still leaves us taking baby steps toward assembling the team.

Or maybe the problem is that my concept of the book is that it's the JSA - but DC doesn't see it that way. Ah well.

Even with excellent art by Nicola Scott, I'm not sure I can be patient much longer.

I want this book to succeed, but I'm far from convinced that it's going to happen.

Grade: C+

Friday, March 8, 2013

Avengers #7

Marvel seems to be in a real throwback mood these days.

First there was the foil embossed cover over in the Avengers-based Age of Ultron, and now we're seeing a return (of sorts) to the New Universe in The Avengers.

Which is not to belittle the story - it's a cosmic-sized story with far-reaching implications.

It establishes the reason for the fabled White Event that changed the New Universe and threatens to do the same - or worse - to ours.

Writer Jonathan Hickman is again weaving a detailed, infinite tale, using an amazing cast of characters (including Avengers old and new) and setting up universe-changing events.

The art is by Dustin Weaver, and it's outstanding - a combination of original creations, real-world characters and illustrations, complex concepts and heroic ideals. Very impressive!

Like most of Hickman's work, this series may not be for everyone. It promises to challenge the imagination of the reader and push the limits of storytelling.

Personally, I wouldn't miss it for anything.

Grade: A


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Age of Ultron #1

Well, I certainly didn't expect that. It's like the '90s all over again!

The Age of Ultron was teased a few years ago, during one of many recent Avengers restarts. Brian Michael Bendis also wrote that story, which presented a future world where the evil robot Ultron had conquered the world.

One of the nifty things about that story was that it featured a timeline for future events in the Marvel universe, culminating in Ultron's devastating attack - the Age of Ultron.

That attack has apparently arrived, and the results are shocking. The events that play out in this issue (with the focus on a rescue effort by Hawkeye) are surprisingly grim and gritty.

There are deadly attacks, strong language and lots of mayhem. Most surprising is the condition of New York and the time frame for the story.

The art is by Bryan Hitch (with Mark Neary inks), and it's impressive stuff, loaded with detail (sometimes too much detail to absorb), dynamic layouts and shocking visuals.

Hitch may not be for everyone - his art is (to use TV terminology) High Def to the extreme, and his panel layouts can take surprising turns. Personally, I'm a big fan - you're definitely seeing a master at work.

This event seems to be taking over the company for the next few months, and it's an epic of impressive scope right out of the gate - I can't wait to see where it goes from here.

Oh, and the cover features a foil-embossed cover. Can't get more '90s than that!

Grade: A


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

New Comics Day

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

- Age of Ultron #1 - A foil-embossed cover? Awesome!

- Avengers #7 - It's a New Universe!

- Before Watchmen: Rorschach #4 (of 4) - Changing faces.

- Earth 2 #10 - The tower of Fate.

- Fairest #13 - Final fight.

- Green Lantern #18 - In the land of the dead.

- Hellboy in Hell #4 - More revelations.

- Iron Man #7 - Fighting for his life.

- Road to Oz #6 (of 6) - Party time!

- Powers Bureau #2 - Dark and deadly.

- Worlds Finest #10 - In mourning.

- All-New X-Men #8 - Two Angels in action.

And that's it!

The Classics - The Sub-Mariner #1

After years of struggling under the restrictions of its distribution agreement, which only allowed a certain number of titles to ship each month, in 1968 Marvel burst its bonds.

In (virtually) a single month, the company expanded three of its "split" titles - Tales of Suspense (Iron Man / Captain America), Strange Tales (Nick Fury / Dr. Strange) and Tales to Astonish (Sub-Mariner / Hulk), giving each character his own monthly title.

Oddly enough, half of the characters continued the numbering from the "parent" title - so the first issue of Cap was #101, Hulk was #103 and Dr. Strange started with issue #169.

But the other three received "#1" issues, including the oldest character in the bunch - Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner.

Surely Namor is one of the most unusual characters in the history of comics. Costumed only in swimming trucks, he is a cross between humans (thus his flesh coloring) and Atlanteans (from whom he gets his ability to breath underwater and his pointy ears).

The origins vary - these days he's considered the "first" mutant - but he also has incredible strength and tiny wings on his ankles that (improbably) allow him to fly.

He's also not a hero.

While he has fought for humanity before (during World War II and after), his primary concern has always been Atlantis, and he's quick to battle to protect it. Thankfully, that often means he's fighting for the rest of the planet, too.

But the thing that really made Namor stand out was his temper. Where most characters are calm, intelligent and generally good scouts, Namor would regularly lose his cool, rant and rave, smash stuff and behave rudely.

That made his exploits a lot of fun to follow, and I was happy to see him get his own title.

He also scored some top creative talent, with writer Roy Thomas (who would happily handle the lion's share of the scripting on this series) and John Buscema (with Frank Giacoia inks), early in his Marvel career and already showing his amazing skill at character design, layout and sheer energy - an amazing artist and craftsman, although his run on this comic was relatively short.

Despite all that, the first issue was a bit of a letdown, because it was almost entirely devoted to recapping Subby's origin - but Thomas managed to throw in a terrific "Easter Egg."

When the Sub-Mariner reappeared in Marvel's Silver Age (five whole years before this issue), he was suffering from amnesia - and had apparently been out of action for quite some time. Thomas used that to create a new villain, a object of power that would have much greater significance in the future, and an explanation for what had happened to Namor!

It was the perfect jumping-on spot for new readers, and a fresh beginning for one of Marvel's most unusual characters. What's not to like?

Grade: A-


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Joe Kubert Presents # 5 (of 6)

There's always been a debate about Sgt. Rock - namely, is he still alive?

The answer, some years back, was "yes" - because the modern day, older Rock appeared in issues of Brave and the Bold, starring alongside Batman.

But that didn't sit well with many Rock fans - and it didn't really work for the creators of the Sarge, either.

Created by writer Robert Kanigher and artist Joe Kubert, the prevailing feeling was that Sgt. Rock should have died at the end of the war, shot down by the last bullet fired before peace was declared.

Kubert actually drew that sequence for the recent Legacies series, but with this issue he draws a question mark over the story, as he works with writer Paul Levitz to create a different take on Rock, in a moving and thoughtful short story set at Normandy Beach.

This issue of Joe Kubert Presents includes an excellent feature by Sam Glanzman, hitting the key moments from the war in the Pacific during World War II.

Throw in a short horror tale called "The Biker," a short ocean adventure with "Spit" (both by Kubert) and an origin (of sorts) for Angel and the Ape by Brian Buniak, and you have yet another excellent issue.

This series is wrapping up altogether too quickly. Kubert's work is phenomenal, loaded with life and energy and amazing creativity.

I still find it impossible to realize that he's gone - he still seems like a force of nature.

Lots of that power, thankfully, is still on display here.

Grade: A-


Monday, March 4, 2013

Uncanny X-Men #2

Chris Bachalo is such an interesting artist, and his art runs the range between wonderful and inventive to confusing and muddled.

For example, the opening to this issue of Uncanny X-Men features a woman deep in thought. The problem being, I had no idea who she was. (That's her on the cover.)

She looks young, so I thought it might be Magik. The body language seemed to mark her as Rogue - but the hair color was wrong. She's showing quite a bit of cleavage, but she's dressed all in black. Could it be Emma Frost?

That was the correct answer - but I didn't know until I waded through the stacks of thought balloons (actually captions - I think thought balloons are an endangered species).

It shouldn't be such a battle to figure out who the characters are - but maybe it's just me. (Magneto - without his helmet - also look just like Professor X, by the way.) Perhaps it's because of the army of inkers working on the comic - there's some inconsistency there.

At any rate, the issue, written by Brian Bendis, is mostly about organizing matters - the new Xavier School for Mutants (now located in a secret base), the new students who have been recruited, and a traitor in the midst of the new team.

It's not a bad issue (aside from my silly art complaints), but nothing really happens until the last page - so you might just want to wait for the next issue, when all heck promises to break loose.

Grade: B-


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Nemo: Heart of Ice

I can think of no other series that sends me to the online search engines faster than the latest edition of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series.

(Although I must admit this isn't exactly an LOEG book, since the "team" doesn't appear. Instead it focuses on one of the newest additions to the cast from that series.)

Those works are jam-packed with references - both obvious and obscure - to assorted works of fiction, and it makes each chapter a challenge to those who love that kind of "Easter Egg Hunt."

And apparently my fictional knowledge of Antarctica is lacking, because I was in the dark on several references during that part of the book.

But that's all secondary to the story. Nemo: Heart of Ice focuses on the daughter of the original League's Captain Nemo, Princess Janni Dakkar. She's taken up her father's pirate legacy, looting and pillaging at will, thanks to a vast pirate crew and the technological wonders in her father's invention, the Nautilus.

But she longs to prove herself against the vast legacy of her father's achievements, so she decides to duplicate his most deadly expedition - a journey across part of the Antarctic that left his men dead and nearly took his own life and sanity.

She will face horror, civilizations undreamt of, monsters and madness - all while being hunted by deadly foes.

It's the usual outstanding effort by Moore and O'Neill, combining outstanding, intense images, an intelligent and demanding script and wrapping it all up in a fun and fast-paced adventure story.

It's great to see this focus on a single character (or concept) in the LOEG world, and hopefully we'll see more like it - and more LOEG stories, too - in the years ahead.

Grade: A


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Uncanny Avengers #4

I've reviewed each issue in the Uncanny Avengers series so far - issue #1, #2 and #3, and my apologies, gentle readers, because each review has boiled down to the same thing.

Great art and feeble story despite a great cast and a top-tier villain.

And this issue continues the trend. There is one positive event here, as Havok and the Scarlet Witch finally get a chance to shine - but the rest of the story is the usual grim slog, with heroes and citizens under telepathic control, murderous events, heroes fighting each other, lots of yelling and smashing, and no real ending to speak of.

On the whole, it seems to be a team of heroes where no one likes each other - which makes it hard for the reader to get involved.

A little friction between characters is fine, but outright dislike is a bit tougher to get over.

So far, this series has been very disappointing. Except for John Cassaday's art.

Grade: C+


Friday, March 1, 2013

Guardians of the Galaxy #0.1

I wish Marvel had cooked up a different title for its team of cosmic heroes, since (to me) the title belongs to the team from the distant future (which first appeared in the '60s in a one-shot appearance, and then returned years later in their own title, which had a healthy run).

But that ship has sailed, and now the Guardians of the Galaxy are a contemporary team made up of Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Racoon and Groot (with Iron Man joining the team for a while, at least, and perhaps Nova will be along eventually).

This "Point One" issue is dedicated to retelling the origin for Star-Lord - which is probably good, because it was last told during the character's first appearance in 1976 in Marvel Previews magazine.

The original was a great tale (well worth tracking down) written by Steve Englehart and drawn by Steve Gan. It managed to combine science fiction with - believe it or not - astrology.

Star-Lord's next appearance, not long after, was by writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne, and it stuck with the science fiction, taking the story in more of a Robert Heinlein / Edgar Rice Burroughs direction.

But don't worry if you missed those, because this issue by writer Brian Bendis and artists Steve McNiven and John Dell does a fantastic job covering the backstory, including a story of romance, tragedy and a heroic young man.

The art is wonderful - fresh, lively, with a great kinetic sense and powerful designs. Outstanding work!

Of course, it's all a setup for the regular series and a new issue #1 (advertised in the back of the book as starting on Feb. 27 - uh, that was last Wednesday, guys).

The series will also continue the buildup for the new movie now in the works - and judging by this one, it's going to be a series to watch.

But I still wish the team was using a different name. Isn't "Defenders of the Galaxy" available?

Grade: A