Saturday, February 28, 2009

Hulk #10

As past reviews have shown, I'm not a big fan of the Hulk comic book as written by Jeph Loeb.

The stories have been very poor, with shaky logic and little in the way of plot or characterization. Of course, they've mostly suffered in comparison to the Planet Hulk and World War Hulk stories that preceded it.

Instead, we get long, dumb battles between the green Hulk (with varying degrees of intelligence) and the evil red Hulk (who has become Marvel's equivalent of Superboy Prime).

What the comics have enjoyed is terrific art by Art Adams, Frank Cho, and back again with this issue, Ed McGuinness.

With the latest issue, we again have a silly story. The Grandmaster, a powerful Elder of the Universe who enjoys playing games, invites the Hulk to take part in a fight to the death, and in return he'll get a miraculous prize.

The Hulk is asked to assemble a team to fight at his side, so he chooses the members of the original Defenders team (the Silver Surfer, the Sub-Mariner and Dr. Strange), although thanks to some time-traveling trickery, they're meeting for the first time - sort of.

It's all a set-up for next issue, and while the story's mighty thin, it at least gives McGuinness plenty of chances to draw big events and impressive splash pages.

Of the 10 issues in the series so far, this one is the least offensive, if just because of the fun of seeing the Defenders back together again. But it's still a silly story.

Grade: B+

Friday, February 27, 2009

Green Lantern #38

You have to admire the craft Geoff Johns is demonstrating in his work on Green Lantern.

He's taken a comic book that's already about a big concept - namely, an intergalactic police force made up of thousands of alien creatures - and made it even bigger.

He's done that by introducing six new forces in the universe - each one a Corps of its own, and each one represented by a different color.

There's red for rage; yellow for fear; orange for avarice; blue for hope; purple for compassion; and violet for love. Some of those can co-exit, but most cannot, so the story is building to a major battle between those forces - but there's a bigger threat on the horizon, represented by black.

This issue wraps up the "Rage of the Red Lanterns" story, while setting the stage for the next chapter, which will introduce the Orange Lanterns.

To be honest, the story sounds kind of silly when you say it out loud (all the colors will fight) - but Johns keeps the tension running high, and the action rolls right along.

It doesn't hurt that he's teamed with artist Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert, who turn in some strong work here. Reis has a great knack for creating new and terrifying aliens, and he gets lots of chances to show off his skills here.

Johns was the writer of last year's best story (the Sinestro Corps), and the next chapter is shaping up nicely. You really should be reading this comic.

Grade: A-

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The New Avengers #50

One of the goals we strive for here at Chuck's Comic of the Day is to provide commentary about comics without giving away key story points (what the kids today call "spoilers").

Having had more than a few stories ruined by poor reviews, I try to avoid doing likewise unto you. But sometimes it's a real challenge.

A good example is this issue of The New Avengers. One look at the cover and you have a pretty good idea what to expect (although you're only seeing half the cover here - on the other half, we see the Dark Avengers about to attack). But what happens inside takes a surprisingly different turn.

What's happening is that the New Avengers have discovered that Norman Osborn has created the Dark Avengers, and the New decides to take down the Dark.

What follows is a heck of a fight - though to give any more details would spoil the fun. But I have to say, it's difficult to see how the (real) Avengers can be effective as outlaw heroes. (When outlaws are heroes, will heroes be outlaws?)

But so far it's an interesting take and a different spin on the group.

The art is something of a mixed bag, ranging from outstanding to just OK. I know it's the 50th issue and there are lots of pages, but the scads o' artists approach just gives the book a jumbled feeling.

But it's a pure Marvel book, with lots of fighting, light-hearted (and black-hearted) humor, and a few twists along the way.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Yes, We Have Comics

Lots o' comics today! I got:

- New Avengers #50 - No extra charge for the dirty trick inside.

- Mighty Avengers #22 - Ironically, the heroes are both mightier than the New Avengers, and the comic is also newer than The New Avengers.

- Captain America #47 - More fun with the Invaders.

- Conan the Cimmerian #8
- Adapting Howard's "Black Colossus" - an old favorite.

- Fantastic Four #564 - Time for a holiday horror story, just like when I was a kid.

- Green Lantern #38 - Look at the pretty colors!

- The Incredible Hercules #126 - Isn't is about time for the origin of Hercules?

- Hulk #10 - The Defenders, together again for the first time.

- Justice Society of America #24 - Fun times at the Rock of Eternity.

- Marvels: Eye of the Camera #4 (of 6) - More snapshots from Marvel's past.

- Superman #685 - Is it the end for the Man of Steel?

- Trinity #39 - Wow, that double-page splash must have taken a year off Mark Bagley's life.

- Ultimate Spider-Man #131 - It's Ultimatum, so you can be sure that more people die.

- Umbrella Academy: Dallas #4 - Hey, it's the fourth issue!

The Classics - X-Men #108

Earlier this week I mentioned that the X-Men were no strangers to big stories, and this issue may be their biggest ever.

From December 1977 we have X-Men #108, which wrapped up the universe-spanning saga of the M'Krann Crystal, a little tale that pitted the team against the Shi'ar Empire, the Imperial Guard (Marvel's version of the Legion of Super-heroes), the Starjammers, a mad emperor, a princess - oh, and the X-Men were in there somewhere, along with guest appearances by the Fantastic Four and the Avengers.

With the fate of the entire universe at stake, the X-Men and the Starjammers teamed up to fight an incredibly powerful menace, the pint-sized guardian of the crystal.

Even when they manage to defeat it, they're immediately faced with an even more deadly and monstrous opponent. And even if they get past their opponent, how can they stop a force that can destroy a universe?

It was a powerful, tense story, and it was the issue that cemented the X-Men as the comic that landed on the top of the reading pile every week. But it had already become one of the best comics around under artist Dave Cockrum and writer Chris Claremont.

When Cockrum left, his replacement was facing a daunting task (and filling some mighty big shoes) - but John Byrne immediately demonstrated why he was the perfect artist for the job. He teamed up with inker Terry Austin and continued the growth of the X-Men, which is now recognized as one of the greatest superhero comic books of all time.

Their art was detailed, powerful and emotionally charged - every page, every panel, was a delight.

And that's not to slight Claremont - his run on the first 50 (or so) issues of X-Men is nothing less than outstanding, and set the bar for the entire industry.

What a treat to look back at this series and remember how desperately I waited for the next issue... and the next... and the next. That's why it's a classic.

Grade: A+

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Amazing Spider-Man #587

After months of stories featuring a brand-new, "never been married or had his identity discovered" version of The Amazing Spider-Man, some long-running mysteries are finally being solved.

A recent issue finally revealed who is behind the mask of Menace, and we've learned who the Spider Tracer killer is. The problem is, for any mystery to provide a shock to the reader, the story must lay down clues to the answer, so when the mystery is solved - ideally - the reader will smack himself or herself in the forehead and say, "I should have know!"

In both instances in writer Marc Guggenheim's story, our reaction is, "Yawn." I won't reveal the answers in case you haven't read the recent issues yet, but in both cases the solutions seem to spring out of left field, with virtually no set-up at all. What little foreshadowing that was given to the reader was entirely without meaning.

Of course, the main story also suffers from gaps in logic. Spidey has been arrested - so one would expect Norman Osborn, who hates Spider-Man, to immediately take Spidey into custody. Instead, we have a series of legal scenes that indicate much time is passing without the federal authorities taking much interest in one of the heroes resisting the Superhero Registration Act.

And Spidey seems to have recovered from his life-threatening wound quickly. And on and on.

There's no griping about the artwork, though - John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson are turning in terrific work here, and the comic is well worth buying for that alone.

But that's the only reason.

Grade: B-

Monday, February 23, 2009

Justice League of America #30

It seems as though writer Dwayne McDuffie has (surprisingly) struggled as the writer of the Justice League of America, but with the latest storyline, he seems to finally be getting a grip on the title.

Perhaps that's because he's been reunited with the Milestone characters he helped create, or perhaps it's because he's finally working on his own stories, rather than being burdened with crossovers.

At any rate, we have here a fast-paced team-up (of sorts) between the JLA and the Shadow Cabinet, as they face a surprisingly powerful Shadow Thief. McDuffie has a lot of fun with the numerous characters jammed into this issue, and manages to set up several future stories at the same time.

The art by Jose Luis and JP Mayer is solid and professional, though not particularly flashy.

Still, it's a fun issue that really does have the feel of the old Justice League - Justice Society crossovers that were such a bright spot in the JLA's earliest days, with a dash of Marvel's classic "we-just-met-so-let's-fight" thrown in there.

And then I see that next issue is a wrap-up for Final Crisis. I am not encouraged.

Grade: B+

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #506

The Uncanny X-Men has always been about big concepts - but somehow, I think the latest storyline is almost too big.

The team has set up shop in San Francisco, a city that has (wisely or not) opened its arms to the mutants of the world and promised them safe haven.

To help with that, the X-Men have established a compound to house these mutants (or ex-mutants, since most of them lost their powers after the House of M mini-series).

And that's where things are getting crowded, as more refugees crowd into the X-Men home, along with most of the still-powered mutants. It's tough to keep track of the characters in a crowd scene, and it tends to dilute the focus on the team.

There are other sub-plots going on. Emma Frost seems to be fighting her own conscience (no doubt as a result of her involvement in Dark Reign), Colossus is working out his anger on some Russian criminals, and the Beast is leading a team on a search for scientists who can restore mutants - and they run into a most unexpected opponent.

The art is terrific, and I'm a big fan of Terry and Rachel Dodson. It's Matt Fraction's story that has me uncertain about the book. We'll see how this story wraps up next month before making a final decision.

I don't dislike this comic - it's better now than it's been in a while, but it still has a long way to go to restore its place alongside past glories.

Grade: B

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Solomon Kane #5 (of 5)

I'm sorry to see this mini-series ending, but I suspect we haven't seen the last of Solomon Kane.

Kane was created by Robert E. Howard, though this character's only similarity to Conan is the fact that he uses a sword and finds himself pitted against supernatural foes.

Otherwise, the two are from opposite ends of the spectrum. Kane is a Puritan who wanders the world doing God's work, destroying demons and monsters.

My only beef with this comic is that it insists on depicting Kane as being white as a sheet. I understand that it makes it easier to identify him, but I still think it makes him look too much like Elric, the albino prince created by Michael Moorcock. But I digress.

This issue wraps up Kane's visit to a deadly castle, wherein the master of the house has learned some deadly tricks from the demons that haunt it. Kane has to face those horrific creatures and finds himself in the fight of his life.

The comic benefits from a terrific creative team, including writer Scott Allie and artist Mario Guevara, who does a terrific job capturing the sinister atmosphere of the cursed castle and its strange residents.

The cover by John Cassaday is pretty amazing, too.

This is apparently just the beginning for Solomon Kane, as reprints of past adventures are in the works, along with new adventures (or new adaptations, as the case may be).

Whatever the case, they can't get here soon enough to suit me.

Grade: A-

Friday, February 20, 2009

Supergirl #38

After several excellent issues, it's hard to complain when a comic stumbles a bit - but this issue of Supergirl isn't quite up to recent standards.

Part of the problem is that it's an "in-between" issue, set between the setup for the latest storyline of New Krypton and the mysterious Superwoman, and the resolution of the mystery behind Superwoman's true identity.

Instead of moving the story forward, writer Sterling Gates gives us a big fight scene between the two "Supers" (girl and woman), and it's really not much of a contest.

A few subplots move forward, we get a surprising announcement about Superwoman that throws recent comments by me out the window, and there's an "Origins and Omens" backup feature that gives us a glimpse into Kara's dark future.

The art by Jamal Igle and Keith Champagne continues to be very good, with some outstanding full-page splashes. The cover by Joshua Middleton seems a bit out of kilter, if not downright flat - though it's certainly colorful.

But that's not enough to overcome the issue's weaknesses. However, even with a weak issue, this comic is still far better than any other version of Supergirl in recent memory. Here's hoping the next issue is back on track.

Grade: B-

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dark Avengers #2

Now that the first issue set-up is out of the way, we have a new team of Avengers working for Norman (Iron Patriot) Osborn.

The catch being that the team is almost entirely made up of villains who are disguised as heroes. In the second issue, writer Brian Bendis gives the Dark Avengers a worthy opponent: the sorceress Morgana Le Fey, who apparently has decided to get her revenge on Dr. Doom and unleashes a blistering attack on him.

The team shows up for battle, and almost immediately something very shocking happens.

And let me just say, I hope the high price tag ($3.99) keeps young readers away, because there's at least one truly disturbing splash page that's a bit much for young ones.

I'd also like to know: what's the deal with the way writers are treating Dr. Doom? Brian Bendis had the Mighty Avengers defeat and capture Doom several months back - something that should almost never happen - and then in Fantastic Four Mark Millar has Doom captured by a new Defenders team - and now Le Fay shows up and smacks him around.

Doom is Marvel's top villain and an incredibly capable character. He should be virtually impossible to beat - and now it's happened three times in a year. Enough, already! These are obviously Doombots - just ask Walt Simonson.

The art in this issue is terrific, as Mike Deodato supplies some amazing images here.

I'm not sure I can recommend this comic - it's not bad, but it's totally without a redeeming character, and when you find yourself rooting for Le Fey to win, you know there's something wrong.

I'm going to hang in for a while longer - but like the "grim and gritty" phase, this story is starting to wear thin already.

Grade: B

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Comics Today

Here's what your pal Chuck picked up today:

- Brave and the Bold #22 - Looking forward to Stracyznski taking over this title.

- Dark Avengers #2 - Dark and disturbing. I hope young kids aren't reading this.

- Justice League of America #30 - More Milestone crossovers.

- Solomon Kane #5 (of 5) - Sorry to see this is the final issue (for now).

- Amazing Spider-Man #587 - Spidey goes to prison!

- Supergirl #38 - What happens when a girl fights a woman?

- Trinity #38 - Too late to stop now.

- Ultimate Fantastic Four #60 - Looks like the end is near for this comic.

- Uncanny X-Men #506 - Mighty nice art in this one.

The Classics: Batman #147

It's been interesting to watch writers like Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman writing the modern adventures of Batman and making references to some of that character's Golden and Silver Age adventures.

Because, let's face it, some of those early adventures were just silly.

Today's Classic Review is an excellent example. Batman #147, published with a cover date of May 1962, is one of the earliest issues I remember reading, and it includes three stories, including the one where "Batman Becomes Bat-Baby!"

In that story, an evil scientist uses his invention to de-age the Caped Crusader, so Batman becomes a baby. Luckily, he retains his adult strength, so he fashions a Bat-jumper and continues to fight some of the most inept criminals ever. (One imagines these hoods in prison, admitting that they were beaten and arrested by an infant.)

The comic also features a story titled "The Plants of Plunder," in which a gang of crooks use some odd alien plants to commit robberies and escape from Batman and Robin. The story's a bit thin, but it's a fun story visually. (That Bob Kane was an inventive artist, wasn't he?)

The last story is the most fun - it's called "The Secret of Mystery Island," and it actually calls on the Dynamic Duo to use their brains to solve a series of puzzles while fighting the members of a gang who are trying to steal a treasure.

The Batman of this era was very much a kid's hero - the stories are all fun and adventurous, but had no grounding in the real world. Instead, they relied on gimmicks to sell comics: Batman is a baby! Batman gets superpowers! Batman fights aliens! Batman travels through time! And so on.

But the appeal of Batman is that he's a "normal" man, and as a result - and as DC eventually figured out - his adventures work best when he operates in a more "real world" setting.

While this comic shows its age, it's still a fun read and a professional package - and I suspect young readers would enjoy it today as much as I did when I was six years old.

Grade: C+

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #3 (of 8)

Following yesterday's review of Hellcat, it only seems right to turn our attention now to Hellboy.

And what an entertaining comic this is! The creation of writer Mike Mignola, Hellboy is a child of hell who was brought to Earth during World War II, and has fought on the side of the angels (more or less) ever since.

The concept allows the character's stories to cover a lot of ground, from whimsy (which is rare) to the darker, nastier corners of the supernatural world.

Part Kirby, part Toth and all Mignola, Hellboy is a great combination of humor, horror, drama, action and great characters.

This mini-series also covers a lot of territory, from a battle between Hellboy and several giants to a reunion with an old friend and the discovery of a new and powerful threat.

I really like the artwork by Duncan Fegredo - it has the same sensibilities as Mignola's art, but he brings his own style to bear to good effect.

This story may be a bit tough for new readers, since it makes reference to past stories, but this one is building nicely.

It's always a good week when the new issue of Hellboy shows up.

Grade: B+

Monday, February 16, 2009

Patsy Walker: Hellcat #5 (of 5)

I've read lots of strange and offbeat comics in my day, but the Patsy Walker: Hellcat miniseries has to be the strangest.

But it has also been a lot of fun, largely because of the characterization of Patsy. With The Wasp (Janet Van Dyne) presently among the departed, that leaves Hellcat as one of the few light-hearted, funny female heroes.

And hoo boy, is this the right story for that. To recap (as best as I'm able): Hellcat has been assigned to protect the state of Alaska as part of the Initiative. She agrees to help locate a missing girl who has mystical powers, and gathers some of the strangest allies ever during her quest - including a giant wolf and a stone calendar.

With this issue, Hellcat finds the girl and tries to survive the return trip, which includes a tiny gag - we see a lemming falling off a cliff, as it cries, "My destiny!" (Well, I laughed.)

Throughout, Patsy supplies a never-ending stream of humorous comments, funny observations and clever solutions.

Offering tremendous support to the story by Kathryn Immonen is the fantastic art by David Lafuente, one of my favorite new artists. His style just ripples with a sense of fun and energy - I'm really looking forward to seeing more of his work.

This isn't a comic I'd recommend to just any casual reader - it's silly, and the plot barely holds together. But it's also fun, and there aren't enough comics like that out there.

Grade: B

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Green Lantern Corps #33

DC has apparently decided that each month their comic line needs some kind of marketing hook.

Last month it was "Faces of Evil," as the cover and the title was taken over by a villain.

This month, it's "Origins & Omens," as each comic features a short back-up that focuses on, well, origins or previews of the stories coming up.

With this issue of Green Lantern Corps, the backup is definitely in the "Omens" category, as we get a teaser for the upcoming (and much-anticipated) Blackest Night story.

And that's a pretty good reason to pick up this issue, but it also includes several vignettes focusing on different members of the Corps, and starts moving the pieces in place for the upcoming story.

We also check in on Mongul, who's taking over the Sinestro Corps - but he faces a major obstacle first.

With a strong story by Peter Tomasi and excellent art by Patrick Gleason and Rebecca Buchman, this is definitely a series to watch - especially as "Darkest Night" continues to unfold.

Grade: B

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Incognito #2

There have been lots of comics that aspired to be "adult" comics, which is to say, comics that tell serious stories (as opposed to pornographic comics, which is something entirely different).

Incognito is an excellent contender for that title, as writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips weave a story that's part crime novel, part superhero comic, part pulp adventure and part thriller.

It tells the story of Zack Overkill, a former super-powered henchman who turns on his old boss and is put into witness protection.

Officials manage to suppress his powers, but he accidentally discovers a way around that, and finds himself drawn to the streets, where he takes out the frustrations of his humdrum life on the city's criminals.

The story and the art are dark and compelling, and it's a tough comic to put down. It's definitely not a comic for youngsters, as it tackles grown-up themes in a grown-up way.

This comic isn't for everyone, but I recommend it to anyone who's looking for more challenging and serious comics. Good stuff!

Grade: A-

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thor #600

Just in time for the 600th issue, the comic starring Thor reverts to its original numbering.

But the math is a bit dodgy - the comic started out as Journey Into Mystery, and Thor first appeared in issue #83. The comic took the title The Mighty Thor with issue #126 - but there were other versions of "Journey" in late years.

At any rate, it's a big celebration for the God of Thunder, and it features an action-packed lead story by J. Michael Straczynski and pencil art by Olivier Coipel and Marko Djurdjevic, with inks by Mark Morales and Djurdjevic.

The story brings together threads Straczynski has been putting in place since Thor's return, and it's a heck of a story, with lots of unexpected twists. The series has been an outstanding blend of strong story and excellent art by Coipel, and this issue is no different. It's great work by all involved.

As a bonus, there's a short story by Stan Lee with art by David Aja, and it's a light bit of fun, with a few flashes of Lee's trademark spirit.

I also enjoyed the "Mini Marvels" story by Chris Giarrusso, with a slightly different version of Thor's return. The issue also includes five reprints of classic "Tales of Asgard" stories and a reprint of every Thor comic book cover (or at least most of them, although you'll need better eyes than mine to make out any details).

All in all, a good value and a worthy celebration for one of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's greatest creations. Here's to 517 more!

Grade: A-

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Batman #686

When DC Comics decided to reboot the Superman line of comics after the Crisis on Infinite Earths series, editor Julie Schwartz decided to do a "final" Superman story before he turned the franchise over to the new editing team.

I interviewed him at the time, and he talked about going to lunch with Alan Moore. He told Alan about his plan, and Julie claimed Alan grabbed him by the throat and threatened to kill him if he didn't let him write that story.

The result was the excellent two-part story, "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" It was a perfect endnote to the Golden and Silver Age Superman, and remains one of my all-time favorite comic stories.

Which leads us to the latest issue of Batman, where another outstanding British writer, Neil Gaiman, tackles a similar theme in a completely different way.

Spinning out of the Final Crisis series, we have "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" In it, Gaiman spins a story around the saddest of days - Batman's funeral. His friends and enemies show up to pay their respects and tell some unexpected and surprising stories.

The art is supplied by Andy Kubert with inks by Scott Williams, and as always, the work is outstanding. Here Kubert evokes some of the classic figures by some of the best Bat-artists ever.

The story ripples with nostalgia, elements of the Golden and Silver Ages, and evokes a dreamlike quality, re-imagining stories from an age gone by.

We only have half the story here, but it'll leave you begging for more, and wondering, "What did happen?"

Grade: A-

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Today's Comic Haul

Today at the comics shop your pal Chuck picked up:

- Action Comics #874 - Hey, it's Mon-El again!

- Avengers/Invaders #8 (of 12) - The year's most disappointing comic - yet I feel compelled to see how this train wreck ends.

- Batman #686 - The first half of Neil Gaiman's "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" Very interesting!

- Booster Gold #17 - I'm enjoying this comic and the work by Dan Jurgens.

- Green Lantern Corps #33 - This series is almost as good as the main GL title.

- Hellcat #5 (of 5) - Finally! This has been a goofy - but enjoyable - book.

- Hellboy #3 (of 8) - This has been very good so far, which is not a surprise at all.

- Incognito #2 - A pulpish hero / villain. Pretty good.

- Spider-Man #586
- Menace revealed! Does anyone really care?

- The Spirit #26
- Written by Michael Uslan, so I thought I'd give it a chance. But if Evanier and Aragones are back after this story, I'm done.

- Thor #600
- Nice to see this comic back to its original Journey Into Mystery numbering.

- Trinity #37
- 15 issues to go!

- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz #3 (of 8) - This has been... well, wonderful!

The Classics: Fantastic Four #21

Since my review of Secret Warriors mentioned Nick Fury's appearance in an early issue of Fantastic Four, that seemed like a good excuse to trot this issue out for our Wednesday Classics review.

So from 1963 we have issue #21, which featured the Hate-Monger, a bad guy who can inflame hatred through the use of his H-Ray Gun. One blast and the FF immediately hate each other, and they split up immediately (that wasn't the first time that had happened, and it certainly wouldn't be the last).

Luckily, Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) gets a visit from an old Army buddy - Colonel Nick Fury, who's now working for the CIA. It's interesting to note that he doesn't have an eyepatch - but by the end of the issue, he's firing his machine gun at the bad guys, yelling "Wah-Hoo!!" and his shirt has been torn to shreds. Eighteen years after the end of World War II, and the ol' Sarge hasn't changed a bit (other than his rank).

The issue is a classic because it gives both writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby (with George Bell inks) a chance to strut their stuff. Stan gets to tackle the futility of hate and works in some great character moments with our heroes, and Jack gets to run wild with some amazing action sequences. It's one of the rare issues where Reed gets to show his abilities, with one of my all-time favorite bits, as he traps a group of South American rebels by imitating a road (you heard me).

Lee and Kirby weren't quite at the peak of their powers here, but it was obvious they were building something special. I'm not absolutely certain, but I'm pretty sure this issue was the first FF issue I bought with my own 12 cents (I had read earlier issues belonging to friends). You can see how dog-eared my copy is - I read this issue to pieces.

After this issue, the FF jumped to the top of my "must-buy" list, and while the quality has jumped and dipped over the (gulp) 46 years since then, it's always been a personal favorite, and one of Marvel's best.

It hasn't always earned the blurb Stan placed over the title on the cover, but for a long time, the Fantastic Four really was "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine."

Grade: A

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Agents of Atlas #1

I was (and am) a big fan of the recent Agents of Atlas mini-series.

It took six good characters who were moldering on the shelf, dusted them off, sprinkled in some fresh new ideas, some excellent artwork, a fun story, and created one of the best team comics in recent memory.

I was hoping for more of the same with this issue - and it's close - but it's really just "some" of the same.

The team is led by Jimmy Woo, a former SHIELD agent and lifelong enemy of the Yellow Claw - and a character I've enjoyed since Jim Steranko brought him back in Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD.

Joining him are Gorilla Man, Venus, Namora, Bob Grayson (the '50s version of Marvel Boy), and the robot M-11. It's a fun mix of '50s heroes reborn into the modern world, and they combine power, mystery and fun in one package.

The art certainly holds up its end of things - from the Art Adams cover to the interiors by Carlo Pagulayan and Jason Paz, the pages just sizzle with energy and fun.

The story by Jeff Parker isn't bad at all, it's just hampered by two problems. First, the team is being set up to look like a criminal organization (while bringing down the bad guys from within, natch) - that's fine for a while, but I suspect it's going to be difficult to maintain in the long haul - unless they want to tangle with the good guys.

Second, the story is tied in to Dark Reign, and even though we're just a couple of months into that storyline, I'm already sick of seeing Norman Osborn in every single comic book Marvel publishes.

"Atlas" made its rep by being fresh and different. Now's not the time to fall into the "Dark" rut along with the rest of Marvel's lineup. Surely we can get a break in there somewhere.

Grade: B+

Monday, February 9, 2009

Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe Vol. 5

One of the joys of watching my sons grow has been introducing them to some of the comics that I've enjoyed over the years.

My oldest son is only marginally interested in comics, but my youngest son is a big fan, and (if I do say so myself) he has excellent taste in comics.

He's the one who introduced me to the world of Scott Pilgrim, who stars in a series of graphic novels. Scott (who will soon star in a major motion picture) lives in a world that seems almost normal.

He plays in a band, he mooches off friends, and things seem to be going fine until he falls in love with a girl named Ramona Flowers. Unfortunately for Scott, there's a major obstacle standing in the way of true romance - Ramona's evil ex-lovers, all of whom Scott must defeat to have a clear path to Ramona's heart.

And that's where the video game influences pop up, and they're always funny and entertaining. In this volume, Scott must face off against twins who bring along a series of deadly weapons.

But at its heart, these stories are about Scott's relationships, including his family, friends, ex-girlfriends and casual acquaintances.

Writer and artist Bryan Lee O'Malley has created a world that's fresh, fast-paced and always entertaining. The art has a great energy to it, and the story flows along briskly, with lots of surprising twists and turns along the way.

I recommend tracking down all five volumes to get the most out of Pilgrim's progress.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to drop this in the mail to my youngest son, who's anxiously awaiting this volume.

Grade: A-

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #3 (of 5)

If there was an award for "geekiest comic book series of the year," then Legion of 3 Worlds would win by a landslide.

And I don't mean that in any sort of derogatory sense - I write those words with respect to a team who is writing the ultimate Legion story.

I imagine writer Geoff Johns smiling the whole time he was writing this comic. He's loaded it with all kinds of characters from the Legion's past, he's infused it with drama and humor, and tons of in-jokes and asides that only diehard Legion fans will get.

I suspect artist George Perez had that same smile on his face while he was penciling these pages, loading them with insane amounts of detail, dozens and dozens of characters, both familiar and obscure, and putting together not one but two team splashes with an army of Legionnaires filling the panel. He also provides a double-page battle splash that has to be seen to be believed.

In fairness, I also suspect inker Scott Koblish had a near-heart attack when he saw how detailed some of these pages are. But he still did an amazing job.

The story? It boils down to all the bad guys teaming up to fight all the good guys - and it tears through the book, until the final page, where... well, let's save that surprise for you.

This continues to be a terrific series, and one no Legion fan should miss.

Grade: A

Saturday, February 7, 2009

I Am Legion: The Dancing Faun #1 (of 6)

While my focus is usually on the writing end of a comic book, there are some artists I'll follow to almost any title.

Near the top of that list is John Cassaday, who's done amazing work on comics like Planetary and Astonishing X-Men.

When I noticed his name on I Am Legion: The Dancing Faun, I decided to give it a try - even though I'm not familiar with writer Fabien Nury.

The art is excellent, although it is much more restrained than Cassaday's usual work. There are no splash panels in evidence at all, and most pages feature eight or nine panels of art. Still, the art is detailed and dynamic.

The story's a bit of a tough slog, as mysterious things are happening in the 1940s. The story revolves around the investigation into a very unusual murder, where the man who died may still live on in another man's body.

The art gets top marks, but the story gets an incomplete until the readers get a better idea of what the heck is going on in this comic.

But it sure looks great!

Grade: B-

Friday, February 6, 2009

Secret Warriors #1

There are quite a few tough guys in the comics, and everyone has their own candidate for the one who's at the top of the list.

My choice would be Nick Fury.

I first remember seeing the character in one of the earliest issues of the Fantastic Four I read - the one featuring the first appearance of the Hate-Monger, and a guest appearance by Nick Fury, who was (if I remember correctly) working for the C.I.A. at the time.

Reading that comic led me to pick up occasional issues of Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, my all-time favorite war comic. That, in turn, led to me collecting all the issues of Strange Tales featuring Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD.

And those stories - especially the ones written and drawn by Jim Steranko - put Nick in place as the ultimate tough guy. Without powers and up against incredible odds, he always found a way to survive and win.

In recent years, Nick's life as a spy caught up with him, and he became a fugitive, working in the shadows to protect the country he loves.

During the Secret Invasion, he recruited a team of (mostly) unknowns and formed a new team, which thankfully is not being called the New Howling Commandos. The name they do have is at least a little bit better - they're the Secret Warriors.

So why are they still secret? The Skrulls have been defeated, but that menace has been replaced by the Dark Avengers, and SHIELD has been replaced by HAMMER (an anagram that still hasn't been spelled out for us - so once again, I offer my guess: Heroes Attack Many More Eager Reprobates).

So Fury and his team are once again up against the wall, but the opponent this time may be bigger and more powerful than anyone imagined. The last page offers a stunning development, though it's going to take some explaining to make it work.

The story is by Brian Bendis and Jonathan Hickman, and the art by Stefano Caselli, with colors by Danielle Rudoni. All turn in excellent work here.

This is just the beginning, but it's a strong start. If the rest of the story is as good, the new team is going to need some serious help to win this fight.

Good thing they've got the toughest guy in comics around to lead the way.

Grade: A-

Thursday, February 5, 2009

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

It's sad to see this series come to an end, because for the past four months it's been the best comic around, and the one I've looked forward to the most.

The final issue wraps up the adaptation of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: The Dream Hunters. The series has featured some of the best work yet from artist P. Craig Russell, with pages of stunning beauty, quiet horror, raw emotion and sensuality.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating - in a long and distinguished career of outstanding work, this may be the best of Russell's career.

It seems to be a simple enough story, as a mystical fox falls in love with a young monk. But their love is threatened by an evil magician with schemes of his own. Reading that back, it sounds corny and old-fashioned, but it's a timeless tale in the hands of a masterful writer.

Something about working with Gaiman seems to bring out the best in Russell, and this series is a testament to the talent of both men.

It's a sweet, sad and moving story of love, murder and revenge - and just when you think you see where the story is going, it moves into an unexpected direction.

Easily one of the best comics of the past year, and highly recommended.

Now if we could only coax more Sandman stories out of these two...

Grade: A+

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Our Comics Selection Today

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

- Agents of Atlas #1 - I enjoyed the mini-series, and this will hopefully be more of the same.

- Black Panther #1 - I thought the last series was quite good, and hoping that continues here.

- FarScape #2 - I liked the show, so I'm giving this a chance.

- Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #3 (of 5) - Johns and Perez working together, so I'm there.

- I Am Legion #1 (of 6) - I know nothing about it, but the art is by John Cassaday, so I figure it's worth a look.

- The Invincible Iron Man #10 - This continues to be quite good.

- Kull #4 - It's a slobberknocker!

- Sandman 4 (of 4) - This has been wonderful!

- Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe - A book my youngest son got me hooked on. And soon to be a major motion picture!

- Secret Warriors #1 - It's about time Nick Fury was back in a regular comic. The last page is something of a shocker, too.

- Amazing Spider-Man #585 - This thing just drags right along.

- Trinity #36 - 16 issues to go. Will I make it?

The Classics - The Flash #128

At the request of several readers and friends, your old pal Chuck is going to devote Wednesday each week to a review of a "classic" comic.

We'll kick things off with a review of The Flash #128, which had a cover date of May 1962.

I picked this one because I remember reading it while I was in kindergarten. My wonderful Mom taught me to read long before I started to school, thanks to weekly visits to the public library, where I was allowed to check out four books every week.

She and my older brothers helped me read them, until I no longer needed their help.

My brothers also had comic books around, and soon I was reading those, too. Sometimes after kindergarten was over I'd have to wait a while before Mom picked me up, so I'd take comic books with me to while away the time.

For whatever reason, I clearly remember having this issue of The Flash and reading it over and over again.

DC didn't carry credits at the time, but the story was apparently by one of my all-time favorite writers, John Broome. And there's no mistaking the artwork by Carmine Infantino, who was born to draw this comic.

His clean, futuristic designs, his amazing ability to convey speed and motion, and the sheer imagination of his pencils drive the story along.

And no doubt one reason the comic sticks in my mind is the cover, with The Flash's suddenly-empty uniform running in place.

In the story, a magician from the distant future, Abra Kadabra, arrives in the 20th Century looking for fame. He embarks on a series of crimes (made easy by his super-science) and relishes the attention he's getting.

When The Flash tries to capture him, Kadabra apparently makes him disappear - but actually, he's launched Barry Allen into space! Luckily, Barry's super-speed aura maintains an envelope of oxygen around him, and he finally lands on a small asteroid.

Racing around the rock at top speed, he manages to launch himself back to Earth (though how he manages to land safely is overlooked), where he finally captures Kadabra. Yes, it's a bit silly in places - but it sparks with the kind of imaginative thinking that really had an impact on my young self.

The issue includes a second story, a light bit o' fluff about "The Origin of Flash's Masked Identity," which was about as close as the character ever came to having an imaginary story.

The story focused on Barry Allen's decision to wear a mask, and the thinking the went behind it. It's more of a daydream adventure than an imaginary one (assuming there's a difference there), but it's a nice diversion.

These days, this issue is most easily available in the Showcase series or in a DC Archives collection. For me, it's a cherished bit of nostalgia, and a fun comic that holds up very well indeed, almost 47 years after the fact.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Captain America #46

The latest adventure of the new Captain America (also known as the old Bucky or the former Winter Soldier) continues the high standard that comic has been enjoying.

This time around, Cap takes part in an adventure that touches all three identities.

As Captain America, he's on a rescue mission, trying to recover the stolen body of the original Human Torch (who is an android, natch). The Torch was apparently "killed" in some recent adventure that I missed, and he's now in the hands of a honest to goodness "mad scientist."

As part of the rescue effort, Cap gets the assistance of Namor the Sub-Mariner. Of course, they fought alongside Cap and the Torch and Toro during World War II.

The mission also touches on Bucky's missing years as the Winter Soldier, and the scientist they're up against has good reason to want his revenge on Bucky.

This issue is largely setting up the next chapter, but it's interesting to see the relationship between Cap and Namor (who has his own side story going on as part of the Dark Reign series). It's not really friendship - it's more of a grudging respect.

As always, the writing by Ed Brubaker is spot on, and the art by Steve Epting with colors by Frank D'Armata is terrific. It's dark and moody, and perfect for the story - although I'm surprised there's no stylistic changes apparent as the story jumps to different eras. Still, strong work here.

Captain America continues to be one of Marvel's strongest comics. As I feared, I'm almost to the point where I like Bucky as Cap almost as much as I like Steve Rogers as Cap.


Grade: B+

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #3

Ah, it's secret origins time down at The Umbrella Academy, as we learn the story behind the deadly Number Five.

And it's one of those, "Well, I didn't see that one coming" kind of stories. It's clever, creative and fun, in an odd and sometimes gruesome way.

We also learn some more about the deadly assassins who are closing in on Number Five, and another character apparently meets God. (Would I make this up?)

We're three issues into the "Dallas" story, and the series continues to maintain a high level of fun (though it's not for young readers - there's some bloody business going on here).

The art by Gabriel Ba is fantastic and perfect for the story unfolding here.

What more do you need to hear? You should check this one out!

Grade: A-

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Fantastic Four #563

Stan Lee gets a lot of well deserved praise for the comic books he co-created, along with industry innovations such as the "Marvel style" of creating a comic (creating a rough plot, then writing scripts to the artist's pencils).

He also deserves a lot of credit for being the face of (and promoter-in-chief for) the comics industry - his marketing skills are amazing.

But one of the things he usually doesn't get much credit for is the style of writing he branded Marvel's comics line with. It was, to put it simply, based on soap operas.

Here's how it worked: each issue featured a Main Plot, which was either resolved or partly resolved in that issue. At the same time, there was a Character Plot going on, which focused on one or more key characters in the issue in an emotional sense - romance, thwarted romance, problems with loved ones, that sort of thing. Each issue also continued Sub-Plots from previous issues, wrapped up dangling plot threads, or set up one or more for future issues.

The upshot is that there were several stories running through each issue, and if one didn't catch your interest, perhaps another one would. It also meant that each issue kept things moving along briskly - a very good thing in a monthly comic.

That all brings us to the latest issue of Fantastic Four, wherein we can see that writer Mark Millar and artist Bryan Hitch have studied Stan's methods.

In this issue we resolve the threads left behind by last issue's funeral for the Invisible Woman, see the family's reaction to a big announcement by The Thing, and learn a little more about an upcoming, unstoppable threat.

So while it's an issue where not a lot of action happens involving our heroes, it's one that moves the story forward and sparks our interest in the next issue (although I'm not sure how crazy I am about the idea that Dr. Doom learned how to be a super-villain from someone else - he always struck me as a self-made man).

It doesn't hurt that the art is amazing as ever. Hitch provides incredible visuals here, including an insanely detailed look at New York after... well, that would be telling.

But you really should be reading this comic.

Grade: A-