Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Sandman Overture #1

   At the comics shop this week a guy who had apparently never read The Sandman before asked the shop owner if this series was a good place to start.

   The shop owner said, since it was a prequel to the first story, it was probably a great starting point.

   I'm dubious.

   The story by Neil Gaiman jumps right into the deep end of the pool, as we run into characters both strange and familiar (to long-time readers), including Dream (who rarely goes by the name Sandman).

   But given the fact that the story jumps around to different characters (including Death and Destiny), different realities (the one at the start is trippy) and across the timeline, it's a bit much to absorb in one sitting.

   To readers familiar with the character, it's pretty easy to pick up where you left off so many years ago. But new readers might struggle a bit to sort things out - especially when you get to that mind-bending four-page spread at the end.

   None of this is intended as anything more than a caveat to new readers. Those of you who have read the comics (or collections) know what to expect - wonderful, lush artwork from J.H. Williams III, a deep and affecting story from Gaiman, challenging and unexpected story events, and a very welcome and long-overdue return to a beloved series.

   New readers should track down the reprint volumes, anyway - they're some of the best stories in the history of comics. This series is well on its way to earning an equal spot with the rest of the series.

Grade: A

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Classics - West Coast Avengers #1

   Thanks to the popularity of the movie Marvel's The Avengers, the team is enjoying great popularity - and that means numerous titles starring the characters.

   Back in the mid-'80s, the series was also very popular - racking up huge sales - so a California version of the team was created and given its own mini-series. West Coast Avengers was also a hit, so a regular series followed.

   I was really happy to see the creative team assigned to the book, which included my all-time favorite Avengers writer, Steve Englehart, and two guys best known as inkers (but also outstanding artists in their own right): Allen Milgrom and Joe Sinnott.

   But for some reason the series didn't really work at first.

   The team leader was Hawkeye, and maybe that was the problem - he's a character who works best as a joker, a wiseass - not as the leader.

   Among the members were Mockingbird, Tigra, Wonder Man and Iron Man. Also appearing in a supporting role was Hank Pym, still recovering after losing his mind and virtually becoming a villain.

   I didn't care for that version of Hank at all (though Englehart would eventually redeem him), and the rest of the characters (except for Iron Man) were mostly second bananas.

   There are some good character moments, a deadly team of villains is assembled, and several plot lines are set into motion in this issue (which would also tie into the Vision and Scarlet Witch mini-series), but the fight scenes are clunky, and even the art is a bit stiff.

   Don't get me wrong - I didn't hate the comic at all. In fact, I enjoyed quite a few of the stories over the course of the series. But my expectations were so high, and it was a bit of a disappointment that this issue didn't quite hit it out of the park.

Grade: B

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New Comic Book Day

   Here's what I picked up today:

- Avengers #22 - Overwhelming odds.

- Avengers AI #5 - Rage against the machine.

- Fox #1What does the Fox say?

- Green Lantern Annual #2 - The end to "Lights Out."

- Guardians of the Galaxy #8 - Impossible odds.

- Infinity #5 - Heading home.

- Killjoys #5 - Expect the unexpected.

- King Conan #6 - The bloody end of the first half of "Hour of the Dragon."

- Saga #15Love story.

- Sandman Overture #1 - So nice to see this team back in action.

- Shadow Year One #6 - Bringing the pain.

- X-Men Battle of the Atom #2 - The fearsome finale!

   And that's it!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Indestructible Hulk #14

   LIke his work on Daredevil, writer Mark Waid has crafted the Indestructible Hulk into a clever, idea-filled comic that keeps rolling along in unexpected directions.

   He's placed the Hulk and Bruce Banner in the service of SHIELD, tackling the cases most agents would never survive.

   The latest adventure sends him traveling through time, attempting to stop a group of terrorists who plan to change the course of history - including the Hulk's personal history.

   It's a fun mix of incarnations of the Hulk from different time periods, pitted against familiar foes who've also traveled through time.

   It's all over the top and a bit wonky, but it all rockets along to an unexpected twist.

   My only complaint with the issue is the odd mix of artists - Mahmud Asrar kicks the issue off with a solid five pages, but the rest of the issue by Kim Jacinto seems to be very rough around the edges. The styles don't mesh at all.

   But the story makes up for any other problems, as Waid mixes new and old elements and whips up a fresh tale that makes the most of its wild premise. He's made the Hulk another comic to watch.

Grade: B+

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Conan: People of the Black Circle #1

   I'm not sure why I find myself feeling indifferent about this issue of the Conan mini-series based on the Robert E. Howard story, The People of the Black Circle.

   I've always liked the original story, as Conan finds himself pitted against a powerful group of sorcerers. He's caught between a beautiful woman (the sister of the king) and the forces that seek to destroy her country. Writer Fred Van Lente does a fine job of adapting the story.

   The art is excellent, as Ariel Olivetti provides lush, moody painted artwork that fits the story perfectly. And there's a splash page of Conan that should be a poster.
   
   I think the problem is just that this part of the story is pretty thin. We see the King of Vendhya die horribly because of an evil spell. We see his sister seek revenge, and we meet the leader of the hill tribes - Conan. And that's about it.

   Trust me, next issue should get the story crackling along - but the art is the only outstanding thing about this issue, and that's not quite enough.

Grade: B-

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Daredevil #32

   What a delight this series has been under writer Mark Waid and artist Chris Samnee.

   They turn in yet another great issue of Daredevil here, loaded with lots of surprises, unexpected guest stars and a story perfect for Halloween, as it includes the mostly-forgotten Legion of Monsters, who have taken up residence in a surprising part of the country.

   The action throws DD into the middle of a lynch mob in a rural setting. As you'd expect, he throws his lot in with the underdogs, though he doesn't exactly realize the nature of the problem.

   Throw in lots of clever bits of business, an unexpected final twist, and a guest appearance by some of Marvel's mightiest monsters, and it's yet another in a long line of terrific issues in this series.

   Sad to note that - reportedly - the creative team is leaving after issue 36, so best to latch on to one of Marvel's best while it lasts!

Grade: A-

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Wolverine and the X-Men #37

   I've been a fan of the "Battle of the Atom" series that's been spooling out over the last nine weeks through most of the X-Men titles, and this issue of Wolverine and the X-Men brings it all to a boil.

   It's a collision of X-teams throughout the ages, as the original (time-traveling) team meets two modern-day versions of the team and two future versions of the team (one good, one evil - maybe).

   As you'd guess, that means this issue is crammed full of more mutants that you can shake Chris Claremont at.

   But it's also a lot of fun, as the assorted teams battle back and forth, and gather together for a final throwdown at an important site in the history of the team - and it's a battle that suggests it may all end in near-armageddon.

   This is a series where you wonder, how are they going to sort this out? (As you'd expect, we'll find out... next week.)

Grade: B+

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Justice League #24

   I really don't care at all for the whole Forever Evil storyline, which breaks down to the simple concept of: the bad guys win.

   And of course, these bad guys - the Crime Syndicate (the evil, Earth-3 version of the Justice League) - are the worst of the worst. Mass murderers, they kill without remorse, destroy without concern - in short, they have no motivation, no redeeming quality, not even a compelling reason to be the way they are. They're just monsters.

   As a result, they're not very interesting at all.

   Writer Geoff Johns gives it a good shot, providing an origin of sorts for Ultraman, but he's still just destructive and dull.

   We're treated to scenes such as Ultraman smashing into the Daily Planet, where he inflicts a terrible punishment on Jimmy Olsen - what I call a comic book injury. In the real world, Jimmy would be permanently crippled by this, but in the comics, he'll bounce back in no time.

   The only redeeming quality of this comic is the terrific art by Ivan Reis.

   Otherwise this is just another loud, obnoxious comic, loaded with casual death and devastation, and little else. An attempt at an "adult" comic that fails across the board.

   Save your four bucks for something better.

Grade: C

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Aquaman #24

   Aquaman apparently managed to sit out the whole Forever Evil storyline by the simple expedient of being in a coma for six months.

   He awakens to numerous changes in the status quo - a new ruler in Atlantis, his beloved Mera missing, and the criminal Vulko protecting him.

   Writer Geoff Johns uses this lull in the action to give us all a history lesson - the "true" story behind Atlantis and how it fell. It's a tale of hatred, revenge, rascism and quite a few surprises.

   Artist Paul Pelletier (with inker Sean Parsons) shows that he belongs among the upper tier of DC's artists - his work demonstrates powerful layouts, lush environments, distinct characters and cataclysmic destruction.

   Aquaman continues to be one of the best of the "New 52," perhaps because it keeps its story clear, surprising and fresh.

   It's great to see this venerable character getting treated so well by some of DC's top creative talents.

Grade: A-

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Classics - Magnus Robot Fighter #14

   I've raved before about the classic Gold Key series Magnus Robot Fighter, and I'm going to do it again.

   The series was a terrific showcase for the incredibly talented Russ Manning, who effortlessly created the sleek, futuristic world of the year 4000, populated it with real people, stunningly beautiful women (ah, Leeja!), a smart and powerful hero, an amazing variety of robots, and some clever science fiction ideas.

   This issue (written by an uncredited Herb Castle) starts with a literal bang, as a meteor crashes to Earth near Magnus. No one is injured, but later that night the meteor begins to glow and releases bubbles that cause any metal it contacts to expand - including the robots standing guard.

   The next day, the now giant-size robots run amok, presenting a tall challenge for even Magnus to overcome.

   The story throws in all kinds of clever gadgets, including a (literal) black light (used by the police for riot control) and a ripper-ray (a disintegrator beam). The solution to the problem is actually provided by some young boys, who manage the difficult task of pulling their own weight and not being annoying.

   As always, the star of the series is Manning's art - gripping, always telling a clear and compelling story, it's just a delight from start to finish.

   There were few series published by a company other than Marvel or DC in 1966 that I'd make an effort to track down, but Magnus was at the top of that list.

Grade: A

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New Comics Day


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

- Aquaman #24 - Return of the king.

- Conan People of Black Circle #1 - Adapting a Howard classic.

- Daredevil #32 - Halloween special.

- FF #13 - Outfoxing Doom!

- Hulk #14 - Is time broken?

- Iron Man #17 - The end of the origin of Tony.

- Justice League #24 - The title should be Injustice League.

- Rocketeer Spirit Pulp Friction #2 - Great idea for a team-up.

- Spider #15 - On a killing spree.

- Tom Strong #4 - Circle the wagons.

- Wolverine and the X-Men #37 - Almost at the end of Battle of the Atom.

- Young Avengers #11 - What is Loki doing?


   And that's it!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Guardians of the Galaxy #7

      Your pal Chuck is a bit under the weather, so this will of necessity be a quick review (take my advice and avoid kidney stones - they're no fun)!

   This issue of Guardians of the Galaxy focuses on the newest addition to the Marvel Universe: Neil Gaiman's mysterious warrior known as Angela.

   Bringing her to Marvel creates a bit of a problem, since she was originally conceived to be an angel from Heaven, sent to Earth to fight demons like Todd McFarlane's Spawn.

   That's a problem because Marvel has tended to avoid any mention or depiction of Heaven (though it has no problem using Hell as a backdrop). So how to explain Angela?

    That's the purpose of this story, and writer Brian Michael Bendis comes up with an interesting solution that even gives her a reason to want to hang around with the Guardians - at least for the moment.

   With great art and an interesting story, this issue is well worth checking out - and it finally brings the team into the Infinity event (though the chronology may be a bit difficult to explain, since Iron Man has been running around with the Guardians for a while).

Grade: A-

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Trish Out of Water #1

   It's funny that most comics companies struggle to publish successful comics that star female characters - while Aspen publishes almost no other kind of comic.

   The most unusual addition to the lineup (and that's saying something) has to be Trish Out of Water, a comic that seems to focus on a normal teenage girl.

   Trish Powell spends her day thinking about friends, parties, school, the music she likes, clothes, her parents - you get the idea.

   The story by Vince Hernandez ­seems to be more soap opera than adventure - but then some odd things start cropping up, and then the story takes a very surprising turn.

   This issue is all setup, so it's too early to tell where it's going to go from here - but it's an interesting start and holds lots of promise.

   The art is by Giuseppe Cafaro with colors by Ruben Curto and Mirka Andolfo's Studio Parlapá, and it's quite good, with fresh layouts, good character designs and real-world environments.

   If you're on the fence, the good news is this is part of Aspen's "10 for 10 series" - so it's a bargain, costing only a dollar.


   Trish is no Betty or Veronica (though you might think otherwise from time to time), but she's that most rare creature - a real girl. (Well, mostly).

Grade: B+

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hawkeye #13

   There are a few comics out there where the creative team is playing on a different level from the rest of the industry.

   You see it sometimes from smaller publishers, but rarely from the big boys.

   Hawkeye is one of the exceptions to the rule.

   Writer Matt Fraction is creating a different story here, focusing more on the very human (and very fallible) Clint Barton. We rarely (if ever) see examples of super-heroics, though we often see the painful aftermath.

   This issue, for example, takes us into the heartbreaking story of a death in the loose-knit family that lives in the apartment building that Clint manages and protects (sorta kinda).

   It also features the return of someone near and dear to Clint (when he's not busy hating him, of course).

   But you have to pay attention, and it helps if you've read the other issues in the series. This one weaves around and through events in recent issues and the annual, for example.

   The art by David Aja is wonderful stuff - moody, gritty, humorous - the perfect use of the nine-panel grid.

   If you're passing up Hawkeye, you're missing out on something rare - a truly original comic. Highly recommended!

Grade: A

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Avengers #21


   The band They Might Be Giants has a wonderful song called “Particle Man,” which takes a lighthearted look at battles between assorted mythic figures, including Triangle Man and Universe Man (“Size of the entire Universe, man”).

   The song comes to mind with the latest issue of The Avengers, as the focus falls on Captain Universe, Marvel’s most mysterious cosmic hero.

   Originally created by Bill Mantlo and Michael Golden, the hero could be any character, as the cosmic power of the Captain somehow possessed different individuals, granting them awesome - and temporary - powers.

   But the character appearing in Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers is a bit different. The human side is almost completely subsumed by the cosmic being, who seems to know a lot more about the epic conflict than anyone else.

   She also gets to demonstrate the true depth of her power, as we finally start getting some hints about the reason the Builders have decided to destroy so many planets.

   Again, this isn’t a series for the faint of heart - there’s a lot going on here, as the battle rages on a galactic scale - but what a rewarding challenge to untake!

   Highly, highly recommended!

Grade: A

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Technical Difficulties

   Sorry for the brief blackout, friends - ol' Chuck's Internet service crashed and burned two days ago, and we're still waiting for it to get back online.

   I think I've managed to work around it, so a post will be going up momentarily. Mea culpa!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Guest Review - The Classics - ElfQuest #1


   Back with another guest review is our man David Wright, with a look at one of the first major independent comic success stories: ElfQuest.

   Stick around the comic community long enough and you'll see changes. I think one of the biggest overhauls I experienced was when there was a resurgence of the direct marketing of comics. 

   They moved from small spinner racks, and the ghettoized small spaces taking up the corner drug and convenience stores into venues where comic and magazine shops catered to comic fans.  

   ElfQuest by Wendy and Richard Pini was one of the earlier independent comics to come out of that changing market. From what I've read, Richard wrote them (although I assume they both had input into the stories), and Wendy drew them.  

   ElfQuest originally came out in 1978 in a black and white magazine format and over time won many awards within the comic and fantasy community, including best story and best artist. I first encountered it in the full colored Starblaze editions, which was sold through a bookstore.

   The first story, Fire and Flight, opens on a primitive type world similar to earth. A tribe has gathered around a bonfire, and having captured an elf are in a ceremony getting ready to sacrifice him. Then the tale shifts to a flashback on how the elves arrived on this planet, and how the primitive people were afraid of these new strangers. They feared the elves, and due to their ignorance killed and attacked them, driving the elves away to hide and set up their own home. This hatred has gone on for many generations.  

   After some of the past history the reader is brought up to speed, and we are again back at the bonfire.  The elves have come to rescue their captive friend. During the skirmish one of the elves slays one of the tribesmen, which inflames their hatred even more.  

   Once the elves have rescued their friend, we learn a bit more about the elves. The head of their tribe is Cutter, they have bonded with wolves and they ride and can communicate with them. Cutter can also communicate by means of telepathy, and we learn a bit about some of the other elves within the tribe. 

   The primitive humans decide to burn the elves out of their homeland and begin to start setting fires to the forest area, and the elves flee to the caverns of trolls seeking aid and safety. They try to strike a bargain with the troll king, Greymung, and are led through the caves to what they think will be a beautiful land and a new beginning, but are betrayed. This begins their quest to find a new homeland and survive while doing so.  

   Wendy's artwork is original and pleasant looking, and the storytelling is pure light fantasy that's fast paced. There are enough unanswered questions to engage the reader to follow along into the next issue to learn more about the plight of the elves.  

   This is a book written for fantasy fans of all ages. If  you enjoy Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and other such stories, you might enjoy this as well. 

   The Pinis have graciously provided a web site where you can now read the series free online. You can begin the Elfquest saga here. 

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story


   I finally got a chance to read this book: Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. It's both a history of the publisher and an analysis of the events that shaped the company, as written by Sean Howe.

   Several friends had read this and recommended it, and it’s obviously a topic I enjoy, so I was glad to tackle this book. 

   It’s actually very good, covering the company from its rough beginnings through the '40s and '50s, into the "Marvel Age of Comics" in the '60s and '70s, through the editorial turmoil in the '80s and '90s, and the behind-the-scenes struggles in the boardroom as Marvel became big business.

   If there were any mistakes in fact or timeline I didn’t catch them, and there were quite a few things mentioned here that I wasn't aware of.

   Of course, there are things that the author overlooked or didn’t include, but that’s not a surprise, since Marvel’s history covers more than 70 years. 

   The writer even gives the company's central figures, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, reasonably fair coverage, though he takes a few jabs at Stan’s love of the spotlight, and focuses on some of Jack's more over-the-top comments toward the end of his life. 

   I suppose my only real complaint is that the writer seems dismissive of the comics themselves - wanting to assure us, I suppose, that they’re silly stories for kids (which some of them certainly are) and not something he takes seriously. 

   It's a shame that he couldn’t appreciate them more as entertainment for the times in which they were written. 

   Still, lots of good information in here, and I enjoyed it. Recommended!   

Grade: B+

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Batman #24

   Give writer Scott Snyder credit, as he tackles some heady concepts in this issue of Batman.

   This "Zero Year" story tackles such deep topics as: why would anyone live in Gotham City? And how does Bruce Wayne keep his identity a secret?

   The answers are surprisingly chatty for the modern world of comics, where less dialogue is more - but it's well-crafted and moving.

   The double-sized issue is loaded with some fun touchstones (not the least of which is a recreation of the cover to Batman's first appearance).

   The art by Greg Capullo is terrific - dynamic, emotional, dramatic and action-packed.

   Quite a few of the events included here will be very familiar to long-time readers, but it's all presented in a fresh, modern style that brings the classic tale up to modern storytelling standards.

   Excellent work all around!

Grade: A

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Triple Helix #1

   I can't quite decide if writer / artist John Byrne is doing these books - Triple Helix and Trio - because:

a) they're fun;
b) he enjoys creating traditional comic book stories;
c) he's building a new superhero playground; or
d) he's having a good laugh on Marvel Comics and the fans.

   On the most basic level, this comic, which seems to lean a lot on the X-Men template (note the emphasis on one letter on the cover), is a fun superhero adventure story that picks up right where the Trio mini-series left off - with the city and the heroes facing destruction at the hands of the time-jumping Golgotha.

   Before they confront that menace, the team of heroes known as Triple Helix must first take part in the time-honored tradition of getting into a fight with another hero - this time around, the mysteriously-transformed Rock.

   Perhaps Byrne is just trying to evoke nostalgia for the streamlined, action-packed stories that Marvel did so well, especially when it first got going in the mid-'60s.

   Whatever the motivation, he's created a comic that's just plain fun. There's virtually no continuity to worry about - we're getting the backstory as we go, and learning about each hero's powers the same way.

   For any long-time comics fan, this series promises to be a lot of fun, and it would be a great place to start a new reader, looking for a comprehensible introduction to the world of superhero comics.

   A clear and clever story, terrific artwork - who could ask for more?

   Well worth tracking down!

Grade: A-

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

X-Men #6

   As the "Battle of the Atom" storyline continues, we now arrive at the "All Hell Breaks Loose" part of our program.

   The story revolves around the conflict between X-Men teams from the past, present and future.

   The original team was brought through time by the present-day Beast in an attempt to calm the conflict between mutant factions. Then a team of X-Men arrived from the future to warn that the original team had to return to their original time to avoid a disastrous future.

   But that team from the future has a hidden agenda - and the sinister nature of it starts to appear and all-out warfare breaks out between the teams.

   Writer Brian Wood and artist David Lopez carry this chapter, and it's loaded with action and a few surprises.

   This continues to be one of the better X-Men events in recent memory, and despite the fact that it involves time travel, which almost always ends with the "time reboot" twist, it's shows no signs of a similar letdown.

   Yet.

Grade: A-

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Friday, October 11, 2013

Superman Wonder Woman #1

   The budding romance between Superman and Wonder Woman is one of the most logical romances in comics - and also the one that doesn't really work at all.

   That's because Superman doesn't seem "right" when he's not in love with Lois Lane (or Lana Lang or another "LL" alternative).

   There's also the conflict between Diana's myth-based origins and Clark's science fiction-based background - it makes for an odd match.

   This series is addressing the romance (and, in fact, hints that the two have gone beyond just smooching), and throws in a bit of superhero action along the way.

   This is the only place outside of her own comic that we see a Wonder Woman who is rooted in the same realm of horror and myth - and that's probably a good thing.

   The issue is written by Charles Soule, and it's a good effort, somewhat redeemed by the shocking final panel.

   The art is by Tony Daniels, who turns in excellent work, with powerful layouts and strong character designs.

   It's a little too early to tell if this series is going to work - it's off to a good start - but I still think the two leads make an odd couple.

Grade: B+

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Infinity #4

   I admit that I'm a big fan of Thor (as my recent post on the "Top 10 issues by Stan and Jack" should prove), so the cover helped this issue jump to the top of my reading stack.

   And I'm glad it did! The previous issues of Infinity (and Avengers and New Avengers) have all been building up the impossible foe, the towering menace by both the ancient race of Builders and the more recent mad god, Thanos.

   And here we see the heroes standing up to those foes with varying degrees of success - and with widespread carnage.

   In addition to Thor's turn in the spotlight, we also learn some vital information about the Inhumans, and something happens here that's going to have an impact on the next big event to hit the Marvel Universe.

   As always, the story by Jonathan Hickman is compelling. The art by Jerome Opena and Dustin Weaver is vivid, complex and stunning.

   I think - depending on the wrap-up - this may be Marvel's best event in a long, long time (and maybe ever). Can't wait to see where it goes from here!

Grade: A

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

New Comics Day


  Here's what I picked up today:
- Astro City #5 - A blast from the past.
- Avengers AI #4 - The battle of the machines continues.
- Batman #24 - Showdown with the Red Mask.
- ElfQuest: The Final Quest: Special - Putting the band back together.
- Green Lantern Corps #24 - Relic is trying to turn the lights out.
- Infinity #4 - Thor brings the hammer down.
- Manhattan Projects #15 - Battle of the Oppenheimers.
- Star Wars #10 - Vader uncovers a secret.
- Superman Wonder Woman #1 - Together again for the first time.
- Thor #14 - Malekith returns - I'm shocked!
- Triple Helix #1 - Continuing John Byrne's Trio series.
- Worlds Finest #16 - Fighting back at fashion week.
- X-Men #6 - Father and son?
   And that's it!

The Classics - The Mighty Thor Paperback

   It was an exciting day in 1966 when Lancer Books released a series of paperback books that featured reprints of classic stories featuring Marvel heroes, including The Mighty Thor, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk and Spider-Man.

   By today's standards, they were weak sauce.

   That's because the printing was small - generally reprinting only two panels, turned sideways, on each page. Some panels were right-side-up. There's no color on the interior pages. The paper quality is very poor.

   So why was it so exciting? It seemed so prestigious for the comics I loved so much to be printed in a "real" book. And at the time, reprints were very rare - mostly limited to the back pages of each year's annuals.

   It was tough going for 10-year-old Chuck to buy these books, because they cost the princely sum of 50 cents - the equivalent of four comic books!

   But I somehow managed to scrape together the change and picked up each copy (though sadly the first FF volume has vanished into the mists of time).

   What made them especially wonderful was the selection of stories included - this volume of Thor holds four great stories by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (including battles with the Lava Man, the Absorbing Man and Surtur).

   Compared to today's reprints, these books were mighty crude - we're now in a golden age with full-color Omnibus reprints, digital copies, and on and on. But this is one of the first steps that led us to this bounty.

Grade: B

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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Guest Review - Doc Unknown #1

   Stepping into the Guest Review chair is my good friend Lyle Tucker, who gives us a look at a title you might have missed.

   Hi! I'm an old fart who stopped reading comics regularly in 1975 or so. I am missing entire decades of Big Two continuity. 

   As such, I tend to eschew jumping onto the moving trains of such titles as The Avengers, Batman, The X-Men, etc. I don't know who half the characters are anymore, nor, more importantly, what their past 40-year history has been. In my world Gwen Stacy died just the other week – who's this Venom chap? 

   So, I seek out either new titles or those specifically geared toward the '60s/'70s versions with which I grew up.

   Oh, another thing - I'm a cheapskate. So, this idea of spending $3–5 for a single comic is odious. Bordering on the insane.

   Enter COMIXOLOGY, with its offerings of free and 99 cent digital comics. Woo-hoo!

   And, thusly, enter Doc Unknown #1, Doc Unknown in the Museum of Madness, a Comixology Submit release, just 99 cents for the digital issue. Written and created by Fabian Rangel Jr. and illustrated by Ryan Cody, the vibe I got from this first issue was something of a mix between Atomic Robo and Hellboy

   The story is light and frothy, as is the artwork. You're not going to be involving yourself to any great degree here, but the first issue tosses out enough comic/pulp tropes to satisfy any aging comic fan. 

   As Rangel Jr. himself points out at the end of the first story, Doc Unknown is a mash-up of everything he loves about comics. Set in Gate City at what appears to be the '40s, the first issue contains Doc Unknown taking on, with his fists and shurikens: secret societies, talking skeletons, Tommy-Gun wielding mobsters, a freakish monster crime boss (“The Snake”), a re-animated mummy, a T-Rex, a ghost and a half-human cyborg Nazi.

   And if that didn't whet yer appetite for this mag, then nothing I could say will.

   Highly recommended if you like retro fun in your comics!

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Monday, October 7, 2013

Shadow Now #1

   It's a tribute to the design of most pulp characters that they can make the jump from the '30s and '40s to the modern age.

   The Shadow did just that decades ago under writer and artist Howard Chaykin, and here's another take on the idea courtesy of writer David Liss and artist Colton Worley.

   In Shadow Now, Liss brings us a Shadow who has found a way to restore his youth and has decided to once again take up his fight against crime.

   Thankfully, we don't have to deal with scenes of the hero struggling to understand the iPad or learning about how to establish a Twitter account.

   Instead, Lamont Cranston "III" uses his classic methods, which are brutal but effective.

   But he finds himself struggling to solve the mystery behind a new crime wave, and his enemies seem to stay one step ahead of him. Then a familiar foe gets his attention...

   So I like the story, but the art is a bit more of a mix. There are some stunning images, near-photographic depictions, but the storytelling is muddy in places - there are panels where I'm really not sure what's happening.

   Despite that, it's a promising start to the series, and one of the better Shadow books around (how many are there, anyway?) - a clever twist on a classic.

Grade: B+

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Batman Black and White #2

   The beauty of anthology titles is that there's bound to be an artist or writer you'll like enough to lure you into buying the comic.

   Generally the artist is the main attraction, since (as in the case of Batman Black and White) the stories are very short, which doesn't give the writer much room to work with. Each story in this issue, for example, is eight pages long.

   I was lured into buying this issue by two artists - Jim Steranko's evocative and iconic cover got my attention, and the inclusion of the legendary Alex Nino closed the sale.

   But there's more to recommend the issue, including some great (or unique) art by J. G. Jones, Rafael Grampa, Rafael Albuqueque and Dave Bullock.

   But the stories don't always carry their end of the deal. The opening story by Dan Didio gives us a Batman who acts completely out of character. Grampa's odd tale offers an interesting twist. Albuqueque's tale treads some well-worn ground, but makes good use of his style. Jeff Lemire gives Nino the opportunity to provide some thrilling visuals, though the story is only a bit above average. The final story by Michael Uslan is the most clever of the bunch, evoking classic Batman tales in the framework of a classic bit of animation.

   So overall, it's a mixed bag, and your interest will depend on your feelings about the creators involved.

Grade: B-

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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Green Lantern #24

   I have to admit that this issue delights me for a simple reason: we finally get a new and different villain (well, I think he's a villain).

   Relic is a new and unusual challenge for Green Lantern and the Corps  - he (it?) is an ancient scientist who is trying to save the universe. His theory is that the use of the spectrum energies (such as the green energy used by GL) depletes a finite reservoir of energy and causes the end of the universe.

   Relic is so overwhelmingly powerful that it seems no one can stop him - thus the title of this event, "Lights Out."

   Writer Robert Venditti has the Corps (all of them, actually) with their backs against the wall, and it's difficult to see how they survive their encounter with Relic.

   The art by Billy Tan and Rob Hunter is quite good, with lots of cosmic spectacle and over-the-top battles.

   The only thing I don't like about Relic is that his origin, stature and mode of operation seems awfully similar the a certain other giant cosmic menace, Marvel's Galactus - right down to the "survivor of a previous reality" bit.

    But after years of stories about the different Lantern Corps, it's almost a relief to see someone shutting them down. It's almost a shame that it probably won't last - at least it'll be tough to continue the series without the green light.

Grade: B+

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Friday, October 4, 2013

All-New X-Men #17

   At the comics shop this week a young guy standing in line smiled as he looked at the first issue in the Battle of the Atom series.

   "I haven't bought an issue of X-Men in years," he said. "But this looks good."

   I told him I thought he'd like it. The series strips the cast down to a somewhat manageable level, it's a fun time-travel tale and mystery (standard territory for this team), and it's loaded with clever dialogue.

   This week's chapter appears in All-New X-Men, and it gives us a bit more information about the grim future for the team in general and mutants in particular.

   We see the surprising future career of Dazzler and meet a second X-Men team from the future, traveling to the past to try to correct a disastrous mistake by the original X-Men (who have journeyed through time to the present).

   There are still mysteries to solve - and some touching reunions. Writer Brian Michael Bendis orchestrates the events with skill and assurance.

   As always, the art by Stuart Immonen is outstanding, as he brings personal moments and epic battles to vivid life.

   So if you walked away from the X-Men a while back (and who could blame you?), this series might be a good reason to drop by the old neighborhood.

Grade: A-

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Forever Evil #2

   Now that we've slogged past "Villain Month," we've arrived at the second issue of Forever Evil, which gives the evil version of the Justice League from Earth-3 (the Crime Syndicate) the chance to start their plan to take over the Earth.

   Much of the focus is on Lex Luthor, who's hatching his own plans to fight back against the would-be world conquerers. We also see what happens when you release all the bad guys from their respective prisons and asylums at once.

   It's not pretty.

   We also see a confrontation between Johnny Quick and Atomica (the evil versions of the Flash and the Atom) and the Teen Titans.

   And not to give anything away, but this is exactly the kind of fighting skills we should see Barry Allen demonstrating over in the regular Flash comic. I'm just saying.

   So the stage is being set for confrontations around the DC Universe between the Syndicate and those villains who are refusing to bow down to the rule of the new team in town, while the few heroes left also make a stand.

   So, a sharp script by Geoff Johns, excellent artwork by David Finch and Richard Friend (though I could have done without that opening image of a rat in a trap), and a promising start to this grim tale.

   So far, so good.

Grade: A-

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

New Comics Day


   A light week. Here's what I picked up:


- Batman Black and White #2 - Steranko and Alex Nino? Sold!

- Earth 2 #16A shocking betrayal!

- Forever Evil #2 - Bring on the bad guys!

- Green Lantern #24 - Oa under attack.

- Iron Man #16 - Continuing Tony's "Secret Origin."

- Mighty Avengers #2 - Fighting the forces of Thanos.

- Shadow Now #1 - Into the 21st Century.

- All-New X-Men #17 - Yet another dark future.

   And that's it!

Guest Review - The Classics - Lost Planet #1


   My pal David Wright is back with a Guest Review of a classic mini-series from the '80s:

   Lost Planet (1987) from Eclipse is the first part of a six-issue series written and drawn by Bo Hampton. 

   There's a backup story adaptation of a Brothers Grimm story, Godfather Death, adapted and drawn by Scott Hampton (Bo's brother).  

   Both brothers are adept at drawing. The stories are both hand lettered by Tracy Hampton, which added a nice touch. I mention this as this is back in the day before computer lettering, but also there's a short biography of both Bo and Scott along with their families and the artistic backgrounds from where they came. 

   The first part of  Lost Planet: Thin Air opens with a bit of foreshadowing when a primitive man seeks shelter from a rain storm and enters a cave and disappears.  

   The story shifts to South America in 1937 as a tribe of natives have captured two fortune hunters tied to a tree and readied for slaughter - one has an arrow in his neck already. It's a scene somewhat reminiscent of the pulps and the Indiana Jones films.

   Before the protagonist, Tyler Flynn is killed, however, someone comes to save him. Later he explains to his young ally that he is searching for a mountain called Ojo Del Diablo. The young native knows where it is and takes him to the location, but disappears before Flynn can thank him.

   Flynn finds a cave opening into the mountain, we learn he is in search of a cache of emeralds. He goes through a portal and disappears. This begins the tale, which is much like John Carter of Mars and other pulps heroes. 

   Tyler finds himself a stranger in a strange land and is captured by a dark tyrant known as Zorrin.  Zorrin tells one of his henchmen to take him to an island until he figures out what to do with him.  

   When Tyler gets to the island he rest from his ordeal. But once he wakes up he goes to a tavern and meets a woman and her pet baboon. We find out the woman is an archer whose name is Romney, and she tells him that she knows a magician, Ambrose, who can help him get him back to his own world.

   About this same time, Zorrin's troops have shown up to take Tyler back with them. Tyler and Romney flee capture, and this begins Tyler's quest to get back home. I like the tale as it influenced by the pulps and also filled with dinosaurs and action.

Both the Lost Planet and the backup story are drawn really well.  Bo Hampton's art reminds me a bit of a mixture of Al Williamson or Gray Morrow, where his brother, Scott's art, reminds me a bit of Charles Vess. 

   The back up story is nicely done in a gray wash, but some panels are too small and it's hard at times to make out the action within the panel.  Both though are nice SF fantasy stories and worthwhile for the adventure fan.

Grade:  B+

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