Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fantastic Four #565

For some reason Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch haven't enjoyed their usual sales success during their run on the Fantastic Four.

It's difficult to say why - they've certainly been telling big stories, and the art is as amazing as ever - but for some reason it hasn't clicked with readers the way The Ultimates did.

Perhaps it's the covers, which lack a distinctive title logo (the one it carries is small and at the bottom of the page). Perhaps it's because the covers have been busy - you have to examine them closely to tell what's going on. Perhaps the stories, with their PG nature, just seem too sanitized for Millar and Hitch.

Whatever the reason, they're actually doing good work here, and it's a shame it's not getting more recognition. Hitch's art is especially amazing, with an insane amount of detail on display.

This issue turns a beloved Silver Age Marvel concept on its head - that of the monstrous invader from another world - and recasts it as a modern horror story. It's a very good story, and the final page serves as a prelude for the next storyline, which promises to be a real blockbuster.

If you haven't been reading this one, you've missed out.

Grade: B+

Monday, March 30, 2009

Dark Reign: Elektra #1

Some characters only seem to work when their original creator is handling the storytelling.

The Spirit never seems quite right in other hands (with the possible exception of Darwyn Cooke's take). The Silver Surfer never quite works unless Stan and/or Jack are involved. The New Gods only worked for Kirby.

I'd add Elektra to that list. Her creator, Frank Miller, has produced a number of outstanding stories featuring the character, but no one else seems to have a handle on her.

This comic gives it the ol' college try. Written by Zeb Wells, it picks up where Secret Invasion left off. Elektra walks off a Skrull ship along with all the other heroes and villains who were replaced. She's somehow still alive despite being replaced by a Skrull for who-knows-how-long.

She is near death, so SHIELD agents take her to a helicarrier for medical treatment - but that organization is soon replaced by HAMMER, and her treatment goes from benign to outright torture.

Hey, we haven't played the "what does HAMMER stand for" game in a while. Here's today's guess: Headquarters for All Menace Monitoring, Enforcement and Rescue.

Anyway, this issue basically sets the stage for Elektra's presumed comeback. It features decent though not outstanding art by Clay Mann and Mark Pennington, and a few decent plot twists - but it still doesn't "feel" like Elektra.

Of course, there's still time to bring the character into line with her earlier promise - but it's not there yet.

Grade: C+

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Incredibles: Family Matters #1

You can mark me down as a huge fan of the Pixar movie The Incredibles - which was, as others have said, the best Fantastic Four movie ever made.

Now that fighting family is back in a new comic from Boom Kids. The story picks up (more or less) where the movie left off.

The Parr family - Bob, Helen, Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack - are settling into their new suburban home and meeting the neighbors.

But when danger calls - such as, for example, an attack by a menace from the distant future - the family swings into action as The Incredibles.

It's interesting to note that in the comic, Helen goes by Mrs. Incredible - wasn't she Elasti-Girl in the movie (or something like that)? Perhaps DC objected.

Written by Mark Waid, this is a good first effort, although no new ground is broken here. But the comic is designed for young readers, so perhaps the goal is to be accessible.

The art by Marcio Takara doesn't try to imitate the computer animation of the original film, but it does capture the characters and the action well. I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future.

The only thing I don't like about this comic is the cover, which is split into four different segments, so you have to buy four copies to get the complete cover. And if that's not enough, there's yet another alternate cover by Mike Mignola.

Sorry, it just strikes me as a crass way to build up sales on the comic, and rates a "no thanks" from me. Like the comic, hate the cover gimmick.

Grade: B-

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Mighty Avengers #23

Maybe I'm suffering from "Avengers Overload."

Whatever the cause, I'm struggling to work up interest in the newest version of The Mighty Avengers.

Perhaps it's because this title is overshadowed by the New Avengers and the Dark Avengers. Perhaps it's because there's never a real sense of menace from a villain who's threatening to destroy the Earth. Perhaps it's because the characters involved seem like they were assembled at random.

The team includes Hank Pym, who is (disturbingly) going by the name The Wasp. There's the Hulk, who seems to be in "dumb" mode right now. There's Iron Man, taking time off from being on the run in his own title, and who has apparently reverted (for this issue only!) to his Civil War persona (which is to say, he's a complete jerk). There's U.S. Agent (the poor man's Captain America), Stature (the poor woman's Giant-Man), Hercules (the poor man's Thor), The Vision and Jocasta (because you can't have too many artificial life forms), Scarlet Witch (in ghostly, less crazy form) and Amadeus Cho (the smart man's Rick Jones).

This issue wraps up the team's battle with Cthon, the chaos god. The story's solution is pretty chaotic, too - and terribly convenient and improbable. Writer Dan Slott has a lot of characters to move around and introduce, but he seems awfully determined to make them all unlikeable.

But to his credit, the comic features a clever twist in the final page.

The art by Khoi Pham is fine, but it seems awfully flat - probably because there are virtually no backgrounds in evidence.

Again, the big problem is probably that the Avengers are terribly overexposed right now. As a fan, I believe it's better to have one really good comic than flood the market with spin-offs.

Expect this one to be grounded soon.

Grade: C+

Friday, March 27, 2009

Justice League of America #31

You can't have a team book without have the occasional "break-up" issue.

And just in time for the follow-up to Final Crisis, we see the Justice League of America breaking up. Of course, I think most fans were a bit shook-up by Grant Morrison's mini-series. Or at least confused.

So here we have the Black Canary trying to pick up the pieces left behind. The biggest problem, of course, is that DC is shipping off its "Big 3" to the hinterlands.

Superman is off to New Krypton, Batman is dead (no, really! Aw, c'mon...), and Wonder Woman... well, I'm not sure, because I haven't been reading her comic, but apparently she has to go back to Themyscria for some reason.

So Dinah (not to be confused with Diana) is left with the job of piecing together a new team. To complicate matters further, apparently Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) has plans of his own, which will be revealed in an upcoming mini-series.

I don't mind the occasional shuffling of the team lineup, but this is a pretty severe change for this comic. Here's hoping writer Dwayne McDuffie can make it work.

This issue sets the stage for the next round, but if I gave "Incompletes," that's what this issue would earn - it just sets up the story to come.

- Grade: B-

Thursday, March 26, 2009

New Avengers #51

It's no source of comfort to see the return of one of my all-time favorite characters - Dr. Strange - in the pages of the New Avengers.

That means his fate is in the hands of Brian Bendis, who has been known to do bad things to heroic characters. Just ask Hawkeye or Jack of Hearts or The Wasp or The Scarlet Witch or... well, you get the idea.

Dr. Strange was a character I liked from the first time I read one of his stories - which was one of those early Stan Lee / Steve Ditko adventures from the pages of Strange Tales. He was mysterious, powerful, heroic, resourceful, and the art was amazing and moody, creating new worlds never before seen. What's not to like?

So apparently, in today's time frame, the good Doctor has lost his way and is no longer the Sorcerer Supreme of Earth. So now he's looking for a replacement, and some not-so-desireable replacements are, in turn, looking for him.

In the meantime, the New Avengers are trying to sort out membership problems, which leads to a very surprising moment (which I won't spoil for you, of course).

The art in this issue is something of a mixed bag - there are six artists listed on the credits page, and the art runs from outstanding to shockingly average.

Still, so far the story is building nicely, and the Doc isn't dead. Yet.

Grade: B

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Comic Book Day!

A big haul for your pal Chuck today:

- The Mighty Avengers #23 - My last issue of this title. The art and story are just OK.

- The New Avengers #51 - Some big surprises here, although I'm not crazy about the idea of Dr. Strange not being the Sorcerer Supreme anymore.

- Captain America #48 - Not bad at all - and issue #600 is right around the corner.

- Conan the Cimmerian #9 - This continues to be darned good.

- Daredevil #117 - Same here - sorry to hear that Brubaker is giving it up soon.

- Elektra #1 (of 5) - Picked up mostly to see what happened to her during and after Secret Invasion. So far, I'm not impressed.

- Fantastic Four #565 - Great art, but the story, not so great.

- The Incredible Hercules #127 - This continues to be amazingly entertaining.

- The Incredibles #1 - Love the movie, hate the cover. There are four different ones - put 'em together to see the whole picture. No thanks.

- Justice League of America #31
- The League breaks up? That trick never works.

- The Muppet Show Comic Book #1 - That's right, the Muppets. Wanna make something of it?

- The Amazing Spider-Man #589 - 11 issues to go.

- Trinity #43 - 9 issues to go.

- The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #5 - Both good and surprising (which is also good).

- Wolverine Saga
- a free giveaway which serves to illustrate just how screwed up Logan's story has become. He was much more interesting when his past was mysterious. Now it's all spelled out in detail. Boring!

- X-Infernus #4 (of 4)
- So far, a fun throwback X-Men story.

(By the way, my apologies for neglecting to post my "this is what I bought this week" entry last week - what can I say, it was a crazy day. But the only issues I bought were the six I reviewed last week, so there you go.)

The Classics - Adventure Comics #409

I first started getting "serious" about collecting comic books at a young age, and my focus was almost exclusively on superhero comics, although I read the occasional war or western title.

But I rarely picked up a comic that starred a female character. That's not surprising, because the only female with her own title was Wonder Woman (Lois Lane doesn't count - she's no more super than Night Nurse). I didn't mind the Amazon Princess in the Justice League, but I didn't buy any of her comics until the Mike Sekowsky "Mod" Diana Prince era - and even then I only bought a few issues out of curiosity.

It was the same for Supergirl. She could be found in backup stories in assorted Superman comics (Action Comics, for example), and she finally graduated to the lead in Adventure Comics when the Legion of Super-Heroes faded out for a while.

I don't remember the specific issue that first lured me into buying a comic starring a girl, but I remember the artist - Bob Oksner drew beautiful, sexy women, and he drew Supergirl's adventures for a short stint during the early '70s.

This particular issue - Adventure Comics #409, with a cover date of August 1971 - stuck in my mind because of the (for the time) surprisingly skimpy, backless outfit Supergirl wore in one adventure. (Reprinted here for your enjoyment.) Granted, it's tame by today's standards. But in 1971, to my teenage brain - va va voom!

Imagine my surprise, in looking at it today, to find that the art wasn't by Oksner, but instead it's by Art Saaf and Dick Giordano (no slouches in the "drawing pretty girls" department, either).

The issue is loaded with outstanding talent, including a story about an alien invasion (which is uncredited, but is obviously drawn by the amazing Mike Sekowsky), the cover story, written by E. Nelson Bridwell, and a reprint of a Legion story that focused on the female Legionnaires. Not bad for a quarter!

It's not really a great comic - the art is excellent, but the stories are just average at best. But this is a comic that gives me a great nostalgic buzz - if just because it reminds me of the time when I figured out that girls were not so icky after all.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #507

For the past couple of years, the X-Men have been - it seems to me - somewhat out of sorts.

Which is to say, the comics have been moving in so many different directions, with assorted mini-series, spin-offs and myriad other projects, that there hasn't been any sense of cohesion.

It's the "too much success" problem that plagues several superhero franchises. Once a character or team become popular, the company decides to cash in and place that character in as many books as possible. You know what I'm talking about, don't you? Wolverine? Spider-Man? Batman? Superman? Avengers? Of course you do.

Certainly it's weighing down the X-books - which is why the best mutant-related comic in recent years was The Astonishing X-Men, which was mostly self-contained and off in its own little corner of the Marvel Universe.

You get the sense that writer Matt Fraction and artists Terry and Rachel Dodson are trying to follow the same tact in Uncanny X-Men, as they set their focus on a limited number of characters.

This issue is a tidy bit of work, as it wraps up some ongoing stories, puts some plots in place for future issues, and shows a surprising new side to one long-running character. And it features a lot of outstanding art along the way.

I'm not quite ready to say that "the X-Men are back" - but the book is definitely moving rapidly in the right direction. And that's a very good thing, indeed.

Grade: B+

Monday, March 23, 2009

Kull #5

I have always been a big fan of the Robert E. Howard adaptations written by Roy Thomas in the '70s for Marvel Comics. He managed to capture the lyrical side of the stories, along with the violence that was so much a part of the life of a barbarian.

I had first discovered Conan in the Lancer paperbacks issued in the late 1960s, and was thrilled to hear that Marvel was adapting the character for comics.

If I recall correctly, the success of Conan was followed by a comic dedicated to Kull, and I enjoyed it, too - especially for the art by Marie and John Severin.

Of course, all those adaptations toned down the violence - so there were lots of blades swinging, but little blood in evidence. It was the style at the time.

Now, some 30 years later, Dark Horse is offering up its own take on some of Howard's creations, and once again, I'm a big fan.

Will Conrad's art is outstanding - brutal and vital and always powerful. If I had to make a complaint, it's the occasional lack of a "gutter" between some pages - for example, pages 8 and 9 run together as though they're intended to be a double-page spread - but they aren't. But that's a minor quibble.

The writing by Arvid Nelson is also outstanding, as he balances court intrigue with the evil threat of the ancient race of serpent men.

If you're any kind of fan of Howard's work, you should be reading this comic.

Grade: A-

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Amazing Spider-Man #588

With this issue of Amazing Spider-Man, the "Character Assassination" story wraps up, the long-running "Spider Tracer Killer" story wraps up, the mayoral election race ends, Harry Osborn swings into action, and Spider-Man barely manages to survive.

There's no denying the art is outstanding - John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson and Tom Palmer are three of the best in the business, and they turn in great work here. It's just a shame they can't draw all of Spidey's adventures.

The story, though, continues to leave me cold. None of the storylines mentioned have any real emotional impact - they're just a series of events with a twist, and none really affect Peter (aside from the brutal beatings, of course).

For more than a year now Spider-Man has been rolling along in near-weekly adventures, and the character who was once my favorite Marvel hero now seems hardly recognizable. The constantly shifting army of artists and writer who have handled his adventures leaves Spidey without a distinct voice or purpose.

It's really a shame, but I don't know how much longer I'll be collecting this comic - it's on the edge of being cut. I keep hoping it'll turn around, but so far, there's no sign of that happening. Bummer.

Grade: B

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Supergirl #39

You have to give this to the Supergirl comic: under writer Sterling Gates and pencilers Jamal Igle and Talent Caldwell, things do not stand still for any length of time.

Last issue, Supergirl was sent to Earth on a mission to capture Reactron, a powerful villain who killed her father. She's beaten rather easily by a mysterious character wearing a familiar logo and calling herself Superwoman.

This issue serves as setup for next issue, in which we'll (presumably) learn the answer to the mystery behind Superwoman's identity.

While I was initially left cold by this mystery, I have to admit that it heats up in this comic, as we learn a few more details and discover that things may not be what they seem.

Add to that the growing tension, a brutal attack, a surprise twist or two and Supergirl facing overwhelming odds, and you have a comic that's been quite good of late.

The art has been very well crafted, and the writing strong (though they need to be careful not to make Supergirl a whiny teenager).

This story has me anxious to see the next issue - and you couldn't always say that about a Supergirl comic.

Grade: B+

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ultimatum #3 (of 5)

Back when the Super Nintendo videogame system was first released, one of the earliest games available was SimCity, which allowed you to design and build your own city.

I enjoyed the game, and spent entirely too many hours playing it. But once I had built a city up to its maximum potential, there was only one thing left to do: I had to destroy it.

The game allowed you to bring down all kinds of disaster on your hapless Sims - earthquake, hurricane, giant monster attack - all good fun.

I bring this up because this is essentially what's going on with the Ultimatum mini-series. The creative team is blowing things up left and right, piling up an impressive body count of heroes and villains, laying waste to entire continents and managing some character assassination along the way.

But because the death is being doled out on a massive scale, it reads like an imaginary story. Are they really going to kill him and her and it? And will they stay dead?

Worst of all, most of the heroes die a meaningless death. A good hero deserves to go out fighting - not drowning in a freakish weather event. It has all the emotional impact of the SimCity game - which is to say, none at all.

The art by David Finch is quite good, although I could do without the gore - dismembered heads, close-ups of dead bodies and arrows piercing - this is not a comic for kids.

I suppose this is one way of getting rid of the Ultimate Universe - but it seems an awful waste of a concept with a lot of potential.

Grade: C

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dark Avengers #3

Having spent (or misspent) some of my youth enjoying professional wrestling, I always found it interesting when two "bad guys" would face off.

It was usually part of a set-up to give one of the guys a "face turn" - in other words, they were in the process of turning him into a good guy. But when the process first starts, the crowd often wasn't sure who to root for. In fact, sometimes they wouldn't root for anyone.

That's about the best description I can find for what's going on in Dark Avengers. You have nothing but bad guys on display here. The new Avengers team is made up of murderers and psychopaths, so you can't root for them.

They spend this issue trying to protect Dr. Doom, and he's the baddest villain Marvel has - so you can't root for him.

They're fighting against a powerful and vindictive Morgana Le Fey, who seems to be killed, only to show up again, none the worse for the wear. She accomplishes this by... well, I'm not sure how she does it. Anyway, you can't root for her, either.

And at this point we run out of characters, so you have a team of villains fighting to protect another villain from a powerful villainess. It's really hard to care about the outcome.

Give Brian Bendis credit - he's working hard to keep us interested by providing lots of sharp conversation and quite a bit of action. But despite that, this story just seems to be crawling.

They've been fighting Morgana for two issues now, and little has been resolved.

But the art is tremendous. Mike Deodato seems to be channeling Gene Colan here, and his art has rarely been more dynamic and fluid.

But with a price tag of $3.99, one expects more than endless fight scenes between demons and murderers. So far, I have to say that Dark Avengers has been largely disappointing. There are just too many "heel turns" for me.

Grade: B-

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Classics - Tales of Suspense #49

I didn't buy this comic.

But don't worry, your pal Chuck didn't steal it. When I was a mere lad, the guys in my neighborhood would trade comic books, just like baseball cards and even toys.

We'd scoop up the comics we were willing to trade, ride our bicycles to a friend's house, and then spread our comics out on the lawn or the driveway, and the wheeling and dealing would commence.

I don't remember the details of the trade or which friend had the comic originally, but this issue of Tales of Suspense, cover dated January 1963, is the first adventure of Iron Man I remember reading.

I was probably interested as much for the appearance by The Angel as anything. I was an X-Men fan almost from the beginning, and I especially liked the winged X-Man, even though his only power was that he could fly. There was something fascinating about how The Angel took so much joy in his ability.

Anyway, this is one of the early examples of the Marvel formula: two heroes meet, there's some kind of misunderstanding, and they fight. In this case, The Angel is accidentally exposed to an atomic blast (!) and he becomes evil.

Of course, The Angel should be no match for a powerhouse like Iron Man - but in his early adventures, Tony Stark's armor held a charge about as long as my last cell phone (we're talking 10 minutes, tops), so The Angel is able to use his agility to good advantage.

The resolution is somewhat difficult to swallow, but what the hey. You get a Kirby cover, classic Stan Lee dialogue and interior art by Steve Ditko - it's difficult to complain.

And if that's not enough, the issue also features a back-up story narrated by The Watcher, in which he introduces an alien race called the Sneepers, who are also watching us. Don't these characters own a TV?

At any rate, while this effort isn't the strongest by any of those involved, it's a comic I still remember and cherish. And you can't beat the price!

Grade: B+

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Booster Gold #18

The Booster Gold series has a lot going for it.

It has excellent art by the underrated Dan Jurgens, who always provides strong, professional art that tells the story clearly. There's not enough of that around to suit me.

Booster is a time-traveling hero, so that means he can show up at any point in DC history and have adventures with characters who have died, mysteries that were never solved, or embark on new waters - in other words, the sky is the limit.

And the book has been fun, because Booster is that rarity - a light-hearted hero who's quick with a joke and never gets bogged down in the grim 'n gritty.

The only real problem with the book is that we haven't had much of a chance to learn more about Booster the man - he's been so busy as Booster the hidden hero, we've scarcely seen him without his mask on.

That's a tough obstacle for any hero - they have to have a personal life so the reader can relate to them. Perhaps now that the latest storyline has wrapped, we can learn a bit more about the man and focus less on the legend.

It's a book loaded with potential, but right now it's only hitting at about 75 percent of capacity. More, please.

Grade: B-

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz #4 (of 8)

I'm quickly running out of superlatives for this comic.

The retelling of the original Wonderful Wizard of Oz story is just a delight (which should be no surprise, since the original has ever been thus).

Eric Shanower adapts the story with great skill, and Skottie Young's artwork just seems to get better with each issue.

In this story the quartet - Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion - finally arrive in the wondrous Emerald City, where they finally meet the Wizard of Oz - and if you haven't read the original book, you might be surprised at his appearance.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. A real delight.

(I know, it's a short review, but what more needs to be said?)

Grade: A+

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Top 10 Season Two #4

As a fan of the TV show Hill Street Blues, I have to say that the comic book Top 10 captures the feel of that show perfectly.

Set in a reality where superpowers are common, it focuses on several police officers. Some are good guys, some are not-so-good, some are messed up, some are screwed over by the system - it's a terrific variety and it lends itself to a number of interesting stories.

And here you get that in spades. There's the cop trying to recover from suspension while keeping her family together. There's the cop trying to look out for his partner, who seems to be melting down. There's the cop trying to maintain order while his boss destroys morale. There's the rookie who's trying to handle the pressure. And on and on...

It's the real strength of a team book, that you can meet so many different interesting characters, and then see what happens when they're faced with the unexpected.

And do they ever have to deal with unexpected events - you never know what these officers are going to face or how they'll react. Which just makes the book that much more compelling.

As far as I know, this is the only continuing title from the America's Best Comics line (which is a shame) - but thank goodness it continues under the skilled hands of writer Zander Cannon and artist Gene Ha.

They're doing excellent work, and maintaining the high standards set by original writer Alan Moore - and that's saying something!

Grade: A-

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Green Lantern Corps #34

The Green Lantern Corps comic has become an interesting mix of horror, science fiction, superheroes and soap opera (which is mostly a good thing).

This issue is billed as a prelude to "Blackest Night," the next mega-event, and there's certainly a lot of plots percolating in this issue.

On the gruesome side, we have a battle between Mongul and the monstrous Arkillo for the right to lead the Sinestro Corps (though one suspects Sinestro himself might have "next").

On the science fiction side, we learn a smidge more about the forces behind the Blackest Night.

On the superhero side, we have the Green Lantern Corps itself, which is learning about Mongul's threat and trying to deal with all the strange aliens who make up the other colorful Corps.

On the soap opera side, we have a couple of Green Lanterns falling in love - which is now against the rules.

The art really runs hot and cold in this issue. Some of Patrick Gleason's pencils are quite powerful, but others - like in the big fight scene - are very hard to follow.

The only problem with this comic is that it's got too much going on, so we're just getting small fragments of the story with each issue. My recommendation: resolve a storyline every now and then.

Grade: B-

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Invincible Iron Man #11

This has been a very good series so far, for several reasons.

The main one being that Marvel was smart enough to put an excellent writer and artist on the comic. Matt Fraction has turned in some outstanding scripts, with lots of action, plot twists galore and solid characterization.

Salvador Larroca has been very strong on the art, with powerful, iconic images, some good personal moments and clear storytelling. His only weakness is that the disguised Tony doesn't look like Tony because he isn't drawn like Tony - in other words, Larroca is cheating a bit. But that's a small gripe.

The other reason The Invincible Iron Man is a great comic is because the creative team has wisely jettisoned most of the baggage recent years have laid on the character, and recast the characters to make them match the recent hit film (which had a better grip on the characters than the comic has featured in years).

On the down side, we're still dealing with the whole Darn Reign mess, which has Tony on the run from Norman Osborn and H.A.M.M.E.R. agents (this week's guess: it stands for He's Awfully Mad and Making Evil Remarks).

That's fine as a temporary storyline, but it's hard to buy Tony being able to keep his zillion-dollar suit of armor running while he's trying to avoid all the Dark Reign flunkies.

But despite that minor quibble, this continues to be one of Marvel's best comics. Recommended!

Grade: B+

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Batman: Battle for the Cowl #1 (of 3)

To be honest, I had no intention of picking up this comic, for the same reason I decided to pass on the latest issue of Action Comics - it's just marking time until the main character returns.

But, it was a light week, and Batman: Battle for the Cowl was the biggest release for the week, so I figured, what the heck.

I wish I could say it wasn't as bad as I feared - and certainly there are good things about it - but it really didn't hold my interest, either.

Written and drawn by Tony Daniels, with inks by Sandu Florea, it tells the story of the aftermath of Batman's disappearance (or death) (yeah, right) at the end of Final Crisis.

To sum it up: Gotham has become wild and lawless, and even a small army of Batman family members can't stem the tide (including Nightwing, Robin, Catwoman, Huntress, Batwoman, Oracle, Black Canary, Damian / Robin, and others).

Nightwing is the obvious successor to the cowl, but he refuses to wear it, presumably because that builds tension. The bad guys take advantage of the confusion and manage to free most of Batman's villains, as they join forces to fight the good guys. At the same time, a brutal figure emerges, claiming to be Batman.

Look, the artwork is nice, and it's fun to see all these characters thrown together in one story - but the best efforts by all involved can't overcome the obvious smell of stalling that hangs over the title.

I'd pass on it if I were you.

Grade: C

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hey, Kids - Comics!

Here's what your pal Chuck picked up today:

- Batman: Battle of the Cowl #1 - Some comics I buy just to review on the blog, not because I'm dying to read it. This is such a comic.

- Booster Gold #18 - This has been fun though not exceptional.

- Green Lantern Corps #34 - Interesting mix of SF, horror and superheroes.

- Invincible Iron Man #11 - This one continues to thunder along nicely.

- Top 10 #4 - This has been quite good.

- Trinity #41 - That's the thing about a weekly comic - as soon as you get caught up on your reading, another issue pops up.

- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz #4 (of 8) - What a terrific book this is - and loaded with surprises for those who've only seen the movie.

- Alter Ego #84 - Always nice to see an Aparo Aquaman.

And that was it! A light week.

The Classics - Watchmen #1

It's somewhat staggering to realize that the first issue of Watchmen comes with a cover date of September 1986.

Since that time the collected maxi-series has more or less universally been accepted as the best graphic novel yet (or the best comic book series, depending on how you define such things).

So there's not much sense in me reviewing this work by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons - it's an amazing piece of work, both for its craft, for its involved story and for the way it broke new ground.

Of course, there's a dark side to the success of Watchmen - it led comics to many years of grim and gritty stories, as writers of lesser talent copied the dark aspect of the story, instead of trying to create their own involved and intelligent take on the superhero.

Still, it's an outstanding achievement, and a series every fan of the genre should read.

Grade: A+

Wait! I hear your cries, gentle readers! You're asking, "But Chuck - what about the movie?"

Somewhat surprisingly, I've actually seen it. And I thought it was... amazing! I would never have expected a film to be able to so closely follow the original storyline.

I've read earlier screenplays that tried to adapt Watchmen - and let me tell you, we're darned lucky to get this version instead.

Not that it's perfect. I thought the violence was over the top. Some of the music choices could have been better. A little less of Dr. Manhattan's full frontal-ness would have been fine (or perhaps a little more of same from Silk Spectre would have balanced it out).

On the other hand, the controversial change (which shall not be specified) actually worked for me.

It's a long film, but it never felt like it - I never checked the time. It was stunning to see so many images from the comics brought to life.

Like The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter movies, no adaptation from one format to the other is ever going to be seamless - but I find it hard to imagine a better adaptation being made.

I enjoyed the heck out of it - and I look forward to seeing it again.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Trinity #40

Having just read a half-dozen issues of this title in order to be able to read and review this issue, I have to say, Trinity is not Kurt Busiek's best work.

If it's any consolation, it's not his worst work, either. (I think he got that out of the way early in his career.) But I have such high expectations of him, perhaps that's why this series has disappointed.

With 12 issues to go, and after too many issues since Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman disappeared from Earth, they're finally back - sort of - and facing off against the evil forces that exiled them in the first place.

What Busiek has done here is create a sequel - of sorts - to his epic Justice League / Avengers crossover. But to fill 52 issues, he's had to introduce all kinds of side stories, and as a result, we haven't really seen the main characters in months.

There have been some interesting concepts at work here, and it's a clever examination of the inner workings of the "big three" heroes - but unfortunately, that doesn't make it a compelling comic to read.

There's no problem on the art side - Mark Bagley turns in his usual excellent job. You definitely get the feeling he's a fan cut from the Geoge Perez mold, considering the staggering number of characters (many of them redesigned) he has on display here.

The backup is a bit confusing, but seems to be setting up the final story arc in this series. I wish I was enjoying it more - I want to like it. But I'm really tired of Alternate Earth stories, and the art is the only thing keeping me going here.

Grade: C+

Monday, March 9, 2009

I Am Legion: The Dancing Faun #2 (of 6)

For most modern comics, the art carries the storytelling load.

For years the focus in the industry has been away from text - in fact, most comics supply only minimal dialogue and few if any caption boxes.

But I Am Legion: The Dancing Faun breaks away from that trend and loads the comic down with lots and lots of word balloons. But that's not a slam on writer Fabien Nury - I'm impressed with his effort to tackle a complex story which challenges the reader to keep up.

The story involves a World War II-era tale of espionage, secret organizations, and a young girl who has a mysterious and deadly power.

There's certainly no problem with the art, either - it's supplied by John Cassaday, who's one of the top artists in the industry. Here he's working in a somewhat understated style - the art features lots of small panels - but as always, it's excellent.

We're still early in the story, so there are a lot of gaps to be filled in yet - but so far, this story has been very impressive. It's not for everyone - but if you're up to the challenge, the story is very rewarding.

Grade: B+

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Agents of Atlas #2

It's interesting to note that the comic book about one of the oldest teams in the Marvel Universe is also one of the newest comics around.

And with this issue, Agents of Atlas makes the most of that heritage.

In the first issue, the comic included a back-up feature about one of the team's early adventures. This time around, an adventure from 1958 is incorporated into their present-day escapades, although the connection between the two isn't quite clear yet.

Still, the striking thing about this team is how dedicated they are to each other. Most teams include some squabbling (if just for the sake of conflict), but so far, the Agents of Atlas seem to operate in complete devotion to each other. It's a refreshing change!

The team continues to pretend to cooperate with Norman Osborn's H.A.M.M.E.R. organization. (And still there's no indication of what that might stand for. Today's guess: Huge And Mighty Masters of Evil and Retribution.) They obviously subscribe to the old adage to keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

The story by Jeff Parker is smart and fresh, and the art by a small army of talented people covering both eras of the team is quite good.

This is definitely a book to watch (or at least read).

Grade: B+

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Black Panther #2

Most comic book characters never change much from year to year - but that's not the case with the Black Panther.

The first appearance of T'Challa was in Fantastic Four #52 (in the mid-'60s), when he managed the amazing feat of fighting the FF to a standstill. More amazing was the final panel, when he removed his mask and revealed himself as the first black superhero!

It's funny, I bought that issue off the stands as a young'un, and I don't remember feeling an iota of shock or surprise at the revelation. Either I was too stupid to realize the color barrier had been broken, or I was smart enough to realize that he was black before that final panel.

Over the years since then, the Panther was usually written as a black Daredevil - strong, agile and intelligent - but that was about it.

The most recent version of the Panther has focused on T'Challa, the king of Wakanda, a kingdom that has never been conquered. The Panther is now seen to be one of the most capable heroes in the Marvel Universe, able to go toe-to-toe and hold his own against anyone.

I enjoy the fact that this is a very smart character, as capable of winning a fight with his brain as with his brawn.

That's made his comic a lot of fun to follow. For whatever reason, the book has been relaunched, and the first story arc focuses on the new female Black Panther. Reginald Hudlin is weaving a powerful story here, as the Panther faces an attack by Dr. Doom, another character who (like Norman Osborn) seems to be appearing in every comic at once.

At least here Doom is portrayed as the baddest bad guy of them all - as he should be.

The art on the issue is by Ken Lashley and Paul Neary, and while I'm not familiar with Lashley's work, this is a good effort here - I look forward to seeing more of his work.

The story is moving in unexpected directions, as the Panther's story continues to grown and evolve - and that's a good thing! Here's hoping for more of the same!

Grade: B+

Friday, March 6, 2009

Superman: World of New Krypton #1

After years of indifference to the Superman line of comics, my interest has been renewed in recent months thanks to the fine work being turned in by writers James Robinson and Geoff Johns.

And common sense tells me that I should like this new series (I presume it's a mini-series, though it's not numbered as such). It's written by Robinson and Greg Rucka, and the art is by the excellent Pete Woods, who does a great job with the alien architecture and costuming.

And yet, for some reason, Superman: World of New Krypton leaves me cold. Perhaps I'm just getting tired of the New Krypton story that seems endless.

Perhaps taking Superman away from Earth and placing him on a planet where he's just one of 100,000 other super men takes away the fun of his stories.

Perhaps the idea of Superman lying to his Aunt Alura about his motives, or the fact that all the Kryptonians seem to be complete tools...

Whatever the reason, I find my interest in this story fading fast. And now that Superman is self-exiled from Earth, he's not appearing in Action Comics (which has been turned over to Flamebird and Nightwing) or Superman's own comic (which stars Mon-El).

So I guess the upside to all this is that I'm only buying one Superman comic a month instead of two. So at least I'm saving money on the deal.

Grade: B

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Secret Warriors #2

Nick Fury always seems to work best with a cliffhanger.

Nick was moved from the battlefields of World War II into the "modern" era when he became Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD in the mid-60s. Those stories first found a home in Strange Tales, replacing the 10-page adventures of the Human Torch.

Nick shared the magazine with Dr. Strange - an odd combination, but it was a comic I anxiously awaited each month. One reason for that was the fact that most of the stories ended with a cliffhanger, as Nick and his men faced certain death - only to save themselves, somehow, in the nest issue.

That style was honed to perfection under the guidance of Jim Steranko, one of the greatest writers and artists to work in comics. So it's nice to see a reference to those stories in a flashback panel in the newest issue of Secret Warriors.

I don't want to give away the big secret revealed at the end of the first issue - surely there must be someone who hasn't caught up with their reading yet - but this issue turns the focus on one of Fury's oldest enemies, Baron Strucker.

In flashbacks, we see how the Baron reacts to the Secret Invasion, and sets his own plans in motion.

The writing by Brian Bendis and Jonathan Hickman is holding up well, and they have a huge story bubbling here. It'll be interesting to see where they go from here.

I also like the artwork by Stefano Caselli (with color art by Daniele Caselli). It's dark and brooding, and fits the story very well. He also has an excellent touch with expressions.

So far, the story is rolling out slowly - but it's been very good so far. And each issue has ended with something of a cliffhanger - so what's not to like?

Grade: A-

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Comics? Just a Few...

Here's what your pal Chuck picked up at the comics shop today:

- Agents of Atlas #2 - So far, so good.

- New Avengers: The Reunion #1 - Hawkeye and Mockingbird back together again. I was going to pass, and then decided, what the heck.

- Black Panther #2
- Strong as ever, and quite surprising.

- Daredevil #116 - I still think it's awfully nice of Spider-Man to let Daredevil have one of his best foes - the Kingpin.

- Fantastic Four: Dark Reign #1 (of 5) - Now Osborn is going after the FF? Does he have to be in every comic?

- FarScape #3 (of 4) - It's been fun so far.

- Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #4 (of 8) - This has been even better.

- I Am Legion: The Dancing Faun #2 (of 6) - Worth buying just for John Cassaday's art.

- Secret Warriors #2 - Will the story hold up after last issue's big reveal?

- Superman: World of New Krypton #1 - So Superman has left his regular titles and landed here. So now I'm only buying one issue of Superman a month. I'm all for saving money.

- Trinity #40 - The return of the trinity - sorta.

The Classics - Green Lantern #76

It's rare, but every now and then, a comic book comes along that changes the landscape of the industry.

That's the kind of effect fandom felt when it laid eyes on Green Lantern #76, which was cover-dated April 1970.

After a long and distinguished run by artist Gil Kane, who created the look of the Silver Age version of Green Lantern, with this issue the title was handed over to two "upstarts" - writer Denny O'Neil and artist Neal Adams - and the effect was shocking.

Here was a comic that looked nothing like the typical DC Comic, with its usual stolid, established art style. Adams broke rules, providing a shockingly realistic style with a powerful style that was unique. It would inspire legions of imitators in the years ahead.

O'Neil also broke the rules by introducing relevance to the stories. In this issue, Green Lantern defends an old man from being attacked by the mob, only to discover the mob had good reason to be angry - the man was a slumlord who was trying to drive the poor tenants into the streets.

One of the scenes in this book that most people remember had an old black man chastising Green Lantern for helping the purple skins and orange skins, adding, "Only there's skins you never bothered with -- the black skins! I want to know -- how come?"

As others have pointed out, he could have answered, "Hey, I've saved the Earth a dozen times! How's that?" But instead, he admits he had been "a dummy" and offers to help.

He joins forces with his new co-star in the book, Green Arrow, and they take down the bad guy. After an impassioned plea to the Guardians, GL and GA get permission to take leave from their usual super-duties, and - joined by one of the Guardians - they set off on a journey across the country to discover America.

Ah, it was the end of the '60s - what can you say? The comic holds up very well, although it's a bit on the preachy side. But it was the beginning of a new age at DC, which suddenly found itself turning out the same kind of modern stories that had made Marvel the number one company for fans.

As this issue demonstrated, DC wasn't stuck in the past - and it was now willing to stretch the boundaries of the comic book. It was a good beginning.

Grade: A

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Superman #685

Judging by the recent events at DC Comics, one is almost forced to assume that the company has some kind of death wish.

First they bring out Final Crisis, which looked like a game-changing mini-series, but ended up being poorly received by the fans.

Spinning out of that series, DC apparently (but not really) killed off Batman. Wonder Woman is apparently going through a rough time in her own book. And now they're moving Superman out of his own comic titles.

It's all a continuation of the New Krypton storyline, which is spinning off into its own mini-series. Because of that, this issue deals with Superman dealing with personal matters as he prepares to make a momentous decision.

The story by James Robinson deals efficiently with the matters at hand, but I'm not crazy about the art by Javier Pina. Characters are barely recognizable, and some of the poses are awkward. The art isn't bad, it just doesn't fit Superman well.

Perhaps this storyline wouldn't seem so "off" if DC hadn't just done the same thing in the aftermath of 52.

Well, like coach always said, keep running that play 'til you get it right. Perhaps DC will keep running off their "big three" characters until readers get tired of looking for them.

Grade: C

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #4

There's something delightful about the cover to this issue, although you'd think they'd have used it on an issue that included that character in more than four panels. Oh well.

This issue clears up the reason the series has the word "Dallas" in the title, and we learn some more about the mysterious killer known as Number Five.

This comic, more than any other in recent memory, has an amazing number of surprising twists in each issue. Characters who seem to die might not be dead, others who seem to be alive might be fooling you, and assassins may send their most unexpected agent after... well, that would be telling.

The high-energy art by Gabriel Ba, as always, is a perfect compliment to Gerard Way's well-crafted story.

The violence herein might be a bit much for young readers, but the story is a fast-paced delight, with lots of clever bits for those who are paying attention.

As always, highly recommended.

Grade: A-

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Justice Society of America #24

Of the many revisions over the years to the original Captain Marvel, most haven't worked for me, although the recent Jeff Smith mini-series probably came the closest to capturing the fun spirit of the character.

(And no, I'm not old enough to remember the original Fawcett comics. Chuck is old, but he isn't that old.)

The version that did work (in my opinion) was the one by Jerry Ordway, which was titled The Power of Shazam! He managed to take Cap's somewhat childish origin and make it work in the more cynical world of today's comics.

So it's good to see Ordway back on the job (along with writer Geoff Johns) in the latest issue of Justice Society of America, which is focused on the extended Marvel Family and will - I assume - straighten out the tangled mess the continuity on those characters has become.

And what a mess it is! At some point the old Wizard Shazam was killed, so Billy Batson, as Captain Marvel, somehow took over Shazam's post at the mystical Rock of Eternity, and developed white hair in the bargain. Mary Marvel, one of the sweetest, most endearing characters in comics, became evil. (Don't get me started on that!) Capt. Marvel, Jr., lost the "Junior" and took over the title.

Well, you get the picture - it's a mess. So in the JSA, the (usually) evil Black Adam shows up with the not-so-dead but now evil Isis and steals Billy's powers and exiles him from the Rock of Eternity.

Billy returns with several members of the JSA in tow, and the fun begins.

It's run a bit hot and cold lately, but overall the JSA is one of - if not the - best comic DC has to offer. I'm really enjoying the latest story, so for now, the title is hot.

And if it restores (the real) Capt. Marvel, so much the better.

Grade: A-