Saturday, October 31, 2015

New Avengers #2

   As Dwayne commented recently, in my review of New Avengers #1 I said I'd be passing on this series - and then I picked up the second issue.

   It's not that I had second thoughts - I was just in the habit of buying the series, and frankly, I forgot about dropping it - so I picked it up by accident.

   When I realized what I'd done, I thought, "Well, maybe I should have given it a second chance anyway."

   Nope.

   The Maker (Reed Richards from the Ultimate Universe) is the big bad, and he's a terrible disappointment - depicted here as the usual slavering, murderous mad scientist, instead of one of the most intelligent men on the planet.

   I don't mind him being villainous so much - he managed that in his original form in The Ultimates, but at least there as some justification (however slim) for his behavior. Now he's just killing and maiming and splattering blood for the fun of it.

   The menace / threat the team faces is just silly (that's it on the cover - I have no ice what it is or why it should be feared). The team's solution to the problem is equally silly.

   So, yeah, I can't recommend this series at all. This time I really will stay away.

Grade: C-

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Friday, October 30, 2015

Superman #45

   I honestly think that the powers that be behind this new take on Superman are doing their best to convince me to stop buying this comic.

    They're reduced his power, they've revealed his identity, and just when he seems to be concentrating on the mysterious company that's behind his recent woes, suddenly he takes an odd turn and finds himself involved in a super-powered version of Fight Club.

   It's a time-honored tactic to tear a hero down to the bare essentials before building him back up - but you don't get the sense that this story has an endgame in mind. It just seems to be wandering all over.

   Handling the art in this issue (and presumably into the future) is Howard Porter, who's quite good (I always loved his run on JLA), but it's a bit of an adjustment after John Romita, Jr., who has apparently moved on to a new project.

   The problem is, I just don't see much of Superman here. Money troubles? Isn't his best friend a billionaire?

   I like Superman when he's the smartest guy in the room. Not much of that in view here.

Grade: C+

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Justice League: The Darkseid War: Batman #1 (One shot)

   I generally try to resist the urge to buy these spinoff series - one-shots attached to an ongoing event.

   That's because they usually don't have much impact on the story in general and the character in particular.

   So I somewhat reluctantly picked up this issue of Justice League: The Darkseid War: Batman.

   And it's a bit of a mix - some of my fears were justified, some not so much.

   Spinning out of the main series in Justice League, the story has several members of the team endowed with (New) God-like powers. Batman is now sitting in the Mobius Chair, which allows him glimpses of the future - and access to an incredible amount of information, including the answer to mysteries he's never been able to solve - including the name of the man who murdered his parents.

   That's been the subject of debate for years - should Batman know the name of the criminal who launched his career, or does catching that killer mean the end of Batman's career?

   In the original story in the Golden Age, Batman discovers that Joe Chill was the triggerman - and takes a surprising approach to his final confrontation with Chill. This modern story leans a lot on that original tale - but takes it in a different direction.

   It's not a bad story at all, but it's difficult to work up much interest in an all-knowing Batman. Solving mysteries is more fun when they're done the hard wary.

Grade: B

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Classics - Zot #10

   By 1985 the effect on comics of the "grim and gritty" movement was being felt - but not everywhere.

   In Scott McCloud's Zot series, the story pushed back against the trend. There's a wonderful moment where the hero, facing a revolt and a powerful enemy, is urged to take the law into his own hands, to be ready to take the life of his enemy - and his response is to laugh at the absurd nature of the idea.

   This issue wraps up the opening storyline, as Zot must find a way to stop a widespread revolution - and it's an effort that may change his life, no matter the outcome.

   Like the title character, the series is warm, uplifting and funny - but this issue was a bit bittersweet because it marked the temporary end of the series. It returned, but the interior page were black-and-white, with only the covers in color.

    But what a great series this was! This "final" issue boasts some terrific art and design, with the pages still striking and awe-inspiring.

    And there are two pages that feature stunning layouts - one a "wallpaper" effect and the final page a wonderful final note of optimism and heroics.

   This series holds up well today, 30 years (ulp!) after its original publication. Zot was a real hero -  helping people because it was the right thing to do. Amazing!

   Highly recommended!

Grade: A

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Hitting a Milestone - Post #3000!

    It's one of those "Posts that only Chuck cares about," but I have to note that this is post #3,000 (!!) for Chuck's Comic of the Day!

   When I started this blog back on Sept. 10, 2008, it was sort of a lark - something I was trying for the fun of it. Everybody was writing blogs - why not me (I write professionally in the real world, after all). But could I write a review every day?

   Nope! Illness, real life, technical glitches and the occasional vacation have interfered, but I proud to say I have a pretty high percentage - thanks especially to my guest reviewers, who have stepped in to cover from time to time - and much appreciated!

   (If you'd like to write a guest review, just send it to the email address on the right side of the page. There's no money in it, but you'll get bragging rights!)

   I really wasn't sure how long I'd continue this effort, but it's actually been quite a bit of fun, and the readership continues to grow, so I plan to keep going for the foreseeable future!

   I just wanted to pause for a moment to thank you all, gentle readers, for following along. I enjoy your comments and I appreciate you making time to share the thoughts and memories that surround this unique corner of literature!

   On the the future!

New Comic Book Day

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

- Batgirl #45 - An old flame turns up. 

- Flash #45Zoom plots more destruction.

- Justice League: The Darkseid War: Batman #1 - Spinoff of the "new" Batman.

- New Avengers #2Facing the Maker.

- Superman #45Powering down.  

- Where Monsters Dwell #5 - In deep doo-doo.

   And that's it!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Eternal Soulfire #4

   This series is so close to being something special.

   Eternal Soulfire focuses on a young woman, Cassidy, who has undergone a surprising transformation, as she sprouted gossamer wings and suddenly found herself a target of mysterious military-type forces.

   When it focuses on her and her discovery of the new world that's dawning for her, it's a fun series. Something as simple as a visit to a club is a delight.

   But then we have to deal with the whole "the military / government / authority hates us because we're different" thing - it's all well-worn ground and just feels too much like the same old shtick.

   The art is very nice, although Alex Konat, Julie Salvatierra and Mark Roslan don't get many opportunities to draw anything more than some lovely women talking things over (well, there's a touching scene at the club).

   It feels wrong to be complaining about the action scenes and praising the quiet bits, but there you go.

Grade: B

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Monday, October 26, 2015

"Supergirl" - Premiere

   The premiere of Supergirl is no surprise to many, since the pilot was "leaked" online several months ago - a sign of how confident the network was that it had a potential winner.

   I saw it for the first time tonight, and I agree - they do have a success story here (at least so far).

   The series stars the lovely and extremely likable Melissa Benoist as Kara Zor-El (Danvers), the cousin of Kal-El, also known as Clark Kent - and Superman.

   As we see in flashback, she's sent to Earth to protect baby Kal-El, but spends decades in suspended animation and arrives on Earth after Superman is already grown and established. He's never seen clearly (and presumably will only be part of the series from a distance), but we meet her adopted family and see that she's established herself working for media mogul Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), a powerful (and borderline psycho) publisher.

   The supporting cast is quickly established, and a disaster strikes that forces Kara to stop hiding her powers and puts her in the spotlight - as Supergirl.

   What makes the show work is the fact that all the characters are interesting, the series has a strong sense of humor working for it, and there's a positive, uplifting spirit at work. But it's not all fluff - there's a serious danger facing Kara and her adopted city.

   You'll also find some Easter Eggs in there (bonus points for identifying the actors playing her adopted parents), some solid special effects work and strong action sequences.

   But the real secret of its success lies with Benoist - she's very much the girl next door - sweet, funny, adorable and sexy (without ever trying).

   It's off to a strong start, and well worth watching! And it should shut up those who say female super-heroes don't work.

Grade: A-

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

S.H.I.E.L.D. #11

   You get the sense that writer Mark Waid is having a heck of a lot of fun with this series.

   In this issue of S.H.I.E.L.D. he teams up with Hall of Fame artist Howard Chaykin and revives one of Chaykin's classic characters - the pulpish rogue Dominic Fortune.

   (And I love that reference is made to the fact that Fortune should be 100 years old - but thanks to mysterious reasons, he's still mighty spry.)

   The story is told in classic Chaykin style, as Fortune comes to Agent Coulson for help getting back a valuable item that certain villains have stolen from him.

    There are lots of twists and turns along the way, and while Fortune is older, he's as clever (and when need be, underhanded) as ever - a lovable rogue.

   As a long-time fan of Chaykin's art and stories, this was a real treat. In fact, my only complaint is that the cover wasn't provided by Chaykin.

   But that's a small quibble in a story that's so much fun.

Grade: A-

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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Justice League #45

   After the shocking conclusion to last issue, things take a surprising story for (most of) the members of the Justice League as the "Darkseid War" continues.

   We've seen Batman altered by linking up with the Mobius Chair, and now several other members of the team are affected by mysterious forces - some for the better, and others, not so much.

   The effects are forcing the team into different directions, and as a result, this self-contained "event" is now spilling out into six other issues (boo hiss) - so it's become just like every other event in recent memory, forcing the reader to buy a bunch of comics to keep up with the story.

   I'm surprised to see a new artist on the series already, but certainly Francis Manapul is a great talent, bringing his unique vision and vibrant style to the series.

   Geoff Johns' story continues to surprise - this is the kind of epic scale this series should be trading in - it's a perfect fit.

Grade: A-

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Murphy Anderson: In Memory

   Very sad to note today the passing of one of the titans of the Silver Age (and beyond): Murphy Anderson, who rose to fame as an artist and inker on such titles as Hawkman, the Atomic Knights, Superman and virtually every title in DC's line.

   As I've mentioned before, he was one of the best (and probably THE best) of the Silver Age DC artists (and the best inker, too). 

   I met him a couple of times over the years, and he was always kind and generous with his time - you had the sense that he was a big comics fan, too!

   I interviewed him briefly in Chicago in the late '80s and saw him on panels over the years at other cons. I once asked a group he was with at one panel - Roy Thomas, Julius Schwartz and Murphy - what their favorite work / project had been. Julie said, "Well, most of us don't have a single favorite." Roy said, "I do: Conan." Murphy said, "The Buck Rogers comic strip." Julie seemed a bit miffed, but the audience laughed.

   I also got a chance to talk to Murphy one-on-one at a con several years back. I got him to autograph an issue of Strange Adventures he had drawn, and I asked him about the last panel on the last page - it included his signature and the notation "-30-" - something all old-school journalists know. I asked if that was the origin, and he smiled and said, "Yes, it's a throwback to my old days in journalism class." (In the pre-computer days, typing "-30-" on a script signified the end of a story.) 

   He was a charming, kind man - a true gentleman. I loved his work and admired him greatly.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Uncanny Inhumans #1

   The Inhumans are getting a big push from Marvel's TV branch - they're a big part of Marvel's Agents of SHIELD - and there's a feature film scheduled to turn up in a couple of years.

   So it's only natural that they keep trying to revive the comic book version.

   Recent attempts to do that have run into some problems with erratic creative teams, with constant interruptions by events, and with the temporary shutdown of the Marvel Universe during Secret Wars.

   This issue offers something of a fresh start, though it still carries some of the baggage from earlier versions.

   Written by Charles Soule, it establishes the Inhumans as an Avengers-like super-team, fighting to protect the world from assorted threats, including an alien invasion this time around.

   It also focuses on Black Bolt's attempts to recover his son, who's in the hands of one of Marvel's deadliest villains. Oh, and there's a romantic sub-plot that feels like it arrives out of left field.

   The art by Steve McNiven and Jay Leisten is wonderful - kinetic, with powerful layouts and striking character designs.

   But will this series work? I'm a bit on the fence - it features a lot of costumed characters, but doesn't give us a reason to care about them. They need to be (forgive me) humanized a bit more, so we can sympathize with their efforts.

   It's a fair start, but the series needs to work a bit harder to earn our love.

Grade: B+

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Classics - X-Men #7

   Quite a few of my earliest comic book acquisitions came about for the best of reasons: Mom discovered that it was a good way to keep me quiet.

   So if she had to go somewhere - the laundromat, for example - she'd let me buy a comic book because she knew I'd quietly sit and read it while she was busy.

   This issue of X-Men stands out in my memory - it was traumatic. Mom occasionally filled in as secretary at an office in town, and one day in 1964 she had to stop into the office for some reason or another.

   In the same office building there was a small newsstand, and the wall behind the cash register was covered with a huge display of comic books (no doubt placed there to keep kids from getting their grubby hands on the comics). We stopped on the way to the office.

   It was always tough to pick just one comic (or two, if I had a whole quarter to spend), but I happily picked this issue because I loved the X-Men. The idea of young people (teens, although they seemed old for teens) having powers, going to a school to learn how to use those powers, wearing cool school uniforms and fighting evil mutants was a winner - not to mention those early stories were all by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby!

   So we went up to the office, and I sat down and turned to the first page - shockingly, the team was posing for a graduation photo! Were they done with school already?

   I anxiously went to turn the page - but I couldn't! The pages of the comic were still connected - the issue wasn't cut properly at the printer's! What to do?

   Somewhat panicked, I explained the problem to Mom, and the secretary at the office calmly picked up a letter opener and used it to cut the pages apart. It was a bit traumatic to watch (although I didn't care about condition in those days - I still don't, come to think of it), but I was able to read the comic,  jagged edges and all, so I was happy.

   It was an action extravaganza, as the Blob joined forces with Magneto and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, Mastermind and the Toad) - and the X-Men were fighting alone, without the help of Professor X!

   I quickly recovered from my shock and - as should be obvious - I loved the issue.

   Thanks, Mom!

Grade: A

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New Comic Book Day

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

- Astro City #28 - Origin of a tiny hero!

- Groo: Friends and Foes #10 - More mayhem more often.

- Uncanny Inhumans #1 - A rescue mission - and a shocking romance!

- Invincible Iron Man #2 - A meeting with Doom!

- Justice League #45 The team transforms.

- Karnak #1 - Warren Ellis is writing it, so I'm there.

- SHIELD #11 - Howard Chaykin art - and the return of Dominic Fortune!

- Usagi Yojimbo #149 - A life and death battle - for a worthless treasure. (Or is it?)

- Weirdworld #5 - The final battle and a mystery solved?

   And that's it!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

   Like most Star Wars fans, I'm delighted to see the new (final?) trailer for The Force Awakens.

   Unlike many, I've deliberately avoided reading too much about the movie - I want to be surprised by the plot twists, after all - and the trailers they're released have done a good job of teasing the story without giving away key plots points. (This is something the original Star Wars trailers excelled at, as well.)

   It should come as no surprise, given our spoiler-free policy here at Chuck's Comic of the Day, that we won't dip into conjecture about the upcoming film - but we're certainly anxious to see it. The visuals are stunning, and the mix of new cast with the original actors promises a heck of a good time.

   And after all, any movie that breaks the Internet can't be all bad.

   In case you've been lost at sea, here's the trailer:



Monday, October 19, 2015

Batman #45

   Comics fans are occasionally called on to be patient while stories run their course, and the latest trend (yes, it's been around before) is to replace the hero with a substitute (see: Thor and Captain America).

   That's been the story in Batman in recent months, as (rather absurdly) Commissioner Jim Gordon has been recruited to run a high-tech uniform that allows him to take the place of the original version (who's been recovering from his near-death fight with the Joker).

   So the art by Greg Capullo and Danny Miki is excellent (if a bit gruesome in spots), and the story has been interesting, as the "new" Batman deals with the crime menaces that threaten Gotham City - but the whole premise just feels like fan fiction, with it all based on an unsupportable concept.

   Jim Gordon is (in my mind, anyway), a grizzled cop, not a ripped superhero. Here he's more Iron Man than Batman, and I just can't buy him as a superhero.

   And the Bruce Wayne subplot is equally annoying, as he wrestles with... I don't know, amnesia, maybe?

   Given the title of the book, one would hope it would include more actual Batman content. My patience with this story is running out fast.

Grade: B-

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Uncanny Avengers #1


   Another day, another new issue spinning out of the Avengers family - and yet another disappointment.

   The Uncanny Avengers has always been an odd book, never really fitting in with the rest of the family.

   Perhaps it's the nature of the team, which is based on the idea of showing the world that (super-powered) humans, mutants and (now) Inhumans can work together, fighting for the common good.

    And certainly this is an odd gathering, including the now-aged Steve Rogers (no longer Captain America), Spider-Man, the Human Torch (Johnny Storm), Quicksilver, Rogue, Doctor Voodoo, Synapse and Deadpool.

   So yeah, the team is a complete mess. No one gets along - one team member quits by page 10, and you can hardly blame him. And are we expected to believe that a 90-plus-year-old guy can head up a super-team? Shouldn't he be off enjoying retirement somewhere?

   The opponents are strange (or incomprehensible), there's no chemistry, no one particularly likable (which is a bit of a shock with Rogers on the team) - it just feels like the comic equivalent of goulash, where they threw in a bunch of characters who were laying around with nothing better to do.

   I'll be passing on this one.

Grade: C

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Saturday, October 17, 2015

Justice League of America #4

   This issue of Bryan Hitch's Justice League of America is reassuring.

   Up to this point, the story of the arrival on Earth of the Kryptonian "god" Rao has been following standard science fiction tropes: the visiting alien seems to be benevolent, solving all mankind's ills - but he (it?) actually has an underlying scheme.

   But the members of the JLA finally start unraveling the mystery here, and the secrets have some interesting twists to them - so I feel a bit better that this isn't going to be the "same old" take.

   Maybe.

   Hitch's art is impressive as always, with Daniel Hernriques providing the inks. A few pages are almost too much (what is going on in that lab on page two?), but, perhaps, better too much than not enough.

   So I'm cautiously optimistic that the story is going to new and interesting places. Certainly that last page has upped the ante.

Grade: A-

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Friday, October 16, 2015

New Avengers #1

   I knew the new Avengers line of comics was facing an uphill battle, starting a new take on the titles that must live in the shadow of Jonathan Hickman's amazing run on the title.

    And for the "new" New Avengers, it's (so far) a miss.

   It springs off of the idea of billionaire Robert (Sunspot) DaCosta buying out the super-science organization known as Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM) and turning it into a branch of the Avengers.

   So he builds a team of scientists, establishes an island base, and assembles an odd team of heroes.

   It's odd because you'd expect it to include of some of Dacosta's former New Mutants or X-Force teammates - but instead, it's made up of former Young Avengers - Hulkling and Wiccan - a former Thunderbolt - Songbird - and other young heroes - White Tiger, Power Man (not the Luke Cage one) and Squirrel Girl.

   They're trying to solve the mystery behind a strange event in Paris that has sinister implications - and the villain behind it is a deadly new addition (of sorts) to Marvel's Universe.

   But the story never really comes together, the team has little (or no) chemistry, the menace seems - well, silly, and there's nothing driving the reader to come back for the next issue (the last-page cliffhanger was, frankly, incomprehensible - I have no idea what was going on there).

   I'll be passing on this one.

Grade: C

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Flash - Season 2

   As The Flash rushes into his second TV season, there's a lot for longtime comic book fans to enjoy here.

   Where the first season focused on time travel and the menace of the Reverse Flash, this one is apparently going to focus on the idea of parallel Earths, as Barry Allen meets up with Jay Garrick.

   Jay, of course, is the original, Golden Age Flash. In the comics published in the '60s, it was revealed that there were parallel Earths: Earth-1, where Barry Allen lived; and Earth-2, where the heroes from DC's Golden Age (the 1930s, '40s and '50s) lived.

   The TV show is using that mythology - with some modifications. This Jay Garrick is only slightly older than Barry (if at all), and for some reason, he doesn't have his powers on Earth-1.

   But he does share his experience to help Barry defeat the Sand Demon (who owes a debt to Marvel's Sandman) - and he gets to suit up, including the iconic winged helmet.

   The show is perfectly cast (with only minor changes from the first season), especially Grant Gustin, who's immediately likable and convincing in the title role. I could quibble about the fact that he rarely seems to win outright, and for a speedster he can be a bit slow on the uptake - but his heart is in the right place.

   There were several heart-warming nods to longtime fan in the most recent episode - including a recreation of the classic cover of Flash #123 (the first meeting of the Flashes of two worlds).

   With strong villains, great visuals, humor and smart scripts, this season's off to a great start!

Grade: A-

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Classics - Wynonna Earp #1

   Given the explosion of comic book-based movies and TV shows, it's no surprise when an enterprising network picks up another one - and one of the most recent acquisitions is Wynonna Earp, the action-adventure-horror-modern-western comic that first appeared in 1996.

   It's a terrific choice for a series (scheduled to hit the SyFy Network in the Spring) - it manages to balance action, humor and great characters in a concept that allows the creative team lots of room to run.

   Created by writer Beau Smith, it follows the modern-day descendant of that great figure from western lore, Wyatt Earp. But Wynonna doesn't deal with normal desperadoes - she tracks down the literal monsters that live on the edges of the real world.

   These are menaces that normal law enforcement officials aren't able to handle, but Wynonna and her team (who start turning up at the end of the issue) are ready to take on.

    Among their opponents (or prey) are criminal gangs led by werewolves and demonic thugs who run deadly scams.

   Wynonna is a no-nonsense, tough as nails, sexy and capable woman who plays by her own rules and takes no prisoners - in other words, a hero.

   The art in this first mini-series is by Joyce Chin and Mark Irwin, and it's powerful work, though it goes a bit overboard with the Image Comics style (it was inescapable at the time), which puts Wynonna in skimpy halter tops, skin-tight, low-cut pants, and impractical heels.

   But none of that takes away from the sheer fun of the series (it brought a smile to my face), and we can only hope that the upcoming TV series captures those key elements (the action and humor, not the skimpy outfits).

   Actually, thanks to my comic book connections, I got a look at a preliminary trailer for the series, and it looks fantastic - loaded with action, cool visuals and a lead who's lovely - but tough as nails.

   Hopefully the arrival of the show also means we'll see more comic book adventures with Ms. Earp!

Grade: A

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New Comic Book Day

   Here's what I picked up at the comics shop today:
 
- A-Force #5 - Wrapping up this Secret Wars tie-in.
 
- New Avengers #1 - The new kids in town.

- Uncanny Avengers #1 - Super-heroes and mutants - what could go wrong?

- Batman #45 - Horror unleashed.
 
- Captain America White #3 - Fighting the Nazis with Sgt. Fury!
 
- Guardians of the Galaxy #1 - Catching up with the (somewhat) new team.
 
- Justice League of America #4 - Solving the mystery of a god.
 
- Red Sonja / Conan #3 - The (almost) final showdown! 

- Starfire #5 - Looking for a new job.
 
   Oh, and I meant to pick up Twilight Children and forgot. Dang.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Jughead #1

   The "New" version of Archie Comics continues with the second title in the line - this one starring Archie's unorthodox best friend, Jughead.

   In keeping with the slightly-more-realistic version of the characters, this version of Jughead is a bit different from the slapstick, woman-hating, burger-loving sluggard we're used to.

   Now he's a video-game fanatic, burger-loving, under-the-radar advocate against the evils of authority (which is to say, the new hard-nosed principal at Riverdale High School).

   There's a lot to like here in Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson's work, as it manages a balance between real-world antics, some surprises and teenagers who - at least occasionally - act like real teens.

   Not that this is a documentary - there are several leaps of imagination into odd corners of pop culture (an Archie staple), and a few well-worn gags - but overall, it's a fun issue with a somewhat new and original take on Archie's perennial pal.

   I'm not sure if longtime fans of the "classic" Archie titles will appreciate this comic, but it does give the series a much-needed fresh start.

Grade: B+

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Monday, October 12, 2015

Doctor Strange #1

   I am, as the wrestling fans say, a total mark for Doctor Strange. (In other words, I like him.)

   So I'm happy that Earth's Sorcerer Supreme is enjoying a resurgence - a new movie is in the works (and Marvel has a great track record on those so far), he had a significant role in Secret Wars, and now he's back with a new title.

   Happily enough, the series is starting fresh, so new readers are brought up to speed quickly, and the newest menace (which promises to be a nasty bit of business) starts to show its hand.

   The story by Jason Aaron manages a solid mix of the fantastic, humor, and a little sex appeal.  Aaron has been hit or miss with me, but so far, this series feels like a great fit.

   The same is true for artist Chris Bachalo, whose unique, kinetic style is a great match for the mystic world Doctor Strange lives in.

   I'm not sure that this series will appeal to the average reader - the world of magic, where anything can happen, can be a slippery slope for stories. If anything is possible, how can there be a conflict?

   That's the challenge Aaron and Bachalo face - and so far, it looks like they're easily up to the task.

Grade: A-

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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Avengers #0

   More a commercial than a comic, this issue of Avengers is provided to promote the numerous Avengers-related comics spinning out of the aftermath of the still-running Secret Wars.

   It is, at best, a mixed bag.

   The All-New, All-Different Avengers is promising, if just because it's being written by Mark Waid - the story teased here focuses on the Vision and the Scarlet Witch - so that's nice.

   The New Avengers promises an interesting mix of Young Avengers and an Ultimate menace.

   The Uncanny Avengers brings in the most unexpected addition to the team, which continues to mix heroes with mutants.

   Then there's the mostly-female (or all-female) A-Force, the new Ultimates (which seem a lot like the Mighty Avengers), and Squadron Supreme, a modern version of that team (which has a strong resemblance to the JLA).

   So, lots to choose from, but you don't get enough of a sample here to decide which one is most worthy of your hard-earned $3.99.

   Perhaps I'm the only one, but I long for the days when there was just one Avengers comic. Like so many other titles (Spider-Man and X-Men being the worst offenders), more spinoffs just water down the brand.

   Better to have one terrific comic than a dozen mediocre ones.
 
Grade: C+

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Amazing Spider-Man #1

   It breaks my comic book heart to not have Spider-Man in my life.

   It was the comic that first got me hooked on buying Marvel Comics (that was the original Amazing Spider-Man #15), and I bought every issue for decades (like, almost five decades).

   Finally, I had to give it up - between the retro-erasure of Peter  Parker and Mary Jane's marriage, and then the whole "Doc-Ock-is-Spider-Man" mess, it broke my heart to read - so I dropped the title.

   But I keep trying to give the character another chance, so I bought this "return" issue of Spidey.

   There are some good things about it. The dialogue is crisp and actually funny. The art is very good. Pete seems to be back in heroic mode, helping people, being kind to his friends, and doing the right thing.

   But despite that, this new Spider-Man just doesn't work for me at all.

   The idea behind the new series is that Peter Parker is now Tony Stark - a wealthy inventor who uses his inventions to benefit mankind, while continuing to fight crime as Spider-Man.

   So the supporting cast is gone (at least I didn't see a familiar face in there anywhere). Spidey drives a Spider-Mobile, for crying out loud. Oh, and Spidey is Pete's "bodyguard" - so for much of the issue, we have a faux Spidey in the costume.

   As I've written before, I don't like it when Peter is portrayed as a loser. The secret to the character working is that he's "real" - dealing with everyday problems, fighting against the odds, using his intelligence and his abilities to overcome and always fighting to do the right thing.

   We can't sympathize or empathize with this Peter - in fact, he's virtually unrecognizable.

   So I won't be following this title. Bummer.

   (Oh, and I haven't even mentioned the backup features in this issue, all teasing oner Spider-related comics - which reminds me of the Silver Age Superman stories, with Super-animals, relatives, cities and assorted silly stuff. It's what we used to call "beating a dead horse.")

Grade: C

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Friday, October 9, 2015

Invincible Iron Man #1

   The Secret War isn't quite over (it's a bit behind schedule), but apparently Marvel's "return" (don't call it a reboot) to normal started this week with the release of several titles, including the Invincible Iron Man.

    The most recent series where they made Tony Stark (essentially) a villain just amazed me in its wrongheadedness (if that's a word).

   The perfect template for Tony can be found in the performance of Robert Downey, Jr. in the Iron Man and Avengers films - he's fast, funny, the smartest guy in the room, flirts with all the ladies, and able to deal with any problem. Why not use that?

   So here's a fresh version of Iron Man, as written by Brian Michael Bendis, and I'm happy to say he's writing the character as the movie version.

  Incredibly successful, Tony has just finished a new suit of armor (another great tradition for the character is that he's always re-inventing himself). Stark Industries is back to being a world leader and he's a multi-billionaire. So of course, he's using his vast wealth and armor... to impress a beautiful, intelligent woman. As you'd expect in a Bendis book, the dialogue crackles, a great mix of humor and insight.

   Yep, things are as they should be.

   Throw in a mystery involving Madam Masque - and a certain super-villain from Europe - and you have a crackling start to the series and the perfect jumping-on point.

   I really like David Marquez's artwork - his character designs are fresh and vibrant, and his environments are lush and larger than life. My only complaint - and it's a tiny one - is that I struggled with some of his page layouts. Some look like single-page gatherings of panels, but they're actually double-page spreads (using the panels on the facing page). I wasn't always sure which way to go next - but again, that's a small thing, easily sorted.

   So, it's a strong new start to a classic character who's back to his proper self.

   As a long-time fan of the series, this book makes me happy!

Grade: A-

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Secret Wars #6 (of 8)

   It's interesting that Secret Wars affects virtually every character in the Marvel Universe - but at its cosmic heart, it's a Fantastic Four story.

    Consider that the central figure is Dr. Doom. He's being opposed by two incarnations of Reed Richards (including the one from the Ultimate Universe). His closest advisors are his consort, Sue (Invisible Woman) Storm, and his daughter Valeria (Sue's daughter).

   We also find out the whereabouts of her brother Johnny (Human Torch) Storm and the Thing, as forces begin to move against Doom.

   It's a big story - a vast chessboard of characters, motivations and machinations.

   And I'm glad to see Marvel's first family at the heart of the story - especially since the group's regular title is on hiatus, and the recent film didn't treat them well.

   Kudos to writer Jonathan Hickman, artist Esad Ribic and color artist Ive Svorcina for another terrific chapter in this tale.

   The elements of the story have been building for a couple of years - so it would be difficult to pick up the story at this point.

   But for those who've been following along (or who have read the collections) know that it's a terrific accomplishment - that all-too-rare event that promises big things - and delivers!

Grade: A

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Classics - Wonder Woman #178 & 179

   Note that the best-remembered story of Wonder Woman was from a time when she stopped being so wonderful.

   Reading those pivotal issues from 1968, you get the sense of desperation. Over the course of two issues the creative team teased a new look - and then delivered it.

   The team behind it was writer Denny O'Neil and the unusual art team of Mike Sekowsky and Dick Giordano - an odd mix of raw "old school" style pencils and modern, slick inks.

   The "New" Wonder Woman was teased in the first issue - she still has her powers and original costume, but she goes undercover as she tries to prove Steve Trevor is not guilty of murder - so she adopts modern fashions and disguises herself as a "civilian."

   It's the next issue - #179 - where the "New" version is actually revealed.

   Steve is again framed for a crime he didn't commit - and at the same time, Diana is called back to Paradise Island, where her mother announces that the island is being removed from this world for a while - and to stay behind, Diana must give up her super-powers.

   She does - so away goes the star-spangled costume, the invisible plane and her magic lasso - and she returns to the world a normal mortal.

   An encounter with the wise martial artist I Ching leads her to training in ancient fighting techniques, and that (along with her new, mod wardrobe) gave us a new take on the classic character.

   The series wasn't great - the stories were wonky and the art was a bit odd - but it was a blast of fresh air into a stale series that badly needed a boost.

   It must not have made much of a difference in sales - the "new look" only lasted about two years - but it was a shocking move for the staid and square DC, revamping a character who had been unchanged for more than 20 years.

Grade: B

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New Comic Book Day

   A big week, as Marvel gets tired of waiting for Secret Wars to end and jumps back into regular continuity!  

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

- Avengers #0 - A primer to the upcoming Avengers series.

- Doctor Strange #1 - The Doc has trouble with ladies.

- Iron Man #1 - A new start for Tony.

- Jughead #1 - What is Jughead's favorite cause?

- Justice, Inc #5 - One Avenger too many!

- Miracleman #3 -Welcome to the new Underworld.

- Powers #5 - Murder mystery!

- Secret Wars #6 - The truth starts to dawn.

- Amazing Spider-Man #1 - The Spider-mobile returns?

- Star Wars #10 - Luke fights for his life!

   And that's it! 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

S.H.I.E.L.D. #10

   The S.H.I.E.L.D. series (based on the Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  TV show, natch) has been a fun little gem, cleverly straddling the divide between the tube and the Marvel universe.

   Each issue has featured a guest hero helping Agent Coulson's team avert disaster and catch the bad guys.

   But this issue (falling, oddly enough, during Marvel's celebration of the 50th Anniversary of S.H.I.E.L.D.) wanders into the world of the weird.

   As the cover shows, this issue's guest is Howard the Duck, the Disney knock-off (ironically enough, given that Disney now owns Marvel) created in the '70s by writer Steve Gerber.

   But Howard has largely struggled under other creators, who (with a few exceptions) haven't quite been able to capture the offbeat tone and general crazed nature of Gerber's work.

   Until now.

   Waid actually does it, creating a whacked-out (wauughed out?) story with the fate of the universe hanging in the balance, and only a duck can save the day! But he will need a team to face the ultimate menace!

   I don't want to give any more away - it would spoil the weirdness! It's great to read a "real" Howard story again!

Grade: A-

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Monday, October 5, 2015

Archie #3

   The third time may be the charm, but with the third issue of the "new" Archie, the charm is all wrapped up in the teenage body of new-girl-in-town Veronica Lodge, who makes her first appearance at Riverdale High School.

   It's interesting that writer Mark Waid and artist Fiona Staples are stepping back from the classic love triangle that's been the norm in Archie's life since the '60s, and instead has Archie and Betty broken up, and now Archie only has eyes for the new girl.

   It's a situation not at all to the liking of Jughead, who's much more of a mystery here - and much more capable than you might expect (but still pretty darn funny).

   To be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about all the antagonism going on in the series. One of the things I liked about the past version was that everyone, down deep, liked each other (despite occasional squabbles) - there was a nice "family of friends" atmosphere that was reminiscent of life in high school.

   The drama is amped up, but the comedy is still running strong throughout, and the "new" take on the characters is interesting. I love the art, I like the characters, and I'm intrigued to see where the story is taking us, so I'll continue to hang with the series.

   So far, the fresh start is working... for me.

Grade: B+

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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Superman #44

   I'm amazed at how much I dislike the "secret identity no more" story in Superman, and how similar it is to the same story years ago in Spider-Man's title.

   For many heroes, revealing their secret identity isn't that important - they have limited supporting casts or no real secret identity (Captain America) - or their secret identity is already famous (Iron Man).

   But for an iconic hero like Superman, revealing his Clark Kent side makes his life a permanent nightmare - and this issue is dedicated to showing how bad it can be.

   And as we've seen in recent issues, Superman keeps responding by behaving less and less like a hero. It's painful to watch, frankly.

   The whole story feels like nothing more than an imaginary story. How will the writers resolve this issue?

   The bigger question is, will anyone hang around long enough to read the resolution? I'm beginning to doubt that I'll be there.

Grade: C

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