Saturday, November 30, 2013

Wolverine and the X-Men #38

   It's not unusual to have a "letdown" issue after a big storyline concludes - and that's exactly what you'll find in this issue of Wolverine and the X-Men.

   In the wake of the "Battle of the Atom" crossover series, we find the Jean Grey School for Gifted Students trying to get back to its normal routine - if you call a school filled with super-powered mutants normal.

   The first order of business is a confrontation with SHIELD's Maria Hill, one of those gatherings where everyone has to act like an idiot in order to keep the tension going.

   We also see Wolverine planning some subterfuge, and meet some new students at the school - and that's about it.

   It's all setting up a big Sentinel-based collision in the next issue, but doesn't give us much to chew on here.

   The story by Jason Aaron shows flashes of cleverness, but it's all setup and virtually action-free.

   The art is by Pepe Larraz, whose work I'm not familiar with. It's not bad at all, and I love the double splash page - but the art seems a little rough around the edges.

   I like the idea of this comic, getting back to the original concept of a training academy for young mutants - hopefully the series can get back to more of that, more personal stories, and less of the strange, offbeat tales of murder and mayhem.

Grade: C+

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Friday, November 29, 2013

Aquaman #25

   This issue (sadly) wraps up writer Geoff Johns' run on Aquaman, which has been quite good and often exceptional.

   Despite that, this finally issue feels a bit cramped, as he seems to rush a bit to wrap up several of the storylines he's put in place and set things up for the next creative team.

   But his love for the character shines through (in fact, he has at least one more big Aquaman story he's apparently saving for an upcoming series in Justice League).

   Johns avoids the Forever Evil conflict by setting this story six months after the first confrontation with the returned King of Atlantis - Aquaman has been in a coma after their first confrontation.

   This issue brings us the final confrontation, as Arthur seeks out a source of power - and some unusual allies - to help even the odds, as he fights to win back his kingdom.

   It's a brutal fight, it clears up some long-running questions and sets the stage for the future.

   The art by Paul Pelletier and Sean Parsons is wonderful, with amazing underwater environments, a cast of thousands, and some terrific splash pages - this team is very underrated and deserves more attention.

   I just want to take a moment to say "thanks" to Johns for his work in rehabilitating this character. Aquaman was one of my first favorites when I started reading superheroes in the early 1960s, and it's been painful, in recent years, to see him treated as the butt of jokes.

   Johns has demonstrated the dramatic and heroic potential in the character and the concept - and I just hope the next creative team will continue that good work.

   There are no limits to the character and his potential - so let's keep pushing those limits and cranking out great stories!

Grade: A-

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Black Friday and Holiday Shopping

   Please excuse the crass commercial break - but with Black Friday looming before us, your pal Chuck wanted to remind you that when you place an Amazon order through the links on this site (including the one on the right, the ones at the bottom of most posts, or the one below) a small percentage of each sale is refunded to this site, all at no additional cost to you.

   I plan to do most of my shopping online this year - if you do likewise, I invite you to start at the links here and show your support for our humble site.

   OK, end of plug - back to the reviews!

Shop Amazon - Black Friday Deals Week - Big Savings, No Waiting

Infinity #6 (of 6)

   This issue of Infinity wraps up Marvel's biggest, most cosmic event in recent memory (and probably ever) - and manages to avoid the usual letdown we've seen in recent years.

   Far too many events have wrapped up with reboots or resets or big events that are immediately overturned - but not this one.

   Instead, this series embraces its cosmic nature and wraps with a huge battle in space, the survival of the Earth at stake, and a final, no-holds-barred showdown between Thanos and the Avengers.

   It really works on every level, as we see character arcs wrap up, surprise plot twists, loads of action and plenty of future story lines put in place.

   Jonathan Hickman has done impressive work here, telling a 16-issue story in the space of six months, with every issue on time and telling a cohesive, intelligent science fiction / adventure story, loaded with great characters.

   It doesn't hurt that the issue includes terrific, dynamic, expressive art by Jim Cheung and Dustin Weaver, with six inkers (including both pencilers) credited.

   I'll admit this series isn't for everyone. It's a challenging story that crosses the universe and back, with a huge cast, several key events and lots of twists and turns along the way. But if you're up for a cosmic story that will challenge and entertain you, I recommend this one highly.

   I loved it!

Grade: A

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

New Comic Book Day

   Here's what I picked up at ye olde comics shop today (I haven't looked at them yet, but I'll describe 'em anyway, based on the covers):
 
- All-New X-Men #19 - The old (new) team swings into action.
 
- Aquaman #25 - The fall of a King - but which one?
 
- Conan People of the Black Circle #2 - Taking on some powerful magicians.
 
- FF #14 - That Black Bolt gets around.
 
- Flash #25 - Back to the beginning!
 
- Hawkeye #14 - I'm guessing he's in trouble again.
 
- Hulk #16 - He's always angry.
 
- Infinity #6 - The big finale!
 
- New Avengers #12 - The aftermath to the big finale!
 
- Powers Bureau #8 - Dark doings (and lots of cussing, I'm guessing).
 
- Saga #16 - Terrific comic, but not for the kids.
 
- Tom Strong #5 - The penultimate issue.
 
- Wolverine and the X-Men #38 - Taking on SHIELD?
 
   And that's it! Have a Happy Thanksgiving, comics fans!

Classic Comics - The Way of the Rat #1

   Turning the clock back to the long-ago days of 2002, one of the upstart comic companies that actually seemed to have a shot at earning parity with the "Big Two" was CrossGen.

   The company hired some of the industry's top writers and artists and unleashed them on a wildly creative line of comics.

   For a wide variety of reasons, the company eventually crashed and burned (to the ground), leaving almost no trace - and I'll be honest, I don't miss most of their titles at all.

   But there are a few exceptions, and at the top of the list is the brilliant Way of the Rat.

   Written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Jeff Johnson and Tom Ryder, it tells the story of a humble thief in medieval China who stumbles on two unique treasures and finds himself fighting for his life against angry females, murderers, fellow thieves and assassins.

   It's a tale of magic, murder and martial arts, paying homage to classic martial arts movies while mixing in humor, intrigue and terrific characters. The best way to sum it up would be to say it's like the best Jackie Chan movie ever - in comics form.

   The art is amazing, with realistic and inventive fight sequences, amazing environments and designs - just a pure delight.

   The good news is, the series isn't completely lost to the ages - there are collections of the series available (though it may take some digging) - and there's even a (somewhat crudely) animated version.

   It's a terrific story, and if there was any justice, we'd be reading the 130th (or so) issue right now, instead of settling for the wonderful collections (when you can find them).

   Just a great romp and loads of fun - it gets my highest recommendation!

Grade: A+

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fantastic Four #14

   I have enjoyed the run on the Fantastic Four by Matt Fraction and Mark Bagley - but sadly, all good things must end.

   It's a bit irritating that the team has jumped ship with just three issues to go in their story arc (before the dreaded but inevitable return to a new issue #1), but the good news is: the title is in very good hands.

   Karl Kesel is taking over the writing chores, finishing off Fraction's plot - and that's fine with me, because Kesel is one of the best, most underrated writers in the business. He's done wonderful work in the past, and I look forward to more of the same here.

   The art is by Raffaele Ienco, whose work I'm not familiar with - but it's quite good! Very expressive, with strong layouts and good characterizations - the art is very much in the style of Bagley, but not imitative at all.

   The story itself is going to take some sorting out, as what started out as a family vacation has turned into a fight for the life of each member of the team, as a mysterious ailment seems to be striking them down - and their only hope is a battle against their greatest, most deadly enemies!

   This one gets high marks from me - the story continues to build nicely, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the new team brings this one to a close.

Grade: A-

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Monday, November 25, 2013

X-Men #7

   Seven issues in and we're still not sure why this version of X-Men is needed.

   The running joke is that the group (which is made up of all the female mutants hanging around the Jean Grey School for Gifted Students) doesn't have a name.

   I presume that's because they don't want to be called the "X-Women" (too derivative), but realize "X-Men" is already taken.

   At any rate, this issue is all about setting up the latest adversary, as a rich, beautiful young woman (for reasons I'm not clear on) becomes the newest host for the being known as Lady Deathstrike, who plots a kidnapping and winds up facing a surprising foe.

   Now that the whole "Battle for the Atom" story has wrapped, this is actually a good jumping-on point for new readers, as Brian Wood sets up a solid adventure with a classic X-villain - and if you're doing a comic about a team of beautiful women, you could scarcely find a better artist combination than Terry and Rachel Dodson, both terrific artists who know how to create beautiful, sexy and heroic women.

   So, a fun issue and a solid adventure (if just the start of the tale) - if they could just work out the title issues, this could be one of the best of the X-books.

Grade: A-

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Uncanny X-Men #14

   (Before we get to the review - observant readers of this humble blog will note that your pal Chuck missed yesterday's post. Sorry, I was under the weather - business is back to normal today. A couple of my friends were worried about me - when I miss a post, they fear the worst. Not to worry - I'm fine, I was just being a lameo.)

   Writer Brian Michael Bendis has a good sense for when to take a break from the normal strum and drang and allow for some decompression - and even comedy.

   The latter is especially rare in the world of the Uncanny X-Men, so dedicating an issue to exploring the unusual abilities of a single young mutant is a bit of a surprise.

   Especially since that mutant's abilities are kinda... weak.

   At least on the surface.

   Benjamin Deeds (mutant name yet to be determined) has the abilities of the movie character Zelig. In that Woody Allen movie (a faux documentary), the title character takes on the appearance and attitudes of those he's around, making him something of a chameleon.

   Under the guidance of Emma Frost, we see him learn more about his powers in a fun romp that has him on the run from the law and in very deep with Marvel's ultimate law enforcers.

   The art by Chris Bachalo is perfect for this, with a great sense of fun, joy and energy on display.

   But with all that... it's really just a slightly-above-average issue. We don't know enough about the new character to care that much, and his powers are - frankly - dull. Perhaps Bendis and Bachalo will prove me wrong, but so far, I'm not convinced.

Grade: B-

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Avengers #23

   As the Infinity storyline draws closer to the end, the Avengers title is all about wrapping up loose ends and setting up the final issue of the mini-series.

   The menace of the Builders has been eliminated, so the team is returning to Earth to deal with the invasion forces led by Thanos - which means the team and its armada of allies must fight a battle in orbit.

   The story brings together the Guardians of the Galaxy and an assortment of alien allies in a battle to recapture The Peak, a giant space station that can help defend the Earth - if the team can get control away from one of Thanos' powerful generals.

   What follows is a brutal battle - and I have to admit I got a big smile out of seeing which Avenger ends up being the last one still standing in that fight.

   It's another powerful chapter by writer Jonathan Hickman, although it's a chapter that isn't really indispensable - but it has some nice character moments, and does its job, paving the way for the final issue of Infinity.

   So far, this has been a terrific series - one of Marvel's best in quite a while. Can't wait to see that final confrontation with Thanos!

Grade: A-

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Harley Quinn #0

   Harley Quinn is a terrific character who has never quite caught on in the comics.

   Invented for Batman: the Animated Series, she's a hilarious counterpart / partner for the Joker, though a tougher match with the new, crazier and murder-ier Clown Prince of Crime.

   Which is a shame, because she's funny, she's sexy, she dresses in cute little outfits, and she can kick butt. Comics needs more of that!

   She's also beloved by Cosplayers (real-life people who like to dress up as their favorite characters).

   So in an attempt to make the character work, DC has given her the spotlight (again) and provided top talent (again) - and who knows, this time it just might work.

   The comic is written by Amanda Palmer and Jimmy Palmiotti, and while this issue may not be indicative of the regular series, it is a heck of a lot of fun.

   They use a small army of artists, including Palmer, Adam Hughes, Jim Lee, Darwyn Cooke, Bruce Timm and Walt Simonson (there are 19 in all), each providing a page of art in a stream of fantasy scenarios.

   It's a heck of a lot of fun, and Harley's running dialogue (with much breaking of the fourth wall) just makes it that much more entertaining.

   It's a sizzling start for a character who should be in the top tier - instead of being another second banana.

Grade: A-

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Comic Book Day!

   Here's what I got today at the comics shop:

- Avengers #23 - Near the Infinity finish line.

- Conan the Barbarian #22Beginning the "Song of Belit." 

- Daredevil #33 - Monster mash.

- Fantastic Four #14 - Some heavy hitters.

- Harley Quinn #0 - Lots of fun, with an all-star group of artists.

- Hulk #15 - What time is it?

- Wonder Woman #25 - Family feud.

- Uncanny X- Men #14 - Fitting in.

- X-Men #7Cue up Lady Deathstrike,

- Young Avengers #12 - Youngsters assemble!

   (My issue of Brain Boy #3 is on back order.) And that's it! 

Guest Review - The Classics - Harvey Pekar's Cleveland

  Here with a Guest Review is our man David Wright, with a review of one of the most influential and unique independent comics creators in the history of the medium.  

   Back when I was taking some art classes at a junior college I started talking to another student about comics, and he told me he was into R. Crumb, and about the comic, American Splendor.  

   He described it as an independent comic about everyday life. That intrigued me enough to check it out once I was in a larger comic store. Sure enough, I became a fan as well, and met Mr. Pekar at a convention one time in Dallas.  (He's not half the curmudgeon he makes himself out to be in his comics or on TV. He was quite personable, actually describing to me and my brother about how much he enjoyed his Grand Slam at Denny's earlier that morning.)

   His last work, the graphic novel, Cleveland, pays homage to the town he lived in for many years. Pekar begins by talking about baseball, and I'll admit I'm not a fan. So beginning the novel with a historical look at a game about the Cleveland Indians winning the 1948 World Series was a bit dry for me, but it sets the stage for Pekar's love of the city. Winning the game brought a certain amount of pride living in the city as a young person at that time. 

   He continues with a brief history of Cleveland starting around the 18th century, and eventually into the '40s era that he grew up in. There's a little bit about him growing up as a child and his family's grocery store, which one of his previous books, The Quitter, is a little more in depth about, if you care to read more on that.  He was raised in a Jewish household, and also by his grandparents. They were of modest income, but Pekar found ways to amuse himself through books, sports and comics.

   As he grew older, he became interested in jazz, politics, women and also had to deal with finding a job. His clerical job for the Veteran's Hospital  has been written about in many of his other comics.  

   I found it interesting though in this book that he chose to write about one of his previous wives.  They seemed to be a natural fit for each other intellectually, but differed in their future goals. One of the things that drove them apart was that she'd earned a fairly respectable college degree and wanted to pursue some endeavor with it, perhaps getting a job for an Ivy League school. Pekar, on the other hand, had already established his clerical job, which fit well with his temperament, and he didn't really care to move.

   There are a few other stories and vignettes, one about Cleveland's largest book stores and the owner, shopping in the farmers market, and Pekar mentioning how he had to sell his vast jazz record and book collections.  

   I got the feeling, however, from reading Cleveland that Pekar had come to terms with life. It seemed that his current wife, Joyce Brabner, had shown him how to relax a bit more. Also that enjoying the simpler things in life, like owning a home or gardening, and eventually raising a daughter could be fulfilling and life enhancing. For sure, life still has its ups and downs, but Harvey was getting better at handling them with his family.  

   I also have to mention the artist, Joseph Remnant. He was great. His art reminded me a lot of  R. Crumb, another one of Pekar's collaborators in his American Splendor comic. Remnant really captured the nuance in Pekar's writing, his rendering of the buildings and the characters of Cleveland added a lot to the story and atmosphere of the city. 

   Cleveland not only is a great graphic novel about a great city, but does something that few of this other work didn't do, it made Harvey into a more approachable human being.   


Grade A

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Star Wars #11

   It's very difficult to adapt a film or TV show (or video game, for that matter) into a successful comic book series.

   In particular, it's difficult to capture the high-octane action of a series like Star Wars.

   I'm happy to report that this Dark Horse series actually does a terrific job a bringing back the tone, feel and fun of the original film series!

   It follows right after the events of "A New Hope" (or Episode IV, if you prefer), and includes a battle in space between the forces of the Empire and the Rebels, complete with dogfights between X-Wings and Tie Fighters, a focus on Luke Skywalker, Wedge Antilles, Leia Organa, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Threepio and R2-D2.

   Writer Brian Wood provides a great balance between action and humor, the characters all "talk" with the right voice, and you definitely get the respect and love the creative team has for the source material.

   The art is by Carlos D'Anda with colors by Gabe Eltaeb, and it's quite good, with solid caricatures (so you never lose track of which character is which), strong action sequences and clear storytelling throughout.

   Of course, there's one other thing a comic can give you that live action never can: it brings back those original characters, unaged and fresh and exciting as ever. If only the real world worked the same way!

Grade: A-

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Astro City #6

   What a breath of fresh air.

   Astro City by Kurt Busiek and Brent Eric Anderson (with covers by Alex Ross)  is, hands down, the most entertaining, unique and compelling comic book around.

   The creative team has the courage to tell stories that no one in comics (at least not since Will Eisner) has the courage to tackle.

   These are "street level" stories about real people and how they interact with the larger-than-life characters who inhabit Astro City.

   Sometimes it's a hopeful tale of heroism or heartbreak - and sometimes it's a look at an unexpected side of life. But that meshing of two vastly different worlds makes for wonderful storytelling.

   For this issue, a cosmic being named The Ambassador has taken up residence behind a giant door floating over the river - so naturally he gets a visit from a local union representative who also happens to have some shady dealings on the side - but who also operates under his own rules and tries to work the system to his own benefit.

   That leads to an unexpected power source - and other possible opportunities.

   I'm always very impressed by Anderson's artwork - it combines the best elements of Gene Colan's natural world setting and Neal Adams pseudo-realism into a unique and delightful package. Wonderful stuff!

   The only thing that has hurt this title over the years is that publication has been suspended a couple of times for various reasons - but happily, the creative team is cranking on all burners, and one of the industry's best titles is once again on a regular publishing schedule.

   Long may it wave!

Grade: A

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

All New Soulfire #1

   Aspen must be enjoying great success with its "10 for 10" campaign, because it keeps rolling out new series (or new versions of past series), offering the first issue for a dollar.

   It's a great deal and a good way to sample a title like All New Soulfire, and this issue provides a primer to the series.

   Set 200 years in the future, it's all about the clash between future technology and the mysteries of magic.

   The forces of magic gather around a young man known as the Samusura, his protector, the beautiful Grace, and his friends Sonia, PJ and Benoist.

   But danger threatens in the form of the ancient dark lord Rainier, who hopes to put an end to all magic - and our heroes.

   The story by J. T. Krul and Frank Mastromauro moves along briskly (although it's a lot for new readers to take in), and the art by V. Ken Marion is quite good, with lots of imaginative landscapes and lovely ladies on display.

   You don't get much more than in introduction here, but it's plenty to bring you up to speed - and it's all easy on the eyes!

Grade: B

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Superman Wonder Woman #2

      As I've mentioned before, I'm not a big fan of the Superman / Wonder Woman romance.

   It makes a certain kind of sense, considering that the two are the most powerful heroes on Earth - but while they work as a superhero team, it seems an odd match in personality.

   But who knows? Opposites attract, after all.

   This issue presents a mystery, as Superman's most powerful foe makes a surprise appearance and attacks Diana - and he's not the only unexpected villain on display.

   Weaving around that is the time-honored tradition of the girl bringing her beau home to meet the family. Thankfully, there are no other families like the Greek Gods, and Clark sees the good and bad side of his new relatives.

   (And perhaps it's just as well that Clark doesn't have any family to bring to the meeting - DC's Gods don't play well with others.)

   It's an entertaining issue, though it feels mighty thin. We only get a hint or two as to the source of the returning enemies, but so far the creative team are turning in excellent work - from Charles Soule's script to the excellent artwork by Tony S. Daniel, Batt and Sandu Florea.

   I'm still not buying the romance - but as long as the story continues to be fun, I'll accept it.

Grade: A-

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Unity #1

   I should admit up front that I haven't been following the latest version of the Valiant Universe.

   (Sadly, one can't buy everything - at least not on my budget.)

   But I did follow the '80s incarnation, so I decided to give this crossover title a chance.

   So what did I think of Unity?

   Well... it definitely preserves the grim and gritty feel of the version I remember.

   The story teams up several different characters (I hesitate to call them heroes, because it's not clear if any of them are actually heroic) to take on Aric, the time-lost warrior who wears the powerful X-O Manowar armor.

   Aric has rescued the survivors of his race from an alien prison and settled in Romania, using his power to conquer the country. That has drawn the attention of some powerful opponents - but even working together, do they have enough power to bring down the man wearing the alien armor?

   Look, team-ups are always fun, as you see different heroes brought together - and this issue includes Harbinger, Nijak and the Eternal Warrior (with, presumably, more to come in future issues).

   But no one seems particularly worthy of the reader's concern. There's death and destruction aplenty, and X-O Manowar seems identical to any typical comic book villain - he doesn't hesitate to kill, he seems to delight in torture - his only redeeming act in this issue is not killing a photographer.

   But the other characters are just as determined and attack without making an attempt at, you know, actually talking to Aric.

   It's an action-packed issue, with quite a few surprises, some sharp dialogue and solid artwork - but it really feels like a relic from another time.

   Not bad at all, but not really my kinda comic.

Grade: B-

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

All-New X-Men #18

   I have to admit, I didn't expect the original X-Men to stick around this long.

   By which I mean the original team that now has a modern-day comic of their own. They were brought through time from an early point in their career to modern times to form the All-New X-Men, in hopes that they can correct the mistakes being made by the present-day team.

   Now, for mysterious reasons, they're not able to return to the past - and for even more mysterious reasons, their "professor," Kitty Pryde, decides to take the team away from Wolverine's school for mutants, and instead work with Cyclops and the Uncanny X-Men team.

   What's most amazing is... this is the best of all the X-Men comics. (Or at least of the X-Men comics that I read.)

   That's because the characters are fresh and fun, without most of the grinding continuity that just seems to crush the life out of all the X-Men books these days (though even in this book it lurks just over the horizon, ready to crush all the originality at a moment's notice).

   This issue is all about setting the stage, getting the characters set up in their new surroundings, meeting new characters (friends and foes), and... of course... getting new uniforms (though I could have done without the cheap shot at the classic Kirby school uniforms).

   As ever, a fun, breezy script by Brian Michael Bendis, and fantastic art by Stuart Imonen and Wade Von Grawbadger - there's a lot to like here, and I'm curious to see where it all goes from here.

   And I can't help but hope that the team sticks around for a good long while.

Grade: A-

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Classics - Werewolf by Night #32 and #33

    It's interesting to note that very few of the new individual characters / heroes Marvel introduced in the 1970s actually started out as heroes - or in their own comic.

   Off the top of my head, there are only a few - Luke Cage and Ghost Rider had their own titles, but Wolverine, the Punisher and Moon Knight all made their first appearances as villains - sorta (and both Luke and Ghost Rider has shady beginnings - Luke as a convict and the Rider, after all, was a demon).

   Wolverine was first an opponent for the Hulk, and the Punisher took on Spider-Man.

   Moon Knight was a bit more low profile, appearing in 1975 in two issues of Werewolf by Night.

   The comic was written by Doug Moench, who demonstrated remarkable ingenuity over the course of the series, creating adventures for Jack Russell, a young man cursed to become a werewolf when the moon is full.

   The art is by Don Perlin, who was never a fan favorite, but was a genuine workhorse, with clear storytelling, solid designs, and a Ditko-like way of representing people and environments.
 
   Marc Spector was quite different in this first appearance from his later incarnation. Here he's depicted as a mercenary with a helicopter pilot assistant named Frenchie.

   But instead of being inspired by a mystical Egyptian encounter, Marc gains his name and costume when a cabal of businessmen hire him to track down the werewolf - and provide him with the silver costume and weapons.

   Of course, it all makes sense - silver being a problem for werewolves - and he manages to give the beast a heck of a fight.

   I was still somewhat surprised when Marvel brought Moon Knight back, but I enjoyed the revamped version, and the character certainly went on to bigger and better things, including a long distinguished run by Moench and artist Bill Sienkiewicz.

   While he doesn't have a series of his own right now (neither does the Werewolf), of those new character from the '70s, Moon Knight has exhibited staying power - he was a featured player in Age of Ultron, for example.

   Only Wolverine (and arguably the Punisher) have achieved lasting success - but with a great costume design and a unique origin, hopefully we'll continue to see Moon Knight making regular appearances - somewhere.

Grade: B+

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New Comic Book Day

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

- Astro City #6 - Tackling the odd jobs.

- Batman #25 - Zero Year rolls along.

- Manhattan Projects #16 - Trying to survive.

- Rocketeer Spirit #3 - A new kind of TV.

- Star Wars #11 - Attack by the Empire.

- Superman Wonder Woman #2 - Taking on some heavy hitters.

- Thor #15 - Return of Malekith!

- Triple Helix #2 - Battle in the city.

- Unity #1 - All-star battle.

- Worlds Finest #17 - Powerful problems.

- All-New X-Men #18 - A new start for the old team.

   And that's it!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Trish Out of Water #2

   This has to be one of the most offbeat titles in the Aspen catalog.

   That's because Trish Out of Water is obviously tied into the underwater world we usually see featured in Fathom - but we don't know exactly how, yet.

   Trish seems to be a (more or less) typical teenager, more concerned about her boyfriend cheating on her than anything else.

   But when she discovers the betrayal, her anger somehow manifests itself as a huge wall of water that sweeps in out of the ocean and smashes her boyfriend's home. 

   And she has far greater tragedy to deal with, as her mother is found dead and her father may have met a similar fate.

   As she's trying to sort it out, an even bigger menace rises out of the ocean to menace Trish and her friends.

   It's obvious that she has a connection to the underwater race, the Blue - but we have a lot to learn still, and two issues in, we're still trying to figure out just what's going on.  

   The story is by Vince Hernandez, and it's very effective at teasing - but one hopes the reader won't be led around in the dark for too long. 

   The art is by Giuseppe Cafaro, and it's quite good, although we spend an awful lot of time on talking heads - but the action sequences are well done.

   Trish has a rocky road ahead, as she must determine how to use her new abilities, solve the death and disappearance of her parents, and survive an alien attack. Just like any other teen!


Grade: B+

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Superman Unchained #4

   It's always a bad sign when I pick up an ongoing series and my first thought is, "What was going on here again?"

   Some of that can be attributed to the almost three-month gap between this issue of Superman Unchained and the last. But some has to go to the muddled story so far.

   As best as I can remember, Superman was investigating another super-powerful creature, one whose power rivals (or surpasses) his own.

   That led to a big, stupid fight with the military, and now Superman has teamed up with the mysterious Wraith to take on... some kind of terrorist group that's using incredibly powerful machines to attack a major city.

   We also get some glimpses of Lex Luthor, who's off somewhere plotting the death of his enemy, and Lois Lane is under attack by that same terrorist group.

   As always, the art by Jim Lee and Scott Williams is terrific, but the story still hasn't come together - though I'll grant it may make more sense when it's eventually published as a collection.

   But for now, it just doesn't work.

Grade: C+

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thor: The Dark World: A Review

   It's amazing to realize we live in a world where superhero movies are a common event.

   The latest entry into the category is Thor: The Dark World, which is based on one of Walt Simonson's concepts. (Thor is based, of course, on the original Stan Lee / Jack Kirby / Larry Lieber comic.)

   The Dark Elves, led by the powerful Malekith, hope to use the power of the Aether (this movie's mystical McGuffin) to destroy the nine realms and return the universe to its original state - complete darkness.

   We see a recap of the ancient battle that left the Aether in the hands of Asgard - but when Jane Foster stumbles across it, the Dark Elves arise and threaten all of existence. 

   Chris Hemsworth has playing the part of Thor down to a science - sometimes brash (especially in battle), often with a humorous twinkle in his eye, at other times thoughtful - it's nice to see this Thor is actually smart (though perhaps too smart for his own good sometimes).

   Natalie Portman plays scientist Jane Foster, and her studies, along with Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard, who gets to provide most of the lowbrow humor - or pantsless humor - in this one), drive the story along. 

   Thankfully, they brought back Tom Hiddleston's Loki back to give Thor someone to match wits with and bounce jokes off of (the gag as the two are walking back from the dungeon is a riot). He's a delightfully vile character - sometimes you love him, and sometimes you hate him.

   Anthony Hopkins makes a terrific Odin, of course, and gets a few choice scenes along the way. 

   Christopher Eccleson makes a excellent villain, though it would have been nice if he had a bit more to do. The same is true of the Warriors Three - Fandral (Zachary Levi), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) and Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) - and Sif (Jaimie Alexander). They're great fun when they appear, but they just don't have enough to do.

   It's not a perfect movie, of course - the general plot is a bit muddy, and we're never sure exactly how Jane discovers the Aether in the first place. Also, in the battle over Asgard there are some dogfight sequences that seem a bit out of place (though they are fun). 

   In addition to the excellent action sequences, there are some heartfelt moments and quite a few genuine laughs (though not at the expense of the character), and I like that Thor is depicted as both powerful and smart - not just a surly jock.

   The final action sequence almost (but not quite) spins out of control, but it's all fast and fun. It doesn't quite manage the explosive payoff of The Avengers, but it's a solid fantasy adventure and quite a bit of fun. If you liked the first Thor movie (I did), you'll like this one, too.

   (Oh, and don't leave until the credits are done - there are two in-credit bonus scenes - one a teaser, and one wrapping up a loose end.)

   And who would ever have thought that we'd see a day when we not only have quality superhero movies - but sequels as well? And ones earning hundreds of millions of dollars both here and overseas?

   Amazing. 

Grade: A-

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Action Comics #25

   For the 25th issue, DC is turning back the clock to the "Zero Year" on several of its characters (tying it in to the successful mini-series running in Batman).

   So for Action Comics, it's back to the original "New 52" concept for the title, focusing on Superman at the beginning of his career before he wore a "proper" costume. Heck, he doesn't ever wear a cape in this story.

   It's fun to see Clark at this early stage - unsure of his powers, learning his craft and his limits, making mistakes but learning from it.

   But there are some stumbles. His glee at the misery of the hoods he's fighting seems out of character for someone as good-hearted as Clark.

   I like Greg Pak's story and the focus on one of my favorite (and often overlooked) members of the Superman cast: Lana Lang.

   I also like the art by Aaron Kruder, who creates some excellent action sequences and wonderful environments. My only complaint with his work is that I just don't care for his depiction of Lana - she's supposed to be a tomboy, but he makes her much too plain.

   The backup feature is a nice bit of work, too - sort of a "slice of life" focusing on Clark, with excellent art by Scott McDaniel.

   I actually wish they'd spend more time on the early Superman - he's much more interesting than the modern day version they've created.

Grade: B+

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Amazing X-Men #1

   I honestly don't understand the need for so many X-Men-related titles - yet here's another one: Amazing X-Men. (Come to think of it, Spider-Man isn't using the "Amazing" adjective these days.)

   Which is not to say this is a bad comic - it just seems like they didn't need to launch a new series to tell this story.

   I'm fine with the idea behind writer Jason Aaron's story - bringing Nightcrawler back to life and into active duty in the team.

   I've liked Kurt Wagner since his first appearance in the New X-Men, and I didn't care for his "death" at all (though obviously that's just a temporary thing in the world of comics). I also didn't care for some of the "adjustments" made to his origin, including giving him a demonic monster for a father.

   So guess who's back to terrorize Nightcrawler in his odd afterlife? Let's hope the plan is to sort out all that foolishness and get Nightcrawler back to his fun-loving self.

   I really like the artwork by Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines, who specialize in big, bold art - but they also seem to throw in some style elements from the character's creator, Dave Cockrum - so that's nice to see.

   It's too early to tell if this is going to be a "must buy" or just another in a sea of X-Men comics - but at least the art is nice. And it's good to see the return of an old friend.

Grade: B+

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Forever Evil #3 (of 7)

   Yeah, I'm still not feeling it.

   To its credit, this issue of Forever Evil finally explains what happened to the rest of the Justice Leagues that disappeared when the Crime Syndicate first appeared.

   But the focus is still on the bad guys, as the world's villains either join forces with the Syndicate (the evil Justice League from Earth-3) or decide to stand against them.

   So the issue features quite a bit of heel-on-heel action, including some brutal moments and harsh violence.

   It's a sharp script as always by Geoff Johns, and the art by David Finch and Richard Friend is powerful - but it still comes down to the fact that there are (virtually) no protagonists in view.

   When the world is filled with bad guys, it's difficult to find someone to cheer for.

   The comedian Jimmy Durante once said that he was tired of always losing bets at the race track, so one time he bought a ticket for every horse in the race. He watched the race and shouted, "Come on, anybody!"

   With this series, one is inclined to cheer, "Come on, nobody!"

Grade: B

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

New Comic Book Day

   Here's what I picked up at ye olde comics shop:

Action Comics #25Looking back at Zero Year.

- Amazing X-Men #1 - Because the world needs another X-Book. But it brings back Nightcrawler, so I'll allow it.

- Batman / Superman #5 - A sideways story.

- Earth 2 #17 - Can Batman stop Superman?

- Emerald City of Oz #4 - The enemies of Oz gather!

- Forever Evil #3 - Evil vs. evil.

- Green Lantern #25A change in the ranks.

- Iron Man #18 - Back to the future.

- Mighty Avengers #3Look, up in the sky....

- Shadow Now #2 - Taking on crime today.

- Superman Unchained #4 - Strange allies.

   And that's it!

Guest Review - The Classics - Xenozoic Tales #1

   Here with a guest review of one of my favorite Independent titles is David Wright, with a look at Xenozoic Tales.

   I love dinosaurs so when I saw the cover of Xenozoic Tales #1 on the comic shelf back in 1987, I immediately wanted to peer inside. Once I did I was sold again by the artwork by Mark Schultz. The art reminded me of something like Frank Frazetta, Wally Wood, and some of the early EC artist, and the story looked like a SF adventure tale.

   The inside the cover gives a brief history of how the world has changed. Some sort of global catastrophe has occurred. By 2020 A.D. the earth boiled and billions died while some of the surviving humans went deep underground. Four hundred and fifty years later mankind has returned to the surface to a world radically changed, and that includes the addition of dinosaurs and weird fauna, but the existing technology is stuck in the 20th century.

   The first issue is broken up into three separate stories. In the first one, "An Archipelago of Stone," we are thrown into this world of wonders as a ship is seen on the horizon approaching the city. News of the vessel travels fast by word of mouth and we see some criminals making plans in a tavern. They have a murderous past and plan to ambush the ship's couriers. The barkeeper overhears their plans and sends a message to "Cadillac" Jack Tenrec, a sort of shade tree mechanic, but also trusted leader and hero of the series. 

   Aboard the ship's passengers is Hanna Dundee, an ambassador and scientist from the land known as the Wasson. She is the second major character in the Xenozoic cast. The first story sets up the first meeting between Jack and Hanna, while throwing in the conflict to stop the criminals. Both Jack and Hanna are attracted and repelled to each other, and through them we discover more about this new world of the Xenozoic. 

   The second story is concerned with a mosasaur, a giant sea creature that has been destroying some of the shipping boats and eating cargo and crew members. We are introduced to Governor Nock, and another scientist, Remfro Rynchus. He is an expert on pteranodons, also known locally as zekes.  Together they try to solve the problem of the mosasaur attacks.  

   The third story is about "Cadillac" Tenrec who has been asked to escort a group of people to the Calhoon mines in the interior, but there are others that tag along for reasons unknown to him. He explains to them that the escorts will go by his rules, and they are not to shoot anything unless attacked. Naturally there's a game hunter among the group that is out for profit. We see in this story that Tenrec is referred to as a shaman, a preserver of the natural order of things, and not to be trifled with. As one character says, in the city Jack follows their rules, but outside the city, they go by his rules.  

   If you enjoy adventure comics and great art of the highest caliber, which actually got better and better as the series continued, you really ought to seek this book out. It's an incredible series, and highly recommended. 

Grade A+

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