Thursday, April 30, 2009

Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #4 (of 5)

As this mini-series continues to trickle out, extending the Final Crisis far beyond its expiration date, we can be grateful for one thing: each issue is well worth the wait.

That's because Legion of 3 Worlds features an artist and writer turning in outstanding work.

On the art side, we have George Perez, as inked by Scott Koblish. They're turning in yet another issue that's lush with detail and power, jammed with huge battles and life-and-death conflict, but at no time do we struggle to follow the flow of the story, and each character is clearly drawn and easily identified.

And while Perez is famous for his crowded splash pages, here he delivers a double-page splash that is both simple and iconic.

On the writing side, we have Geoff Johns, wielding his continuity repair kit to great effect. He has three versions of the Legion of Super-Heroes in play, along with their greatest villains - oh, and don't forget Superman and the hated Superboy Prime.

Johns has already cleared up one particularly bad bit of business, bringing back Kid Flash (or Impulse) into mainstream continuity. He also manages several other surprises in this issue, which leads to a warning: don't flip ahead in this book, or you'll spoil more than one tasty surprise!

If you're a Legion fan, you definitely need to be reading this comic. Here's hoping we see that final issue sometime before the next Crisis...

Grade: A-

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Only Three More Days to Free Comic Book Day!

By the way, when you stop by to pick up your Free Comic Book, be sure to actually buy a comic while you're there. Your local comics shop has to pay for those "free" comics, and you'll be doing him or her a solid.

In the meantime, here's what your pal Chuck picked up at the comics shop today:

- Dark Avengers #4 - Terrific art, not so terrific story.

- Avengers / Invaders #10 (of 12) - It seems like this one has been running for years.

- Dark Reign: The Cabal #1 (One Shot) - Focusing on the five villains at the heat of the "Dark Reign."

- Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #4 (of 5) - Well, this one has more than its share of surprises.

- Green Lantern #40 - Hanging out with Gollum... uh, I mean, Agent Orange.

- Justice Society of America #26 - Geoff Johns' final issue, sad to say.

- The Muppet Show #2
- 'Tis good clean fun.

- Sherlock Holmes #1 - Being a Holmes fan, I had to check this one out. And is John Cassaday doing all the covers these days?

- Trinity #48 - Four to go!

- Uncanny X-Men #509 - Hey, Psylocke is back! But which one?

The Classics - Detective Comics #438

In this time of $3.99 and $4.99 comic prices, it's fun to look back at Detective Comics #438 and remember how I had to deliberate a while before convincing myself that it was worth the hefty price.

For the then-staggering sum of 50 cents, you got 100 pages of comics (the issue is dated December 1973 / January 1974).

Even better, you got a comic with two new stories and four top-of-the-line reprints!

But then, you can expect quality when you have one of the all-time great editors at the helm. This was the second issue with Archie Goodwin in control, and it is one fantastic package.

How's this:
- a cover by Mike Kaluta;
- a new Batman story written by Goodwin and drawn with amazing detail and power by Jim Aparo;
- a classic adventure of The Atom, guest-starring Zatanna, written by Gardener Fox and drawn by Gil Kane;
- a classic Silver Age Hawkman story by Fox and Joe Kubert;
- a classic Batman story by Bill Finger and "Bob Kane," featuring the shocking fate of Alfred;
- a Green Lantern reprint by Fox and Kane;
- and saving the best for last, the premiere of a new character - Manhunter, by Goodwin and some new kid named Walt Simonson.

I should admit that, at the time, I was very much in the Marvel camp when it came to buying comics, and there were only a handful of DC Comics that I followed - but with this issue, Detective leaped to the top of my "must buy" list.

It was an incredible value, and Goodwin brought in some amazing creators in the months ahead, all anchored by the amazing Manhunter serial! And, it was something extremely rare at the time - it was a finite series.

It's always a treat to see creators working at the top of their game. This was Goodwin at his best and Simonson blazing new trails - it was just amazing to see this kind of quality month after month!

Ah, Archie, how we miss you.

Grade: A+

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Mighty Avengers #24

I had pretty much decided to drop The Mighty Avengers from my "buy" list.

The first few issues of the new team were pretty lackluster. The art was just OK, characters popped in and out (like Iron Man and the Hulk) and it just seemed like another random gathering of superheroes to create a team and sell some comics.

But for some reason, I decided to try one more issue, and I'm glad I did.

With the obligatory "origin" story out of the way, this issue focuses more on characters and big adventures, as the team goes around the world fighting some obscure bad guys.

Writer Dan Slott is having a lot of fun with the character interaction here between the heroes and the villains. He's also put several storylines in play that are very promising, including the secret reason behind the team's founding.

The art is also much improved, as Rafa Sandoval and Roger Bonet Martinez turn in some high energy artwork, although some of the layouts are a bit hard to follow - but it's quite an improvement over recent issues.

Throw in the dark secret behind the "Scarlet Witch's" return, and you have a comic that's worth picking up. So far.

Grade: B

Monday, April 27, 2009

Supergirl #40

The Supergirl comic has been something of a mix in recent months.

Some issues are quite good, while others are merely average. But to its credit, I haven't seen an issue in a while that was outright bad.

This issue manages to be both average and quite good in the same issue. On the good side, Supergirl gets a chance to show her true character as she faces off against the man who killed her father. On the bad side, she survives a fall by a rather improbable method, and (more importantly) we finally get a peek behind the mask of Superwoman.

Since that mystery has been driving the recent storyline, it's unfortunate that it's not more of a surprise. Our reaction should be one of shock, not "Who is that character again?"

The art has been very good indeed, and Jamal Igle and Jon Sibal continue their strong run on this title.

It's good to see the Supergirl comic being so much fun to read. Now if the creative team can push it up one more notch...

Grade: B-

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hulk #11

If you want a textbook example of how bad a comic can be, go no further than this issue of Hulk.

Oh, there's nothing wrong with the art. Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines provide powerful, larger-than-life action sequences, with lots of gritted teeth, bulging muscles and destruction on a huge scale. Oh, and lots and lots of full-page splash panels.

The problem is in Jeph Loeb's story, which has all the depth of a bad videogame.

The cosmic character known as The Grandmaster has assembled a team of heroes - the Defenders (Green Hulk, Dr. Strange, Sub-Mariner and the Silver Surfer) - and set them against their opposite numbers, the Offenders (Red Hulk, Baron Mordo, Tiger Shark and Terrax) in a battle to the death.

Each battle takes place in a setting connected to one of the other heroes - so the Hulks must duke it out at the bottom of the ocean, for example. Luckily, the Grandmaster gives them gills and makes it possible for them to speak underwater. (By the way, anyone can speak underwater. It's the breathing part that makes it tricky.)

Anyway, the comic is just one big battle between the heroes and villains - but it's all noise and fury, with no point behind it or particular skill in the conflict.

Next issue wraps it all up, and the end can't get here soon enough for me.

Grade: D

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Thor #601

After spending several years dead - or at least in comic book limbo - it's good to see Thor back again, starring in a comic that stands with the top books out there.

It would also be nice to see his comic appear on a regular basis, but let's not be too picky here. What we do get is outstanding.

This issue finds Thor (literally) picking up the pieces after an incredible battle last issue, and dealing with the fact that he's now banished from Asgard.

Loki is taking advantage of the situation and plots a relocation for the residents of Asgard - although it's a bit hard to believe that they'd go along with his plan as readily as they do.

There's also a sweet side story running through the issue about star-crossed lovers.

The issue is mostly setting up the new status quo for Thor, but it's well-written by veteran J. Michael Straczynski and features some outstanding art from Marko Djurdjevic and Danny Miki.

If you haven't been following this comic, this is probably a good jumping-on spot. I doubt many readers will be jumping off here.

Grade: B+

Friday, April 24, 2009

The New Avengers #52

I have to admit that I was relieved when Dr. Strange ended his short stint with the New Avengers.

For one thing, his character just doesn't work in a team setting. Because his focus is on magic, his abilities don't work as well in stories set in Marvel "reality." The same problem always cropped up when he was the leader of the Defenders.

And like Thor, he's so powerful that it's difficult to find a foe who can challenge him without completely overpowering the other members of the team. In one issue of the Defenders he was unconscious throughout - that way he couldn't cast a spell and solve the problem immediately.

The other reason I was relieved was because of the writer, Brian Bendis. I never felt he had a good grip on the character. Dr. Strange seemed hesitant and uncertain through most of his run in the New Avengers. That's certainly not typical of that character. Also, Bendis has a habit of killing off characters I like, and I didn't want to see Strange go there.

The ongoing storyline, though, seems to feature the return of the "real" Dr. Strange. He's smart, capable, and in this issue, has to fight the Hood, one of the baddest villains around.

Strange is looking for his successor as Sorcerer Supreme - a title the Hood is trying to get by a hostile takeover (so to speak). It's a tense, exciting story and it has me anxiously awaiting the next issue.

The art is something of a mixed bag (again). Six artists are credited here, and the art is mostly good. Chris Bachalo is the standout, with some amazing work here - although to balance it out, a few of his panels are almost impossible to follow.

But so far, I'm really enjoying this story. I still don't think Dr. Strange fits as a member of the New Avengers - but as a guest star, he's most welcome. As long as he survives the experience.

Grade: A-

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Detective Comics #853

Finally, the anxiously-awaited second half of Neil Gaiman's "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" story!

This issue of Detective Comics almost defies reviewing - or at least it's difficult to talk about without revealing key points. But worry not, we continue our dedication to not spoiling the story for you.

And what a unique, unusual and original story it is! So nice to see Gaiman's work in comics again.

He's well matched with the art of Andy Kubert, who manages to meld together a number of different art styles, characters and settings to create one of the most unusual Batman stories ever. Just amazing work here.

As to the story, it continues where the first issue left off. Characters from Batman's long history gather at what appears to be Batman's funeral. Each one gets up to speak about how Batman died, and each one tells a completely different story.

As the mystery unfolds, we learn more about why this is happening - and we learn about the true nature of Batman.

I suspect this story will divide fans to some extent, in that some will love it and some will not, but I see it as a clever testament to the eternal nature (and the eternally-changing nature) of the Caped Crusader.

Highly, highly recommended!

Grade: A+

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Comics I Hauled In Today

Here's what your old pal Chuck picked up today:

- Mighty Avengers #24 - I was about to drop this issue, but decided to give it one more chance. Glad I did - this was a much better issue.

- New Avengers #52 - The search for the new Sorcerer Supreme continues. Bendis, please don't kill Dr. Strange.

- Buck Rogers #0
- Couldn't pass it up -it only cost a quarter!

- Detective Comics #853
- The anxiously-awaited second part of "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?"

- Daredevil #118 - Is it really a good idea to team up with the Kingpin?

- Elektra: Dark Reign #2 (of 5) - Much better.

- Fantastic Force #1 (of 5) - Spinning out a recent FF story - looks interesting.

- The Incredible Hercules #128 - Those Dark Avengers are everywhere, aren't they?

- Hulk #11 - That Ed McGuinness likes the full-page splashes, doesn't he?

- Justice League of America #32 - Time to build a new team!

- Marvels: Eye of the Camera #5 (of 6) - An interested alternate look at Marvel's history (but not an alternate history, thank goodness).

- Amazing Spider-Man #592 - I'll give them this - that's the most horrifying last page ever.

- Supergirl #40 - Superwoman unmasked!

- Thor #601 - This has been very, very good.

- Trinity #47 - 5 to go!

The Classics - Strange Tales #89

Here's a comic I did not buy when I was a kid. Instead, I picked it up at a convention a few years ago.

The comic is the October 1961 issue of Strange Tales, and it features the first appearance of the Jack Kirby-drawn monster Fin Fang Foom, perhaps the best-known of the early Marvel brood of monsters. (Or should that be the "late Atlas brood?")

It's a great example of one of my favorite grades for a comic. Most comic fans know that basics of grading a comic: "M" for Mint Condition, "VG" for Very Good, "P" for Poor, and so on. But this comic fits a description I first heard from my pal James - it's "BTH."

Of course, that stands for "Beat To Hell." As you can see from the scan, the cover is torn and missing the upper right corner. The cover is actually separated from the rest of the comic, and the back cover is hanging by a thread. The cover also has a few pen marks on it, and the inside pages are aged, chipped and fading.

But despite all that, the issue is complete and quite readable, and I found it in a box at a convention for the princely sum of $1.00. I've never been a collector who obsessed about condition, so when I find a comic I want to read at a decent price, I pick it up.

The lure of this one, of course, was Mr. Foom, whose story I first read in an issue of the Marvel reprint book Fantasy Masterpieces. It tells the unlikely story of a freedom fighter in Communist China who uses his knowledge to great effect.

You just get the feeling that Kirby had a blast drawing this story - the action just explodes off the page!

The issue also features an excellent Stan Lee - Steve Ditko 5-pager, as a thief discovers what happens when you attack a man who has friends in low places.

There's also a 5-pager drawn by Paul Reinman. It's a solid, professional job, but it's a thin story - it's easy to see why the writer didn't sign it.

The issues from this time period always give off a warm glow of nostalgia. These are the kind of comics I read when I was first discovering comics.

There's not much deep or challenging about this issue, but it is a lot of fun. The comic may be tattered, but the talent of the artists involved shines like new.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sub-Mariner Comics 70th Anniversary Special

If you were making a list of "characters who have been criminally underused," the Sub-Mariner would have to be at the top of the list.

For that reason it's great to see him being actively involved in the Dark Reign storyline, and it's also great to see this issue, the second in an ongoing series of 70th Anniversary Specials.

This issue features three stories. The first one is written by Roy Thomas, who wrote many of Namor's classic adventures in the Silver Age.

Happily, Thomas hasn't lost a step, and the story, set in 1940, has Namor being the mercurial powerhouse we met in his first appearance.

He finds himself torn between the Allies and the Axis - after all, he tends to hate all surface people - and he's torn between two women as well.

The art by Mitch and Elizabeth Breitweiser is outstanding - powerful, raw and detailed. I don't remember seeing their work before, but I look forward to seeing more from them in the future.

The second story is also a delight, as it teams writer Mark Schultz and artist Al Williamson, who is simply one of my all-time favorites artists. His undersea adventure is incredible - like Thomas, he's still working at the top of his game.

The third and final story is a reprint of Namor's origin story from Marvel Comics #1 in 1939. Written and drawn by Bill Everett, it shows why he's a legend to this day.

All in all, an outstanding issue. Now if they'd just give Namor his own comic again, and use one of the creative teams on either of these stories - now, that would be something to celebrate!

Grade: A

Monday, April 20, 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #591

It's rare, but occasionally there's a story that so offends the comic-reading community that it collectively decides to completely ignore that story.

The classic example is the Silver Age issue of The Flash where a character named Mopee announces that he caused Barry Allen to gain his super-speed powers. It was silly, absurd, and everyone quickly decided that "It Never Happened." Mopee was never mentioned again, except in the pages of Ambush Bug.

It happened again years later when they decided to explain why no one notices that Superman and Clark Kent look exactly alike. The explanation was that Clark was unconsciously using super-hypnotism to make everyone see him as frail and timid. Again, the story was immediately ignored and never mentioned again.

The Amazing Spider-Man has been dealing with some of that, as Mephisto wiped out everyone's memory of Spidey's secret identity at the same time he did away with the marriage of Pete and Mary Jane.

Because the event has had a lasting impact on the character, fandom can't ignore it - although many of us wish we could. To add to the problem, continuity glitches keep popping up, and writers feel obliged to explain them away, even though doing so just annoys the readers.

For example, apparently Pete knows that his identity was revealed to the public - and now is a secret again. He explains it as a kind of mind wipe - but how did it happen? Does he remember Mephisto doing this? What about Mary Jane? Or is there another explanation?

This issue wraps up a two-issue team-up with the Fantastic Four, and Pete's explanation (or non-explanation) to Mr. Fantastic borders on the incomprehensible.

They'd have been much better off to just leave us with "no one knows who Spidey is." The more they try to explain it, the muddier the continuity waters get.

It's like the old line, "We can't miss you if you won't go away." The sooner they stop dredging this up and trying to explain every detail, the sooner fandom can get back to enjoying Spider-Man's adventures. Hopefully.

Grade: B-

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Green Lantern Corps #35

The tension continues to build on Oa as the Green Lantern Corps has to deal with a jailbreak, and some of the universe's most disgusting creatures look for revenge.

At the same time the Sinestro Corps - as led by Mongul - is setting up shop on Daxam, and two members of the GL Corps find themselves facing overwhelming odds.

All this is building toward the next big story - but even with the "Prelude to Blackest Night" logo on the cover, I only saw one frame of art that seemed to link to that story.

As always, the story by Peter Tomasi is well managed, if a bit gruesome in places, and the art by Patrick Gleason is quite good, with some really striking images in there.

But all that aside - what's the deal with the ad DC has at the back of the issue?

Wait, let's get the grade for this issue taken care of:

Grade: B

Now, then - take a look at this ad for the upcoming Justice League of America: Cry for Justice.

I'm assuming the art is just cropped oddly - but for all the world it looks like the heroes - The Atom, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and "Captain Marvel" are staring at Supergirl's chest.

I guess you can hardly blame them, since her, uh, "S" logo is so prominent - but since she's a teenager, it just seems a bit unseemly. I'm just saying is all.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #508

It's an interesting experience, reading Uncanny X-Men.

Of late, it has that "everything including the kitchen sink" feeling to it.

In some ways that's good. We're getting looks at lots of different mutants and getting updated on what they're up to.

We're seeing new recruits to the team, including a surprise or two.

Several plots are moving into place, including the search for a way to end the block that's been put on the mutant gene and the team settling into its new home.

We have a new menace emerging, and something of a shocking ending, although it would probably be more of a shock if I had any idea what the story was behind the character at the center of it.

And that's one of the big problems with the X-Men. The team's backstory is so overloaded with twists, turns, characters returning from the dead, getting killed, disappearing from stories for years and suddenly reappearing - it all makes it difficult to keep everyone straight. I've read all 508 issues of this comic, and I'm still confused.

The good news is, one gets the feeling that writer Matt Fraction has a handle on things and is moving the characters and plots into position for a killer story. But he's not quite there yet.

The art by Greg Land is terrific in some ways - he draws amazingly beautiful women, and the rest of his work is strong, too. The problem is, almost every panel is static - beautiful women smile at us, pose dramatically - and that's about it. I'd like to see more movement in there, frankly.

So far, this comic shows lots of potential. Hopefully it'll pay off soon.

Grade: B-

Friday, April 17, 2009

Incognito #3

There's something raw, brutal, creative and wonderful about pulp stories.

No, I'm not old enough to have read them when they were originally published, but I did enjoy picking up the adventures of Doc Savage, The Shadow, The Avenger and others when their exploits from the 1930s and '40s were reprinted in paperback form in the '70s and '80s.

Those adventures are one of the inspirations for Ed Brubaker's Icon series, Incognito.

It follows a former villain named Overkill who had been placed in witness protection, his powers removed - or so the officials thought.

When his powers return, he finds himself in any number of tight spots. He's not a good guy by any means, though he sometimes helps people out. But as his past starts catching up to him, he finds himself outgunned - and his problems are just starting.

The art by Sean Phillips is nothing less than outstanding - an absolute perfect match for this dark and violent story.

This isn't a comic for kids - it contains graphic violence and rough language - but mature readers will enjoy the hard-hitting action, the twists in the story and the smart characterizations.

Well worth checking out, especially if you're looking for some rough-and-tumble comics. Pulp-style action and drama with terrific art - what's not to like?

Grade: A-

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Captain America #49

Let's see, what's the score? Two years after Captain America was killed, Steve Rogers is still dead, with Bucky filling in ably as 21st Century version of Cap.

But finally, after not so much as a hint that Steve might still be up and kicking, we finally have a few hints that our long national nightmare may eventually be over.

For one, Marvel has been running ads featuring Cap's signature star against a black background.

And then there's this issue, which focuses on Sharon Carter, the former SHIELD agent who loved Steve - and apparently killed him while under the mental control of Dr. Faustus.

So needless to say, she's been through a rough patch, and now she's trying to put the pieces back together.

This continues to be one of Marvel's best books, as Ed Brubaker continues a masterful job of keeping us all guessing. Kudos also to the art by Luke Ross and Rick Magyar, as they create a dark and emotional tale here.

The story's been so good, I suspect many readers are torn between wanting Steve to return and enjoying Bucky's run in the star-spangled suit. But I'll follow this creative team whichever direction the story takes.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Another Week, Another Stack of Comics

It's comic book day all over the world, and today your pal Chuck picked up:

- Capt. America #49 - Are they finally getting ready for the return of Steve Rogers?

- FarScape: Strange Detractors #1 - Another mini-series based on the TV show I enjoyed so much.

- Green Lantern Corps #35
- With two strange ads / promo pages included. One gives away one of the characters brought back from the dead in "Blackest Night," and the other shows a group of heroes apparently staring at Supergirl's, uh, "S."

- Incognito #3 - This has been dark but very good. I enjoy the pulp flavor.

- The Amazing Spider-Man #591 - This issue will apparently explain why no one remembers Spidey's secret identity. I thought Mephisto had that covered.

- Sub-Mariner Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1
- Totally worth it if just for the Al Williamson back-up story.

- Trinity #46 - 6 to go.

- Uncanny X-Men #508 - In which Greg Land gets to draw lots of beautiful women.

And that's it!

The Classics - Strange Adventures #168

The fun thing about looking through old comics is that warm buzz of nostalgia some issues provide.

This copy of Strange Adventures is a good example - I stumbled across it recently and remembered reading it over and over again when I was a kid.

Cover dated September 1964, my imagination was captured by the cover image of a giant hand dragging a giant eraser across the city, wiping out everything in its path.

But these DC science fiction / fantasy comics actually featured three stories in each issue. The first one here is "I Hunted Toki the Terrible," which tells the story of a couple of hunters who discover a strange alien creature running amok in the jungles of South America - and kudos to the mystery artist, who managed to pack four different bizarre aliens in a 9-page story.

The second story is the surprisingly dark story titled "The Twin Dooms," an 8-page tale about a couple of criminals who meet a strange (though just) fate.

The final story is "The Hand That Erased Earth," and it's a fun little twist on the "menace that isn't what it seems" story.

The art on all these stories isn't flashy, but like the stories, it's fun, creative and thoroughly professional.

I have to think that any kid would enjoy this comic just as much as I did when I was a tot. It did something most comics didn't - it made a lasting impression! What more can any art aspire to?

Grade: B+

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Spirit #27

It's always sad to see the mighty laid low.

But that's been the case with The Spirit in recent months. After a tremendous start by Darwyn Cooke, the newest version of Will Eisner's classic hero was placed in the capable hands of writers Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones - and the result has been, surprisingly, average at best.

Instead of being a home for creative stories and stunning art, the comic was a model of middle-of-the-road comics, with each story being the "murder mystery of the month," with bland art and sitcom stories. Very disappointing.

Now, like a blast of fresh air, we have a three-issue mini-series-within-a-series written by the producer of The Spirit film (and numerous other comics-related movies), Michael Uslan.

The stories in the two issues so far have been fun, focusing on the women in The Spirit's life - Dr. Silken Floss last issue, and adding Lorelei this time around. The stories give a glimpse of Denny Colt's past, and both comics have heart.

The art is a lot of fun, too. The art by Justiniano and Walden Wong is a lot of fun, especially whenever Lorelei is on the page. Some of the characters don't quite look right, but that's a minor quibble - every issue should have such striking art.

The comic still isn't up to Eisner, of course - or even Cooke - but it's a big step in the right direction.

Grade: B

Monday, April 13, 2009

Warlord #1

When The Warlord first appeared in 1975, I was immediately hooked.

I was already a fan of Mike Grell's art from his work on Legion of Super-Heroes and Green Lantern.

His work included elements of Neal Adams (strong anatomy and creative layouts) and Gil Kane (lots of power packed into each page), but still managed to be unique and always interesting.

I believe his work on Warlord was his first attempt as a writer and artist, and again he didn't disappoint. He managed to fuse together the high adventure of Edgar Rice Burroughs with the sword-and-sorcery genre, and threw in some science fiction for good measure.

For those who missed it, The Warlord is Travis Morgan, an Air Force pilot whose spy plane is shot down and crashes into the arctic. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself in Skartaris, the hollow world (apparently) inside the Earth where the sun shines constantly, and dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures lives alongside primitive humans.

It's an obvious riff on ERB's Pellucidar, but it made a great setting for Morgan's adventures, and the comic enjoyed a long run. I highly recommend any of the issues by Grell.

The Warlord hasn't fared as well under other creators, so it's good to see the character back with Grell again writing. Unlike other efforts, this issue makes no attempt at "rebooting" the story.

As per Grell's usual style, the story starts out quickly and never slows down, as we meet a new group of explorers who are apparently making their way to Skartaris.

We also get a quick recap of Morgan's story, and then the story blazes on. Grell hasn't lost a step, I'm happy to say.

He provides the covers, but the interiors are by Joe Prado and Walden Wong. Their work is quite good, and only suffers in comparison to Grell's. They have a good grip on the feel of the comic - the book is in good hands.

It's good to see this comic back again, and here's hoping for another long run of stories from Grell.

Grade: A-

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Green Lantern #39

As the Green Lantern comic continues to thunder toward the Blackest Night story, in this issue we meet the last (at least I think it's the last) of the colorful Corps - the Orange Lanterns.

And they're (its?) shaping up to be an extremely powerful opponent, although their true nature is something of a mystery.

But Hal Jordan has his own problems to solve - he has a blue power ring on his finger (in addition to his usual green ring), and it seems to leave him at war with himself - and his dedication to the Green Lanterns.

This issue is mostly about setup, so it's not particularly outstanding on its own - but I'm anxious to see where the story is going from here.

Writer Geoff Johns has set up an amazing framework for an intergalactic battle, and it's (hopefully) going to be a wild ride.

Artist Philip Tan turns is some strong work, here, although a few pages are difficult to sort out - for example, I'm not really sure what's happening in the first attack by the Orange Lanterns.

This comic continues to hold its spot near the top of DC's line, and now that the pieces are all in place, the fun can begin.

Grade: B

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz #5

I've raved about this series several times already, and with good reason.

It's a delightful adaptation of the original book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and one you should be reading.

But instead of listening to me rave yet again, let's turn to a completely different (yet related) work based on "Oz" - the Broadway musical Wicked.

I bring it up because I'm convinced that I may be the only person who didn't much care for it.

The show tells the story of the movie The Wizard of Oz from the perspective of "The Wicked Witch of the West," who gets a name in this show - Elphaba. Because of her distinctive green skin, when she goes to school she's an outcast, though she eventually finds a friend in the ditzy Glinda (the Good), but she also finds a cause - and makes enemies.

The story cleverly weaves around the original film and offers some interesting new angles on the famous story.

It's easy to see why the show is so popular. The performers are amazingly talented, and the songs are terrific. The set is a star all by itself, and features the most impressive stage and lighting effects I've ever seen - the show is worth seeing just for the staging.

In fact, the only problem with the show (and here I steel myself for the storm of outrage)... is the fact that I didn't like the story very much. L. Frank Baum wrote a dozen Oz books in addition to the original "Wizard," and the story of Wicked breaks away from those stories in several places. Of course, that's because it's actually based on the film, not the Oz books.

But the other problem is that, in order to make Elphaba a heroic figure, all the other characters must become less likable - so the Wizard, for example, instead of being a lovable humbug, is a bit more malevolent.

Still, I can understand why Wicked is so popular - it's an amazing theatre experience, and even with the plot points I struggled with, it's still a terrific show.

I guess for me it just comes down to this - the bad guys in a story are as much fun (if not more) than the good guys - and there's no better villain than Margaret Hamilton in the original Wizard of Oz. ("I'll get you, my pretty - and your little dog, too!")

I guess I liked Elphaba better when she was truly Wicked.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Superman: World of New Krypton #2 (of 15)

You have to give DC credit for taking risks.

They've pulled Superman out of his regular titles (Superman and Action Comics) and isolated him in this maxi-series.

Here's the story: the bottle city of Kandor has been returned to normal size, and a new planet has been created by the Kryptonians and placed in orbit on the far side of the Sun from Earth. Superman has decided to take up residence on New Krypton, presumably in an effort to maintain peace between the two planets.

It's an interesting premise, but does it make for a great comic book? So far, the answer is: no.

Superman is learning about this new world, where everyone is placed into a specific class: military, science, art, labor - you get the idea. Superman is made an officer in the military (although his lack of military experience would throw that into question) and given command of a unit.

So he spends his time bucking the system, arguing with his commanding officer, General Zod, and chafing at the class system. Since he's divorced from his usual supporting cast and his own Clark Kent identity, and since he's just another citizen in Kandor (where everyone has super-powers), it's difficult to connect with the character.

Part of the problem is the art by Pete Woods. It's often difficult to tell which character is Superman, since everyone (in the military) wears the same gray uniform. But in his defense, the cityscapes and the costume designs are excellent.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment is with the citizens of Kandor. I always liked the idea of Kryptonians as an advanced race. You would expect a futuristic city to have solved problems like class warfare. But virtually everyone Superman has met is childish, racist and thuggish.

I guess you really can't go home anymore.

Grade: B-

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Batman: Battle for the Cowl #2 (of 3)

I suppose this series should get some credit - the artwork by Tony Daniel is quite good - dark and menacing, sometimes moody and sometimes action packed.

But Batman: Battle for the Cowl is also downright depressing and surprisingly violent.

It continues the chronicle of what happens after Batman "dies."

Nightwing (Dick Grayson) gathers all the extended members of the Batman Family, and they work together to fight the incredible crime wave that seems to have engulfed every square inch of Gotham City.

There's lots of blame for the crime wave to go around, and lots of heroes and non-heroes who try to take Batman's place - all except Nightwing, who has the strongest claim to the Batman legacy.

Along the way there are lots of gruesome acts (including a police officer apparently having his face cut off), a shocking finale and lots of explosions and bloodletting along the way.

I admit to being old-fashioned, but this kind of over-the-top violence just seems excessive for a Batman comic (even though the real Batman isn't in it). The story seems to be swiped from a Punisher comic.

It's not bad, it's just a bit... much.

Grade: B

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Today at the Ol' Comics Shop...

...your pal Chuck picked up:

- Batman: Battle for the Cowl #2
- Who will be the new Batman? ('Cause the old Batman is dead, dead dead! Dead, I tells ya!)

- Booster Gold #19 - More time-traveling fun!

- Green Lantern #39 - Introducing the Orange Lanterns!

- The Spirit #27 - Love those Bolland covers!

- Superman: World of New Krypton #2 - Superman has a brand new bag.

- Trinity #45 - This one is heating up.

- The Warlord #1 - Good to see Travis Morgan back with Mike Grell writing.

- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz #5 (of 8) - This has been a real treat!

And that's it!

The Classics - What If #9

It's interesting to note that the Agents of Atlas first appeared in Marvel's home for "Imaginary Stories" - the comic called What If? - in a story that has (more or less) been accepted as taking place in Marvel's reality.

Confusing, isn't it? Here's how it works. DC famously told made-up stories in its Imaginary Tales, which mostly appeared in Superman's comics, with subjects such as: Superman's death, Superman gets married, Superman's identity is exposed, Superman splits into two beings, solves the world's problems, gets married and lives happily ever after. Stuff like that.

Wanting to tell those kinds of stories, but trying to differentiate itself from pure fantasy, Marvel created the What If comic, with stories narrated by the Watcher about events as they transpired in alternate realities - so they really happened, just not in "our" Marvel Universe.

In this issue, cover dated June 1978, we have the modern-day Avengers watching events from 20 years in the past and wondering, "What If the Avengers had fought evil during the 1950s?"

Written by Don Glut, it tells the story of the first gathering of the team known today as the Agents of Atlas: Jimmy Woo, Marvel Boy, Venus, Gorilla Man, The Human Robot and 3-D Man (who's not in the modern group), with guest appearances by Namora (who is in the group now), Jann of the Jungle and President Dwight Eisenhower!

As with their modern counterparts, the team must face the Yellow Claw and his team of villains - but first the team has to be assembled, and the appropriate origins provided (as they were known in 1978).

This is a fun comic, with solid art by the always-professional Alan Kupperburg, who does his best to channel Bill Everett (with the help of inker Bill Black).

And I really love that Jack Kirby / Joe Sinnott cover. It's a shame the What If? concept played itself out, though surely it could be resurrected in an occasional special - or is that what House of M was all about?

Grade: B+

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Invincible Iron Man #12

This just keeps getting better and better.

I'm not a huge fan of the whole Dark Reign thing, probably because I don't like the idea of the bad guys winning, but at least in this issue of The Invincible Iron Man we see a hero fighting back against the plans of Norman Osborn.

For those who came in late, Tony Stark has been declared a fugitive, so everyone's looking for him - both good guys and the bad guys who work for (or with) Osborn.

That leaves Tony on the run, moving from one hidden lair to another, and generally having to fight every step of the way.

This issue features a great matchup, as Iron Man fights Namor the Sub-Mariner. Over the decades these two have had some entertaining knock-down drag-out fights, and this one joins the ranks.

They match up well - raw physical power versus mechanical ingenuity - and they're both on the pompous side, so it's fun to see their egos collide.

While all that's going on, we also see Pepper Potts learning to use Tony's gift - a new suit of "Iron Maiden" armor.

The art is fantastic, and Salvador Larroca seems to get better with each issue. The same is true for writer Matt Fraction, who hasn't hit a sour note yet.

If only the rest of the Dark Reign books would follow suit!

Grade: A-

Monday, April 6, 2009

Agents of Atlas #3

Do you get the feeling that not everyone working in comics today understands the purpose of the cover?

Not to belabor the obvious, but working by Chuck's rules, the cover should serve as a tease for the story inside, should feature striking art (or at least a strong layout or a dynamic image) and it should not give away any surprises or plot twists. Too many covers these days are just generic posters featuring the leading character(s).

The latest issue of Agents of Atlas fails that list on several levels. It depicts a scene that doesn't happen in this issue (although it might appear in the next issue), the artwork is murky and it's hard to make out what's going on, and it gives away the surprise guest star who shows up at the end.

On the plus side, it does follow the Julius Schwartz rule for comic book covers: it features a gorilla. Also, the story inside is quite good.

The ongoing series starring the most unusual team in the Marvel Universe actually has two different stories running through it. One focuses on the team solving a mystery in the 1950s involving ghost pilots, and the other has the team dealing with Norman Osborn in the present.

The story by Jeff Parker is building nicely, and the art in each era is quite good.

I get the feeling that the story is in danger of painting itself into a corner - but creating that scenario is probably the goal of the creative team. I'm looking forward to seeing where the story goes from here.

Grade: B+

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Justice Society of America #25

If you need proof that Mary Marvel has gone bad, just check out this excellent cover by Alex Ross - her knickers are showing!

The Marvel Family (and here we're talking about the original Fawcett heroes, of course) have really been through the mill in recent years. Billy Batson stopped being Captain Marvel, and instead took the wizard Shazam's place - and then he had all his powers stolen. Mary Marvel became evil, lost her powers, got them back when she joined Black Adam's family, and is evil again (although for some reason her costume inside the comic is completely different from the one she's wearing on the cover). Freddie Freeman is no longer Captain Marvel, Jr. - now he's known as Captain Marvel.

So it's all very confusing. I had high hopes for this story in Justice Society of America, because it's written by Geoff Johns and Jerry Ordway (who also supplies the art). Both are good writers and are adept at untangling gnarly stories like this.

But if you expect a pat ending that returns everything to the status quo, you might be surprised at what happens here. There are lots of twists and turns, and some new story elements are set up which will hopefully play out in the near future.

I love Ordway's art, and it's a cool burst of nostalgia to have him drawing the adventures of the JSA.

We can only hope that the Marvel Family will continue to move forward, and ultimately take their place among comic book royalty. The foundation is in place - but where do they go from here?

Hopefully we'll get an answer in the near future.

Grade: B+

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Secret Warriors #3

I understand the importance of clever cover design, but I have no idea why they decided to take that excellent art by Jim Cheung and Justin Ponson and squeeze it up into the upper half of the cover space, turning the rest over to the logo and lots of white space. Ah well.

On the inside pages, this story continues to build slowly, as Nick Fury's super-powered team finds itself squaring off against a very powerful enemy.

Hydra has always been an "easy" enemy, providing an army of bad guys for the good guys to mow down. But this series is changing all that - instead, we're learning that the true Hydra is much more powerful and capable than anyone realized - and in fact, that organization may be the power behind the curtain, controlling several organizations, both evil (A.I.M., Them, Hydra) and not so evil (S.H.I.E.L.D.).

New leaders have stepped up to take the controls of this "new" Hydra, and they're a deadly bunch, as the Secret Warriors discover - the hard way - in this issue.

Also, as the cover teases, we finally start to find out what's been going on with some of Fury's former allies, especially the Countessa Allegra de Fontaine (but you can call her Val). It's a fun bit of spy-talk, and it's nice to get a few answers.

The issue also has its patented surprising final page, and this one brought a definite smile to my face - it'll do the same to any long-time fan.

So far, this series continues to impress. Writers Brian Bendis and Jonathan Hickman are building the story carefully and with great skill, and I'm really enjoying Stefano Caselli's art - the intensity is a perfect match for the script.

There are some minor problems - I'd like to learn more about the individual Secret Warriors, who are still largely unknown - but there's time for that in the issues ahead.

So far, quite good.

Grade: A-

Friday, April 3, 2009

Captain America Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1

I joked yesterday about Marvel's math problem - this issue seems to commemorate Captain America's 70th Anniversary, but Cap first appeared in 1941, so the math doesn't quite work.

Despite the title, what we really have here is a special issue that's part of the celebration of Marvel's 70th birthday. Of course, the company was originally called Timely Comics... but I digress.

Since Steve Rogers isn't hanging around the regular Cap title, it's nice to see him put in an appearance in this story that flashes back to the beginning of his origin.

In it we meet the skinny, pre-Super Soldier Serum Steve Rogers, and learn about what it is that makes Steve a hero. (Or should I say what "made" him a hero? He is dead, right?) (Wink, wink)

It's a clever little story by the always excellent James Robinson, with outstanding art by Marcos Martin. The pencils are a little light on the backgrounds, but the character work is very nice, and Martin's style really conveys the "feel" of the 1940s.

The issue also includes a back-up story reprinted from the seventh issue of Cap's original comic, written and drawn by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, who created everyone' favorite star-spangled hero.

All in all, a nice package and well worth checking out.

Oh, and Happy Birthday, Marvel! You don't look a day over 47!

Grade: B+

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Flash: Rebirth #1

Well, it only took DC Comics 24 years to get around to bringing back one of my favorite heroes - Barry (The Flash) Allen!

Well, to be fair it only took 23 years, since he first reappeared in last year's Final Crisis - but it's still great to see him back again.

I suppose every generation has their own Flash. For those who started reading in the Golden Age (the '40s and '50s), it's Jay Garrick. For those who started reading in the late '80s and after, it's Wally West. For me (and those in the '60s and '70s), it's Barry Allen.

It was the early appearances of The Flash, with art by the amazing Carmine Infantino, that helped hook me on comic books in the first place.

I was stunned back in 1985 when Barry was "killed" as part of the Crisis on Infinite Earths, though I had faith that they'd eventually bring him back - though I never thought it would take this long.

And he's back in style, with two of DC's top talents at the wheel - Geoff Johns is writing the story, and Ethan Van Sciver is supplying some amazingly detailed and energetic artwork - he really seems to be channeling George Perez here.

This first issue has a lot of ground to cover. It sets up a deadly new menace (though we don't learn much about him/her/it here), reintroduces the family and friends of Barry's, and sets in motion a high-speed mystery.

The story is a bit darker than I might have expected, but it's very good, and leaves you anxious to see the next chapter.

All this adds up to one thing: lots and lots of happy Flash-fans!

Welcome back, Barry!

Grade: A

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

It's Comic Book Day All Over the World

Here's what your pal Chuck picked up today:

- Agents of Atlas #3 - Some interesting time hopping going on here. It's just like Lost! (Not really.)

- Avengers / Invaders #9 (of 12) - Just like driving past a car wreck. Why can't I look away?

- New Avengers: The Reunion #2 (of 4) - The first issue was OK.

- Black Panther #3 - This has been good - but boy, is it moving slowly.

- Captain America Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1 - Didn't Cap first appear in 1941? Does Marvel find math difficult?

- Fantastic Four: Dark Reign #2 (of 5) - This shows promise.

- FarScape #4 (of 4) - Not bad at all.

- Flash: Rebirth #1 - Well, here's a story I only had to wait 20 freakin' years for! Barry Allen is back!

- The Invincible Iron Man #12 - Iron Man vs. Namor - old school!

- Justice Society of America #25 - The wrap-up to the Shazam story - and a new status quo!

- Secret Warriors #3 - This just keeps getting better.

- Amazing Spider-Man #590 - What happens in this comic is pretty silly considering what happened in New Avengers last week.

- Trinity #44 - Eight to go!

And that's it!

The Classics - Strange Tales #123

In the world of comics today, it's not unusual for comic books characters from different companies to meet.

But in the early days of the Silver Age, a crossover into a character's comic book was a rare event, even within the same comics company (not counting books designed to be crossovers, like Justice League of America, World's Finest or the Avengers).

But it was a tool Marvel used to great effect. Sometimes the "crossover" would last all of a panel or two, like the time Thor flew past Spider-Man and kept right on going. It wasn't unusual for heroes to call each other on the phone to ask for advice.

This issue of Strange Tales (cover date August 1964) is one I fondly remember for the double-crossover it includes. The comic's pages were split evenly between the Human Torch's solo adventures and the mystic adventures of the (relatively new) hero Dr. Strange.

The comic features a great Kirby cover, although Kirby's art never looks right on Ditko's characters for some reason - he always seemed to struggle with Dr. Strange and even moreso with Spider-Man. But he co-created four of the six characters on the cover, so we can easily forgive him (and yes, I'm kidding - Kirby was ever the master).

The first story features the first appearance of The Beetle, and features as a guest star The Thing (who would soon become a regular co-star on the comic).

The art is by Carl Burgos, who created the original Human Torch in the Golden Age, and demonstrated that he'd lost none of his skill. It's an entertaining, fast-paced adventure that veers over onto the silly side occasionally, but it's so much fun you can't help but enjoy it.

But as much as I enjoyed the lead-in story, it's the backup feature that really made the comic. Dr. Strange was the most unusual hero Marvel had on its roster in the '60s, as much for Steve Ditko's amazing art as for his fantastic adventures written by Stan Lee.

Here he is fooled by Loki, the Norse God of Mischief, into stealing Thor's hammer - which quickly escalates into an all-out battle between a mortal and a god. It's a battle that pushes Strange right to the brink of defeat, and it's only his quick wits and his courage that allows him to survive.

This was the issue that made me a Dr. Strange fan (and Lee and Ditko fan) for life - he was a "normal" person who used his special education (magic, natch), to fight the forces of evil, succeeding thanks to his determination and intelligence. The stories bristled with imagination and amazing adventures!

I've been reading his adventures faithfully every since. Well, when they appear.

Grade: A-