Sunday, June 30, 2013

Mars Attacks: Classics Obliterated (One-shot)

I was never a big fan of Classics Illustrated, though in my childhood more than one student tried to eke by an English assignment leaning on the comics adaptation (I never had the nerve to try it, myself).

But you have to smile at this concept - mashing together the comics adaptation of classic (read: public domain) stories with the irreverent, murderous and downright wacky aliens from Mars Attacks.

The result is three stories (each by a different creative team) packed in the oversized Mars Attacks: Classics Obliterated.

The opening story by Phil Hester and John McCrea is based on Moby Dick, though it's almost a prequel as it shows us a different version of the origin of Captain Ahab's hatred for the Great White Whale. This entry feels the most like the old Classics Illustrated comics, as it's loaded with text that evokes the original tale.

The second story by Beau Smith and Kelley Jones is the most entertaining, as it takes the story of Jekyll and Hyde and turns it into a modern-day romp, as the Martians run into a force of nature (and a Hulk-like beatdown). The twist ending is also a lot of fun!

The final story by Neil Kleid and Carlos Valenzuela is based on Robinson Crusoe, and it's the most offbeat of the bunch, as the story is turned on its head, providing a unique perspective and an odd fight for survival.

So overall it's something of a mixed bag (it would have been nice to see more separation between the stories - splash pages or some such), but lots of fun.

Well worth checking out, whether or not you're a fan of the classics - or Classics Illustrated.

Grade: A-


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Age of Ultron #10 AI

I have to admit, I always get scared when a Marvel comic focuses on Hank Pym / Giant-Man.

That's because, so many times in the past, the character has been treated like absolute crap.

He's been driven mad, he struck his wife (Janet Van Dyne) once and was forever after labeled a wife abuser, he created the artificial intelligence that became the world-destroying Ultron, he's been through numerous costume and name changes - Ant-Man to Giant-Man to Goliath to Yellowjacket to Hank Pym to Yellowjacket again and most recently back to Giant-Man (where he should stay, with any luck).

So I approached this "aftermath to Age of Ultron" issue with some trepidation. I was relieved to see that Mark Waid was writing it - he certainly has respect for the history of the character.

Thankfully, my faith was well placed. This is a comic that intends to set Pym on his future path, and as a long-time fan of the character, I'm delighted to see where they're going. It's also heartwarming to see Giant-Man done properly - fighting the bad guys, helping emergency crews - you know, hero stuff.

But I'll continue to live in fear if the new Avengers A.I. comic (which this issue is obviously setting up) doesn't do well.

Pym has all the potential in the world, but he's also a big target for writers who like to deconstruct classic heroes. I'd appreciate it if they'd keep their grubby paws off his one.

Grade: A-


Friday, June 28, 2013

X-Men #2

After a very promising start with the first issue, I have to admit that the second issue of X-Men (which I still say should be called "X-Women") was a bit of a letdown.

That's because it is almost entirely given over to a stuck-in-their-own-house battle royale with very little in the way of character development or actual tension on display.

I admit that a lot of my struggles with this issue spring from the fact that I've never heard of some of the characters involved. Perhaps they appeared in one of the zillion X-books that I haven't read (I have generally only followed the main X-Men or Uncanny X-Men comics, but I have been reading since the title started in the 1960s), or perhaps these are new characters created for this comic. No idea.

So we have a couple of ancient lifeforms duking it out - one biological-based (named Sublime), the other technology-based (named Arkea). The evil Arkea invades the Jean Grey School looking to kill her brother and takes over the body of Karima Shapandar, the Omega Sentinel.

I only know these things because I cribbed that paragraph from the information text on page one of the comic - I never heard of any of those characters before (or if I had, I've blocked them from my memory).

Arkea takes over the mansion and turns it against the team, leading to a big knock-down, wall-smashing battle worthy of the last 30 minutes of Man of Steel. It's one of those issues where you get to the end, and the only thing you've accomplished is reaching a new cliffhanger.

Look, the art is terrific - Olivier Coipel does wonderful work, working alongside inkers Mark Morales and Scott Hanna - geat character designs, powerful layouts - it's the best thing about the issue.

Next issue's story will wrap up the opening storyline - here's hoping the ending holds together better than the middle.

Grade: C+


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Batman Superman #1

It's a natural for DC to create a team-up book for its two most popular characters - certainly the two carried the original World's Finest comic for decades.

But now Batman and Superman are starring in a brand new team-up title, and it features two creators who (to the best of my memory) have rarely if ever worked on those heroes.

Writing the book is Greg Pak, a clever and inventive writer who guided the Hulk through years of excellent stories (including the ground-breaking Planet Hulk).

The art is by Jae Lee, whose distinctive style is organic - truly unique and dynamic.

Their styles mesh well together, although the end product is distinctly different from all the other comics starring these heroes.

Lee's Gotham City is even more gothic and stylized than usual (and that's saying something). He uses some amazing layouts, although a few panels are almost too much to take in. But overall, the effect is tremendous.

Pak's story is a bit of a trick to sort out - he sets up some mysterious attacks on Wayne's employees in Metropolis, a surprising source of the attacks, and throws in some time twists and a mysterious bad guy.

The issue is entertaining, but it leaves a lot of story points up in the air - just as it gets going, we run into the "to be continued" roadblock.

Still, it's a promising start to a time-honored concept.

Grade: B+


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Big Stack of New Comics

Holy cow, a crazy amount of comics this week (making up for the slim purchase last week, I suppose).

Here's what's on the reading stack this week (these descriptions are sight unseen, so if I'm a bit off on the topics, sue me):

- Age of Ultron #10A - Focus on Giant-Man!

- Aquaman #21 - Chilling out.

- Batman Superman #1 - Didn't this comic go by World's Finest a long time ago?

- Captain America #8 - Fighting for his life!

- Daredevil #27 - Foggy in the sights.

- Executive Assistant Assassins #12
- The toughest women around.

- FF #8 - Love that cover.

- Fathom Elite Saga #2 - Fathom turns 15!

- Flash #21 - Meeting up with Kid Flash.

- Guardians of the Galaxy #4 - Tony and Gamora, sittin' in a tree...

- Hawkeye #11 - It's a dog's life.

- Jirni #3 - Make a wish.

- Journey Into Mystery #653 - Sif and Beta Ray Bill swing into action.

- Jupiter's Legacy #2 - Slackers and heroes.

- Justice League #21 - Shazam!

- Justice League of America #5 - Who's dead?

- King Conan #2 - Conan behind bars!

- Mars Attacks Classics Obliterated (one shot) - Martians versus the classics - illustrated!

- Powers Bureau #5 - Going undercover!

- Uncanny X-Men #7 - Goin' to hell.

- Wolverine and the X-Men #32 - Looking for some strays.

- All-New X-Men #13 - Fighting against themselves!

- X-Men #2 - I still say it should be called "X-Women." It's only fair.

- Young Avengers #6 - Get a job...

( Missing in action: Nova #5)

And that's it! Whew!

The Classics - Superman #156

Picking up from last week's classic review, where we saw Superman die!

(In an Imaginary Story.)

So seven issues later, we once again see Superman (about to) die!

But this was no imaginary story. Here we see Superman encounter yet another in a long line of artifacts from Krypton - a box that Jimmy Olsen opens just before Superman translates the writing on it, which reveals it contains Virus X - a disease fatal to Kryptonians (but not humans, natch).

Superman is immediately stricken with pain - he realizes his time is short, so he quickly begins making preparations for projects he hoped to complete before his death, and arranging for others to carry on his work of protecting the world.

I have to tell you, when I read this issue as a kid in 1962, I absolutely loved it. It's jammed with guest stars, including the Legion of Super-Heroes, Krypto, Supergirl, Batman, Robin, Superman's supporting cast - Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Perry White, Lori Lemaris - and several other surprises.

Best of all, unlike far too many stories from that time, this one plays fair with the reader - there are no magical solutions or rabbits pulled out of hats to solve Superman's impending fate - instead, the writer (an uncredited Edmond Hamilton, I believe) manages a clever and convincing wrap-up.

The issue is also uncharacteristic of Superman stories in that it's dripping with emotion. Thanks to the (as always) amazing artwork by Curt Swan, we see the agony Superman goes through, both physical and emotional. He revisits his hometown and says a brief but heartfelt goodbye to his best friends - by the end of the issue, you're convinced that the end is at hand.

It's not unusual for superheroes to face death, of course - but it was very unusual for the reader to think that it might actually happen.

This story managed that, and does so with so much wit and heart that it remains, to this day, one of my all-time favorite Superman stories.

Next week, Superman dies again!

Grade: A


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

New Avengers #7

Writer Jonathan Hickman became one of Marvel's top writers on the strength of his work on Fantastic Four.

Thees days he's riding herd on The Avengers and the New Avengers - but the latter seems to be looking a lot like an issue of the FF. (At least for this issue.)

That's because this issue is swimming with characters who have traditionally been more at home in the FF.

Let's list them: Mr. Fantastic (Reed Richards), Namor (the Sub-Mariner), the Black Panther, Black Bolt (and his wives) and Dr. Doom.

This issue is something of a lull, as the New Avengers (actually the Illuminati) are enjoying a respite from the steady incursion of alternate Earths that's threatening "our" Earth.

But they have to keep busy, so two of the team (who happen to be kings) find themselves facing an all-out war between their people. But who would win such a war - Atlantis or Wakanda?

It's wonderful to see these characters written so intelligently and drawn so wonderfully (by the immensely talented Mike Deodato).

A terrific comic, and a great companion to the regular Avengers comic (though there's no crossover between the two). Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Monday, June 24, 2013

Wonder Woman #21

For the entirety of the Wonder Woman series ("New 52" edition) Diana has been at war with the gods - which is to say, the modern version of the Greek gods (and for the most part, a spiteful, murderous bunch they are).

But writer Brian Azzarello has reinvented those characters and has focused them on the struggle to gain control of an infant - the son of Zeus and a mortal woman, the child is destined to end the gods.

And there's an additional element that should delight longtime DC fans - the introduction of the New Gods into the "New 52" universe.

This issue features a hard-hitting battle, as a deliberately unnamed powerhouse attacks Wonder Woman and her friends - and he may be unbeatable.

Add a great twist at the end, the usual excellent, dynamic art by Cliff Chiang, and this continues to be one of the best of the "New 52."

Still not appropriate for young readers, sadly - but darned entertaining for those mature enough to manage it.

Grade: A-


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Indestructible Hulk #9

The Indestructible Hulk has been enjoying some entertaining team-ups lately (most recently with Thor), but his co-star in this issue has to be one of the most unusual yet - at least until you remember that this comic is written by Mark Waid - who also writes Daredevil.

And Waid proves his writing chops by coming up with a very good reason for Matt Murdock and Bruce Banner to be linked together - and then creating a story that allows the two to work together, each using their (you should pardon the term) strengths in the story.

Hey, I just realized what this story reminded me of: World's Finest! The classic Superman and Batman team-up comic where the writer was challenged to find a reason for Superman to need Batman's help.

But the Hulk is a more balanced team-up with Daredevil, since one provides the brainpower - and the other the brawn (and then some).

Waid crafts a fast, funny story with some classic moments - my favorite being the moment when Daredevil walks into a gruesome bar - and then introduces his "little friend."

Both of these comics have become "must-reads" since Waid took the reins, and this one continues that trend.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A-


Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Avengers #14

Once again, a terrific issue of Avengers, with a great story by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer (as the mystery of what a godlike alien has done to the Earth continues to grow) and terrific art by Stefano Caselli (with all kinds of strange aliens on the move).

The creative team is really building something original - a complex and compelling story that's just a delight to follow.

But that's not what I want to talk about. I've been praising this series since it started - surely our faithful readers are getting tired of my raves, so let's find something to bash on.

So let's talk about the cover, which is problematic for several reasons. The image depicted by the talented Leinil Francis Yu and Sunny Gho doesn't represent anything actually in this issue (perhaps it will work for the next issue). The pose is rather odd - my first reaction was, why are these heroes taking a nap together?

Then there's the logo, which is muted, tiny and almost invisible in the upper left-hand corner. I almost didn't pick up this issue, because I didn't see the logo.

And finally, there's the subtitle, "Prelude to Infinity," which partially covers the Avengers logo (it was already hard to spot), and as near as I can tell, there's nothing in this issue that relates to that upcoming event that features Thanos. (Events may prove me wrong, of course, but I see no evidence of Thanos here.)

So the cover doesn't really work for me - but once you get past that, this is a fantastic comic and highly recommended!

Grade: A-


Friday, June 21, 2013

Man of Steel - A Review

I finally got a chance to see the new Superman film, Man of Steel, and the results... are mixed.

The movie gets a lot of things right, and several things very wrong.

The actors are terrific. Henry Cavill certainly looks the part of Superman, and while he doesn't get much opportunity to show anything other than anger, he seems to have the acting chops needed to carry it all off. Amy Adams is always a treat, and as Lois Lane she manages to combine the toughness of a top reporter with the kind heart that makes it eaay to believe that Clark would fall for her.

Russell Crowe plays Jor-El, who has a surprisingly big part in the film, and he's quite good, though he generally just radiates grim determination. Michael Shannon is equally grim and determined as General Zod, with a solid malevolent edge.

The movie offers a somewhat new version of Superman's origin, focusing on the social conflict that threatens to tear Krypton apart, coincidentally at the same time that the planet itself is about the be destroyed.

Jor-El and Lara manage to send their son Kal-El to the Earth, but he's not the only survivor of Krypton's destruction - Zod and several of his followers were exiled to the Phantom Zone, and they return with a new mission - to find Kal-El and the secrets he (inadvertently) hides.

So we have Clark flashing back to his childhood, learning about his abilities, wondering about his origins, while Krypton is on the way to Earth to bring together (in a not at all nice way) both heritages.

The story is interesting, with a straightforward science fiction take on the original story. Director Zack Snyder gives the movie a great visual look, and the special effects and superpower sequences are excellent. The music is terrific - a worthy successor to the classic John Williams theme.

But... there are problems. It's incredibly violent, as untold thousands must have been killed in the widespread destruction that hits both Metropolis and Smallville. It's especially disturbing to see so many Soldiers killed callously (though the violence isn't as graphic as, say, 300). I really think this movie is too violent for young children.

Other problems: the movie is too long and spends too much time having Kryptonians punching each other through walls, buildings, into cars, into the ground, etc. Nifty the first few times, but it gets tired quickly.

The film is also far too grim - I think there was one actual laugh in there, and I couldn't tell you what it was. A superhero film should be a little bit fun - I think the Batman movies had more laughs.

But the biggest problem goes to two sequences that had Superman acting (or not acting) in a heroic fashion (I won't go into more detail, but you'll know the moments when you see them). Both scenes indicate that the writer didn't know the character - or wanted to shock the audience. Neither translates to good storytelling.

So, I walked out with mixed feelings. I think the elements are in place for a long, successful series of Superman films - the actors are great, the technology is flawless, and the director has a great visual sense.

But they need to tighten up the writing end of things before they'll be ready to match Marvel's success - oh, and they need to develop a sense of humor.

Grade: B-


Here's the trailer for those of you who've missed it:

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Age of Ultron #10

Sometimes - not often - I hate the Internet.

I try to avoid spoilers, I really do - but sometimes they sneak up on you.

So it was with some disgust a couple of months ago when I saw a blurb revealing one of the surprising events that take place at the end of Age of Ultron.

It's difficult enough for entertainment vehicles to surprise us, whether it be comics, movies, TV or what have you - but it's almost impossible when there are armies of writers who delight in spilling the beans about upcoming events.

Of course, the companies are just as bad, releasing information to the news media ahead of time to maximize news coverage of events.

This issue offers the wrap-up to the time-spanning storyline about the conquest of Earth by the robot Ultron, and the final pages feature a surprise character. If I had not known about it, my jaw would have dropped.

But since it was spoiled already, my reaction was a subdued, "Cool."

This series has been a bit erratic all along - did we ever find out what happened to the team of heroes who went into the future? Why do we take a look into the Ultimate Universe? Didn't that big bad already appear there in a different guise?

But the wrap-up is satisfying, if a bit on the "what just happened again" side of things.

The art is terrific, using a small army of artists, including Alex Maleev, Bryan Hitch, Butch Guice, Brandon Peterson, Carlos Pacheco and Joe Quesada (among others), and the result is (mostly) terrific.

It remains to be seen how the series affects the Marvel universe proper (if at all), but it's been a (mostly) fun series.

I just wish it had been allowed a few more surprises.

Grade: B+


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Classics - Superman #149

In the 1950s and '60s, DC's editors established certain formulas that apparently translated into strong sales.

That's why you saw lots of covers with gorillas - and Superman seemed to die a lot (and this long before Doomsday first appeared).

This issue from 1961 was one of my earliest exposures to the Man of Steel, and it was pretty traumatic - because it actually featured Superman's death!

They managed this by the time-honored method of making it an "Imaginary Story" - the equivalent of reaching the end of a story and finding out it was "all a dream" - but it was a format DC used a lot (especially in the Superman titles).

The first 15 pages of the story seemed normal enough, as Lex Luthor announces he's discovered a cure for cancer, and he works with Superman to bring the cure to humanity.

The underworld is furious with Luthor for working for humanity, so they try to assassinate him - but Superman serves as a bodyguard to his old enemy.

Not to give away the twist (the cover pretty much spoils it, of course), but it's all a plot by Luthor to kill Superman - and he succeeds!

It's a sad, grim tale as we see the world's heroes heartbroken by it all (the pages are virtually tear-stained), and the world seeks its revenge on Luthor.

The issue features artwork by "the" Superman artist for the '60s, as Curt Swan turns in his usual top-notch craftsmanship - and what a deliciously evil Luthor he depicts!

Heroes faced death all the time, but this was the first time a hero actually "died" - so it was quite a shock, even though they're quick to remind us at the end that Superman was still alive and well in the "real world."

How popular was this death-dealing comic? Just seven issues later, Superman again faced certain death - but it wasn't an imaginary story! We'll review that one... next week!

Grade: A-


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Black Beetle #4

Thanks to several friends for recommending this title to me - I almost passed on The Black Beetle for the simple reason that it sounded like a ripoff of the Blue Beetle.

But aside from the word "Beetle," the two couldn't be more different. This character is a pulp-inspired hero created, written and drawn by Francesco Francavilla.

The inspiration for the Black Beetle seems more like an interesting mix of Batman and the Spirit - he's intelligent, a detective and a creature of the night with some high-tech gear, but he's definitely human and can be injured (and often is).

The real star of the comic, though, is the artwork. Dark and moody, featuring clever graphic designs and layouts, Francavilla's work evokes Alex Toth with perhaps a splash of Milton Caniff in there (can't give much higher praise than that) - but his is a unique style, perfect for the pulpish adventures of a hero in search of a mysterious killer.

It's great to see these kinds of pulp adventures making a comeback - there's a good reason why they continue to be popular more than six decades after the pulps themselves went away: they're hard-hitting, fast-paced and loaded with style.

If you missed the series, the good news is, the first four issues of Black Beetle will be collected soon - they're highly recommended!

Grade: A


Monday, June 17, 2013

BubbleGun #1

This is a comic you need to pick up just for the title: BubbleGun!

The story is set 100 years in the future as an odd collection of characters (each with their own special talents) team up on a heist of a mysterious high-tech object.

We follow the story through Molli, the newest member of the team. As such, she's only allowed a single weapon - the BubbleGun, which fires a surprising amount of goo to trap or slow down an opponent.

As you'd expect for a first issue, the focus here is on introducing the team (which includes Molli's brainy sister, the team's strong man and a potential love interest). So, lots of action and banter as we (the readers) sort out the characters in the story by Mark Roslan.

I really like the art by Mike Bowden, with strong color art by David Curiel. It's an energetic, original look at future tech, with fun character designs.

So it's just getting started, and we still have some business to sort out (is the team a bunch of good guys, are they mercenaries - or both?), but it's a promising start and well worth checking out.

Grade: A-


Sunday, June 16, 2013

The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys #1

In my 50-plus years of reading comics, I'm seen lots of strange comics - but The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys may be the winner (at least among mainstream comics).

How weird was it?

(I hate to admit this.)

I had to read it twice to sort out what was going on - and I'm still not sure I'm following it (though I assume that's the point).

I knew it was going to be different, since it's written by Gerard Way (who created the excellent Umbrella Academy) and Shaun Simon, but it's really out there.

It's set in a strange future / alternate reality where "normal" citizens struggle for survival. The danger is in the form of Draculoids - strange zombie-like creatures that wear grotesque white masks and prey on normal humans.

Opposing them are humans armed with advanced weapons, wearing masks in honor of the original team known as the Killjoys, who gave their lives to save a girl who is thought to be a messiah. She's the key character in this story of violence and the fight for survival.

The art by Becky Cloonan in very good - kinetic, but with a "real world" look that keeps the strange tale grounded. Her characters feel lifelike, even when they're dressed in strange costumes or fighting for their lives.

I have to admit, I liked this comic, even if I'm hard-pressed to say why. You get the sense that there's a lot going on under the surface here, and it's worth sticking around to see the mysteries unravel.

For now, and with some trepidation, I recommend this comic.

Grade: A-


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Batman #21

Batman is such a compelling character, it's no surprise that writers want to look back at his early years.

When he first appeared, his origin was very straightforward - a boy sees his parents killed and vows to dedicate his life to fighting crime. He uses his vast family fortune to study and train himself to physical perfection, dons a costume to confuse criminals, and becomes The Batman.

It allows a lot of room to explore, as Frank Miller famously did in his classic "Year One" story.

Now it's Scott Snyder's turn in this "Zero Year" story, and he's focusing on several moments in Bruce Wayne's career, including his childhood encounters with his father, his initial return to Gotham (pre-Batman) and (perhaps) some of Batman's earliest adventures.

Continuity fans can rest assured that (as near as I can tell), this story doesn't contradict any of the existing lore about Batman's origins.

It's a sharp, fast-moving story, and features terrific art by Greg Capullo and Danny Miki - a great start to a tale that manages to be bold, even when walking gingerly on hallowed ground.

Grade: A


Friday, June 14, 2013

Guardians of the Galaxy #3

So what sets Guardians of the Galaxy apart from the usual super-team fare?

You could check off the list of what you'd expect:

Big action sequences: Check (in this case, a big prison break).

Great character interactions: Check (Rocket Raccoon gets you way ahead of the curve here).

A challenging opponent: Check (having several galactic empires after you covers it).

Lots of humor: Check (it's written by Brian Michael Bendis - what else would you expect?).

Surprises: Check (guest star Tony Stark gets in some great comments).

Great artwork: Check (more than covered by the excellent Steve McNiven and Sara Pichelli).

So what sets it apart? For one, the scale of the stories - this adventure is set on an intergalactic level, as the team faces the might of an empire that happens to feature as its ruler the father of Star-Lord.

For another, there's political intrigue: why is the aforementioned king so opposed to any of the numerous galactic empires involved making contact with the Earth?

So, lots going on, a pack of dynamic characters, great art, lots of fun - let's face it, if you like team comics, this one gives you more than you'd expect.

You should be reading GoG.

Grade: A


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Superman Unchained #1

As part of the 75th Anniversary celebration for the Man of Steel (not to mention the release of the movie by that name), DC has teamed up writer Scott Snyder and artist Jim Lee - and created a new comic, Superman Unchained.

And the result is... about what you'd expect. Great art, and an intriguing story (though as you'd expect, this issue just gets the story off to a running start).

After a rather offbeat start, the story takes us to deep space, where Superman is playing "catch the satellite." Something has knocked a number of satellites and space stations out of orbit, and Superman is on the job (and if anything ever looked like a job for Superman, this is it).

In one clever bit of business, the fifth page is actually a fold-out poster providing giant-sized versions of page four and five. But there is a problem - in order for the poster to work, it's attached to a cardboard insert which covers part of several captions on page six. With all the planning that must've gone into this stunt, you'd think they'd have placed the text more carefully.

Since I haven't been reading the regular Superman title, I found things a bit confusing when the story switches to the civilian cast. Apparently Clark Kent has quit the Daily Planet and works for a different newspaper? Lois is now Nick Fury, spending all her time working at holographic monitors that control something (the layout of a newspaper, I assume). Nice to see Jimmy Olsen is still friends with Clark.

But the set-up (and that final splash page) sets up a potential opponent for our hero - and one who can go toe-to-toe with the Man of Tomorrow.

The art by Jim Lee is, of course, terrific, with dynamic layouts, great characters and stunning environments.

If a comics company want to generate interest in a character, it's always a good idea to turn him over to your top creators.

Good move, DC.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

New Comics

This week's reading material:

- Batman #21 - Back to the beginning!

- Black Beetle #4 - The fearsome finale!

- Bubblegun #1 - Never bring a knife to a bubblegun fight.

- Guardians of the Galaxy #3 - Prison break!

- Killjoys #1 - Truly strange.

- Manhattan Projects #12 - Even stranger.

- The Shadow #14 - Day vs. night.

- Star Wars #6 - Leia faces death.

- Superman Unchained #1 - A wide-screen new vehicle for the Man o' Steel.

- Thor #9 - young, adult and old Thor team up!

- Wolverine #4 - Flying air Wolverine.

- Wolverine and X-Men #31 - Starting the Hellfire Saga.

- Worlds Finest #13 - Dog days.

And that's it!

The Classics - Superman #1

It's Superman month, thanks to the fact that he's celebrating his 75th anniversary and the fact that his new film, The Man of Steel, opens this weekend.

To join in the fun, we'll spend the next few weeks dedicating out "Classic" reviews on Wednesdays to the Man of Tomorrow.

What better place to start than the first issue of his comic from the '30s?

I know, he first appeared in Action Comics #1 - but my reprint of that issue is buried away, and the first issue of this comic reprinted that story anyway - so there you go.

I should admit that I'm not a big fan of Golden Age comics. I have no nostalgia for them (I didn't start reading comics until around 1960), and the stories and art are mostly pretty crude.

But given that DC never seems to quite know what to do with Superman, they'd be well served to look at these earliest appearances (as Grant Morrison obviously did) for inspiration.

So if you had Superman's amazing powers, what would you do? (I think Roger Stern once said his first act would be to go on TV and say, "As your new emperor...")

His creators - Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster - had a different answer: their hero helped people, but had fun at the same time.

This Superman operates on a street level, dealing with thugs, criminals and dirty politicians with equal verve. He doesn't hesitate to use his power to intimidate (he wrings a confession out of a murdering woman by threatening her), to destroy (he smashes the car of a bully just for fun), and most importantly, to see justice is done (he plucks the generals of two opposing armies off the battlefield and forces them to fight. They decide peace is a better option).

The art is a bit crude, of course, but it's packed with energy and excitement. Shuster's storytelling is clean and to the point.

So if DC's wondering what to do to make Superman "work," take the character back to basics - let him have fun with his powers, let him tackle worthy causes (lots of helpful suggestions in the daily newspaper). Let him find creative solutions to problems (in one story he joins a foreign army to keep tabs on a villain, in another he becomes a miner to teach a corrupt owner about the importance of mine safety).

Most important: have fun with him, and the readers will have fun, too.

Grade: B


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Shrugged #3

Of all the books Aspen offers (and that number is growing), certainly the most unusual (to date) has to be Shrugged.

It centers around a teen named Theo whose focus is on school and girls (though not in that order), but he also has a connection to mystical powers that show up without warning.

Guiding him through life in general and mystic challenges in particular are an angel and a devil - they "sit on his shoulders" and try to guide and protect him.

But trouble is simmering on their home planet, which is suffering a devastating attack - and it spills over into Theo's world.

The series features nice art by Jonathan Marks, though the big bad is so chaotic that it's not easy to tell what's going on sometimes.

The story by Frank Mastromauro needs a little fine-tuning - readers who've been following from the start will have no problem, but new readers may find a steep learning curve, especially since the concept is out of the ordinary.

Grade: B


Monday, June 10, 2013

All-New X-Men #12

See that cover?

It's a lie.

The scene depicted never happens in this issue, although we do get a reunion of sorts between Havok (Alex Summers) and his brother, the "taken through time to the present from early in his career" Cyclops (Scott Summers).

Havok is now the leader of the Uncanny Avengers and that team confronts the All-New X-Men over a rash of robberies that the original team seems to have committed.

There is conflict, of course, but it happens in an unexpected way (and I won't spoil it for you). The big question is, what game is Mystique playing and why is she framing the original team?

It's all a good excuse for writer Brian Michael Bendis to do the kind of give-and-take dialogue that crackles nicely.

The art is outstanding as alway - Stuart Immonen is a terrific craftsman, and doing great work on this series.

We seem to be a long way from resolving the reasons behind bringing the original team to the more murky present, but so far, it's been a fun ride, with something for fans both new and old.

Even if the cover is a phony.

Grade: A-


Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Avengers #13

Once again, writer Jonathan Hickman throws the reader a curve.

After exploring some mind-stretching cosmic concepts and clever science fiction angles, with this issue of The Avengers we get a straightforward superhero adventure.

Set in the Savage Land, it features a classic kidnap-and-rescue adventure, as the High Evolutionary captures a group of young people who represent a new kind of life form.

That seems like a questionable move, since the children are being protected by a group of Avengers, including Thor and Hyperion. But HE has a big guard dog on his side.

It's a fun, slam-bang tale (almost a done-in-one issue, though it also works as part of the bigger story) - an antidote, perhaps, to those who don't care for the deeper story lines Hickman has been crafting. (By the way, Nick Spencer gets co-writing credit on this issue.)

Do I even need to mention how amazing Mike Deodato's art is? He's really at the top of his game here.

Yet another excellent issue in the latest version of The Avengers - it's one of Marvel's best.

Grade: A


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Green Lantern #21

Now that writer Geoff Johns has flown, the question is, what happens to Green Lantern now?

Johns did a good job wrapping up the major story lines from his long run on the comic, and now he hands it over to Robert Venditti, and while it's too soon to render a final judgment, so far it's hard to tell that there's been a change.

That's because this issue is mostly dedicated to cleaning up loose ends and setting up some ongoing challenges for Hal and the rest of the Corps.

And there are plenty of challenges in the wake of the devastation cause by the "First Lantern" - Oa has to rebuild, it's being attacked and there's a big problem with the Power Rings...

I enjoy these cosmic stories, and it's great to see Hal back at the center of the fight again - but I have to admit, I'd like to see some Earth-bound stories that focus on Hal. The down side of the GL Corps stories is that he tends to get lost in the crowd.

Taking over the art chores is Billy Tan and Richard Friend, and they turn in strong work here - though it's not quite up to the high marks set by Doug Mahnke.

Still, it's a strong start for the new team. They have big shoes to fill, but the good news is: they're walking in the right direction.

Grade: B+


Friday, June 7, 2013

Age of Ultron #9

With the next-to-the-last issue, the maxi-series Age of Ultron threatens to completely jump the tracks.

That's because it's not playing by the rules.

Here's why: the story is set in an alternate present, where Wolverine travels into the past (this was two issues back) and kills Hank Pym before he invents the original Ultron.

And there's the problem. Past continuity has established that if you travel to the past and change the normal events, you then create an alternate timeline - the original timeline doesn't change (I think this was first referenced in John Byrne's Marvel Two-In-One #50.)

Anyway, when Logan and the Invisible Woman return to the present, they realize there's no winning, because even without the creation of Ultron, the world has been radically altered and faces destruction from an unexpected source.

So what's left? They journey back in time and try to change history yet again.

The one factor that promises repercussions is hinted at by Tony Stark, who points out the dangers of time travel, because of other powers in the universe - that may carry things into an interesting direction.

Once again, the issue features great art by Carlos Pachco and Brandon Peterson, and sharp scripting by Brian Michael Bendis.

Next issue will tell the tale. Can Bendis sort out the gnarled timeline, overcome the continuity difficulties and sort this mess out?

Here's hoping - but I'm finding it difficult to see.

Grade: B


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Astro City #1

I'm so happy to see a new issue of Astro City!

For those who came in late, the series (created by Kurt Busiek and drawn by Brent Eric Anderson, with covers by Alex Ross) is set in a super-hero-filled city where you can encounter the usual shenanigans (super-fights, alien invasions, etc.) - but the stories generally focus on the perspective of regular people and how events affect them.

The series has featured some incredibly original stories - some are heartbreaking, some with amazing twists, but every one compelling (in other words, I recommend buying up those collections early and often).

After a long hiatus, the title is back with a new issue #1, and the good news is, if you haven't read those previous issues, you can still pick right up with this issue and not worry about being lost - Busiek quickly brings you up to speed, and then we rush headlong into this story, which features (if briefly) a vast number of the heroes from past issues - and one brand new character.

They're faced with a giant mystery, as a gigantic door appears near the city - and when the door opens, no one is ready for what happens next.

It's a clever bit of business and a lot of fun.

As always, the art is terrific. Anderson has a powerful style that takes some of the best elements of Gene Colan and Neal Adams, gives it a unique spin and creates incredible stories.

Look, I can't say enough great things about this series. Wonderful stories, great art, original characters - superhero comics at its best!

Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

New Comic Book Day

Here's what I picked up today:

- Age of Ultron #9 - I don't advise messing with the time stream.

- Astro City #1 - So glad to see this back again!

- Avengers #13 - Tackling the High Evolutionary.

- Earth 2 #13 - Captain Steel under fire.

- Green Lantern #21 - A new beginning!

- Iron Man #11 - Changing the game.

- Spider #12 - In two places at once.

- All-New X-Men #12 - Brother vs. brother? Not really.

And that's it!

Guest Review: GI Joe Special Missions #3

A hearty welcome to our man Glen Davis, who checks in today from our Guest Review chair.

(We welcome such things at Chuck's Comic of the Day - just email your review to the address over there on the right and we'll be glad to consider it for publication. There's no money involved, alas, but oh, what glory!)

Take it away, Glen!

IDW is having a lot of success with its Hasbro line of comic books, expanding its line to three titles. Chuck Dixon and Paul Gulacy are doing GI Joe: Special Missions.

Currently, the force is trying to salvage billions of dollars in cash from a ship fathoms below the surface of the ocean, vying for the fortune with The Baroness, and Serpentor, both of whom hope to use the treasure to win favor with Cobra Commander.

Pretty exciting, both the action, and the stuff that happens behind the lines.

The only shortcoming of the book is that I don't feel it quite captured the claustrophobic conditions of the best submarine books and movies, but it came as close as any comic book I've read.

Grade: B+


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Earth 2 Annual #1

Much as I hate to repeat myself (putting on my old fogey hat), let me once again say: what the heck happened to Annuals?

When they first started appearing in the '60s (when dinosaurs walked the Earth) they were something special - big stories with epic conflicts, bonus features, pin-ups, comedy features - you get the idea. They were a summer event, something to look forward to.

Now, the Annuals are just another issue of the regular series - usually longer, certainly more expensive, but otherwise in no way special.

Case in point: the first Earth 2 Annual. The only selling point here is the appearance of a (maybe) new Earth 2 Batman.

OK, I admit, that may end up being special, depending on how the character's story pays off. That alternate reality has been without a Dark Knight since the Earth 2 version was killed in the first issue of the "New 52" series.

But it's just a teaser - the issue actually centers on the Atom and his mission to bring in a low-level bad guy.

Even worse, it's not a complete story - it ends on something of a cliffhanger that continues into the regular series.

So instead of something groundbreaking or exceptional, we get just another issue with lots of teasing but not resolutions.

And not even a single pin-up. I'm not impressed.

Grade: C+


Monday, June 3, 2013

King Conan #1

Dark Horse is making fans of Conan very happy these days, publishing two comics devoted to everyone's favorite barbarian.

What's interesting is that the comics are very different. Over in Conan the Barbarian, writer Brian Wood is giving us a Conan rooted in the real world, dealing with his love for Belit and taking part in real-world adventures with little or no magic in evidence. It's a great comic, but it's a different take on the character.

Now, if you're looking for Robert E. Howard's character, look no further than King Conan.

Writer Tim Truman is tuned in to the original Conan - tough, brutal, a warrior who overcomes obstacles by force of will and a surprising amount of wit - not to mention his incredible strength and fighting skills.

And here he adapts the only full-length Conan novel written by Howard - The Hour of the Dragon. The story features Conan later in life after he has become the King of Aquilonia.

He faces an attack from Nemedia, one that is backed by a powerful sorcerer. It's a thrilling start to a 12-part series, and Truman nails it.

The art is by the amazing Tomas Giorello, with color art by Jose Villarrubia, and it's wonderful - with amazing environments, powerful character depictions, dynamic layouts - I'm surprised that more people aren't referring to Giorello as one of the best Conan artists since Windsor-Smith and Buscema - yep, I said it.

So if you're a Conan fan, it's a great time to follow the adventures of that character - you can enjoy something different, or a terrific version of the classic.

Personally, I'm buying both. But if I was only buying one, this series would win out.

Grade: A


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Savage Wolverine #6

This issue sadly brings us to the end of the Frank Cho written and drawn adventure of the Savage Wolverine - but it does so without actually giving us an ending.

The five issues have been building on a threat hidden in the Savage Land - a gigantic cosmic being was locked away long ago in a temple, and various forces are trying to break open that gigantic jail cell.

To that end numerous heroes have been brought together, including Wolverine, Shanna the She-Devil, Amadeus Cho and the Hulk.

Of course, you can't get Logan and the Hulk together without having some kind of fight between them - and let's just say that Wolverine lives up to the title of this comic with a particularly vicious move here.

The art, of course, is spectacular - Cho was built for this kind of project, with superheroes, beautiful women (scantily clad), monsters, dinosaurs and giant apes.

There are very few artists in Cho's league, and his comics are worth buying for the art alone.

The story isn't quite on the same level, though he's obviously having a lot of fun here, and it's contagious.

But the story doesn't really have a conclusion, so we assume it'll be picked up again one of these days.

But if Cho is drawing it, I'll be buying it.

Grade: A-


Saturday, June 1, 2013

New Avengers #6

Heroes can face many kinds of challenges, but typically that takes the form of some kind of antagonist - a bad guy.

But the new version of the New Avengers is facing something very different - an (apparently) natural event that threatens to destroy more than one Earth.

For mysterious (and cosmic) reasons, Earths from alternate dimensions have been threatening the existence of "our" Earth. These alternate Earths encroach on our dimension, and the result is the destruction of both planets - unless something happens to destroy one of the Earths.

That's the dilemma facing the members of the Illuminati - Black Panther, Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Namor, Black Bolt, Dr. Strange and the Beast. Will they be forced to destroy the inhabitants of an alternate Earth to save their own?

The story by Jonathan Hickman is thoughtful and intense and loaded with smart characters and loads of mysteries.

The art by Steve Epting and Rick Magyar is terrific - dark and personal, but right at home with big, cosmic events - great characters, great expressions, very cinematic.

This really isn't for young readers, but not because of "adult" material - it's just working with concepts that might be too challenging for young readers.

But for those willing to put their intelligence to work - oh, the rewards!

Even if there isn't a bad guy to punch in the face.

Grade: A