Thursday, June 30, 2016

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #5

   I'm impressed by how much this series feels like a sequel to the original Dark Knight Returns story.

   That's the idea, of course - but original creator Frank Miller didn't manage it when he crafted the second "Dark Knight" chapter.

   For the third time around, the story is written (or perhaps co-written) by Brian Azzarello, and it feels much tighter and more cohesive.

   The threat is certainly bigger. A small army of religious fanatics have escaped from the bottle city of Kandor, regained their normal size, and are threatening to rain destruction on the Earth.

   Their first goal was to take down Superman - which they did - and now they're going after Batman.

   But there's a good reason why Superman once called the Dark Knight "the world's most dangerous man" - even though he's older and more fragile, Batman has a plan to fight back, and this issue we see his plan swing into action.

   It doesn't hurt at all that the art is by Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson, who bring along the kind of big-screen cinematic action that such a story demands. And oh, that final page - it should warm the heart of any long-time fan.

   I'm not sure how long this series is going to run, but at this point, I'm all for keeping it going forever!

Grade: A




Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Captain America Steve Rogers #2

   The first issue of the newly-re-youth-amated Captain America promises to solve the mystery of why Steve is suddenly a member of Hydra.




    Which is to say, I was hoping for a really clever twist that would explain all this.

   Instead the story takes, I'm sorry, but a really stupid turn into the most obvious, silly and wrong-headed explanation for this turn of events.

    I'm thrilled to have the real Cap back in action, I love the character - his movies rock - but this is, so far, a really weak storyline.

   Someone wake me when it's over.

Grade: D


New Comics Day

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

- All New All Different Avengers #11- Trapped in the Negative Zone!

- Batman Dark Knight III #5 - How do you fight an army of Supermen?

- Captain America Steve Rogers #2 - Why did Cap join Hydra?

- Hillbilly #1 - Backwoods horror.

- Spider-Man #5 - Captured by Hammerhead!

- Will Eisner's The Spirit #12 - The final showdown!

- Wynonna Earp #5 - A date with destiny - and lots of revenants!

And I received review copies of:

- 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank #2

- Bloodshot Reborn 14

- Deus Ex #5

- Doctor Who Ninth Doctor #3

- Doctor Who Twelfth Doctor #2.7

- Jade Street Protection Services #1 

- Penny Dreadful 2

- Rivers of London: Night Witch #2.4

- X-O Manowar 47

   And that's it!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Classics - All American Men of War #105

   While comics were always around when I was a kid, one of the rarest kind in my house were War Comics. (Romance Comics were nonexistent - hey, I had three brothers and no sisters).

   I liked the ones I read, but I became a super-hero fan early on and, as a result, I missed out on lots of great comics.

   It's an oversight I hope to correct.

   These days, when I attend a comics convention, I always try to pick up some classic war comics - like this issue.

   One of DC's (many) reliable titles is All American Men of War. This issue from 1964 includes two stories, both fables about men trying to overcome an insurmountable challenge.

   The first story stars "Navaho Ace" pilot Johnny Cloud, who's trying to show his men that superstition has no place in aerial combat - so he pilots a "cursed" plane, even though it's tied to a white stallion that's linked to one of his greatest failures.

   The story's pretty straightforward, but it highlights the raw heroism of Cloud. It may be simplistic, but it's the purity of it that makes it entertaining (and perfect for the young readers it was aimed at). Sadly, it's the kind of story we see all too rarely today.

   The backup story goes back to World War I and a different dogfight, as two pilots wage a back-and-forth duel that ends in (of all places) a train tunnel.

   These comics are a nostalgic window into a time of simpler stories - but adventure and overcoming the odds, defeating evil - may those things never go out of style.

Grade: B


Monday, June 27, 2016

Divinity II #3

   It's amazing that the space program exists at all, because it seems like every time we launch people into space, they return with amazing powers.

   (Admittedly, that only seems to happen in comic books. As far as we know...)

   In Divinity II, we get two examples - two Soviet Cosmonauts have returned with godlike powers, including Abram Adams and his merciless associate Myshka.

   Troubled by Russia's fall from grace, Myshka hopes to change the past and put the entire world under the USSR's control - but is that possible?

   What follows is a time-jumping, reality-challenging tour de force as the two powerful opponents go back in time to see if it's possible to change and reshape the course of reality.

   It's a mind-bender, with a unique story by Matt Kindt and striking artwork by Trevor Hairsine and Ryan Winn.

   It's not a typical superhero tale - and that's a good thing!

Grade: A-


Sunday, June 26, 2016

Detective Comics #935

   It's going to take some time to get used to the new every-other-week publishing schedule for Detective Comics.

   (What can I say, I'm used to the monthly schedule.)

   This is the second issue for the "new" series starring Batman, although the focus is more on the new Bat-Family (or Bat-Army, if you prefer).

   There's a new threat building in Gotham - one that Batman knows he can't tackle alone, so he has Batwoman heading up this new gathering of heroes.

   Last issue was about building the team, and this issue is about training the team, using a really odd version of the classic Danger Room.

   Finally by the end of the issue we seem to be getting close to actually seeing the team in action, so another half-a-month and we should be there.

   So far, the series is bubbling along nicely, with strong art and writing - but it's certainly time to get on to the business at hand.

Grade: B+


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Farlaine the Goblin #1

    One of the great things about attending comic book conventions (as I did recently at the excellent Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC) is that you sometimes discover hidden gems.

   Thanks to my friend James (who actually did the discovering part) I met "J," the prefers-to-be-anonymous writer and artist of the series Farlaine the Goblin (the character's name is pronounced "Far-lin").

   It's a seven-issue series (the first four of which are now available) that follows the adventures of a small shaman who has spent years wandering the Oddlands of Wug in search of a forest to call his own. (And wouldn't we all like to find a forest to call our own?)

   There are 100 forests available, and he's visited 90 of them - so Farlaine has 10 more chances to find a home.

   Accompanied by his "friend," the plant / shrub Ehrenwort, he encounters many adventures and dangers along the way, and survives only by his wits and his plant-growning abilities, which comes in handy when you're attacked by giant centipedes - or an army of killer robots!

   The art is wonderful - whimsical, but with a great sense of a "real / fantasy" world, with lush environments and odd creatures.

   The series channels some classic comics without ever stealing from them - including Carl Barks' Scrooge McDuck stories, Jeff Smith's Bone, and Walt Kelly's Pogo.

   The story is great fun - inventive and humorous without being silly (well, it has just the right portion of silly), and it's well worth tracking down - it's for all ages!

   You can track down issues at the website - highly recommended!

Grade: A


Friday, June 24, 2016

Doctor Strange #9

   One of the things I really like about this "Last Days of Magic" story that's been rampaging through the pages of Doctor Strange is the way that his Sanctum Sanctorum has become something of a character in its own right, as it withstands the onslaught of the science-based Empirikul.

   That force is trying to stamp out magic - and has largely succeeded, reducing the world's greatest magicians to using a handful of remaining weapons to use in their fight to survive.

   They have another ally - a mysterious creature of darkness that was locked in the basement, but now threatens to break loose.

   The creative team of writer Jason Aaron and artist Chris Bachalo (working with six inkers) has crafted a powerful, original story - and it wraps up next issue (it says here), which is good - much longer and it would have been too much.

   As it is, it's a great kickoff to the latest series to star the Sorcerer Supreme.

Grade: A


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Guest Review - Jughead #7

    Stepping into the Guest Review chair is my pal and long-time comics fan James Cassara, with a review of a comic that's actually funny:
   Have a lately mentioned how much I love the new direction that the Archie Comics line is taking? 
   I’m the first to admit I was more than a bit leery - as a long-time fan of the Riverdale set I hardly thought the line needed updating and I was especially upset that venerable artist Dan Parent was seemingly kicked to the curb. I say seemingly, because I now find out he’s doing plenty of work for the Archie digests, which continue the traditional approach to those never aging but always evolving teenagers.  Viva La Parent! 
   As to the comic at hand, there’s little to quibble about. Regular series artist Erica Henderson, whom I recently met at Heroes Con and found to be every bit as delightful as she is talented, takes a hiatus and gives way to Derek Charm.  
   His style is a bit slicker, less nuanced, but definitely within the framework of current Archie artists. It doesn’t excite me but neither does it in any way detract from the story, and his layouts are clear and easy to follow.  
   What keeps this issue afloat is the top notch story by series writer Chip Zdarsky, whose grasp of what makes Jughead, well Jughead, is spot on. In this story our crown-wearing burger-consuming slackster is “gently persuaded” (okay, kicked out) the door and ordered to cease spending his days playing video games and get some sort of job “so you can eventually help pay for the college degree you’ll barely get so you can eventually get another job you don’t want!” Ha, take that, number one son! 
   So Jughead meanders down to the Riverdale pool where Archie has secured employment. What better for our carrot topped Romeo than to while away the summer around bikini clad beauties?  
   Jug eventually convinces Archie to spend a few days at the log cabin owned by their mutual friend Dilton (on a clever side note, the cabin is near Camp Lucey, a lovely nod to the great Archie artist Harry Lucey) where they stumble upon, of all things, the Reggie Mantle family reunion.  
   What ensues is the expected hilarity, including a snide comment from Jughead about Reggie lusting after his own cousins, and the usual hijinks. Tired of discovering that everyone in the Mantle clan acts exactly like Reggie they take off to find said camp which, Archie “conveniently” neglects to tell Jughead, is populated strictly by the female side of our species.    
   The two get lost and, as the story ends (to be concluded next issue) they find themselves in a, let’s just say, “unbearable” dilemma. There is more snappy dialogue and plot than is found in any number of bloated six issue superhero miniseries, and the vintage Jughead reprints only add to an already fine comic.
   I doubt this review will convince many comic readers to give the Archie Comics line a try, but that won’t stop me from singing their praises. 
   Like any long term series it has had its ups and downs but the past couple of years have been a definite high point in the life of those lovable teens from Riverdale. 

Grade: A 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Flash #1

    The thing that gets me about The Flash is that, for a high-speed character, his stories often spill out very slowly.

    This new version of the series (actually not much different from the previous series, aside from a talented new creative team) gives us yet another recap of the Flash's origin, reestablishes Barry Allen's job as a "Police Scientist" (think CSI) and introduces his supporting cast.

   That includes Iris West, with a hint of possible future romantic possibilities (which will make longtime fans - like me - happy), and the new version of Wally West, who will apparently somehow coexist along with the just-returned original version.

   There's some good action along the way, a new villain introduced (at least he's new to me) and a rather mysterious ending - so the story ends just as it starts to pick up speed.

   But it's a solid start for the classic character and a real improvement over the "New 52" version.

Grade: A-


New Comics Day

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

- Archie #9 - I wonder what the poor folks are doing tonight?

- Detective Comics #935 - Training Day.

- Doctor Strange #9 - What's in the basement? 

- Flash #1 - The storm strikes!

- Totally Awesome Hulk #7 - What happened to puny Banner?

- Justice League #52 - What's the deal with Lex Luthor?

- Mighty Thor #8 - That is one crazy board meeting.

- Usagi Yojimbo #155 - What is a hell screen?

- Wonder Woman #1 - What if everything is s lie?

And I received review copies of:

- Blacklist #10 

- Divinity II #3

- Puss in Boots #3

- Rai #14 

And that's it!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Wrath of the Eternal Warrior #8

   Boy, when this series gets dark, it doesn't mess around.

   At the end of the last storyline, the Eternal Warrior - Gilad Anni-Padda - died protecting the Earth.

   One the other side, he was reunited with his beloved family - but soon, he is called back to his duties. To return to the world of the living, he had to fight his way back through a hellscape of demons.

   But when he returns to life he finds himself in a mysterious and very deadly Labyrinth.

   Its owner has built it for the specific purpose of learning the secret of Gilad's immortality - which means he has to "kill" Gilad over and over, all of which is depicted in horrifying fashion herein.

   How can Gilad fight back and solve the Labyrinth? Good question!

   Certainly not for the faint of heart, this story is expertly crafted by writer Robert Venditti and artists Raul Allen and Patricia Martin.

   Gilad is a great character, adaptable to many different kinds of stories - including this one, that skillfully combines science fiction and adventure with horror.  

Grade: A-


Monday, June 20, 2016

Guest Review - King's Quest #1

   Stepping in to the Guest Review chair is my pal Glen Davis, with a review of a series that is not based on the classic computer game with the same title (I'm showing my age here). It's all about a team-up of some of the world's most famous comic strip characters.


   King's Quest is a sequel mini-series to the Kings Watch mini-series of last year.

   Once again, Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician, Prince Valiant and the Phantom team up to fight Ming the Merciless

   Only in this series there are TWO Phantoms: Lothar is still masquerading as The Ghost Who Walks, but he's found the true heir to the Phantom legacy: Dale Arden's secretary. 

   The group land on Mongo and meet up with Jungle Jim to fight some of Ming's troops. The troops are easily defeated, but the group learns that on Mongo, two years have passed since Kings Watch, and a lot has happened since then.

   Can't say I'm a fan of this new Phantom, who is supposed to provide comedic relief, but spends most of the time complaining. 

   Other than that, a fun issue.

Grade: B


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Justice League #51

   I thought I was really going to like this issue.

   It's a bit of a throwback, apparently set early after the origin of the Justice League, as Batman brings Robin (Dick Grayson) in to meet the team.

   Sounds like fun, right?

   During the introduction the team promptly starts acting like bullies, teasing Batman about hanging out with a kid - apparently not caring how their insults will hurt the Boy Wonder's feelings.

   Of course, in the ensuing battle (there's always an ensuing battle), Robin gets the change to prove himself as a trio of odd, time-lost menaces threaten the team.

   There's also a mysterious big bad lurking in the background, threatening more destruction.

   The team somewhat redeems its earlier actions - but not completely (and considering that almost every member of the team, except maybe Cyborg and Wonder Woman, have also - or will eventually - work with younger heroes, they come across as hypocrites here).

   C'mon, JL - you're heroes. Act like it!

Grade: B


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Batman #1

   For the opening issue of the new Batman series, the creative team has that hero tackling the kind of job you'd usually see Superman handling - a plane falling out of the sky.

   The story is touching and fantastic, very dramatic, and I like the art - but I don't believe for a minute that what Batman does in this issue is at all possible.

   No human could stand on an airliner without protective gear, and he certainly couldn't hang on (or swing around on the plane) via a Bat-rope.

   I could go on and on and nit-pick the story to death, but that would be silly - this is a comic and you generally have to shelve your sense of disbelief at some point.

   But this issue forced my sense of disbelief to jump up and down and shake its little fist.

   Nice start, nice cliffhanger, but ultimately a very silly story.

Grade: B


Friday, June 17, 2016

Superman #1

   When I heard that the new Superman title was going to include a married Lois and Clark - and their Super-son - I cringed a bit, thinking back to the lackluster film Superman Returns.

   So it's no small surprise that I actually like this new series (though it's a bit heavy-handed in spots).

   It's nice to see the new dynamic, I'm glad to see Lois back as a  central character, and the father-son dynamic is actually touching and fun.

   I'll be following this one - if cautiously - for now.

Grade: A-


Back in Action

   Sorry for the unexpected break, but I had an opportunity for a three-day, no computer weekend and I took it!

   I'll file a few "quick" reviews, and I have a guest review to share - and that should get us back on schedule.

   Thanks for bearing with me - now, back to work!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Civil War II #2

   There was always a big problem facing this new take on Civil War - it had to compete with the feature film.

   So far, the comics event has been on the losing end of that equation.

   Its only hope to win was to create a really compelling story - a rock-solid justification for two groups of heroes to fight.

   Instead, the series has, so far, followed the model of the original mini-series and made Tony Stark into a villain.

   Incensed over the death of an ally, Iron Man goes in search of an Inhuman with a power that promises to change the world - but in doing so, he threatens to ignite a war between that powerful race and humanity.

   Aside from his usual sharp dialogue, Stark acts totally out of character here - and there's no real reason for his actions (or the shocking event at the end of the issue).

   There's still time for this series to take off - but so far, it's been slow going.

Grade: B-


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Titans: Rebirth #1

   "Buy Titans: Rebirth," they said. "It's the next chapter after Rebirth #1."

   That's true, sort of. But if this is the way the Rebirth issues are going to play out, it's going to be a long slog.

   The spark to the event - so far - has been Wally West, the former Kid Flash and onetime Flash (which he may be again - it's difficult to be sure).

   After his enigmatic return to the real world, thanks to Barry Allen (the real Flash - I think), Wally has gone looking for his former teammates.

   Originally the Teen Titans, those heroes have outgrown the age indicator and just go by Titans. But can Wally make his former best friends remember?

   So apparently the next few chapters of Rebirth are going to consist of Wally going around and restoring the memories of the world before the "New 52."

   It may take a while.

   But don't feel like this issue is indispensable. It's just a reintroduction to the team (now missing Cyborg, Raven, Starfire and Changeling for reasons I'm not aware of).

   It's not a bad issue at all, but it spends a lot of effort and doesn't cover much ground.

   It's going to take more than this to keep my interest in Rebirth cooking.

Grade: B



New Comics Day

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

- Astro City #36 - Dawn of the Drama Queen!

- Batman #1 - Standing in Superman's shoes.

- Batman: Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade - Checking in on the Joker.

- Black Widow #4 - Visiting the old neighborhood.

- Civil War II #2 - Iron Man crosses a line.

- Justice League #51 - Robin meets the League.

- Star Wars #20 - Obi-Wan attacked by a bounty hunter.

- Superman #1 - Dealing with a Super-son!

- Swamp Thing #6 - A gathering of friends.

- Titans Rebirth #1 - Why doesn't anyone remember Wally?

And I received review copies of:

- A&A #4 

- Assassins Creed #9
- Doctor Who 10th Year Two #11
- Independence Day #5
- Samurai #4
- Tank Girl 2 Girls 1 Tank #2
- Vikings #2
- Wrath of the Eternal Warrior #8 

And that's it! (Whew!)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Classics - Blackhawk #244

   Whenever I visit a comics convention or a comics shop, one of the classic comics I'm always looking for is Blackhawk.

   That series was a strong seller for almost 30 years for Quality Comics and then DC Comics - but in 1968, superheroes were the hot commodity and the team's adventures were quietly canceled.

   In 1976 another attempt was made to revive the team's fortunes. Behind an excellent Joe Kubert cover, veteran writer Steve Skeates and legendary artist George Evans did their best to create a fresh start for the team.

   It was a solid effort. Their traditional leather flight suits were slightly redesigned, with a splash of color and a '70s plunging neckline featured.

   Their stories were tweaked, too - gone were the giant robots, the monsters and aliens - and in their place is a more "real world" adventure with the team being played as mercenaries who use their skills to fight the bad guys.

   Despite the creative team's best efforts, the new take didn't last - it limped along for seven issues, folding with #250 (sparing the team the fate of being canceled with so many other titles in the infamous "DC Implosion").

   It wasn't the end for the team, and there would be other revivals - but this effort was one of the better revisions for the classic heroes.

Grade: B+


Monday, June 13, 2016

Sherlock: A Study in Pink #1 (of 6)

   Sherlock (Holmes) is one of the best shows on TV (although the gap between each mini-series is a long one - but that's the price of quality).

   Smart scripts, terrific actors, inventive direction - it's well worth your time.

   The characters involved are based, of course, on the legendary detective created by Arthur Conan Doyle.

   When I saw that Titan Comics was creating a comic book based on the (modern day) TV series, I was anxious to see it.

   Then I saw that it was written by series creator Steven Moffat, and I was even more impressed.

   But the series isn't exactly what I expected. Instead of a new story, it's an adaptation of the first episode of the series.

   This series was originally published in Japanese by Kurokawa, with art by "Jay." - so the layout is not the typical left-to-right sequence American readers use. Each page reads right-to-left, which takes some getting used to.

   But once you get past that, it's an entertaining, original take on the story, which introduces eventual partner in detection Dr. John Watson (and yes, they "meet cute"), a mysterious string of suicides (that may not be suicides), and the hunt for a new apartment.

   It's a lot of fun, and should help tide fans over until they get around to the next Sherlock series.

Grade: A-


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Aquaman Rebirth #1

   I have to admit that I haven't been reading Aquaman's comic for a while, so I have no idea if this is a reboot, a restart or just more of the same.

   This Rebirth issue, whatever it may be, is a good jumping on place - it's a narrative-heavy issue framed around a serious action sequence with Aquaman fighting to prevent a terrorist attack on the American shore by an Atlantean fringe group.

   So we see him in action, exerting his considerable powers to stop men and monsters alike.

   The script by Dan Abnett is solid, and the art by Scot Eaton and Oscar Jimenez - inked by Mark Morales and Jimenez - is exceptional, with several impressive splash pages (no pun intended).

   The series has always struggled with the idea that Aquaman is somehow a joke of a hero - "he talks to fish" - and once again they do their best to discredit that.

   I'd say it's past time to put that aside and focus on telling great stories - that'll do more to secure the hero's reputation than any amount of verbiage.

Grade: A-


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Detective Comics #934

   One of the happier effects of DC's Rebirth is the return to original numbering for Detective Comics (and Action Comics).

   The other big change here is that it's no longer a "Batman only" title - instead, it's become a team book, something of a return to the Batman Family.

    A mysterious new menace is on the move in Gotham City, and Batman is smart enough to realize he'll need help - so this issue is a classic "put the team together" story.

   He starts with Batwoman, whose military experience qualifies her to lead the team he's building.

   There are some nice surprises in the lineup (which we won't give away here), and it's all managed with great efficiency and serves as a strong introduction to the cast.

   It's always a trick to use Batman in a team book - he's most effective as a loner - so it'll all hinge on the story and how he interacts with the group.

   For the opening chapter, writer James Tynion IV and artists Eddy Barrows and Eber Ferreira are hitting on all cylinders.

   So far, so good!

Grade: A-


Friday, June 10, 2016

Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1

   What the heck, Wonder Woman?

   There can't be many characters who have been rebooted / altered / interpreted (or misinterpreted) more than the Amazon Princess.

   This Rebirth issue is designed - as near as I can tell - to throw into doubt everything we know about the character, as her origin and life are (apparently) revealed to be lies.

   Thank goodness! It's not like her origin wasn't confusing enough already - so they throw even more into the mix. Was she born from clay, is she the daughter of Zeus and Hippolyta, or is there another answer? Is she the new God of War? Was she ever a goddess?

   You'll get lots of questions here, but no answers - that'll have to wait for her regular series (presumably).

   She does take time along the way to change her costume - bringing her more into line with the new film version (though thankfully she actually has some color in this costume).

   The art by Matthew Clark and Sean Parsons (pages 1 - 14) and Liam Sharp (15 - 20) is very good - they have a modern, clean style that meshes well together.

   It's the story by Greg Rucka that's a bit shaky. Hopefully it'll all pull together and give us a coherent story that brings Diana's life and purpose into focus, but for now it's just highlighting what a mess her continuity is.

   No wonder they keep tossing it out and trying again.

Grade: B-


Thursday, June 9, 2016

X-Men Apocalypse - Movie Review

   This movie has suffered some less than favorable reviews, and that's a shame - because it's actually a good action film.

   The major flaw with X-Men Apocalypse is that it was released so soon after the superior Captain America movie - it suffers a bit by comparison.

   The film brings the team into the 1980s. Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) has been peacefully running his School for Gifted Students (mutants), and continues to recruit new mutants so he can train them in the safe use of their powers.

   The focus is on Mystique (played by a luminous Jennifer Lawrence), who travels around the world rescuing mutants in danger.  We also catch up to Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who's trying to live a normal life - but his heritage threatens the peace he's found.

   All their lives are altered with the return of an ancient power - the first mutant, Apocalypse (an intense Oscar Isaac), a powerhouse who threatens worldwide devastation - and the enslavement of all mutants.

   The movie takes a little time to set up the conflict and introduce the "newest" members of the X-men, including a young Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and returning heroes Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), Havok (Lucas Till) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters, who gets some of the most visually-stunning scenes in the film).

   Once it gets rolling, the film is a heck of a lot of fun - especially when Apocalypse adds his Horsemen into the mix, made up of Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Magneto.

   The film also includes a lot more humor than you might expect (the trailer makes it look grim), and some amazing action sequences.

   It's not perfect - it leans a little too far into the high body count / vast destruction zone that seems to plague these movies, and there may just be too many characters to keep up with - but the good far outweighs the bad.

   The "modern" X-Men series of films has managed a great combination of intelligent storytelling, visual effects and terrific characters, and X-Men Apocalypse is a strong addition to the lineup.

   Don't let the critics keep you from seeing this comic adventure brought to life. Any true comic fan will get a kick out of this film!

Grade: A-


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Flash: Rebirth #1

   Considering that virtually the entire run of The Flash in the "new 52" was disappointing story wise (though the art was often great), I was happy to see the character play a central role - and be part of the most touching scene in - the DC Universe Rebirth special.

    Now, if you passed on that issue, the good news is: that exact scene is also presented in this issue.

   It's not much of a treat for those of us who bought Rebirth - it feels more like a rerun (though to be fair, the scene is expanded a bit here).

   The promise of Rebirth is that the messed-up continuity is going to be fixed - and the Flash's series needs that as much as any other.

   In the "New 52," Barry was no longer married to Iris West. Heck, he was dating a different woman for most of the run.

   Wally West didn't show up until well into the run - and he was a different character from the original version.

   So hopefully they're going to fix these (and many other) problems as this new DC rolls out.

   But by all indications, it's going to be messy.

Grade: B


New Comics Day

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

- All New X-Men #10 - Time-traveling with Apocalypse!

- Aquaman Rebirth #1 - Atlantis attacks again (sorta)!

- Daredevil #8 - High stakes!

- Detective Comics #934 - Getting the Bat-family back together.

- Flash Rebirth #1 - The return of an old friend.

- Gold Key Alliance #3 - Fight for your life!

- Guardians of the Galaxy #9 - A prison rescue mission.

- Wonder Woman Rebirth #1 - Searching for the truth.

And I received review copies of:

- 4001AD Bloodshot #1 

- Doctor Who 11 Year Two #10

- Ninjak #16 

- Norman #1 

- Penguins of Madagascar #4 

- Sherlock A Study in Pink #1 

   And that's it!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Classics - Challengers of the Unknown #24

   There are several reasons why I love this issue of Challengers of the Unknown.

   The team was one of several non-powered teams of heroes at DC in the '60s who tackled strange menaces using their unique skills.

   The team was made up of daredevils Prof, Red, Ace and Rocky - with June occasionally joining in on an adventure.

   This issue from 1962 includes two separate stories. One takes them to southeast Asia, where they try to track down a swindler - but first they must pass a gauntlet of tests that challenges their ingenuity.

   The second story is the one I like, because it features Multi-Man, who's probably the villain who most often plagued the team during their original run.

   In his original appearance, his power was tied to his own death! Every time he was "killed," he was reborn with a new and terrible power. But this story seems to lock his baseline form in as a big-brained, small-bodied "man of the future."

   While his powers vary widely, his look would stay the same through numerous future appearances - he was about the closest the team came to having an arch-enemy.

   I love the Challs because they were like brothers (like my three brothers and I) - they squabbled more than any team at DC (with the possible exception of the Doom Patrol), but they used their brains to overcome the bad guys.

   But there's another reason to like this issue - this was the month that DC's comics jumped in price, from a mere 10 cents to a massive 12 cents per issue! The inside front cover features a full-page letter from the editors, apologizing for the jump in price - how classy is that? After 25 years of only charging a dime, rising costs forced the increase.

   It's quaint and admirable that they cared so much about their readers. These days, prices jump up by a dollar without so much as an "eat it, fanboys!"

   Those were the days.

Grade: B



Monday, June 6, 2016

Legends of Oz: Tik-Tok and the Kalidah #2 (of 3)

   Since L. Frank Baum's book, The Wizard of Oz, is now in public domain, there have been quite a few takes on that fantastic world.

   The latest is Legends of Oz from Aspen Comics, and it seems to be (on the face of it), a mostly straightforward version (which certainly makes me happy).

   This issue features an odd collection of characters (of course, in Oz there are nothing but odd characters) - there's Tik-Tok, the mechanical man who must be wound up regularly, a lovely young woman (unnamed so far) who is apparently accused of some kind of crime, and a Kalidah, one of the scariest creatures in Oz, having the body of a grizzly bear and the head of a lion, and long claws and teeth - and unlike most of the animals in Oz, it can't talk.

   The trio are on the run from a fearsome group of Flying Monkeys (who are even more horrible than the ones in the movie), and they must face an even more terrifying menace along the way.

   It's a fun, fast-paced adventure that barely slows down long enough to let the reader catch his or her breath. Tik-Tok provides a bit of whimsy, but the focus is on adventure and a fight for survival.

   Written by Keith Thomas with strong art by Renato Rei, it's not traditional Oz, but it is a fun story.

Grade: B+


Sunday, June 5, 2016

All-New All-Different Avengers #10

   Mark Waid's stories have an amazing ability to make me smile.

   This issue of All-New All-Different Avengers is no different, as it takes the team into Deep Space, in an attempt to rescue Nova's father.

   It's loaded with great touches, like the way Tony Stark arranges for the younger members of the team to "get away" for the trip - and the way their spaceship is powered, which hearkens back to the Kree-Skrull War.

   What can I say, I love "Easter Eggs."

   The issue is a terrific adventure story and a great opening chapter to a great story.

   The art by Mahmud Asrar is very good, with strong layouts and great character visuals - a strong mix of action and character and humor.

   So, another strong issue and (thankfully) it has nothing to do with Civil War. What's not to like?

Grade: A


Saturday, June 4, 2016

Superman: Rebirth #1

   DC is maintaining that this "Rebirth" is not a "Reboot" - and that's a shame, because if any title needs a fresh start, it's the one starring Superman.

    That's because the series has a major problem - the "New 52" version of Superman is apparently dead (perhaps it was a mercy killing).

   Luckily there's another Superman wandering around. This one is apparently married to Lois Lane and they have a son. I have no idea where he came from, and the comic offers no help.

   But the other Superman doesn't seem to have much interest in being a hero (though he doesn't mind running around in the "basic black" version of the super-suit).

   The advance previews for both Superman's title and Action Comics offer little clue about the plans for the Superman legacy (it looks like Lex Luthor is taking over Action for a while) - but it definitely needs work.

   And a live version of the title character.

Grade: C+




Friday, June 3, 2016

In Memory: Muhammad Ali


   The news this evening is filled with well-deserved tributes to boxing legend and icon Muhammad Ali, who passed away Friday evening at the age of 74.

   He had a single connection to comics, having appeared in the classic oversized Treasury Edition that had him fighting Superman. That improbable concept didn't inspire much confidence in me - but how I loved that comic! 

   Here's the "classic" review I wrote on Sept. 28, 2008: 


   In the interest of complete honesty, I'll confess a couple of things about the Superman vs. Muhammad Ali Treasury Edition that was released in 1978 (the actual title of the issue, believe it or not, is All-New Collectors' Edition #C-56).

   My first reaction to it was, "This has to be the stupidest idea for a comic ever." The idea of a boxer - any boxer - fighting Superman was, on the face of it, dumb.

   My second confession - and this is a tough one to admit today - is that I wasn't a fan of Muhammad Ali in 1978. I was never a huge boxing fan (basketball was my favorite sport at the time), and my fleeting impressions of Ali was that he was a braggart and swell-headed - not exactly qualities I admired in a sports figure in 1978. 

   I picked this issue up because it was drawn by Neal Adams. Period. 

   So imagine my surprise when, after reading the comic, I found that it was immediately one of my all-time favorite comics - and it made me a fan of Ali.

   The story by Denny O'Neil and Adams has Earth facing destruction at the hands of an alien armada - a force too powerful for even Superman to handle. The mad leader of the Scrubb offers a challenge - Earth's champion must fight the Scrubb champion, with the fate of Earth hanging in the balance.

   To determine the Earth's representative, Superman and Ali fight an elimination round - but it's on the Scrubb planet, which circles a red sun, so Superman's powers are nullified.

   The story that follows is full of twists, turns, improbable events, wonderful heroics and sports action sequences - and an incredible space battle!

   It also features some insightful sequences with Ali explaining the art of boxing, and his own use of psychology to outmaneuver his opponent. It gave me new-found respect for Ali's intelligence and skill, and it made me reconsider my (formerly ignorant) opinion - and I became a fan!

   Adams was at his peak as an artist here, with cinematic fight scenes, amazing alien vistas and emotional impact on each page. The cover alone is worth the price of admission, as it features dozens and dozens of '70s celebrities in the audience.

   It's a wonderful thing when a comic book (even a big, 73-page-long one) can surprise and delight and defy expectations, and this issue did that and more. 

   It holds up just as well today as it did 33 years ago. I may be older (even Superman has changed a bit), but Ali's exploits still loom large, and while this may be just the tiniest slice of his legacy, it's one I'll always be grateful for, because it opened my eyes to a real-life hero.

   Not too bad for a comic book.

Grade: A+


Thursday, June 2, 2016

Civil War II #1

   I almost passed on Marvel's new Civil War II event.

   After all, I didn't like the original mini-series.

   On the other hand, I loved the recent film.

   (I didn't read the Secret Wars spin-off.)

   At the last minute, I decided to give this series a shot. After all, it's written by Brian Michael Bendis, who's a reliable comics veteran. It's drawn by David Marquez, who provides solid work.

   This is the kind of event that promises big things as it spills out across virtually the entire Marvel line - the story affects almost every title.

   Of course, it doesn't take much to get Marvel's heroes to fight - it's a time-honored tradition - but the impetus here is pretty slim (at least at the beginning), as a new Inhuman gains the power to see the future. But how should that power be used?

   The issue begins with a bang, as a cosmic menace threatens the Earth.

   But then it all jumps the rails, as a couple of big important strum and drang (life-threatening) events take place - but they're almost entirely "off-camera." In other words, the stunning event doesn't take place in this issue  - it happens over in The Ultimates.

   What we see is the aftereffect, which promises to amp up the emotions of the heroes and bring the conflict into the spotlight.

   It just feels thin and forced - and I find I really don't much care about the setup.

   It's going to have to get better fast to persuade me to change my mind, but right now, I think I should have trusted my first instinct and passed on this event.

Grade: C+


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Batman: Rebirth #1

   As Rebirth continues its slow rollout (reboot) of the DC Universe, one of the first of the new line of comics stars Batman.

   So here's the funny thing about Batman - even when they reboot him, they don't really reboot him.

   After the Crisis on Infinite Earth in the '80s, DC completely made over Superman and Wonder Woman - but made no significant changes to the Dark Knight.

    It was the same after Zero Hour, the other Crisis events - heck, even the New 52 didn't cause significant changes to Batman, though it did affect the other members of the Batman Family.

   It's no doubt a tribute to the purity of the character and concept that he only needs the kind of cosmetic updates (to keep up with the times) that all long-running heroes require. No need to reinvent the wheel.

   So, what has changed? Well, they introduce a "new" character to the mix - a new sidekick (though Batman insists it's not someone to fight by his side).

   Otherwise, it's the same as it was - billionaire Bruce Wayne, dressing up as a bat, fighting criminals - in this case, a reimagined and cleverly menacing Calendar Man. (Hey, at least the bad guy has been reinvented!)

   But it is a back-to-basics version of the character, with the gadgets and the physical and mental challenges and crazy villains and Alfred playing support.

   So it's a good thing, and a strong first issue. Let's hope the Rebirth brings us more like this.

Grade: A


New Comics Day

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

- All New All Different Avengers #10 - Avengers in space!

- Batman Rebirth #1 - A new start (again)!

- Civil War II #1 - Can't we all get along (again)?

- Hellboy in Hell #10 - To all things, an ending.

- Invincible Iron Man #10 - Who's controlling the tech?

- Paper Girls #6 - Things get weirder.

- Punisher #2 - Super-powered killers.

- Spirit #11 - Who is Mikado Vaas?

- Superman Rebirth #1 - Is Superman dead (again)?

- Superman: Coming of the Supermen #5 - Supermen vs. Apokolips!

   And that's it!