Saturday, January 31, 2009

Justice Society of America #23

After the prolonged Gog / Kingdom Come storyline, you might expect writer Geoff Johns to give us a "decompression" issue of the Justice Society of America - but you won't get that with this issue.

Instead, he dives right into another big storyline involving Black Adam, one of DC's better (and most powerful) villains.

After tackling the last story arc with artist Alex Ross as a co-writer, this time around Johns is teamed up with another talented artist who is also serving as a co-writer.

This time around, Jerry Ordway steps into Ross' shoes, along with inker Bob Wiacek, and they turn in some outstanding work. But that's no surprise - I've been a fan of Ordway's work since he worked on comics such as All-Star Squadron, The Adventures of Superman and Infinity, Inc.

His work has real skill and (for lack of a better word) gravitas, very much along the lines of the great Wally Wood. His work here is outstanding.

This time around, he's also on familiar soil, as he steps back into the world of the original Captain Marvel. Ordway had a long and entertaining run as writer and artist on The Power of Shazam! - it's good to see him back in his old neighborhood.

Part of the issue is given over to housekeeping, as the JSA is pared down to a more manageable size. Then we launch right into the dysfunctional Marvel Family.

With any luck, Johns will again work his magic and straighten out the muddled state of the Marvels, who suffered so badly in the recent Shazam mini-series (was it called The Trials of Shazam?) and in the Countdown series.

DC's lucky to have Johns, who has worked so hard (and so successfully) to correct the sins visited upon the JSA, then Green Lantern, and soon the Flash. Hopefully he can keep his streak going and get Capt. Marvel back where he belongs - at the top of his game.

Grade: B+

Friday, January 30, 2009

The New Avengers #49

One of the plot threads left over from the Secret Invasion series was the fate of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones' baby, who was last seen in the care of a trusted friend who turned out to be a Skrull (and don't you hate it when that happens)?

After his heroic friends failed to recover the baby, Cage turned to Norman Osborn and the Thunderbolts for help, promising to join their cause if they helped him.

That set up a great conflict, and in plays out in this issue of The New Avengers, as Cage does what he must to save his child.

It's a straightforward story from writer Brian Bendis, only marred by an interrogation scene at the beginning where Venom devours a Skrull prisoner - a scene that seemed unnecessary and graphic.

The art by Billy Tan and Matt Banning is good, although there are some rough edges here and there. But their dark, edgy style is well suited to this story.

The issue has one glitch - an unfortunate combination of a comics page that ends with a mention of a list, and on the next page is an ad featuring a large list of characters who have been killed in the Ultimatum mini-series. These things happen.

This comic really just serves two purposes - it wraps up the dangling storyline, and sets up next issue's battle royale between the New Avengers and the Dark Avengers.

It accomplishes its goal.

Grade: B

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Final Crisis #7 (of 7)

And so we reach the final issue of Final Crisis, as writer Grant Morrison wraps up his freeform, jazz-like performance.

And here's what I take away from it: DC Comics are different from Marvel Comics.

I know, it's a shocking revelation - but that's what Morrison has been playing at here.

Look at Marvel's big event - Secret Invasion. It's an action-packed mini-series that brought together virtually every hero (and most villains) to fight against an enemy that threatened the world. Since the Fantastic Four first appeared (more or less), Marvel has always been about continuity.

The characters all live in the "real" world, they interact, they have problems, but the stories (with notable exceptions) play by the rules.

DC has never been about continuity. Each hero, each comic, existed in a separate world of their own. The Superman in Action Comics rarely had anything in common with the Superman in Justice League or World's Finest (other than his general appearance). Each story of each character virtually stood alone, so the rules were easily bent or broken.

So DC was a universe of possibilities, where anything could (and did) happen. There have been attempts to change that, to bring DC into line. The first two Crisis series were designed to clear up continuity problems, though generally they ended up making more problems. Perhaps DC just wasn't built that way.

Final Crisis is Grant Morrison's way of saying, there should be no rules in comics. He brings together virtually every hero and villain in the DC Universe to fight against the ultimate evil, in a multi-layered battle that's more a battle of imaginations that a duel with fists.

The result is: anything goes. You want Earth-1, Earth-5, Earth-51? No problem! Did Orion get killed three different ways in two months? That can be fixed with one sentence. The only limits are the imagination of the writer.

The question is, how will fans react? I would hope they'll give DC a chance and see where it goes from here. It's a bright future, if it's managed well.

As for the Final Crisis series, it's still a dense and difficult read, and probably best read all together. It's loaded with lots of story fragments, some very clever bits and scenes that seem to arrive out of nowhere.

It's fascinating and creative, annoying and liberating at the same time. It's not for everyone - but if you're willing to put in the work, it's worth your time.

Let's hope DC is the better for it.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

This Week's Comics

Here's what your pal Chuck picked up today - along with lots of questions:

- The New Avengers #49 - Luke Cage gets a helping hand from the bad guys?

- Captain America #46 - Teaming up with Namor? Is he a good guy this month?

- Daredevil #115 - The conclusion of the Lady Bullseye story?

- Fantastic Four #563 - Wedding bells for Ben?

- Final Crisis #7 (of 7) - But will it make sense?

- The Incredible Hercules #125 - Did the Amzons win?

- Justice Society of America #23 - Can Johns and Ordway strighten out the Marvel Family?

- Marvels: Eye of the Camera #3 (of 6) - What happens when the monsters show up?

- Superman #684 - Who doesn't like a guest appearance by Mon-El?

- Trinity #35 - Will we ever see the real Trinity again?

- The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #3 - Ready for a twist ending?

Justice League of America #29

Len Wein has to be one of the most underrated writers in comics.

All he did was create the "New" X-Men with Dave Cockrum, created Swamp Thing with Bernie Wrightson, and wrote tons of great comics for both Marvel and DC.

These days his appearances are rare, but he's been turning up more lately, and that's always a good thing.

With this issue of the Justice League of America, he returns to a team he wrote a number of classic stories for (including the creation of Libra, a pivotal character in Final Crisis).

He also brings back one of the League's most fearsome villains, Starbreaker, a powerful cosmic figure (although he's been largely absent since his first appearance in the original Justice League comic).

This issue is also a throwback, as it features a classic lineup and is a tale from the casebook of the JLA. It apparently serves as a setup for the next issue, which will presumably use a modern version of the team.

The art here is by Chris Cross with Rob Stull, and they turn in a solid job, with lots of kinetic pages and some interesting stylish flourishes.

It's good to see Wein guesting on this issue - hopefully he'll make more return visits in the future.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Amazing Spider-Man #584

I feel like I keep picking on poor old Peter Parker these days - but I continue to be disappointed in this comic.

Which is surprising, because I've long been a fan of The Amazing Spider-Man. But even with John Romita, Jr. back on the art (and as outstanding as ever), the story just leaves me cold.

I think the problem is simply that the subplots fall in the "who cares" category.

We have a mayor's race that takes up a good bit of the comic - but I'm not sure why any reader would care which candidate wins.

We have the promise of revelations about the character Menace (no relation to Dennis, one assumes), but it's a complete cop-out.

The Spider-Tracer killer continues to, well, kill, but almost all that character's murders have taken place off-camera, so we have no clue about him (or her) and no real reason to care. The cover promises "Resolutions" about the killer, but we get none.

Harry Osborn does have a nice moment.

Oh, and Pete has a really bad day.

I appreciate that they're trying to give Spider-Man a new start, a fresh outlook - but there's a reason why the old version was popular. People cared about him and his loved ones.

The new version - not so much.

Grade: C

Monday, January 26, 2009

Supergirl #37

The latest mystery figure in comics is the new "Superwoman," whose identity is still unknown.

Of course, barring a truly unexpected plot twist, it's difficult to care much about her real identity, since she's apparently a Kryptonian, and we've only met two or three females who could fill the part. I'm assuming she isn't Power Girl in disguise - she doesn't seem to have the right proportions, if you get my drift.

The comic belongs to Supergirl, but she's a surprisingly passive presence in this issue. She spends most of her time being bossed around by her Mother on New Krypton.

Next issue promises much more conflict, so we'll see what writer Sterling Gates has in store. As always, the artwork is very good, as Jamal Igle and Keith Champagne turn in another excellent, energetic job.

This issue's not quite up to recent efforts, but it's obviously setting the story up for next month's issue - as that last page shows.

Still, Supergirl's comic is better now than it's been in years.

Grade: B-

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Conan the Cimmerian #7

This issue of Conan of Cimmeria provides something very few Conan stories have done before - namely, insight into that character's childhood.

It also gives us some clues about why, throughout his life, he's driven to wander so far from home.

Writer Timothy Truman has done a terrific job with the first seven issues of this title, weaving a story of Conan's first return to his homeland with a story about his grandfather, Connacht, who had also wandered the lands of Hyborea, only to return and stay in Cimmeria.

It's a strong bit of work - among the best in Truman's career, and that's certainly saying something.

The art holds up its end of things, including Richard Corben's outstanding work bringing Connacht's story to life with some of the most beautiful work in his career (again, that's no faint praise). Tomas Giorello also turns in some excellent work here, savage and primal, perfectly capturing the bleak world of Conan's kin.

We can only hope this high quality of work will continue into the months and years ahead. For now, Conan the Cimmerian is off to a strong start.

Grade: A-

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Mighty Avengers #21

Marvel is teetering on the edge of creating an Avengers overload.

Between Secret Invasion, Dark Avengers, New Avengers and Mighty Avengers, you can't swing a cat in a comics shop without knocking over an Avengers title.

There's only one Avengers title that's not being scripted by Brian Bendis, and that's Mighty Avengers. This one is written by Dan Slott, who does a reasonable job, although he asks a lot more questions than he answers.

The Dark Reign story brings a new beginning for the group, as a surprising character appears (oh, it's the Scarlet Witch - she's right there on the cover). She begins assembling a new collection of heroes, presumably to battle a mysterious series of events happening all around the world.

The artwork by Khoi Pham in quite strong, with a good variety of shots, including some big, world-shaking events, along with some nifty personal moments.

I'm torn by this issue. It's not bad (although Hank Pym does something... disturbing). If you're an Avengers fan, you'll find in this title has guest appearances by the Dark and Mighty ones. If only there were more Avengers teams! (Sarcasm off.)

It's a start. We'll have to wait and see if it's the start of something good.

Grade: C

Friday, January 23, 2009

Green Lantern #37

I'm not sure I understand the rationale behind the "Faces of Evil" promotion that's running through DC Comics this month.

I've already complained about messing with the logo of each comic so the real title is unreadable - instead you see the name of a villain highlighted.

For this issue of Green Lantern, the focus is on the Red Lantern named Laira. She was a Green Lantern, but she gave in to her rage, which made her the perfect candidate for the perpetually-furious Red Lantern Corps.

But she's really not a major character in the story (although she does play a key role) - why not focus on Sinestro or Atrocitus instead?

Writer Geoff Johns is walking a delicate balance here as he keeps introducing more characters from different-hued Lantern Corps. It would be easy to be overwhelmed by all these new faces, but so far he's kept it clear and interesting.

Big kudos also to penciler Ivan Reis, who turns in his usual amazing work on the art. The detail is terrific, and the amazing variety of alien life forms continues to impress.

The Red Lantern saga wraps up next issue, presumably paving the way for the Black Lanterns / Darkest Night story - so far it's been very good, but we'll have to wait and see how this issue's cliffhanger is resolved (although the reprint of the next issue cover on the last page pretty much gives it away).

Grade: B+

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dark Avengers #1

Spinning out of the resolution of the Secret Invasion mini-series, we have yet another team book - the Dark Avengers. (Am I the only one who finds that title funny? Maybe it's just me, but it seems like a lame attempt at sounding grim and gritty. Why not the Mean Avengers? The Dirty Avengers? Make up your own title!)

There's no secret about why they're "Dark" - it's an Avengers team made up almost entirely of villains. Some are posing as heroes, others are heroes who have been coerced into being on the team.

Adding to the humor is the fact that they don't use the "Dark" part of the title - they just call themselves the Avengers. The title is on the cover to help us differentiate them from the New Avengers and the Mighty Avengers.

Of course, there's a lot of potential in a title like this. In fact, I loved this comic years ago when Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley did it. A team of villains disguised themselves as heroes as part of a scam. Back then, the comic was called Thunderbolts.

That comic was interesting because the villains were tempted to become heroes (and some did), while others stayed true to their evil origins. This comic spins off from Thunderbolts, as truly vile bad guys are made over into heroes - but there's no sense of conflict. This team is evil and plans to stay that way.

The story by Brian Bendis is interesting but creepy, loaded with his trademark funny and snarky dialogue. It's difficult to see how this story can be much more than a mini-series, but I suppose some thought that about Thunderbolts, and it continues today.

The art is excellent, as Mike Deodato provides some amazingly detailed art with strong layouts. There's not much action on display here, but he's no slouch in that department, either.

They still haven't announced what H.A.M.M.E.R. (which replaced S.H.I.E.L.D.) stands for! My guess: Horror Angst and Mayhem Made Easy. Really!

Frankly, I haven't decided if I like this comic or not. I'd probably enjoy it more if there was at least one sympathetic character in there somewhere. The art is great, but the concept leaves me cold.

So far, my reaction is basically: eh.

Grade: C+

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Got Any Comics?

Another Wednesday, another haul. Here's what I got today at the comics shop:

- Dark Avengers #1 - Hey, I liked this title years ago when it was called Thunderbolts.

- The Mighty Avengers #21 - Hank Pym has yet another identity! It's about time!

- Brave and the Bold #21 - Green Lantern and Green Arrow team up again.

- Conan the Cimmerian #7 - The wrap-up to the first storyline, with more Corben art.

- Green Lantern #37
- the Red Lantern saga continues.

- Justice League of America #29 - Hey, this issue is written by Len Wein. Cool!

- The Amazing Spider-Man #584 - Good to see Romita, Jr. back on the art!

- Supergirl #37 - Who is Superwoman?

- Trinity #34
- Keeps on rollin'!

I also picked up the issue of Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D #2 (of 2) and Alter Ego #83 that I missed last week.

Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #7

As discussed in this post, I've been a fan of Thor's adventures almost since the comic began.

The character has been through quite a few changes since then - some for the worse, and some for the better (the new take on the character in his own title being a good example of the latter).

I have to admit that I've only picked up a few of the all-ages Marvel Adventures comics, and the Super Heroes title is apparently devoted to different characters in each issue.

So it's interesting to see the "classic" Thor back again. Here we see Thor in his mortal identity, Dr. Don Blake, in love with Nurse Jane Foster, and constantly having to transform to Thor to rescue her.

Since it's a "done in one" issue, writer Louise Simonson doesn't have a lot of room to work with, but she does a good job of bringing the reader up to speed. She also has a nice nod to the work done by her husband, Walt Simonson, during his classic run on Thor.

This is an "All Ages" comic book, so the story is pretty basic (though it isn't a "kiddie comic"). It's the comic book equivalent of a sitcom. But the art by Rodney Buchemi is outstanding - it's creative, very detailed, the characters are expressive, and the pages just roil with a sense of fun.

It's worth picking up for the art (and the outstanding cover), but storywise, it's a light (and lighthearted) production. Not bad at all.

Grade: B

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Solomon Kane #4

After three solid issues of building tension, this issue of Solomon Kane is all about action.

Kane is probably Robert E. Howard's most unusual hero - a puritan swordsman who fights monsters and demons.

This time around he's up against a Baron who's also a werewolf, not to mention some flying demons and assorted murderous servants.

The story is a bit hard to follow in places, and once again, a quick recap somewhere along the line by writer Scott Allie probably would have made it easier to keep all the players straight. Still, the story rolls along briskly as it heads for the finale next issue.

I do like the artwork by Mario Guevara, though it would be nice to have a little more variety in the "camera angles" - almost every panel is a wide shot or a mid-range shot. It would be nice to have some more close-ups along the way. But that's a minor complaint - the art has a strong period feel to it.

Despite my occasional nitpicks, this has been an entertaining series, and I'm looking forward to the final chapter.

Grade: B

Monday, January 19, 2009

Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade #2 (of 6)

Well, here's a comic book that definitely isn't aimed at me.

But don't get me wrong - that's not a bad thing.

For too many years (make that decades) comic book companies haven't made more than a passing effort at creating comics for young readers. DC seems to be making a genuine effort at correcting that oversight with its line of DC Kids comics.

The line includes the Super Friends, Tiny Titans, Cartoon Network Action Pack, Scooby Doo and others.

If comic book companies are going to survive, they need to bring in new readers, and this line, which ties in to existing Warner Brothers properties, including cartoons and comic books, is a great place to start.

Which brings us to Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade. It's a different take on the story of the original character. Supergirl lived with her family in the Kryptonian city of Argo in another dimension - it was hurled there by the explosion that destroyed Krypton.

After she hides on a rocket being sent to Earth, Supergirl finds herself trapped in our dimension - but on the up side, she has superpowers. Her cousin Superman sets her up in a boarding school. The action in this comic is set almost entirely at school, where Supergirl is disguised as Linda Lee, though this time around she doesn't wear a wig - she wears glasses - of course, that means no one will ever realize that she looks exactly like Supergirl.

In this issue, she faces her ultimate foe - a popular (and evil) cheerleader!

The comic is written by Landry Q. Walker and drawn by Eric Jones, and while the plot is a bit rough in places, it's also fun and fast-paced. The art is, of course, cartoony (that's kind of the point), but also energetic and high-spirited.

I can't recommend it for older readers (and thus I can't give it more than an average grade), but I suspect kids will enjoy following Supergirl's down-to-Earth adventures.

Grade: C+

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz #2 (of 8)

What a delight this series is!

I've always found the enduring appeal of Oz fascinating - not many works of literature from more than 100 years ago still have such a firm grasp on our imagination - but Oz endures.

Perhaps it's more amazing to realize that this may be the first adaptation of the original book that stays true to that original story - at least in terms of the script. Writer Eric Shanower has worked hard to expand the Oz mythos, and does an outstanding job here adapting the original story.

The artist, on the other hand, takes great liberties with the depictions of Oz and its famous inhabitants, but Skottie Young's art, along with Jean Francois Beaulieu's colors, continue to delight.

It's a complete departure from the classic illustrations and it's even further removed from the look of the film - but it's spot on, from the fragile Scarecrow to the gentlemanly Tin Man and the massive Cowardly Lion.

It occurs to me - I'm neglecting to recap the issue. In the second issue of The Wonderful World of Oz, Dorothy continues down the Yellow Brick Road with her new friend, The Scarecrow, and encounters two more new friends. But if you only know the story from the movie, you might be surprised to hear just how the Tin Man was created.

This is a terrific piece of work, and highly recommended for (if you'll forgive the cliche) kids of all ages.

Grade: A

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Action Comics #873

I'll admit that my eyesight isn't the greatest.

But when I went to ye olde comic book shoppe this week, I almost didn't pick up this issue of Action Comics - and it's the final chapter (for now) in the New Krypton story!

So why did I almost miss it? Well, the cover is part of some kind of promotion / mini-series / whatever the heck it is from DC Comics called "Faces of Evil." In addition to special one-shot comics, several regular issues have been "taken over" - at least in terms of cover designs - by the stylized "Faces of Evil" cover, which includes a black backdrop, a single dramatic shot of a villain on the cover, and the villain's name imposed over the grayed-out title of the comic.

To my feeble eyes, this didn't look like an issue of Action Comics - it looked like a one-shot titled "Lex Luthor: Faces of Evil." (I should point out that it's a bit dark and gloomy in my comics shop. But friendly!)

Thankfully, even though the "Evil" mini-series doesn't interest me, a little voice sent me back to take a closer look, and I realized there were three comics I wanted to buy - but had almost passed up.

So kudos to whoever came up with the cover design - I wonder how many sales it cost DC because of the obscured title, and how many sales did they get of people thinking they were buying part of a mini-series, instead of a regular monthly issue. Oh well.

Aside from that design problem, we have here the final issue in the "New Krypton" storyline, as the heroes of Earth face off against 100,000 Kryptonians. I can't say much about Geoff Johns' story without giving too much away, but suffice to say that some surprising and unexpected things happen, and future stories are definitely given a solid foundation here.

I like the art by Pete Woods, Renato Guedes and Wilson Magalhaes (although I have no idea who did what). Their style is very clean, high-energy and completely professional.

Once you get past the cover, it's a strong issue - but I still think the cover was a cheat. Speaking of which, Luthor only appears in two pages of the story. Just sayin' is all.

Grade: B

Friday, January 16, 2009

X-Infernus #2 (of 4)

Longtime fans of the X-Men will no doubt get a nostalgic buzz from the X-Infernus mini-series.

It reads for all the world like a Chris Claremont story from the middle of his original run on the X-Men - of course, some will think I'm insulting writer C. B. Cebulski, while others will think I'm giving him (her?) the ultimate compliment.

The truth of the matter is somewhere in between. After years of terrific stories on the X-books, Claremont kind of ran out of steam at some point, and his stories became more convoluted, he introduced more plotlines that were never resolved, his focus was almost exclusively on the strong female characters, and the mutant population expanded tremendously.

The X-Books were loaded with angst, lots of anger and some pretty decent storylines - but it was just a shadow of itself, and often quite confusing.

That's what we're getting with this series. It takes us on a trip into Limbo, which looks an awful lot like Hell. There we find the little sister of Colossus, Illyana Rasputin, who has been transformed into The Darkchyld - a demon, basically - and she's fighting to recover two artifacts that are the key to her salvation.

So there's lots of fighting and several apparent deaths (which end up not being actual deaths - another Claremont staple). The X-Men vow to rescue her, but that's shaping up to be a tall order.

I'm on the fence about the artwork by Giuseppe Camuncoli, Jesse Delperdang and Craig Yeung. The structure is pretty solid, and the action is rollicking, but some of the layouts are difficult to follow - I'm really not sure what's happening on the last page, for example.

Hopefully this series will restore Illyana to the X-titles, rather than leaving her in Limbo for another couple of decades. She deserves better, and so do we.

Grade: B-

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Final Crisis #6 (of 7)

The Final Crisis comic has built up quite a head of steam as it tackles the next-to-the-last issue.

There are Highfather knows how many heroes and villains fighting for their lives, as Darkseid's Anti-Life equation has led the world to the brink of extinction.

How writer Grant Morrison is able to keep all the storylines in this series straight, I'll never know - I gave up trying two issues ago.

You've got the Flash (Barry Allen) promising he has a solution - one that will require running the ultimate race. You have Superman being handed a possible solution in the opening pages. You have the Green Lantern Corps racing to save Earth from destruction. You have Mr. Miracle with the secret of salvation. You have Batman... ah, but that would be telling.

I'm still not convinced this storyline is all coming together - it's still difficult to sort it all out, but you do get the impression that things are starting to make sense. Sorta. Maybe.

The art is terrific, if a bit uneven - some pages are incredible, others are just OK. The issue was apparently drawn by committee, with six artists listed in the credits.

Still, the end is near - and then we'll see what tricks Morrison has for us.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Comics, Oh We Get Comics

Every Wednesday at the comic book shop, that is.

Today I picked up:

- Action Comics #873 - The first of three comics I almost didn't pick up. DC has some kind of promotion going on called "Faces of Evil," with the covers of several comics featuring villains (in this case, Lex Luthor) with that character's name in white, covering the greyed-out title of the actual comic (which has a black background). I thought it was a mini-series, and only at the last moment did I realize that it was actually an issue of Action Comics. What ad wizard dreamed this up?

- Booster Gold #16 - Which looks for all the world like an issue of Enemy Ace. Is he really evil?

- Final Crisis #6 (of 7) - In which something very surprising happens.

- Ghostbusters: The Other Side #4 (of 4) - Wraps up this lackluster mini-series.

- Green Lantern Corps #32 - Which looks like an issue of "Kryb," presumably not related to the MTV series.

- Marvel Adventures Featuring Thor #7 - I haven't read many of these books, but a comic with the original Thor is tough to pass up.

- The Amazing Spider-Man #583 - Spidey teams up with the Incredible Obama! But my shop didn't have the special Obama cover - apparently Marvel demanded shop owners to order obscene amounts of the next issue to receive the Obama covers, and my shop owner refused to be blackmailed (good for him). Since there were guys in the shop looking for that specific issue, looks like Marvel cost itself some sales by not thinking this one through.

- Solomon Kane #4 - This has been very good so far.

- Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 5th Grade #2 (of 6)
- This is a fun little series.

- Trinity #33 - That train keeps a rollin'...

- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz #2 (of 8) - What a terrific adaptation this is!

- X-Infernus #2 (of 4) - An X-blast from the past.

And that's it!

Trinity #32

I'm really impressed with what writer Kurt Busiek and artist Mark Bagley have managed to accomplish with Trinity.

Most writers would not have the discipline or the talent to create a weekly comic, and few artists could maintain the Kirby-like pace of drawing 8 to 12 pages of art every week. But this team is just 20 issues away from doing just that, and my hat's off to them.

It's also impressive that the work in the books has been nothing but professional and top quality.

I just wish I was enjoying it more. Busiek seems to be enjoying his exploration of what makes Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman special, and their unique place in the DC Universe, but as a reader, it just seems to be dragging on forever.

It takes a lot of story to fill 52 issues of a comic, and they have lots of story going on here - but it just keeps going and going. There's a quest on an alien world, there are battles between an army of good guys and an army of bad guys on an alternate Earth, there are plots still unfolding being hatched by Morgan Le Fey and Enigma, and Krona is still out there somewhere destroying galaxies.

I know it'll all wrap up soon, and it'll no doubt be well done - but the story is threatening to collapse under its own weight, and there are five months to go!

I want to like it, and I admire the craft - but my interest is fading fast.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Amazing Spider-Man #582

I'm on record as being opposed to the whole "deal with the devil - no more marriage" thing, so maybe that accounts for my ongoing lack of interest in The Amazing Spider-Man - but I think the problem is deeper than that.

The problem isn't that this is a new and different Spider-Man. It's really the same Peter Parker as before, and the situations are about the same as ever.

In this issue, written by Dan Slott, Peter is in the suburbs with the newly-revived Harry Osborn. (Hey, it turns out that when Harry died all those years back, he wasn't really dead - another amazing plot twist!) Harry is visiting his ex-wife Liz and their son, but the reunion is broken up by an attack by the Molten Man. Fights and wisecracks ensue.

Of course, the real problem with this story is that Harry and Liz would have to be complete morons to not realize that Pete is Spider-Man, since Pete runs away and Spidey appears - in the suburbs, far away from Spidey's usual hangout.

The art in the issue is very good, with Mike McKone, Andy Lanning and Kris Justice offering a fun version of Spider-Man and an interesting take on the Molten Man - solid work all around.

Getting back to the problem with Spider-Man's title, it's simple: we're getting overloaded with Spider-Man. With three issues a month, and each month's titles by a different creative team, we're seeing loads of comics, but there's no continuity.

The look is different each month, the tone is different, and it just feels like an overload of the same old fight scenes. If this book came out once a month, with the same creative team each month, then it would work.

But by trying to cash in on Spidey by making the book a near-weekly, they're diluting the brand down until it's weak stuff indeed.

The first issue of The Amazing Spider-Man I picked up was #15 (with the first appearance of Kraven the Hunter). I'd be the first to admit that there were times when I bought this comic out of inertia (Clone Saga, take a bow). That's where I am again today - but for the first time since issue #15, I'm seriously considering dropping this title.

This isn't a bad comic - but right now, it's all volume and no heart. Perhaps it is possible to get too much of a good thing.

Grade: B-

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #2 (of 8)

It's always amazing to me how easily writer Mike Mignola combines horror with humor in the pages of Hellboy.

This issue continues the story of "The Wild Hunt," as Hellboy sets out to help track down some murderous giants, but finds himself the target of treachery instead.

The story actually takes place in two parts - one follows Hellboy as he goes hunting for some really big game; and in the second part of the comic we see another part of the tale unfolding, as mystic forces set things in motion - providing more obstacles for Hellboy to face.

If Mignola isn't able to handle the artwork (other than the cover), then Duncan Fegredo is a darn good substitute - he manages to capture the horrific creatures and the wild fight sequences with great skill. There's also a backup story drawn by Guy Davis, another excellent artist on loan from B.P.R.D.

It's too soon to tell where this story is going, but it looks like it's going to be a heck of a lot of fun. With some gross bits here and there.

Grade: B+

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Terror Titans #4 (of 6)

With this comic, I definitely walked in on the middle of the movie.

Since I haven't read any of the previous issues of Terror Titans, I know nothing about the group. I picked up this issue because it features the return of Static, my favorite of the Milestone characters. I also picked it up because the team roster includes Terra, whose recent mini-series I've raved about before.

So I'm reading this issue, and it's quickly clear that writer Sean McKeever has never heard of the concept that every comic is potentially someone's first issue. Which is to say, there's no attempt to bring a new reader up to speed - we're just dropped into the middle of the action and left to figure it out on our own.

I've been reading DC's comics for a while now (about 47 years, give or take a few months), so you'd think I'd have no trouble catching up, wouldn't you? Not a chance.

As I understand it, Static is being forced (brainwashed?) into taking part in some kind of fighting tournament between super-powered heroes. He's fighting Ravager, a female version of one of the Teen Titans' old villains (and presumably a member of the Terror team). Other heroes fight their own matches. Several characters (none of whom I know) are plotting against other characters or recovering from their own battles. The Clock King is behind it all, and somehow he has limited control over time. Some guy in a star-spangled costume is being brainwashed. He's not the Star-Spangled Kid, who apparently isn't dead anymore, because he fights in the contest. Same for Aquagirl.

Hope I didn't give away the story for you with that recap, but since it makes no sense to me, I have no idea where the spoilers are.

The art is quite good, as Joe Bennett and Jack Jadson provide some high-octane action scenes, and some nice quiet moments, too. But their good work can't overcome a story that just wanders around and never moves forward.

Yes, it's my fault for walking in on the middle - but surely they could have squeezed a paragraph in there somewhere to help me out. Or explained who some of the non-costumed characters are. Is that too much to ask for my three bucks?

Grade: D

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Kull #3

The comic book starring Robert E. Howard's barbarian king, Kull, has been very good so far - but it just got better.

That's because the pieces of the opening story, The Shadow Kingdom, are finally moving into place, and a life-and-death showdown is about to begin.

I usually rave about the writer first, but let me give a nod to the incredibly detailed work on this series by artist Will Conrad (with colors by Jose Villarrubia). He really brings the city of Valusia to life through wonderful cityscapes - and a splash panel that looks at the ancient history of mankind is not to be missed. Some of the art is a bit gory - perhaps too much so for young readers - but it captures perfectly the violence of Howard's stories.

Now I'll rave about the writing. Arvid Nelson has done a great job capturing the primal feel of Howard's story. As the plot against humanity begins to unfold, the writing brings home the horror - and perhaps, the hopelessness of the situation facing Kull and his new ally.

The best compliment I can give is: they're doing Robert E. Howard proud. If you're not reading this series, you're missing a good one.

Grade: A

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Invincible Iron Man #9

The guy who seems to get the worst of the mega-events at Marvel is Tony Stark, also known as The Invincible Iron Man.

In Civil War, by becoming the enforcer for the Superhero Registration Act, creating a super-prison for all those who wouldn't sign on, and creating the murderous Clone of Thor, Tony became the worst villain in Marvel's Universe.

In World War Hulk, he got the living crap beat out of him by a certain angry green-skinned giant.

When Thor returned to life, he trashed Iron Man, too.

Now, in the wake of Secret Invasion, Tony is not only despised by the world at large, he's also a wanted criminal, targeted by Norman Osborn, the new leader of H.A.M.M.E.R. (I still don't know what it stands for. Maybe it's "Hey, All Marvel Men Exercise Regularly.")

Writer Matt Fraction continues turning in strong work on this comic, easily the best Iron Man comic in years, if not a decade. The art by Salvador Larroca and colorist Frank D'Armata is outstanding, giving the comic a painted look.

Although the world is against him, Tony uses his wits to stay one step ahead of the bad guys. It takes great, intelligent writing to manage that, and thankfully Fraction does not disappoint.

Aside from a few action scenes, this is a "quiet" issue, as it lays the groundwork for the conflict to come. It should be a good one.

Grade: B+

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Sandman: The Dream Hunters #3 (of 4)

I'm glad to say that the third issue of this series, Sandman: The Dream Hunters, maintains the incredibly high quality of the previous two issues.

You can read my take on those issues right here, if you're so inclined. Neil Gaiman's a great writer, Craig Russell is an amazing artist, blah blah blah, gush gush gush. We've heard it all before - it's just a matter of waiting to see if the last issue can complete the storyline with the same amazing skill.

While we're waiting, allow your old pal Chuck here to wander completely off topic and explain something never before explained: namely, how the comics reviewed in this space are chosen.

It's not complicated at all. I go to the comics shop each week and pick up the comics that interest me, and try to grab one or two that I might not have chosen otherwise, just for variety. When I get home, I try to come up with a good mix for the week, with mostly Marvel and DC (it should be obvious by now that my tastes are pretty mainstream), with occasional Dark Horse, IDW, Boom or Image comics (among others) thrown in for good measure.

The first comic I review each week is the one that rises to the top - the one I want to read first. From there I try to mix them up, alternating companies. Of course, sometimes I throw that out the window and just review what I feel like reading. It's good to be the king.

And we have quite a few readers from other countries, so I should explain the grades awarded - they're the ones teachers use in most American high schools:

- "A" is excellent
- "B" is above average
- "C" is average at best
- "D" is pretty bad
- "F" is awful (Glad to say I haven't given any "F's" yet).

I throw in pluses or minuses depending on which way the comic leans - plus is better, minus is worse. You get the drift.

So there you go. Now where was I? Oh yeah, "Sandman."

Great comic. If you're not reading it, you suck. Nothing personal.

(Oh, calm down - I'm kidding!)

Grade: A

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Hey Kids, Comics!

A light week, no doubt thanks to the post-holiday shipping.

Today at ye olde comics shop I got:

- Hellboy #2 (of 8) - Looks like a certain demon got snookered!

- The Invincible Iron Man #9 - This has been very good of late.

- Kull #3 - Same here.

- Sandman: The Dream Hunters #3 (of 4) - One of the best comics being published today - a shame there are only four issues.

- The Amazing Spider-Man #582 - In the corner of the cover, they note that this is Marvel's 70th Anniversary. How about that? So where's the original Human Torch, who appeared in that first comic? Dead. For now.

- Terror Titans #4 of 6 - A comic I know nothing about and haven't read - but there's Static on the cover, a Milestone hero I really like, so I gave it a shot.

- Trinity #32 - In for a penny, in for a pound.

- and a freebie, the War of Kings Saga - the mini-series may be good, but I'm suffering from mega-event fatigue, so I passed on it.

Avengers / Invaders #7 (of 12)

Some comic books are like a car wreck - something awful just happened, but if you're driving past it's almost impossible to resist slowing down to take a look at the carnage.

That's what it's like to read an issue of the 12-issue Avengers / Invaders comic.

The series seems like a terrific platform for a fun story of misunderstandings and superhero fights - or perhaps a meaningful one about the difference between the "Greatest Generation" and today's generation - or perhaps a personal one about time gone past and things you'd change if you could.

Instead, it's just a mess, with characters fighting for no reason, different teams of Avengers working at cross purposes, all based on storylines that are now months old. It's strange to see the Skrull Spider-Woman fighting alongside the good guys - or the now-deceased Wasp joking around with Tony Stark.

The problem is not the art Steve Sadowski and Patrick Berkenkotter. It's dark and some of the layouts are a bit off, but largely it's a solid, professional effort.

The problem is with the writing of Jim Krueger and Alex Ross. The story keeps taking turns into left field - for example, the Cosmic Cube turns up in this issue, along with an obscure villain - both with no explanation.

Another villain menaces the Invaders, but the writers or editors seem to forget that the same villain appeared just months ago in The Mighty Avengers.

There are so many odd plot points, so many characters to deal with, so many missed opportunities that it's just painful to read.

But the cover art is great!

Grade: D+

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Green Lantern #36

It takes a darn good writer to "sell" a concept that sounds silly when you say it out loud.

But that's what Geoff Johns has managed to do with Green Lantern. After all, does this sound like a good story to you: the Green Lanterns find they're not the only color of the rainbow, as other colorful Corps teams are appearing all over the universe, including Yellow Lanterns, Red Lanterns, Blue Lanterns, and Purple Lanterns (with more to come, presumably).

But that strange-sounding story is at the heart of what is shaping up to be a far-reaching and mind-blowing series of stories.

Johns' story is supported by some excellent art by Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert, and it's amazing how many bizarre aliens Reis cooks up in the comic. The art is vivid, intense and riveting - great stuff!

Taking center stage in this issue is the "Rage of the Red Lanterns" storyline, as the disgusting Red team captures Sinestro, who apparently is a pivotal figure in the story ahead.

In the meantime, Hal Jordan is learning about the Blue Lanterns, and he uncovers a shocking prediction about his own future.

With a surprising revelation at the end and lots of interesting plot twists along the way, this is another solid chapter in what's shaping up to be another amazing year for GL.

Grade: B+

Monday, January 5, 2009

Kick-Ass #5

It would be easy to rave about a comic like Kick-Ass.

After all, it features art by John Romita, Jr., one of the best in the business who's working at the peak of his skills. Here he has the added challenge of working strictly in the real world, so he's forced to add insane amounts of detail - and he does it (seemingly) effortlessly.

He also manages to make the characters look real - not at all like the typical superheroes. Their costumes sag, they have normal builds, and everyone looks distinctly different.

The story is provided by Mark Millar, and there's no arguing with success. He's written some of the best-selling comics in recent years, including The Ultimates, Wanted and Civil War.

He's on something of a "real world" jag lately, both with this comic and with Marvel 1985, though the two titles are completely different in their approach.

And this comic is already a best-seller and, like Wanted, is being made into a feature film.

So it really doesn't matter that, while I love the artwork, the writing on this comic completely leaves me cold.

Here's a recap of the story so far: Dave Lizewski is a teenager who dreams of being a hero, so he creates a costumed identity and is nearly beaten to death in his first encounter with the bad guys (some local hoods). After he recovers, he tries again and by accident actually becomes a hero and a celebrity.

The problem is, the lead character is completely unsympathetic (though he is a bit pathetic) - he's foul-mouthed, a liar and his motives are more related to becoming famous, rather than helping people. When others copy his heroic style, he becomes jealous and bitter.

As a friend once said, I prefer reading stories about heroes who act heroic. You won't find any of that here (except for the police and firemen).

If I was grading for the art alone, I'd give it an "A," but averaging in the writing brings it down a bit.

Grade: C

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Captain America #45

Call me crazy, but I always liked the Captain America bad guy, Batroc the Leaper.

He always seemed like a good combination of a smart, powerful fighter, with a light-hearted, comedic touch (due partly to his slightly silly comic book version of a French accent).

And here I'm remembering his original appearance way back in the pages of Tales of Suspense, which Cap shared with Iron Man.

In the years since Batroc has been treated rather shabbily, and had become something of a joke - until now.

Under the deft guidance of writer Ed Brubaker, Batroc is once again a skillful mercenary, and in this storyline he's given the new Captain America all the fight he can handle and then some. Oh, and his joke accent is gone, although he occasionally lapses into French dialogue.

The story revolves around a mysterious item in the hands of the United Nations, and Cap and the Black Widow are in a race against time to find out what the object is, and how to stop Batroc and his mysterious ally from stealing it.

The art in this issue is a team effort, with Luke Ross and Butch Guice providing the pencil art, and Rick Magyar, Mark Pennington and Butch Guice handling the inks - but it's a good match, and they provide excellent art for an action-packed issue.

Brubaker has worked wonders on this comic, and his strong run continues with this issue - and by all indications, he has some exciting plots on the way. To which I can only say, "Keep 'em coming!"

Grade: B+

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Justice Society of America #22

With this issue of the Justice Society of America we hit the finale of the Kingdom Come / Gog storylines - it's been one that's been slow to develop, but the ending makes it worth the wait.

It's difficult to say much about the issue without giving too much away (something your pal Chuck tries to avoid at all times), but as always, writer Geoff Johns manages to craft an exciting and satisfying finale to this epic tale.

In it the JSA has its final showdown with Gog, the not-so-benevolent god from the Third World, and the Superman from Earth-22 faces his future.

Johns' co-writer, Alex Ross, gets to flex his creative muscles as he contributes painted art for more than seven pages. His work is as outstanding as ever - and he also provides the cover, natch.

Ross' work carries the KC Superman's story deep into the conclusion of the original Kingdom Come series - and beyond.

The pencil art of Dale Eaglesham with inks by Nathan Massengill is quite good, but it does suffer a bit in comparison to Ross' work.

It's a shame to hear that Johns is stepping down from this title in the near future - he's had a terrific run of stories, and he will be missed. But what great work he's done here!

Grade: A-

Friday, January 2, 2009

Friday is Comic Book Day!

Finally, after a holiday delay, comic book day arrives!

I picked up:

- Avengers / Invaders #7 - The comic book equivalent of a car wreck - but I just can't turn away!

- Captain America #45 - This continues to be quite good.

- Fantastic Four #562 - the funeral of Sue Storm?

- Fantastic Four Cosmic Size #1 (One Shot) - Written by Cary Bates? Go figure.

- The Goon #31 - Friends rave about it - but so far, it hasn't sparked my interest.

- Green Lantern #36 - The Rage of the Red Lanterns story kicks into gear.

- The Incredible Hercules #124 - Now with more Amazons! Don't tell Wonder Woman!

- Justice League of America #28 - The Milestone crossover continues (Fight! Fight! Fight!)

- Justice Society of America #22 - The Gog / Kingdom Come story wraps up with an amazing final sequence that takes us beyond the original end to Kingdom Come (and beyond The Kingdom, too).

- Kick-Ass #5 - (Non) Superheroes in the real world? Wasn't that originally called the New Universe?

- Marvels: Eye of the Camera #2 - The sequel to Marvels continues (what's up with all the sequels?)...

- Superman #683 - The New Krypton story reaches the boiling point.

- Trinity #31 - Just 21 to go!

- Wolverine #70 - Friends were raving about this, so I decided to check it out.

The Flash #247

The Flash was one of the first superheroes I liked enough to seek out at the comics racks when I was young.

In fact, I liked the character so much that I took issues along to kindergarten and read them there while waiting for my Mom to pick me up. I distinctly remember reading the Carmine Infantino-drawn issue with the cover showing The Flash running, a hand gesturing, and the Flash has disappeared, leaving behind an empty costume.

Anyway, I followed the adventures of Barry Allen through the good stories (meeting the Flash of Earth-2, fighting his Rogue's Gallery of Villains, teaming up with Green Lantern) and the bad (the interminable Trial of the Flash, the "death" of Iris).

So I was heartbroken when Barry Allen was killed off during the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Since death is a minor obstacle in the world of comics, I kept waiting for his return. And waiting. And waiting.

In the meantime, we had the adventures of the former Kid Flash, Wally West, stepping up to take the title. Like Barry, Wally had some good stories (the early issues, Waid's first run at the comic, Geoff Johns' first run) and some bad stories (Waid's recent return to the book was a misstep, but there were others that were a lot worse).

We won't even go into the brief, wretched run as The Flash by poor Bart Allen.

Now, finally, Barry Allen has returned in the pages of Final Crisis, and that's spinning off into a new title, to which I can only say: thank goodness!

The regular Flash title has had the feel of marking time for a while now. The stories haven't been bad, they just haven't been particularly good. This issue marks the (apparent) end of the road for Wally West, as he's given one last hurrah and his storylines are tied up (more or less) in a neat bow.

This comic is well written by Alan Burnett and well drawn by Carlo Barberi, J. Calafiore and Andre Coelho, but again, it just feels like everyone is running in place, stalling for time or killing the clock - whichever cliche you prefer.

Wally West has done respectable work throughout his career, and hopefully he'll continue to have a place in the DC Universe - after all, there are hundreds of Green Lanterns - why not four or five Flashes?

So it's a pat on the back and a "job well done" for Wally. Now step out of the way and let's see what Geoff Johns has in store for Barry.

Grade: C

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Gears of War #3

Happy New Year, readers! Here's hoping for a great 2009!

We'll kick off this year of comics reviews with a look at the third issue of Gears of War, which is based on the insanely popular video game.

The comic is set in a dystopian future where nasty creatures burrow up into the surface world, killing everyone and destroying everything in sight. Humanity's only defense are the Gears of War - basically, small groups of heavily armed soldiers.

The art on this comic by Liam Sharp is quite good, heavy on detail and intense violence (as you'd expect from this sort of thing). I see some touches of Neal Adams in more than a few panels - and that's a good thing in my book.

The story by Joshua Ortega is pretty thin - it serves mostly as an excuse for the team of Gears to fight lots of monsters. It's not great writing, but he delivers exactly what the reader is probably looking for in this comic, so it's a professional job.

There is a bit of an emotional hook, as the team tries to save the life of a young girl, but the majority of the book is handed over to battling the monsters that live under the ground.

My only beef with this comic is the fact that it's loaded with profanity and graphic violence, but the only indication on the cover is a tiny "Suggested for Mature Readers" in the lower right-hand corner. As a parent, I'd like to see that warning a bit more prominent - it's far too easy to overlook (and I had to search for it).

I know, I'm old-fashioned. I have no problem with Wildstorm putting out comics with adult content - I just want them to be a little more upfront about it.

Anyway, if you're a fan of the videogame, this is for you. If you're looking for an intricate plot, forget it. But it's a fair translation of the violent videogame into a violent comic book.

Grade: B