Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Today's Comics

A light week! Here's what I picked up today:

- Astro City: Astra #1 (of 2) - She's grown up already? How time flies!

- Green Lantern #46 - Some real surprises here.

- Justice Society of America #31 - Here, too.

- Secret Warriors #8 - A good issue, if a bit confusing, since I don't read Thunderbolts.

- Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu #1 (One Shot) - a fun idea, but can it deliver?

- Thor #603 - Dr. Doom teams up with Loki - what fun!

- Alter Ego #89 - a Halloween Horror issue.

And that's it!

The Classics - Iron Man #16

This is the comic that made me stop collecting comics. For all of about 30 seconds.

I clearly remember the day I walked into the newsstand a couple of miles from my Grandmother's house.

There on the spinner rack was the latest issue of Iron Man (cover dated August 1969), which I had been looking forward to, since the previous issue ended with a cliffhanger.

I picked up the issue, looked at it, and a surge of outrage swept through me. How could they? I put it back on the spinner, and decided on the spot that I would buy no more comic books.

Don't get me wrong - there was nothing offensive about the story or the art. There, on the cover, was the culprit.

In the upper left corner, to be exact. The price of a comic book, after seven years of holding at 12 cents, had suddenly jumped to a hefty 15 cents.

I know, a three-cent jump seems laughable now, when price jumps of a dollar are becoming common - but at the time it seemed almost criminal.

I looked at the other comics on the rack, but I kept coming back to this issue. Finally, I calmed down and realized that 15 cents wasn't so bad, even if it meant I could now only get one comic for a quarter, instead of two.

The comic itself was pretty good, as Iron Man was forced to team up with the Unicorn to fight the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes (who were apparently on loan from the Fantastic Four).

Written by Archie Goodwin, the story is loaded with action and a plot twist or two. It also features terrific art by one of my favorite artists on ol' Shellhead, George Tuska, inked here by the legendary Johnny Craig. Tuska is a vastly underrated artist who was tops at action scenes - you could almost feel those punches! He also was a fine storyteller, and his page designs were spot on.

I have to laugh, remembering the outrage of a 13-year-old. And I've heard stories about other collectors dropping comics when this price jump happened (I seem to remember Mark Evanier telling a similar story on his website).

It was a close call! Luckily for me, my love of comics won out.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Spider-Woman #1

The long-promised Spider-Woman comic book has finally appeared, and it features the return of the team of Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev.

This is one dark comic (in topic as well as art) as Jessica Drew finds herself at a very low ebb indeed. During the Secret Invasion, her life was taken over by the Skrull Queen and the last image most people have of her is as a traitor.

So now that she's back on Earth, what is she going to do with her life? A possible answer appears in this issue, as she's offered a new (but grim) direction.

I should say that I think Bendis and Maleev make a good team and their work is outstanding - they seem to be in tune with each other.

But I've always felt that Maleev worked better in the real world than in the superhero playground. For example, the splash page on page two has Spider-Woman posed at a very odd angle.

But after reading this comic, I've changed my mind. Aside from that one page, Maleev's art is perfect for this bleak tale of (possible) redemption.

As for the story, it's a little too early to tell if that's going to work out, but Bendis has a good track record for such things, so I'll hang around for a while and see how it goes.

If you like dark stories with an edge, you'd be advised to give this one a try.

Grade: A-

(EDIT: I originally wrote that Bendis and Maleev had worked together on the Alias comic - quite wrong, as Scott points out in the comments, so I've corrected it. It was Michael Gaydos who drew Alias. Maleev worked on several other titles with Bendis, including an outstanding run on Daredevil. Mea Culpa!)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Conan the Cimmerian #14

Yesterday I mentioned that I have a short list of artists that I admire enough that I'll buy any comic they draw.

This issue of Conan of Cimmeria features two others who are on that list - Joe Kubert and Tim Truman.

I guess we shouldn't be surprised to see these two working together, since Truman was a graduate of Kubert's School, and both are from the rough-and-tumble, no nonsense, incredibly talented side of the artistic fence.

This "done in one" issue features a framing sequence by Kubert that's just terrific. This may be his first attempt at Conan, although he may have drawn a cover or a pin-up or two along the way.

Needless to say, his work is amazing, and it's always a treat to see the master at work. His sequence shows Conan enjoying some "down time," as he goes hunting to escape the boredom of the castle. He remembers his hard life in Cimmeria, and that leads us to the issue's other story, about a deadly menace still walking the hills of Conan's homeland, and how his tribe deals with the challenge.

That section is drawn by Truman, who also wrote the issue, and as I've said before, he was born for this kind of story. The action is raw, violent, but it has heart (uh, as in an emotional connection to the characters).

If you're not reading this series, you're missing out on the best Howard adaptation ever. And that's saying something!

Grade: A-

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Power Girl #5

This is a comic book that isn't really doing anything unusual with the format - it's really a standard superhero comic book, with the main character fighting the bad guys, maintaining a secret identity and trying to have something like a normal life outside the crazy world of a superhero.

But it does all those things very well, and has at its heart a very likeable hero in Power Girl. She draws a lot of attention from fans because of her (ahem) obvious attributes, and the fact that's she's a strong female who takes no guff and is always ready to punch out the bad guys.

This comic manages to walk a fine line between depicting her as a sex object (which would be an easy trap to fall into) and making her completely unapproachable (like Wonder Woman). The comic has fun with her (shall we say) robust image, but she does come across as genuine and fun to be around.

There's a good example in this issue - she has a nice moment with a member of an emergency medical team as she recognizes him for his heroic efforts.

In this issue she's facing a new situation, as aliens have landed in Central Park and are loose in the city - the question is, are they good aliens or bad aliens?

Of course, one of the key secrets to the success of this book is the delightful artwork of Amanda Conner. Her characters are so expressive, she makes this comic a joy month after month.

Kudos to the writers - Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray - for creating a comic that stays in the bounds of the traditional superhero comic, but still manages to tell a good story, create interesting characters and be a heck of a lot of fun.

Grade: B+

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Dark Reign: The List: X-Men #1 (One Shot)

One of the artists on the short list of "someone whose work I'll buy no matter what comic it's in" is Alan Davis.

I've always liked his artwork - it's powerful but clean, dynamic and fresh. He tells the story clearly, but always with an original take and a style that's very much his own. There are some influences in there - some Neal Adams, some John Byrne, a little Dave Cockrum, some Brian Bolland - but he's really blazing his own trail by now, and his work is a strong as ever.

And one of the things I really like about his work is that each character is unique. Too many artists can only draw one body type, and they just change the costume or the hair. Davis' characters are all different - Iceman is slim, Wolverine short and stocky, Namor is regal, and Osborn radiates evil.

He's also a heck of a good writer (as evidenced by the sadly unappreciated comic Clandestine, among others). Here he's teamed up with Matt Fraction, who's no slouch himself.

But this story is a mighty thin one, as Norman Osborn decides to get his revenge on Namor and Emma Frost by sending a monster against the Atlanteans and the X-Men.

This issue could just as easily have been titled Sub-Mariner, since he's really the star this time around. Not that I'm complaining - one of the things I like about the Dark Reign books is the return of Namor to the spotlight. That's long overdue.

So the issue's not much more than a big battle between the heroes and the monster, with some posing and threats passed around between Osborn and Namor. I'm not really sure why this merited a special issue (other than the chance to score another $3.99 from the fans).

But my, the art sure is nice.

Grade: B-

Friday, September 25, 2009

Wednesday Comics #12 (of 12)

Here we have the final issue (for now) of Wednesday Comics, a terrific idea that just fell a little short of the mark.

The fault lies with the writing of some of the strips, which I'll get to in a minute. But the artists get nothing but praise - they used the medium to show off their skills, and while a couple of the strips weren't to my taste, one can't expect to like everything in a variety pack like this.

So what's wrong with the writing? Well, it's largely a matter of format. Some of the strips were designed to be read a page at a time, once a week - while others read like a 12-page story. They'll work great in the inevitable collection, but in this format, they weren't as effective.

So let's run down the strips one at a time and hand out those final grades (one for story, one for art):

- Batman features great art and a thin story that might work a little better in the collection. Forgettable.
Grades: Story: C+ / Art: A-

- Kamandi is the best strip in this comic and manages a dramatic, action-packed yet heartfelt story, very much along the lines of Prince Valiant. Fantastic art.
Grade: Story: A / Art: A+

- Superman
is another strip that will work fine in a collection, though half of the story is annoying, as Superman spends his time whining about being an alien on Earth. Dude, you can change the course of mighty rivers and bend steel in your bare hands - lighten up! I do like the art, though, and there's a nice cameo in this final strip.
Grade: Story: B- / Art: A-

- Deadman wraps itself up with a bow here, although the story didn't work as a weekly. But taken as a whole it's pretty good, with lots of supernatural roughhousing. The art is original and fun.
Grade: Story: B+ / Art: B+

- Green Lantern was a near miss for me. The art is a lot of fun, with a good Silver Age, Darwyn Cooke-ish feel to it, but the story was mighty thin, and doesn't read as a weekly. Still, always good to see GL in action.
Grade: Story: C+ / Art: B+

- Metamorpho is the wackiest strip in the lot. Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred have fun channeling the goofy spirit of those original '60s adventures. I'm not sure it was a complete success, but it was fun to follow along.
Grade: Story: B+ / Art: A-

- Teen Titans is one of the strips that just didn't work for me. The story was nearly incomprehensible and the art didn't help. I'm not even sure I understand what happened here, but luckily, I don't really care.
Grade: Story: C- ; Art: C

- Strange Adventures
was a truly bizarre take on the adventures of Adam Strange - but I liked it a lot! Surreal, unique, weird - but it offered a fresh look at a classic character, with lots of science fiction and Edgar Rice Burroughs riffs squeezed in there.
Grade: Story: A / Art: A-

- Supergirl - This is another of my favorites, although the story's on the light side. But it's a fun romp, and the artwork is a delight. Any strip that includes Krypto the Super-Dog and Speedy the Super-Cat is ok by me.
Grade: Story: B+ / Art: A

- Metal Men - Despite only having 12 pages of story, this adventure just seemed to drag on for the longest time. To its credit, though, it does have the "feel" of those original Robert Kanigher adventures. It's all redeemed by the fantastic art - probably the best in the issue.
Grade: Story: B- / Art: A+

- Wonder Woman
- This is the other strip that just hasn't worked for me at all. Add the teeny tiny panels that strain my aged eyesight (excepting issue #11) and the lettering that's hard to read, and you end up with a story that's very difficult to follow. I think this one was a victim of the printing process, but I gave up on reading it early on. Sorry.
Grade: Story: C- / Art: C+

- Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. - The strip I thought I'd love but didn't. The art is incredible but the story was slim. Rock spent 12 weeks being abused, tortured and shot by Nazis - not my idea of entertainment. The story twist at the end doesn't redeem a weak story.
Grade: Story: C- / Art: A

- The Flash and Iris West - This is one I really wanted to like. The art is excellent, but the story tried a little too hard to get cute with the reader, and ended up losing its emotional punch. But it does manage to end on a high note.
Grade: Story: B- / Art: A-

- The Demon and Cat Woman - The title characters "meet cute" to wrap up this story. This was one that worked out fine by the end, although there was some doubt early on. The art is quite good.
Grade: Story: B+ / Art: B+

- Hawkman - This was a good effort, although it lost its focus on the hero by the end, as the rest of the Justice League (and especially Aquaman) take some of the glory. Still, a darn good strip.
Grade: Story: B+ / Art: A-

So that wraps up this initial effort at a weekly version of the old Sunday Comics. I think it was a valiant effort, and I'd love to see this kind of thing on an annual basis, with some fine-tuning.

My advice: the artists and writers should be assigned to read some of the Prince Valiant collections to get the feel of the format, and it would be nice to see even more variety in the strips - humor, strips for kids and grown-ups - the sky's the limit!

And surely our old pal at Cap's Hobby Shop still has some good advice for us.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The New Avengers #57

As a writer, it's always fun to put your characters in a trap and then let them figure a way out.

In the latest issue of the New Avengers, the team is in a very bad spot. Some villains have developed a power inhibitor and have used it to shut down both the New and the Dark Avengers.

Of course, you can't help but feel that Brian Bendis is playing fast and loose with his concept here. Why does the inhibitor cause all the New Avengers (except Mockingbird) to collapse?

Sure, it's understandable for those with actual superpowers - Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Ms. Marvel and Luke Cage - but why do Captain America and Ronin collapse?

Aside from that (and I'll grant that I'm being picky and the reasons may be explained down the road), it's a heckuva good issue, with loads of action and a solid cliffhanger.

Stuart Immonen's art is terrific (with Wade von Grawbadger's inks), as he depicts numerous fights, intense confrontations, sexy nurses and cityscapes with equal ease.

I enjoyed this one so much that I'll dispense with my usual "enough of the Dark Reign already" gripes. Bendis continues to do great work on this title - just when you think he's painted himself into a corner, darned if he doesn't figure a way out.

He did it with this comic, and we'll see if he can manage it again next issue.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Here's what your pal Chuck picked up today:

- New Avengers #57 - They're in a tight spot!

- Conan the Cimmerian #14 - Art by Joe Kubert. Awesome!

- Dark Reign: The List: X-Men #1 (One shot) - Bought for the Alan Davis art.

- Fantastic Four #571 - So far, so good.

- The Incredible Hercules #135 - A strange but fun Golden Age crossover (sorta).

- The Incredible Hulk #602 - Father and son - how touching.

- Justice League of America #37 - Wrapping up Len Wein's all-too-brief run.

- Power Girl #5 - Just another one of those crash-landing spaceship stories.

- Spider-Woman #1
- Finally! They've been promising this comic for years now.

- Wednesday Comics #12 (of 12) - Enjoyed it, but glad to see it wrap up.

- Uncanny X-Men #515 - Moving is always a challenge.

And that's it!

The Classics - Groo the Wanderer #1

For today's classic comic we have the first comic to star Sergio Aragones' Groo the Wanderer (though it's not his first comic book appearance - that happened in the Destroyer Duck fundraiser comic).

Like any good humor comic, Groo almost defies description. It's the humorous adventures of the world's stupidest (and yet lovable) warrior. His only interests are eating (preferably cheese dip) and fighting (which is his one great ability - other than eating, that is).

He lives in a medieval world where magic exists and a dim warrior can always find employment.

It's always interesting to look at those early appearances of a character and see how he (or she) changes over the years, but to be frank - Groo is pretty much the same now (in his all-too-rare appearances) as he was then, although he does eventually become a little bit smarter. And he added a pet dog, Rufferto, and a huge cast of characters along the way.

His nose is about the only real difference. Here it seems to change a lot - sometimes big and bulbous, sometimes long and skinny - but like Groo, it's always funny looking.

One of the many running gags in the series was the question: what does Mark Evanier do? Here he's listed as the Interpreter, but whatever he did, he and letterer Stan Sakai would have a hand in every Groo comic that followed (which must be somewhere close to 200 issues total by now).

This Pacific Comics issue, cover dated December 1982, set the tone for all those that followed. Groo is on the run from an angry mob of soldiers, and he wonders, "Why do they want to kill me?" As he thinks back, he remembers his recent dunderheaded mistakes that led to death, destruction and excommunication. In other words, just another day for Groo.

It's a deceptively simple concept that has, over the years, spawned an amazing number of funny, clever, thoughtful and touching stories, demonstrating that there seems no end to the skill and imagination of Sergio.

It's sad that Groo is not a monthly comic these days, because if there's anything the comics industry needs, it's more humor. He still puts in occasional appearances - there's one coming up soon, in fact, and the rumored crossover with Conan is still in the works (this I gotta see). And there are stacks of collections that are still available at fine comic stores everywhere (or eBay, whichever's closer).

But getting back to the heart of the matter: everyone knows that Jack Kirby was the King of action comics, but when it comes to humor comics, Aragones wears the crown.

Grade: A+

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Brave and the Bold #27

This is a comic that's been pretty erratic lately.

The Brave and the Bold started out a couple of years ago as a vehicle for Mark Waid and George Perez to tell team-up stories with an assortment of heroes. Of course, they ended up using most of the DC Universe, and those issues were great fun.

Then the title became something of a hodgepodge of stories, some good, some not so good. In an effort (I assume) to give the series some direction, it's gone back to its long-running Silver Age concept of being a team-up book starring Batman.

They've also wisely turned the writing duties over to J. Michael Straczynski, a darn good writer. The art is by Jesus Diaz, who turns in strong work here, with several standout pages.

But the real reason I bought this comic is because the other hero in the book is one of my sentimental favorites - Robby Reed and his HERO dial.

Robby starred in the relatively short-lived series of stories in the '60s titled Dial H for HERO. He discovered an odd device that looked like a classic telephone dial. Of course, it's a terribly outdated concept now - would a kid today even know how to use a phone dial?

Anyway, he deciphered the alien language on the dial and dialed the letters H-E-R-O, and found himself transformed into a never-before-seen hero (except for the time he turned into Plastic Man). Every time he used the dial, he turned into a different hero (with a few exceptions).

It was a fun, inventive series that I really enjoyed as a kid, and I was sorry to see it canceled (though one suspects the writers were somewhat relieved - it had to be quite a challenge to dream up three new heroes for each issue).

The character has returned a few times in the decades since, and I was happy to see him back in the spotlight for this issue.

Except it's not much of a return - he's a secondary character in the story of Batman's attempt to stop the Joker's deadly plan, although the HERO dial is prominent.

Yes, it's confusing, and while the story's well constructed and entertaining, it also leaves Robby less of a hero than he was before.

So for me, it's an inauspicious start for the "new" Brave and the Bold. It's always difficult to see an old favorite return and get rained on.

Hopefully we'll have better luck next time.

Grade: C+

Monday, September 21, 2009

Beasts of Burden #1

I somehow managed to miss the earlier appearances of the Beasts of Burden, so I didn't know what to expect with this issue.

My first impression was, "Ah, a comic about talking animals. I should show this to my lovely wife - she loves stories about dogs." Then I read it and realized, this is not a humor book - it's a horror story, so it's not a comic for my wife (she hates scary stuff).

However, that's not to say that it's a bad comic - quite the opposite. I really enjoyed this offbeat tale written by Evan Dorkin. Subtitled "The Gathering Storm," the story is set in the quiet neighborhood of Burden Hill, where strange, mystical things are happening.

Luckily for the oblivious residents of the town, the animals are looking out for them. The dogs and cats serve as the first line of defense against supernatural menaces (although some of the animals tackle the job quite reluctantly).

The stories are infused with lots of humor, great characters and some nasty events to challenge the four-legged "Spook Squad."

The art by Jill Thompson is outstanding (which should come as no surprise to those familiar with her work). She manages to walk a fine line between making the animals look realistic while infusing them with character, humor and life. The settings and backgrounds are amazingly detailed and help bring the story to life.

For those (like me) who missed the earlier short stories, Dark Horse has conveniently placed them online - you can read them right here.

I recommend this series to anyone who's ready for a story that's out of the ordinary, tinged with horror and humor, and loaded with animals who seem to be real (in other words, if animals talked, these are the kinds of conversations they'd have).

But don't show it to my wife.

Grade: A-

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Archie #601

This issue of Archie deserves credit for taking a fresh look at the character - although to be fair, this issue falls in the "What If" / Imaginary Story category, as we're getting a look at what Archie sees when he walks up Memory Lane and takes the left branch.

Last issue we saw Archie propose to Veronica - and one might have expected that the six-issue miniseries would focus mostly on that history-shattering marriage. But if (like me) that's what you expected, you're wrong!

Because in this issue, the wedding takes place, and the clock moves ahead in surprising fashion. So apparently this series is going to cover quite a bit of ground. Kudos to writer Michael Uslan for his handling of the story so far.

It's interesting that this issue isn't top-heavy with jokes and the like - it's actually a sweet, sentimental story that even addresses the Betty issue in a thoughtful way. (Poor Betty.)

The art by Stan Goldberg and Bob Smith is spot on, of course, although it's still a bit odd to see the adult versions of these characters.

No matter how "real" the story is, it's entertaining and well worth a look.

Grade: B+

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Dark Avengers #9

The buyer should be warned that the inside portion of this comic is not nearly as action packed as the cover promises.

However, don't let that fool you - the interior crackles with conflict, tension and an outstanding story.

In a crossover with Nick Fury and his Secret Warriors, Ares finally decides to see what his son Phobos is up to during the day. And to say that they have an difficult father-and-son relationship would be an understatement.

We also see lots of conflict in the headquarters of the Dark Avengers, and indications that Norman Osborn's team may be much more erratic than we thought.

The issue features all kinds of plot twists and great characterization, and it's a heck of a good read.

The art continues to be phenomenal under Mike Deodato. He does the big action sequences well, and manages to capture the emotions each character is feeling with amazing skill.

I've said before that the Dark Reign story is losing its allure, but issues like this pull me right back in. Good stuff.

Grade: A-

Friday, September 18, 2009

Captain America: Reborn #3 (of 5)

Killing off a character is easy to do.

The trick is bringing that character back to life in a way that the readers find acceptable - in other words, no dirty tricks involved.

Thankfully, that's exactly what's playing out in the long-awaited Captain America: Reborn. We finally learn at least part of the secret behind his disappearance - he's become unstuck in time (see Slaughterhouse Five).

As a result, he finds himself appearing at different points in his adventure-filled life, which is great because it gives us a good reason to see artists Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice give us their take on those moments. The art they're turning in here is stunning - easily the best in their career so far, and believe me, that's saying something.

Namor makes two appearances in the story (past and present), and he's given new intensity and power through the artwork. For a visual definition of the word rage, see page 3.

It would be easy to pick nits with Ed Brubaker's story here, since his story is based around a well-established science fiction concept - but what the heck, if the idea is good enough for Alan Moore to lift (for Watchmen), then we can hardly fault Brubaker for using such a powerful idea.

And it's being used to great effect here, as we relive the moments that made Steve Rogers into Captain America. And Steve's not exactly waiting around to be rescued, as he sets events into motion... ah, but that would be telling.

This is an outstanding series so far, and is making the long wait for Steve's return worthwhile. And ah, that last page...

If you're any kind of fan of Captain America, this series is highly recommended.

Grade: A

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Blackest Night #3 (of 8)

The good news is, this series continues to live up to its promise - it's yet another excellent "event" comic written by Geoff Johns.

The story is building nicely as DC's heroes begin to realize the enormity of the menace they're facing. The horror of the situation is amplified, as well, and there are some truly disturbing sequences, especially one centering around the original Firestorm.

While I've never been a big fan of zombies, I have to admit that the Black Lanterns are despicable enough to make entertaining (if somewhat single-minded) bad guys. Since they seem to be invulnerable to damage, the menace facing the world seems unstoppable. Emphasis on the word "seems."

The story provides more than its share of surprises, knock-down, drag-out fights and some solid information about a possible solution to the menace.

The art is fantastic, as Ivan Reis continues to turn in some powerful work, great action sequences and does a great job illustrating the genuine emotions at play on the faces of the heroes. He's one of the best in the business right now.

And on a purely fanboy level, I'm really enjoying the team of Green Lantern and the Flash (they are the heart of this series), as they work together (and against) other Silver Age icons with the kind of skill and ability you would expect from two of DC's top heroes.

Despite the often grisly nature of this story, it's a powerful event that's hitting the entire DC Universe, and seems likely to change the status quo. As always, I can't wait for the next issue!

Grade: A-

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New Comics - Back on Wednesday Where They Belong

Today I picked up:

- Agents of Atlas #11 - The last issue? Sorta. Bummer.

- Archie #601 - Marry Veronica? DON'T DO IT, ARCHIE!

- Dark Avengers #9 - Hmmm. I liked this one a lot.

- Batman and Robin #4 - Even without Quitely, it's mighty good.

- Beasts of Burden #1 - I thought this looked interesting, and how can you not like talking animals?

- Blackest Night #3 (of 8) - This just keeps getting better.

- Brave and Bold #27 - Couldn't pass up an appearance by Robbie Reed and his Hero Dial!

- Captain America: Reborn #3 (of 5) - The best thing from Marvel.

- The Invincible Iron Man #18 - Back to the beginning.

- Thor Annual #1 - Why can't we have see this character, like, monthly?

- Wednesday Comics #11 (of 12) - One to go!

The Classics - Captain Marvel #29

Now here's a comic that shattered my tender little teenage mind.

Captain Marvel (as in the Marvel Comics alien named Mar-Vell) probably had the most messed-up, monkeyed-with superhero career ever.

In his short run he went from being an spy for the alien race known as the Kree to a hero of Earth. He was given incredible superpowers by a mysterious creature, and they were almost immediately taken away. He was dumped in the Negative Zone and could only be freed by changing places with Rick Jones, courtesy of the Nega-Bands on his wrist.

The quality of the comics varied wildly, from awesome art by Gene Colan and Gil Kane to art by others that, well, weren't awesome at all. And the stories! Some great, most average, a few truly bad.

Luckily, help was on the way, thanks to writer and artist Jim Starlin. After several issues where he got the feel for the character, Starlin broke all the rules with this issue (which is cover dated November 1973).

But first, let's look at the iconic cover on this issue. It's one of my all-time favorites, but I'm conflicted about it. It's amazing, but even my young eyes could tell there was something wrong with Capt. Marvel's face.

As I found out later, that's because someone had the great John Romita re-draw the head and replace the original. Usually I'd hate that, but I've seen the original art, and I have to say - they made the right call. Starlin's original face was very odd, almost distorted. But there's a voice in my head that says they should have stayed with the original art. Glad I don't have to make these decisions.

Inside the comic, we find Mar-Vell being confronted by the strange alien named Eon. It's sort of a floating green blob with a huge eye on the left, and an extra face on the right. It was created to guide Mar-Vell to the next level, and give him the abilities he'll need to battle Thanos, who was threatening all of creation with a Cosmic Cube.

Mar-Vell is led through an issue filled with psychoanalysis, a cosmic journey that gives Starlin lots of room to create strange and intense images - not to mention some terrific cinematic fight sequences.

By the end, Capt. Marvel has undergone some changes both deep and superficial, and Starlin advanced him from being just another superhero to being one of the most interesting and capable figures in the Marvel Universe.

Marvel had made its reputation creating cosmic stories with alien races and god-like characters - but with this issue, Marvel (and Mar-Vell) became cosmic with a capital "C."

And it was just the beginning - soon Starlin would raise the stakes with Warlock, and writers such as Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont and John Byrne would do their part to push the edge even further.

Readers were shocked by the depth of the story, and the challenging concepts that were presented. As such, it was a significant moment in the advancement of the art form - and a heck of a great comic book, too.

Grade: A+

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Models, Inc.

Now here's a comic book that definitely wasn't designed for me.

But Millie the Model is a classic Marvel character, dating back to the '50s, and this seemed like a clever repackaging of the concept, so I thought I'd give it a try.

Did I mention this wasn't designed for me?

I suppose the question is, who is Models, Inc. designed for?

If the idea is to attract more female readers, I suppose it has a chance - but the story is so thin and the characters so one-dimensional, it's difficult to imagine anyone feeling driven to come back for the second issue.

Written by Paul Tobin, the comic features several of the classic female characters from Marvel's Silver Age line for girls - Millie, her feisty pal Chili, Patsy Walker (who's also the Hellcat, though not seen in costume here), Hedy, Jill and Toni.

They take part in a photo shoot, they chat with what's supposed to be catty and clever dialogue (but isn't), and then Millie finds herself in a deadly mess. If it sounds interesting... it really isn't.

The artwork by Vincenc Villagrasa is solid and loaded with cool fashions, but the artist doesn't get to do much more than draw lots of pretty girls.

The backup story reads like a spoof of fashion, with real-life icon Tim Gunn turning to super-hero fashions to fight an army of AIM agents. Silly at best.

Really, the best thing about the comic is the cover by Scott Clark, a nifty send-up of a fashion magazine cover - and Millie never looked better.

I wish this comic was a success, or at least something that I could recommend for readers who like this kind of Project Runway-type story. Given the lack of similar comics, there must surely be a real need for a series (or more) that's aimed at young women. But this isn't it.

Grade: C-

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ultimate Avengers #2

The beauty of the "Ultimate" line of comics is that it gives the creative team a lot of leeway to take the original Marvel superhero concepts into new, original areas.

It's a feature Mark Millar pushed to the limit on the original Ultimates comic, and now he's at it again in the new Ultimate Avengers line.

When it works, it makes for entertaining reading. When it doesn't work... well, you know.

So here we have a story about Captain America encountering a modern-day Red Skull for the first time. He's shocked when the Skull beats him up rather easily and throws him out of a helicopter - but not before revealing a shocking fact - that this Red Skull actually the son of Steve Rogers. (Hmm, what movie does this remind me of?)

Now Cap has gone renegade and is trying to determine the truth. This brings him in conflict with SHIELD, the Avengers and just about everyone else. The issue also provides some other surprises which I'll leave for the reader to discover.

There's no denying the art is outstanding. Carlos Pacheco turns in some powerful and often disturbing images here - some are particularly brutal and not at all suited for young readers.

Millar's return to this comic brings it back to its status quo - namely, there seems to be no difference between the heroes and the villains. Heroes like Hawkeye and Nick Fury are almost gleeful about killing, and even Captain America is portrayed as brutal.

A friend of mine dropped this book early in its run, saying he preferred to read comics that starred heroes. The description still fits.

The art is great, the story is interesting, but I just don't care about the characters involved. Is having one likeable character asking too much?

Grade: B+

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Dark Avengers / Uncanny X-Men: Exodus #1 (One Shot)

This was an issue picked up on impulse, since I haven't picked up any of the other comics in this mini-series except for the regular issues of Uncanny X-Men.

Frankly, this looked like one of those crossover stories that were simply an attempt to make you buy a bunch of comics in order to get the whole story. Being naturally hard-headed, I decided to ditch the whole thing, except for the X-Men issues.

But when I saw that this Exodus wrap-up issue was drawn by Mike Deodato and Terry and Rachel Dodson, I decided to give it a try. I'm glad I did!

As expected, the art is terrific, as each artist handles his or her own team (for the most part), and though their styles are very different, they actually work together well here.

While I'm tired of the whole Dark Reign / Dark Avengers thing, I did enjoy the knock-down, drag-out fight between the Dark and the mutant forces and the cat-and-mouse game between Cyclops and Norman Osborn.

You know, it occurs to me that Marvel made its name by providing lots of action in their comics, but they seem to have moved away from that to some degree in recent years. Maybe it's just me. But I think I enjoyed this issue because it was action-packed, and thus a throwback to Marvel's days of yesteryear.

Even more surprising is the fact that the issue actually makes significant changes in the lives of the X-Men, although it may also have them boxed into a corner. It'll be interesting to see where they go from here.

So I enjoyed this issue and I recommend it, despite my dislike for this kind of crossover. I know, I'm fickle.

Grade: A-

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Green Lantern Corps #40

While I've been enjoying the Blackest Night storylines so far, this issue doesn't do much to advance things.

It's the old problem of what to do when you're faced with an unstoppable opponent. The Black Lantern Corps members seem to be oblivious to pain, and if their zombie-like bodies are damaged, they quickly reconstitute.

That makes it difficult for the heroes to have any kind of serious conflict - they can fight a holding action, run or be killed - and that's about it for options.

It sets up emotional conflicts, of course, as heroes have a grisly reunion with loved ones long gone, old friends and the recently departed.

The problem I have with the Green Lantern Corps is that there are too many Lanterns to keep track of - each one only gets a page or two before getting shuffled out of the way for the next story. It's probably unavoidable on a story of this scope, but it would be nice to see some of these characters getting a little more "screen time."

As always, it's a solid writing job by Peter Tomasi, and the art by Patrick Gleason is good, despite the complete lack of backgrounds - but that's because there are so many characters to squeeze in.

The Blackest Night continues to command attention, and even the side-stories (like this issue) are worth checking out.

The series reminds me of a conversation I had with my pal Gary when we were kids. We were watching a monster movie and I asked him, "What would you do if a monster came after you?" Without missing a beat, he said, "That's easy. I'd kick him in the nards and run."

Excellent advice, which I happily pass along to the heroes facing the Black Lanterns.

Grade: B

Friday, September 11, 2009

Dark Reign: The List: Avengers #1 (One Shot)

You know, I really wasn't planning to buy any of The List comics.

This mini-series of stories within the Dark Reign circle just seemed like another way to milk more sales out of a storyline that's really fading fast (at least in terms of my interest in it).

For cryin' out loud, Norman Osborn is the bad guy in every single issue Marvel has on the stands. If that's not overkill, what is?

The Dark Avengers have become the equivalent of bop bags - knock 'em down, and don't worry, they'll pop right back into place by the next issue. We've seen Hawkeye/Bullseye shot and stabbed repeatedly, the same for Dark Wolverine, Venom is shot, dropped into a bottomless cave, and he pops right back. Ares, Sentry and Ms. Marvel/Moonstone are more or less invulnerable. The point being, it's hard to care much when nothing that happens to them is going to stick.

So why did I buy this comic? Simple - Brian Bendis wrote it, and he's pretty darn reliable about these things. This issue provides a good mix of his usual sharp dialogue and lots of action sequences.

The concept of the series is simple enough: Osborn is making a list of the things he needs to do while he's running the country. He talks about the need for a plan - but nothing else that happens in the comic comes about because of his planning.

The art is by Marko Djurdjevic and Mark Morales, and it's quite good - dark, moody and intense.

The art is the best reason to pick up this issue. The story's not bad, but like so many of the stories in this series, it just seems to be marking time and holding everything in place.

Looking ahead, it may be difficult to pass up the other seven issues in this series, because they feature some outstanding talent, including Alan Davis, John Romita, Jr. and Adam Kubert.

But there may be a light at the end of the tunnel - the last issue shows up in November, so maybe the Dark Reign will wrap up by the end of the year.

Here's hoping.

Grade: B

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thursday's Comics

Always weird to pick up comics on a Thursday. I'd be mad at Labor Day, but it's a day off, so I forgive.

Here are today's comics picked up by yours truly:

- Adventure Comics #2 - Giving this one a chance.

- Avengers: The List #1 (One Shot) - Hoping this is the beginning of the end for the Dark Reign thing.

- Doom Patrol #2 - As much as I like this team, I don't see this comic being around in another year.

- Dark Avengers / Uncanny X-Men: Exodus #1 (One Shot) - The wrap-up to the whole super-teams mash-up.

- Green Lantern Corps #40 - Meanwhile, the Blackest Night rolls on.

- Hellboy #6 (of 8) - Such a good series.

- The Incredible Hercules #134 - Both good and funny.

- The Marvels Project #2 (of 8) - So far, so good...

- Models, Inc. #1 (of 4) - Millie the Model looks great, despite her age.

- Ultimate Avengers #2 - Cap and the Red Skull - with a twist!

- The Warlord #6 - It's slobberknocker time!

- Wednesday Comics #10 (of 12) - Two weeks to go!

And that's it!

Happy Anniversary!

Hey, how about that - today is the one-year anniversary for this humble blog.

I'm happy to report that we managed to keep to our goal of offering at least one comic book review every day in the part year!

There were a few close calls along the way (like the day I was sent out of town for a couple of days with no notice for my real-world job), but we somehow managed to meet that dreaded daily deadline. Special thanks to my lovely wife for her invaluable help and patience along the way!

Thanks to everyone out there for reading along, and special thanks to those who took the time to leave a comment or send in reviews - that makes it more fun for everyone!

Now we push on into Year Two, as we try to keep that string going!

Wish me luck!

Classic Comics - The Avengers #51

You can blame this blog and my interest in comics in general on this issue of The Avengers, cover dated April 1968.

When it was published, I was a student in Junior High School, and I didn't read comic books.

Of course, I had read them faithfully all through my younger days, and learned to read in part because of comics. But I was growing up.

As a kid in the '60s, once you got out of Elementary School, there was pressure to not read comics. The thinking at the time was that comics were just for kids (of course, there are plenty of people who still think this today).

My parents, bless them, never dictated to me that I had to stop reading comics, but they would occasionally suggest that I was getting to be too old to be reading comics. Other relatives did the same, and so did other adults I knew. Even the kids in school and in my neighborhood were outgrowing comics, so I finally decided it was time to grow up, put childish things aside and give up comics.

My resolve lasted for a few months, until I was sitting in class one day next to my pal Jeff. For reasons I can't remember, we weren't having a normal class that day in whatever class it was - it became a study period. The teacher stepped out for a moment, so Jeff showed me the new comic he had smuggled into class - this issue of The Avengers.

I was surprised for a number of reasons. First, that a kid my age was still reading comics. Second, that he had brought a comic book into the class - if the teacher caught him, she'd have confiscated it, probably forever. Third, the comic (which he let me read in the class, though I had to return it) was terrific, both in terms of the story by Roy Thomas and the art by John Buscema, with inks by George Tuska.

The comic featured a guest appearance by both Thor and Iron Man (who ended up in a big fight, thanks to some mind control action) while Goliath, the Wasp and Hawkeye fought the Collector and assorted monsters. (In retrospect, having Janet Van Dyne fighting the bad guys while wearing a bikini probably didn't hurt.)

Reading that comic, something clicked for me. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe there was nothing wrong with reading comics at any age. Besides, didn't Dad occasionally pick up one of my comics and read it? Just like that, I was back into the comics buying habit (although it would be years before I'd track down my own copy of this issue - it was sold out at the newsstands).

It's something my family finally accepted about me - they would occasionally ask, "Are you still reading comic books?" I'd say, "Yep!"

I sometimes wonder if I would have made my way back to comics eventually. It seems likely, but I'm still grateful to Jeff and The Avengers for giving me that nudge just when I needed it most. They brought me back to the fold, and aside from some months of poverty during and after college, I've been here ever since!

Grade: A

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wednesday Comics #9 (of 12)

Since Monday was a holiday, new comics won't arrive until tomorrow, so you get an extra review today, and then tomorrow we'll have our usual review of a classic comic and a rundown of the comics I picked up at the comics shop.

Since we have no comics for Wednesday, it only seems right to review last week's Wednesday Comics.

This still falls into the "noble experiment that doesn't quite work" category, and the blame seems to rest almost entirely on the writing. Granted, there's a real trick to writing for the Sunday Funnies format, and some writers here have mastered it - Gibbons on Kamandi, Pope on Strange Adventures, Palmiotti on Supergirl and Baker on Hawkman.

Some writers have had flashes of excellence, but have stumbled a bit here and there - Arcudi on Superman, Bullock on Deadman, Busiek on Green Lantern, Kubert on Sgt. Rock, Kerschl on The Flash / Iris West and Simonson on The Demon and Cat Woman.

Some almost defy description, so we'll have to defer judgment until the run is finished - Gaiman is doing wild, unexpected things on Metamorpho, for example.

Others just aren't working for me at all (as always, your mileage may vary) - Azzarello on Batman, Berganza on Teen Titans, Didio on Metal Men and Caldwell on Wonder Woman.

The artists, on the other hand, have turned in some amazing work, and most are using the larger format to good effect. This large format allows for lots of different styles, from the classic style of Sook and Garcia-Lopez to the more stylized work of Baker and Pope.

It's a shame the editors didn't focus more on a variety of stories, like you'd see in the classic Sunday sections - humor, soaps, horror, puzzles, stuff like that - but hopefully this will be enough of a success to encourage further experimentation with a future edition of Wednesday Comics.

And I'd urge the creative teams to study the classic strips to learn the tricks for creating a story that keep the reader hooked and anxiously awaiting the next episode, one page at a time, once a week.

Despite my jabs here, I'm enjoying the format, and would love to see it become (at least) an annual tradition.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Daring Mystery Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1

Marvel continues to be numerically challenged, as it celebrates its 70th Anniversary with the release of a series of comics centered on the line's Golden Age titles.

Of course, the company was known as Timely then (more or less), and didn't become Marvel permanently until the '60s. But what the heck.

Thankfully, these special issues have been good - I'd even say they've been surprisingly good, since most of them focus on characters that aren't around much these days (unless you count The Twelve, although it hasn't been seen in a while, either).

This issue focuses on one of The Twelve - the Phantom Reporter (which has to be one of the most offbeat hero names in recent memory).

The story recounts his origin, which as far as I know has never been told until now. Written by historical novelist David Liss, the story is a tense mystery, as reporter Richard Jones tries to solve the mystery behind the murder of an old friend, and finds himself mired in city politics, underworld plots and the search for a sinister formula that promises... well, that would be telling.

It's a well-done story with a minimal amount of super-heroics, but lots of intrigue as Jones tries to find the balance between fighting the bad guys in print and in the back alleys.

The art is by Jason Armstrong, and it's very good - his characters are distinct and memorable (not always easy when there's not much in the way of traditional superhero costumes in evidence), he evokes the era well, and provides a dark, moody feel to the story.

With comics this good, I hate to see the anniversary end!

Grade: A-

Monday, September 7, 2009

Strange Tales #1 (of 3)

Now here's a comic that really lives up to its title!

This revival of Strange Tales features about a dozen short stories about assorted Marvel heroes and villains, as depicted by some of the most unique talents in the comics business - and more importantly, these are artists and writers who usually don't work in the super-hero field.

The result is a mix of stories that are pretty darned entertaining, including: an Inhumans story that focuses on their pet dog; a wedding tale about the She-Hulk; Spider-Man moves to a new town where he should fit in, but doesn't; Dr. Strange, in my favorite story in the issue, faces an old enemy and an impossible challenge; Bruce Banner and the Hulk find dating a real challenge; Modok looks for love; and Wolverine loses his cool.

If it sounds bizarre - well, it is pretty odd. Creators like Peter Bagge, Paul Pope, Nick Bertozzi and Nicholas Gurewitch give us their funny, odd and somewhat warped view of the strange world of superheroes.

This definitely isn't for everyone, and your mileage may vary - some may find it just silly, and others may not care for the unusual art styles included. I'd advise giving a few stories a quick read at the ol' comics shop before plunking down your hard-earned $4.99.

But I really enjoyed it (well, I enjoyed most of it - a couple of the stories were just ok), and I'm looking forward to the next two issues - it's nice to get a different take on the genre, and you won't find many comics more "different" than this one.

Grade: B+

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Incognito #6 (of 6)

Ed Brubaker is one of those writers who never seems to get as much attention as some of the industry's bigger names, yet month after month he writes some of the best comics on the stands.

This week's example is the final issue in the Incognito series. This is "grim and gritty" done right.

It stars Zack Overkill, a one-time villain who was de-powered and put into witness protection, where he lived a wretched existence.

Over the six issues of this series we've seen him run the gamut from hero to fugitive to prisoner, but with this issue the cloud of mystery around his origin is finally dispelled, and the hidden story of his life is brought to light in shocking fashion.

It's a hard-hitting, action-packed conclusion, and a heck of a lot of fun.

The art is provided by Sean Phillips, whose dark style is perfect for this kind of hard-boiled, pulp-style storytelling. I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future.

This issue is just further proof that Brubaker is one of the best in the business right now. Exhibit "A," your honor.

Grade: A-

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Invincible Iron Man #17

Back when I was in Junior High School we read a "controversial" book for English class.

It was Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, and what really amazed me about it was the fact that they were letting us read a science fiction story (though it took place in a real world setting). Of course, those of us in the class also liked the "naughty" pages and would eagerly report on which pages to check out.

It told the story of a man whose limited intelligence is boosted by a revolutionary experiment - but (mild spoiler warning here) the tragedy is, the effect isn't permanent, and we see his mind start to slip away from him.

That's the tragic story unfolding right now in Invincible Iron Man, as Tony Stark continues the drastic step of purging his brain to keep Norman Osborn from getting his hands on key information about the heroes of the world.

As a result, Tony is losing his intelligence - and since that is his true superpower, it leaves him in a bad way while he continues to run across the globe, trying to elude Osborn's agents.

It's a interesting story by Matt Fraction, if difficult to watch - especially with this issue, as the effects become more pronounced. It has been fun to watch Tony moving backwards through his Iron Man armor, working from today's most advanced version through earlier, more simple models. (He keeps having to change suits because they keep getting smashed up by assorted enemies.)

The art, I should add, continues to be outstanding, as Salvador Larroca does some great work here with the big events and the small personal moments.

While I wasn't looking this comic earned an Eisner Award for Best New Series, and I can't argue with that - this run has captured the essence of what made the movie so good and puts it on the printed page. Recommended!

Grade: A-

Friday, September 4, 2009

Justice League: Cry for Justice #3 (of 7)

Up to now, I've really been on the fence with this series.

The painted art by Mauro Cascioli has been very good - dark and grim like the story, with some strong, over-the-top sequences.

Where this series is really struggling is in the story. I read it and think, "What happened to James Robinson?" Once one of DC's best writers (I'm thinking Starman here), I have to assume he's just overworked at the moment, because the writing in this comic seems to sway between being just average to being really poor.

The opening sequence is a good example, as Supergirl shows up and Green Lantern asks her if she's a hero or a villain. In response, she sheds a single tear. Yow. (How could she not punch him in the snoot?)

And this is another issue where everyone stands around talking and having flashbacks.

I realize this issue is trying to be grim and gritty, but we get yet another scene of the "good guys" torturing the bad guys for information (one in each issue - collect 'em all!), and lots of grisly deaths (perhaps Blackest Night will set these things straight).

So far, I'm just not feeling it. This comic doesn't read like the Justice League at all - the team seems assembled completely at random.

There's still time to turn things around - but I'm starting to wonder. If only they'd bring the real James Robinsdon back...

Grade: C

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ultimate Spider-Man #2

It's good to see that the title of this comic has reverted to Ultimate Spider-Man, instead of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, which (for some reason) I found irritating.

Whatever the title, this continues to be the best Spider-Man comic on the stands. Or at least I think it is. It has been for about 10 years now, but I recently stopped reading Amazing Spider-Man, and I skipped all the other Annuals and Spider-Man Family books, so maybe I'm missing something.

But this is Spidey in his purest form: in high school, dealing with all the difficulties that you'd expect from that setting - school, classmates, romance, homework, holding down a job and being a wise-cracking superhero - in other words, all the stuff that made the character so much fun when he first appeared.

My only quibble is that Bendis seems to be dumbing Peter Parker down, as he complains about his GPA being low - Parker was always the smartest kid in the school (he invented his web shooters, for crying out loud), so that seems like a hollow complaint.

But otherwise the characterization is spot on, and we're slowly learning about what happened to our cast since the Ultimatum events - for example, why did Peter and Mary Jane break up, and how long has he been dating Gwen Stacy? What heroes are still alive? Who's the new menace threatening to take over New York?

I really like David Lafuente's art, although he has a few quirks that may take getting used to - for example, Spider-Man's head is awfully round, and Gwen looks very Manga-ish - but those are minor complaints. His art is loaded with energy and enthusiasm, and is a great match for the youthful exuberance of the comic.

I'm so glad this comic continues, because it's great to see new adventures of a Spider-Man who reads like the original - fast, funny, sometimes outmatched but never defeated. Good stuff.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Yet Another Comics Haul

Here's what your pal Chuck picked up today at the Comics Shop:

- Agents of Atlas #10 - Sorry to hear this is being canceled, but glad to hear it will live on in back-up story heaven!

- Black Panther #8 - Another good series, although we'll have to see how the new writer works out.

- Daring Mystery Comics #1 - Another 70th Anniversary issue for Marvel - these have been quite good.

- Incognito #6 (of 6) - Sorry to see this pulpish noirish comic bookish series end.

- The Invincible Iron Man #17
- Hey, what's that odor? It smells just like Flowers for Algernon.

- Irredeemable #6 - This pops right to the top of my reading list every time.

- Justice League: Cry for Justice #3 (of 7) - Everyone is so angry here.

- Mystic Comics #1 - Two 70th Anniversary comics in one month - seems like overkill.

- Strange Tales #1 - Wow, does this look like a lot of fun.

- Ultimate Spider-Man #2 - Hmm, the indicia has dropped the word "Comics." Good move.

- Wednesday Comics #9 - As a friend pointed out, what happens next week - does this become Thursday Comics?

Oh, and I tracked down a copy of Sherlock Holmes #4, which I missed last time around.

The Classics - All-Star Squadron #1

Let's take a moment and pay our respects to the genius of Julius Schwartz, Gardner Fox and John Broome. Back in the early '60s they came up with the idea of Earth-2, a parallel dimension where the heroes of the Golden Age of Comics could exist.

The genius was that it kept those characters fresh without taking away from the "new" characters on Earth-1. Now that those two realities have been smushed together into the modern DC Universe, you have a more muddled history for DC, stretching back to before World War II, which means superheroes have been around for more than 70 years, and today's heroes are just the latest in a long line.

And yes, I know there are now 52 alternate worlds - but the original 1 and 2 are merged, even with the recently-revealed "new" Earth-2. (Aren't you glad Crisis cleared all this up?)

But back in the early '80s (before the Crisis on Infinite Earths), Roy Thomas moved from Marvel to DC, and one of his first projects was to revive the Justice Society of America in its own comic - but this one would be set back during the days of World War II, when the heroes were at the peak of their powers - and the comic would have a different title.

Cover dated September 1981, the first issue of All-Star Squadron provided a set-up that gave Thomas all kinds of freedom in terms of the heroes he could choose from, including everyone from the original Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman (who were sparingly used) to Green Lantern, the Flash, Plastic Man, Hawkman, Robotman and dozens of others - including new characters he created for the series!

Providing the pencil art was Rich Buckler, who turned in some of his best work ever, and the inker was the outstanding Jerry Ordway, who continues to provide art for the occasional JSA story today.

There's a ton of story crammed into this first issue, as a team of villains capture heroes across the country, and the heroes left standing must band together to stop the plans being hatched by the time-traveling Degaton.

It was a great start to a long-running series that entertained JSA fans for years.

I'm glad that today's JSA is enjoying great success, but I miss the WWII adventures of those Golden Age heroes. That's the era where they first burst on the comics scene, and in many ways, that's where they belong.

It would be nice if there were room for both. I suspect Roy still has a few WWII stories he'd like to tell about the All-Star Squadron.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Justice Society of America #30

One of the strengths of a team superhero comic is the interaction between the characters. It allows lots of room for romance, conflict, humor - all the things that make up a good story.

Conflict seems to be the first order of business in the first storyline from the new creative team - writers Matthew Sturges, Bill Willingham and artist Jesus Merino. The Justice Society can usually count on being able to overwhelm an opponent by sheer force of numbers, so they're understandably shocked when they find themselves up against an even bigger army of super-villains who have set an ambush.

It's interesting to note that this issue is written very much in the style of a Marvel comic (settle down, that's not a bad thing) - lots of conflict (both between heroes and heels and between JSA teammates), lots of action and some mysterious subplots unfolding.

It's quite a switch, since up to now the team has been portrayed as one big happy family - but the conflict makes sense, and sets up the already-announced split in the team. That's also a good thing, because the cast here is way too big - it's like an out-of-control issue of Legion of Super-heroes or the X-Men.

But you definitely get the sense that the creative team is moving the pieces into place for something big.

The art is quite good - Merino's layouts are dramatic, the characters are well-rendered and distinct, and he has some pages that really pop (especially the Flash's burst of speed).

I don't think this new take on the JSA is quite there - it needs more humor and romance, for example - but it's definitely moving in the right direction.

Grade: B+