Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Flash Gordon: Vol. 5: The Cities of Ice

   Here's yet another entry in the category of "what a great time we live in for reprints of classic comics."

   Titan Comics has a reprint series of the classic Flash Gordon series, and this, the fifth volume, brings us the beginnings of the long run on the daily strips by the great Dan Barry.

    The (pre-Barry) daily strip first appeared in 1940, and was actually dropped in 1944 - but in 1951 King Features decided to revive it (perhaps realizing that this fellow Flash seemed to be a bit popular, given the numerous movie serials and the hit Sunday comic).

   Barry took the job reluctantly, but he made an effort to make it a bit more mainstream science fiction, and a little less fantasy that was so rampant during the Sunday strips by Flash's creator, Alex Raymond.

   Barry was soon joined by writer Harvey Kurtman, who injected some more fantastic elements into the strip. It was a strong (if sometimes tempestuous) partnership. You can also spot some work by ghost artists like Frank Frazetta on some strips.

   Barry was a strong artist, with a clean, classic style - and that worked well, because the daily strip was a mighty cramped space in comparison to the Sunday version, with vast spaces to explore.

   Still, they made the most of it, and produced terrific work that (mostly) holds up well.

   This collection gathers two years worth of strips, and should earn a spot in any collector's library.

Grade: A


Monday, May 30, 2016

Divinity II #1

   Superhero origin stories are generally uplifting stories about humans being raised up to mythological levels.

   There are lots of god-like events and imagery on display in Divinity II, the sequel to the first mini-series that followed a Russian cosmonaut who gains the power of a god - and then returns to Earth to set up his own version of heaven.

   But that cosmonaut was sent into the void as a member of a team of three explorers - so what happened to the other two?

   That mystery is solved here, with the focus on the only female, the tough and no-nonsense Valentina Volkov.

   She watched as Abram Adams was affected by the alien surroundings - he transformed into a godlike being and returned to Earth, leaving the other two behind with no hope of survival.

   But as the story by Matt Kindt demonstrates, Valentina is not one to give up easily. She's spent her entire existence fighting for life - and this is just another challenge to be faced, despite impossible odds.

   The art is by Trevor Hairsine and Ryan Winn, and it's very good, with lush alien landscapes contrasting the gritty ground-level life of the poor in the Soviet Union. Great character designs, impressive effects - powerful storytelling.

   It's a strong start to the series, with interesting groundwork being laid for future events. Recommended!

Grade: A-


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Daredevil #7

   The key mystery since Daredevil's latest relaunch is how he managed to put the genie (in other words, his secret identity) back in the bottle.

   We still don't know the answer (though we seem to be getting closer to it), but the incident seems to have unexpected effects - one that brings Elektra back into Matt's life.

   But it's not a happy visit - she's in a murderous mood, and when that happens, even Daredevil's life is in jeopardy.

   My first reaction to seeing Elektra back in this series is a happy one, since it flashes back to her first appearances (a real high point in DD's history) - though it does it in unexpected ways.

   But the story itself is a bit dodgy - it doesn't exactly pay fair with the reader. It can still redeem itself, but we'll have to wait another issue or two to see.

   But I do love that cover by Bill Sienkiewicz!

Grade: B


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Doctor Strange #8

   There's not a lot I can add to my reviews of previous issues (which you can read right here), as this series continues to rocket off in new and unexpected directions.

   Doctor Strange and some of the most prominent practitioners of magic are searching the world for hidden pockets of magic, hoping to find something that can help them defeat the Empirikul, a super-science-based army that plans to destroy all magic in every dimension.

   They're off to a pretty good start, having humbled (and nearly killed) the good Doc and most of his allies.

   Making the search even more difficult is the fact that the heroes are being tracked by assorted high-tech creatures and devices.

   Their search for the right weapon brings into focus a major threat hiding in Doc's basement - and it's one the Empirikul may have to face next.

   Terrific art and a strong story make this series one you should be reading.

Grade: A-


Friday, May 27, 2016

Justice League #50

   Of all the "New 52" comics, I think in many ways Justice League was the most successful - and it ends on a very strong note.

   That's no small task, because this series had a lot of story elements in play - and somehow manages to wrap up almost every one of them, while setting up elements that will come into play in the new and improved DC Universe.

   Give writer Geoff Johns credit for managing to make the Darkseid Wars event series powerful and unpredictable - and mostly self-contained, aside from a handful of one-shot issues that were easily ignored (at least I had no trouble ignoring them).

   The "New 52" Justice League comic started out very strong, with the story of how the original team came together (a story that was also centered around Darkseid, and would make a good basis for the upcoming live action film).

   The idea of bringing together DC's biggest names to fight together is a difficult one to manage, as the continuity in their individual comics often gets in the way - but when the team is together, it can be mighty entertaining.

   Hopefully the next version of this title will have better success keeping the band together. But at least this issue brings the cast together for a final, cosmic-sized battle for the fate of the Earth. What fun!

Grade: A


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Captain America: Steve Rogers #1

   There are times when I hate Social Media.

   For example, when I opened my Facebook account on Wednesday, the "Trending" list spelled out the event that happens on the last page of this, the first issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers.

   Thanks for the spoiler warning, Zuckerberg.

   Of course, fandom in general is outraged because of... that event. (Of which we shall not speak here, because we care).

   My reaction is simply this: if you're outraged, you're wasting your energy. This is obviously a setup for a story, not a permanent change in Cap's status quo. (At least this is my hope.)

   I'm happy to see Steve Rogers back to normal finally, after a couple of years as a 90-year-old man - though I must admit I don't understand why the Falcon is still going by the title Captain America - and why he still carries the original shield (you'd think it would be cumbersome to fly with that thing).

   I'm most puzzled by the decision to age Sharon Carter - she seems middle-aged here, but until just recently she's been eternally in her 20s (like virtually all the other Marvel heroes). What's the point?

   The story is... ok. It's dusting off Hydra and the Red Skull and Zemo as the big bad guys - and brings back some familiar faces as the supporting cast - but while the art by Jesus Saiz is very good (I'm still on the fence about Cap's new costume - why not use the movie version?), I'm still not sold on the story by Nick Spencer.

   Hopefully upcoming issues will kick it into a higher gear - so far the story is just plodding along, following well-worn paths.

   The star of this year's biggest movie deserves better.

Grade: B


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

DC Universe Rebirth #1

   After five years of the "New 52," DC has finally admitted that the reboot was (mostly) a mistake.

   They haven't admitted it in so many words, of course - but DC Universe Rebirth makes it obvious.

   Written by Geoff Johns, the story hinges on the idea that the DC universe is broken - cut off from its origins, its legacy - its heart and soul. (I will not argue with that.)

   The "New 52" included some good stories, but far too many moved away from the core of the characters, stripping away the Teen Titans, the Flash Family, Superman's supporting cast, the Legion of Super-heroes and on and on. In the attempt to be new and edgy, it jettisoned too much of the backstory on its characters - some of the things that made them so popular in the first place.

   It's the same problem we've seen with the films Man of Steel and Batman v Superman - and Rebirth is an attempt to correct the course of the DC Universe.

   (By the way, I can't urge you strongly enough to try to avoid spoilers here.)

   The story starts and ends with a mystery narrator, and brings back a classic (and much-missed) character to jump-start the change that's rippling across the DC Universe - one that hearkens back to the event that started the New 52, Flashpoint.

   The story is like a wonderful Easter Egg hunt, as we touch base with characters long-missing (some I thought were dead) - we get a quick update on others and we witness an emotional, heartfelt reunion.

   The twist at the end is a genuine shock (a true rarity in comics) and suggests a new dynamic for the entire company - and boy, does it need it!

   I have no idea if "Rebirth" is going to work (New 52 certainly didn't). I applaud the change in tone, I think they're on the right track - but I don't like the idea of twice-monthly comics (even at $2.99 per issue), and some of the ads in the back of the issue leave me cold. But others show great promise!

   I'm hopeful that it will work. I didn't last long with the "New 52" - by the end, I was only buying Batman and Flash (more out of nostalgia than anything) and the Justice League. I'd like to buy more - and I hope to give many of the new issues a try - but the company has some ground to make up and good will to earn back.

   This is just the first step - but it's a good start.

 Grade: A



New Comics Day

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

- Captain America #1 - Thanks for spoiling the surprise ending, Facebook.

- DC Universe Rebirth #1
- So long, "New 52."

- Daredevil #7 - Elektra has a secret!

- Doctor Strange #8 - Looking for magic in all the wrong places.

- Flash #52 - Showdown with the Riddler and the Rogues!

- Patsy Walker aka Hellcat - #6 - Summer fun!

- Totally Awesome Hulk #6 - Hulk vs. Thor!

- Justice League #50 - The end of the Darkseid War!

- Star Wars #19 - Stopping a prison break.

- Mighty Thor #7 - Fighting the world's mightiest Viking!

And that's it!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Wynonna Earp #4

   Zombies are all the rage, and it was just a matter of time before they reared their undead heads in the direction of Wynonna Earp.

   Of course, as a monster-hunting Marshal with the Black Badge Division, she'd have it no other way - and where other titles (which shall go unnamed) would stretch a plague of zombies over dozens (or hundreds) of issues, Wynonna and her fellow enforcers show how to expedite the matter.

   Beau Smith provides a fast and funny adventure set in the shopping mall of the damned, as a scientist (we won't say he's mad - but he is pretty wacky) turns shoppers into the army of the dead!

   The art is by Lora Innes, and it's wonderful - she captures the likenesses of the actors, infuses lots of energy and animation (and a health dollop of gore) and a wonderful sense of humor into the proceedings.

    The series captures the verbal interplay between the characters and ties in nicely to the cast of the TV show on SyFy (which is quite good - if you're not already, you should be watching this show. It's a great mix of horror, action and humor, with great writing and feisty characters.)

   What more do you need?

Grade: A



Monday, May 23, 2016

Clandestino #3

   If you're looking for a great "B" movie in comic book form, you can't go wrong with Clandestino.

   It's the straightforward story of a man who has sacrificed his body to save the woman he loves from a grisly prison.

   Barely surviving some terrible injuries, he is nursed back to health by the beautiful Leena - but how long can he continue to fight against overwhelming odds?

   It's a rough-and-tumble, fight-for-your-life, bare-knuckles-and-brutal-fight-for-life all rolled into a powerful issue by artist / writer Amancay Nahuelpan.

   The question is, will Clandestino and Leena survive the attack that's coming?

   This is he first comic in a long time that I read the ending and I thought, "How the heck are they going to survive this?"

   Can't wait to see what happens next!

Grade: A-


Sunday, May 22, 2016

X-O Manowar Annual #1

   At least once a year I feel compelled to break out my old man rant that "today's annuals aren't as good as they were when I was a kid."

   This stems from the beloved Marvel Annuals in the '60s that told epic stories (Atlantis invades New York! Dr. Doom's origin! Spider-Man fights the Sinister Six!).

   Modern annuals tend to be more like slightly larger (and more expensive) versions of regular issues.

   To their credit, the creative teams involved in the X-O Manowar Annual take a different approach, as they craft five different stories that shine a light on different corners of Aric's life and legend.

   Those stories include: a quick origin recap of the title hero; a look at Aric's brutal childhood; an ally discovers a long-hidden secret about her past; a deadly enemy joins forces with secret allies; and there's a teaser for a major story unfolding.

   The writing is strong and the art is very good, so this is definitely a strong entry in the annals of modern annuals - but it's still not up to the classic version.

   (But I am a geezer, so keep that in mind.)

Grade: B+


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Tank Girl: Two Girls One Tank #1

    Back again for more hell-raising is the cult favorite Tank Girl, the legendary anarchist who just wants to have fun.

   Originally created in 1988 by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, Tank Girl has appeared in a number of series, mini-series - and a feature film!

   She's back in a new title by writer Alan Martin and artist Brett Patterson, and she hasn't lost a step.

   But she has lost her tank (which doubles as her home and her weapon of choice), thanks to her mutant kangaroo husband Booga, who lost it in a card game.

   Never daunted, the two and their best friend Barney (who's a female) set out on a daring crime, but they're destined to meet another kindred spirit - and lots of law enforcement officials.

   This is a fun, high-energy series. It's not for kids - there's adult language and some nudity - it's morally dubious, but all in good fun.

Grade: A-


Friday, May 20, 2016

Civil War II #0

   Since the movie is (deservedly) a huge hit, it's no surprise that Marvel has gone back to the well with Civil War II.

   There's one thing missing this time around - Captain America.

   This time around, it looks like the conflict is going to be between Iron Man and a different Captain - this one is named Marvel.

   This issue #0 (I hate issues numbered zero on general principle, I should admit) doesn't give us much to chew on.

   There's some nice artwork by the always-excellent Olivier Coipel, but the script by Brian Michael Bendis is disturbing - and not in the ways he intended.

   We're just given a handful of scenes without much in the way of context. For example: She-Hulk argues in a case defending a retired super-villain threatened with prison for having a discussion of his past crimes; War Machine (James Rhodes) meets with the President (carefully covered so you can't identify him) who promises to make Rhodey the next president (can he do that?); Captain Marvel meets with Doc Sampson (I thought he was dead?), who does some not-so-subtle analyzing of her state of mind; and the Terrigen Mist sweeps across a campus in Ohio, leaving behind a few cocoons, and three new Inhumans.

   How does all that tie together? I have no idea - and the closing pages depict a scene that makes no sense at all. Is it a scene of destruction, an illusion, a vision of the future, or something else? No clue.

   Heroes fighting each other is a Marvel staple, and the movie Captain America: Civil War shows how to do it right. The original mini-series, Civil War, shows how to do it badly.

   We'll see which category this series ultimately falls into.

Grade: B-


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Future Quest #1

   Of all the comics that came out this week, Future Quest was the one I was most looking forward to.

   That's because it brings together a surprising array of my favorite Hanna-Barbera cartoon heroes that once populated Saturday morning television.

   The trick, of course, is: how do you bring such a disparate group together?

   Among the characters depicted on the cover are Jonny Quest, Space Ghost, the Herculoids, Birdman, the Mighty Mightor, Frankenstein, Jr., and the Impossibles.

   The story uses Dr. Quest (Jonny's dad) and a mysterious discovery to provide cover for the ultimate team-up, and it gets off to a rollicking good start here.

   The story by Jeff Parker is true to the original creations while updating them to modern sensibilities, all while keeping the focus on fun, adventure and friendship (how great to see Jonny and Hadji flying over the Everglades with their flight packs)!

   The art is a perfect update of the original designs - clean and fresh, loaded with energy and high spirits - and who better to provide the art than Evan "Doc" Shaner and Steve Rude?

   These characters came along at the perfect time in my childhood - I was about 10 years old when they hit, and as we all know, "The Golden Age is 10."

   So I'm thrilled to see them back in action, and I can't wait to see where this series goes next.

   Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Classics - The Champions (Marvel)

   Not everything can be a winner - and the ironically-named series The Champions was one of Marvel's rare misfires.

   In the mid-70s, Marvel must have thought it was invincible - it had a huge string of hits, with several "team" comics enjoying success, including the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Avengers, and the Defenders - so why not add one more?

   The Champions line-up almost seemed like an afterthought - it included former Avengers Hercules and the Black Widow, former X-Men Iceman and the Angel, and the Ghost Rider.

   But it takes some kind of chemistry between the team members to make a team book work - and there wasn't much of that going on here. It felt like a random gathering of mismatched heroes.

   The book itself seemed to struggle - it was originally intended to be a Giant-Size book, but was reconfigured into a regular comic.

   But the biggest problem was the inconsistency in the creative team. In the first dozen issues the book passed through the hands of writers Tony Isabella, Bill Mantlo and Chris Claremont, and artist Don Heck, George Tuska, Bob Hall and John Byrne. They're all talented, but it's difficult for a book to maintain any cohesive storytelling with so many changes.

   The series finally ended with issue #17, and Marvel actually lost a lawsuit over the ownership of the name of the group (it belonged to a roleplaying game), so the team was dissolved and never made a comeback.

   So Marvel's not without its stumbles - but even with that, there's a lot to enjoy in this series, though all the characters eventually went on to bigger and better things.

Grade: B-


New Comics Day

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

- Astro City #35 - What I did on vacation...

- Civil War II #0 - Can't we all just get along?

- Future Quest #1 - Jonny Quest, Space Ghost - I'm there!

- Silver Surfer #4 - Recovery room.

- Spider-Man #4 - Making new friends.

- Usagi Yojimbo #154 - Paying a debt.

- Wynonna Earp #4 - Zombies at the mall!

   And that's it! 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Guardians of the Galaxy #8

   It's good to see the Guardians of the Galaxy (the comic) acting like the Guardians of the Galaxy (the movie).

   Now that we're past the silly "Star-Lord rules a world" story, we've moved into proper territory - a mission to rescue a planet of slaves.

   The last couple of issues (each adorned by a terrific Art Adams cover) has featured a different segment of the team involved in a mysterious mission - and this issue (focusing on Venom and Groot) clears up some of the mystery, as their goal comes into focus.

   So it's a fun, adventurous romp as the team tries to find a way to outsmart the enemy and pull off an impossible mission - and I have to admit that I enjoy the classic "Justice-League-let's-split-up-into-teams" approach.

   So, a great story by Brian Michael Bendis, excellent art by Valerio Schiti, a fun story about an impossible task, all building to a big finish - what's not to like?

Grade: A-


Monday, May 16, 2016

Penny Dreadful #1

   I must admit that I haven't seen the Showtime TV series yet, but the comic book version of Penny Dreadful is a treat for horror fans.

   It incorporates characters and elements from one of the greatest horror stories ever - Bram Stoker's Dracula.

   Loaded with powerful, dark imagery by artist Louis De Martinis, the Victorian era story follows a woman named Vanessa who seeks to save a friend of hers - Mina - who has fallen under the influence of a mysterious figure known only as The Master.

   Vanessa joins forces with Mina's father in a rescue attempt that pits them against monsters - natural and otherwise - and brings some well-known names into the story.

   It's not a story for kids - lots of blood, demons and dismemberment here - but for adult fans of horror, it's a strong start for the series.

   (Now I need to track down the TV version.)

Grade: A-


Sunday, May 15, 2016

All-New X-Men #9

   As you might expect, given the villain in the upcoming X-Men movie, the X-comics are all focusing on the powerful villain Apocalypse.

    It's a short trip for the cast of All-New X-Men, because the teenage clone of that character is on the team: Kid Apocalypse! (I promise I am not making this up.)

   That character celebrates his 16th birthday in this issue as his friends and fellow students throw a big party for him - but he struggles with the celebration as he reflects on his origin and his probable destiny.

   That leads to an unexpected encounter with the Beast, who's trying to solve the time-travel mystery that has the original X-Men team trapped in the present - and the two heroes discover that science and sorcery don't mix.

   I love the clean, dynamic art by Mark Bagley and Andrew Hannessey, and the story features quite a few twists and turns - and unexpected revelations.

   It's a solid kick-off for this title's coverage of the Apocalypse Wars (whatever that is).

Grade: A-


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Remembering Darwyn Cooke

   Comic fans everywhere were rocked today by the news of Darwyn Cooke's passing.

   It's a terrible shock, given that Cooke was only 54 years old - and only the day before it was revealed that he had been fighting cancer.

   Cooke was a rare artist who had a unique style all his own - one that evoked the joy and energy of the Silver Age of comics. His style seemed to contain some on the minimalism of Alex Toth, the raw energy of Jack Kirby, and a dynamic style of Steve Rude - all rolled into a distinctive and fresh package.

   His work in comics is not vast, but it's certainly important - he redrafted Catwoman into her modern look, he revitalized the Wild West in Jonah Hex, he gave the entire industry a much-needed shot of optimism with his reimagining of the Silver Age in DC's New Frontier, and he gave his own steely edge to hardboiled fiction with his adaptation of the Parker stories.

   He also crafted a number of covers - mostly for DC - that will hopefully one day be collected for fans to read and enjoy.

   In a just world, he would have had decades more to tell his stories and share his vision - but we can take some comfort that he leaves behind so much great work that we can enjoy - and treasure.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Badger #4

   Just as "Only Nixon could go to China," only the Badger could go to Russia - and fight Vladimir Putin.

   As anyone who's been following world politics should know, Putin is the President of Russia. As Badger readers now know, Putin is also the Wizard of the East.

   So when the Badger's boss, Ham (the Wizard of the West), sends the Badger to deliver a demon's tongue to Putin, you know it's just a matter of time before the two square off in a slobber-knocking, teeth-spitting fight to the finish.

   Written by Mike Baron, the script is a maniacal blast, with a confrontation no other comic would tackle, and a free-flowing, stream-of-consciousness hoot of a story.

   The art is by the legendary Val Mayerick, an artist who does amazing, realistic fight sequences (and really gets to cut loose here), and he's also great at capturing the image of Putin.

   It's all in good fun (though Putin might not agree) - an over the top action extravaganza.

   Highly recommended!

Grade: A




Thursday, May 12, 2016

All New All Different Avengers #9

   My typical reaction to the introduction of a "new" version of a hero is usually the same: Bleh.

   That's mostly because I tend to be loyal to the original creation, and I feel the "reinvention" is energy that would better be put to work revitalizing the original character.

   So I picked up this issue of All New All Different Avengers, which introduces the new Wasp, and my first thought was, "what was wrong with the original?"

   I'm a big fan of the original Ant-Man (Giant-Man) and the Wasp - Henry Pym and Janet Van Dyne, two characters who have been treated very poorly by so many Marvel writers. Instead of being the happy-go-lucky, Nick-and-Nora, squabbling but deeply in love characters they were meant to be, they've been put through the character buzz saw, shredding what made them great as a sacrifice for some passing story.

   The character is even more muddled with the advent of the Ant-Man movie, which recast Pym and as older man whose wife Janet has mysteriously disappeared.  Perhaps this is just an attempt to bring the comics more in line with the movies - suddenly, Pym is gone (perhaps dead?), and Janet has been out of the picture for years.

   What the story has in its favor is that it's written by Mark Waid, who finds an interesting (and believable) story thread to give the new Wasp a solid origin - and a bit of mystery.

   It's a solid first step, and I'm willing to suspend my traditional "bleh" - until the character gives me a reason to feel otherwise.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Classics - Civil War #1 - 7

   When I was writing my review of the (quite excellent) Civil War movie, I looked into the archives, certain that I'd reviewed the original 2006 mini-series.

   But I started this humble blog in 2008, so I never touched on this event.

   Which was probably just as well, because I believe the story sets some kind of record for starting out as a great idea - and then plummeting to the depths of dopiness.

   Written by Mark Millar, it starts with a terrible incident, as the New Warriors tackle some major villains - and a terrible explosion kills hundreds of children.

   The public demands action, so the government decides to  require every superhero and supervillain to register and be, essentially, civil service employees working for the government.

    The idea splits the ranks right down the middle, with Captain America (surprisingly) opposing the government's plan, and Iron Man championing it. That sets up a terrific action sequence in the first issue, as Cap fights for his life against a army of SHIELD agents determined to bring him in - and artist Steve McNiven, who does great work in this series, shines here.

   But from there, the series starts falling apart. Tony Stark (teaming with Reed Richards) employs more and more draconian measures - arresting heroes, throwing them in a prison in the Negative Zone, building a clone of one of his oldest friends, which promptly runs wild - and soon, heroes are being killed.

   In other words, everyone on Iron Man's side must become a villain to keep the story going - and they even throw in Spider-Man unmasking publicly, easily the second-worst thing Marvel has ever done to Spidey (Mephisto being the worst).

   The ending is the worst offense - because there isn't one. There's no real resolution to the issue, the series just... ends.

   It's a real shame, because the series features great art and it started out with such promise. The movie shows what might have been - but this series just ended up being a huge disappointment, an opportunity wasted.

Grade: C-




New Comics Day

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

- Archie #8 - Why is Archie leaving the country?

- All New All Different Avengers #9 - Welcome the new Wasp!
- Badger #4 - Badger vs. Putin!
- Batman #52 - Back to the beginning.
- Guardians of the Galaxy #8 - He is Groot, after all.
- Powers #6 - The final solution.
- George Perez's Sirens #5 - Nice to see this series back in action.
- Starfire #12 - The end of the road.
- Swamp Thing #5 - A gathering of mystic forces.
- All New X-Men #9 - The Apocalypse Wars begin!

And that's it!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #9

   The one strike against the televised "modern" adventures of Doctor Who is that sometimes the plots get a bit too tangled to follow (I'm looking at you, Sandmen).

   That's a charge that can fairly be leveled against this adventure of the 10th Doctor (David Tennant, natch).

   It finds the Doctor and two companions - Gabby Gonzalez, an artist, and Cindy Wu, Gabby's best friend - in a sleepy village that's plagued by a strange, ghost-like witch that lives in a well.

   The witch attacks people and steals their memories - all while making odd, fragmented comments that seem familiar.

   It's up to the Doctor to sort out the mystery and find a solution.

   But I have to admit, even after reading this issue, I'm not sure I entirely understand what happened.

   That probably says more about me than about this comic - but if I'm struggling, I assume most readers will do likewise. It's ok for a writer to be clever - but it's possible to be too clever, too.

Grade: B


Monday, May 9, 2016

4001 AD #1

   Valiant Comics has rolled out its latest mini-series - one that has an odd history.

   Back in the day, Valiant had a significant part of its run set in the distant future, largely based around Magnus, Robot Fighter.

   But the company apparently no longer has the rights to that character, so this new event book - 4001 AD - is centered around Rai, the part human / part robot creation that was designed to serve as the protector of New Japan, which is an island in space orbiting around the Earth.

   As we learn in the backstory, Rai rebelled against Father, the machine intelligence that controlled New Japan, and for his pains was cast down - but not before a virus was planted, threatening to destroy Father.

   But Father seems determined to survive, even if it has to destroy New Japan to do it - and it's up to Rai to find some ancient allies and find a way to fight back.

   It's a bit much to take in one sitting, but writer Matt Kindt keeps it rolling along, and artists Clayton Crain and David Mack bring the future to life with some striking, powerful art.

   The only thing that hurts the series - for me - is the absence of Magnus. But there are enough Valiant characters - and certainly high stakes - to make this compelling.

Grade: B+


Sunday, May 8, 2016

Captain America: Civil War - Movie Review

   I admit that I felt a moment of fear when Marvel announced the title of the movie Captain America: Civil War.

   That's because I really didn't like the mini-series with the same title - it forced heroes like Iron Man to play the role of a villain in order for the story - such as it was - to work.

   Thankfully, I needn't have worried - the film takes the basic premise (heroes oppose each other on principle) and makes it work.

   It also manages to craft one of the best of the Marvel movies.

   The three films starring Cap have enjoyed some of the best writing in the Marvel movies, and they actually manage to include that most beloved of comic book conceits - continuity.

   Events from previous movies dovetail into this film - from the alien invasion of New York in The Avengers to the crashing helicarriers in Washington, DC in Winter Soldier and the devastation in Sokovia in Age of Ultron, the Avengers are faced with a population that lives in fear of superpowered characters - and the call goes out for change. A terrible event that involves heroes just increases the tension.

   The United Nations wants to regulate the team and allow it to operate under its guidance - and many of the heroes agree with the idea. But not everyone.

   And that's the beauty of the film, as we can easily agree with either hero - because there are good reasons on each side.

    Events force an escalation of the tension, and soon the two sides are squaring off in the best superhero fight ever filmed.

   It's a smart script that manages to surprise us while balancing terrific, imaginative action sequences, razor-sharp dialogue, lots of heart and a healthy dose of humor.

   One of the true secrets of Marvel's success, though, is the perfect casting. Chris Evans is spot-on as Cap, the ultimate soldier with a big heart who cares about his fellow warriors - and puts his friends above his own safety. Robert Downey, Jr. gives his best performance yet as Tony Stark, a haunted man who tries to fix that which is broken, but who must face his own demons.

   The film manages a staggering cast of characters - Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Winter Soldier, War Machine, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Winter Soldier, Vision - with "guest appearances" by Ant-Man, Black Panther and Spider-Man, all of whom get their own star turns and scene-stealing moments.

   But despite the crowd, this is Cap's movie, as it all hinges on his actions - right or wrong - and (like his second movie), the film will have impacts that will continue to echo in future episodes.

   The question everyone wonders is: which movie about fighting superheroes is best: Batman v Superman or Civil War?

   It's not even close. (Sorry, DC.) This is a great film first and a great action film second. It has heart, humor and a story to tell - and the heroes act like heroes throughout.

   Highly recommended!

Grade: A+




Saturday, May 7, 2016

Free Comic Book Day!

   It's everyone's favorite holiday - Free Comic Book Day!

   I managed to score seven of them - feel free to send in your list, either in the comments below or via email to us as chuckscomicoftheday@gmail.com!

   Here's my take:

- Captain America (Marvel)  

   Hey, it's the real Captain America (sorry, Falcon), Steve Rogers, back in action just in time for his new movie release!

     Here he tackles a new and rising threat from Hydra, using a new shield - but thankfully, he's still the classic hero we love so well.

   It also brings back some familiar faces - though I'm not sure why Sharon Carter is depicted as being a bit older than usual. It's great to see Rick Jones again, although his characterization here is a bit suspect.

   This looks very promising.

   The second half of the book previews an Amazing Spider-Man story that I'm happy to miss.

- Civil War (Marvel)

    Hey, it's a comic based on Civil War, but not anything like the (excellent) movie.

   This previews the upcoming mini-series, and it gets things off the a rousing start as a group of Avengers squares off against Thanos, who's looking for one of his favorite cosmic gizmos.

   The art is terrific, but I'm not sure where the story is going from here. But I'm intrigued enough to pick up the series now, so mission accomplished.

    The backup feature focuses on the new Wasp, who I was prepared to hate - but I may have to rethink that, after this turn (with great art by Alan Davis). We'll see.

    (But is it true about Hank Pym? Me no like!)

- Suicide Squad (DC)

   Just in time to promote the upcoming movie (do we sense a running theme here?), we have the dark and bloody story about the Suicide Squad, a team of criminals assembled to tackle the dirty jobs that no hero would tackle.

   This is (mostly) an introduction to the team - a grim and grisly bunch that includes a version of Harley Quinn that's barely recognizable to the one appearing in her own title these days.

   It doesn't do much for me, but as the legendary Don Thompson wrote, if you like this sort of thing, here it is.

- DC Superhero Girls (DC)

   It's always nice to see a book aimed at young readers (they're few and far between), and this issue previews an upcoming graphic novel and toy line (and maybe an animated series).

   DC Superhero Girls is set in an alternate reality where all the heroes and villains are attending high school, so you get lots of angst and teenage concerns, along with lasting friendships.

   Think Archie comics if they were published by DC.

   It's a fresh, fun take on the classic characters, and young readers will probably enjoy it, even if it ends on a cliffhanger.

- Serenity / Hellboy / Aliens (Dark Horse)

   Probably the best of this year's crop of Free Comics, this one is loaded with fun, fan-favorite characters.

   It starts with the cast of Serenity, as baby Emma gets a fun bedtime story all about her parents and their allies - and how they were rescued by a big damn hero.

   The Hellboy short story teams up writer / creator Mike Mignola and artist Rich Corben for a grisly tale of a deadly mirror. Good and scary!

   An Aliens short story rounds out the issue, as a grim battle for survival is waged in deep space between a warrior and some murderous creatures.

- Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Archie)

   It was a bit of a shock when the usually fresh-faced Archie Comics line introduced a line of horror comics - and equally shocking when Sabrina, the Teenage Witch (of cartoon and live-action squeaky-clean TV show fame) popped up in her own grisly comic.

   And this issue pulls no punches, with horrific visuals, death and destruction - and some of the characters involved are downright shocking.

   As horror goes, it's very well done - but it makes it difficult to look at the Riverdale gang in the same light again.


   Back after a long absence from comics is ROM, the Spaceknight.

   The series featured an invasion of Earth by creatures known as the Dire Wraiths - shape-shifting, murderous aliens who plan death and destruction for our home.

   This new series seems like a restart for the series, as it features ROM showing up on Earth to fight - against impossible odds - to rid the Earth of this terrible infestation.

   It's nice to see ROM back in action, and touching to see a promotion in the comic in support of the character's original writer, Bill Mantlo.

- Bongo Free-For-All! (Bongo)

   One of the most reliably entertaining Free Comics is always the entry from Bongo Comics.

   This issue features a treasure of Simpsons antics by some of the company's top creators - it's always loads of laughs!

   And Bart and company wraps up the day for me - that's all for my list of Free Comics.

   Did I miss any treasures along the way?  


Friday, May 6, 2016

Beasts of Burden: What the Cat Dragged In (One-shot)

   It's a delight to see this series back, if just for a one-shot story. The focus here is on some cats and a deadly demon.

   Beasts of Burden is a deceptive series that focuses on animals that can talk among themselves (though humans don't understand them - these are not cartoon animals).

   But these animals are guardians, protecting the community of Burden from mystic dangers, often dark and unsettling ones.

   The focus is usually on a "gang" of dogs, but this issue - What the Cat Dragged In - turns the spotlight over to the cats, as they face a problem on their own.

   At the center of the threat is Dymphna, a black cat - and former familiar for a witch - who seeks to return home to gather some important things, but the entrances are blocked - and help is required, which includes two other cats and a raccoon (for a very funny reason).

   It's a sinister tale with some terrific twists - and as always, a real tug at the heartstrings.

   Why, oh why, doesn't this series appear on a regular basis? It's in a category of its own. (The best description I've been able to work up would be to mix Watership Down with Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft.)

   Writers Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer turn in a powerful script here, and the art by Jill Thompson is stunning, evoking a real world and settings, mixed with a fantastic magical undertone.

   It's stunning and important work, and it should be at the top of the sales chart. Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Punisher #1

   For a character who's incredibly popular, The Punisher's comic sure does get cancelled a lot.

    But it always returns, and this time his stories are being guided by writer Becky Cloonan and artist Steve Dillon.

   Just like the character's recent appearance in the Daredevil TV show on Netflix, this is not a story for young readers.

   Instead, we have another chapter in Frank Castle's never-ending battle against criminals, as he seeks revenge for the murder of his wife and children.

   A group of drug-runners are under surveillance by a team of law enforcement officials. The drug involved turns ordinary men into fighting machines, incapable of feeling pain.

   It's the perfect target for the Punisher, and he (rather recklessly) invades their hideout, determined to dish out death and destruction. But what happens when he runs into a drug-hazed super soldier?

   So it's a strong start for the series, loaded with potential and lots of blood and guts. Not to mention brutal death and destruction. And terrific art.

   (But I'm serious - not for kids.)

Grade: A-


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Classics - Amazing Spider-Man #42

   While we typically don't like to spoil the ending of stories, we'll make a bit of an exception here - because the final panels of this classic issue are among the most iconic of all time.

   The Amazing Spider-Man title had been rocked a few months before this issue (with a cover date of November 1966) with the departure of artist and co-creator Steve Ditko.

   It's not easy to deal with the departure of a genius, especially one who laid the foundation for the character.

   But writer and editor Stan Lee was smart enough to pick John Romita as Ditko's replacement - a good idea, since Romita was also a genius.

   This issue is proof, as it offers up a run-of-the-mill opponent for Spider-Man - namely, J. Jonah Jameson's son, astronaut Col. John Jameson!

   Affected by mysterious space spores, John suddenly develops incredible strength, dons a special costume and decides to use his powers to become a hero. His first opponent is Spider-Man, who's accused of robbing a bank.

   It's all pretty standard stuff, but Romita provides a rip-snorting fight between the two, and Lee provides his usual light-hearted (and very entertaining) banter.

   It makes for a fun adventure - but the real treat was on the final page. For months Peter Parker had been avoiding attempts by Aunt May to arrange a date with her friend's niece. The reader had never seen her face, either (though Betty Brant and Gwen Stacy met her at one point).

    Peter is convinced that Mary Jane Watson is - well, let's say, unattractive - why else would she be available for a blind date?

   It's a classic bit of misdirection, and the final panels allow us to enjoy the shock on Peter's face as he realizes his terrible mistake. It's a striking moment, loaded with comic and romantic potential - and it was the starting point for a long-running and mighty entertaining relationship between the two classic characters.

   The image brings a smile to this day - 50 years later!

Grade: A


New Comics Day

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

- A-Force #5 - Who was that Thor I saw you with?

- Beasts of Burden: What the Cat Dragged In #1 - Dark sorcery - and cats!

- Black Widow #3 - Blast from the past!

- Flash #51 - Riddle me this.

- Gold Key Alliance #2 - Putting the band together for the first time.

- Invincible Iron Man #9 - Competition for Iron Man?

- Punisher #1 - A brutal beginning.

- Spirit #10 - Hunting a killer.

- Superman: Coming of the Supermen #4 - What is Luthor's plan?

And that's it!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

4 Kids Walk Into A Bank #1 (of 5)

   If you're looking for a comic that's different, you'd have to go some to beat 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank.

   It's a street-level story about four eccentric young friends - Berger, Pat, Walter and Paige. They seem like regular kids: playing Dungeons and Dragons, defending each other and planning "secret missions" - but their lives take a surprising turn when four men turn up at Paige's home, demanding to see her father.

    The four men are not nice guys - they each have a criminal record and won't hesitate to hurt the young friends.

   So why are they looking for Paige's dad, and what is his connection to the criminals? That's just the beginning of this story, which promises lots of unexpected twists and turns along the way.

   The story by Matthew Rosenberg crafts a narrative that is off-beat, yet believable and compelling.

   The art and design are by Tyler Boss, and it's unique, with original character designs and a style that somehow manages to be a bit cartoonish but evocative of the real world. The layouts and patterns designs are very creative, too.

   The credits also credit Courtney Menard with the wallpaper designs and Clare Dezutti with "Flatting" - whatever that is.

   This isn't a book for everyone, but it's an interesting start.

Grade: A-



Monday, May 2, 2016

Batman #51

   This issue of Batman (apparently) marks the end of the run for writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo, the duo who have been guiding the Dark Knight's comic (more of less) since the "New 52" started.

   Their run has been pretty solid, although I don't think they ever matched the high point of the opening "Court of the Owls" story.

   Capullo's art has been excellent throughout, and this issue is another gold star on his report card - his layouts have been powerful, with great character designs throughout.

   Snyder's stories haven't always worked, but he's kept the reader on his or her toes, and managed quite a few surprises and solid additions to the Bat-pantheon.

   This issue is aimed at decompression, allowing the reader to sort the new status quo after the whole "Batman has amnesia" foolishness (the low point from the past four years of stories).

   We see some new designs (including a long-overdue upgrade for the Batmobile) and check in on most of the supporting cast and villains.

   So, it's been fun, but I'm anxious to see what's next for this comic - and I'll be watching to see where these creators go next.

   Wherever it is, attention should be paid.

Grade: A-


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Doctor Strange #7

   This is such a tricky series to manage.

   I'm always nervous when a new creative team takes a run at Doctor Strange - sometimes they succeed wildly (Lee and Ditko, Thomas and Colan, Englehart and Brunner, Stern and Rogers) and other times, not so much.

   Writer Jason Aaron and artist Chris Bachalo (with six inkers on this issue!) now have seven issues under their belt, and while some of their choices have been a bit... odd? Disgusting? Creepy? (Yes to all those.) ... it's also been very entertaining.

   The story ramping up now promises to be a big one, as a new enemy appears in our reality, promising to destroy all magic (and the practitioners thereof).

   The forces known as Empirikul have been sweeping across realities, leaving behind death and devastation - and now their leader, Lord Imperator, has arrived on Earth.

   Doctor Strange took his most potent shot at stopping the invaders - and failed completely.

   We learn the story behind the big bad in this issue, and you may note some similarities to a certain other visitor from a distant planet.

    But minor quibbles aside, this is a tense, rip-snorting story that challenges the magic at the heart of the Marvel universe, and it promises big things.

   So far, I'm impressed! But will Aaron and Bachalo earn a spot with the legendary creators listed above? We'll see!

Grade: A