Monday, November 30, 2009

New Avengers #59 / Ultimate Avengers #4

For our second "double review" this week (catching up for the holiday), the Avengers are up to bat.

In the New Avengers, the team faces a major problem. Needing advanced medical treatment, Luke Cage surrendered to the Dark Avengers - and now the New Avengers have to figure out a way to rescue him.

What follows is a fun, Oceans 11-style story, with several twists and turns and loads of guest stars.

It's the usual strong writing from Brian Bendis and outstanding art from Stuart Immonen, with a terrific double splash page (though you have to wonder what Spider-Man is actually swinging from).

Add on a neat twist at the end and you have a darn good comic.

Grade: A-

Over in the Ultimate Avengers universe, it's all about wall-to-wall action, as the "new" Avengers, assembled by Nick Fury and Tony Stark's smarter brother, go after Captain America.

Cap's off on a mission of his own - to discover the true story behind the new Red Skull - and War Machine, the newly cloned Nerd Hulk (I am not making this up) and the Red Wasp are out to stop him.

It makes for a fun, action-packed issue (although Cap uses an especially despicable trick that, thankfully, works) - just what you'd expect from writer Mark Millar.

The art by Carlos Pacheco is quite good, of course, and he has a lot of fun with the fight scenes here.

Of course, it's the same old complaint about the "Ultimates" - no one is particularly heroic or sympathetic here - but it is good mindless fun.

Grade: B

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Green Lantern #48 / Blackest Night #5 (of 8)

You know, if DC is going to release two comics in the same week, but one takes place before the other, it would be nice if they'd post one of those "Hey, be sure to read Green Lantern #48 before you read Blackest Night #5" notes.

Naturally, I read the mega-event first - and then found myself wondering how I'd missed certain plot points that occurred between BN #4 and BN #5. Ah well.

For today's double review (catching up on the holdays here), let's take the books in chronological order, starting with GL.

Here we see the gathering of the fellowship - uh, I mean, an alliance of the spectrum of the rings (which includes Gollum - uh, Larfleeze).

Of course, since many of the rings don't exactly get along with others, it's an uneasy alliance at best, and one that has to face some Black Lantern challenges first.

Still, it's a good story from Geoff Johns, again giving us a little more background on the characters and setting up the main event in Blackest Night.

The art by Doug Mahnke continues to be outstanding, with amazing detail, stunning splash pages and clear storytelling.

Johns is weaving an epic story here, and setting up future stories for years to come - it's quite impressive to watch.

Grade: B+

So as soon as you're done with that issue, move over to Blackest Night #5 (of 8).

Here we see the ring alliance taking on the Black Lantern menace with surprising results. We see Earth's heroes take on Nekron with surprising results. We see the newest Black Lantern - also a surprise. We see the introduction of something called an "emotional tether," which plays some kind of role in all this, though we don't know what.

This issue is the literary equivalent of "Act II," wherein all kinds of bad things happen, and you're left to wonder how the good guys are going to get out of this one.

Heck if I know - and that's a good thing. Blackest Night seemed to be set up for an easy solution, and writer Geoff Johns wisely takes that off the board quickly - so the heroes are in a tough spot indeed.

Give Johns credit, he's playing a courageous game here, and one plot point near the end tiptoes close to the "Mopee" line, wherein impossible things receive one, central, impossible-to-swallow explanation - but he manages to make it work. So far.

Kudos also to penciller Ivan Reis, who continues to show why he's one of DC's best - his art is powerful, detailed and memorable. And wow, that final two-page spread.

There's a good reason why this series has become such a hit - it promises to be the genuine game-changing series DC has needed for a long time, but always been too timid to tackle.

Perhaps this time, the change will stick.

Grade: A-

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Back from Vacation!

Apologies again for the lack of new reviews so far this week - but I'm back in town and getting back in gear!

The plan is to write a couple of "double reviews" over the weekend to get caught up.

I should mention that I spent the holiday in the lovely town of Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I visited a fine comics shop called Vault of Midnight (which you can visit at this site - tell 'em Chuck sent you! Highly recommended!

While there, I picked up:

- Archie #603 - Now he's marrying Betty! He should have done that three months ago!

- New Avengers #59 - Just what is a "looky loo?"

- Blackest Night #5 (of 8) - The Earth's in a heap of trouble.

- Green Lantern #48 - This one should have a label that says, "Read this before Blackest Night #5."

- Iron Man #20 - Lots of talking as Tony starts on the road back.

- Justice Society of America #33 - Breaking up is hard to do.

- Powers #1 - Hey, it's finally back!

- Superman: Secret Origin #3 (of 6) - It's just like watching a Richard Donner movie.

- Ultimate Avengers #4 - Do we really need a nerd Hulk?

Classic Comics - X-O Manowar #0

I can't tell you how much I enjoy doing these "Classic" reviews. In looking for comics to review, I occasionally fall across one like this that I had almost forgotten about - X-O Manowar.

This was published by Valiant Comics (this issue is cover dated August 1993), and it is a living embodiment of the excesses of the '90s. This issue (#0) features an embossed foil cover (which is much easier to look at in this scan than it is in real life). All those extras allowed the boost of the cover price to a then-staggering $3.50.

The story covers the origin of this character, who could best be described as a cross between Conan and Iron Man. Set about 1600 years ago, we meet young Aric, a barbarian who seeks revenge against the Roman Empire, whose soldiers killed his family.

He encounters alien invaders, is captured and ends up stealing an alien suit of armor - the X-O Manowar.

The story is by Bob Layton (who played a major role in many Valiant Comics, and was also Editor-in-Chief) and Jorge Gonzalez, and the art is by Joe Quesada (whatever happened to him?) and Jimmy Palmiotti.

All the above aside, it's actually a pretty good comic - your basic revenge story, with lots of twists, bizarre alien sequences, explosions - what's not to like?

Grade: B+

Friday, November 27, 2009

Classic Comics - The Young All-Stars #1

This was a game attempt by DC (and writer Roy Thomas) to recover from the world-changing events after the Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi-series.

Crisis changed the Justice Society completely, taking away the original concept of Earth-2 and placing all those heroes on one Earth - which meant the team's most famous modern-day members - Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman (among others) - were not around during World War II.

The Young All-Stars was an attempt to keep the All-Star Squadron series going (the cover date is June 1987).

Considering the mess the creative team inherited, it wasn't a bad fix. Writer Roy Thomas worked with three artists - Michael Bair, Brian Murray and Vince Argondezzi - to kick things off.

This issue starts in the middle, and quickly gets down to the business of introducing the new heroes who will replace (or approximate) the heroes "lost" during the Crisis.

So instead of Superman, we have "Iron" Munro, who owes a lot to the book Gladiator. Wonder Woman is replaced (eventually) by Fury, and Batman by the Flying Fox.

This issue barely gets the story going - it took six issues to cover the complete "origin" of the new team - but it was a solid attempt at keeping DC's original team in the spotlight.

The Young All-Stars would never reach the heights of the original All-Star Squadron - or the Justice Society of America - but it made for an entertaining read.

It wasn't a perfect solution, but it was a solid comic and kept those WWII adventures going - so it gave fans something to be thankful for.

Grade: B+

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Classic Comics - Xenozoic Tales #1

Science fiction and comic books love to look into the future.

Sometimes the future is a better place, but often it isn't. Usually those dystopian futures are attributed to nuclear war or alien attack, but that's not the case with Xenozoic Tales.

Cover dated February 1987, this comic tells about a world where the world was wrecked by natural disaster. Humans went underground and stayed there for 450 years while the surface boiled, finally emerging to find a world wrecked by the disaster and populated by a variety of prehistoric creatures, including dinosaurs and giant mammals.

The comic follows the attempts by humanity to find its place in this new world, while adapting remaining technology (such as some remaining automobiles) and structures (including a partially-submerged city).

It would be easy to credit creator, writer and artist Mark Schultz with great prediction powers, since he seems to have been ahead of the curve on Global Warming (though, as with all such things, your mileage may vary).

What he did have was a darn good comic. He populated its pages with strong characters like "Cadillac" Tenrec (who got his nickname from the cars he worked to rehabilitate) and Hanna Dundee, an ambassador from another tribe - a strong, tough and sexy female. The stories were short vignettes, but all well written and loaded with lots of action and clever plot twists.

His art is outstanding, managing to blend the best elements of Will Eisner (strong layouts and creative angles) and Wally Wood (especially evident in his beautiful female characters).

This book enjoyed a degree of success - it was the basis for a cartoon series, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, at least one videogame and assorted toys - but sadly, it didn't last too long, fading away after 14 issues (although it was reprinted in collections).

It deserved a much longer run. An outstanding series, sadly overlooked and well worth tracking down!

Grade: A-

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

No New Comics Today?

Ordinarily, right about now I'd be posting a list of the comics I picked up today.

But your ol' pal Chuck is on the road today, taking a long drive to a remote site to celebrate Thanksgiving with my two sons and my lovely wife.

Since Internet access may be a challenge, I've left behind several Classic Comic reviews to tide you over. If you look here for the next few days and see new comic reviews, that means I managed a connection.

If you see "Classic" reviews, then I didn't.

Either way, I'll be back by the weekend and I'll try to play catch-up then.

Wishing all you gentle readers a Happy Thanksgiving!

- Chuck

Classic Comics - Zot! #1

I have to admit that when I first saw this comic, I didn't think much of it. It featured a blond hero, wearing a lightning bolt on his uniform - it just seemed like a typical superhero comic.

But I picked it up anyway.

Thank goodness! Zot! quickly became one of my all-time favorite comics. Created by writer/artist Scott McCloud, the comic follows the adventures of a young man named Zachary P. Paleozogt (Zot for short), who roars into the life of regular teenager Jenny Weaver. His arrival was unique, as he flew through a glowing aperture into another world.

Jenny and her brother Butch follow Zot back into his world, and find themselves in an amazing, futuristic world, where Zot is popular and beloved by all.

And for good reason - he's a very nice guy, smart, giving and dedicated to helping others - and doing his best to stop a strange holy war. He's what we call a hero (they seem to be a rare breed these days).

Funny, fast-paced and imaginative, this comic was like a breath of fresh air. The issues to come would introduce a wild menagerie of villains, amazing art and many thoughtful and touching stories.

It's no surprise that McCloud went on to write several authoritative books about comics (all highly recommended) - his early work showed an amazing mastery of the comics format, and this was only the beginning.

Highly, highly recommended!

Grade: A+

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Irredeemable #8

Eight issues in and this comic still jumps to the top of my reading pile.

That's partly because you never know what's going to happen in the next issue of Irredeemable, and that seems to be a rare event in comics these days.

Comics based around villains are notoriously a difficult sell, because who wants to read about a character who's always losing? And how can a villain always win?

That's a question this comic has struggled with, and up to now, it seems that the heroes in this comic have faced a hopeless task: stopping the Plutonian, a hero-turned-villain whose power seems to be limitless.

Through a surprising twist, the heroes find that they have a powerhouse on their side, too. But will it be enough, and what about the other mysteries around the Plutonian?

This issue offers some answers, but it doesn't seem as substantial as we might hope - but presumably there's more to the story.

Credit writer Mark Waid for keeping the reader on the edge of his or her seat, waiting for the next revelation. And kudos to Peter Krause for his strong artwork here, cranking up the intensity even more.

Compared to past issues, this one isn't quite as good - it leans a bit too much on the superhero smackdown - but it's still quite entertaining, and the balancing act continues.

So far, Irredeemable is keeping its place at the top of next month's reading pile.

Grade: B+

Monday, November 23, 2009

Outsiders #24

I have to admit that I'm completely out of touch with this comic.

I bought the original title, Batman and the Outsiders, and the first 10 (or so) issues of this latest version when Chuck Dixon was writing it. (How could I not be a fan of a guy with such a wonderful first name?)

But that was more than a year ago, and obviously some things have changed for the Batman-less Outsiders. Black Lightning has left the JLA and rejoined the team, and "Roy" (who I'm assuming is the former Speedy) is now apparently known as Owl Man.

I picked up this comic for the "free" ring, of course, but this is the first such comic that doesn't make much of an effort to explain the basic setup to new readers.

It's all part of the Blackest Night story, of course, and we get the backstory of the revived Terra, who may or may not be resisting her murderous urges.

The book is split into two stories, as she confronts her brother Geo-Force and several members of the team, while Katana leads two other members of the team in another mission, which brings them into battle with other Black Lanterns.

It's not a bad comic at all, although anyone picking it up cold (like me) is pretty much on their own to figure out what's going on. Writer Peter Tomasi keeps things moving along briskly, and the art by Fernando Pasarin is quite good - detailed and intense, especially the action sequence with Katana's team.

But when you get down to it, this just reads as a generic super-team, with no characters standing out at all.

My advice: bring back Batman.

Grade: B-

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Incredible Hulk #604

The villain of this issue - the Harpy - reminds me of the character's first appearance during the early years of The Incredible Hulk.

The gamma-powered Harpy was actually Betty Ross (though I have to admit I can't remember how she became a monster. Oh well, does it matter?). For the cliffhanger at the end of one issue, the Harpy and the Hulk reverted to their human forms and were falling to their deaths.

Of course, Bruce Banner was wearing his amazing purple pants (that somehow don't shred when he becomes the Hulk, and don't fall off when he reverts to Banner), but Betty was naked - though thanks to the Comics Code, as we said in Grade School, "You don't see anything."

But on the splash page that kicked off the next issue, she was suddenly wearing a towel, which had presumably floated by. Many a "No-Prize" was awarded that day.

Anyway, here we are, the present day, and the Harpy attacks and the Leader appears to be taking a more active role in this comic.

The main story continues to focus on Bruce Banner (who can't change into the Hulk - yeah, right) as he trains his son, Skaar, for the eventual purpose of killing the Hulk. (It's confusing, I know.)

This comic has been a guest-star bonanza, with everyone from Wolverine to the Juggernaut stopping by to generate some action scenes - but it's all part of the fun.

The writing has been crisp and thoughtful, with more than a few clever and unexpected plot twists turning up along the way, certifying that writer Greg Pak is an excellent match for this comic.

The art in this issue is quite good, as Ariel Olivetti and Giuseppe Camuncoli team up to provide the art. There's a lot of strong work here, as gamma-powered behemoths fight it out.

The Savage She-Hulk backup story also has nice art, but the story just seems to keep running in place.

Luckily, the lead feature is worth the price of admission. And the Harpy is still naked (though you still don't get to see "anything," even though the Comics Code is long gone).

Grade: B+

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Adventure Comics #4

Like all right-thinking people, I'm tired of Superboy Prime, the big bad from Countdown and numerous other stories.

So when I heard that this issue of Adventure Comics featured that character, I was less than thrilled.

Imagine my surprise when I found that I enjoyed the story! But it's not a story for everyone - it features Prime (apparently) on Earth-Prime, which is our world, the one with no super-heroes.

Prime is somehow is able to perceive that he's in a comic book, and realizes that trouble is on the way in the form of a Black Lantern. What follows is a fun and offbeat story that has a good time with its fanboy premise.

However, your mileage may vary - some readers will no doubt find it completely silly, and it certainly is an odd duck - about as close as DC gets (these days) to an Imaginary Story.

The story by Geoff Johns and Sterling Gates gets a strong boost from the art of Jerry Ordway - and the story ends with a surprising cliffhanger.

The backup story features the Legion of Super-Heroes, and it's the best of the backup stories so far, as Blok goes in search of his one true love. It's a sweet story and almost worth the cover price alone.

So this one is recommended (with some Prime reservations).

Grade: B+

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dark Avengers #11

This book has really taken a turn for the strange, although it's still a darned interesting read.

Following up on last issue's events, the Dark Avengers find themselves facing one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe.

The Molecule Man has only been seen sporadically since the long-ago Secret Wars, but his name has been offered by many as the possible identity of the mysterious character Norman Osborn used to keep Dr. Doom, Loki, Namor and Emma Frost in line.

Just for fun, other candidates for that mysterious role also appear in this issue (although presumably they're not the genuine article), including The Beyonder and Mephisto.

The issue offers some background on Osborn's assistant, Victoria Hand, but most of the book is turned over to a surreal trip through the Molecule Man's thoughts, as he confronts each member of the Dark Avengers.

With the Dark Reign apparently winding down, it'll be interesting to see where this goes after the odd ending.

As always, Mike Deodato is doing amazing work here, and the weird storyline gives him lots of room to flex his artistic muscles. The issue also features several pages of outstanding additional art by painter Greg Horn.

I'm not sure where writer Brian Bendis is going from here, but he has lots of storylines to resolve. Whatever happened to Captain Marvel? And the Sentry's wife? And what was going on with Osborn a few issues back?

Inquiring minds want to know!

Grade: B+

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Flash: Rebirth #5 (of 6)

After the action-packed and emotionally-charged fourth issue in The Flash: Rebirth series, I had my doubts that this issue could keep up the pace. (It certainly kept us waiting long enough.)

Unfortunately, I was right - which is not to say this was a bad issue at all. It just wasn't quite as good as the last one. (But few comics are.)

However, it had more than its share of strong moments and more than a few milestones to add the the Flash archives (many of which will bring a smile to your face).

We see the reformed Flash family, including a couple of surprising additions. We finally get to see the new costumes most of them are wearing, and the introduction of DC's newest hero (who carries a classic name).

There are some tender moments, a knock-down, drag-out fight at super-speed, and some surprising revelations as the true plan of the Reverse-Flash is revealed, and the darkest moment in the history of the Flash threatens to repeat itself.

The art by Ethan Van Sciver continues to be outstanding, as each page crackles with energy. He includes some striking full-page closeups and a dynamic "family portrait" of the new Flash family.

The Geoff Johns story in this issue is setting us up for a big finish - let's just hope the wait for the next issue isn't quite as excruciatingly long.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New Funny Book Day!

Well, that's what Mom always called 'em. Today I got:

- Adventure Comics #4 - A fun, break down that fourth wall kinda issue.

- Dark Avengers #11 - The story takes an odd turn. Is the end of this series near?

- Conan the Cimmerian #16 - Breaking up is hard to do.

- The Flash: Rebirth #5 (of 6) - The issue finally arrives! Big changes and a cliffhanger!

- The Incredible Hulk #604 - The return of a surprising female!

- Irredeemable #8 - Some big questions answered,

- Justice Society of America 80-Page Giant #1 - James Robinson writing a flashback story? Cool.

- Outsiders #24 - Bought for the promotional ring.

- Spider-Woman #3 - This has been good so far.

Oh, and I picked up Green Lantern Corps #42 that I somehow overlooked last week. I half-expected it to be sold out, since it features a surprising death. But then, lots of heroes getting killed at DC these days.

The Classics - Weird Worlds #1

In the early '70s DC was trying lots of different books in an attempt to take on Marvel, and one of those titles was Tarzan.

They did something really clever with that book - they put it in the hands of the incredibly talented writer / artist / editor Joe Kubert, and he turned out some fantastic work.

It was apparently a hit with the fans, too, because not long after a companion book was created to house the Edgar Rice Burroughs-created heroes who were appearing in backup features in Tarzan and Korak, Son of Tarzan.

The comic, which was cover-dated August - September 1972, was called Weird Worlds. It featured the adventures of John Carter, Warlord of Mars, and David Innes At the Earth's Core!

Like Tarzan's comic, the editors didn't scrimp on the talent (although with one exception the creators at work here were relatively new to the game).

Behind a Kubert cover was an 11-page David Innes story, written by Len Wein and drawn by Alan Weiss. Wein does his usual top-notch job, and Weiss gets to have a lot of fun with apes and other monsters. Vastly underappreciated, Weiss' style owed a lot to Neal Adams, but he had a more organic feel to his art. He also (like Adams) had the knack for drawing beautiful, sexy women.

Speaking of which... the second feature in the book was written by Marv Wolfman, doing an excellent job on a feature he would also write later at Marvel, and the art was supplied by the veteran of the issue, the outstanding Murphy Anderson, who seemed to be having the time of his life, tackling Carter, the giant four-armed Tharks, assorted monsters, and the incredibly beautiful Dejah Thoris, who was wearing the skimpiest bikini I'd seen in a comic (at least up to that point).

The story was loaded with swordplay, brutal battles and even tenderness - though I have to admit I would have picked the comic up just for the drawings of Dejah. (As proof, here's a clip of the interior art.)

Notice that she doesn't have a belly button. That's not because of prudishness - she was born from an egg, like all Martians.

Anderson has always been one of my favorite artists, and he turned in some great work on his short run on this title.

Sadly, the Weird Worlds comic had a limited run, lasting only 10 issues, though it included some classic work, including both ERB characters and an original creation - Ironwolf - by Howard Chaykin.

But it was great while it lasted!

Grade: A-

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

R.E.B.E.L.S. #10

I freely admit that I only bought this comic to score the promotional toy Lantern ring (though I'm not sure if it was the Orange or Indigo Ring - both arrived this week, one for Booster Gold and the other for R.E.B.E.L.S.).

But rumor has it that this is a pretty good comic, so let's take a look.

It's kind of like jumping into the deep end of the pool here. There are a lot of new characters to wade through, although they're all clearly labeled for the new readers (like me) picking up this issue.

The central character is Vril Dox (Brainiac 2), the obnoxious descendant of the original Brainiac (somehow).

He's in the middle of an intergalactic battle with Starro, who is apparently not just a giant starfish anymore, but heads up a massive galactic army threatening to overrun... well, everything.

Add to the mix a missing child genius and the threat from the Blackest Night, as Vril's dead ex-wife enters the picture, and you have a heck of a lot going on in one issue.

It's almost too much to take in - but it's a credit to writer Tony Bedard that it never quite gets away from the reader. He's helped by the detailed (yet clean) art of Andy Clark, who keeps the characters distinct and separate.

The story has lots of twists and a surprise ending - overall, an enjoyable read.

I'm not sure if I enjoyed it enough to add to my regular reading list, though I'll probably check out the next issue just to see how all these conflicts are resolved.

Not a classic, but not bad at all.

Grade: B+

Monday, November 16, 2009

Strange #1 (of 4)

I can't understand why Dr. Strange isn't more popular.

That Master of the Mystic Arts and former Sorcerer Supreme was an early favorite, as presented in the early 1960s by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. That Dr. Strange was heroic, tackling impossible odds and winning through cleverness, determination and will.

After Ditko left, the strip bounced around through numerous hands - some less capable (who shall go unnamed), and others quite capable, including Roy Thomas and Gene Colan, Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner (my favorite version of the character since the original), and Roger Stern and Marshall Rogers (also outstanding).

But the good doctor has been through some rough times of late. He's endured a mini-series that offered a complete reboot (which has since been ignored), a good mini-series about a year ago (that didn't get nearly the attention it deserved), and he was dragged through the mud and depowered in World War Hulk and the New Avengers.

Which brings us to Strange, the latest mini-series to try to breathe new life into the concept.

The good news is, the story is provided by Mark Waid, one of the better writers working in comics. This Dr. Strange is badly outmatched and struggles to take on a demon who threatens to destroy... well, a lot of people.

It's an interesting take on the Doc, and it's a more ground-level approach, pretty close to his original appearance in Strange Tales, where he would make house calls (on living houses) and help people deal with their terrible dreams.

So it's something of a "small" story, but it does introduce a possible new supporting cast member, and it's a different approach to Strange's adventures. But final judgment is going to have to wait on the other three parts of this series.

The artwork is by Emma Rios, whose work I'm not familiar with, and like the story, I think her style may take some getting used to. It strikes me as an interesting attempt to move in a new direction, away from the traditional Ditko visualization and into something more monstrous and nightmare-driven.

Still, some sequences are difficult to follow (especially the action sequence at the end - I know what happens, but I don't follow the events, if that makes sense).

But I'm hopeful that Waid will deal with the problems and restore Dr. Strange to his rightful place at the top of the Marvel hero pantheon.

It's a bit of a shaky start - but the potential is there.

Grade: B

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Booster Gold #26

While Booster Gold is usually one of the more light-hearted comics published by DC, this issue is the exception.

That's because this issue is tied into the Blackest Night event, so it's a serious outing this time.

But that's good in two ways: if you buy an issue, you also get a promotional ring in the bargain; and it's a good story that forces Booster to confront the one Black Lantern he should fear - Blue Beetle (Ted Kord).

Writer and artist Dan Jurgens always provides strong, clean, professional art and solid storytelling, and this issue was obviously designed to be a good jumping-on point for readers.

Here we get a recap of Booster's origin, his friendship with the second Blue Beetle, a flashback to the saddest day in Booster's life, and the modern-day threat that may claim everyone Booster cares about, including himself.

Booster is a character who largely flies under the radar, but his time-spanning adventures (with one of my all-time favorite characters, Rip Hunter) and present-day escapades are always well worth following.

Even with a guest appearance by the new Blue Beetle, this issue isn't the best of the bunch - it spends too much time in recap mode - but it's a great setup for the next issue, which looks to be even better.

Grade: B

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Batman - Doc Savage Special #1 (One Shot)

I should admit right up front that I've been a fan of Doc Savage for a long time.

When I was a teenager I started picking up the Bantam paperbacks, fascinated by those amazing painted covers by James Bama. Over the years I managed to track down all of them except for that last double novel, #125, which tends to go for ridiculous sums. (If anyone has a copy they'd like to sell, drop me a line.)

Doc is the prototype for Superman, of course (and Batman owes him a dinner, too). Created in the early '30s, Clark Savage, Jr. has trained his body and mind to near-perfection. With his five companions, each of whom has a specific skill, he roams the world, having adventures, solving mysteries and fighting evil. Did I mention that he has a Fortress of Solitude at the North Pole?

Doc has made the move over to comic books more than once, of course, with varying degrees of success. I thought the Doug Moench-written black-and-white magazines from Marvel were good fun, and DC had a decent run later on.

Happily, he's now back and appearing in a new line of pulp-based comics from DC called First Wave.

Sadly, the issue is all setup and little story. It's set in a unique world where there are apparently no superpowers, but plenty of colorful characters. It also seems to be set in a unique world - it's not the '30s or '40s, but it doesn't quite seem modern, either, despite the inclusion of cell phones and tape recorders. I'm not sure how I feel about that - we'll have to see how it pans out.

Here we meet a new Batman, one who carries pistols (just like a certain other shadowy pulp hero) and is just starting on his crime-fighting career, operating outside the law.

The Doc Savage we meet is very much in the style of the original - a reluctant celebrity who is a virtual force of nature. The scenes where he and Batman tangle are a treat - but sadly brief.

I like Phil Noto's art, although it's almost too clean for this kind of pulpish adventure. But it is creative and I like his visualization for both Doc and Batman.

It's the story that doesn't quite deliver - it's all just an excuse to have the two title characters meet. I was hoping for more than a mundane murder mystery.

Of course, this is just the beginning of the First Wave series, and the sketches in the back of the book hold a lot of promise for future stories. Hopefully things will get bigger and bolder from here.

Or at least pulpier.

Grade: B-

Friday, November 13, 2009

S.W.O.R.D. #1

The good acronyms are the ones you don't have to look up every time you read it to remind yourself what it stands for.

By that standard, S.W.O.R.D. fails - I had to look it up: Sentient World Observation and Response Department. (Don't get me started on H.A.M.M.E.R.)

As a concept, though, it's a lot of fun, since it's the organization that protects Earth from extraterrestrials. It first appeared in Astonishing X-Men, along with its commander, the beautiful (and green-haired) Agent Brand.

It's a big concept, and it's off to a fairly good start here. This first issue is mostly about introducing all the characters involved, including Brand's new co-Commander, Henry Gyrich, her assistant, Lieutenant Sydren, and the mini-dragon Lockheed.

Also part of the cast is Brand's love interest, Hank (The Beast) McCoy. And why is it every artist has to draw him as a completely different character? Here Steven Sanders (who otherwise does a solid job) gives him the face of a horse instead of his more recent lion-like face. Even the John Cassady cover looks completely different from the interior version.

The story finds Brand having to deal with a number of problems at once, including Gyrich's attempts to undermine her authority, an intrusive bounty hunter (who might be familiar to longtime readers or trivia buffs) and an attacking invasion fleet. Just another day at the office.

It's still a bit early in the story to tell if writer Kieron Gillen has a good grasp of the characters involved, but it's a good concept, with lots of potential for dramatic and fun stories.

The backup story actually gives us a better indication of that, as it addresses a certain story point that a lot of us out here would love to see happily resolved.

So for now, the judgment is: not bad. We'll have to wait and see if S.W.O.R.D. makes the cut. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

(Now what does S.W.O.R.D. stand for again?)

Grade: B+

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Batman and Robin #6

There are several gay comic book heroes, and I assume there are gay villains (though I have to admit I can't think of any right away). If not, then this issue's villain may be the first.

I say "may" because he never really comes out and says, "I'm gay." But he goes by the name Flamingo, he dresses in a flamboyant pink costume, and as Robin says when they first meet, "I was expecting scary, not gay."

Whatever his orientation, Flamingo does succeed in being scary. He's brutal, efficient and seemingly unstoppable. His battle with the duos Red Hood and Scarlet and Batman and Robin has to be one of the most brutal battle scenes in Batman comic history.

Unlike other Bat villains, Flamingo never says a word - he just laughs a mirthless laugh. It makes him a chilling and mysterious opponent.

Writer Grant Morrison continues to take the story of the "new" Batman in surprising and unexpected directions, as he brings Dick Grayson face to face with his darkest fears and worst nightmares.

It's a grim story, not really suited for young readers at all.

I'm divided on the art by Philip Tan - the overall impression is that the work is solid, but there are too many pages where it's difficult (or impossible) to tell what's happening. The printing may not be helping - almost every panel with Batman in it seems muddy and dark. And I'm not really sure what was going on in the last page.

Still, even when the work is more grim and gritty than I'd like, Morrison still manages to turn in a compelling story, and that keeps this comic on the "must buy" list. Nothing wrong with that.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day at the Comics Shop

Happy Veteran's Day, everyone! It's a good day to think about the veterans in your life (or even the ones you don't know) and thank them for their service.

Here's what I picked up at the comics shop today:

- Batman and Robin #6 - Grim and gritty action in Gotham.

- Batman and Doc Savage Special #1 (One Shot)
- Awesome! Hopefully they can do a companion book with The Shadow and Superman.

- Black Panther #10 - Setting up the next big story.

- Booster Gold #26 - Now, which Black Lantern would visit Booster?

- Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #8 (of 8) - And a wild finish indeed.

- R.E.B.E.L.S. #10
- Yes, I wanted the promotional ring. But I hear this is good, too.

- Strange #1 (of 4) - Can Mark Waid bring back one of my all-time favorite Marvel characters?

- S.W.O.R.D. #1 - What's with the acronym titles this month?

That's it!

The Classics - Warlock! #1

The character known as Adam Warlock has probably had one of the strangest careers of any super-hero around (except, perhaps, for Captain Mar-Vell).

He started his existence as an experiment in a lab (as seen in Fantastic Four #66 and 67) that resulted in Him, the golden-skinned, blond-haired Adonis with incredible powers. That led Him to an appearance in The Mighty Thor's comic (#165 and 166), where he managed to go toe-to-toe with an angry Thunder God.

After spending some time in comic book limbo, Him returned in 1972 in the first two issues of Marvel Premiere, where he met the High Evolutionary, who was in the process of creating a second Earth - this one located on the far side of the Sun from the "real" Earth.

When the wicked Man-Beast disrupted the experiment and introduced evil into the new world, H.E. threatened to destroy his experiment, but he was stopped by Him, who offered to go to the Counter-Earth and fight the Man-Beast.

H.E. gave Him a new name - Warlock (thank goodness, 'cause writing about Him is like a permanent case of pronoun trouble). H.E. also gave him the mysterious Soul Gem (which would play a more nefarious role in future adventures).

The response to the comic must have been strong, because the character was quickly spun off into his own comic (its cover date is August 1972).

It's easy to see why it was a promising title - it boasted two of the top creative talents working in comics at the time - writer Roy Thomas and artist Gil Kane.

Thomas was second only to Stan Lee in terms of colorful, florid writing, and he was well-suited to the adventures of Warlock, although he may have given in a bit too much to the urge to lay on the Biblical parallels (which reached its height when the Counter-Earth story was eventually wrapped up - crucifixion and all - in the Incredible Hulk).

Kane is one of the giants of comic book history - his characters seem to be carved out of marble, with every muscle depicted on their lean bodies. He was perfectly suited to this kind of conflict, with godlike characters smashing into each other with rock-crushing abandon.

Despite all that - and some excellent inking by Tom Sutton - I have to admit that, reading it again, this comic is really nothing exceptional.

It's not bad - it's just that the whole issue is merely setup, explaining the backstory, introducing the characters, including Warlock's disciples - er, followers.

But it doesn't really advance the story much at all, and the obvious cliffhanger doesn't do much to offset the fact that the rest of the issue is pretty tame.

The series didn't hang around long - eight issue in all - but thankfully the character was resurrected three years later by writer / artist Jim Starlin, who made Warlock into the most cosmic - and tragic - figure in Marvel's history.

This original series had its strong moments, but this first issue wasn't one of them. But considering the amazing work done by the creators (both before and after), I think we can cut them some slack here.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Strange Tales #3 (of 3)

I have to admit that I'm a fan of comics continuity - something Marvel Comics has (mostly) done a great job of managing.

However, there should always be room for clever, creative and original takes on the Marvel Universe, and that company has a long history of managing that, too - anyone remember Not Brand Echh?

With this issue, Marvel wraps up its three-issue series that bears the classic title Strange Tales. But this new version has been very different from past incarnations.

This time around, Marvel has allowed its characters to be reinterpreted by some of the most unique talents in the comics industry.

This issue includes an outstanding version of the Hulk by Usagi Yojimbo's Stan Sakai and yet another anger-filled version of the big green guy by Peter Bagge.

There are a dozen other creators at work in this issue, providing short stories including characters like Longshot, the Fantastic Four, the Beast, Morbius, the Punisher, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Spider-Man, Nightcrawler, the Sub-Mariner, the Watcher and a story that I think includes Wolverine. Maybe.

It's an interesting mix and well worth checking out, although it's a wide mix of stories - some silly gags, some thoughtful, and some are just bizarre.

I'd love to see this kind of book on an annual basis (a monthly title would get old pretty quick) - by keeping it fresh and, to be frank, a special experience, it's a fun way to get a different look at some classic characters.

Grade: B-

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Marvelous Land of Oz #1 (of 8)

I've long been a fan of the delightful Oz books by L. Frank Baum (many people are surprised to discover that there are more than one Oz book).

I am also a fan of the adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young.

Now that team is back again to tackle the second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz. That story was actually adapted a few decades back by Marvel, right on the heels of its historic adaptation (with DC) of the MGM film based on the first book.

Once again, Shanower and Young show that they have the magic touch in bringing this story to life. The pages are full of magic, energy and a sense of wonder.

Surprisingly, none of the characters from the first book appear (other than in flashback). Instead we meet a boy named Tip who has a mysterious past, a hated guardian (the witch Mombi), and a new companion in the aptly-named Jack Pumpkinhead.

Like the original story, there are dark undertones running through the story, but they're leavened with the lighthearted adventures of Tip, a boy with a surprising destiny.

With a terrific story and original, brilliant art, this series is recommended for any Oz fans.

Grade: A-

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Warlord #8

I was a huge fan of The Warlord when Mike Grell first created the comic back in the mid-'70s, and I followed it faithfully until that initial run wrapped up about a decade later.

The original concept was a clever mix of Edgar Rice Burroughs-style adventure and sword-and-sorcery. It took pilot Travis Morgan and dropped him into the Pellucidar-like world at the center of the Earth.

It was a savage world where he was forced to fight with his wits, his sword, and his pistol. He faced all kinds of challenges, including dinosaurs, prehistoric men, aliens, advanced technology, and an evil opponent who just wouldn't stay dead.

He also found friends to fight at his side, a mate in Queen Tara, an extended family and his destiny.

Combine the concept with some strong writing and great art (both by Grell) and you had a comic that was always entertaining and built a dedicated following.

The character has been revived a few times since that original run, sometimes successfully, and sometimes not. But the most recent revival has been written by and featured covers by Grell, and the last two issues have included interior art by that artist, too - yet the book doesn't seem to be getting much attention.

It's a shame, because the book really has recaptured that original feel (although I do think the first story arc tried too hard to pile in all the main characters from the original run).

This two-issue stint by Grell seems to be an effort to introduce the character to a new audience, as it focuses directly on Travis Morgan, who finds himself in the ruins of a lost city, defending a beautiful and mysterious woman against marauders and monsters. The story's a bit heavy on the recap, and the present-day story isn't as strong as I'd like, but it's entertaining just the same.

Grell hasn't lost a step, and his art is as strong as ever. I have to admit, I wish he was supplying the art on all the issues of this title, but I suppose we can be thankful for this blast from the past.

If you're not reading The Warlord or have never read the comic, this two-issue story would be a good place to start - and DC has issued a Showcase collection reprinting a pile of those earlier stories. All highly recommended!

Grade: B+

Saturday, November 7, 2009

X-Men vs. Agents of Atlas #2 (of 2)

It's funny that I like the X-Men and I like the Agents of Atlas, but this comic, which provides a collision between both worlds, manages to be just OK.

Perhaps it's that we're being treated to the hoary "good guys fight because of a misunderstanding" schtick.

Perhaps it's because there's an army of characters on both sides of the fight - too many to keep track of, really.

Perhaps the twist that resolves the dispute isn't nearly as clever as it wants to be.

Perhaps it's because the art was apparently done by a committee (a talented committee, granted), with four pencillers and four inkers credited for a 30-page story.

It does manage a nice setup for the upcoming Assault on New Olympus, and provides a confrontation between Venus (the earthbound version) and the goddess Aphrodite (those Greek gods are so touchy).

If the idea behind this book was to pump up the Agents of Atlas by shining a spotlight on them, perhaps it did the job - but I wish it had included a better story with the package.

Grade: C+

Friday, November 6, 2009

Ultimate Spider-Man #4

One of the things that I really like about Ultimate Spider-Man is that you never quite know what to expect with the next issue.

Sadly, you can't say that about a lot of comics.

But here, writer Brian Bendis has taken advantage of the awful Ultimatum series and retooled the Ultimate Peter Parker's world into something new, different and often unexpected.

For instance, Mary Jane Watson is no longer his girlfriend, and we're starting to get some hints about what happened there. Peter is now dating Gwen Stacy, whch is handy since she's living at his house along with Aunt May and a surprising new addition - Johnny Storm. Yep, that Johnny Storm.

Mary Jane is apparently a magnet for super-heroes, and in this issue she meets the unnamed hero on the cover, who we don't know much about, including his or her name. But "Big Red" seems to have some of Peter's hard-luck hero traits - and the ability to make with the snappy repartee.

This issue only has two failings: Spidey doesn't really swing into action until the end of the comic (though the story ends with a bang), and I suddenly don't care for the way artist David Lafuente draws female faces.

I love his art in every other way - it's full of energy and fun, and he's no longer drawing Spider-Man with a football-shaped head. But the faces of Gwen (especially) and Mary Jane are so simplistic, in a manga style, that it takes you out of the story. They're cute, but the style shift is jarring.

But those are minor quibbles - as always, the Ultimate version of Spidey is fun to read, with clever dialogue, mysteries and surprises, and some serious challenges for Spider-Man to overcome.

Still the best Spidey on the stands.

Grade: B+

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Captain America: Reborn #4 (of 5)

It takes a heckuva good writer to pull off a two-year-long storyline and bring all those threads together in a way that is powerful and plays fair with the reader.

With one issue to go, Ed Brubaker continues to do just that. With this issue he brings together most of the heaviest hitters in the Marvel Universe, including the Red Skull, Dr. Doom, Mr. Fantastic, Hank Pym, the Black Widow, Sharon Carter, and both the new and the original Captain America.

They're all part of a storyline that has Steve Rogers "unstuck" in time, reliving his past and helpless to save himself. (Or is he?) We also begin to understand the true horror of the Skull's plan.

Of course, it doesn't hurt to have two of Marvel's best artists bringing the story to life. With each issue, I'm impressed at how well Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice are working together, with an amazing amount of detail and power. This may be their best work yet - and that's saying something!

They recreate classic scenes from Cap's past, and manage to match or exceed some of the best talent in comics history, including (in this issue alone) Jim Steranko, John Buscema and Jack Kirby.

That final page is chilling, and now begins the long wait for that final chapter.

Sometimes that wait is filled with the fear that the creative team will drop the ball. We have nothing to worry about here.

For four months now, this has been the best book of the month for Marvel (and its top seller). I'd be willing to bet it's about to go five-for-five.

Grade: A

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Comic Book Day All Over the World

Here's what I picked up at the comics shop today:

- Assault on New Olympus #1 (One Shot)
- Gods and superheroes duking it out - now that's a Marvel comic!

- Captain America Reborn #4 (of 5) - Cap is back! Or is he?

- Conan The Cimmerian #15 - Holy cats, the woman on the cover is only wearing pasties and a loincloth! No wonder she's so angry!

- Doom Patrol #4 - Picked up mostly for the "free" Sinestro Ring.

- GrimJack: The Manx Cat #4 - Glad to see Ostrander and Truman back together again.

- The Marvelous Land of Oz #1 (of 8) - Beginning the adaptation of the second Baum Oz book.

- Strange Tales #3 (of 3) - An odd - but fun - book.

- Ultimate Spider-Man #4 - This has been very good.

- Warlord #8
- How great to see Mike Grell writing and drawing this comic again!

- X-Men Vs Agents Of Atlas #2 (of 2) - Fight Fight Fight!

And that's it!

The Classics - Superboy #200

I have to admit that I was never a big fan of Superboy (and here I mean Clark Kent's adventures as a teenager). It all seemed a bit thin compared to the adventures of the adult version.

But right around the time this issue was released (it's cover dated January - February 1974), it became a "must-buy" comic. That's because the Boy of Steel started sharing his adventures - and the title of the comic - with the Legion of Super-Heroes.

That team from the future had starred in Adventure Comics for years, but by the early '70s the team had been limited to some occasional back-up stories.

After a few appearances in Superboy, the team expanded to take over the whole comic (they were nice enough to allow Superboy to continue appearing in the adventures).

The comic was boosted by some good stories by Cary Bates and the outstanding art of Dave Cockrum, who soon jumped over to Marvel and helped co-create a little book starring the new X-Men.

His work was an amazing blast of fresh air at DC, which was still focused on traditional comic art and stories (with occasional exceptions, such as work by Neal Adams and Bernie Wrightson).

Cockrum redesigned almost every Legionnaire's costume (a monstrous task, but badly needed), updated the look of the series, and with Bates he added new characters and gave the book a fresh approach.

This issue is a good example: for the 200th issue of Superboy, the Legion celebrated the wedding of Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel, and found themselves in the fight of their lives against classic villain Starfinger.

The story's a bit silly in places, but it was a solid leap forward for one of DC's middle-of-the-road titles, and reignited interest in DC's team from the 30th Century.

Cockrum's run wasn't long, but it brought me back to the DC fold after too many years of being largely absent. Of course, it didn't hurt that he was followed on the comic by Mike Grell and one of the all-time best Legion writers - Jim Shooter. But that's a story of another "Classic Comic" column.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sergio Aragones' Groo: The Hogs of Horder #1 (of 4)

Ah, finding a new issue of Groo at the comics shop is just like running into an old, dear friend.

You know what to expect - a funny, entertaining comic. You'll find terrific art by the king of humor comics, Sergio Aragones, along with a fun story (also by Sergio), and a clever script written by Mark Evanier.

You'll also find thoughtful ideas and deeper meaning hiding behind the huge sight gags and the ever-present running gags. This time around we're getting a primer on the economy, and how it affects people both humble of means and richer than sin.

Through it all walks Groo, slow of mind and quick of sword, a living engine of destruction (though quite good-natured about the whole thing).

Will he find the fray of his dreams? Or at least a decent serving of cheese dip? Is there any limit to the number of characters Aragones can squeeze into a splash page? Do mulch jokes ever get old? Just what is that square thing on Groo's chest?

For the answers to none of these questions, buy any issue of Groo. You'll smile, you'll laugh, and you'll wonder why his adventures don't show up every month.

We should be so lucky!

Grade: A-

Monday, November 2, 2009

Green Lantern #47

It occurs to me that the last two good mega-events at any comic company in the past several years have both had their beginning in the Green Lantern comic.

I'm referring to the Sinestro War and the ongoing Blackest Night (though of course we'll have to reserve final judgment on that until it's finished).

Like most mega-events, Blackest Night comes with piles of cross-over comics, including titles connected to Superman, the Titans, Batman and others. But the only one that is a "must-buy" is this title.

In this issue we see the team of light being assembled, as Hal Jordan, Sinestro, Carol Ferris (Star Sapphire) and the Indigo Lantern face off against Hal's predecessor, the Black Lantern version of Abin Sur. But he's not the most frightening character in this comic.

It's a fast-paced, tautly-written adventure, as we'd expect from Geoff Johns, and Doug Mahnke's art continues to impress, with horrific images, intense battles and loads of detail.

I don't think this comic can stand alone, but I can't imagine anyone reading this who wouldn't be following Blackest Night, too. Together, those comics are spinning a heck of a tale.

Grade: A-

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fantastic Four #572

For most of my comic book reading memory (which covers about 47 years), one of the books that has almost always been one of my favorites is the Fantastic Four.

Perhaps that's because it's more than just a super-team. It's a family of interesting characters, with an amazing supporting cast and an almost limitless number of potential stories to tell.

Jack Kirby used to say that it would be difficult to tell a bad Superman story. I think the same is true for the FF, as long as the writer stays true to the characters. (There have certainly been some examples of bad stories in the past, of course.)

So with this issue we wrap up the first story arc by the new creative team of writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Dale Eaglesham, and all I can say is, "Whew!"

That's because once again we have a team that "gets" the idea behind the FF.

This three-issue story has largely been focused on Reed Richards, the leader of the team and the world's smartest man. In the aftermath of the Civil War, he's taken it upon himself to solve the big problems facing the world.

To do that, he's joined forces with an interdimensional council of his fellow Reeds. It's a big concept and it's interesting to see where it goes, as the Reeds tackle some unusual problems, arrive at unexpected solutions, and wrestles with some cosmic concepts (and cosmic creatures).

Finally, Reed finds himself facing the true cost of "solving everything," and has to make the ultimate decision. The impact of his choice could have effects that are universal - or very personal.

These "big and small" stories are where the FF really shine, and this story gives me a lot of hope for the future.

I'm also really enjoying Eaglesham's art, both for the big cosmic conflicts and the smaller, more personal moments. I'm still not sure about those short-sleeve uniforms, though.

It's still a bit too soon to declare that the new team is a perfect fit for this series, but so far, all signs are good. Perhaps it's time to dust off that "World's Greatest Comic Magazine" banner.

Grade: A-