Monday, March 31, 2014

Ghost Rider #1

   I was a fan of the original Ghost Rider (especially the art by Mike Ploog),  but I wasn't sure what to expect from this rebooted version of the series.

   It brings us a brand-new Ghost Rider, and ditches the classic fiery motorcycle in favor of a souped-up race car. (Some wag has already tagged the new character as the Ghost Driver. Wish I'd thought of it.)

   Somewhat to my surprise - I liked this issue quite a bit.

   The central character is a young man named Robbie Reyes who works in an auto repair shop.

   He also has his hands full raising his wheelchair-bound brother in a crime-ridden neighborhood in east Los Angeles - so he takes part in an illegal race to try to raise money.
 
   And that's when things go badly, and the new Ghost Rider appears (to say more would give away too many surprises).

   The story is by Felipe Smith, and it works well, establishing the characters, the conflicts and the horror in a well-crafted tale.

   The art is by Tradio Moore, and it's very different from the standard superhero fare. It's a unique, stylized look, loaded with energy and speed. It captures the bleak neighborhood and the people who live there, and contrasts it with high speed racing and violent crime. The style is perfect for this story, though it may be a bit extreme for some mainstream fans.

   It's an impressive first outing, and if they can avoid the "invincible demon" pitfall for the Ghost Rider, then they should have something very special here. The series is off to a great start!

Grade: A-

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Nemo: The Roses of Berlin

   Tackling the latest League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book is always a bit of a challenge - but generally the reader is rewarded for his or her effort.

   The graphic novel Nemo: The Roses of Berlin focuses on Janni, the daughter of the original Captain Nemo, who has continued her father's piratical ways.

   But then disaster strikes as the airship carrying her daughter and son-in-law is shot down by German forces in 1941 - and Janni vows to rescue both from a tortured fate at the hands of the Nazis.

   As always, writer Alan Moore and artist Kevin O'Neill create an amazing world, loaded with lots of references to fictional characters that thrive in this world where all fiction is real.

   It's a bit frustrating for the reader - I know that I'm missing quite a few references along the way, though I certainly enjoy the ones I pick up on.

   Lots of clever literary and film appropriation going on here, of course, including one of cinema's most famous robots, and lots of graphic action sequences.

   But there's an added level of difficulty here, as there's no effort made to translate a large amount of German and French dialogue. I can sort out enough of the latter to get by, but not the former - so I end up feeling like I'm missing out on half the story here.

   It's bad enough missing the references to other stories (shouldn't each edition come with an Index or some such?), without losing much of the dialogue, too.

   Even with those difficulties, it's another strong tale in this ongoing saga. The only bad thing about this series is the long wait between chapters - but it's well worth it!

Grade: A-

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Silver Surfer #1

   I've been a fan of the Silver Surfer since his first appearance (way back in Fantastic Four #48, if I remember correctly).

   He's been through quite a few changes over the years, as creative teams have struggled to find the proper approach. He began as a cold, analytical creature (in his early Stan Lee / Jack Kirby FF appearances), became a pacifist (in the original Stan Lee / John Buscema series), became more of a mainstream cosmic hero (in the Steve Englehart / Marshall Rogers series) and has been through any number of reboots over the years since.

   For this series, the creative team is writer Dan Slott and artist Michael Allred, so you'd expect an original approach.

   You will not be disappointed.

   The story brings us a Surfer who no longer works for Galactus, and now roams the universe doing good deeds. His good works bring him to the attention of a strange alien race that ask for his help defending their home against a cosmic menace - and a strange and wondrous home it is!

   But somehow the Surfer's fate is tied to a young woman on Earth. She leads a calm life, working at a Bed and Breakfast Inn with her father - so what is her connection to the Surfer?

   That will wait for future issues, of course.

   With a unique cosmic outlook and lots of mysteries to unwind, this is a promising start for this new series - and a good take on the Silver Surfer. So far.

Grade: A-

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Friday, March 28, 2014

The Avengers #27

   When I took this issue of The Avengers to the cash register at the comics shop, I did a double-take at the price. It's a double-sized issue, but it's surprisingly priced at the usual $3.99.

   That's because the back half of the issue reprints the recent All-New Invaders #1 - a clever bit of advertising for that series (which is actually quite good).

   The Avengers half of the comic is pretty good, too - but the cover (which hearkens back to a classic Avengers cover featuring the Super-Adaptoid) depicts a scene that happens nowhere in this comic.

   Oh, the new Adaptoids that have been created by the super-science agency AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics) are in there - but they play only a marginal part of the story.

   Instead the issue is devoted to the clash between our Avengers and a twisted version of the team that AIM has brought over from another reality.

   I do like the way writer Jonathan Hickman has developed AIM into a genuine threat (as it was in its original incarnation), instead of being a bunch of chumps (as they have been for decades now).

   The battle with the alternate Avengers has been interesting but not really up to the usual standards of this series. But even Hickman's average stuff is better than most,  and as always, Salvador Larroca's art is tremendous.

Grade: B+

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sandman Overture #2

   After a bit of a gap between the first and second issue (like, five months), the second issue of the Sandman Overture series brings with it a wonderfully trippy experience.

   We start with the modern-day version of Sandman going on a mysterious (but short) journey - and then we're launched into a multiversal meeting between a variety of incarnations of Dream.

   It's actually a lot of fun to see how he reacts to his own foibles as the Sandmen (for lack of a better term) carry on a funny - and deep - conversation as they try to solve the mystery: why were they brought together and who has the power to manage such a feat?

   I don't want to give anything away - although this issue is obtuse enough to make it difficult to sort out some events - but longtime fans will be glad to know that one incarnation of Dream is... a cat. (I know, right?)

   As always, Neil Gaiman provides a wonderful, thoughtful and imaginative story (though casual readers will find it a bit difficult to sort out).

   It's perfectly illustrated by the gifted J.H. Williams III, who creates stunning dreamscapes and an amazing variety of alternate Dreams.

   I'm very happy to see this series back in circulation, though (of course) I hope it won't be quite such a long pause between chapters.

Grade: A-

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lots o' New Comics Today

    It was a big day for comics - the biggest one-day haul for me in a while! I got:
- Amazing X-Men #5 -  Wrapping up the "Nightcrawler returns" story.
- Aquaman #29 - Hell on Earth.
- Avengers #27 - Fighting the other Avengers team.
- Doc Savage #4Moving toward the present.
- Elfquest Final Quest #2 - Going to war.
- Flash #29 - Fighting a ghost.
- Ghost Rider #1 - Or is it the Ghost Driver?
- Guardians of the Galaxy #13 - End of the trial of Jean Grey!
- Hawkeye #18 - Hawkeye the private eye?
- Hellboy 20th Anniversary Sampler - You say it's your birthday?
- Hulk #20 - A shocking conclusion!
- King Conan #2 - Amra returns!
- Miracleman #4 - Looking for answers.
- New Avengers #16 - Other worlds (though this one looks familiar).
- Sandman Overture #2 - Hey, the Sandman is back again!
- Serenity #3 - River and her visions.
- Silver Surfer #1 - Who's the most important person in the universe?
- Tomb Raider #2 - Up against the unknown.
- Worlds Finest #21 - The way home.
   Whew! And that's it!

Guest Review - The Classics - Ka-Zar #12

   My pal Lyle Tucker is back with another guest review! This time he looks at the adventure's of Marvel's version of the jungle hero - Ka-Zar!

KA-ZAR #12, cover date November 1975
“Wizard of Forgotten Flesh” by Doug Moench and Russ Heath.

   This issue's cover sports a team effort by J.K. and J.R. - Jack Kirby and John Romita. And I don't think either man's strengths really comes through. Romita's inks just don't work that well on The King, and the poses Ka-zar and Zabu strike are pretty generic. I could just about swear I've seen this cover somewhere else.

   The story is nothing to write home about, either – a pair of black and white zebra-men from the Swamp Tribe enlist the aid of Ka-Zar and his companion, Tongah, to overthrow the evil shaman, Zuriah, who has divided the village into two warring factions. Along the way to aid the Swamp Tribe, Ka-zar and Tongah tame a triceratops and battle lizard-men. Once at the village the two have to contend with Zuriah and his evil concubine, Sheesa. The issue ends with the two baddies conjuring up an army of earthen zombies to be battled in the next installment.


 The real beauty of the comic lies with Russ Heath's interior artwork. It's a real shame Heath couldn't have inhabited the role of this title's main artist for a good spell, as he does a wonderful job of it. Heath is an artist who has always had a clean line and a sharp compositional sense that I would think had a clear influence on Brian Bolland's development. Known primarily for the war comics he drew at DC during the '60s, Heath has been in the business since 1948 and like many journeyman from his era has drawn practically every type of comic you could name.

   Heath also worked on Playboy's seminal sexy cartoon strip, Little Anny Fannie. Mark Evanier recounts an amusing anecdote concerning Heath:

   “One time when deadlines were nearing meltdown, Harvey Kurtzman called Heath in to assist in a marathon work session at the Playboy Mansion in Chicago. Russ flew in and was given a room there, and spent many days aiding Kurtzman and artist Will Elder in getting one installment done of the strip. When it was completed, Kurtzman and Elder left... but Heath just stayed. And stayed. And stayed some more. He had a free room as well as free meals whenever he wanted them from Hef's 24-hour kitchen. He also had access to whatever young ladies were lounging about... so he thought, 'Why leave?' He decided to live there until someone told him to get out... and for months, no one did. Everyone just kind of assumed he belonged there. It took quite a while before someone realized he didn't and threw him and his drawing table out.”

   The character of Ka-Zar first appeared as a Tarzan clone in a Martin Goodman pulp, Ka-Zar #1, in 1936. He only lasted in the pulps for three issues, but showed up again in Martin Goodman's first try at comics, Marvel Comics #1, in 1939. The more modern Ka-Zar that we're familiar with debuted in X-Men #10, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Grade: Story B-  ;  Artwork: A

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Thor: God of Thunder #20

   Writer Jason Aaron has developed a structure for his stories about Thor that focuses on the God of Thunder in the distant past, the present or the distant future (or some combination thereof).

   It's an interesting thought, but it seems to defeat a key dramatic point - namely, how can the reader be concerned about Thor in the past or present when we know he survives to fight on a far-in-the-future Earth?

   I know, it's not like comic books characters ever die permanently - but part of the suspension of disbelief is forgetting that the character is never in any real danger.

   So, this issue looks at Thor in the present, as he fights against the evil Roxxon corporation by causing billions of dollars of destruction (somehow avoiding a single injury to an innocent victim) - not exactly a heroic solution to the problem.

   We also see Old Geezer Thor taking on even older and geezier Galactus (who's still spry enough to consume the Earth).

   The art by Esad Ribic is certainly outstanding, with some impressive designs and god-sized action sequences (all ably augmented by Ive Svorcina's color art).

   But the story has a split personality - in one half Thor tackles a foe that offers little resistance, while in the other he's (mostly) outmatched.

   I'm still surprised they've made no effort to bring this title in line with the incredibly successful movies version. You know, the one with the Thor who acts like a hero.

Grade: B+

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Wonder Woman #29

   Apparently the "Battle of the Gods" storyline that has dominated the Wonder Woman title since the beginning of the "New 52" is coming to an end soon.

    I'm all for it, although I've enjoyed the series written by Brian Azzarello. But after almost two-and-a-half years, it's time for some closure.

   The story so far: the powerhouse known only as First Born has taken control of Olympus, and the surviving gods will be lucky to escape with their lives.

   It all sets up a final showdown - and may force Diana to accept her destiny as the once and future God of War.

   The art is by Cliff Chiang, and it's terrific, loaded with power and and intense emotional content - I'm anxious to see what he tackles next.

   To say much more would give away too much, so I'll just place my usual reminder that this series is not for young readers at all, and that I'm anxious to see how it all ties together.

Grade: A-

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

New Avengers #15

   The complex storyline that Jonathan Hickman has been building in the New Avengers series has been challenging but rewarding - but with this issue, it seems to have dipped over the line a bit.

   The series has focused on The Illuminati - Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Namor, the Beast, Black Bolt and Black Panther - as they confront a terrible problem.

   Alternate Earths are colliding,  and the result is either the destruction of each Earth - or the elimination of one. So far, the team has managed to preserve "our" Earth by eliminating the invading worlds (which were either uninhabited or controlled by evil forces) - but there are forces out there that are far more powerful than our heroes, so the Illuminati are trying to come up with a solution.

   Whew! So it's a heavy series of events, and this issue is especially dark, as it focuses on the mystery behind the woman known as the Black Swan, who appeared on our world when this crisis began.

   It's a grim tale of death (and murder), cosmic powers and impending destruction. It also poses as many questions as it answers.

   Part of the problem may be the art by Simone Bianchi and Riccardo Pieruccini. It's quite good, but it's dark and disturbing and sometimes hard to follow. The final two sequences in the book don't exactly make sense (no doubt deliberately so), and the story feels like it's dangerously close to grinding to a halt.

   I'm all for epic storylines, and I've been enjoying this one - until this issue. I assume it's just a glitch (or perhaps a failure on my part to sort it out properly), and I'll certainly keep hanging on to see how this plays out - but they're not making it easy on us.

Grade: B

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Ms. Marvel #2

   It's always nice when a comic surprises you.

   I wasn't expecting much from the new Ms. Marvel - it seemed to be trying hard to get news headlines (Zap! Zowie! This super-gal is a Muslim!) - but is it a good comic?

   So far, the answer is "Yes."

   Part of that is because of the mystery behind the title character. Kamala Khan is a 16-year-old girl who is exposed to the Terrigen Mist that's covered the world (see Inhumanity) and somehow she develops super powers (though we don't know if it's because she has a secret Inhuman background - or if there's another reason entirely).

   Her powers, which she can barely control, allow her to somehow create a costume - so she imitates the outfit worn by her favorite hero, Ms. Marvel, using that hero's second (blue/black and gold) outfit - but her powers are very different from the original heroine.

   But the super-heroics take a back seat to Kamala's personal story, as she must deal with protective parents and friends who find themselves in trouble.

   I like the characters, I like the story by G. Willow Wilson, and I like the unique art by Adrian Alphona - it's not typical superhero art, but it's a good mix between the fantastic and the real world.

   There are three more chapters to go in this origin story, but so far, I'm enjoying it a lot more than I ever thought I would.

   You can't judge a book and all that.

Grade: A-

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Superman Unchained #6

  Every time I start to like this series, it does something to change my mind.

   This issue of Superman Unchained, for example, starts off with a serious challenge for Earth's heroes: someone has launched every atomic missile in the world (in case you were wondering, there are 219 of them).

   Not even Superman can stop them all - so he has to team up with the Wraith - or does he?

   We also get another battle between those two powerhouses - and Superman actually has a civilized discussion with Lois Lane!

   So there are some things to like. But the story also plays fast and loose with its solutions to the problems (all terribly convenient), and it gets back to the "United States military is trying to kill Superman" story point that I really despise. ("Thanks for saving the world time and again, Superman - but we have to kill you now.")

   Even the art feels a bit rushed this time around, though Jim Lee's work is still outstanding.

   Apparently this title has become a limited series (news reports say it's supposed to wrap up in April with issue #9) - which is good, because that means there's an end in sight. So much potential, only a fraction of it realized - what a shame.

Grade: B-

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Daredevil #1

   I admit I had a pang of regret when I heard that the Daredevil run by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee was coming to an end.

    But it was a short-lived pang, as news quickly spread that the same team would be handling the "new" Daredevil (well, it's a new issue #1, at least).

   Matt Murdock has once again relocated to San Francisco (he and the Black Widow moved there for a while in the early '70s, I believe), where he's establishing himself as an attorney - and a super-hero (with little concern about the secret identity thing, apparently).

   His first case is a tough one - a little girl has been captured, and even if he manages to rescue her from the kidnappers, she still might lose her life.

   The art is a pure delight. Samnee creates several full-page splashes that would be amazing works of art as stand-alone posters - that, and the high-speed, high-energy story elevates this comic to new heights.

   Waid's story is the perfect complement to the art, loading in emotional impact, action, adventure, humor and a smart script. (I love it when heroes have to use their brains to solve a problem - we just don't see enough of that these days.)

   It's no wonder this comic is one of Marvel's best - it's a great example of a comic living up to its full potential.

   This year marks the 50th Anniversary for ol' Hornhead - glad to see Marvel's doing him up right.

Grade: A

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Classics - Avengers #66

   I was watching the ABC-TV special Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe the other night (well worth tracking down, if just for the teases for the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers 2: Age of Ultron and Captain America 2 movies) and it got me thinking about this issue of The Avengers.

   It features the first appearance of something that would have an impact on Marvel's comics for years to come. It's not a character or a concept - it's a piece of metal. Namely, Adamantium.

   This story is written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Barry Smith, going through his Steranko / Kirby phase (the issue is cover dated July 1969). It begins with the members of the team trying to make a mark on a cylinder made of an alloy invented by Dr. Maclain - and even Thor's hammer fails to damage it.

   Who could have predicted what an impact that invention would have on the Marvel universe? It's now a common Macguffin, used to explain everything from Wolverine's claws (and unbreakable skeleton) to Captain America's shield (which also uses the other key material in the Marvel universe - Vibranium).

   The rest of the issue is devoted to a mystery, as the Vision finds his will taken over by an outside force - and he is made to steal the Adamantium. The secret villain isn't revealed until the final page, but let's just say that being made of unbreakable metal made him particularly difficult to defeat (the story continued over the next two issues).

   This was part of a particularly strong run for the series, but I never would have thought that the events here would continue to echo more than 40 years after its publication. You have to admit - Adamantium (and the Avengers) had staying power!

Grade: A

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New Comics Day!

I haven't looked at 'em yet, so I'm guessing about the contents.

I got:

- Avengers World #4 - The mystery of StarBrand!

- Daredevil #1 - A new start for DD!

- Harley Quinn #4 - I'm guessing there's a lot of hitting involved.

- Invaders #3 - What happened to Namor?

- Iron Man #23 - Who's wearing the Mandarin's rings?

- Ms. Marvel #2 - It's her second issue!

- New Avengers #15 - Big doin's cooking here.

- Spider #18 - The final issue.

- Superman Unchained #6 - Is this still being published?

- Thor #20 - Taking on a big opponent.

- Wonder Woman #29 - That hat doesn't do anything for her.

- Uncanny X-Men #19 - Lots of angry fighting, I suppose.

And that's it!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Magnus Robot Fighter #1

   I love the original Magnus Robot Fighter comic from the 1960s.

   As I've written before, the original series was an outstanding combination of a great concept (hero fighting for humanity in a seemingly utopian future), good writing and terrific art by Russ Manning.

   The character has been revived a couple of times to somewhat mixed success, so it's with some trepidation that I approached this new series from Dynamite.

   It starts with what may or may not be a dream sequence, with a man named Dr. Magnus teaching students in an idyllic mountain village - but an invasion by robots seems to shatter the dream, and Magnus finds himself lost in a futuristic civilization.

   He finds he has steel-shattering strength and skills - but will they be enough against an entire city?

   It's an interesting modern (or even futuristic) take on the concept, and while I'm still a bit on the fence, I'm interested enough to return for the next issue to see where it goes from here.

   The art is by Cory Smith, and it's good, but in a more gritty style than the original clean Manning design. The futuristic setting is unique and believable, although I miss the original robot designs, too. Smith's are more realistic and practical, but not as much fun.

   This is where I usually rant about the tendency of modern comics to only give us a grim and gritty, things-are-terrible future - which seems to be what we're getting here. But for now, I'll just wait and give the series a few more issues before passing final judgment.

Grade: B+

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Kiani #1

      This issue marks a new beginning for an Aspen character who's spent quite a bit of time in the villain category - but now Kiani has her own title and something of a fresh start.

   (Actually, the full title is Michael Turner's Fathom: Kiani.)

   Like Aspen (Fathom) Matthews, Kiani is one of the Blue - an undersea race with amazing powers. Having suffered some tragic setbacks (in her previous mini-series), she decides to seek refuge on solid ground (in South America) and finds herself adopted by a kindly family - but it doesn't take long for some powerful forces to come looking for her.

   The story by Vince Hernandez does a good job introducing Kiani to new readers, and quickly sets up the conflict. I especially like her time with the family, as it helps (for lack of a better work) humanize her.

    The art is by Giuseppe Cafaro, and it's quite good, with sharp layouts and lots of chances to show off Kiani's beauty.

   This title should be a natural for fans of Fathom - it's a good start for the newest heroine in town (at least I think she's a heroine). We'll see!

Grade: A-

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Captain Marvel #1

   This is a comic book I'd love to see succeed, if just because I have such fondness for the character.

   Carol Danvers is one of those heroes who - like the original (Marvel) version of Captain Marvel - has been through the mill, suffering through numerous changes, new creative teams, new costumes and new names as they try to find the approach that works.

   All those changes have led her to this military super-hero costume which echoes Mar-Vell's best costume while offering a fresh look (thankfully, they seem to have abandoned the clunky cowl).

   She lives in the Statue of Liberty (which seems downright silly) along with a woman and her daughter (whoever they are) - which offers a nice humanizing touch.

   She has a relationship with another hero, she seems to have her life together - but it's all about to be changed, as she takes an assignment from Iron Man which will take her into deep space.

   That may lead to some interesting adventures, but it also separates her from her supporting cast and, possibly, from her normal identity. Of course, under writer Kelly Sue Deconnick, it may be the springboard for new and exciting stories. We'll see.

   I like the art by David Lopez - it's a nice clean style with attractive characters, but without the usual cheesecake style that one might expect.

   So it's a promising start, but time will tell if it's the right direction for Marvel's premiere super-heroine.

Grade: B+

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Beasts of Burden: Hunters & Gatherers One-shot

   This is definitely a comic you can't judge by its cover.

   While Beasts of Burden may look like it's all about dogs and cats, it's certainly not a Disney-style, family-friendly story.

   Instead, it's a dark tale of horror as a small group of dogs and cats work together to protect the small town of Burden Hill from mystical menaces that the human residents are blissfully blind to.

   This issue would be a good jumping-on point for new readers. It introduces the main players (including the "high council" of dogs who spearhead the efforts to fight the forces of evil).

   The menace is a gruesome one, and the dogs must work as a team to overcome a much bigger and more vicious opponent.

   The story is by Evan Dorkin, so you can expect some humor (both black and otherwise) to make the story more entertaining.

   The art is by Jill Thompson, and she manages the perfect blend of realism and animated stylings for the animals to convey their thoughts and feelings.

   It's a terrific series - I just wish it appeared more often. But for any fans of horror - or simply well-told tales - it's well worth the wait.

Grade: A-

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Batman #29

   As the "Zero Year" story crawls along, we have the odd image of a Batman who still has a lot to learn - and who makes mistakes.

   It's unusual and a bit unsettling - one wonders how he survived his first year in the superhero business.

   As always, the artwork by Greg Capullo (with inker Danny Miki) is amazing as he takes Batman into a battle high above Gotham City (throwing in a nice full-page homage to Frank Miller along the way).

   The story has Batman matching wits with the Riddler (though the details behind the plan are a bit fuzzy) and fighting the monstrous Doctor Death.

   It's an oversized issue with some flashbacks to Bruce's childhood and its parallels to the disaster overtaking Gotham.

   The big problem with the story is that it's taking its sweet time to roll out, and having a fill-in issue last month doesn't help keep the story in focus.

   It's never a good thing when you pick up an issue and have to think, "What's going on with this series again?" - but it keeps happening for me with this story.

Grade: B+

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

All-New X-Men #24

   It's somewhat encouraging to note that even a superior writer like Brian Michael Bendis occasionally has an off day.

   Barring a fantastic finale in the next issue of Guardians of the Galaxy (which will feature the final chapter in the "Trial of Jean Grey" story), this story has, frankly, plodded along without doing much more than bringing together a small army of characters and moving them to a new locale (temporarily).

   For this issue of All-New X-Men, the Guardians and the original, time-shifted X-Men join the Starjammers in opposing the attempts by the alien Shi'ar to put Jean on trial for the crime of being the Phoenix and destroying worlds.

   Of course, the flaw in their logic is that this time-traveling Jean Grey has not yet merged with the Phoenix, so she hasn't killed anyone - yet.

   While she's facing trial, her friends have teamed up and hatched a plan to invade the Shi'ar homeworld and rescue her. It's breezy, it's fun, it's improbable, but it doesn't really advance the story.

   The art by Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger is excellent, as they manage to keep each character distinct and unique, while keeping the story ripping right along.

   Any story that involves a trip to the Shi'ar homeworld has to be compared to the original '70s adventure by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and John Byrne, and this story is mighty pale in comparison.

   Perhaps Bendis will "stick" the ending, but hope is fading fast. This isn't a bad story - it's just not a great one.

Grade: B+

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

New Comics Today

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

- All New X-Men #24 - Jean Grey's trial continues.

- Astro City #10 - Who is framing Winged Victory?

- Batman #29 - Showdown high in the sky!

- Beasts of Burden Hunters Gatherers - Who's a good dog? They are! 

- Captain Marvel #1Starting over.

- Fantastic Four #2 - Bug battle in Manhattan!

- Hawkeye #17 - Talk about your unexpected directions for a comic.

- Magnus #1 - Return of the robot fighter!

- Star Wars #15 - The princess bride!

- Superman Wonder Woman #6 - Final battle with Zod?

   And that's it!

Guest Review - The Classics - MIND MGMT #1

   Back with another Guest Review is Lyle Tucker (and I can attest, he's an excellent artist), with a look at a series that first appeared just two years ago - MIND MGMT:

   I'm something of a frustrated writer and artist (Ha! Aren't we all?). I can draw pretty pictures with a rather advanced style. I'm more of a pin-up artist than anything (not the cheesecake kind, usually superheroes, barbarians or sci-fi). But I'm not very good at telling a story. As a kid I worked on perfecting style over substance. Unfortunately, I succeeded.

   So, when I read a comic like MIND MGMT, where the artist obviously has very little stylistic ability yet the work is nonetheless dynamic and effectively told, I am both excited and ticked off. Dammit, this is what I wish I could do.

   MIND MGMT is the brainchild of Matt Kindt. He writes and draws the series, and this first issue is a wonderful piece of hookery. Despite an extremely crude style of drawing, his composition work can at times be breathtaking (damn him!).

   On the inside front and back covers we're given an extremely truncated but necessary summary of the origin of the shadowy organization known as MIND MGMT. It is believed to have begun in 1914, where mind-manipulator Leopold Lojka is recruited in a bid to stop The Black Hand's assassination of Austria's Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which became the catalyst for WWI. Needless to say, they failed to stop the fateful bullet (through no fault of their own), but they did recognize that future success depended upon greater organization.

   In the story proper, we're introduced to present-day Meru, author of a successful True Crime book two years in the past, who is running out of time concerning her publisher's patience for drumming up her next work. Apparently for quite a while now she has been pursuing the story behind what is known as “Flight 815: The Amnesia Flight.” This was an incident where in mid-flight everyone aboard the plane, staff included, experienced total and complete amnesia. The pilot had to be talked down, as he had forgotten how to work an airplane.

   In the course of the story, it becomes clear that Meru herself is experiencing bizarre lapses in memory. She proceeds forward in a dream-like state, unsure of her every move but guided by a strong sense that The Truth is out there and she is inexorably being drawn to it. People are being killed to the left and right of her as she threads her way to the heart of this mystery, where every step could set her squarely on a metaphorical or literal landmine.

   Kindt clearly is having fun with his creation - each page is shown as being a document of MIND MGMT, printed up on their trademarked Mind Paper, and bearing a standard MIND MGMT industry tip, such as: If injuries are sustained in the field, follow the steps of 1. Pain Management 2. Healing Acceleration 3. Safehouse Exit. Your body is evidence. Do not leave it in the field.

   Luckily for us, Kindt gained access to these files and the truth about MIND MGMT can be told.


Grade: A

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Earth 2 #21

   I've heard several people recently saying that DC's "New 52" has been a failure - and I'm inclined to agree.

   One by one, I've been dropping DC titles - even ones that I've been buying for decades, like Green Lantern.

   The latest casualty (in more ways than one) is Earth 2.

   I like the original concept of an alternate Earth so much (with alternate versions of beloved heroes) that I've held onto this title for almost two years, even though it has been almost entirely a sad, pale copy of the delightful Justice Society comic that I enjoyed so much "Pre-52."

  But this series is just depressing and sad. It has resurrected Superman as Darkseid's right-hand man, a mass murderer on a mind-boggling scale.

   In this issue alone he kills hundreds of people without a twinge of remorse. Yes, this isn't "our" Superman - but it's just too over the top in its desire to shock the reader.

   I also don't appreciate the gore - on the second page a hero has his arm brutally severed.

   Look, the artwork by Nicola Scott is quite good - she's very talented, and I hope to see her working on a comic I can enjoy someday. Writer Tom Taylor also has talent - the stories are well constructed and there are some interesting twists to enjoy.

   But it's all just too bleak, too grim and totally void of the kind of friendship, joy, romance, humor or heroic adventures that I would hope to see in a comic starring the world's first super-team.

   It's going to take a heck of a turnaround to bring this comic back to that level - and I won't be here to see it.

   The same is true for most of the "New 52" titles I've read (and I admit I don't read them all) - they substitute shock for story, gore for humor and grim engines of destruction for heroes I can enjoy.

   Not interested.

   One can only hope DC will eventually come to its senses and un-reboot the line back to what it was before. But I'm not going to hold my breath waiting.

Grade: C

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Guest Review - RASL

   Joining us with a guest review is David Wright, with a look at a collection of RASL, the series created by Jeff Smith, who's best known for Bone:

   RASL is a 15-issue comic series now collected into a nice hardback book that deals with a dimension hopping art thief who goes by the name of Rasl.   

   It has brilliant artwork, and a cool storyline too if you enjoy Sci-Fi. Jeff Smith's art is very sequential, and expressive, which has a naturalistic flow to it that makes it easy to follow and enjoy. He began his career in animation, and  you can tell that influence on his art.

   As I said, it is about a time traveling art thief, and that's the set up. But we quickly get a flashback of Rasl's former life as a physicist name Robert. 

   He and two other scientist (a husband and wife team) are experimenting in a secret program, known as the St. George Project, they discovered that time travel might be possible. To complicate matters Rasl and the wife of the other scientist are having an adulterous affair. 

   On the sly, Robert (Rasl) tests the jump suit that they've been inventing and discovers that it does indeed work. There are many tangents within the series, part of it includes the work of the famed scientist, Nikola Tesla, there's a small part about the Bermuda Triangle and The Philadelphia Experiment, there's a storyline that comments on the Tunguska explosion of 1908 in Siberia. Also we find out shortly in the story, that there's an odd shaped, rat-faced man following Rasl, who wants Tesla's notebooks. 

   So as the story opens we see Rasl jumping through different layers of space time. He is stealing artwork and reselling it. We don't know his motives for this at the beginning. In each time zone, things are a little bit different from his real world. So far I've seen him jump into three different dimensions. In one world, he notices the Blonde on Blonde album cover of Bob Dylan, however, in that world Dylan hasn't changed his name, on the album he has kept his real name, Robert Zimmerman. So each time zone is a little bit different from his real world.  

   That's another thing. When Rasl does these time jumps, it's stressful and leaves him weak and a bit confused. So whenever this rat face guy shows up, he's vulnerable unless he has rested. Also oddly, he can recharge his energy, through sex, so it seems.

   So Rasl has abandoned his life's work, and is selling artwork for profit, and now hiding out and running through other dimensions pursued by a hit man. That's really about all you need to know to get started with the limited series. There's also a little ghost girl that he keeps bumping into as well, but what her connection is to the overall story, I haven't gotten to yet.  


   If this all sounds too complex to you, it's not. Jeff Smith's storytelling is clear and concise, full of action, sex, booze, science, and psuedo-science, that continually draws you in the further it goes.  Click here and scroll down for an excerpt of the story - it's the first few pages. 

Grade: A+

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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Jupiter's Legacy #4

      I've been buying the Jupiter's Legacy series for the wonderful art by Frank Quitely, but that means one must live with the hazard of a Mark Millar story, which usually veers too far into Fan Fiction territory for my tastes.

   (In other words, his stories seem to be trying hard to cheese off the reader.)

   By the end of the third issue, I was convinced that we were heading in that direction, as the story took a grisly turn.

   But happily enough, this issue seems to offer a more hopeful direction for the future (though there's still plenty of chances for grim moments).

   It takes place in a world where a team of super-powered friends and family helped transform the world almost 80 years ago - but when evil forces bring about their destruction and take over control of the world, things go badly - and the only hope seems to rest with the children of the heroes, who have been in hiding - but how long can they evade detection?

   So far, it's been a strong series, with some interesting statements about the responsibilities of those with power - and the path of effective government.

   This issue makes me hopeful for the title's future - let's see if that optimism is justified - or if it gets stomped on.

Grade: A-

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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Wolverine and the X-Men #1

   After a three-year run, it's out with the old Wolverine and the X-Men, and in with the new Wolverine and the X-Men.

   In other words, it's time for a new issue #1.

   And a new creative team, as writer Jason Latour and artist Mahmud Asrar take the reins.

   This is a series with all kinds of potential, as it follows the teachers and students at the Jean Grey School for Gifted Students - which is a great throwback to the original concept for the X-Men, as a school where mutants could learn how to use their powers.

   There was a lot to like about the previous version of this series - it combined humor and action well, for example - but the creative efforts were inconsistent. Some issues were great, and some stunk.

   It'll take a while before we know how this series matches up - and how consistent its quality.

   It gives us a look at a bleak future for the school (is there any other kind?), a look at the newest teaching assistant, a check-in with Wolverine as he fights for an old friend, new students check in and a mystery or two develops.

   The art is quite good, and the story is ok - but it's all setup with not much meat on the bones. The potential is there, but the story needs some tightening up - it seems to be flailing in too many directions right now.

Grade: B

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Friday, March 7, 2014

She-Hulk #2

   This is a series that continues to build slowly.

   And there's nothing wrong with that, as new characters are introduced to the life of the She-Hulk.

   Like the first issue, the focus here is mostly on the "real" life of Jessica Walters, the attorney who also happens to be a big, green powerhouse.

   Having received a large check for her work last issue, here we find her establishing a new office as an independent attorney - so she first has to hire an assistant (and this one gives new meaning to the word "quirky").

   She also spends a girl's night out with one of my personal favorites - Patsy Walker, the Hellcat.

    What starts with some drinks ends with super-heroics, though the menace is pretty low-key.

   But with a good sense of humor and a different approach to the character, this is series to watch. Kudos to writer Charles Soule and artist Javier Pulido for another strong issue.

   Thanks (perhaps) to the success of the Hawkeye comic, Marvel has put the focus on character and story, rather than forcing a cosmic cataclysm into each issue.

   Good on 'em, I say.

Grade: A-

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Forever Evil #6

   With one issue to go, the Forever Evil series is definitely ramping up the threat quotient.

   The main threat is to Nightwing, who's been a prisoner of the Crime Syndicate through the series - and who has supposedly had the threat of death hanging overhead for years now, thanks to an editor who doesn't like the character.

   But there are other lives at stake, as Batman and a group of villains invade the Syndicate's stronghold - but can they match up to the powerful Syndicate, and who are we supposed to root for?

   And then there's the mysterious force / characters that drove the Earth-3 villains from their world - it seems poised to invade Earth-1.

   Oh, and we finally discover the identity of the mysterious hooded man from Earth-3.

   So, lots going on, a bit of grisly death, and several twists in the story - but it's still hard to get behind a story where almost everyone (other than Batman, Catwoman and Nightwing) is evil - but it's encouraging to see the Syndicate members on the receiving end of punishment for a change.

   As always, a strong script by Geoff Johns and dark, powerful artwork by David Finch and Richard Friend.

   Thankfully, we're almost to the end of this series - just one issue to go - and then, hopefully, we can get back to some stories about heroes.

Grade: B+

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

New Comics Day

Here's what I picked up today:

- Earth 2 #21 - The war escalates.

- Forever Evil #6 - Is it the end for Nightwing?

- Iron Man #22 - Who's collecting the Mandarin's rings?

- Jupiter's Legacy #4 - Powerful kids.

- Loki #2 - Planning a heist.

- She-Hulk #2 - A new business and a new ally.

- Wolverine and the X-Men #1 - A new beginning.

- Uncanny X-Men #18 - Confrontations.

   And that's it! 

The Classics - Wonder Woman #329

   The "New 52" brought a lot of attention to DC because it was a new beginning to all its characters - but it's not the first time the company has undertaken a reboot.

   In 1985 the company was rocked by Crisis on Infinite Earths, and the result was that some characters were rebooted - while others were not.

   That kept the event from being completely successful, but it did lead to some interesting moments.

   For example, two major characters - Superman and Wonder Woman - had their never-ending stories reach an end. Honest!

   This was the final issue for Diana (not counting a mini-series that followed), marking the dividing line between the Silver Age heroine and the new version crafted by writer / artist George Perez. (Interesting to note that the letters page promotes the new series being written by Greg Potter.)

   Writer Gerry Conway took advantage of the final story and crafted a big story with a clash of gods, battles between massive armies and the culmination of a decades-long love affair.

   Providing the art was Don Heck, the much-maligned artist who turns in impressive work here. The poor printing doesn't help his cause, but he still turns in a strong effort, with sprawling splash pages and a cast of hundreds. He was well-matched with Wonder Woman thanks to his skill at depicting beautiful women.

   The comic rambles a bit (and has an odd turn here and there), but it manages to bring the long-running story of this version of the Amazon Princess to an actual conclusion - and perhaps no one should be surprised that it is, for the moment at least, a happy and touching finale.


   It wouldn't last, as this version of Wonder Woman faced her final fate a month later in the last issue of Infinite Crisis, but seeing an ongoing series conclude is a rare event in comics - it's best to enjoy it when we get the chance!

Grade: B

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

King Conan #1




   I've been looking forward to the return of the King Conan series, as it reunites the team that is - in my opinion - the best writer / artist combination since the days when Roy Thomas and Barry Smith tackled the adventures of our favorite barbarian.


 The latest team supreme includes writer Timothy Truman, who has really tapped into the essence of what makes Robert E. Howard's stories so compelling and entertaining - it's a great mix of action, adventure and intrigue.

   The art is by Tomas Giorello (with color art by Jose Villarrubia), and his work is exceptional, breathing life into the Hyborean Age, creating architecture and vessels, bandits and monsters with equal skill. Each character radiates intense emotion, the action sequences are stunning and the costuming is spot on.

   The story they're adapting is the second half of Howard's only novel-length adventure, Conan the Conqueror. The first half of the story (which wrapped s few months ago) told the story of how King Conan lost his crown, nearly lost his life, met his future wife, discovered the means to fight back against the powerful sorcerer who stands against him, and set out on a quest to recover the powerful artifact that can save his kingdom.

   The issue starts the second half of the story, wherein Conan continues his quest despite the powerful forces working against him.

   It's a terrific, red-blooded, no-holds-barred saga, brought to life by one of the best creative teams in the business. You really should be buying this comic - it's terrific!

Grade: A

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Guest Review - The Black Bat #1

   Back with a Guest Review of a pulp revival (no relation to a certain Dark Knight) is my pal Lyle Tucker:   

   You can't keep a good bat down.

   Eighty-one years ago (1933) a character known as The Black Bat burst onto the scene in the pulp pages of a magazine - BLACK BAT DETECTIVE MAGAZINE to be exact. 

   The Bat lasted for about a year. Five years afterwards, Ned Pines introduced a second Black Bat in the pages of BLACK BOOK DETECTIVE.

   Crime-fighting District Attorney Anthony Quinn (no relation to Zorba the Greek) was blinded after having acid thrown into his face during the trial of criminal kingpin Oliver Snate (ya gotta love that name). 

   Quinn is befriended by the daughter of a dying policeman (whose corneas, transplanted into Quinn, not only allow him to see again, but also to have perfect sight in the dark). 

   Not to mention better hearing, more sensitive touch, etc, acquired from from when he was still blind. (And since this wasn't yet the '60s, no radioactive isotopes are involved)

   Now this Black Bat and the Batman we all know and love, hit the stands at roughly the same time and each accused the other of copycatting. Lawsuits were about to happen, until a senior DC editor who had once worked for Pines drew up a deal allowing both to amicably continue. 

   Visually both characters most likely took inspiration from the original 1933 Bat, so finger pointing was more than a little hypocritical. The pulp Black Bat lasted for 71 issues.

   Nedor/Standard comics (also part of Ned Pines' publishing) reconfigured The Bat as The Mask in 1940. The Mask retired in 1942.

   In 2011, Clockwork Comics introduced a fourth, updated Black Bat that lasted only one issue.

   Also in 2011, Moonstone comics showcased The Black Bat in the graphic novel “Return of the Originals.”

   Finally, in 2013, Dynamite includes The Black Bat as part of their vigilante team, Masks, and in May of 2013, THE BLACK BAT #1 comes out, written by Brian Buccellato and drawn by Ronan Cliquet.

   Our hero is still named Tony Quinn and the villain is criminal kingpin, Oliver Snate. The story's been updated to modern times, but the artwork and the coloring keep the tone set in the noir '40s. I really enjoyed this comic, especially Cliquet's art, which reminded me of a tidier Miller and Janson.

Grade: B+

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