Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Avengers / Invaders #12 (of 12)

Usually, when you reach the end of a maxi-series like this, it's exciting to see how it all works out.

But not this time. We, the reader, have known for months how it was all going to wrap up, since everyone's favorite miracle machine, the Cosmic Cube, is involved.

Which is not to say that they didn't manage a surprise or two in there (and corrected a long-standing mistake by bringing back a character killed off poorly decades ago).

But those surprises weren't enough to make up for the incredible mediocrity of this series, which could have been told in four issues, but instead was dragged out to an even dozen.

And this is a series I looked forward to when it was first announced. Combining the modern Avengers with the World War II super-team, the Invaders, was a terrific idea - but one executed badly.

The series features some great covers by the excellent Alex Ross, and the interior art by Steve Sadowski and Jack Herbert has some good moments, but it can't make up for a story that's just loaded with sour notes, poor characterization and obvious plot turns.

The series succeeded in getting me to buy a copy of every issue, but that's just because I wanted to see if the story would ever turn things around and bring back the heroes I enjoyed reading so many years ago.

As it turns out, it didn't. Shows what I know!

Grade: C-

Monday, June 29, 2009

Secret Warriors #5

For those who haven't been following along, the first four issues of Secret Warriors have mostly involved setting up the situation and putting the pieces in place.

The situation is: Hydra is much more powerful than anyone ever suspected.

The pieces are: Nick Fury, his team of super-powered Secret Warriors, some former members of SHIELD, and a few members of the World War II-era Howling Commandos. Oh, and don't forget Hydra and HAMMER.

(And has Marvel ever explained how Dum-Dum Dugan and the other Howlers have not aged? They explained that Fury was treated with an experimental Immortality serum, but for some reason they didn't bother explaining how the rest of the team has stayed so young and vital when they should be in their 80s or 90s. A sentence would clear this up, guys.)

At any rate, with this issue, the set-up is over, and the action kicks into full gear.

To which I can only say, "Thank You!"

Lots of fun, and lots of promise for future issues. I like!

Grade: A-

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dark Avengers #6

This is a comic that leaves me wondering, what the heck is going on?

The cover to Dark Avengers depicts a scene that doesn't happen in the comic - but presumably it happens in the next issue.

That's incredibly sloppy and hardly fair to the readers.

Instead, we have a Sentry-centric issue which begs the question, why does Norman Osborn need the rest of the team?

As always, great artwork, but terribly thin on the story side.

Grade: C+

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Justice League of America #34

This is (presumably) the final issue in writer Dwayne McDuffie's run on the Justice League of America, and he manages the Herculean effort of wrapping up several storylines in one issue.

The JLA must face off against Starbreaker, one of their most powerful foes, save the life of the mysterious Dharma, and explain the mystery behind the Milestone heroes being part of the DC Universe.

The whole thing seems a bit rushed, but at least we get a wrap-up to the story that's been meandering through the title for months now.

It's sad that only with the last couple of issues have we seen McDuffie spinning the kind of quality stories we've been expecting all along - though it's better late than ever.

The art also seems a bit jumbled, which is to be expected, since no less than two pencilers and five inkers created it. It's not bad at all, it's just not outstanding.

Here's hoping the editors can get a grip on this title and get it back to being what it has traditionally been - DC's best title.

Grade: B-

Friday, June 26, 2009

Thor #602

Thor has always been a character who walks between the worlds of immortals and men.

It's a difficult balancing act, and not every creative team has managed to make it work.

So far, writer J. Michael Straczynski has done an excellent job focusing on both Dr. Don Blake and the struggle by the Asgardians to adapt to their new lives on Earth.

This issue is more Thor-centric, as he struggles to find a way to repair his hammer Mjolnir, which was badly damaged two issues back. He also finds himself in a race to save a life and bring back a long-missing character.

On the mortal side, we have the Asgardians settling into their new home in Latveria - but how long can they be neighborly with Dr. Doom? However, we do get some tantalizing hints about why they would want to be neighbors with the world's greatest villain.

The art by Marko Djurdjevic has a few bouts of sketchiness, but overcomes that with some powerful splash pages.

The only question is one of continuity. Where does this issue fall in relation to the latest New Avengers (which changes the status quo for one of this issue's guest stars)? Or the latest issue of the Fantastic Four, wherein Latveria gets blasted by Doom's old teacher?

Maybe they'll clear it up for us one of these days.

Grade: B+

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The New Avengers #54

Here we reach the end of the story focusing on Dr. Strange's search for the next Sorcerer Supreme, with the New Avengers along for the ride.

It all ends up in a battle with the Hood, who's been possessed by Strange's most powerful foe, Dormammu.

Luckily, the good guys have several magic-based heroes there to help, including Daimon Hellstrom (the Son of Satan) and Jericho Drumm (Brother Voodoo).

What follows is a knock-down, drag-out fight in the streets of New Orleans - basically a fun action romp, with more than a few surprises.

It's the usual strong script from writer Brian Bendis, and strong art by Billy Tan (with a few panels being a bit difficult to decipher).

It's a good wrap-up and a bit of a reset for the mystical side of the Marvel universe, and it'll be interesting to see where it goes from here.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Classics - The Mighty Thor #337

With any long-running series, it's good to shake things up (well, sometimes).

That's exactly what Marvel did with this issue of The Mighty Thor (cover dated November 1983).

After years of stories that were pretty much the same old thing (in other words, mostly recycling classic Lee/Kirby stories and characters), the editors took a bold step and turned the series over to writer/artist Walt Simonson.

It was an instant sensation, and fans scrambled to catch up as this issue became an immediate collector's item.

Simonson brought a fresh storyline that placed the Thunder God in a clever science fiction setting, fighting an opponent who could go toe-to-toe with him. And what a terrific character he created in Beta Ray Bill, a horse-faced alien who manages to steal... but that would be telling (although I suppose the cover gives that bit away).

Simonson not only crafted a compelling story, he also provided the incredible art. His style has a lot in common with Kirby - it's powerful, charged with energy and amazing creativity, and tells the story in a clear, forceful manner - but he does all that without actually copying the Kirby style. His style is unique, fun and compelling.

Best of all, he carried Thor back to the top of the sales charts, and this was just the first of years worth of stories that pushed this title back into the lead.

And since Thor has always been one of my favorite characters, I was thrilled to see him getting the kind of creative treatment he deserved!

All they had to do was shake and add talent.

Grade: A

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Incognito #4

This is a comic that stands alone in its dark, murderous, crime-and-pulp based corner, and I (for one) wouldn't have it any other way.

Incognito tells the story of former super-villain Zack Overkill, who is in a sick version of a witness protection program, where he holds down a boring office job and has his powers nullified.

But he finds a way to restore his powers and becomes a vigilante, until both the "good guys" (who aren't all that good) and the "bad guys" (who are very bad indeed) catch on to his game.

This issue finds him back under the microscope as the good guys decide they've come up with an even better use for him. Of course, no matter which side wins, Zack loses.

It sounds dark and depressing - and it is - but it's also a tense, edge-of-your-seat ride.

The art by Sean Phillips continues to be fantastic and perfectly matched to the story.

I also really enjoy the back-up text pages. Each issue focuses on a different pulp character, and offers a history and background information.

All in all, an excellent book and well worth checking out. But definitely not for kids.

Grade: A-

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Mighty Avengers #26

Well, this comic held a lot of promise.

Last issue, we learned that Hank Pym, the leader of the Mighty Avengers (sorry, I refuse to call him The Wasp - it's just stupid), needed a dimensional device to save the team's headquarters from - I dunno, something bad happening to it.

The device is in the hands of Reed Richards, who refuses to give it to Hank (apparently Reed has momentarily lapsed back into being the jerk he was during Marvel's Civil War).

The only solution, of course, is for the Mighty Avengers to battle the Fantastic Four. Which could have been a lot of fun, but sadly isn't.

The issue's biggest problem is the artwork. No less than four artists (and two colorists) are listed in the credits, so one assumes this one had to be assembled quickly. It certainly looks it - the layouts are confusing and the artwork sketchy and dark.

The book still offers flashes of cleverness, and I still have hopes that it'll come together. The teaser at the end of the issue is promising, but if this team doesn't come together soon, I wouldn't expect this comic to hang around much longer.

Grade: C

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Invincible Iron Man #14

The Fugitive was, of course, a popular TV show and a darn good movie.

These days, Tony Stark is playing that part - the guy on the run from the law. This has led him across the world, running from one secret hideout to another (and how nice to be ultra-wealthy and able to have these hiding places all over the globe).

This series has been very good so far, although after seven chapters it's starting to lose some of its steam.

This story finds Iron Man hiding out in Russia, where he seeks the help of an old friend-slash-enemy, the Crimson Dynamo. The story by Matt Fraction has a lot of fun with the Russia setting - and isn't it ironic that Iron Man, a super-hero who started life fighting the "red menace," is now taking refuge in Russia.

As always the art by Salvador Larrocca is outstanding, and colorist Frank D'Armata manages to give it a painted look - very impressive. My only gripe is that Tony still doesn't look like himself - and yes, I know he's supposed to be somewhat disguised because he shaved his hair and mustache.

This has been a strong series so far, but I hope the Dark Reign thing is wrapping up soon. Even the Fugitive was allowed to stop running eventually.

Grade: B+

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Power Girl #2

A friend of mine (hi, Jeff!) once commented that the movie The Empire Strikes Back should have been called "The Empire Wins," since the bad guys spend most of the movie beating the bejeezus out of the good guys.

In similar fashion, this issue of Power Girl could be titled "The Ultra-Humanite Wins."

That's because the two duke it out in this issue, and our heroine has a tough time of it.

It's interesting to see a super-heroine in the middle of a knock-down, drag-out fight. It happens occasionally, of course, but the really brutal fights in comics are usually just for the guys.

The story by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti doesn't advance things as far as I'd like, but that's mostly to provide time for the Ultra-Humanite's backstory (and by the way, a story should really refer to the villain by name at least once - not all readers have been around for decades like yours truly).

The art, as always, is terrific. It's almost tiresome, going off on these "I love Amanda Conner's art so much" tangents - but she just has the most entertaining, appealing style, and manages both action, expression and body language with amazing skill.

This issue leaves us anxiously awaiting the next chapter. Would it be wrong to suggest the title "Return of the Power Girl?"

Grade: B+

Friday, June 19, 2009

Ultimatum: Spider-Man: Requiem #1 (of 2)

An interesting treat, this. Sort of a "missing issue" of Ultimate Spider-Man, with a new framing sequence.

I don't know the story behind the creation of this comic, but it looks like an unused issue of Ultimate Marvel Team-Up drawn by Mark Bagley, with outgoing artist Stuart Immonen providing the cover and the framing sequence.

Whatever its origin, the comic is a lot of fun, as (in a flashback sequence) the hordes of Hydra attack Tony Stark, and Spider-Man finds himself in the middle of things.

And let me say this about Brian Bendis - he writes the funniest Spider-Man dialogue since Stan Lee provided the script. Several lines here had me laughing out loud.

Of course, the question remains: is Ultimate Spidey really as dead as everyone seems to think he is? Is he hoisting a brew in comics Valhalla with Batman, the Wasp and half the Ultimate universe?

Somehow, I doubt it - but we'll have to wait for the next issue to find out.

Grade: A-

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Captain America #600

The first issue of The Avengers I read was issue #3 - an awesome comic that featured Thor, Iron Man, Giant-Man and the Wasp fighting the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner. It was Lee and Kirby at their best.

But the "next issue" blurb mystified me. It promoted the "return" of Captain America. To which I could only respond, "Who the heck is Captain America?"

And then I missed Avengers #4, and didn't get to read it until it was reprinted years later. But I did get the fifth issue, and almost instantly became a Cap fan.

Like Batman, here was a guy who had no special powers, but was the world's greatest fighting machine. He carried one of the coolest weapons in comics - his shield - and no matter the odds against him, he always found a way to win.

I've followed his adventures ever since, through his best adventures (Lee & Kirby, Steranko, Englehart & Buscema, Stern & Byrne, Waid & Garney) and his worst (Liefeld).

The most recent years under writer Ed Brubaker and his art teams should be lumped in there with the best, as we've seen Cap restore his long-lost partner Bucky to "life," and then lose his own life in the aftermath of Marvel's abhorrent Civil War.

With Marvel returning this comic to its original numbering, Cap hits issue #600 in style. The issue was actually released on Monday this week as a promotion for the upcoming series Reborn, which will, of course, have a significant impact on Cap's story.

This issue is an interesting mix of artists and stories, as the creative teams give us a look at all the important members of Cap's cast, both friend and foe, and where they are a year after Cap's death.

And for the first time since that event, we get a hint that we may not know the whole story about that fateful day.

I should mention that this comic also features a reprint of a classic Golden Age Cap story, and a short essay by Cap's co-creator, Joe Simon (Jack Kirby being the other co-creator, of course).

All in all, it's a terrific package, and well worth the extra coin, even if we have to wait for the Reborn mini-series to see what happens next.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Today's Comics Haul

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

- Mighty Avengers #26 - Mostly because it features the Fantastic Four.

- Brave and Bold #24 - Mostly because it features Static.

- Captain America #600 - I hear there's something special about this issue.

- Dark Reign: Fantastic Four #4 (of 5) - Because it features the FF (they're everywhere).

- Incognito #4 - Just because.

- The Invincible Iron Man #14 - Gotta like the Crimson Dynamo.

- Power Girl #2 - I'd buy this one just for Amanda Conners' art.

- Ultimate Spider-Man: Requiem #1 (of 2) - What the--? Mark Bagley provides some of the art?

- Wonderful Wizard of Oz #7 (of 8) - I hate to see this series end. But the last page made me happy indeed - the same creative team is doing the next book in the Oz series!

The Classics - Marvels

Here I cheat and review not the original Marvels prestige series, but the collection I bought a few years later (having foolishly passed on the original issues in 1994).

Well, as I always say, you can't buy everything. And if you could, it would be tough to find the time to read it all.

Back to the point. Marvels was a watershed moment in comics for several reasons. For one, it was very good, with an excellent story and incredible art.

Second, it introduced the painted artwork of Alex Ross to the world of comics, and what a tremendous body of work he's produced in the years since (not to mention the impressive effort in painting a mini-series like this). His work features a unique, realistic style that really stands out from the crowd.

It also incorporated the kind of "street level" viewpoint into the story, something that was pretty rare at the time, especially in super-hero comics. It's a technique writer Kurt Busiek has used to good effect in his Astro City series.

The story follows the life of Phil Sheldon, a news photographer who lives in New York and manages to be on the job when some of Marvel's most historic super-events take place. He's there when Professor Horton unveils the original Human Torch, and he sees New York almost destroyed by the Sub-Mariner.

We follow his life into the Silver Age, as Marvel's heroes first make headlines, and on into the darkest days ahead. It's a moving, powerful story, and Busiek and Ross manage to tie together storylines from Marvel's early days in surprising and effective ways.

It's an outstanding work, and it's just as strong today as it was when it was issued. Highly recommended!

Grade: A+

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sherlock Holmes #2

It's a real delight to read a comic that adjusts its style to stay true to its parent material.

When you're dealing with an iconic character like Sherlock Holmes, too many creators would be inclined to put their own stamp or style on the story, to the detriment of the character.

But there's no effort here to speed up the pace, throw in outlandish page layouts or otherwise muck around with Holmes and his supporting cast.

Instead we get an intelligent, methodical and interesting mystery spooling out before our eyes. The art by Aaron Campbell captures the era well in the appearance of the characters, their costumes and the setting. Solid work here.

And writer Leah Moore and John Reppion do a fine job of taking us to Holmes' era. My only complaint about this issue is that we see all too little of Holmes, since he's inconveniently locked in prison after apparently committing murder.

If you're looking for fast-paced action, then you're definitely looking at the wrong book. But if you're looking for an intelligent story told well, you could do a lot worse.

Grade: B+

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fantastic Four #567

I really had high hopes for the Mark Millar / Bryan Hitch run on Fantastic Four.

The problem hasn't been on Hitch's part - the art on this series has been amazing, and few artists do a better job depicting big events and cosmic settings. This issue is no different, and there are several stunning splash pages on display here. The book is worth picking up for the art alone.

I really think the only stumbling block has been the covers. Instead of depicting a single iconic scene or an eye-catching layout, Hitch has been creating muddy, jumbled layouts that just don't jump out at you when you look over the week's comics. They're great art, but not effective covers.

This issue's cover is a good example, with the four faces of our heroes arrayed around the mask of Doom. The almost-invisible masthead at the bottom of the page doesn't help much either, although it does almost completely obscure Sue Storm's face at the bottom right.

The story really falls short here, as Doom faces his former instructor. The plot spins and twists but never really offers anything new and different, although it tries to set up Doom's Master and his mysterious apprentice (associate?) as unstoppable forces of destruction.

Here's hoping the story can still turn things around - but hope is fading fast.

Grade: B

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Buck Rogers #1

As someone who grew up watching the old serials re-run on local children's TV shows, I have to say it's nice to see Buck Rogers being given a new look and a new turn in the public eye.

I had never seen the comic strip (although I had certainly heard of it), but I have fond memories of those black-and-white serials, terrible special effects and all. Each episode ended with the heroes facing certain death in a cliffhanger - great fun!

Of course, modern readers most likely remember the character from the 1979 TV show starring Gil Gerard as Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. I also remember it fondly for Erin Gray as the beautiful Wilma Deering.

Now Buck is back, and here the story starts at the beginning as he pilots an experimental spaceship and finds himself crash landing on Earth some 400 years in the future - and things have changed quite a bit.

It's still a bit early to tell if the update will take, but this issue moves along briskly and sets up future stories. Good work all around by the creative team, including writer Scott Beatty, artist Carlos Rafael and colorist Carlos Lopez.

I like the new design of the uniforms, although the (mostly) solid black seems like cheating somehow - but it is sleek looking, especially with the flying belt activated.

By the way, since Dynamite Entertainment loves alternate covers, I hope they'll talk Murphy Anderson into doing one. He drew the comic strip for a while and has said before that it was his all-time favorite project. It would be nice to see his take on the modern version.

This first issue is a decent effort, and I'll be back for a few more issues at least to see how the story develops.

But please, no Twiki.

Grade: B+

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #511

First of all, wow, is that a great cover. Just stunning artwork and a beautiful image.

But this issue of Uncanny X-Men is very difficult to review. It wraps up the story of the Sisterhood of Evil, as the ghostly Madelyne Pryor finally reveals her goal - she's trying to return to the world of the living.

Opposing her are the X-Men, of course, and the battle between the two forces spills across the country and onto X-homes both new and ancestral.

Along the way there are lots of attractive women posing provocatively, lots of dramatic scenes and very little in the way of satisfying story. I wish I could tell you what happens at the end of this book - but that would violate our "No Spoilers" rule.

Let's just say the story will please some and infuriate others.

The art is the usual mix of beautiful people drawn well, not much in the way of actual on-camera fights or storytelling, and some panels that defy description. For example, what is Emma Frost doing to the blonde gal on page 23 (other than beating her brutally)? And what happens between that panel and the next page?

This issue is basically a tease. It promises surprises and change, but the ones included aren't exactly what you might expect.

Sometimes, that would be a good thing. Here, not so much.

Grade: B+

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Unwritten #2

The second issue of The Unwritten takes us further into the world of the real-life Tom Taylor, who was the basis for a Harry Potter-like character created by his father.

Now his life is in turmoil as rumors begin to circulate. Some say he is actually the storybook character who has magically been brought into the real world; and others say he was not his father's son, but instead a child his father kidnapped.

This comic is all about Tom's efforts to uncover the truth about his past. Along the way he gets hints and a few more mysteries, all while mysterious forces are gathering around him.

The comic is quite good in its execution - the writing by Mike Carey is crisp, pulls you in and leaves you eager for the next chapter. The art by Peter Gross is also quite good, whether depicting quiet discussions, realistic scenes of violence or elements of the fantastic.

It's clever, there are some fun literary references, and I would be a big fan - except that I still can't overlook the painfully obvious Harry Potter swipes.

If it was based on a more original concept, I'd rave about this book. As is, I recommend it - but with reservations.

Grade: B+

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Flash: Rebirth #3 (of 6)

The reviews I've read of this series have been a mixed lot. Some don't like it. Some love it. Some really hate it.

I've been in the "liking it" category so far, but there's been something a little "off" about The Flash: Rebirth, and I think I've figured out what it is.

Most of us reading it have been expecting a fun, uplifting story about the return of a real "good guy" hero. Barry Allen was always a nice, clean-cut guy, very much along the lines of Superman (and they share a nice scene in this issue). He had the girl, the brains, an awesome power, and he was a winner.

But this series has taken a completely different angle - instead of a triumph, it casts Barry Allen in a tragedy.

Since the first issue, there's been a cloud hanging over Barry. Two police scientists are killed in the first scene in the series. Barry is melancholy about his return to a different world, and struggles to fit in. Speedsters keep getting killed by mysterious surges in the Speed Force, and it threatens the lives of his loved ones.

Not exactly cheerful Silver Age-type stories. And this issue takes us further down into the darkness.

Barry finds he's becoming the Black Flash, an embodiment of death for speedsters. His friends gather to save him, but Barry soon realizes the only solution - and it's a grim one.

Despite the dark nature of the series, I think writer Geoff Johns knows exactly what he's doing - he's breaking Barry's story down to the basics, so his eventual triumph over the forces arrayed against him will be that much more satisfying.

At least I hope that's the idea.

Where previous issues have dragged, this one moves at top speed, and offers lots of insights into Barry's life.

The art by Ethan Van Sciver continues to be outstanding - charged with energy and emotion.

What this series really requires of the reader is patience and trust that the creative team knows what it's doing. I wouldn't go along with that idea for most comic books, but with this issue, I'm on board.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Our Comic Book Lineup for the Day

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

- Buck Rogers #1 - Mostly out of nostalgia. Not sure I'll stick with it.

- Fantastic Four #567 - Great art, but the story is terribly predictable.

- The Flash: Rebirth #3 - Again, great art, but the mystery is unfolding slowly here.

- Green Lantern Corps #37 - Looks like the Darkest Night is almost here.

- Sherlock Holmes #2 - The first one was good enough to merit trying the sophomore edition.

- Amazing Spider-Man 597 - Just how dumb is our hero? Really, really dumb, apparently.

- The Unwritten #2 - An interesting concept, but I'm not as crazy about it as the people they keep pulling quotes from.

- Uncanny X-Men #511 - This comic is all tease. Great cover, though.

The Classics - Tower of Shadows #1

For this week's "Classic" selection, let's roll back to September 1969 and check out the kind of comic that was plentiful at the time - but not for long.

Tower of Shadows is a good example of the horror anthologies that almost every company produced for decades.

Of course, "horror" is too strong a word for these stories, but they were (more or less) fun to read for their twist endings and unusual little morality tales.

This issue was all about Marvel taking another run at the genre, and they brought out the big guns for this issue - in fact, this may be my all-time favorite single horror issue from Marvel, if just for the lead story.

Behind the excellent John Romita cover was a Jim Steranko written and drawn tale called "At the Stroke of Midnight." The story is nothing unusual, as a scheming couple visit the home of their recently-deceased uncle, looking for his treasure, only to find... well, that would be telling.

But you could teach a college course just analyzing this 7-page gem. The script perfectly matches the story, amplifying the mood of the haunted house. And the art! Steranko pulls out the stops, turning series after series of panels into a cinematic exploration of the horrific house. The color, the detail, the raw emotions - it's just stunning, and makes this issue well worth tracking down.

The other two stories included are no slouch either, although the writing is just average. The second story is written and drawn by the great Johnny Craig (although I detect some heavy - and uncredited - Romita inks on this story). It's all about a man who debunks mystics.

The last story is by Stan Lee and John Buscema, with inks by Don Heck - and boy, was Heck underrated as an inker. The art in this is fantastic, although the story is mostly recycled from an earlier comic.

But even these pros couldn't save the anthology genre. Of course, it hasn't gone away completely - every now and then, someone tries it again - but it's such a challenge to tell a good story in so few pages, and few writers can manage it.

Even in this comic, with its "A"-list talent, only the first story is outstanding. The others have great art, but that's not enough. But I'll give this issue high marks, if just for the Steranko classic.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #596

The good about this issue of the Amazing Spider-Man is that the art is pretty solid, as Paulo Siqueura and Amilton Santos turn in clean, solid images that evoke last issue's effort by Phil Jimenez. I'm not familiar with their work, but it's quite good, and I hope we'll see more of it in the future.

The bad is the story, which strikes me as wrong on so many levels. Most of the issue is given over to Peter Parker whining (of course) about Harry's decision to go to work for his father, the eee-vil Norman Osborn.

Then we get some delightful shots of Bullseye and Venom torturing and preparing to brutally murder a prostitute. Bullseye also spends time graphically killing a rat, and then picking boogers and using them as weapons. Gee, it's just like watching Ren and Stimpy again.

Maybe I'm suffering from Dark Avengers / Norman Osborn overload. Could even an A-list villain like Dr. Doom or the Joker continue to be interesting if he appeared in every single comic published every month?

With Ultimate Spider-Man being canceled and Amazing Spider-Man being... well, what it is, I'm really missing the hero who was once my favorite. These days, his comic is nearly at the bottom of the list.

Grade: D+

Monday, June 8, 2009

Superman: World of New Krypton #4 (of 12)

If I were asked to review this comic in one word or less, the answer would have to be "Meh."

It's not that Superman: World of New Krypton is a bad comic, it's just that it's not a particularly great comic.

For DC to have uprooted the Man of Steel from Earth (and his own comic titles) and transplanted him to a new world, the story needed to be really compelling, groundbreaking or at least action-packed. Four issues in, and this series has been none of the above.

The story finds Superman given the career of being in the military, heading up a unit of soldiers. His commander is none other than General Zod, who must be delighted at being able to order Jor-El's son around.

This issue revolves around a visit from the Green Lantern Corps (headed up by Hal Jordan, naturally) and the attempt to capture a Phantom Zone criminal.

The art by Pete Woods is quite good, but everyone looks so much alike (they're all in some kind of official uniform), it's a bit of a struggle sometimes to tell who's who.

But it's the story by James Robinson and Greg Rucka that just seems to be puttering along. We're learning about New Krypton at a glacial pace, it's difficult to understand why Superman gave up his life (and his wife) to take up residence here, and none of the Kryptonians are especially interesting.

Perhaps the next issue will turn things around, but so far this book has just been average at best. In other words, "Meh."

Grade: C+

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Dark Avengers #5

One thing we haven't talked about much at the ol' Comic of the Day blog is the price of comics.

For a while now, a regular comic book in the U.S. has cost $2.99 (with a lot of fluctuation for specials, annuals, etc.). But in recent months, several Marvel comics jumped to $3.99, and it looks like the entire industry isn't far behind.

So I can't help but wonder - is there a breaking point? When I started reading comics, they had just switched over from 10 cents to 12 cents - which sounds laughable now, I realize.

I have distinct memories of walking into a newsstand to pick up the latest comics, seeing the latest issue of Iron Man (#15, I think), and being shocked to see that the price had jumped to 15 cents! Outraged, I almost stopped buying comics on the spot. Lots of fans did stop buying at that point. After a minute or so, I overcame my outrage and picked up the comics I wanted.

From that point, price increases almost became a yearly event, as comics jumped to 20 cents, then a quarter, and up and up until we reach the stunning sum of four bucks for a comic.

Since they're staggering the increase, starting with the best-selling titles, I wonder if, once again, we're about to lose a large number of fans who are turned off by the large jump in price.

I know I've cut back my buying over the years - where once I bought almost everything (super-hero) on the stands, now I pick and choose a lot more, and where I once would continue to buy a comic I had been collecting for years, figuring it would eventually get turned over to a good writer or artist, now I find I have no patience for comics that aren't entertaining, and several titles I collect are on the brink of being dropped (I'm looking at you, Amazing Spider-Man).

Which brings us the Dark Avengers. It has two terrific creators on it - Brian Bendis, who's one of Marvel's best writers, and Mike Dedato, one of its best artists. It also carries a price tag of $3.99. So is it worth it?

For the art, yes. Deodato has amazing skill with detail and expression. His closeups of Norman Osborn move beyond art to the realm of acting - you can feel the emotions Osborn is "selling" during a TV interview - it's very impressive.

For the story (at least for this issue), it's not worth the extra cost. It's a well-crafted issue, as Osborn uses clever lies to wiggle out of a Public Relations corner, but we already know he's a lying weasel - do we need so many pages devoted to showing him telling more lies?

We do get some insight on some of the Dark Avenger team members, including some moments with the until-now-largely-ignored Marvel Boy. He has some revelations that are almost laughable, but should pay off in an interesting way.

But again, we have a comic that contains (so far) no sympathetic characters, and no one to root for. It's an interesting experiment, but not much more than that.

Next issue promises a lot more action, and a focus on Marvel Boy - but this book is hanging by a thread. Five months in and I don't care about any of the characters. That's not the way to build a following - especially at these prices.

Grade: C+

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Ultimate Spider-Man #133

Yesterday we talked about the nadir of the Ultimate-based comics - Ultimatum, which manages to barely nudge out Ultimates 3 for last place.

Today, let's move to the other end of the spectrum and talk about the line's class act - Ultimate Spider-Man.

This series has been consistently not only the best Ultimate comic... most months it was the best Marvel comic, period.

By taking Spider-Man back to his roots, Brian Bendis managed to distill the joy and wonder of those early years without trying to outright copy the work that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and John Romita did so well.

Instead, he gave it his own spin, infused the characters with personality, and placed them in highly-charged plots and stories that had emotional impact. Since it began, I've really enjoyed this book.

Another plus is the fact that the book has essentially had two artists working on it for its entire run (there were others on a few special issues here and there). Mark Bagley (who set the super-hero comic stamina record) and Stuart Immonen have turned in wonderful art for the length of the run. I can't say enough good things about both of them.

So that brings us to this, (presumably) the final issue in the run, before a couple of Ultimate Spider-Man: Requiem issues and the launch of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man (whatever that is).

This issue is one of those rare comics with no dialogue at all - Bendis lets the power of the story and the events therein tell the tale. It's mostly effective, but his script is always so much fun to read, it's a bit disappointing to end on a silent note.

Of course, no series that runs this long is without the occasional stumble, and the run has been so good, it's hard to complain about this experiment (especially since the story has been forced to deal with the execrable Ultimatum series).

I prefer to remember the series as it was (and hopefully will be again soon): one of the industry's best.

Grade: B+

Friday, June 5, 2009

Ultimatum #4 (of 5)

Kudos to the creative team on Ultimatum for managing the difficult task of creating the most offensive comic on the stands (I started to say "each month," but that would imply the book had come out on time).

Herein writer Jeph Loeb and artist David Finch continue their efforts at shredding what's left of the Ultimate Universe. In that, at least, they are succeeding.

Several heroes die horrible deaths in this comic (one is particularly gruesome - I hope young children don't pick this one up by accident).

Despite that, there's not much story happening here. There's a lot of noise, a tender moment or two - but the plot doesn't move forward at all, and what does happen generally doesn't make sense.

Finch's art is fine, although a bit grisly in places.

But the story is just shameful. Even if the next issue somehow wipes out all the death and destruction, many beloved characters have been exploited and killed horribly for shock value alone.

The Ultimate Universe was a terrific gamble on Marvel's part when it started almost 10 years ago, and it's a gamble that paid off with quite a few outstanding stories (and a few stinkers, it's true). I readily admit that I didn't think it would work - until I read the first issues. Then I was convinced - quality wins every time.

But here they're throwing away that great idea for a sales gimmick.

It's just sad.

Grade: D-

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Batman and Robin #1

So Bruce Wayne is dead (for now), and the Battle for the Cowl is finished - so now it's time to roll out the new team of Batman and Robin.

DC does so in style, as the Caped Crusaders return as entirely new characters. Wearing the Bat (finally) is Dick Grayson, the original Robin. Filling to role of his new understudy is Damian, Bruce's son (with Talia), and a Robin who has a definite chip on his shoulder.

The team are lucky enough to find themselves in the hand of two of the top creators in comics. Writer Grant Morrison has taken some heat for his work on the disjointed Final Crisis and the virtually impenetrable "R.I.P." series, but he's also the guy who has turned in some terrific stories, including the recent All-Star Superman. So which Morrison will show up? So far, it's more the latter than the former.

The art is by Frank Quitely, who style is so unique that it almost defies description. He really manages to evoke a sense of realism in his work, all while drawing the most amazing events. Here he provides some iconic images, and he even re-invents the Batmobile into a flying wing.

So far, this new series looks impressive. It starts with the team tackling some criminals who are off on a wild ride, with lots of snappy patter between the two grudging partners.

The storyline that's unfolding is somewhat grim and even a little gruesome, but so far, very difficult to put down. I really like the last-page teaser for upcoming stories - DC has been doing that in several of its books, and it's encouraging to think they're actually planning stories that far in advance.

It's hard to tell how long this version of Batman and Robin will last, but so far, it's shaping up to be an exciting ride.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

It's Comic Book Day!

Here's what your pal Chuck picked up today:

- Agents of Atlas #6 - Is this a weekly comic now?

- Astro City: Dark Age: Book Three #2 (of 4) - Amazing to see this showing up on schedule!

- Mighty Avengers #25 - guest-starring the Fantastic Four.

- Dark Avengers #5 - a couple of interesting twists, but the art is the real selling point right now.

- New Avengers: The Reunion #4 (of 4) - This has been pretty good so far.

- Batman and Robin #1 - Giving it a shot, even though it's really about Robin and the latest Bat-son.

- Black Panther #5 - This story has been moving at glacial speed, but it kicks into high gear here.

- Conan The Cimmerian #11 - The (darn good) adaptation of Black Colossus continues.

- Irredeemable #3 - Hmm. I'm not feelin' it.

- New Mutants #2 - So far, this has been solid.

- Amazing Spider-Man #596 - Counting down to issue #600.

- Superman: World of New Krypton #4 (of 12) - The Green Lantern Corps drops by for a visit.

- Ultimate Spider-Man #133 - Is this the end for Ultimate Spider-Man?

- Ultimatum #4 (of 5) - Thank goodness, the end is near for this.

- Warlord #3 - So glad to see this book back to its roots.

- Alter Ego #86 - All about Mad wannabees.

"Whew!" That's plenty for one week!

The Classics - World's Finest #135

I was an early convert to team-up comics.

While Marvel had crossovers all the time, DC was the only company doing regular team-ups with two titles: Brave and the Bold, which allowed any two heroes to work together (although it eventually was turned over to Batman teaming up with someone else), and World's Finest, which teamed up Superman, Batman and Robin.

Those stories didn't feature much in the way of characterization - but at the time, neither did any of the other DC Comics (issue #135 is cover-dated August 1963). What sold the comics was the fact that you got more than one hero for your hard-earned 12 cents, and the stories inside were clever and imaginative.

In this issue, you have our heroes facing off against The Future Man in what I believe is his only appearance (though there would be many other bad guys from the future).

He appears and begins tracking down samples of Kryptonite - and fires Kryptonite bullets at Superman when the Man of Steel tries to capture him. Don't worry, in the '60s the bullets still bounced off Superman - but the Kryptonite also robbed him of his powers temporarily.

Batman tracks down clues that show the Future Man's plans to travel into the past to steal another amazing artifact - but the bad guy's plans were still mysterious.

Our heroes split up and travel into the past and the future to solve the mystery, and eventually find themselves in the predicament depicted on the cover, as their enemy focuses a disintegration ray on them.

With powerful art by Dick Sprang and Sheldon Moldoff and a story written by Bill Finger, it's no wonder I remember this comic so fondly.

Adding to the value, the issue also features a backup story that pits Aquaman and Aqualad against some powerful alien invaders, wherein the heroes learn that to beat the bad guys, you (sometimes) have to be the bad guys.

The story features the incomparable art of Ramona Fradon, rounding out the all-star art cast for this comic.

It's amazing this issue is in decent shape, because I must have read this story dozens and dozens of times. Reading it again for this review, it hasn't lost a step - it's still a lot of fun!

Grade: A-

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Justice Society of America #27

Jerry Ordway has been hanging around the ol' Justice Society of America ranch in recent months, and I for one couldn't be happier.

He's best known as an artist, having turned in excellent runs on books like All-Star Squadron, The Power of Shazam, The Adventures of Superman and Infinity, Inc., to name a few. His art is clear, strong and has echoes of the great Wally Wood.

He's also proven himself to be a darn good writer, most notably on his Shazam run. So it's good to see him here, writing and penciling the latest adventure of the JSA.

The book kicks off in style, as several menaces seem to threaten our heroes at once - including one tied to the team's early days. It's also nice to see another Golden Age character putting in a surprise appearance on the last page.

Any fan of the original Infinity, Inc. - or just good comic storytelling - will enjoy this issue.

Grade: B+

Monday, June 1, 2009

Justice League of America #33

According to news reports, writer Dwayne McDuffie has been fired as the writer of this comic.

I've criticized his work here in the past, but it's been obvious that the problem hasn't been his writing, but rather it's been his struggles to overcome editorial interference.

His run on the Justice League of America has been a steady string of crossovers, tie-ins and company-mandated continuity fixes.

Ironically, with this issue he seems to finally be shaking those problems and paying off stories he's been setting up for a while now.

Here he breathes life into the formerly bland Dr. Light, he gives Hardware a cool guest spot and a lot of fun dialogue, and he sets up a world-shaking confrontation between the cosmic vampire Starbreaker and the mysterious Dharma.

The story also benefits from the excellent art of the underrated Rags Morales. The cover by Ed Benes is a bit misleading, though - Superman is nowhere to be seen in this issue, although one of his friends makes a surprising appearance.

It's a shame to see McDuffie off the comic just when he was finally getting off the ground - though it's comforting to know that veteran writer Len Wein is stepping into the on-deck circle. Speaking of someone being underrated...

Grade: B+