Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New Comics, New Costume

It's always wild to see stories on the evening news about comic books - and today, the hubbub was all about Wonder Woman's new togs. Must have been a slow news day.

Here's what I picked up today:

- Secret Avengers #2
- This cosmic story is leaving me cold so far.

- Captain America #607 - More of Zemo's plot unfolds.

- The Flash #3 - Taking on the Rogues from the future.

- Green Lantern #55 - Not Lobo!

- The Invincible Iron Man Annual #1 - The Mandarin's story.

- Justice League of America #46 - The JSA crossover begins!

- Justice Society of America #40 - But first, this comic has to wrap up its previous story.

- Thor #611 - Thor's goin' to Hell.

- Wonder Woman #600
- Apparently this comic has some fashion issues.

- Alter Ego #94 - Which is the second part of the Earth-2 coverage.

And that's it!

The Classics - House of Mystery #146

A little over 20 years ago I was at the Chicago Comics Con looking through some Silver Age DC Comics, and standing next to me was another guy looking at some early issues of Supergirl.

A voice asked, "Why are you interested in those comics?" It was longtime DC editor Julius Schwartz, and he was asking the question to the guy next to me. The guy said, "Because I like them. Why?" Schwartz said, "Just wondering."

It struck me that "I like them" was a great answer to the question. There are lots of comics (new and old) that I read that may not be of outstanding quality, or particularly collectible, or even qualify as cult favorites - I just like them.

This issue of House of Mystery is as good an example as any. Cover dated October 1964, it contains three stories, and none of them are particularly good. (Also, none of the art or writing is credited in the comic.)

The first story is "The Girl With the Fatal Touch," and it's a silly story about an alien girl who shows up in a remote town and destroys gold with a touch. It wants to be a detective story with a twist, but it's really just dopey.

The second story is "The Man Who Never Existed," and it's about a daredevil who thinks he's famous, yet despite his amazing stunts, no one knows him. The reason why (and the wrap-up to his career) would require a greatest suspension of disbelief than I could muster.

The third story stars J'onn J'onzz, Manhunter from Mars, and this would be the reason for picking up the comic - if this story was any good. (These days the character is known as the Martian Manhunter.)

I recently picked up the second DC Showcase volume reprinting J'onn's Silver Age adventures, and it tells us that the story was written by Jack Miller, and the art was by Joe Certa.

And there's no faulting the skill of the creative team - they turn in a professional job that was certainly entertaining for kids - it's loaded with action, two different monsters and and "unstoppable" menace.

To my grown-up self, the story is painfully slight. A monster appears from the mystic object called the Diabolu Head, and serves as a protector to a giant egg, which hatches an even more terrible meanace - one that even J'onzz can't stop. Luckily, Zook is there to save the day.

Silly stuff, but despite stories like that I was always a fan of J'onn J'onzz, and I never understood why he wasn't more popular. He had a great look (the green bald thing was way ahead of its time), interesting powers (matching Superman in many ways, with a few other abilities thrown in), he had an exciting civilian career as a police detective and he had an alien friend/sidekick/pet named Zook, who had some interesting powers of his (its?) own.

Looking back, it's easy to see why the character didn't last longer. The stories are just gimmicks, there's no real character development and almost no supporting cast, and the adventures were just plain weird.

So with three short, weak stories in this comic, what possible reason would I have for hanging on to this comic? Maybe it's nostalgia, maybe it's just my fondness for the character - but the real reason is, despite its faults - I like it.

Don't let anyone tell you otherwise - that's all the reason you need.

Grade: C-

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Green Arrow #1

Here's another hero that no one quite knows what to do with. Like the Martian Manhunter, the Spectre and Aquaman, Green Arrow has been forced to jump through all kinds of hoops in an attempt to find the storyline that will work.

(By the way, other comics companies have characters that have the same predicament - DC doesn't have a corner on the market.)

The character first started as a cross between Batman and Robin Hood, fighting crime with trick arrows and a sidekick, Speedy. He was reinvented by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams as an angry liberal crusader, fighting for the little guy while teamed up with Green Lantern.

Writer/artist Mike Grell brought the character even more down to Earth, ditching the trick arrows and featuring the hero in a series of stories "torn" from recent headlines. After that, he went back to being a (non-powered) superhero, married long-time love interest Black Canary and they fought the bad guys as a team.

Ultimately, in the Justice League: Cry for Justice series, he became an avenger who killed the villain who was responsible for his niece's death - an event that ended his marriage and left him in a dark place.

Which brings us to this, the newest version of the character. This time around they're giving him the full Robin Hood treatment, setting him up as a street-level vigilante who fights thugs, steals from the rich and gives to the poor.

It helps that his hometown, Star City, now sports a large, mysterious (and perhaps mystical) forest in the heart of the city, and the city is in the grip of corruption. The ruling class is living like kings while the regular joes are starving.

That's the setup writer J.T. Krul gives us, and while it's not bad, I have to say that it's not really working for me at this point. The setup just seems too removed from the real world - it almost seems like a fantasy setting.

The subplot featuring Oliver Queen's old company seems promising - but as with most of the storylines here, we'll have to see where it goes before rendering a final decision.

I like the art by Diogenes Neves and Vincente Cifuentes - it's raw and energetic and sets the mood nicely. There may be a few rough spots, and some of the panels spill across the page divide awkwardly, but there's lots of talent on display here. This will be a team to watch.

My gut reaction is that this storyline is going to be tough to sustain, but maybe I'm wrong. You have to think that sooner or later, someone is going to find the concept that clicks for Green Arrow.


Grade: B-

Monday, June 28, 2010

Secret Warriors #17

I admit to being a big fan of the '60s war comic Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos comic, so even if I wasn't already a fan of Secret Warriors, I would have bought this comic for its title, "The Last Ride of the Howling Commandos."

Of course, the Howlers are a big problem for modern-day Marvel continuity. It was one thing for Nick Fury and the Howlers to show up in early Marvel issues, set a mere 15 years (or so) after the end of the war - but the Howlers are mere mortals, after all, and since they fought in the war, today they'd be 90 years old (give or take a few years).

It's the same problem with all the WWII heroes and villains. Most can get around it thanks to suspended animation (Captain America and the Red Skull) or the nature of their powers (Namor ages slowly because he's an Atlantean, the original Human Torch is an android) - but those rules don't apply to regular humans.

They solved that problem with Fury some years ago, revealing that he had been experimented on back during the war with a formula that keeps him eternally youthful (more or less). I never understood why they didn't arrange the story so it happened to all the Howlers, since it wouldn't have been difficult to give them similar treatment.

Which brings us to this story, with writer Jonathan Hickman tackling this thorny problem. The issue centers around a reunion of the Howling Commandos. There we discover that not all the Howlers are still with us (a fact I'm pretty sure hasn't been revealed before this), but there's no explanation for why the ones who do remain look like they're in their 60s or 70s (at worst), not their 80s or 90s - or how Gabe Jones and Dum Dum Dugan are still able to be active members of Fury's organization.

Still, it's good to see this band of brothers back together again, though the title of the series gives us cause for concern.

I really like the artwork by Alessandro Vitti - it's dark, grim and full of energy, even when the characters are just sitting there talking.

And the whole comic is worth picking up just for the flashback sequences with the Howling Commandos and Captain America on D-Day.

Considering the events in this issue, I'm anxiously waiting for the next issue to see the truth behind the title. Surely the Howlers aren't about to yell their last "Wah-hoo?"

Grade: A-

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Superman #700

So here we are, issue #700 of Superman, and this "Giant-Sized" issue features three stories by writers past, present and future.

The opening story is by James Robinson, who guided the Man of Steel through the recent New Krypton story. Not a bad story, but not much here that we didn't see in the final issue of War of the Supermen - Lois and Clark reunited, making kissy-faces at each other and declaring their love. Sweet and all that, but not much besides. Nice art by Bernard Chang.

The second story is by writer and artist Dan Jurgens, and it's a team-up between Superman and Robin as they take on some gun-runners. Good art and an ok story, but nothing we haven't seen many times before.

The final story is by the new writer in town - J. Michael Straczynski, who's taking over the title for the foreseeable future. It's the best story in the comic, although it's also mighty thin. Superman is holding a press conference when he's forced to realize that he has allowed himself to become too "above it all" - is he distancing himself from the real world?

The story is a set-up for the much-reported "Grounded" series, which has Superman walking across the country. Yeah, it sounds silly to me, too, but I'm willing to give it a chance. I like the art by Eddy Barrows, though is seems a bit muddy in places.

If you want in on the "ground floor" of that upcoming storyline, you might want to pick up this issue - but aside from a great cover by Gary Franks, there's not a lot to recommend here.

Here's hoping for bigger and better stories starting with #701.

Grade: C+

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Legion of Super-Heroes #2

On a book with a massive cast and a complex history like the Legion of Super-Heroes, the creative team has to walk a fine line between keeping the story accessible to new readers but complex enough to please the devoted fans.

I thought the first issue in this series did a good job of explaining the basics and laying out the basic facts and characters so new readers could follow along.

While I enjoyed this issue quite a bit, I think it steps over the line and takes us into that "cast of hundreds" feel that Legion fans love, though it might make the book a challenge for new readers.

Here we see the aftermath of the destruction of Titan, Saturn's moon (which is inhabited in the 31st century). Several Legionnaires are working clean-up duty, while others tend to the thousands of refugees. Then there's the challenge of dealing with a team member who was recently an enemy of the team - and who has a powerful secret. Then there's a riot to deal with, an attack from an old enemy and Saturn Girl's desperate search through time to try to save her children.

So obviously writer Paul Levitz is really starting to open the series up here, using no less than 18 members of the Legion in this issue (by my count). It can make it tough to keep up with what's going on, but the stories are building nicely, and the comic "feels" like the Legion so many of us enjoyed - with several stories running at the same time, from cosmic struggles to personal challenges.

Tackling such a huge cast would be a strain for any artist, and here we have three handling the chores - pencillers Yildiray Cinar and Francis Portela (who also inks) and inker Wayne Faucher. There's a lot going on here, and they keep the story flowing with a clean, futuristic-looking style.

They're doing good work on a book that's as involved and cast-heavy as any other. But the beauty of the Legion is that it's loaded with great characters - some you'll love, some you'll be annoyed with, and some will fascinate you.

It might be some work for new readers to sort out, but the rewards of a fine story make it well worth the effort.

Grade: A-

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Avengers #2

One of the problems most writers seem to face when tackling a team book like The Avengers is coming up with a menace that will actually challenge a team made up of some of the most powerful heroes around.

Two issues into the relaunch of this title and I can safely say that Brian Bendis has that problem under control.

This is a team tackling the mind-boggling threat of the destruction of the future timelines (which involves some of future Marvel's heaviest hitting bad guys), a present-day battle with an incredibly powerful (and really honked off) former teammate, and the sudden appearance of a mysterious (yet somehow familiar) team of baddies.

It's all tied together with some fast and funny dialogue and lots of amazing artwork by John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson. They seem to be having a blast working on this comic, and it's contagious.

I admit it, I read this comic with a big grin on my face - it's just a heck of a lot of fun. Can't wait for the next issue!

Grade: A

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #3 (of 6)

Here we hit the halfway point on Bruce (Batman) Wayne's return, and so far it's been an entertaining ride.

You can't help but think that Grant Morrison approached this time-hopping adventure with the thought, "What time periods will be the most fun to visit?"

The first issue took us back to the time of the caveman, and the second issue carried us to the Salem-esque witch trials of the 1600s. This issue takes us into the 1700s as Batman encounters the most famous pirate of them all, and a deadly search for hidden treasure.

Considering the story deals with piracy, murder and lots of death, it's actually quite a bit of fun - the dialogue alone is entertaining.

The art is outstanding, with pencils by Yanick Paquette, inks by Michel Lacombe and colors by Nathan Fairbairn. It's dark, mysterious and intense. The characters stand out and the expressions are outstanding - lots of emotions and real people on display here.

Once again, we get some snippets of mysteries carrying through time, and we still don't know why the modern heroes are so concerned about Batman returning (not to mention the fact that several of them were facing their doom at the end of time last issue).

But those are all good reasons to keep following this story to see how it all sorts out. So far, it's quite good and highly recommended.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Comics Haul of the Day

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

- Avengers #2
- A wild, over-the-top adventure building here.

- Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #3 (of 6) - A bit of a muddle but a fun ride so far.

- Fantastic Four #580 - This just keeps getting better all the time.

- Green Arrow #1 - Checking out the new version.

- Legion of Super-Heroes #2 - Enjoyed the first issue quite a bit.

- Powers #5 - Dark stories, but entertaining.

- Secret Warriors #17 - Hard to pass up any comic with the Howling Commandos in it.

- Superman #700 - Fresh off the New Krypton mega-series, let's kick off another year-long tale. Poor Superman never gets a break.

And that's it!

The Classics - Tales to Astonish #70

By 1965 Marvel was really starting to hit on all cylinders, so fans were shocked when drastic changes happened in two of the three "split books" Marvel published.

Tales of Suspense continued to carry the adventures of Iron Man and Captain America, but over at Strange Tales, the Human Torch was booted out and the first half of the comic was handed over to a new concept - Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD. But at least the Torch continued to star in the Fantastic Four.

Tales to Astonish had the most drastic change, as Giant-Man and the Wasp disappeared from the comic (and from The Avengers), and were replaced in "Tales" by Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner.

It was a shocking development because Namor really wasn't a hero, not unlike the book's other star, the Hulk. In fact, I believe Namor was the first anti-hero to appear in comics.

He often fought the good guys, but he usually had a reason for his behavior - and in his "modern" version, he was portrayed as a regal character, with a code of honor.

It didn't hurt that Namor took over this comic just after his appearance in Daredevil #7, which I consider one of the greatest comics of all time (as mentioned here).

While I was a bit lukewarm to Namor moving into this comic at first, I was quickly won over by the quest storyline that writer and editor Stan Lee kicked off with this issue.

To prove his claim to the throne of Atlantis, Namor must find the Enchanted Trident of King Neptune - a quest that pits him against a number of monsters and menaces, with lots of court intrigue going on around the edges.

The amazing art was provided by some guy named Adam Austin - known better today, of course, as Gene Colan. His (dare I say it?) fluid artwork was a perfect match for the undersea adventures, even when saddled with an inker like Vince Colletta, whose style wasn't a good match at all.

Namor has always been a tricky character to handle - he's a hot-head, he's got a big ego, he tends to punch first and ask questions later - but this series in Tales to Astonish put him on the road to being a full-fledged, regal hero. There have been bumps in the road, but he's one of Marvel's oldest heroes, and he's earned his place in comics history.

In retrospect, it was good to see him finally getting the attention he deserved, even at the expense of a character I really liked - Giant-Man (who eventually returned to the Avengers as Goliath).

None of this is to take away from the back-up feature in the comic, as Lee teamed up with some guy named Jack Kirby for an over-the-top Hulk adventure, as Bruce Banner lies at death's door thanks to a bullet in the brain, and the Leader attacks with a 500-foot-tall indestructible Humanoid. Just another day in the desert.

For the next three years (or so) Namor and the Hulk shared half a comic before they finally graduated into their own titles - but that's a Classic review for another day.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Birds of Prey #2

I picked up this issue because I really enjoyed the first issue.

The second issue of Birds of Prey isn't quite as good as the previous adventure, but that's mostly because we're at the point in the story where everything has to go wrong for our heroes - and by the end of the issue, things are looking bleak indeed.

The story begins with the Black Canary and the Huntress facing off against a mysterious opponent - a masked woman dressed in white, and apparently able to hold her own against two of the better hand-to-hand fighters in the DC Universe.

The team of heroes who make up this incarnation of Birds of Prey is an odd one, including the heroes you would expect - Oracle and Lady Blackhawk, for example - and several that seem an odd mix - Hawk and Dove and (sorta) the Penguin.

The story by Gail Simone is rushing along nicely so far, although I'm not crazy about some of the events in this issue. But I'm willing to hold final judgment until the story wraps up - there's plenty of room to grow here.

The art by Ed Benes and Adriana Melo is very good, especially from a technical viewpoint - the anatomy is excellent, the layouts fresh, the women beautiful and the fight scenes are strong. The only failing is a lack of emotion in the characters - they all just seem to be angry all the time.

Overall, the comic still seems to be feeling its way along, and it's still too early to say if this approach is working. Time will tell, and I'm interested enough to keep hanging on - for now.

Grade: B

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Incredible Hulk #610

The Hulk continues to be trapped in the crossover that never ends - as the Fall of the Hulks wraps up, World War Hulks takes over.

As I've mentioned before, the only comic in the series I buy is The Incredible Hulk, and it's a credit to writer Greg Pak that I'm still able to follow the story with a minimal amount of aggravation.

The unfolding story has managed a couple of things - they've finally revealed the identity of the Red Hulk (which I won't reveal here, but it ends up being a character who was seen standing next to the Red Hulk early in his adventures - no idea how that was possible) and the Red She-Hulk (who ends up being someone who was dead - now there's a great way to avoid suspicion).

Where this series shines is that Pak has managed to make Bruce Banner (the Hulk's alter ego, natch) into someone capable of going toe-to-toe with Marvel's heavy hitters, thanks to his formidable intelligence. It's a great new take on a classic character who's been downtrodden for far too long.

This issue wraps up the problem of the "Hulked Out Heroes" (about which the less said the better), resolves a long-running plot point, and sets up what should be a universe-class knock-down, drag-out fight.

The art by Paul Pelletier and Danny Miki is all rage and anger, explosions and destruction. It's solid work, though things get a little too over the top in places. (Must everyone scream constantly?)

Kudos to the creative team for taking on a slice of this crossover madness and creating a fun and intelligent comic.

But I can't help but hope for an end to the ever-present crossovers, and stories with not quite so many Hulks in 'em. This series soared much higher when it was a solo act.

Grade: B+

Sunday, June 20, 2010

DC Universe Legacies #2 (of 10)

Somehow I overlooked the first issue of this series (I was on the road that week). But don't worry, I picked it up a week later - and am I glad I did!

DC Universe Legacies is an outstanding series that focuses on the history of DC's superheroes, told from the viewpoint of a witness to some of history's key events - a regular guy named Paul.

The first two issues have focused on the Golden Age of heroes, from the first appearance of the Crimson Avenger to the appearance of the Justice Society of America, which this issue focuses on.

I should note that they're going with the modern version of DC history, so you won't see Superman or Batman or Wonder Woman in these pages - at least, not yet. Unlike actual comics history, they didn't appear in the 1930s or '40s - they show up in modern times.

This is a well-written retelling of DC's history, which is no surprise when you consider that the guy in charge of the story is Len Wein, who has made history through his own career as a writer.

Providing the art on the main story in the first two issues is Andy and Joe Kubert, and I don't think there are enough superlatives around to convey how good these two are. The book is well worth picking up for the art alone.

This issue also features a backup story about the Seven Soldiers of Victory by Wein and artist J. H. Williams III. It's a brisk and entertaining romp with eight Golden Age heroes. (So why are they the Seven Soldiers? No idea.)

All told, it's a terrific package with incredible art and a great story. What more do you need? Highly recommended!

Grade: A

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ultimate X #3

In the Ultimate Universe, the X-Men are disbanded and mostly dead.

The mutants who are still around are being hunted by the law, thanks to Magneto's recent attempt to destroy the world.

Staying one step ahead of their pursuers, the mutants are gathering together - though whether it's for mutual protection or to fight back, we're not sure.

Each issue in this series has focused on a different mutant, including Wolverine's son Jimmy Hudson (who inherited dad's claws), Karen Grant (who's really Jean Grey), and in this issue, an Angel-like mutant named Derek Morgan.

Derek is more of a hawk than a dove, and he spends his nights fighting the bad guys while trying to avoid the police. Which is difficult, because he lives with his brother who happens to be a cop.

This series has been pretty good up 'til now, but this issue is a bit of a stumble. The character doesn't seem to be well thought out, and the resolution is unsatisfying.

As always, the artwork by living legend Art Adams is incredible, with an amazing amount of detail on display - but the work isn't helped by the colors credited to Aspen MLT's Peter Steigerwald - it's all dark and muddy and seems to be doing its best to obscure the artwork (the cover's an excellent example of the problem).

From the first issue, you might have expected that this series was going to focus on a single character, but now it seems that we're seeing the reformation of the X-Men.

The story by Jeph Loeb is moving slow (it's the style, after all), but even with this issue's slight slip, it's still a story well worth following. So far.

Grade: B+

Friday, June 18, 2010

Brightest Day #4

DC seems to have picked up the same problem Marvel has had in recent months - putting the wrong cover on a comic book.

For example, here on Brightest Day we see the Black Lantern version of Firestorm. Nice cover, it looks great - but nowhere in this issue do we see Firestorm or Dead Firestorm. We do see his alter egos briefly, but I'm pretty sure that doesn't count.

Once you get beyond that you have another solid issue, touching on the lives of some of the characters brought back to life by the mysterious White Lantern during the Blackest Night series.

Since the comic is published twice monthly, the issue is broken up into several small pieces so the artists can maintain their deadlines. As a result, we're just getting fragments of each story - but they're all compelling enough to keep bringing us back for more.

And the characters are (mostly) beloved Silver Age characters, so that keeps me on board. In this issue, we see Hawkman and Hawkgirl make an unusual journey, only to wind up in last year's biggest movie! (Well, sorta.)

Deadman (who's quite alive) pays a visit to Hawk and Dove, we meet a new character who (according to press stories this week) is the new version of Aqualad, and we meet yet another cold-blooded killer (or in this case, a team of killers) - but I didn't catch her name.

The art is something of a mixed bag, and not as smooth a grouping as past issues - but the team of artists does a good job here, despite any clashes in styles.

Two months and four issues into the series, and we seem to have more mysteries than ever. I'm enjoying the series, but I'm looking forward to seeing some more solutions.

And covers that match the interiors.

Grade: B+

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The New Avengers #1

You know, it's getting to the point where you can't swing a cat by the tail in the Marvel Universe without hitting a bunch of Avengers.

(Of course, the management at Chuck's Comic of the Day doesn't recommend actually swinging a cat by the tail. They scratch.)

Our latest Avengers spinoff is The New Avengers, which continues the team of "outcast" Avengers from the days of the Dark Reign - Luke Cage, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Ms. Marvel, Hawkeye and Mockingbird.

But wait, you say - didn't Steve Rogers already reassemble the classic team and throw in Spider-Man and Wolverine? Well, yes - but apparently those heroes can serve on more than one team (and Logan gives a very funny explanation here for how that could be possible).

In this issue written by Brian Bendis we see Luke given the keys to the mansion and a (mostly) free hand to assemble a team that will operate independently from the original Avengers team.

The cover is a big giveaway to one of the team's new members, but the strongest member of the Fantastic Four should be a great addition to the book, especially since it raises the number of wisenheimers on the team to three (including Spidey and Hawkeye).

The story features a big mystic menace (and a big finish to this issue), and it helps get the whole series off to a rollicking start.

The art is fantastic - penciler Stuart Immonen and inker Wade von Grawbadger do a terrific job on everything from the big action splashes to the small, personal moments.

So, another Avengers comic, another strong start. So far the Heroic Age is looking very good indeed.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

New Comics Today

Here's what I picked up today:

- Atlas #2
- This seems to be getting its old mojo back now that the Dark Reign is over.

- The New Avengers #1
- Room for one more!

- Birds of Prey #2 - Enjoyed the first one.

- Brightest Day #4 - Considering the title, there are lots of dark things happening here.

- DC Universe: Legacies #2 (of 10) - Andy and Joe Kubert artwork? Len Wein script? I'm there.

- Incredible Hulk #610 - Mysteries revealed and lots of 'splosions.

- The Marvelous Land of Oz #7 (of 8) - Great adaptation.

- The Spirit #3 - Not sure about this one. Better than the last version, though.

- Ultimate X #3 - More mutant hijinks, more great Art Adams artwork.

And that's it!

The Classics - Action Comics #304

If I may be forgiven an "oldtimer" moment, I have to say that, when I was a kid, comic books were everywhere.

And I don't just mean at stores like drug stores, variety stores and grocery stores - you could find them at almost every home.

My friends and relatives all had comics at their houses - and it was always fun to sift through their collections to find a treasure to read.

It wasn't unusual to read a comic once at someone's house and never see it again - perhaps they'd trade it away, lose it or it would just get tossed by a mom who was blissfully unaware that it was a treasured item.

Which brings us (the long way around) to this issue of Action Comics (cover dated September 1963), which probably isn't the earliest Superman comic book I read, since he and Batman were the two heroes who showed up in everyone's collection, but it's one of the earliest and it's one that stayed with me.

If memory serves, I read this at my cousin Blaine's house, and didn't see it again until I picked up this copy a few years ago at a comics convention. But the main story was clear in my mind, which is more than I can say about most of my life at the age of seven.

Actually, only half the book is memorable. The second half is a Supergirl adventure titled "The Maid of Menace," which features wonderful (and uncredited) Jim Mooney art but an improbable story pitting Supergirl against a mysterious opponent who might be her own descendant from the future.

The first half of the book is given over to an unusual Superman adventure. The Man of Steel is transported to an alien world along with Lana Lang and is invited to take part in the Interplanetary Olympics. Urged on by Lana (who's hoping for an exclusive story), Superman agrees to square off against two powerhouses - Borko of Gorn and Boscar of Krag.

The contests are feats of strength and skill that would seem easy for our hero, but for mysterious reasons, he keeps failing. This was something of a running theme for Superman at the time - for him to find himself in an embarrassing situation, only to reveal at the end the real reason behind his woes.

The twist in this story was clever and the reveal of the secrets handled with great skill, due in no small part to the outstanding artwork by the (also uncredited) Curt Swan, who was "the" Superman artist for many longtime fans (including me).

His settings were imaginative, his heroes were, well, heroic in stature, his women were beautiful, his action scenes were dynamic and his characters were much more expressive than the DC norm.

One of the reasons this issue stayed with me was the surprising concept of a hero deliberately losing a series of contests - even though it made him look bad - because it was the right thing to do.

It was an exhibition of the kind of character a hero should possess, and it made an impression on my young mind.

If I wanted to be a true old fogey, I'd worry about what kind of impression modern comics are making on today's kids - but I'm not quite that far gone yet.

(Just give me time - I'm getting there.)

Grade: B+

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom #1 (of 6)

Tom Strong is one of Alan Moore's most recent creations, and it's one I've followed faithfully.

Moore managed to create a character that wove elements from classic adventure and pulp fiction and traditional superhero adventure into a new and original storyline.

The hero is a powerhouse with great intelligence as a result of experiments by his father. He grew up in a secret base on a hidden island peopled by a mysterious race. He became a world-famous hero, and lives with his wife and daughter in their skyscraper headquarters, along with their robot butler, Pneuman, and his friend, a talking gorilla named Solomon.

His adventures have been intelligent and entertaining to a fault, thanks to clever scripts by Moore and the outstanding art of Chris Sprouse (inked here by Karl Story). Sprouse creates a powerful, classic style that's perfectly suited to the character and his stories.

With this issue, Moore turns the writing reins over the Peter Hogan, and while it's too soon to pass final judgment on a story that may take many twists and turns in the issues ahead, so far it's just... ok.

We pick up events just before the wedding of Tom's daughter, when everything in the universe changes - except for Tom. The confrontation that follows makes it seem that there's no way to undo those changes, which leaves our hero in a bad spot. (And if that sounds like an old familiar tale - well, yeah.)

I'll be hanging with this comic, if just for the Chris Sprouse art, but the story so far isn't holding up its end of things. Hopefully this will change in the months ahead.

Grade: B-

Monday, June 14, 2010

Captain America #606

The Captain America comic continues to be somewhat in flux, perhaps caught on the horns of a dilemma.

By introducing Bucky as the new Cap while Steve Rogers was (temporarily) dead, writer Ed Brubaker gave us an interesting character - and even though Steve has returned, we're not at all sure that we want to see Bucky go away or return to being Bucky or revert to being the Winter Soldier. So what to do?

Marvel has thrown readers a curve by not putting Steve back in his role as Cap, and instead making him the new chief of SHIELD. To be honest, I'm not crazy about the idea - I was looking forward to Steve's return, and this feels like one of those "cutting the baby in half" solutions, leaving both sides room to gripe.

But even with those complaints, I'm enjoying the new story that begins in this issue. We see the return of Cap's second-biggest villain (behind the Red Skull, of course) - Baron Zemo, who's apparently been hiding under a rock somewhere and is unaware that Bucky is now carrying the shield.

Handling the art is Butch Guice, who's doing the best work of his career here - bold layouts, detailed art, Steranko-esque sequences - great stuff!

This comic is setting the scene for the coming conflict with Zemo, and does so with great skill. And hey, Steve Rogers puts in an appearance, too, so even conflicted fans should be happy.

Grade: A-

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Uncanny X-Men #525

I understand the reasons behind crossover events. The comics companies want to give you a reason to pick up different titles and lure you into following them.

I realize I'm not a typical comics buyer, but these mega-crossovers have the opposite effect on me - they make me want to drop the title I've been following, rather than pick up additional comics.

If it's a book I enjoy or have been collecting a long time (the two don't necessarily go together), I'll usually just keep buying the issue I follow and ignore the others, assuming I'll be able to keep up.

That's what I've been doing with World War Hulks, for example (only buying the Incredible Hulk comic), and with the Second Coming series running through the X-titles, including the Uncanny X-Men (the only X-book I buy).

The index on the last page lists 21 comic books covering the event over five months, and when it's over I will have bought three issues. Needless to say, even reading the text recap page doesn't fill in the gaps. (Am I the only one who usually ignores those?)

So I'm left feeling like I'm wasting my time, trying to follow a comic that's such a small part of a big, expensive story. It wasn't long ago that I finally dropped the Amazing Spider-Man - a comic I've followed practically since it began - and I feel I'm close to doing likewise with the X-Men.

With all that said, there's a lot to recommend this issue. There's a big story going on here, as the X-Men (and their extended family) are cut off from the world by an impenetrable force field, and those trapped inside are trying to survive an attack by futuristic Sentinels.

The X-Force team (I think) has been sent into a familiar-looking (and terribly bleak) future. Matt Fraction's story cracks along, and I can almost follow what's going on - but it's not enough to entice me to track down all those other issues. (By the way, the dig at the Watchmen movie was just childish.)

The art by Terry and Rachel Dodson is fantastic - some amazing layouts, power splash pages and great characters fill the issue.

But since I'm only getting a small part of the story, I can't help but feel cheated. It's the trap of success - when a comic does well, the company tries to expand the line by offering more titles with the same character(s) - thus we're overwhelmed with comics starring Wolverine, Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, the Avengers and some version of the X-Men.

But more doesn't equal better, and I (for one) would much rather have one comic a month starring those characters that was really outstanding, instead of a dozen mediocre ones. Quality is what counts, not quantity.

At this rate, I'm going to have to drop another comic from my list that I've been reading for more than four decades. A shame, really.

Grade: B

Saturday, June 12, 2010

S.H.I.E.L.D. #2

I love stories that make you think.

That;s one reason why I was a big fan of the (sadly concluded) TV show Lost. It had its ups and downs, but it always made you think, and challenged you to put together the pieces of the mystery and (sometimes) reach your own conclusions.

I get the same vibe from the comic S.H.I.E.L.D. - there's a lot going on here, and some big concepts seem to be in play, but it's not being spelled out (in a clear and painful way) for the reader - you have to do the work and assemble those mental puzzles on your own.

All we know so far is that S.H.I.E.L.D. is a secret organization, dating back to the times of the Pharoahs, which is dedicated to protecting humanity from the dark menaces out there - both science based and supernatural. We don't know yet if this is the same group that operates in the proper Marvel Universe, or if this story is even taking place in the M.U. (indications are that it isn't - quite).

This issue focuses on two characters - the young man Leonid (whose past and parentage seems a complete mystery, but he somehow holds the key to the future) and one of history's most fascinating people - Leonardo da Vinci, here re-imagined as a strapping science hero.

He serves as a guide to Leonid, but there are many mysteries to be uncovered, and we only get a few hints this time around.

The art by Dustin Weaver (with colors by Christina Strain) continues to be phenomenal, with amazing details and panoramas on display. The layouts are vivid and imaginative, and the characters leap off the page.

If you pick this comic up, you'll want to track down the first issue, too. But it's well worth the effort - it will challenge you to expand your thinking and it'll force you to pay attention.

So far, this is shaping up to be one of the year's best. But will the ending live up to the buildup?

Grade: A-

Friday, June 11, 2010

Avengers Academy #1

I figured I'd give this issue a try, since it's the latest in the avalanche of Avengers titles.

And while it's not the most incredible comic I've ever read, I have to admit I enjoyed it. That's probably because despite the Avengers Academy title, it's actually closer to the original concept of the X-Men.

The idea is simple enough - you take a half-dozen young people, give them amazing powers but little in the way of skills to manage those powers and send them to super-hero school where they'll train to become the heroes of tomorrow.

Writer Christos Gage does a good job here, setting up the new team, introducing their school and their teachers, and setting up lots of internal conflict - in no small part thanks to a big secret the young team uncovers.

The story is told from the viewpoint of Veil, a thoughtful and appealing girl who's easy to like (and thankfully isn't the usual pneumatically endowed superbabe).

The issue includes outstanding art by Mike McKone, with lots of character and emotion on display, strong layouts, loads of detail and a real heft to the world these young heroes inhabit.

The thing that impresses me the most is that, in one short issue, we're introduced to these characters and they all feel like actual characters, not cardboard cutouts in different costumes. The bicker, they joke, they flirt - they're like actual teens.

It's a very encouraging start and a good concept. I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes from here. As I recall, that X-Men thing worked out ok.

Grade: A-

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Batman #700

Those anniversary issues with the nice round numbers are always big favorites with the fans. (At least I like 'em.) And DC has gone the extra mile to make this issue of Batman special.

This happened in time-honored fashion: take a great writer - Grant Morrison - and team him up with one or more of the top artists in the field - and with Tony Daniels, Frank Quitely, Alex Sinclair, Andy Kubert and David Finch, they have that covered. Throw in a Batman Gallery, mix well, and you have a special issue.

The idea behind the issue is to take a story idea and run it through several versions of Batman (past, present, future and way in the future). And just for fun, it's a classic detective story - a "locked door" mystery.

Some might be disappointed that the "real" Batman - Bruce Wayne - only gets a short flashback, while the rest of the story looks at the present team and two future incarnations of the Caped Crusader.

The art is, as you'd expect, excellent, although it's a bit of a clash of styles. But the story makes it look like that was the whole idea, and it works reasonably well.

The story isn't quite a home run - Morrison's trying a bit too hard to be obtuse here, but the story is mostly fun - though it's sad to see the future is even more depressing than I expected.

Still, it's a happy 700th to one of the most durable and dependable heroes ever created. As this issue shows, he fits in almost any kind of story and any setting - even when he's not quite himself.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

New Comics Day

A big week! Here's what I picked up today at the comics shop:

- Avengers Academy #1 - Giving it a try.

- Batman #700 - He doesn't look a day over 600.

- Captain America #606
- Baron Zemo? I thought he was dead?

- Doc Savage #3 - Hoping for improvement.

- Invincible Iron Man #27 - That cover looks familiar somehow... oh yeah, the movie!

- Jonah Hex #56 - That cover looks familiar somehow... oh yeah, the movie!

- Prince of Power #2 - He seems a little short to be a Prince of Power.

- S.H.I.E.L.D. #2
- Still looks great.

- Solomon Kane: Death's Black Riders #4 (of 4)
- Those are some ugly horses.

- Spider-Man: Fever #3 (of 3) - Weird but interesting.

- Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom #1 (of 6) - Very happy to see this comic return.

- Ultimate Spider-Man #11
- See that cover? Doesn't happen.

- The Warlord #15 - When Mike Grell moves in a new direction, he doesn't mess around.

- Uncanny X-Men #525 - Is it time to drop this series?

And thats it!

The Classics - Marvel Feature #1

With the ongoing success of team-based comics like the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, you have to assume that Stan Lee and Roy Thomas were sitting around one day and wondered, "Do we have any other characters laying around loose that we can use to create a team?"

The answer resulted in the Defenders, a group that first appeared - sorta - in this issue of the short-lived Marvel Feature (the group would spin off into its own title after three issues).

But actually the "team" had appeared before. After his own comic was cancelled, Dr. Strange appeared in a storyline that crossed into the Sub-Mariner's comic and an issue of the Hulk.

Then a later issue of Sub-Mariner featured a two-issue team-up with Namor, the Hulk and the Silver Surfer.

Perhaps fan reaction was strong to the issue, or perhaps Stan and Roy just liked the idea - or maybe they just needed something to put into this double-sized issue.

Whatever the reason, this was the first official appearance of the team, and it started with a bang - almost literally. Strange discovers an old enemy has created a device that will destroy the Earth, and to stop it he'll need brute force - so he recruits Namor and the Hulk to help. (The Silver Surfer is unable to help thanks to a rather thin excuse. At the time Stan was very picky about where the Surfer appeared, so he may have nixed this appearance.)

As one would expect with a Marvel comic, the team spends as much time fighting with each other as they do going against the bad guy - but that's all part of the fun.

Writer Roy Thomas crafts a clever story here, with great dialogue and a fun dynamic between the monster, the monarch and the mage.

The art is also a treat - a very unusual pairing of Ross Andru and Bill Everett, with the result being a scratchy but high-energy style that's unlike anything I can remember seeing from either artist. Oh, and that Neal Adams cover doesn't hurt, either. (At least I think that's Adams.)

In addition to the cover feature, this 25-cent package (cover dated December 1971) includes a reprint of a '50s Sub-Mariner adventure and a back-up story by Roy Thomas and artist Don Heck explaining how the recently retired Dr. Strange returned to action. It's a little thin, but good clean fun.

Reading that first issue, it's amazing that this concept ever caught on, much less continued for more than a decade (and up to the present, in one form or another). Here was a group of heroes who didn't like each other much and preferred to do their adventuring solo - yet every month the writers would find an excuse to bring them together to fight for the greater good.

The creative teams might not be actual magicians, but that's what I call a darn good trick.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Hawkeye and Mockingbird #1

This is a comic that leaves me feeling conflicted.

I like the characters. Hawkeye is brash, funny and clever, while Mockingbird is tough, smart and also funny. They make a great team, and there's lots of potential for wordplay and character growth in this series.

I'm glad to see them both getting (somewhat) back to basics, with Hawkeye back in his blue-and-purple costume (somewhat modified), and Mockingbird in her white-and-(gray? Dark blue?) costume.

The setup is a bit more shaky - Mockingbird is running a World Counterterrorism Agency, dedicated to - well, the name says it all. It seems a bit redundant in a world where SHIELD is back in the hands of the good guys, but there you are. Hawkeye is there to help, along with a small group of specialists.

Still, the issue starts briskly, with a freeform chase sequence and the return of an old foe.

The issue is written by Jim McCann, and it takes several surprising turns along the way - some more shocking than others. It's interesting, it's a good start - but the story still suffers from having to cram a lot of introductions and setups into this issue, and there are few unsettling events included.

I might end up liking it, depending on where the story goes, but I'm not convinced yet.

The art is solid, with pencils by David Lopez and inks by Alvaro Lopez. It's clean, fun and has a real sense of exhuberance to it. There are a few quibbles - Hawkeye's costume doesn't always look quite right - but those are minor. There are strong layouts and fun splash pages to enjoy.

So it's a solid effort so far, but it may take a few more issues to see if this story will work - but I'm willing to stick around and see how it goes.

Grade: B

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Thanos Imperative #1 (of 6)

Falling into the category of "I can't buy everything," I must admit that I haven't been following the cosmic storylines in the comic books Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova.

This was apparently a mistake, because the stories have been (more or less) universally hailed as being mighty good. One of these days, I'll tackle the collections.

But even my hard heart was melted when this mini-series was announced, because I've been a longtime fan of Thanos.

That powerful villain was created by writer/artist Jim Starlin back in the '70s and he quickly became one of Marvel's premiere characters. Incredibly powerful and intelligent, his motivations are unique. He is in love with the embodiment of Death, and seeks her love in return. He attempts to gain her affections by assorted galactic-scale schemes, only to be thwarted by as assortment of heroes.

This mini-series starts on a big scale, as the Guardians, Nova and their allies face an invasion from a parallel universe known as the Cancerverse. It's a reality where Death does not exist, and lots of incredibly powerful, Cthulu-type creatures seek to take over the Marvel Universe.

Our reality's only hope may be Thanos, who is recruited to oppose the invasion. But first he has to overcome the fact that he just returned from the dead.

(A lot of that going around these days.)

This issue, written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, makes it easy to pick up the story from this point even if you're not familiar with the previous adventures (like me).

The art by Miguel Sepulveda with color by Bill Rosemann is mostly outstanding, although a few panels in the frenetic battle are a bit hard to follow. Still, especially considering how much is going on here, it's an amazing job keeping it all intense and galloping at full speed.

The main thing I get out of this issue is the urge to kick myself for not picking up the previous adventures from this team. Ah well, live and learn.

Grade: A-

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Serenity: Float Out (One-Shot)

I should admit right up front that I'm a big fan of both the TV show Firefly and its film sequel Serenity, and I'd love to see more stories in that universe from creator Joss Whedon. (And if you somehow missed those productions, you owe it to yourself to track 'em down - NetFlix, online, whatever works. You can thank me later.)

Since the next film still seems to be a ways off (I'm not getting any younger, people), we can still visit that world through the auspices of Dark Horse and the occasional comic book or mini-series.

This issue, titled Serenity: Float Out, is something of an odd duck. First of all, it's written by Patton Oswalt, who's better known as a comedian and an actor (he also provided the lead voice in the Pixar film Ratatouille).

But don't let that put you off - it's a well-written, clever one-shot issue that focuses on one of my favorite members of the crew of the Serenity - its pilot, Wash. (Though you should be warned that this issue gives away certain key events in the film Serenity.)

You may be thrown at first because the issue features three previously-unknown (at least to me) friends of Wash, sharing stories about his exploits as a pilot (and that's about as close to a gripe as I get with this comic).

And you'll definitely want to catch the surprise on the final page (no, it's not that).

The art by Patric Reynolds (with colors by Dave Stewart) is quite good, with a rough, lived-in look (which is very much in keeping with the Firefly universe). And if the likenesses aren't always spot-on, they're mighty close.

So it's a solid story with lots of action and some touching moments - well worth checking out, especially if you're a fan of the series.

As this issue demonstrates, there are still lots of stories to be told with the cast and crew of the Serenity. Keep 'em coming, y'all!

Grade: B+

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Brightest Day #3

The Brightest Day rolls on, and I have to say I'm enjoying the focus on (mostly) Silver Age heroes, especially considering what short shrift these characters have been given in recent years.

We also get the sense that we're getting close to the elusive answers about why certain characters were returned from the dead. Each hero is involved in a different mystery that's slowly unraveling as the story progresses.

We see Deadman (who's not-so-dead) facing off in what seems a terribly lopsided battle against the cosmically-powered Anti-Monitor.

We see Firestorm's alter egos adjusting to their new existence - and one of them is hiding a secret (and yes, I know he's not really a Silver Age character).

The Martian Manhunter uncovers a grisly murder (depicted in a disturbing fashion for a mainstream comic).

Aquaman and Mera are trying to cope with the frightening change in Arthur's powers - a change that's tied to the Blackest Night.

And DC's other power couple, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, discover the reason why someone has been gathering up the bodies from their past lives.

So a lot is going on here, and writers Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi are doing an excellent job keeping the story moving along, and keeping the mysteries just out of our reach - but giving us enough to keep us coming back for the next chapter.

The art is also quite good, if not entirely uniform. It takes five pencilers and three inkers to keep up with this comic's twice-monthly pace, and so far, the quality has been outstanding.

While I'm not crazy about some of the grim and gritty images, I like this comic a lot - it appeals to the Silver Age fan in me, and is doing a fine job (so far) of bringing those characters into DC's modern age.

Grade: B+

Friday, June 4, 2010

Avengers Prime #1

This comic had me at "Art by Alan Davis." But luckily, there are several other good reasons to pick it up.

Avengers Prime focuses on three of the "Founding Fathers" of the team - Thor, Iron Man and Captain Steve (don't call me Captain America yet) Rogers.

After events in recent years - particularly in Civil War, which found Steve and Tony on opposite sides (Thor was "dead" at the time, but Tony helped create a clone of him, which Thor wasn't happy about when he returned to life and found out about it).

So these three have some fences to mend with each other, and this series has found a way to put them together in a story that takes place between the end of Siege and the beginning of the Heroic Age.

The story is written by Brian Bendis, and it's a great balance between tense discussions between the three heroes and an action-packed romp, with Cap - uh, Steve - starring in a terrific fight sequence.

The art by Davis and inker Mark Farmer is (of course) fantastic, with heroes and action aplenty, the ruins of Asgard, mystic landscapes, strange creatures and some familiar faces. These guys are playing at the top of their game. Great stuff.

So far, the best way to sum it up is: it feels like a classic Marvel comic - and I consider that a heckuva compliment.

Grade: A-

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Comics for a Thursday

Memorial Day pushed us back a day, but here's what I picked up:

- Avengers: Prime #1 - Alan Davis art? I'm there.

- Brightest Day #3 - Focus on Silver Age heroes? Cool.

- Conan the Cimmerian #21 - Conan at death's door?

- Hawkeye & Mockingbird #1 - Had to give it a try.

- Irredeemable #14 - Seems to be moving back in the right direction.

- Justice Society of America #39 - Almost at the end of the Nazi storyline, thank goodness.

- Serenity: Float Out #1 (One shot) - Loved this series.

- The Thanos Imperative #1 (of 6) - This one's getting lots of good word of mouth, so I figured, what the heck.

The Classics - Master of Kung Fu #15

Since new comics don't arrive this week until Thursday, here's a bonus "Classic Comics" review to tide you over.

I cheated a bit on the title at the top of this column - the correct heading should read: Special Marvel Edition featuring The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu #15. It was just a bit much to put in the title line.

And don't be fooled by the number - this is the first appearance of Shang-Chi, and in short order he took over this title completely (his name, by the way, means "the rising and advancing of a spirit").

With a cover date of December 1973, this comic is a work of genius on many levels. It not only tapped into the Kung Fu craze (running wild at the time in movies and on TV), it also brought back Sax Rohmer's evil mastermind Fu Manchu and created a brand new hero for the Marvel Universe.

In short order, this comic would spin off new heroes (most notably Iron Fist and White Tiger), magazines and special annuals and giant-size issues - and it all started here.

The groundwork was laid by Marvel's top creators of the 1970s - writer Steve Englehart and artists Jim Starlin and Al Milgrom. The story starts at top speed and never slows down. We begin with Shang-Chi facing several deadly assassins, and quickly dispatching them with amazing martial arts skill.

Through flashbacks, we learn that he is the son of Fu Manchu, trained from childhood to be the ultimate living weapon and a master of the martial arts - but Shang-Chi also has a sharp mind, and he soon discovers his father's true plans and sets out to stop him.

The issue is a great balance between awesome fight sequences and the examination of the true purpose of martial arts - mastering the body and the mind.

Starlin was (and is) a master storyteller and made the fights look brutal and realistic. Englehart's scripts were a perfect match, as he set up the backstory of Fu Manchu and Shang-Chi's rebellion.

When this issue came out the TV show Kung Fu was all the rage (and one of my favorites), and it was a delight to see a comic book with a similar attitude and style of storytelling - although it was soon obvious that there was a big difference between Shang-Chi and David Carradine's Caine (in fact, the two "met" - sort of - in a later issue).

The series ran the gamut from incredible (including Paul Gulacy and Mike Zeck's ground-breaking work) to pitiful (they know who they are), but when it was good, it was the best.

And this issue is the high mark that the others had to live up to.

Grade: A+

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Classics - Power Pack #1

This was an attempt at doing something different in comics - and it worked for quite a few years.

Where most comics have a link to (or are a spinoff from) an existing title, Power Pack was an attempt by Marvel to create an original, kid-friendly, mainstream comic that was connected to the Marvel universe.

Cover dated August 1984, the comic began with a battle in space between starships, and quickly switched to a family gathered in the kitchen of the beachfront home. There we find the Power family, which includes Mom and Dad, along with their four young kids - Alex, Jack, Julie and Katie.

The kids encounter the friendly owner of one starship, while their parents meet the menacing owners of the other ships - the reptilian Snarks, who are seeking "Dad" for nefarious reasons.

The friendly alien bestows super-powers on the kids (each kid has a diffeent power), and it's up to them to fight back against the aliens.

The story is told in a fun, breezy style by writer Louise Simonson, and the story manages to walk the fine line between portraying a realistic group of kids and giving a good reason for the young heroes to be placed into more than one dangerous situation.

The art is by June Brigman with inks by Bob Wiacek, and they tell the story with a clean, efficient style, with lots of realistic expressions and kids who actually look like kids. A few of the panels are a bit awkward, but it was a great start.

The big problem the team ran into was the aging issue. Like other Marvel "kids" (Franklin Richards being a great example), they couldn't really age - yet Marvel's Universe is all about moving forward.

So eventually the series just kinda ran out of gas and was canceled (in 1991). But before that happened, we had several years of entertaining stories (and a few clinkers), and quite a few surprises. The series is well worth tracking down for both young readers and those who enjoy good juvenile fiction.

Thankfully, the team lives on in mini-series (some good, some not so) and guest starring roles (they're appearing right now in the Thor and the Warriors Four mini-series), and certainly an occasional appearance from Power Pack is better than none at all.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Guild #3 (of 3)

While I'm enjoying The Guild, I have to admit that the covers are something of a cheat.

Each of the three covers in this series depict a heroic sword-and-sorcery setting, with the members of The Guild posing in a dramatic fashion - so someone picking up the issue might not realize that those adventures in the comic are part of an online game that ordinary people play.

Of course, that's no surprise to anyone who has seen actress / writer Felicia Day's live action web series based on the same concept (it's highly recommended, by the way).

This mini-series has served as a prequel to the web series, and it's also very good (despite my gripe about the covers).

The story centers around Cyd, a musician who's in a terrible relationship. Her boyfriend treats her badly, but she can't bring herself to break up with him (we all know someone like this, right?).

She finds escape and a better life while taking part in online role-playing games - she's confident, her friends work with her, and they all share goals and accomplishments - but are those relationships "real?"

It's certainly an unusual story for a comic book, but it's very well-written, with believable characters, funny twists to the story and genuine growth for the characters.

I like the art by Jim Rugg and colors by Dan Jackson - they provide clean visuals for both the somewhat plain and drab real world and the more technicolor existence in the game.

It's not the usual comic (thank goodness), and you shouldn't go into it expecting a lot of barbarian-style action scenes, but you will find a story well worth following. And if you haven't seen it yet, you'll be ready to watch the online version.

Grade: B+