Friday, July 31, 2009

Fantastic Four #569

There were high hopes among Fantastic Four fans for the run on this series by writer Mark Millar and artist Bryan Hitch.

Both are top-tier talents (in terms of sales and ability), and both specialize in big stories that play out on a cosmic scale.

Some of the stories they created here have been quite good, and the art has always been outstanding - but many of the stories weren't particularly memorable.

This final arc came close, as the Fantastic Four face off against the Marquis of Death, the being who first instructed Dr. Doom.

Sadly, the storyline fizzles at the end for several reasons: it's confusing to watch as hundreds of alternate reality FFs attack "our" FF; the powers of the Master are never defined (he can do anything); the ending seems rushed and stitched together; they tried to cram too much into the issue; and a character is changed through impossible means that will probably be completely ignored the next time he or she appears.

But it really seems to sputter because the creators who started it all aren't really here. Millar only provides the plot, and Hitch only does the cover. Which is not to slam their replacements - the script by Joe Ahearne is quite good, and Stuart Immonen's art is excellent as always.

Despite the disappointment, this was a decent finish to what's been an interesting and entertaining run. I have to admit, it's the first issue I read this week, because I was anxious to see how the story was resolved.

Here's hoping Millar and Hitch's next project brings them back to the full-octane level. Now, it's on to the next creative team - time for someone new to take a shot at the First Family of comics.

Grade: B+

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ultimatum #5 (of 5)

And so it is that the Ultimate Universe ends with both a bang (as more heroes and villains are brutally murdered) and a whimper (that coming from the fans who read this thing).

This final issue of Ultimatum features excellent art by David Finch and a reprehensible script from Jeph Loeb.

The entire thrust of the series is simply to kill as many heroes as possible in the most shocking way possible. In that effort it was quite successful - we've seen characters torn apart, chewed up and generally mutilated.

However, there's no entertainment or story value in it - it's just violence for shock value - the comic book equivalent of torture porn.

It leaves me so indifferent, I can't work up the energy to talk about it any more, and the comic doesn't warrant much discussion.

The Ultimate universe was one brimming with potential when it was created, but this crass effort has left it smelling like failure. A shame, really.

Grade: D

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Today's Comics Are...

(Running late today - sorry about that!)

Here's the list:

- New Avengers #55 - It's a trap!

- Fantastic Four #569 - The final battle with the Master of Doom.

- Kid Colt #1 (One shot) - One of my old favorites.

- Justice League of America #35 - Hey, Len Wein is writing it - how cool is that?

- Justice Society of America #29
- A new creative team takes over.

- Secret Warriors #6 - Throwing down with Hydra!

- Spider-Man Ultimate Requiem #2 - The big wrap-up.

- Ultimatum #5 - More deaths, more often.

- Wednesday Comics #4 - I can't get over reading Sunday funnies on a Wednesday.

The Classics - Showcase #55

There are certain comics I remember seeing as a kid that almost seemed to jump off the shelf and demand that I buy it.

This is just such a comic.

It didn't hurt that I was already a fan of the Justice Society of America, and devoted to that team's annual appearances in Justice League of America.

I was in the process of becoming a Marvel fan, but I still had room in my fannish heart for Earth-2. But perhaps I should explain that concept for those who weren't around in those long-ago days!

As the Flash (Barry Allen) discovered, the Silver Age DC heroes lived on Earth-1, while the heroes of the Golden Age lived in a parallel dimension on Earth-2. Heroes would cross over occasionally (mostly Flash, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and the JLA) and share adventures with members of the JSA.

Over the years other Earths were added, then subtracted after Crisis on Infinite Earths, then 52 of 'em were added back in recent years. I have to admit, things were much easier when there were just two Earths to think about.

Anyway, back to this issue (cover dated March-April 1965), which features three of my favorite JSAers, including Dr. Fate, Hourman and Green Lantern (Alan Scott). They faced the monstrous Solomon Grundy, who was making (I believe) his first Silver Age appearance.

Grundy was an unusual villain for DC - he was Hulk-like, powerful, brutal and violent - completely unlike the usual DC bad guys, who usually didn't have that physical menace about them.

The story by Gardner Fox is pretty straightforward - it's pretty much along the lines of his JLA work - but the art really shines. Murphy Anderson, in my opinion, was one of the best artists DC had at the time, and one of the few artists whose work I would seek out.

His figures were dynamic, his drawing realistic and detailed, and his heroes were... well, more heroic than most of the more static art DC featured at the time. He really brought these "old time" characters up to modern times.

I had hoped that this would just be the beginning of an ongoing series of adventures based on Earth-2 heroes, but it didn't happen. I think there were four Showcase issues using those heroes (including two issues with Starman and the Black Canary), but it would be many more years before the JSA finally got its own comic.

I assume DC was afraid the fans would be confused, with two Flashes and two Green Lanterns (among others), but I think they underestimated the fans. It seems like a missed opportunity, though I suppose if the sales had been stronger, we would have seen more stories like this one.

At a time when I was moving away from DC, I would have bought them! Instead, I had more money for those upstart Marvel Comics.

But this comic - what a gem!

Grade: A-

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dark Reign: Fantastic Four #5 (of 5)

This mini-series is, for all intents and purposes, something of an introduction to the Fantastic Four as written by Jonathan Hickman, and as such it's reasonably promising.

He seems to have a good grip on the characters, and a proper sense of what the team is all about. The mini-series features some big ideas, with just enough Norman Osborn content added to justify the Dark Reign title.

This issue wraps up Reed's investigation into events in parallel worlds, to see what he could have done differently to avert the Civil War / Secret Invasion.

While he's playing with his trans-dimensional tinker toys, the rest of the FF are dealing with journeys through other dimensions, and the children - Franklin and Valeria - are left to face down Osborn, Venom and a HAMMER army.

(By the way, it's hilarious that they still haven't said what HAMMER stands for - so it's time for another guess: Heavily Armored Military Metahuman Emergency Resource.)

The art is by Sean Chen and Lorenzo Ruggiero, and it's solid, professional work - nothing too flashy, but some good clean storytelling here.

As a stand-alone mini-series this was an OK effort, but it works much better as a set-up for what Reed and family are going to do next. Now that's a story I'm looking forward to.

Grade: B-

Monday, July 27, 2009

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

Here we finally reach the end of this series, which features more Legion of Super-heroes characters than any series in living memory.

You definitely get the feeling that this was a dream project for writer Geoff Johns and artist George Perez - their enthusiasm shows through on virtually every page, and they get to weave a story that touches on almost every part of the Legion's 50-year history.

Of course, with all the characters and insane battles going on, the actual plot gets a little muddy in places, and as always, the Superboy-Prime character is more annoying than interesting.

Still this has been a fun series to read, and while it doesn't wrap up every loose end, it does lay the groundwork for future stories that will give us a clear vision of what the Legion is and who the members are.

I'm not sure a casual reader could make sense of all this, but for those of us who've been around for a while, it's been a lot of fun.

Grade: A-

Sunday, July 26, 2009

New Links Added!

Hey, it's been entirely too long since I updated the links here at Chuck's Comic of the Day.

So here are some sites that I visit as often as possible and recommend to you:

- Big Glee! is a fun site operated by my pal Al Bigley, who's a great guy and a heck of a fine comic artist, too - he's done work for DC Comics, Golden Books, Marvel Comics, Archie Comics, Disney, Tonka, NASCAR, and many others. His art is terrific - and I should know, I've bought several original works off of him. His site covers comics, music and lots of fun pop culture-type stuff. It's fun and informative - so check it out, and tell Al I said "Hi!"

- Another favorite site to visit is Robot 6, which features all kinds of news, articles and fun info about the world of comics. I really enjoy the "Comics A.M." feature (which wraps up news around the 'net) and "Grumpy Old Fan," which could be written by me if I had thought of the title first and if I was a much better writer.

- My Pull List is one of two sites operated by Billy Hogan, who also runs the SupermanFanPodcast (which starts up as soon as you open the site). He covers the comics he buys every week, and offers views and comments about the Man of Steel and the people who've contributed to his legacy. Good stuff!

The Incredible Hulk #600

I get that the creative team on Hulk has been playing with cartoonishly-big stories and settings, but I think this series has officially "jumped the shark" - or at least has entered the realm of stories that don't make sense and don't interest me.

Just in time for the 600th issue, the title has reverted to its "original" numbering and title - although that's debatable, since the original run of Tales to Astonish is included, and the first 60 issues didn't feature the Hulk. And what does this mean for The Incredible Hercules comic? Oh well, I guess the numbering doesn't have to make any more sense than the comic itself.

This issue picks up... well, I couldn't really say, since I have completely forgotten where this comic left off. The story is set up as a mystery, with investigative journalist Ben Urich trying to find out who the Red Hulk is.

I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying that we don't get an answer to that question, and we end up thinking a lot less of Ben by the end of the story.

By the way, I've figured out who the Red Hulk is. He's apparently the Silver Age Superman, because there's nothing he can't do. Heat vision? Energy absorption? Cause other characters to act completely out of character? It's all here. Next thing you know, he'll be walking through walls like a ghost. (Please excuse the obscure reference to the original Superman TV show.)

The rest of this special anniversary edition isn't particularly special, either. There's a short Stan Lee-written story that has a few good gags and not much more than that. There's a feature about the new Savage She-Hulk that features nice art and is otherwise forgettable. There's a reprint of part of a Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale Hulk story that is miles better than anything Loeb's written involving the Red Hulk.

You can also see a series of ads for upcoming stories that show just how out-of-control the Hulk Family has become, with two Hulks, a son of Hulk and a daughter of Hulk - and that doesn't include the cousin of Hulk and Hulk's psychiatrist, Doc Sampson (as Dave Barry says, I am not making this up). Presumably we can look forward to Ace the Hulk Hound and Hulk Girl in the near future.

It's a shame - this has all grown out of the creative and intelligent Planet Hulk series, and it's just become a boring mess.

Grade: C-

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Power Girl #3

This issue wraps up the first story arc for Power Girl, and so far I'd say this book is off to a good start.

The star of the book (aside from PG herself) is definitely Amanda Conner's art. Her work is fresh and fun - there are hints of the styles of other artists, like Kevin McGuire, George Perez and Mark Bagley - but she doesn't imitate any of them. She just works in a style that is somewhat similar, but still one-of-a-kind.

She's equally adept at action scenes (and gets plenty of chances to show off in this issue) and quiet scenes, at drama and comedy, at big events and small moments. I'll follow her on any book, any time.

The writing here by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti is almost as good as the art. It's an action-packed finale, and one of the fun things about this character is that she is right at home in big comic book physical events (smashing things, catching huge objects falling out of the sky, that kind of stuff) while making humorous small talk with the bad guys.

There's still a lot of character development needed here, and they need to spend some more time on the supporting characters, but hey, it's only issue number three! There's plenty of time, and with this kind of top-quality storytelling at work, there should be plenty of future adventures in store for Power Girl.

Grade: B+

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Amazing Spider-Man #600

I've been pretty harsh on this comic for a while, mostly because I think the quality of the title has really suffered with the three-times-a-month publishing schedule.

However, I have to admit that I really enjoyed this issue of The Amazing Spider-Man.

It's easy to see why. The issue is packed with a terrific opening story, featuring the return of Spidey's greatest villain, Dr. Octopus, with a new and stunning twist. The story is loaded with guest stars, a strong story by Dan Slott, and outstanding art by John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson.

The issue also features lots of fun side stories - some quite good, some just silly, and some just so-so - but it all adds up to a fun package and a nifty anniversary package.

The big question I've been wrestling with is, should I continue to buy this comic? I've been following it since issue #15, after all. If this issue had been the same lackluster storytelling we've been getting for months now, I decided it would be the last regular issue for me.

Since this issue was fun, and ends on something of a cliffhanger, I think I'm going to stick around for another issue or two. I'm not saying I'm ready to stop reading the comic forever, but I can't support near-weekly issues by second-rate creators (no offense).

So from this point forward, instead of being the automatic purchase it's been for decades, each issue of Spider-Man gets judged on its individual merits. It'll be tough to break the string - but it's time.

It's been a long, good run, but I can't justify spending so much for what has been, for more than a year now, a (mostly) half-hearted comic.

This issue, though - good stuff.

Grade: A-

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Green Lantern #44

There are lots of reasons to like this issue.

It's the next chapter in the Blackest Night mega-story, which is shaping up to be a good one.

It features the (undead) return of J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter, a longtime favorite (although he's not exactly his usual self here).

The story by Geoff Johns continues to shine, and the art by Doug Mahnke is outstanding, with several breathtaking pages, including an awe-inspiring double-page spread.

There are some great touches, including an interesting visual that (I presume) represents the fact that both Green Lantern and the Flash have been touched by death years ago.

But the thing about the comic that gets the biggest reaction out of me is just the team-up between Hal (GL) Jordan and Barry (Flash) Allen. In the '50s and '60s DC wasn't much on team-ups outside of the comics designed for it (like World's Finest and Brave and Bold), but one of the rare exceptions was found in Silver Age issues of those two heroes, and those stories were always among my favorites.

The two characters complemented each other well, and it was a thrill to see those early crossovers. The two have appeared together since Barry's return, but this is the first real super-hero, knock-down, building-smashing team-up - and I love it!

This is (by my count) the second issue in the Blackest Night series, and so far, they're two for two. Bring on the next chapter!

Grade: A-

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Race to 600 Ends in a Tie

Today's comic haul features two milestones:

- The Incredible Hulk #600 - Numbering makes Hulk's head hurt!

- Amazing Spider-Man #600 - It's a tie at the wire (but wait, Thor already won the race).

- Black Panther #6 - Pretty good wrap to a decent story.

- Conan the Cimmerian #12 - This has been good, too.

- Dark Reign: Fantastic Four #5 (of 5)
- Kind of an anti-climatic wrap-up, though it plants seeds for the new FF team.

- Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #5 (of 5) - This has been mighty good, too.

- Green Lantern #44 - Blackest Night kicks it into gear, and GL teams up with the Flash! Awesome!

- The Incredible Hercules #131 - The wrap-up to a casual visit to hell.

- Power Girl #3 - I've been enjoying this one.

- Wednesday Comics #3
- More Sunday funnies on Wednesday!

- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz #8 (of 8) - Terrific book here!

The Classics - Space Family Robinson: Lost In Space #19

A quick confession: I'm a huge fan of NetFlix, the mail service that provides a DVD rental service.

One of my most recent selections was the first season of the CBS-TV show Lost in Space. I haven't seen those first episodes in quite a few years (make that a couple of decades), so it was fun to watch them again - they hold up pretty well, although it's even more obvious now that the show was aimed at a young audience - and considering I'm about the same age as Billy (Will Robinson) Mumy, that means they were aiming it at me.

Since at that time I was reading just about every comic I could find, I had also read the Gold Key comic book Space Family Robinson: Lost in Space. I was probably a bit confused by the fact that both carried the same title and the family had the same name, and both were, well, Lost in Space - but that's where the similarities ended.

In the comic, the Robinson family is made up of four members - father Craig, mother June, and teenage twins Tim and Tam. They're traveling in a huge Space Station and trying to find their way back to Earth.

In the TV show, the family is made up of the parents, two sisters and a brother, and the ship also features a pilot, a robot and a stowaway, Dr. Smith.

On TV and in the comics, they visit different worlds and encounter lots of different aliens.

So which came first - the TV show or the comic? According to Wikipedia, the comic was first by a couple of years, but when Irwin Allen created the TV show, he supposedly knew nothing about the comic book, which was then titled Space Family Robinson.

There's no way to know for sure, but it seems plausible - basing a science fiction story on the classic Swiss Family Robinson (and replacing "Swiss" with "Space") seems like a pretty obvious thought, so it's possible they both had similar ideas.

To their credit, Gold Key and CBS didn't take the matter to court - instead, they decided to work together. Gold Key would continue the comic, adding the subtitle "Lost in Space," and the TV series would continue to ignore the comic.

I always liked the comic, though I was never an avid reader of it - I picked this issue at random from the few copies I own (it's cover dated December 1966) - but every one I've read was thoroughly professional, clever and clearly written, and very well drawn (by Dan Spiegle, I believe).

For me, they're a fun bit of nostalgia from a time when space travel seemed to be just around the corner.

This comic came out 43 years ago, when the space program was still working toward landing on the moon - and Monday marked the 40th anniversary of that milestone. Sad to realize we're still far away from establishing moon colonies or landing on Mars.

Both versions of Lost in Space teased the potential of space travel, and while I may not live to see it, I trust we'll get there eventually. After all, the TV show was set in the far-flung future - of 1997. I guess we'll have to be more patient.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Captain America #601

Give Marvel credit for having the guts to title this issue, "A Very Special Issue of Captain America."

The "Very Special" tag has become a joke from its overuse on television shows, but the real surprise is: this really is a special issue!

That's because it features the artwork of one of the honest-to-Pete giants of the comic book industry, Gene Colan.

I first noticed Colan's work in Tales of Suspense in the mid-'60s as he took over the art on the Iron Man half of the comic. (The star of the other half? Cap.) But his work was credited to a pen name - Adam Austin.

Months later they finally revealed his true identity, and Colan went on to draw all kinds of Marvel comics, including Daredevil, the Sub-Mariner, the Avengers, Dr. Strange and, eventually, Captain America. His most famous work was from his long run on the Tomb of Dracula.

Which brings us to this story written by Ed Brubaker. It's a flashback to World War II as Bucky relates an adventure where he and Cap encounter a certain horrific menace.

Colan's art is outstanding, with color support from Dean White. I'm not going to say it's his best work, but it's very good - moody, atmospheric and cinematic in its style - in other words, classic Colan.

I want to offer a word of thanks to the editors at Marvel - too often, creators from previous generations are pushed aside as being "out of style" - but talent never goes out of style, and Colan has that in spades.

I'd love to see more work like this from those talents from past years - these veterans have a lot to offer today's industry. They don't call them "the Greatest Generation" for nothing!

Grade: B+

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sherlock Holmes #3

The great detective has been adapted to just about every entertainment vehicle imaginable (TV, movies, video games), but Sherlock Holmes hasn't always fared well in the comic book format.

That's probably why this series is such a treat. Here we have a comic book that respects the source material, plays fair with the reader, and still provides another entertaining chapter in this unfolding mystery.

After being arrested and charged with murder, Holmes manages to escape prison, and this issue we see what he's been up to and begin to get an inkling of where he's going from here.

The issue focuses a lot on the supporting cast, and I'm delighted to see one of my favorites characters make an appearance herein (no, I won't spoil it for you by naming that person).

The art is again fantastic, including both the outstanding cover by John Cassaday and the detailed interior art by Aaron Campbell, with colors by Tony Avina.

But the highest praise must be reserved for the writers, Leah Moore and John Reppion. They've crafted a Holmes story that doesn't follow the usual format, but manages to fit will in the time period and the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

I'm anxiously awaiting the next chapter.

Grade: A-

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Amazing Spider-Man #599

Here we mercifully reach the end of the "American Son" storyline that has been inflicted on The Amazing Spider-Man.

Reviewers like to call stories like this an "idiot plot," because the story only works if everyone involved acts like an idiot.

To recap the events so far: In hopes of saving Harry Osborn from his father, Norman (Green Goblin) Osborn, Spider-Man tries to infiltrate the Dark Avengers while disguised as Venom. When discovered, he has an arrow shot into each leg by Bullseye, and then Norman shoots Spidey in the head with a pistol. Through means never quite explained (his suit can resist bullets but not arrows?), Spidey's disguise (provided by Reed Richards) allows him to survive, so instead he's taken prisoner and tortured through most of the last issue. In the meantime, Harry, who's been trying to rescue his fiance (the Goblin-esque villain Terror), discovers that she's been seduced by his father and... well, to explain more would probably give me a headache.

This issue features a showdown between the Osborns, with Spidey settling for a supporting role. Obviously, I really haven't cared for this storyline. Spidey has always been portrayed as a smart character with occasional bouts of bad luck, and in this story he's just been acting like... well, an idiot. (Though luckily he's apparently developed a Wolverine-like healing factor, to have taken all those wounds and still be able to walk around.)

The art is a mixed bag, as four different pencilers team up to crank this one out.

Enough hammering on this issue - it's just a shame that Marvel is more interested in quantity on this title (by publishing it three times a month) as opposed to focusing on quality.

It's interesting to realize that the Lee / Ditko era, the Lee / Romita series, the Conway / Andru comics, and the Stern / Frenz run (to name a few) would never have happened with the current publishing schedule.

I'd much rather have a monthly comic with top talent working on it instead of the current method, which is cranking out comics as fast as possible. You get more Spidey that way, but it's the difference between Big Macs and a steak dinner.

Grade: C-

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Mighty Avengers #27

When this comic first appeared, I picked it up because Brian Bendis was writing it and Frank Cho was drawing it.

I stayed with it while it slogged through the aftermath of Marvel's Civil War, and enjoyed it while it acted as a supplement to the Secret Invasion.

Since then, the book has moved in a different direction, with a new writer - Dan Slott - and new artists. The creative team has made a game effort at making this team of supporting characters interesting, but like the infamous Detroit Justice League, it just isn't working for me, so this will be my last issue of The Mighty Avengers for now.

Which is not to say that the story doesn't have its good points. I'm glad to see Hank Pym restored to being a leader and one of the smartest men on the planet. The characters on the team are fine, but there's no characterization going on here, no real interaction - they just fight the bad guys and make occasional jokes. I also like the new headquarters, though it's a little too fantasy-based for my tastes.

What's not to like is the story, which starts out with the creation of a big new bad guy whose origin is thin and whose powers are ill-defined (basically, he can do anything). And the story never really goes anywhere from there. It just all feels like it was plucked out of thin air.

The art by Khoi Pham isn't bad at all, but it just seems to run together - a few splash pages and lots of panels of medium range shots. A little more variety in "camera angles" and line width would go a long way.

Maybe I'm suffering from "Avengers overload," or maybe this creative team just isn't working for me. Whatever the case, it's time to take a break from this title. Sorry.

Grade: C-

Friday, July 17, 2009

Wednesday Comics #2 (of 12)

Two issues in, I still think this is a worthy experiment and I'm still enjoying it - but some strips are definitely working better than others.

I should clarify that statement. All the strips show off the talent of their respective creative teams, but some of the strips work well in this "one page a week" format, and some aren't as effective.

The traditional comic strip is different from a comic book because it follows a basic formula: each strip (whether daily or Sunday) must give a basic recap of the previous strip, advance the story a bit, and then offer an ending that makes the reader want to return the next time to see what happens.

Granted, Wednesday Comics is not a traditional "funnies" page, and there's a lot of room for experimentation, but let's see how they're doing so far. What the heck, let's check out all the strips:

- Batman finds himself in a murder mystery. The page recaps (sorta) what has happened so far, but despite good art, there's not much story to hang onto here yet.

- Kamandi is my favorite so far, and is the most traditional offering, with terrific art and classic, "no word balloons allowed" storytelling. We get a recap, story advancement and a cliffhanger of sorts.

- Superman, after a great start last week, grinds to a halt here for a cameo by Batman and some whining by the Man of Steel. Nice art, though a bit muddy in the printing. There's a recap, story doesn't go anywhere, no real ending.

- Deadman is one of the more interesting strips, with a murder mystery unfolding. A recap, the story moves forward, and a cliffhanger. Strong art.

- Green Lantern has nice art, but the story has barely moved forward a jot. No recap needed, because nothing really happened last time around. After an uninspired battle, the real menace seems to appear. Cliffhanger.

- Metamorpho is another favorite, with the story moving slightly forward with a clever (almost) full page splash. I love the "ad" at the bottom of the page. Great art, good recap, the story moves forward, a teensy hook for the next adventure.

- Teen Titans
makes a bit more sense this time around, although the printing doesn't help the art much here. A fight scene that is basically more of the same from last time. Recap, smidge of story, cliffhanger.

- Strange Adventures offers Adam Strange by way of Barsoom and Edgar Rice Burroughs, with Alanna being replaced by Dejah Thoris. Fun but a bit silly (not that there's anything wrong with that). No recap, story moves along, cliffhanger.

- Supergirl is probably the most appealing strip, and it's a light-hearted romp as she chases two out-of-control super-pets. Recap, a pinch of story, hook at the end (and a good laugh).

- Metal Men is another traditional strip, with terrific art and a light touch on the adventure. Recap, movement, hook at the end. Good stuff.

- Wonder Woman is the strip that just doesn't work for me. The art and lettering are hard to make out because of the paper and the printing, and the whole thing feels like a misguided take on Nemo. If there's a recap or story here, I'm missing it. No hook, either.

- Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. features great art, but the story doesn't advance beyond the first strip. It reads like the second page of a 12-page comic story. No recap, minimal story movement, no hook.

- The Flash is a fun idea, with the story split between our hero's adventures and the more down-to-Earth trials of his wife, Iris West. Good art, and an interesting time travel twist going on here. No recap, so it would be confusing for someone who didn't read #1. Story advances, and there's a hook at the end.

- The Demon and Cat Woman also reads like the second page of a comic. Nice art and an interesting story building up. Minimal recap, minimal story advance, hook at the end.

- Hawkman is surprisingly violent, though not gory. It's also quite improbable, with birds and our hero catching and invading a highjacked jet. Great art, very professional. Recap, story moves forward, cliffhanger.

So while it's a mix, it's also a strong product and well worth reading.

- Grade: B+

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Blackest Night #1 (of 8)

Geoff Johns is rightly praised as one of the best writers in the comics business today, and his work to date proves he's earned his reputation.

He's done outstanding work on a number of titles, including the Sinestro War crossover, building the modern version of the Justice Society of America, and restoring classic characters Green Lantern / Hal Jordan and The Flash / Barry Allen. His only sour note was Infinite Crisis, and that one had the definite stench of editorial interference.

So that brings us to his long-awaited mini-series, Blackest Night, and what a dark and intense series it promises to be!

It's a story set on a big canvas, with the War of Light heating up in the Green Lantern books, the Guardians of the Universe in the middle of things (not always for the better), and a new universal menace rising - the Black Lantern Corps.

This issue sets up the conflict, puts the characters in place, brings us up to date on them and on the loved ones they've lost - the dead characters who will apparently make up the Black Lantern Corps. But even though the story in involved and touches almost every modern-day character in the DC Universe, it never feels confused or strained, like a certain other event series I could name.

One of the things I really like about this issue is that it focuses on the characters who are at the heart of the Justice League, with some great scenes with the Flash and GL, and with Hawkman, the Atom and Hawkgirl.

The characterization throughout is spot on (something DC sometimes struggles with), and the heroes soon find they're up against the most terrifying menace they've ever faced.

Special praise should go to penciler Ivan Reis and inker Oclair Albert, who turn in some amazing work here. Their detail work is very impressive, each character is distinct and dramatic, and their horror work is outstanding.

With some shocking moments and a force that may be impossible to beat, this series is off to a fantastic start. It's a bit gruesome for kids, but it's hard to imagine any DC fan not enjoying this series.

The series is off to a very strong start. It's big, it's bold, and it promises to change the face of DC. Oh, and you get a free Black Lantern Corps ring when you buy the comic. Hard to pass that up!

Grade: A

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hey, Today's Comic Book Day

Here's what I picked up today:

- Agents Of Atlas #8 - This has been decent, but still hasn't reached the heights of the mini-series.

- All Select Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1 - These "Golden Age flashbacks" have been solidly entertaining so far.

- Mighty Avengers #27 - And I think it's a wrap for this title (for me, anyway).

- Blackest Night #1 (of 8) - The mini-series begins, and you get a cool Black Lantern Corps ring with it. Awesome!

- Brave and the Bold #25 - What can I say, I like the Hardware character (brought back from Milestone Comics).

- Buck Rogers #2 - Still no sign of Twikki, thank goodness.

- Captain America #601 - Gene Colan art? I am so there.

- Incognito #5 - A good 'n gritty series.

- Sherlock Holmes #3 - This has also been much better than I feared.

- The Amazing Spider-Man #599 - Will next issue be my last? Could be...

- Wednesday Comics #2 - The experiment continues.

And that's it!

The Classics - The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1

Kids love summer for lots of reasons - great weather, no school, they can sleep late - you get the idea.

But in those long-ago days when I was a kid, you could also enjoy the Marvel summer annuals. For a hard-earned quarter, you got 72 pages of new material, with no ads except for the inside and back covers.

This first Spider-Man Annual featured a 41-page original story with our hero taking on six of his deadliest foes, and then 31 pages of pin-ups, info pages and the hilarious feature, "How Stan Lee and Steve Ditko Created Spider-Man!" - which should put to rest all those arguments about who did what - it shows Stan writing the stories and Steve drawing them! Wasn't that easy? It also shows us what Ditko looked like in the summer of '64.

The comic itself is just a pure delight. Dr. Octopus, Electro, Sandman, Kraven, the Vulture and Mysterio join forces, conveniently deciding to take on Spidey one at a time.

Of course, Spider-Man has a big problem - he's lost his powers! So how can he take on his most dangerous foes? Well, I'm not telling - that would take away all the fun.

But what a terrific comic! Stan Lee provides a fun, fast-paced story and hilarious comments from Spidey, and Steve Ditko really pulls out the stops, with amazing action sequences, some rare full-page spreads of Spider-Man tackling each foe, and all the back-up features.

This was an issue I read over and over again - it's comics in its most pure, entertaining form. You can pick it up in Masterworks and Essentials reprints, which I highly recommend.

If I could only pick a dozen comics to hang onto, this would be one of them. A great, great comic, and a real classic.

Grade: A+

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Warlord #4

As much as I'm a fan of the adventures of The Warlord (Travis Morgan), I think writer Mike Grell has made a tactical error with this first storyline.

Don't worry, it's full of lots of action and cliffhangers and battles to the death - all the usual Burroughs-inspired stuff that makes the series fun to read.

But I think his only mistake is in trying to introduce every single ally of Morgan's in this opening story. The cast was built up over years in the original series, and now we've met almost all of them in three issues. It's a treat for longtime fans, but I suspect new readers may be feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Still, the story is fun, as Morgan faces off against an intruder who is also from the "modern" world - one who carries the same deadly weapons as The Warlord, and has added some other sinister weapons to his arsenal.

The art isn't bad, but it definitely suffers in comparison to Grell's covers - and this issue was apparently a team effort, with two pencilers, Joe Prado and Chad Hardin, and three inkers.

This issue isn't exceptional - it's mostly setup for the next issue - but it is a fun read.

Grade: B-

Monday, July 13, 2009

Superman: World of New Krypton #5

So did you ever read a comic, then see the cover a day or two later and think, "Have I read that one yet? Oh yeah, I did."

That was my reaction to the latest issue of Superman: World of New Krypton (and you're right, it's not a good sign).

It features a great cover by Gary Frank, good artwork from Pete Woods and a story that's completely forgettable, except for the final page, which springs something of a surprise on us.

Despite writer James Robinson's efforts, the whole mini-series, which is an exploration of the new world built around the (formerly) bottle city of Kandor, has been a slow slog through a world that's not particularly inviting or all that interesting.

Reading about Krypton in early Superman comics was always fun because of the amazing sights - fire waterfalls, dragons, futuristic cities, flying cars - they were entertaining flights of fancy.

The new stories are more sophisticated, but lack that sense of wonder. Aside from the occasional cityscape and a few lifts from the Superman: The Motion Picture, New Krypton doesn't seem like the kind of place you'd like to visit.

All those wonders out there, and this issue almost entirely takes place in a courtroom, as Superman goes on trial.

I look forward to this story wrapping up so we can get the cast back in action on Earth (and back in Action Comics, too).

Grade: C+

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Unwritten #3

In these days when comics cost three or four bucks a pop (or more), it's not unusual to find yourself constantly re-evaluating which books to purchase.

The Unwritten is a comic that has been on the edge since the first issue.

In making the choice of what stays and what goes, you just have to look at the pros and cons.

On the plus side, it's a literary-based story with lots of references to real books and several to thinly-disguised versions of real books. It has a good mystery running, as we try to determine whether or not the lead character, Tom Taylor, is actually the storybook character from his father's famous books. There are other mysterious characters involved, interesting supporting characters, and some kind of conspiracy at work. Oh, and the art by Peter Gross is quite good, jumping from ordinary settings to fantastic ones.

On the down side, Mike Carey's story really seems to be dragging its feet, especially with this issue, where the story only takes a couple of baby steps forward.

The mystery has brought me back so far, but I'm not sure how much longer I can be patient with the story. You don't read a book like this expecting an action extravaganza, but a little more forward movement would be nice.

Grade: B

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Batman #688

I should admit up front that the whole "New Batman" storyline is mostly leaving me cold, although I have been enjoying the Batman and Robin title (mostly because of the creative team).

I had planned to restrict my Bat-buying to that title only, but there wasn't much out there to review this week, and according to the blog title, I'm trying to review a comic a day, and Mark Bagley did provide the art here (yay), although Judd Winick wrote it (eh).

So, what the hey, here's Dick (Batman) Grayson, taking over the big job from the deceased (snicker) Bruce (Batman) Wayne.

This issue picks up with Batman becoming a bit more public with his crusade against crime, while the Penguin and Two-Face hatch plots, each against the other two. That's about it for this issue, which has a few nice moments with Dick and Alfred talking about the job - but otherwise not much happens.

Bagley's are is excellent as always, but seems to be buried under a dark pallet of colors. I know, the comic stars the Dark Knight and his adventures should take place in the evening - but it's a shame to obscure the art like this.

I actually like Grayson in the title role - he makes a cheerful, acrobatic Batman who's much more like the hero as he was depicted when I was young.

If only this comic could feature more story to go along with it.

Grade: C+

Friday, July 10, 2009

Green Lantern #43

Finally, the preliminaries are out of the way, and the Darkest Night has arrived. Or at least the prologue.

This issue provides the backstory for Black Hand, a longtime Green Lantern villain who is at the heart of the upcoming crossover event.

In his original incarnation as created by (I believe) John Broome and Gil Kane, Black Hand was a quirky villain, but not a particularly memorable one. He had a device that allowed him to siphon GL's emerald energy, but that's about it.

More recent stories by Geoff Johns have related the story behind Hand's weapon and its true origins. We've also seen Hand become a much deadlier and more deranged bad guy - and nowhere is that more evident than in this issue.

This is really more of a horror story (which is to be expected when you're talking about raising the dead and all), and there are some truly horrific images in this issue, not suitable for very young readers.

The art by Doug Mahnke is outstanding, and he gets to present a pile of characters, all of whom will no doubt be a key part of the upcoming event. He also has a great touch for horror.

The issue does an excellent job setting the stage for the dark drama ahead.

It's safe to say that this series will be landing at the top of the "read now" pile for the next few months.

Grade: A-

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Wednesday Comics #1

The first thing to say about Wednesday Comics is, what a brave and wonderful thing DC has attempted here!

I'm not convinced it will succeed, mind you, but what a terrific idea, resurrecting the classic large Sunday Newspaper Comic format in the modern age.

The 16-page issue features 15 different one-page adventures starring some of DC's biggest and most obscure characters. You would expect to see Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, but what a treat to see Sgt. Rock, Kamandi and Adam Strange included!

Each creative team has its own take on the character involved: some classic, like the Joe Kubert story about Sgt. Rock or the Metal Men story by Didio and Lopez; some are original takes, like Pope's Adam Strange or Caldwell's Wonder Woman; some are nostalgic, like Gaiman and Allred's delightful Metamorpho and Gibbons and Sook's Kamandi; and some are just plain fun, like Kerschl and Fletcher's Flash and Palmiotti and Conners' Supergirl.

There are no beefs with the art, although the newsprint reproduction tends to favor the cleaner styles (like Lopez, Kubert and Conner) while making some of the others difficult to sort out (like Pope, Caldwell and Galloway's Teen Titans).

The story is where I would expect some of these strips to struggle, since the writer only has the space of a four-page comic to work with every week - but in reality, they only have one big page to get things rolling.

Some of the strips succeed in this, like Superman, Batman and Hawkman, while others fail to get much traction.

Special kudos to the Kamandi strip - it doesn't really evoke the original Kirby style, but it does the best job of capturing that Sunday Comics feel on a Wednesday afternoon.

So, a great first effort - even at $3.99, I'll be back next week for the latest installment.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wednesday's Comics

A light week at ye olde comics shop! Here's what I picked up today:

- Batman #688 - Mostly for the Bagley art.

- Green Lantern #43 - Mostly because it's the best book DC has right now.

- Superman: World of New Krypton #5 (of 12) - Mostly because I wanted to give the book one last chance.

- The Unwritten #3 - Mostly because I had read the first two issues.

- The Warlord #4 - Mostly because it's written by Grell.

- Wednesday Comics #1 - Mostly because I love the idea and the execution. But oh, that price!

The Classics - The X-Men #10

Someone much smarter than I once said, "The Golden Age is 10."

Meaning that some of the memories from childhood that you cherish the most are from when you're 10 years old. It's probably not true for everyone, but it's certainly true for me.

The TV shows from the mid-'60s, the books and games, and most certainly the comic books still carry with them a sweet nostalgic rush.

This issue of The X-Men, cover dated March 1965, is a good example (even though I was only nine at the time).

Created by the team supreme of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, it's a rollicking, high-energy romp, as the team of mutants embarks on an adventure to Antarctica.

Like so many of Lee and Kirby's work, this one has enough ideas crammed in there to fill out a dozen issues.

In the frozen wastes the X-Men discover the Savage Land (in its first appearance), where dinosaurs and prehistoric humans live side-by-side. They meet the Tarzan takeoff, Ka-Zar (which, the splash page helpfully points out, is pronounced "Kay-Sar"), who talks is the usual broken lingo of a certain jungle lord: "Stronger than Mastodon! Stronger than giant Boar! Mighty is Ka-Zar... Lord of the Jungle!" They also meet his partner, Zabu, the Sabre-tooth Tiger.

The team battles prehistoric creatures, tangles with Swamp Men, rescues teammates and survives a stampede of Mastodons - all in the space of a 20-page issue!

The comic shows off Kirby's inventive powers, as the team hurtles from one danger to another, each one bigger than the last, and it gives Lee the chance to provide all kinds of entertaining dialogue, with special emphasis on the Beast and his extended vocabulary.

The art is inked by the guy many feel was one of Kirby's best all-time inkers, Chic Stone. I'm not sure he's my favorite - I'm more of a Joe Sinnott kinda guy - but there's no denying the power in the art here.

There are comic books I read again, more than 40 years later, and I wonder why I enjoyed it so much originally. The story isn't as good or the art not as exceptional as I remember.

But that's not the case here! This issue is as much fun - and maybe moreso - than I remembered, and it still carries that golden glow that made it one of my 10-year-old self's favorite comics.

Grade: A

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Irredeemable #4

It's tempting to dismiss Irredeemable as Mark Waid's version of "Superman becomes evil."

On the face of it, that's how it feels. In each issue, we see Sup- uh, I mean, The Plutonian (you can call him Tony) performing more sadistic acts, and the surviving heroes and villains seem powerless to stop him.

We also get a short flashback to his heroic days, which seem to be lifted straight from the Silver Age.

But we're also starting to get the sense that there's a lot more at work here than just a good guy gone 'round the bend. There are hints that Tony may have been planning his turn long before he donned a dark version of his costume and started killing people.

Certainly the art by Peter Krause continues to be excellent, and definitely has a Howard Chaykin flavor to the action.

I have to admit that the story was starting to lose me - a bad guy on a murder spree can only carry things so far - but given the turns the story is taking, I think I'll stick with it a while longer.

Grade: B+

Monday, July 6, 2009

Marvel Divas #1 (of 4)

Over the years I've read all kinds of comic books, but I have to admit that I've only read a few romance comics.

And I've seen several episodes of the TV show Sex and the City, though I'm certainly not a big fan.

None of this is to disparage the fans of the above - it's just that I have limited experience with them, so that may color my review of Marvel Divas, which has been billed as "Marvel superheroines meets Sex and the City."

The comic focuses on four characters - Patsy (Hellcat) Walker, Felicia (Black Cat) Hardy, Angelica (Firestar) Jones and Monica (Captain Marvel) Rambeau. (Hey, didn't she change her name to Photon or something like that?)

Anyway, the four have become pals, so they hang out a lot, talk about men, their escapades and rarely appear wearing anything other than normal clothes (in other words, no costumes). Which makes the cover something of a cheat.

The focus here is on romance and real life, not superhero antics - in fact, the story would work about as well if the four were not super-powered.

So the description is pretty much spot on, and it makes for a breezy read. The script by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is solid, and I really like the art by Tonci Zonjic - it's fresh and modern, and serves up an attractive world of beautiful women and the handsome men they're involved with. It evokes the real world without trying to be photo-realistic.

This comic certainly isn't for everyone - the only fight scenes are a couple of one-panel flashbacks - but if you're willing to stick a toe into the pool of romance comics, you could do worse.

Grade: B+

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Justice League: Cry for Justice #1 (of 7)

I have to admit that I'm not sure what to make of this comic.

It's written by James Robinson, who has an excellent track record. Whether he's tackling famous or obscure characters, the stories are always intelligent and well-crafted. His Starman run is one of my all-time favorites.

The painted art by Mauro Cascioli is certainly excellent - dark and detailed, it captures the tone of the story well.

But the story is where the issue stumbles. We're given the most minimal of setups with several of the members of this new (or alternate) version of the Justice League, and the only thing they all have in common is that they're very, very angry.

No doubt Robinson will bring this all together in the issues ahead, but for a premiere issue we don't have much to go on here.

The way the issue reads, it's almost as though they chose a bunch of heroes randomly out of a hat, and challenged Robinson to come up with a story that would include them all.

So a rough start, but we'll have to reserve judgment until we get a better idea of where this grim and gritty version of the League is going.

Grade: B

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Fantastic Four #568

To create a compelling villain, all you need to do is make him or her extremely powerful.

That way, the reader has to wonder, "How can (name of hero) possibly win?"

That's the formula writer Mark Millar and scripter Joe Ahearne are following with this last story in the Millar / Hitch run on the Fantastic Four.

And it works in part - I was certainly eager to see how the FF was going to deal with the Marquis of Death, a character who has (apparently) destroyed millons of alternate Earths and (apparently) killed Dr. Doom.

The problem with the story is that we have no idea what the Marquis' powers are. He seems to be able to do anything, as though he were a living, evil Cosmic Cube.

And there we get into "Q" territory - the Star Trek: The Next Generation character who could do anything just by thinking about it. When a character is all-powerful, he or she can only be defeated by trickery or if he or she makes the decision to stop.

That's why I don't usually care for the omnipotent characters - if he or she can do anything, it makes it difficult to care - the solution to the problem is just too limited. Hopefully I'll be proven wrong here.

The art this time around is something of a mixed bag, with Bryan Hitch providing some excellent pages, and Neil Edwards doing his best Hitch impersonation on other pages. It's a shame Hitch wasn't able to finish his run on this title (I believe a different artist is drawing the next issue), because he's done some terrific work here.

We finally do get a hint as to the origin of the Marquis here, although an editor's note explaining what issue the character originally appeared in (assuming he hasn't been created from whole cloth here) would have been appreciated.

Starting with high hopes, the Millar / Hitch run has been something of a hit-or-miss prospect. Here's hoping the final issue is a hit again.

Grade: B+

Friday, July 3, 2009

Batman and Robin #2

Hey, remember when DC had an "election" and let the fans decide whether Robin #2 (Jason Todd) should live or die?

If I were the newest Robin (I've lost count - he's #5, right?), I'd hope for no more phone polls, because this kid makes Jason Todd look like a dreamboat.

That's intentional, of course, and it's Grant Morrison's way of turning up the heat on the new Batman (Dick Grayson), as he tries to mentor Bruce's son and keep him alive at the same time.

And the heat is on, as Grayson must prove to everyone - especially himself - that he's up to the job of being Batman. Morrison sprinkles in some great touches throughout, and offers a clever solution to the problem, courtesy of Alfred.

The main story continues to be grimly entertaining, as the new Batman and Robin face a twisted circus and its mysterious purpose.

Frank Quitely turns in another outstanding art job, with some great action sequences and some more "wonderful toys" for the Caped Crusader.

So far, very good.

Grade: A-

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Captain America: Reborn #1 (of 5)

We can be thankful that fiction isn't bound by the same rules as the real world.

In the world of imagination, death is overturned all the time, and characters who had gone to join the heavenly choir are often able to make the trip back to join the living.

After a couple of years, Marvel is finally doing just that to our pal Captain America.

It's hard to imagine any fans out there believing that Cap's death was any more permanent than Superman's was or Batman's will be - but the true test of a story is how the dramatic twist is resolved.

Spinning out of issue #600, we have a special Reborn mini-series explaining just how Cap could still be alive - quite a trick, since we saw his cold dead body.

Thankfully, they're not copping out with a silly explanation (Cap was a Skrull/Clone/LMD/etc.) - the reveal provides a story that has a good science fiction legacy (paging Mr. Vonnegut), and has the comic's entire supporting cast working to solve the mystery and bring Steve back from the "other side."

As always, writer Ed Brubaker provides an outstanding script, and the book features top-of-the-line art from Bryan Hitch, one of the best in the business, and Butch Guice, an artist who used to be really good, but now I'd categorize as nothing less than great. His recent work has reflected his growth as an artist, and his work packs a powerful, realistic punch. The styles of both artists mesh very well, as each one tells a different part of the story - they're the perfect team to work on this book.

Not to give anything away, but this issue makes me very happy indeed. Recommended!

Grade: A

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

It's Comic Book Day All Over the World

Here's what your pal Chuck picked up today:

- Agents of Atlas #7 - Namor and Namora, sittin' in a tree...

- Batman and Robin #2 - More circus slang! (The only phrase I know is "Hey, Rube!")

- Captain America: Reborn #1 (of 5) - Finally! (Remind me to talk about Variant covers.)

- Fantastic Four #568 - Dr. Doom's teacher plans to school the FF.

- Green Lantern Corps #38 - The big wrap-up, leading into Darkest Night.

- The Incredible Hercules #130 - More fun in the afterlife!

- The Invincible Iron Man #15 - Tony has girl trouble!

- Irredeemable #4 - More destruction, more often.

- Justice League: Cry for Justice #1 (of 7) - The angry version of the JLA.

- Marvel Divas #1 (of 4) - Marvel super-heroines meets "Sex and the City?" Hmmm.

The Classics - Tales to Astonish #58

While I couldn't tell you where I bought most of my comic books, occasionally issues stick in my mind, usually for the oddest reasons.

Take this issue of Tales to Astonish from August 1964. This one, I remember clear as a bell - and the memory makes me think about what a different world we're living in.

All those years ago (45, to be exact) - at least in the sleepy suburb where I grew up - there was no such thing as stores being opened 24 hours a day, and almost everything was closed on Sunday.

In fact, other than bars, the only store that stayed open until 9 p.m. was the town newsstand. So late one evening, my Dad realized he was out of cigarettes, and he had to rush to get to the newsstand in time.

I volunteered to go along - in those days, there was nothing unusual about a kid buying cigarettes for a parent (though the clerk would occasionally look outside to make sure mom or dad were sitting out in the car).

Of course, I was hoping that I'd be allowed to pick up a comic book at the same time, too. Dad gave me the money for his purchase and told me I could buy a comic. I rushed into the store and the clerk pointed out the just-opened box on the floor - the latest delivery of comics!

It was the first time I could remember seeing a shipment arrive like that, and it was difficult to choose from all those bundles, but finally I settled on the latest adventure of one of my favorite characters, Giant-Man. (I must confess, I don't remember what other titles were in the box, but making that agonizing choice was all part of being a kid with limited change to spend.)

The comic, which I loved at the time, featured the battle with the mysterious Colossus, who appeared on a mountain in Africa. The battle is light-hearted, with a fun script by Stan Lee and solid art by Dick Ayers and Paul Reinman, but it's ultimately pretty silly.

It doesn't hold up well, and it's not much more than a recycled Atlas-era science fiction story - but it's a light bit o' fun.

The backup story features the Wasp taking on "D-list" bad guy The Magician, which is mostly interesting because the story is briefly referenced in the Busiek / Ross Marvels series, as a fashion line is based on the Wasp.

So while it's not the greatest comic ever, it holds fond memories for me, both for the entertainment I got from the comic, and for the times when Dad would let me tag along and enjoy the chance to feel like a big boy at the staggering age of 8.

Grade: B-