Sunday, January 31, 2016

Hellboy Winter Special

   This issue feels like a delayed Christmas present - a real treat!

   It's a collection of two short stories starring Hellboy, one story that stands alone and a two-page gag strip starring Lobster Johnson.

   The first story is by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, co-writing with Scott Allie. The story could just as easily be a Conan story, with a prehistoric feel to it as a shaman shares a grisly story with a barbaric hunter. The art is by Tim Sale (who also provides the cover), and it's wonderful, expressive work.

   The second story takes Hellboy back to the beginning of his career in 1953 with the B.P. R.D., as they investigate a ghost story that quickly takes a horrific turn. The story is by Mignola and Chris Roberson, and the art is by Michael Walsh, who creates some terrific monsters.

   Number three is a more lighthearted tale, as Hellboy confronts some malefic snowmen as he tries to teach a young hero a lesson. This story is by Chelsea Cain, with high-energy artwork by Michael Avon Oeming.

   The final two pages are given over to a silly gag with Lobster, as Dean Rankin evokes a Ren and Stimpy cartoon.

   Overall, it's a lot of fun, and it's great to see Hellboy back in his normal stomping grounds (frankly, the Hellboy in Hell thing is wearing a bit thin).

   It makes for a Merry (one month later) Christmas!

Grade: A-


Saturday, January 30, 2016

Justice League of America #7

    Six issues in (don't let the number on the cover fool you) and this Bryan Hitch written-and-drawn series continues to percolate nicely.

   It features the Justice League of America fighting an impossible fight against a god-like figure of incredible power. The story mingles in some mythology, time travel and the early history of the planet Krypton.

   And just when you think Hitch is just lifting freely from Childhood's End, he gives it a different spin - and a surprising sequence at the end of the issue.

   The art, of course, is tremendous - both for the fresh and heroic characters and the incredible settings.

   So far, this has been a strong series (missed issue aside), and it's great to see the "classic" team (with Cyborg replacing the Martian Manhunter) unencumbered by continuity concerns - just like the classic series!

Grade: A-



Friday, January 29, 2016

The Twilight Children #4

   This is one of those "I really like it even though I'm not 100 percent sure about what really happened" comics.

   The Twilight Children takes us to an island where mysterious things keep happening - mostly revolving around large, mysterious balls of light that sometimes take people away - and sometimes brings them back.

   The story (or at least the first story arc) concludes with this issue, and even if the story's a bit murky in places, it's well worth reading if just for the terrific characters created by co-wrier Gilbert Hernandez, and the stunning visuals by co-writer / artist Darwyn Cooke.

   I don't know of any artist whose style is more classic, yet fresh and original - I'll follow Cooke wherever he goes.

   I don't know if there are plans to continue this series. The four issues so far work fine as a standalone story, but there are still mysteries aplenty to leave us hoping for more!

   Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Thursday, January 28, 2016

All-New All-Different Avengers #4

   Ah, that cover, designed to shock and draw in potential new readers - and I must admit, I never thought I'd see a cover of a Marvel comic that featured Thor kissing Captain America.

   But this issue of All-New All-Different Avengers offers much more than a surprising lip-lock. Writer Mark Waid has wisely returned the team to its original concept - namely, an interesting mix of heroes who band together to fight all manner of evil.

   After the terrific long-running, complex story just completed by Jonathan Hickman in Secret Wars, Waid has streamlined the series, focusing instead on character and shorter stories.

   It's astonishing to realize that this is a "done in one" issue, with a beginning, middle and end. (Of course, it does contain subplots that will thread through future issues.)

   The joy of the issue - aside from lots of hoo-hah action - is the character interactions, as this new team starts to pull together (or, in some cases, annoy each other), trying to overcome limited resources and the new team dynamics.

   Oh, and we see the return of a beloved classic character.

   I really like the kinetic, expressive art by Mahmud Asrar - he captures the lighthearted appeal of the younger heroes, while giving the established team members their due.

   The issue has a modern look, with the kind of classic storytelling and good humor Waid brought to his run on Daredevil. Here's hoping for the same success here (though I must admit I'd be happy to have the original Cap and Thor take their place on the team).

   Uh, no kissing required.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Classic Comics - Avengers #1

   The legend about The Avengers is that the issue was thrown together on very short notice to fill a sudden void in the publishing schedule.

   As the story goes, the Silver Age of Marvel started when publisher Martin Goodman instructed Stan Lee to create a comic featuring a super-team like DC's newest success, the Justice League. 

    Rather than create a team with its greatest heroes (the '50s heroes Captain America, Namor and the Human Torch), Lee worked with Jack Kirby to create a new team - the Fantastic Four (though he hedged his bets and used a new version of the Torch).

   Two years later, when they needed an idea fast, they went back to the JLA idea - and this time, they had some "modern" heroes to throw together for the new team.

   So Lee and Kirby brought together Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Ant-Man and the Wasp into a team that didn't get its name until the issue's final panel.

    The team is brought together by accident, as Loki plans an attack on Thor (in fact, this issue could just as easily have been an issue of Thor (Journey Into Mystery), with the other characters serving as guest stars.

   It's a terrific, high-octane issue, with lots of amazing battle sequences as the heroes think the Hulk has lost control. It's fast, free-wheeling start to an incredibly successful series.

   I first read this story not in the comic published above, but in the pages of Marvel Tales #2.

   What a delight that issue was in those days (1965) when reprints were impossible to find!

   At the time, Marvel Tales was part of Marvel's summer annuals - a real treat that only appeared during the summer months!

   The issue included the first issue of X-Men, the origin of Dr. Strange, and an early adventure starring the Hulk! All for a quarter!

   (In case you're wondering, the first Marvel Tales Annual included the origins of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Thor and Iron Man.) Eventually the series would become a regular reprint series, appearing monthly - and provided a much-needed lifeline to those early issues that seemed so far out of reach!

Grade: A+


New Comics Day

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

- All-New Avengers #4 - Thor and Cap, sitting' in a tree...

- Daredevil #3 - Ninja Warriors!

- Hellboy Winter Special #1 - Horror in the snow!

- Justice League of America #7 - Fighting a god.

- King Conan #2 - Beyond the border.

- Saga #33 - Tracking down the story.

- Superman #48 - Green K!

- Twilight Children #4 - The finale!

   And that's it! 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Uncanny Inhumans #4

   I do so love an intelligent story, and that's what we're getting in each issue (so far) of Uncanny Inhumans.

   The story starts with a tragic twist. As the world was threatened with destruction (prior to the Secret Wars), Black Bolt wanted to protect his son Ahura from the inevitable, so he took the extraordinary step of asking Kang the Conqueror to guard and protect his son.

   But when the Earth was... restored, shall we say... then Black Bolt tried to retrieve his son - but that only roused Kang's anger (a deal is a deal, after all), and he used his time traveling skills - and a grown Ahura - to set about wiping the Inhumans from reality.

   Time travel stories can be a bit dicey, and stopping a time master is almost impossible - but writer Charles Soule has cooked up some clever twists and some strong character beats here.

   Add to that terrific art by Steve McNiven and Jay Leisten and you have a powerful start to this series.

   And considering the hit-and-miss success of the Inhumans over the years since their were created, it's great to see them hit one out of the park.

Grade: A


Monday, January 25, 2016

Lucifer - TV Review

   It's rapidly reaching the point where I could write more than one comic book-based TV show review a week.

   As proof, here's the second one in three days.

   Lucifer is based on the Vertigo comic characters created by Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith and Mike Dringeberg, with a simple premise: Satan has left Hell to take a vacation - so he takes up residence at a bar in modern day Los Angeles (where else?), where he interacts with mortals and plays relationships like a game of chess.

   It's a difficult balance to maintain - keeping the "bad boy" leading man interesting but not purely evil. He's somewhat balanced by a threatening angel - but it's hard to tell which one you'd actually want in your corner.

   When Lucifer witnesses the brutal murder of a friend (can the devil have friends?), he sets out to find the real killer, which leads him to assorted figures in the music industry - and into an encounter with a beautiful detective.

   The series (wisely) rides a lot on the cool magnetism of its star, Tom Ellis, who is smooth and sexy - with a dark, deadly side. He has terrific chemistry with his co-star, the beautiful and smart Lauren German, and there's an interesting mix of characters scattered throughout.

   The writing is smart and funny (with a dark edge, of course), and the photography sharp and stylish. And thankfully, for a show based in horror, the series features a relatively minimal amount of gore.

   The only thing I'm not crazy about is the fact that, halfway through the episode, Lucifer falls into the already-hoary "guy who helps the police as an advisor" trope.

   Not that it can't make for a fun framework for the series - it's just that's it's well-worn territory, and I was hoping for a more original story approach.

   But considering that I'm not much of a horror fan, I'm almost surprised to admit that I enjoyed this first episode a lot. I'll be back.

Grade: A-


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Batman #48

   I realize this storyline will be wrapping up in the next issue or two (depending on whether or not #50 is the big finale or a fresh start for a new story), but it can't end soon enough for me.

   Batman hasn't been himself since the last big storyline, a confrontation with the Joker that left Bruce Wayne with no memory of his heroic side.

   In the meantime, Commissioner Gordon has been playing the part of Batman, leaning on high-tech devices to cover for the fact that he isn't actually Batman.

   Gotham City is being ravaged by the plant monster named Mister Bloom, a murderous creature racking up a huge (and disgusting) body count.

   Can Gordon prevail? Will Bruce get back in action? Why is Alfred being so annoying?

   Beats me.

   The Batman title has been very hit-and-miss for me since the "New 52" reboot, but unless things turn around fast, #50 will be my last issue for a while. (Same for the Superman comic.)

   I'm almost out of DC Comics to buy! Perhaps the promised line-wide reboot will lure me back.

   (Nah, I don't believe it, either.)

Grade: C+


Saturday, January 23, 2016

DC's Legends of Tomorrow - TV Review

   I have to admit, this show would have to really stink to keep me from liking it.

   That's because it's loaded with DC characters I really like.

   I would never, in a million years. have expected Rip Hunter to show up in a television series. Or Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Or the Atom. Yet here they are, part of a super-team known as Legends of Tomorrow.

   The series spins out of the ongoing Arrow and The Flash series on the CW, only this show is actually more ambitious. The premise is simple enough: Rip Hunter is out to stop the immortal villain Vandal Savage from conquering the Earth in 2166 - so he arrives in the present to recruit a team of heroes and villains to fight for the future.

   It's impressive that they've brought together a large cast of characters - in addition to the above, they have Firestorm, the White Canary, Captain Cold and Heat Wave.

   The story has the team traveling to 1975 as the first stop in their attempt to find and defeat Savage before he becomes unstoppable - so it promises to be something of a period piece, with almost all of history as their stomping ground.

   The story also works in the idea of Carter and Sheira - Hawkman and Hawkgirl - being at war with Vandal, who killed them in ancient Egypt - but the impact of a meteor caused them to be constantly resurrected (and always in love), just as it made Vandal an immortal.

   So there's a lot going on here - but the cast is terrific and the story moves along fast enough to allow us to overlook any plot holes.

   Best of all, it doesn't stink! Actually, of the three DC-based CW shows, this one is my favorite - so far.

Grade: A



Friday, January 22, 2016

Guest Review - Invisible Ink

   We have a Guest Review for you today from our pal David Wright, with a look at a graphic novel by one of the biggest names in the industry:

   Invisible Ink is the newest graphic novel by Bill Griffith, more famously known as the syndicated daily creator of Zippy the Pinhead.  

   He came out of the underground comix movement.   He is not a household name like Charles Schultz, Bill Watterson, Gary Larson, or even Garry Trudeau.  He's more fringe.  But his newest graphic novel comes off more down to earth, and it's better for that.

   This new graphic memoir deals with Griffith's family and life, and an affair his mother had when he was growing up.  Although the story might seem a bit lurid or tabloidish, it actually transcends that. 

   Born in 1944, and like a lot of baby boomers, Griffith grew up in a fairly conservative atmosphere.  His father was in the military, and his mother a housekeeper. In 1972, after the death of his father, his mother wanted to get something off her mind and reveals that she'd had a long and happy relationship with a man Bill had only slightly known. Oddly and a bit of coincidence, the man was Lawrence Lariar, a cartoonist and a crime novelist.

   After Bill's mother dies, he becomes interested in this secret part to his her life, and using her notes and files (she was also was a writer) reconstructs her past 16-year love affair with this man he hardly knew, which takes the reader on a journey not only into her life, but his as well.  

   It's one part detective novel, another part memoir, which sheds light on his growing up in the '50s, his coming to terms with the mystery of his real dad, and the culture of the '50s and '60s, among many other things.

   After his mother's death he goes to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to his uncle's house who gives him many old clippings and artifacts about his family's history. I enjoyed these insightful interludes with his uncle.

   Bill grew up in Levittown, New York. His neighbor was sci-fi artist, Ed Emshwiller, better known as EMSH. Just another one of those anecdotes in the book. It was sometime in 1957 that Griffith's mother takes a part time job in Manhattan working for Lariar, which is where they eventually meet.  She was always interested in writing, and perhaps since he was a writer as well, she thought it might make for interesting work.

   From there Griffith's goes into a bit of history about Lawrence Lariar's life as a cartoonist. During Lariar's early career, the stock market crashed and everybody was on hard times scrambling for money, you can imagine publishing was a pretty lean paying job at that time. Yet Lariar continued to make cartoons and strips, none of them ever really catching the public interest.

   At any rate, between these three or four plots the book skips around, from his mother and father's life, to his own personal life, to Lariar's life, they all form the story to this memoir.  

   Griffith's cartooning is not slick, but a little more rough hewn, or individualized. I actually like that aspect of his drawing style. Overall  I enjoyed Invisible Ink. It was one of the better graphic novels I'd read this past year. 

   His craft at drawing city scenes, landscapes and buildings and such is spot on.  If you are looking for an interesting read, I'd say check it out.    

Grade: A


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Astro City #31

   There are precious few writers today who can evoke the classic style of comics adventures while retaining a modern feel to their stories.

   Alan Moore has had some success with it, but Kurt Busiek is the master.

   Through his Astro City series, he takes us to familiar (yet unique) comic book settings, and somehow makes them fresh and fun.

   This issue, for example, feels like a classic Avengers adventure (with guest appearances by other heroes) as the monstrous Living Nightmare escapes and goes on a Hulk-like rampage - but why, and who's behind it?

   The answer (which includes a delightfully-designed bad guy) and the solution by the Honor Guard, is a real delight - I just kept smiling throughout.

   The art is by Jesus Merino, and it's very good - in fact, a few pages made me think it was Brent Anderson. And as always, Alex Ross' cover is amazing.

   But the story's the star, and it's one that bridges the gap between the sense of wonder that made those comics in the '60s so much fun, and the fast-paced tales full of twists and turns that are becoming today's standards.

   And it's "done in one" issue, instead of taking up a half-dozen issues.

   Great stuff!

Grade: A


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Classics - Avengers #2

   With the original run of The Avengers, I missed the start of the series by a slim three months.

   The first issue I picked up was issue #3, which remains to this day one of my all-time favorite comics (as I wrote about here). I've never owned a copy of #1.

   This issue - #2 - I got in a trade.

   When I was a kid, the guys in our neighborhood would gather regularly to trade comics. None of us cared much about collecting, we just wanted to read the issues we'd missed along the way - and even at this early stage of the Silver Age, Marvel Comics were in big demand.

   So we'd gather in someone's yard or garage. We'd bring some issues we wanted to trade, and then we'd wheel and deal for the comics we wanted.

   Sometimes you could get a good deal - and sometimes you had to pay dearly.

   I don't remember our terms, but whoever I traded for this issue probably got several comics in exchange. And I liked this issue so much that I've been hanging onto it for over 50 years.

   It's a completely over the top battle from start to finish, as a new alien character shows up on Earth and immediately targets The Avengers. The Space Phantom is a deceptively spindly creature, with the Skrull-like power to duplicate any character - the twist being, when he duplicates someone, that person is exiled to limbo until the Phantom changes form.

   It made for a free-wheeling battle royal as SP tricks the team members into fighting each other. As always, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby craft a high octane, fast and funny adventure as Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Giant-Man and the Wasp fight across town (Thor eventually joins in, too).

   It was typical of the kind of growth Marvel was going through - it was the first appearance of Giant-Man and the last appearance of Iron Man's original clunky gold armor (in this series, that is).

   The only strike against it is the method used to defeat the Space Phantom - but the issue is so much fun that you have to forgive any shortcuts.

   The ending manages to shock as the team membership changes - in the second issue!

   It was that element of the unexpected, of characters who were just as happy fighting each other as they were fighting the bad guys, with lots of action and humor, that made these issues so desirable to us when we were young readers.

   I always liked team books, and The Avengers was one of my first favorites!

Grade: A


New Comics Day

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

- Astro City #31 - It's a freakin' bloody Nightmare!

- Batman #48 - Sleeping with the daisies!

- Hellcat #2 - Patsy and Hedy!

- Uncanny Inhumans #4 - Final battle with Kang!

- Silver Surfer #1 - There's no place like home!

- Spirit #7 - The mystery deepens.

- Star Wars #15 - Obi Wan in the desert.

- Usagi Yojimbo #151 - Here comes the bride!

   And that's it!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Comics on TV

   Tuesday night was a great one for comic book fans: on ABC-TV there was a documentary celebrating Captain America's 75th Anniversary (and promoting the upcoming Civil War movie, natch); and then the two-hour premiere episode of the new Agent Carter season.

   On the CW there was a preview of the upcoming DC's Legends of Tomorrow series (which spins out of The Flash and Arrow), and a Kevin Smith-hosted preview of the upcoming movies Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad and the solo Wonder Woman movie.

   So how does the future look?

   Well, the Captain America feature was very good, giving Joe Simon and Jack Kirby proper credit for their work creating the character, and it was loaded with interviews that talked about the past, present and (possible) future of the character. My only criticism is that there were so many interviews crammed in, and the people popped in and out so quickly, that it was almost impossible to identify some of the speakers (the microscopic lettering on the IDs below each person didn't help).

   I haven't had a chance to watch the new Agent Carter show yet, but I loved last season, and Hayley Atwell is terrific, so I'm optimistic.

   I have similar high hopes for the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow TV series - it's ambitious, it has a great lineup, and any show that features Rip Hunter, Atom, Hawkman and Hawkgirl is ok by me. I'm really looking forward to this one.

   The film preview show was, frankly, cringe-worthy - mostly because of Kevin Smith playing it way over the top. All he needed was a couple of pom-poms. The show featured Smith "bantering" with Geoff Johns - the show felt thrown together, and was mostly filled with clips we've seen already. It did include a new Suicide Squad trailer and a few shots from the upcoming Wonder Woman movie. As with all the DC feature films, it all looks very dark and depressing and not at all kid-friendly.

   Still, it's amazing how comics-friendly both TV and films have become - it really is a Golden Age for comics fans!


Monday, January 18, 2016

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

   With this restart (as in a new issue #1), the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. comic book seems to be coming a bit more in line with the television series.

   It also features a new creative team, with a mighty tough act to follow - former writer Mark Waid provided some inspiring issues in the first run.

   Sadly, this issue doesn't match up to his work, though writer Marc Guggenheim gives it the ol' college try.

   So we have a renegade "Iron Man" attacking the Pentagon, the Secret Warriors fighting A.I.M. soldiers, and Agent Coulson pursing a romance, secret agent style.

   The plot just bounces all over the place and never really comes together - and the final secret reveal ends up on ground that's been well-trod.

   So it's a bit of a stumble for me - hopefully future issues will bring it all into focus.

Grade: B



Sunday, January 17, 2016

Groo: Friends and Foes #12 (of 12)

   For a dozen issues, Groo: Friends and Foes has been sort of a family reunion on the fly, as each issue casts the spotlight on a different member of the addled barbarian's wide-ranging supporting cast.

   For the final issue, we focus on the newest addition to the list - a little girl named Kayli, who's been popping in and out of the story, looking for her long-lost father (though unlike the legendary secret messages that once were hidden in each issue, there hasn't been much doubt about who her father is - and no, it isn't Groo).

   This issue has something for every comics fan: Groo's death! The return of the entire cast of the previous 11 issues! A heart-touching story about loss and separation! Rufferto! Cheese Dip! A double-page spread that I feel certain has damaged my eyesight beyond repair! Plus the usual laughs and mayhem!

   Also, it's the final issue of Groo. Until the next mini-series (there are actually two in the works, proving there is a comic book God).

   Kudos as always to Sergio Aragones, the King of Comics That Are Actually Funny, and Mark Evanier, for whatever it is he does.

   This maxi-series has done double-duty as a great story and a terrific intro to the character for those who are somehow just now discovering Groo. Where have you been hiding?

Grade: A



Saturday, January 16, 2016

Guardians of the Galaxy #4

   I feel like I should be enjoying the Guardians of the Galaxy series more than this.

   On the face of it, there's nothing wrong with it - the art by Valerio Schiti is very good, with lots of energy and animated characters.

   The writing by Brian Michael Bendis is as strong as ever, with lots of humor and character interaction.

   I think the problem is the additional characters who have been shoehorned into the series. There are three of them - Venom, Kitty Pryde and the Thing.

   Of those, only the Thing seems a good fit - he was built for interstellar travel, of course, and his sense of humor is always welcome.

   Kitty was introduced as a love interest for Star-Lord, but that plot seems to have fallen by the wayside. And Venom - well, I know the suit is made of an alien parasite, but he just seems out of his depth in space.

   The other problem is the improbable say Star-Lord became the emperor of Spartax. He was asked to replace his father in the job, but has anything in his experience prepared him for that job? It seems silly.

   I guess I'd prefer the focus to be on the team - there are plenty of stories to be told there. No need to bog things down with too many supporting roles.

Grade: B



Friday, January 15, 2016

All-New, All-Different Avengers #3

   I like this comic. A lot.

   It's a new team of Avengers, split almost evenly between veteran heroes and newbies.

   So we have Iron Man, Captain (Falcon) America and the Vision as the veterans, the new (she) Thor, (Ultimate) Spider-Man, Nova and Ms. Marvel as the new kids on the block (sorry).

   It makes for a fun dynamic, especially when the new heroes provide decisive moments in the battle - and the enthusiasm to create a new team of Avengers.

   The story by Mark Waid is a lot of fun, with some interesting subplots sprouting up, a mysterious and powerful new enemy, and entertaining character interaction - which is what makes team books so much fun, after all.

   The art by Adam Kubert is terrific, with powerful character designs, striking layouts and a stunning two-page spread.

   The other post-Secret Wars Avengers comics (Uncanny, New) haven't impressed me much. This is the best of the bunch by far.

Grade: A-


Thursday, January 14, 2016

All-New X-Men #3

   For some reason, Marvel hates Cyclops.

   I don't know why - he's the natural leader of the team (especially the more-or-less classic version we get in the All-New X-Men) and one of my all-time favorites.

   They treat the character like a leper - he's still blamed for killing Professor X, even though it happened when he was being controlled by the Phoenix Force - and breathes there a hero who hasn't been controlled by the bad guy at one time or another?

   He's also being treated like a terrorist, despite the fact that he committed no actual acts of terror - he just tried to protect mutants.

   Now the modern-day version of the character is mysteriously missing, and his younger self (brought through time with the rest of the original team to the present) is dealing with all the above.

   That includes facing down a group calling itself the Ghosts of Cyclops - they're a bunch of powerful mutants, but they're more screw-ups than actually evil - but they find themselves in a corner here, and the only one who can save them is... Cyclops.

   So perhaps this is the first step in redeeming that character, and if so, I say: good on ya. And long overdue.

   I love the art (Mark Bagley and Andrew Hennessy), and I like the story (Dennis Hopeless) - there's a lot of potential here.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Secret Wars #9 (of 9)

   The challenge for any Event Series is to "stick the landing," and the bigger the story, the greater the difficulty.

   And there are few stories in the history of comics that have been bigger or bolder than the one that culminates in this final issue of Secret Wars.

   It's a story that started out as an Avengers story, building across the pages of Jonathan Hickman's work in The Avengers and New Avengers (which starred the Illuminati - a secret gathering of Marvel's heroes).

   But it also incorporated elements from Hickman's earlier (excellent) run on Fantastic Four - and in the final moments, it actually became an FF story (as the terrific Alex Ross cover shows)!

   It's an intense, emotional confrontation, with some shining moments for several characters, and we get a glimpse into the fate of key players - and the final fate of Battleworld.

   It's so good - Esad Ribic's art is tremendous - that we can happily forgive the fact that the finale arrives a little late.

   Far too many event books limp to the finish line, but Hickman and Ribic have set a new standard. This is how it's done!

Grade: A+




New Comics Day

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

- Agents of SHIELD #1 - A new creative team!

- All-New All-Different Avengers #3 - An invading army from space.

- Groo: Friends and Foes #12 - Family and foe reunion!

- Guardians of the Galaxy #4 - Saving a planet!

- Red Wolf #2 - Back to the future!

- Secret Wars #9 - The big finish!

- Starfire #8 - Don't call him Robin!

- Thor #3 - Fighting Loki!

- All-New X-Men #3 - Final showdown with the Ghosts of Cyclops.

   And that's it!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Totally Awesome Hulk #2

   I wasn't expecting much from this series.

   That's mostly because of the title, but I have to admit that (so far) The Totally Awesome Hulk is a lot of fun!

   I knew the art was going to be great - Frank Cho is an amazing artist, born to draw humorous stories loaded up with monsters, beautiful women and lots of action. Check, check and check!

   And I figured the story was in good hands, since Greg Pak has returned to his most famous character (sorta), having made his name with the Planet Hulk series.

   Together they've given this series - and the character - a fresh look and a unique story (and they're slowly letting us know what happened to the original Hulk).

   My only question is: why is Rom depicted in the circle on the corner of the cover?

   (I kid - it's not really Rom. But it got my hopes up for a second there.)

Grade: A-


Monday, January 11, 2016

Doctor Strange #4

   Not everyone likes stories about magicians, and I think that's because the rules are pretty fuzzy.

   If the hero can just pull a spell out of his back pocket, it's difficult to find an opponent that can actually challenge him or her.

   Despite that, I've long been a fan of Doctor Strange (though, like all long-running characters, he's had good stories and bad ones).

   I think the original concept by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko managed to develop its own odd internal logic and a great cosmic sense of wonder - and the best writers to follow tapped into that as well (Thomas and Colan, Englehart and Brunner, Stern and Rogers, and the other ones I'm forgetting to mention).

   Now the Doc's being managed by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo, and they're carefully establishing their own weird magical world, with rules that are certainly odd - but make sense (as much as a book like this can make sense).

   It helps that they're building a massive storyline, bringing a menace that threatens not only Dr. Strange, but the existence of magic entirely (not to mention all the other magic-based characters who make guest appearances in this series).

   Throw in some amazing, over-the-top art and a great sense of humor and you have a strong start to the new adventures of Doctor Strange, and another strong addition to the terrific creative teams who have left their mark on this one-of-a-kind hero.

Grade: A-


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Invincible Iron Man #5

   As always, when writer Brian Michael Bendis is involved, you should expect the unexpected.

   And that's what we find in the pages of the Invincible Iron Man.

   Ordinarily you'd expect technological, science fiction-based stories when you're dealing with someone like Tony Stark - but instead he finds himself facing a powerful old enemy who's wielding magical powers (and despite the cover, that enemy is not Doctor Doom - he has a shocking role of his own to play).

   There's also a surprising new supporting character, as Mary Jane Watson finds herself in the middle of some super-hero mayhem. (It seems that she's going to be an ongoing character in this series - we can only hope she is treated better here than she was in Amazing Spider-Man.)

   I like this series! The art by David Marquez is sleek and powerful, and the dialogue is fresh and funny - very much in the style of Marvel's films.

   Iron Man's been a bit up and down in recent years, and it's good to see the series back on solid ground.

Grade: A-


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Archie #5

   Each issue of the "new" Archie has focused on a different member of the time-honored cast - so with the fifth issue, it's time to give perennial bad guy / mischief-maker Reggie Mantle the spotlight.

   To his credit, Mark Waid resists the urge to give us a full-fledged origin story for Reggie. Most everyone who's had the experience of going to school has run into a similar personality - someone who seems to be mean just for the sake of meanness.

   He's drawn into the ever-growing friction between Veronica and Archie's longtime friends, Betty and Jughead - and who better to spark conflict than the master?

   Waid (with artist Veronica Fish) continues to build a new series using the most reliable and enduring building blocks that have made the series so enduring - all while updating it for a modern audience.

   Very impressive!

Grade: A-


Friday, January 8, 2016

A-Force #1

   One of the most interesting titles - in potential - that was created during the Secret Wars was A-Force, a (mostly) all-female version of the Avengers.

   While that series never quite lived up to its potential, it now gets a second chance at life post-Secret Wars - but it starts with a blank slate, as none of the heroes featured here remember anything about Battleworld.

   Well, there's one exception - the mysterious star-filled girl named Singularity is (re)born into the Marvel Universe - and she remembers her former friends.

   But she's brought a powerful menace with her, and that means it's time to put the band together, including Captain Marvel, the She-Hulk and Medusa.

    The issue is written by G. Willow Wilson and drawn by Jorge Molina, and it's a decent first issue, with some nice humor threaded through the action sequences.

   It's still early, but once again, there's lots of potential - it remains to be seen if this team can live up to its promise.

Grade: B+


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Swamp Thing #1

   Swamp Thing had its most famous (and industry-shaking) period under the helm of writer Alan Moore - but sadly, that success sometimes overshadows the original creators of the series - writer Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson.

   Wein had the golden touch for creating memorable characters. At Marvel, he created the New X-Men, and its most famous hero, Wolverine.

   But his run on each character was relatively short - so it's great to see him back at the controls as this character returns to regular publication.

   And the emphasis here is on horror, as the solitary Swamp Thing is enlisted to track down a new horror unleashed on a nearby college campus - one he may not be able to stop.

   The art for the series is provided by the great Kelley Jones, who was born to bring horror stories to life. His utterly unique style brings the swamp (and its protector) to lush, exuberant life. With his own sense of design and perspective, the environments will send a chill up your spine - wonderful stuff!

   Oh, and Wein brings back another familiar supernatural character - one longtime fans will be glad to see back in his capable hands.

   This is a different Swamp Thing - much more along the lines of the original series, with a healthy dose of Moore's horror stylings added. Highly recommended!

Grade: A



Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Classic Comics - Sabre #1

   It's been a while since I read Sabre, so please forgive me for not realizing that the future was now!

   Printed by Eclipse Comics in 1982, the series was a sequel to one of (if not THE) first original graphic novels published in the U.S. - its publication in 1978 heralded the beginning of the Direct Market!

   The story was set in a dystopian future - 2020! The world had been racked by disease, environmental devastation and terrorist attacks, and you had to be tough to survive.

   And no one was tougher than Sabre, whose adventures were a mix of blaxploitation films, spaghetti westerns and martial arts showdowns.

   The series was written and created by Don McGregor in his unique style that combined wonderful prose flourishes with social consciousness, pop culture references and the soul of a poet.

   If you're a comics fan who's not afraid of a high word count, you really got your money's worth here (though there's no telling how letterer Annette Kawecki felt about all that extra work).

   The art was provided by master craftsman Paul Gulacy, who combined cinematic designs, imagery and caricatures to delight film fans, and amazing storytelling feats, roaming from intense action sequences to tender (and somewhat explicit) love scenes.

   In an industry always looking for something new and original, Sabre stood alone - a book like no other, with a unique voice and a stunning look - great stuff!

Grade: A


New Comics Day

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

- A-Force #1 - Female Avengers Assemble!

- Archie #5 - Reggie unleashed!

- Doctor Strange #4 - All-out war!

- Totally Awesome Hulk #2 - What a woman!

- Iron Man #5 - Watch out for Dr. Doom!

- Miracleman #6 - The end of the Golden Age.

- Paper Girls #4 - Run for your life!

- Star Wars #14 - Facing Vader!

- Swamp Thing #1 - The return of original creator Len Wein!
- Ultimates #3 - Pushing the limits.

   And that's it! 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Guest Review - "Ruins"

   We have a Guest Review for you today, as my pal David Wright offers a look at the latest work by the talented Peter Kuper:

   Ruins is the newest graphic novel by Peter Kuper, a New York City writer and artist that has created many comics, but is still fairly unknown to the mainstream.  

   Whenever I see that he has published a new book, it makes my world a little bit brighter.  His works are mostly fiction, but sometimes based on real events and things that have happened in his life.  So I guess you could say many of this works are sort of autobiographical, slice-of-life, alternative, and observational.   

   He has also done adaptations of Franz Kafka’s work like The Metamorphosis. The last thing I read by him was Stop Forgetting to Remember, which I enjoyed greatly (and might be the best place to start if interested in his work). 

   Ruins is a work of fiction, though many aspects of it were inspired by real events that he, his wife, and daughter experienced during their two years spent living in Mexico.  

   There are a couple of storylines that crisscross throughout the book. One of them is the actual story of a couple going to Oaxaca, Mexico  so that the wife can work on a book, and the guy can practice his art and drawing bugs (Oaxaca is known to flourish with a number of  bugs, insects, and animal species).

   There’s another story that intersects the book and that’s the migration of the monarch butterflies as they fly from Canada to Mexico - a 2,000 to 3,000 mile trip. Also of note, their population has been diminishing due to their habitats disappearing. You can read more about that at:

   Another part of his book concerns itself with the politics that was going on at the time concerning a teacher’s strike. There was a new governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, and many of the locals didn’t like him and were striking in protest.  In 2006, Ortiz ordered the police to attack the striking teachers in the early hours of June 14. 

   Over the next several months, police clashed with the strikers, and a number of union members were either wounded or killed.  The strike became an international incident on October 27 when U.S. journalist Brad Will was killed by undercover police.

   All in all I enjoyed reading Kuper’s newest effort.  If I had a criticism it seems at times his male protagonist was a little too cranky, or self-obsessed.  The American journalist seemed a little bit too cartoony or oddly drawn, but it could be a fairly accurate caricature of him, too.  

   But a few minor quibbles didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book.   Peter also injects many things to ponder about as well, and I think the upshot message of the book is no matter how violent the government actions have gone and how destructive humans can be, life still persist and it can be pretty awesome.

Grade: B+


Monday, January 4, 2016

Ragnarok #7

   This definitely isn't your Dad's Thor.

   It's always great to see Walt Simonson creating new comics adventures, and even better to see him return to the tales of a certain Thunder God - but Ragnarok stars a very different Thor.

   This is the story of what happens after the universe-shattering events of the Twilight of the Gods. Somehow Thor survives (though he doesn't look it) - but this is the mythological Thor, not the Marvel version.

   So he's not particularly warm and fuzzy (in fact, he's often grim and rather merciless), and he's on a mission of vengeance against the forces that destroyed Asgard - and his family and friends.

   As you'd expect from Simonson, the issue just crackles with energy, with intense battle sequences and a shocking turn of events - and it's just the warm-up (so to speak) before the battle royale that's on tap for next issue.

   Simonson's enthusiasm for this series is infective, and he seems to be enjoying the opportunity to dig deep into Norse Mythology.

    I love this series!

Grade: A



Sunday, January 3, 2016

Captain America: White #5 (of 5)

   I'm enjoyed these "color-based" series by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, and the mysteriously-delayed Captain America: White is another great addition to the series.

  It's set almost entirely during World War II, as Cap and his young sidekick Bucky join forces with Nick Fury and his Howling Commandoes.

   They're fighting to save the city of Paris from destruction at the hands of the Red Skull - who is also threatening to kill Bucky.

   Despite the sombre undertones - the story is told by a modern-day Steve before Bucky returned as the Winter Soldier - it's an action-filled romp as the good guys are unleashed on some of the most evil characters in Marvel's history.

   The art is terrific, channeling the spirit (though not imitative at all) of Jack Kirby. You get the sense that Sale had a great time drawing this series, and it's infectious.

   It's another great series, and one that'll bring a smile to your face.

Grade: A



Saturday, January 2, 2016

Justice League #47

   This issue of Justice League is much better than the last one, as we see actual movement toward a conclusion of this "event that feels like an event but isn't disrupting the continuity of every issue in the company."

   All the characters have stuff to do that actually affects the story, and everyone's acting (more or less) in character.

   It's also nice to see Jason Fabok back on the art, since he got the whole thing started.

   So, a good comic.

   Now let's talk about the cover. I didn't pay much attention when I picked this up at the shop, but I got one of those bagged "Harley's Little Black Book" versions, and when I opened it, I found this artwork - a lovely pencil sketch by Jim Lee of Harley Quinn.

   Of course, it doesn't really make any sense - and DC has been doing this a lot. I suppose it helps sales when you can con the readers into buying more than one copy of a comic to collect all the alternate covers.

   (There must be fans out there who do this, but are there enough to justify irritating the rest of fandom?)

   I usually pick the cover I like best and buy that one. Or whichever one is cheaper.

   Has Harley Quinn ever appeared in a Justice League comic? I can understand the recent Flash and Green Lantern 50th Anniversary Tribute covers (though I didn't buy any), and I assume the idea here is to promote Harley's new book, but it just seems like an unneeded distraction from an excellent series.

   The cover has traditionally been used to sell the comic inside. Only in today's market are the contents secondary to the wrapping.

Grade: A-


Friday, January 1, 2016

Anon's Top 10 Comics of 2015

   One of my pals (who prefers to remain Anonymous) has provided his Top 10 list (and a few extras) - so take it away, Anon

Honorable Mentions:

How’d these books wind up on the Honorable Mention list? Some print slowly or erratically. Other books have changed directions and/or creators, and often not for the better. They’re also a good read, but didn’t make the Top 10. 

Hellboy in Hell
Jupiter’s Circle
Manhattan Projects

Top 10 Comic Books of 2015:

10. Thors 

   Talk about a book that I expected nothing from.

   The four-issue story is a cop drama/murder mystery where the cops are various incarnations of Marvel’s God of Thunder, Thor

   While not on my pull list, I looked at the first issue because of Chris Sprouse’s art, which rarely disappoints. Beyond the art by Sprouse, which is great, Jason Aaron somehow gives this odd cast of knockoff characters depth and believable concern when one of their own is murdered. 

   As most long time comic book fans know, Thor, as a character, is often written poorly, especially the dialogue, but Aaron pulls the reader in quickly and solidly, even with this bizarre premise. 

   I didn’t see this one coming, but I’m glad I picked it up.

9. Midnighter 

   In comics, gay characters fall into stereotypes and caricatures easily. I never felt like The Authority’s Midnighter ever did that. 

   Hard as nails and quick to fight, the character’s sexuality was his own and hardly “closeted” per se, but, first and foremost, he’s a great character. 

   He’s also gay. 

   While early issues of this series have a bit of fun with this notion – for example, he recognizes hero-turned-spy Dick Grayson by his ass in one issue – it is a relationship of Midnighter’s that turns tragic and gives him the nemesis he deserves, which also happens to be one of my favorite villains in the DC Universe. 

   While this storyline is hardly wrapped up, I’m interested to see where it goes.

8. Airboy

   Hoo boy. I’m closing in on 40 years of collecting comic books and this book is one of the weirdest I’ve ever read. 

   Trust me - that’s a big statement. 

   From a marketing perspective, it makes a great deal of sense. There’s almost no chance that I would have purchased an Airboy comic book, no mater who the creative team was. 

   While I don’t want to spoil anything about this book, it’s more connected with the creation of an Airboy comic book as opposed to an Airboy story. 

   James Robinson’s writing crushes in this book and takes the reader on odd trip, including to some places most folks will not want to go. 

   This book also became a bit of a controversy, as a plot point involved an unflattering look at transgender folks and resulted in a heartfelt apology by Robinson to that community. 

   If you’re interested in the apology, you’ll find it here (but read the book first) -

7. The Eltingville Club

 Ah, those Eltingville boys.

   Imagine the worst of geek fandom that you’ve ever encountered, and you’ll find them there. 

   In issue #2, Evan Dorkin’s hopeless characters have become “adults” and we get to learn how little they’ve progressed. 

   Often funny, sometimes sad, but always referential, Dorkin shines a light on the dark side of fandom, and what we see is a little bit of ourselves.

6. Hawkeye

   Oh, the feels. Lots happen in the Hawkeye books previously, and new author Jeff Lemire keeps it going. 

   While it would have been tempting to do a Hawkeye-like-in-the-movies series, Marvel goes in a completely different direction. 

   Making the stories “small” in nature, they often deal with relationships between characters or even within Hawkeye’s own living space. 

   While the current storyline include both flashbacks and a future glimpse of Hawkeye’s life in the future, the reader remains invested in the characters. 

   Hawkeye is presented as an all-too-human hero who, at times, disappoints the audience and himself.

5. Saga 

   Creating a new world is a challenge. 

   Creating an entirely new universe seems impossible, but Brian K. Vaughn does it effortlessly. 

   Saga is a galaxy-spanning story that distills down to the relationship between two people. 

   Highly recommended for those of us with little ones, Saga is a great commentary on trying to be good parent when everything else gets in the way.

4. The Multiversity 

 I once heard Henry Rollins say in an interview that if he thought of James Brown when he was trying to create music, he’d climb under his bed and give up.

   Grant Morrison has that effect on me. 

   Morrison possesses a tremendous imagination combined with an impressive knowledge and reverence for DC’s mythology. 

   It’s from that reverence that Multiversity was born. 

   With some of the strongest artists in the business, Morrison paints a picture of the DC Universe that we wish existed. 

   The only downside is the ending, and then we’re stuck with the usual crap that DC is publishing these days. 

3. The Walking Dead

   I nearly dropped this title. 

   It got back on track after a multi-issue conflict that ended in a way that you didn’t see coming and was followed by 180-degree turn that still has readers reeling. 

   Robert Kirkman takes his characters and the reader into brand new territory with recent issues, and makes this book better than it’s ever been.

2. The Private Eye: The Cloudburst Edition Hardcover

   A mind-bending story that is a joy to read. Worth the $50. 

1. Secret Wars and the entire Hickman Saga

   I have Hickman’s Secret Wars and his other plotlines as number one on my Top 10 list, but make no mistake; the Secret Wars books have a lot of troubles. 

   Huge plot holes (which I blame on Marvel and its need to move the story along, not Hickman), a very delayed schedule (the Secret Wars isn’t over, but the rest of Marvel’s books are well beyond the end of the Secret Wars), and Marvel’s big 2015 crossover event is still not over (the last issue of Secret Wars should come out on January 13, 2016). 

   With all these headaches, this book is still excellent and transcends these frustrating hiccups. 

   The book’s plot is somewhat ridiculous – after the end of all existence, Dr. Victor Von Doom, the longtime Fantastic Four nemesis, saves reality by piecing together the entire Marvel Universe into a patchwork quilt of a planet where Doom is the omnipotent ruler of everything. 

   Of course, trouble ensues. As tight and cosmic as the writing is, the book is made better by the painted interior artwork of Esad Ribic and covers by Alex Ross. 

   Hickman gives the right voice to the multitude of characters and none of them sound out of place. 

   I won’t explain the plot any further, but any fan of Doom will be well rewarded with this look at a popular character that finally seems to get everything he’s always wanted. 

   While it’s not over yet, Secret Wars would have to go a long way to disappoint after telling such a rich and interesting story thus far.

Worst Comic Book(s) of the Year:

New Lone Wolf & Cub Trade Paperbacks

   I love the first Lone Wolf & Cub series. 

   It’s violent, weird, compelling and gives the reader a version of feudal Japan. 

   This new series is just too weird. 

   I’ve not read it as closely as the original, but knew something was wrong when a naked woman with blond hair saves one of the main characters from drowning, then walks naked with the character over her shoulder to the nearest town. Weird, huh? 

   I probably need to reread these books, but I cannot shake this weird turn in the story.

Favorite Purchase of the Year:

Nostromo Hat from Alien

   One of the cool things about the hobby of comic books is the nostalgia. 

   You find a book or item, and it immediately transports you back to another time. 

   I originally bought this hat, which is a replica of the hat worn by Harry Dean Stanton in 1979’s Alien

   I ordered the hat out of a magazine, most like Famous Monsters of Filmland or Starlog, and probably didn’t receive it until some time in 1980. 

   I think I wore this hat pretty much every day in my teenage years, which I imagine made me very popular with the ladies (sarcasm)

   Previews recently listed an order for the hat, so I snagged one for nostalgia’s sense. 

   I tried to explain this item and its connection to me to the folks at my local comic shop (who are great people, for the record). Besides what I’ve written above, I mentioned that this item was from the era before comic shops as we know them and replica items from films were nearly unheard of. 

   Both guys looked at me like I was an alien or just an old guy telling a story. 

   Oh, well.