Saturday, January 31, 2015

Uncanny X-Men #30

   Death has become a standard feature in comics these days, but even a jaded long-time reader like your pal Chuck was surprised at the toll in this issue of Uncanny X-Men.

   It continues the story of a new mutant whose power levels are beyond belief - and worse, he's really not in control of his abilities.

   So death and destruction surrounds him, as attempts are made by both humans and mutants to bring him under control.

   The violence that erupts is shocking, and leads to even more surprising events - and to its credit, the story doesn't take the easy way out. At least, not yet.

   There is a time-travel element to the story - a mutant whose power allows her to travel through time - and that brings another interesting angle to the story by Brian Michael Bendis.

   The art is by Chris Bachalo (working with five inkers), and it's quite good - dynamic, unique and fresh.

   I've complained for some time now that there are too many mutants under the X-Men umbrella - but bumping some off doesn't seem like the best solution to the problem.

Grade: A-

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Friday, January 30, 2015

New Avengers #29

   I love it when the comic companies exhibit (presumably) unintentional parallel events.

   Thus it is that we find both Marvel and DC in the middle of big stories that focus on multiple Earths in alternate realities.

   But while Multiversity is an exploration of DC's 52 alternate Earths, in Marvel's Avengers and New Avengers, the number is infinite - or is it?

   This issue actually gives us some answers, as the different teams gather together to seek out a solution to the threat of utter destruction, as alternate Earths threaten to collide with "our" Earth.

   We find out what the Illuminati have been doing while they've been on the run from most of the Avengers - and how much success they're enjoyed.

   We get some glimpses of some serious cosmic forces at work, the hope of a solution (and new allies) - but while the heroes are sorting things out, Dr. Doom is also working on a solution - so what happens if he gets there first?

   Oh, and it highlights one of my all-time favorite Marvel heroes, if just briefly.

   This series has been building as the mysteries are revealed and the nature of the threat starts to come into focus - and apparently it's all leading into a new Secret Wars series, which promises to break the Internet (and the minds of a few fans).

   So far, this has been an amazing series - complex, character-driven, with surprising twists and an ending still shrouded in mystery. It's an impressive accomplishment by writer Jonathan Hickman and a small army or artists - highly recommended!

Grade: A

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Multiversity Guidebook #1

   I was a fan of the Marvel Handbook and DC's Who's Who series - both of which served as reference books, listing the heroes, villains, supporting characters and important objects in each universe.

   Any series like that is a vast undertaking (which is one reason why they're pretty rare) - and now writer Grant Morrison enters the ring with this indispensable tome - the Multiversity Guidebook.

   It combines adventures on several different worlds with a guide to (almost) all 52 alternates Earths that now make up the DC Universe.

   (I say "almost" because they have to save some mystery for future stories, so a handful of Earths are left as mysteries.)

   It's like an Elseworlds tour of the DC universe, with an odd Batman story alongside a Kamandi adventure, with some key moments relived and many more mysteries and villainous plots hinted at.

   This issue should generate some debate among fans - for example, I don't see an Earth that represents the DC universe before the "New 52." Perhaps it doesn't exist.

   The issue is a bit pricey at $7.99, but it's worth it. Loaded with all kinds of facts, trivia and even a map of the entire universe (though you may need a magnifying glass to read it).

   Just an amazing piece of work and a good indication of the rich potential in DC's alternate worlds. Very impressive and highly recommended!

Grade: A

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

New Comics Day!

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

- Batman #38 - The Joker on the attack!

- Elfquest Final Quest #7 - Change is coming.

- Flash #38 - Return of the Mirror Master.

- Invaders #14 - Fighting the Nazis again.

- Justice Inc #6 - The finale!

Multiversity Guidebook #1 - You can't tell one Earth from another without a program!

- New Avengers #29 - Shocking revelations!

- The Phantom #1Always glad to see the Ghost Who Walks in action!

- Thor #4 - When Thors collide!

- Winterworld #7 Fight to the finish!

- Uncanny X-Men #30 - Death runs rampant.

   And that's it! 

The Classics - Batman Annual #3

   It's hard to convey just how amazing these annuals were for young readers just getting into comics.

   Published in 1962, this huge Batman Annual offered 80 pages of classic reprints - seven stories in all (and it cost 25 cents! Annuals today have fewer pages and usually cost $5. It's enough to make a fan weep).

   Each DC annual typically had a theme - this issue's was "Batman and Robin's Most Fantastic Foes," and it lives up to the billing.

   The lineup includes the Joker (natch), Two-Face (in perhaps his only Silver Age appearance), the Mad Hatter, Mirror Man, Human Firefly and Gorilla Boss (it was DC in the '60s - ya gotta have a gorilla)!

   The seventh story featured the Mental Giant of Gotham City, who wasn't even a villain - no idea how he got in there.

   Each story is a finely-crafted, professional story, as Batman and Robin use their detective skills - and their athletic abilities - to track down, outwit or out-muscle each opponent.

   The stories include a fun bit of trivia (usually an indication of Bill Finger's writing, though no credits are listed here). For example, how does sculpting affect your thumb? How can colored crystals help combat Firefly's light barrage? These little bits of science and powers of observation added to the fun of the adventure.

   These days, reprints are all over - you can track down mountains of early Batman adventures easily. But in the '60s,  the companies just gave us these samplers of past adventures in annuals. No wonder we treasured them!

Grade: A-

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Wonder Woman #38

   The biggest surprise with the new creative team on Wonder Woman is that... they really haven't change anything.

   For decades, the standard has been: bring a new creative team on this title and they'll change almost everything about it - including the approach, the supporting cast, the villains.

   But as the Finches (Meredith and David) continue their run, they've maintained the focus on Diana's mythological side. By the end of the last team's run, she had taken the mantle of God of War - and now the story is looking at just how that affects her and her efforts to work with both the Amazons and the Justice League.

   They've added another surprise, bringing back a beloved character we haven't seen since the New 52 launched. It promises to be a controversial move (though you'll get no more about it from me, lest spoilers spill out).

   The art is exceptional - David Finch's style shows some influences from Neal Adams and Brian Bolland - his work is very detailed, with strong character designs and dynamic action sequences.

   As the cover shows, this is still an adult take on Wonder Woman - this isn't a comic for young readers.

   The story is still the question mark - will it live up to the art and to the previous run? For that answer, we may have to wait a few more issues to see how things play out - but so far, so good.

Grade: A-

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Fantastic Four #642

   Hoo boy.

   It just pains me to review this series, because the Fantastic Four has, traditionally, been my favorite Marvel Comic.

   But as my reviews of the latest incarnation of the title make plain, this storyline, wherein the team's lives have been torn down and stomped on a few times, just isn't working for me.

   It's fine for a team to face adversity, but here we have the team being destroyed but a long-running (and somewhat absurd) scheme by a new and previously-unknown villain (finally unveiled in this issue. Maybe).

   They're finally - finally! - starting to fight back, to realize the original cause for their troubles.  But the issue, unfortunately, is just a crowded mess.

  The story jumps all over - from Reed imprisoned and facing his enemy, to Johnny and Sue and Ben working together, to the kids in the FF facing a dreadful fate; and the return of a long-hidden character.

   It's just way too much and frankly, it's depressing.

   The art by Leonard Kirk and Karl Kesel in excellent, though.

Grade: B-

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Groo: Friends and Foes #1 (of 12)

   Ah, all is right in the world of comic books, as the eternally-stupid barbarian named Groo is back in print.

   Fresh off his encounter with Conan (which both characters somehow survived), Groo is teaming up with some of his classic Friends and Foes in this 12-issue maxi-series.

   We start with foes (not that Groo can tell the difference), as our dense hero tries to get a ride from Captain Ahax, who hates Groo.

   To be fair, he has good reason. Every time Groo gets on board one of Ahax's ships (Boats? Whatever), the vessel promptly sinks.

   So Ahax comes up with a clever way to insure he makes money despite Groo. Of course, when Groo's around, things never quite work out like they should.

   What more do you need to know? It's writer / artist Sergio Aragones crafting his usual ingenious, top-flight comedy, with Mark Evanier wordsmithing the daylights out of it (whatever that means).

   Lots of fun, and wonderful to see our old friend back in action. It's hard to tell who we should feel worse for - Groo's friends or his enemies.

   It's the readers, of course, who are the real winners.

Grade: A-

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Powers #1

   I should start this by saying that this comic is definitely not for kids (it includes brutal deaths, cursing, nudity and adult situations).

   This isn't a new series, despite the shiny "#1" on the cover - Powers has been around for about 15 years, following the adventures of regular police officers who investigate murders that involve people with super-abilities (they call them "Powers").

   This issue is a good "jumping-on" point for new readers, as it starts the process of re-establishing Deena Pilgrim, a tough-as-nails police detective, as she investigates a gruesome Powers-based mass murder.

   But where is her partner, Christian Walker? (By the way, he has one of the strangest backstories in the history of comics - you'll have to pick up the Powers collections for that.)

   The series is back just in time to tie in with the new TV show based on it, which will appear on the Sony Playstation Network.

   This isn't a series for everyone, but it's expertly crafted by writer Brian Michael Bendis with amazing, powerful art by Michael Avon Oeming.

   If you can handle the adult nature of the series, and you enjoy police dramas and super-hero stories, then this is a series you should definitely be following.

Grade: A-

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Justice League #38

   I have to admit, the ongoing story - the Amazon Virus - is leaving me cold.

   This is the third chapter in the latest issue of Justice League, and we're finally getting some information about the contagion that threatens all life on Earth - and the real reason Lex Luthor created it.

   That information may be too late, since most of the League has been infected - including the most "human" of them all - Batman.

   Of course, that's the big problem with a series like this - we all know that none of the characters can die, since they're all alive and well in their own titles. And the function of the virus, which gives powers to regular humans, all feels a bit too Silver Age-y.

   There's another development at the end that I won't give away - but it's a horror standard that's been far too overexposed (so to speak) in recent months.

    So, nice art, some good character moments - but I'm ready to move on to the next menace.

   This one just feels too familiar, too derivative - and too toothless - to really hit home.

Grade: B-

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

All-New X-Men #35

   When I reviewed the last issue of All-New X-Men, I said the story was moving so slow that it was going to take six months to wrap up.

   I take it back.

    That's because this issue kicks things into high gear, tossing in some quick rescues and an all-out battle between the X-Men from two realities and one of the biggest bad guys in the Ultimate universe.

   It's fast-paced, loaded with great dialogue and a heck of a lot of fun.

   (Of course, the whole Black Vortex event is coming up in a couple of months, so perhaps that's why they kicked things up a notch).

   Whatever the reason, it makes for a fun comic!

Grade: A-

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Classics - Batman #156

   Yeah, this story absolutely freaked me out when I was a kid.

   (I think I read the story in a reprint annual first - then some years back I found a copy at a comics convention.)

   Published in 1963, the comic starts out rather oddly, as Batman is missing - so Robin stars in a solo story teamed up with Ant-Man!

   No, not Hank Pym - though the issue was printed months after the first appearance of Marvel's Ant-Man, so you have to wonder what they were thinking.

    This Ant-Man ends up being not such a good guy - but by the end of the 8-page story, Robin has it all worked out.

   The second chapter finds Batman wandering through a strange, alien landscape, filled with strange menaces and monsters, including a towering, monstrous living statue.

   Just when he's at the end, Robin arrives and saves him - but as they fight for survival, the most amazing thing happens. Robin is killed!

   There's much more to the story, of course, and the explanation is so strange that writer Grant Morrison revived the concept for his recent take on Batman.

   As a kid reading this (I would have been about 7 or 8 years old), it was traumatic to see Robin die, to see Batman's grief at the loss of his ward - death was extremely rare in those days, and it was a gripping tale.

   Today's cynical readers would dismiss the story, but considering the limitations the industry was under at the time, this issue pushed the boundaries and remains one of my favorite DC Comics.

Grade: A

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New Comics Day

   Here's what I picked up at the comics shop today: 
 
- All-New X-Men #35 - In the Ultimate universe!
 
- Fantastic Four #642 - The end is near.
 
- Groo: Friends and Foes #1 - Hey, Groo's back!
 
- Guardians of the Galaxy #23 - The secret of the symbiote!
 
- Justice League #38 - Batman's got the fever!
 
- Powers #1 - A new army of "Powers."
 
- Winterworld #6 - Blinded by the light.
 
- Wonder Woman #38 - Going to war!
 
   And that's it! 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Damsels in Excess #4 (of 5)

   You have to admire this series for its attempts to lock into the ongoing mania for Princesses (especially the Disney variety).

   Damsels in Excess is working in its own (non-Disney) world, following the adventures of I'm-not-exactly-sure-how-many princesses. Some are good, some are evil.

   It's all done in a storybook, anime-influenced style courtesy of artist Mirka Andolfo.

   I have to admit that I struggled following the story - there are wars heating up, allies to confront, foes to deal with and a few flashbacks for good measure.

   It would be tough to jump in at this point - it might be best to wait for the collection.

   It's an entertaining visit to a world of magic and fantasy - with the oddest collection of Princesses around.

Grade: B-

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Monday, January 19, 2015

The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage #5

   The original Second Life of Doctor Mirage series (1993) featured a loving couple who are separated when Carmen's husband Hwen is magically transformed into a ghost-like existence, where he can't come into contact with the living.

   This new take on the series - now titled The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage - offers a different take, as Hwen is killed outright, and his wife Shan, a parapsychologist, tries to make contact with his spirit on the other side of the veil.

   But there are complications, as evil forces on both sides of life and the afterlife plot an invasion of demons from the other side - and the only hope of stopping it involves the ultimate sacrifice.

   The story by writer Jen Van Meter moves along quickly and grimly, and the art by Roberto De La Torre is dark and chaotic - a good fit.

   The story only suffers in comparison to the lighthearted take of the original series, which I liked a lot - but there's a lot to recommend here, especially for fans of horror tales.

Grade: B

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Badtgirl #38

   It's interesting to see a comic book that seems to be arguing that super-heroes are dangerous vigilantes who can't be trusted with the public safety.

   And then the story inside the comic goes about proving that same concept.

   This new Batgirl series is having fun with her impact on social media (which is not an area Batman would explore), but then it has her chasing a rather common criminal in a way that puts lots of people in jeopardy.

   So my point is, I'm not sure what this issue is trying to tell us - and the ending is a bit muddled (it's as if they ran out of pages before they finished telling their story).

   I'm liking this fun, fresh take on the character - though I'm not sure I understand it sometimes.

Grade: B-

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Avengers #40

   It's not easy for a comics series to really surprise us.

   But this issue of The Avengers manages it.

   It continues the countdown to the point when "Time Runs Out" (whatever that means), as three of the different Avengers teams face off. (For the record, we're down to four months).

   The three teams don't see eye-to-eye on many issues, but they agree on the importance of stopping The Cabal, a team of world-destroying monsters led by Thanos.

    The solution to the problem is just as shocking as the unexpected events that occur at the end of the issue (which we won't spoil here, natch) - but it includes a fatal showdown between three long-running Marvel heroes.

   As always, Jonathan Hickman's script is sharp and Stefano Caselli's art is powerful and compelling.

   Best of all, I have no idea what is going to happen next. There aren't many comics out there you can say that about.

Grade: A

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Agent Carter

   I'm running a bit behind, but I finally got a chance to catch up on my TV viewing - which means I just finished watching the first three episodes of Agent Carter.

   It's the TV equivalent of a mini-series, following the post-World War II adventures of (Secret) Agent Peggy Carter.

   During the war she worked and fell in love with Steve Rogers, both before and after he became Captain America.

   But with his apparent death near the end of the war in Europe, she was left to find her own way - so she goes to work for the predecessor of SHIELD, the SSR (Strategic Scientific Reserve).

   The problem is, she's treated as an underling - but in fact she's working for inventor Howard Stark (Tony's father, natch), who has been falsely accused of selling weapons to foreign powers.

   In fact, someone has stolen some powerful weapons from Stark - and he asks his friend Carter to track them down.

   The show is mighty impressive - a period piece, loaded with great production values and sharp scripts - the dialogue is especially good.

   The acting is also terrific. Hayley Atwell as Carter is the perfect mix of tough, smart and sexy - a great role model for kids and a lot of fun to watch.

   Her supporting cast is outstanding, from her "assistant" - Stark's butler, Jarvis - to her "girl friends" (all funny and smart and capable) and her fellow agents - a tough, funny and heroic (if chauvinistic) bunch.

   The series also features quite a few Easter Eggs that tie into the other Marvel movies (note, for example, the name of the scientist Carter consults in the first episode), along with actual scenes lifted from the first (quite excellent) Captain America film.

   So it's a terrific start to this series. Of the growing crowd of superhero-based TV shows, this one - so far - is the best of the bunch.

Grade: A

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Star Wars #1

   Well, it's been a while since I bought a Star Wars #1 from Marvel (almost 38 years, actually).

   Since Disney now owns both Marvel and the Star Wars franchise, it only makes sense to reclaim the series from Dark Horse, and bring it back to its original home.

   Happily, the stories are set right after the original Star Wars movie (now known as Episode IV: A New Hope).

   We find a team of Rebel fighters (all of whom you'll recognize) making a covert invasion of the Empire's munitions planet, where they plan to make trouble - but, of course, things get complicated by the arrival of... but that would be telling.

   It's loaded with action, adventure and humor - as any good Star Wars adventure should be.

   The real star of this issue is the art by John Cassaday, one of the best in the business today. With powerful layouts, strong likenesses and striking environments, he brings the universe to vivid life.

   It's a strong, strong start to the new series. Recommended!

Grade: A-

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Classics - Kurt Busiek's Astro City #1/2

   The seamy underbelly of comics collecting - especially in the 1990s - was the exclusive comic, available only through special orders, extra expense or some such subterfuge.

   I usually ignored that sort of thing, but yes, I admit, I occasionally broke down and put in an order. And sometimes, it was worth it.

   Case in point: Kurt Busiek's Astro City #1/2, which just happens to be one of my all-time favorite comics.

   It tells the story of Michael Tenicek, a regular guy in a regular job who has an unusual problem - he keeps dreaming about a beautiful woman. He feels a connection to her - but he can't figure out who she is, or where he's seen her before.

   It's a mystery that consumes his life, until the answer arrives in the form of the mysterious Hanged Man, a mystic guardian in Astro City.

   He tells Michael the story behind the dream - and forces him to make a painful choice.

   It's a heart-breaking story that's sweet and touching and unforgettable.

   In other words, just another day at the office for the team of writer Kurt Busiek and artists Brent E. Anderson (here with inker Will Blyberg). They've teamed up on an incredible number of wonderful stories in the wide-ranging Astro City series, and this may be the best of the run - and that's really saying something.

   This story has been reprinted elsewhere, but I treasure this issue - as much as I hate to admit it, the issue was well worth the hassle and expense of the original order.

Grade: A+

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New Comics This Week

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

- Astro City #19 - A love story.

Avengers #34.2Focus on Star-Brand. 

- Avengers #40 - Bring on the bad guys!

- Batgirl #38 - In the spotlight!

- Daredevil #12 - Several crazy stunts.

- Jupiter's Legacy #5 - A knock-down, drag-out fight.

- S.H.I.E.L.D. #2 - Hanging with Ms. Marvel.

- Silver Surfer #8 - Breaking up is hard to do.

- Star Wars #1 - At war with the Empire!

- Thanos vs Hulk #2 - When Titans Clash!

   And that's it! 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Legendary Star-Lord #7

   Star-Lord is obviously the luckiest guy in the galaxy.

   Not only did he star in last year's biggest movie, not only does he star in the team comic Guardians of the Galaxy, not only does he have his own comic - but he also has Kitty Pryde for a girlfriend!

   Of course, he's not so lucky as this issue begins - he's been captured (which seems to happen to him a lot) by the galactic crime lord Mister Knife - whose identity is already uncovered.

   But Kitty, who had been on a virtual date with our hero (via hologram) when Star-Lord is captured, rushes to the rescue. But can she arrive to prevent the ultimate theft?

   It's a fun, fast-paced issue, with solid story and art.

   This series is holding up well, giving us a look at the "real" Star-Lord, and the budding romance that link the Guardians to the X-Men. Isn't that convenient?

Grade: B+

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1952 #2

   I love Hellboy's adventures, and the series has over 20 years of amazing stories.

   I'm sorry to tell you that this isn't one of them.

   The series Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1952 tells the story of that hero's first field investigation into the unknown.

   And since he's just starting out, he's not very good at it.

   It's a classic setting, as the B.P.R.D. team investigates a mysterious castle and the demon that appears to haunt it.

   That leads to a brutal battle and a growing sense of danger - and a few twists along the way.

   The art by Alex Maleev is terrific - dark and moody, loaded with atmosphere and menace.

   But the story doesn't really quite get into gear - it looks like we'll have to wait for the next issue to get to the heart of things (so to speak).

   Any series is entitled to an occasional miss, and that's what we have here. It's a safe bet that the next issue will make up for this pause.

Grade: B-

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Guest Review - Betty and Veronica #274 and Archie #663

    Stepping into the Guest Review chair today is my good friend James Cassara, with a look at two comics featuring Archie Andrews and the lovely Betty and Veronica:

   Let me preface my comments by saying that these days I buy very few superhero comics.
   After 50 years of reading and collecting funny books my tastes have changed. 
   I always enjoyed non-superhero titles, especially DC war books and all sorts of horror and SF, but because most of my favorite artists drew superheroes they remained a mainstay.  That’s no longer the case. 
   A few months ago I realized I am now buying more titles from Archie than from Marvel and DC combined.  
   I appreciate the simple (but by no means simplistic) nature of the stories and the clean, unadorned art. With Archie titles you know what you’re getting, and while that might be a negative for some for me it’s a definite plus.  
   Betty and Veronica #274 is a great example of the effortless complexity of the best Archie titles.  
   It’s the second part of an arc in which the two best friends/bitter rivals become exchange students, leaving Riverdale for a year to live first in England, than India, and later on to other yet unspecified countries. 
   All the boys of Riverdale bemoan their leaving (and try to sabotage their doing so) until they meet Violette (a Parisian doll) and Banni (an Indian Princess).  
   It’s the ideal set up for a new love triangle, and you can bet our carrot topped Casanova will be in the middle of it. 
   Archie mainstay Dan Parent, ably assisted by Bob Smith, supplies the art while veteran writer Dan Uslan tosses in more than a few verbal gags and turns of phrase.  It’s classic Archie in all the best ways!
Grade: A

   Meanwhile over in Archie’s own title (issue #663) our hero, following the sort of improbable mishap that seems to pursue him, finds himself minus wheels. 
   Of course he has a big date with Veronica coming up so, in desperation, he borrows his grandfather’s scooter.  
   Little does Archie know that Veronica’s luxury Italian sports car is also out of commission, forcing our raven haired heroine to find her own alternate means of transport.  
   The real hilarity ensues when a world renowned opera singer is scheduled to perform at Riverdale High (much to the dismay of the student body) and Archie is given the unenviable task of getting him from the airport to the stage.
   In typical Archie fashion everything goes wrong until it goes right and then goes wrong again.   
   Yes, it’s a tried and true formula but it’s one, when done rightly, never grows old.  
   And that’s the beauty of Archie comics and one reason I find them so darn entertaining!
Grade: B+
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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Hulk #10

   I have never liked the Red Hulk.

   The character just seems one step removed from a silly Silver Age concept. (I'm still waiting for Blue Hulk and Purple Hulk and Orange Hulk to show up.)

   But this series almost makes me interested in the character. The continuing plot has the "real" Hulk twisted into a new, intelligent character - Doc Green - who's trying to "cure" the small army of gamma-irradiated characters who make up the "Hulk Family."

   His confrontation with Thunderbolt Ross - big Red - collapses into a donnybrook, a violent and vicious no-holds-barred battle that gives artists Mark Bagley and Drew Hennesey a change to cut loose.

   But it's writer Gerry Duggan who gets credit for crafting an adventure that's often funny and always compelling.

   Can't wait to see where it goes from here.

Grade: A-

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Usagi Yojimbo Senso #6 (of 6)

   After a brief absence from the scene, Usagi Yojimbo returned in this miniseries (and soon will be back in his own series) - and what a welcome return it is!

   Writer / artist Stan Sakai really pulled out the stops for Senso - which pits Usagi and his friends and foes against a War of the Worlds-style invasion that threatens death and total destruction.

   But if you've read the original story, or seen the movie(s), don't think you've already seen this one. Just when you think you know where it's headed, it takes some surprising, chilling turns.

   To say too much would be a disservice, but this is a comic that no fan of Usagi should miss.

   It's a masterful work by an amazing craftsman - highly recommended!

Grade: A

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Ant-Man #1

   I was really expecting to like this comic.

   The original Ant-Man, amazingly enough, predates my comics buying - just barely (we're talking a month or two).

   By the time I started following his adventures in late 1963, he (Hank Pym) had become Giant-Man, ditching the cool stainless steel helmet along the way.

   The Ant-Man persona made some return appearances along the way, but eventually Pym turned it over to young thief / electronics expert Scott Lang, who became the new Ant-Man in 1979.

   Over the years since, the character has moved on and off stage, been replaced by yet another pretender (who's now offstage, apparently) - so now the job is back in Lang's court.

   I've always liked the character, and I'm really looking forward to the upcoming movie - and now he's back in his own comic book.

   But the issue is, I'm sorry to say - pretty slow.

   It's all about introducing the hero, his attempts to establish a normal life, and his (somewhat broken) family (nice to see his daughter is somehow back from the dead - though I have no idea how that happened).

   Nick Spencer's story includes some nice interplay with Lang and Tony Stark, some solid character beats - but almost nothing happens in terms of conflict or action or resolution. It does introduce the character, but for a first issue, "let's get the attention of the fans" effort, it falls way short.

   The art by Ramon Rosamas is quite good, but he's not given much to do here - the issue is mostly talking heads.

   I was hoping for a lot more here. Hopefully it'll pick up a bit next issue.

Grade: B

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   Oh, and in case you missed it, here's the teaser trailer for the Ant-Man movie:



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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Comics Day

   Here's what I picked up at the comics shop today: 
 
- Angela: Asgard's Assassin #2 - Fighting the warriors of Asgard.
 
- Ant-Man #1 - Ready for his closeup.
 
- Hellboy and the BPRD #2 - Backstory for Hellboy.
 
- Hulk #10 - Facing off against Red Hulk!
 
- Magnus #10 -Getting to the heart of the matter.
 
- Miracleman #14 - Evil unleashed.

- Star-Lord #7 - Kitty to the rescue!

- Usagi Yojimbo Senso #6 (of 6) - The shocking conclusion!
 
   And that's it!

The Classics - Amazing Adventures #1

   Just a little over two years after Marvel ditched their "split books" (a single comic sharing the adventures of two heroes), in 1970 they brought them back with Amazing Adventures and Astonishing Tales.

   AA focused on two of the most popular supporting cast members from the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, and assigned both of them some of the company's top talent.

   So the Inhumans was handed over to its co-creator, Jack Kirby - not just as the artist, but also as the writer! Ironically, it was one of Kirby's last jobs for Marvel - in a couple of months he would move over to DC, where he'd write and draw an assortment of comics.

   His story here is pretty straightforward - it introduces the members of the Royal Family - Black Bolt, Medusa, Gorgon, Karnak and Triton - and sets up a threat that may destroy their homeland.

   It's all action and intrigue and it sets up a cliffhanger guaranteed to bring you back for the next adventure. Oh, and it also includes one big mistake - Kirby gives the (for all intents and purposes) mute Black Bolt a thought balloon - the first and last, as far as I know. Better to keep BB mysterious.

   The second story starred the Black Widow, and it's written by Gary Frederich and drawn by John Buscema. It's her first solo story, and to be honest, it's just so-so. It has an idle, rich Natasha deciding to get back into heroics because she's bored.

   The story springs from her recent appearance in the Amazing Spider-Man's comic, where she gave the (admittedly exhausted) wall-crawler a good fight. Here she goes to the rescue of her housekeeper's son, who's in trouble with some loan sharks. And that's about it.

    The series was, frankly, a pretty mixed bag, with constantly-changing creative teams (though it would include some amazing artists, including Neal Adams and Gene Colan), and it didn't last in this form for a year.

   After issue #8 it focused on a single feature, and eventually it would be home to the new adventures of the Beast (in his new hairy form) and then Killraven. And then it was gone.

   But it was fun while it lasted!

Grade: B+

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Doctor Who (The Eleventh Doctor) #7

   Give the creative team on this issue of Doctor Who (the Eleventh Doctor) credit for trying something different on a series that is famous for being different.

   It's so different, I'm not sure I can explain it.

   The story is told in reverse, one page at a time (but not one panel at a time). The supporting characters have no idea what's going on, but the Doctor does, of course, as he works to saves the Tardis from destruction - and an alien planet.

   It's a lot of fun, and it captures the personality of the Matt Smith incarnation of the Doctor - but it is a bit of a strain to keep up with a story that's (mostly) running in reverse.

   Kudos to writer Rob Williams for crafting a story that had to keep him up nights working out the twists. Artist Simon Fraser crafts some high-energy art here - the only criticism is that his take on the doctor is a bit off in a couple of panels.

   Still, it's a fun story and makes good use of the medium. And it's always fun to see #11 back in action!

Grade: B+

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Monday, January 5, 2015

Eternal Warrior:: Days of Steel #3

   I've always liked the idea of the Eternal Warrior - the hero who's been fighting throughout the history of mankind.

   That concept lends itself to an infinite variety of story possibilities - and this series proves the point.

   The Magyars are attacking the Franks (I think this is circa 800 AD), and Gilad is given the task of protecting the child who will lead the Franks to victory.

   But when our hero arrives, he finds there are two children - one healthy and the other sickly. He's instructed to rescue the sickly child, but he's torn by doubt - can this child grow to be a leader? Is he protecting the wrong child?

   The story by Peter Milligan takes us in unexpected directions and makes interesting use of time - and the fact that it doesn't affect our hero.

   The art by Cary Nord is excellent, with lots of raw, brutal action and great character designs.

   This isn't a series for kids - it's violent and raw - but older readers will enjoy the unique take on heroism and history.

Grade: A-

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

Thanos: The Infinity Revelation

   I've written before about how much I enjoyed writer / artist Jim Starlin's original Warlock stories.

   Add to that how much I liked his Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell) work, Dreadstar, Thanos and just about everything else he's done, and it's no surprise that I was anxious to read his original graphic novel about Thanos.

   A few other writers have tackled the Mad Titan before, but he never seems quite "right" in any other hands.

   Since his appearance at the end of the Avengers movie (and his larger role in the Guardians of the Galaxy film), Thanos has been a hot property.

   In the years since the Infinity Gauntlet mini-series, Thanos has become somewhat less menacing, somewhat watered down (though that's been redeemed - somewhat - with the Infinity series and his recent appearances in the Avengers and New Avengers).

   The Infinity Revelation feels like Starlin's earlier work, with cosmic forces threatening a galactic upheaval - and somehow Thanos is at the heart of it (though for once not the cause of it).

   His investigations into a cosmic mystery lead to some unexpected places, a mysterious ally and some surprising twists.

   It's the kind of book you have to read more than once - there's a lot going on here, and quite a bit of subtext and (possible) double-meaning to be explored.

   While this isn't at the level of the original Warlock (though the art is excellent), it's a book longtime fans will enjoy - and it will no doubt have an effect on future tales involving Thanos - which hopefully will be written by Starlin.

Grade: A-

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Saturday, January 3, 2015

S.H.I.E.L.D. #1

   The idea behind this series seems to be: "We'll tell the kind of stories we wish we could afford to do on the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show."

   And there's nothing wrong with that. I like the show a lot - it really picked up momentum after the tie-in last season with the Captain America: Winter Soldier movie, and this season has been even better.

   But the live-action show is limited in how much super-hero action it can include - both because of money and availability of the film stars.

   No such restrictions here, so the creative team cuts loose, throwing in a cosmic menace and an army of Avengers.

   That gives artists Carlos Pacheco, Mariano Taibo and Jason Paz lots of room for action and mayhem.

   But the focus is on Phil Coulson, the agent who uses his encyclopedic knowledge of superheroes to overcome any menace. (Could writer Mark Waid be projecting here?).

   The only problem is that all the superhero action tends to overshadow the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.

   But it's a fun, over-the-top romp that gets the series off to a strong start.

Grade: A-

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Friday, January 2, 2015

Miracleman Annual #1

   I was really looking forward to this annual, since it includes the first new Miracleman stories in a heck of a long time.

   Add to that the creative teams represented - Grant Morrison and Joe Quesada on the first story, Peter Milligan and Mike Allred on the second - and you can understand why my expectations were high.

   Perhaps that was the problem - I was expecting too much.

   After all, Morrison's story was written early in his career - in the 1980s - so it lacks the depth of his modern work.

   All of which is to say, I didn't care for it much. It tries a little too hard to mislead, and the visualization of the antagonist is a bit too far off the model. But aside from that quibble, the art is quite good.

   The second story is a bit lighter, being set in the fantasy Miracleman world the heroes enjoyed before reality set in.

   It's loaded with flights of fancy and silly bits of business, but it's all in good fun. But it's also very reminiscent of an earlier story by the - ahem - Original Writer.

   So I can't really give this a strong recommendation - it's a fair effort, but it has some powerful storytelling to live up to, and it doesn't quite reach the mark.

   Nice art, though.

Grade: B-

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Thursday, January 1, 2015

Another "Top 10 for 2014" List

   One of my long-time friends (who prefers to stay Anonymous) sent in this terrific list of his top picks for 2014. Take it away, Anon:

1 – Avengers / New Avengers / Hickman’s “Time Runs Out” Epic

(Last year’s ranking – 4)

   Jonathan Hickman continues to impress me. The Illuminati, a rogue group of intellectual heroes, continues to work in the shadows with a “we know what’s best” mentality. 

   At the end of the 2014, everything is falling apart, but in fascinating ways. Much like his wonderful run of Fantastic Four, Hickman moves characters like chess pieces and often causes us to forget where they went until the right time. 

   He’s still punching out great stories with plenty of distractions from the so-called “House of Ideas” offering competing plot lines and a new artist nearly every issue. Hickman’s plotlines rise above these annoyances. 

2 – Starlight

(Last year’s ranking – Not Ranked)

   My Uncle Paul was the proverbial black sheep of my family and the person who got me into this hobby. He’s passed on now, but would have loved Mark Millar’s Starlight

   With wonderful retro art by co-creator Goran Parlov (who is clearly channeling Moebius and his Heavy Metal work), they tell the story of a Flash Gordon homage who has been back on Earth for decades and is considered crazy for stories of vanquishing evil maniacs on other worlds. 

   Of course, he’s needed again, and his adventures resume. The story might be packaged a bit too neatly, as it ties up quickly in six issues, but that didn’t bother me. 

   Much like Flash Gordon, James Bond and Indy Jones, you want this guy to win again.


3 – The Manhattan Projects

(Last year’s ranking – 1)

   Even with an ominous hiatus occurring at present, this book still is well worth your time. 

   Hickman continues to add new characters and plotlines, but the book maintains interest. 

   I’ve recommended this book to some friends and most have not liked it, mostly due to Ryan Browne’s highly stylized artwork. 

   I like it (and I guess I’m used to it), but be warned.


4 – New Lone Wolf & Cub

(Last year’s ranking – Not Ranked)

   No one ever dies in comic books. 

   Not even Bucky

   While the long death of Cub’s father remains intact, the adventures of his son continue in these graphic novels. 

   Kazuo Koike takes the reader back to the end of the last series and maintains the death, but also shows us the grief and sadness that death caused. 

   Fate is still very cruel to the surviving Cub, but a new protector enters the picture. It will be interesting to see where this new series goes.


5 – Dr. Doom and Valeria’s storyline

(Last year’s ranking – Not Ranked)

   I’m absolute sucker for this character dynamic. 

   A flawed villain with tremendous megalomania becomes attached to his niece, who happens to be the smartest human on earth and the daughter of his nemesis. What could go wrong? 

   Hickman gets the credit for laying the groundwork for this relationship during his Fantastic Four run, but it continues in several books. 

   Unfortunately, it seems to be the center of the current version of Avengers World, but subpar writing and art have me losing interest at present. 

6 – Saga

(Last year’s ranking - 3)

   The book that always delivers. 

   Great art and writing, interesting characters, things happen, and it pulls the heartstrings. 

   People look at you like you’re out of your head if you try to describe Saga, but, in the end, it’s a love story of sorts. 

   You meet the narrator, but that’s complicated as well. I’m not as excited about this book as I was, and I’m not entirely sure why that is. 

   I still buy it and enjoy it, which works for me.

7 – The Walking Dead

(Last year’s ranking – Honorable Mention)

   Robert Kirkman’s long zombie ride has gone a long distance and got an Honorable Mention last year because I was wondering if the ride was going anywhere. 

   Well, it was, which is why this book is in the Number 7 slot this year. 


8 – Grant Morrison’s Multiversity saga

(Last year’s ranking – Not Ranked)

   I became impressed again with Grant Morrison after reading his book, Supergods, which is actually a love letter to comic book super-heroes. 

   You expect some kind of drug-fueled deconstruction from Morrison when it’s actually an amazing tribute to American mythology. 

   Morrison’s Multiversity brings a much-needed bright spot to current DC comic books. 

   With the awful reboot of reboots, the New 52 (see below), DC has sucked most of the creativity out of comics with the notion of a “young, hip” version of heroes that we’ll like more than our old favorites. 

   Well, I don’t like it and, based on sales, most folks don’t either. 

   Morrison, by contrast, stacks on top of the old archetypes and expands upon them with new histories, dimensions and plot lines

   While the books seem to be a collection of one-shots, they intertwine nicely. 

   With the addition of some of my favorite artists, I’ve found this ongoing line a consistently interesting read.

9 – Fantastic Four 

(Last year’s ranking – 2)

   The writers who followed Hickman’s departure from Fantastic Four did well, but were forced to rush their ending, which really harmed the story. 

   Along come James Robinson, a fan favorite known for his reverence for old characters and his ability to breathe new life into them. 

   Robinson is clearly building to an end point for the series, which is unfortunate, but, thus far, this book has improved with each new issue.


10 – Prophet

(Last year’s ranking – 9)

   Not unlike the previously ranked Starlight, Prophet is like finding an old stack of Heavy Metal magazines that you missed. 

   Strange, hyper detailed and occasionally disturbing, this series is headed somewhere, but I’m not exactly sure where. 

   A second book has been added to the series, but neither book is on a regular schedule, which is concerning.


Honorable Mention

Batman

   My local comic shop frowns at me for not reading this book. 

   It’s good, but just not good enough for my pull list.  

   I read the Court of Owls storyline and I’ve been following the current Endgame story. 

   Greg Capullo’s art is good and capture the main character and Gotham well. 

   Scott Snyder takes the main character into challenging situations that seem like new ground. 

   It’s good, but I’m just not that into it.

Most Disappointing Comic Book(s)

DC’s “New” 52

   The Batman title aside, the “New 52” has been a real disappointment. 

   While I’ve not read anything, it still feels like a reboot for reboot’s sake. Sales are hurting, so changes will follow soon.

Shameless Plug For Something You Should be Reading or Listening To

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline


   Just get a copy of this book and read it. 

   The audiobook is read by Wil Wheaton and is also worth your time. 

   A film is in the works if they can find the right director and about 100+ licenses for all of the pop culture references. 

   You won’t be disappointed.

   (Editor's note: Chuck agrees - this book is terrific!)