Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wonder Woman #602

Let me make sure I have this straight: Wonder Woman was reviled a few years back after she killed the evil, mind-controlling Maxwell Lord.

But now we have an "All New" Wonder Woman, and she spends the better part of her (for all intents and purposes) second issue killing a bunch of soldiers.

I know, it's silly to complain about such things when she's fighting for her life against an army of (apparently) murderous mercenaries who are trying to kill her and about a dozen of her Amazon sisters. It's like complaining if Captain America kills Nazis during World War II, I suppose.

But it seems an extreme switch for the peace-loving Diana Prince.

All of which is to say that I didn't really care for this issue written by J. Michael Straczynski. It's loaded with action, but we don't know who the enemy is, why they're attacking or why they deserve to die. It's just a lot of fighting and little illumination.

The art is solid and apparently a team effort - it's credited to two pencillers, Don Kramer and Eduardo Pansica, and three inkers.

About the only significant development is that we get to see what WW's costume looks like under the clunky jacket. The answer is, it looks like her old costume with a different color scheme and lots of straps to, uh, hold everything in place. Which makes sense, I suppose.

The mystery behind Diana's new status quo is unfolding very slowly. If you have the patience to wait, it may be worth it. But I have to admit, my interest (which was already somewhat limited) is fading fast.

Grade: B


Monday, August 30, 2010

Fantastic Four #582

As I mentioned the other day, the Fantastic Four work best with big topics, and writer Jonathan Hickman has been setting some very big things in motion during his relatively short run on this title.

A lot of it has hinged on hints about upcoming events from the future version of the children of Reed and Sue, which makes it all especially tasty for the reader - it's a lot of fun to have some knowledge about what's going to happen, and then try to figure it out as it unfolds.

Hickman does a good job with this, although some of the concepts presented in this issue may be a bit too strange for some readers. Still, we're just at the beginning of the next big story arc, so it's early to be making any kind of final judgment.

There's all kinds of time-jumping shenanigans going in here, including Reed's father, Nathaniel Richards, jumping back to the college-age Reed, Ben Grimm and Victor Von Doom to get help taking on an unexpected foe.

We also have Sue's daughter paying her a visit, offering some cryptic warnings. And much more besides.

The art by Neil Edwards and Scott Hanna is quite good, although a few of the faces seem uneven and some of the action panels are a bit difficult to follow. (Did Reed kill that henchman?) Still, solid, high-energy work here.

Like so many comics these days, this would be a tough series for a new reader to pick up, but it's building nicely and pays dividends to the readers who have been paying attention. Good stuff!

Grade: A-


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Namor: The First Mutant #1

For some reason, most writers struggle with coming up with an interesting approach to Namor the Sub-Mariner.

Perhaps it's because he lives in an alien environment - under the ocean. Maybe it's because he's a king. Or it could be that fact that he's often portrayed as a jerk.

Whatever the reason, he started out as one of Marvel's most popular characters in the Golden Age of comics. He was the most successful of the short-lived effort in the mid-'50s to bring back superheroes at Timely Comics. But since his revival in Fantastic Four #4, he's appeared in a variety of titles - Tales to Astonish, The Sub-Mariner, Super-Villain Team-Up, Namor, and a host of mini-series since.

Those series have been a mixed bag - sometimes very successful, sometimes a complete flop - but it's hard to understand why. Namor is comparable to Thor or Superman - a powerful, regal figure with a mythic, larger-than-life background and a long history in the world of comics.

Which brings us to the latest effort - Namor: The First Mutant. I don't blame Marvel for trotting out the X-Men strategy (they've actually tried it in the past) in an attempt to bring some heat and light to Namor.

What I don't like is the choice for villains in this issue. Tying in to the ongoing X-Men story, Namor must face an underwater race of vampires. (I suppose we can be grateful that they aren't underwater mutant vampires with adamantium claws.)

I'm generally lukewarm about vampires, so for me, this issue was very disappointing. Writer Stuart Moore gives Namor a basic quest (though I have no idea why the object he's looking for was left in a mystic box in Atlantis) and a handful of "redshirt" assistants. The story has a good undercurrent of horror, but that's about all it has going for it.

The art is something of a mixed bag, too. Behind a terrific cover by Jae Lee and June Chung, we have the painted art of Ariel Olivetti. The figures are outstanding, but the underwater environment seems to come and go - sometimes the characters are undersea, and sometimes they're floating in mid-air. It all just seems disjointed, and the action scenes are lethargic.

I still think the Sub-Mariner can achieve greatness - but I'm not seeing that from this creative team. He should be tough but still show a goodhearted side - readers have to have a reason to like the guy. He could be the ultimate defender of the ocean, working on land and at sea, protecting the helpless from (real-world) pirates, from natural disaster, from environmental peril (surely Namor could have done something about the BP oil spill).

The possibilities are limitless - but so far, all we're seeing is limitations. Atlantis is "destroyed," the Atlanteans hate him, humans aren't crazy about him, he's pompous and demanding... you get the picture.

They need to find a writer who can tap into that "hardnosed action with a heart" - someone like Chuck Dixon, Beau Smith or Mike Grell.

In other words, bring back the Golden Age noble savage, with a modern twist. Hopefully Marvel will keep trying with Namor until it gets it right.

Grade: B-


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Batman #702

This issue of Batman is given over to the second half of the "Missing Chapter" that is intended to fill the gaps between the R.I.P. story, Final Crisis and The Return of Bruce Wayne.

It does show us the events, but it really doesn't shed a lot of light on what's going on. The story is loaded with clever ideas, explanations that float somewhere near the subliminal level, and some cracking good bits of business.

But the Batman depicted here is actually a departure from writer Grant Morrison's first depiction of that character in JLA as "the most dangerous man on Earth." Here he seems quite mortal and often frail, often overwhelmed by the god-like figures he opposes - though he never gives up.

I doubt this will satisfy those who prefer a more straightforward story, but I expect it will stand up well, especially once the whole story has been told.

Tony Daniels does a fine job with the art here - it has a nightmarish quality, which fits with the fever dream-nature of the story.

I can't help but wonder how this issue works for the casual reader, or for a kid who picked it up without knowing years of backstory. Surely it would be incomprehensible to them.

As a long-time reader, I think I understand where it's going. Maybe.

If you've been following Batman's adventures for a while, there are some nifty Easter Eggs to uncover here. It'll be interesting to see where it all leads.

Grade: B+


Friday, August 27, 2010

The Avengers #4

The Avengers, like the Fantastic Four, always seem to work best on a big stage - and the setting for the ongoing story is about as big as it gets.

Time has come undone, so different eras (and different menaces) are piling up in the streets of New York City. To solve the problem, the Avengers have taken a classic approach - they've broken into two teams.

One has gone into the future (where they see a super-powered battle that's right out of a fanboy's nightmare), and one group is still in the present, fighting a holding action against the time-tossed intruders.

The end result is, this is an issue that's a heck of a lot of fun even if you're not familiar with the Next Avengers, who first appeared in a direct-to-video adventure.

They are the children of the Avengers (at least in one alternate reality), and their part in all this is still a mystery.

You really get the sense that Brian Bendis is having a great time writing this comic - the story is over the top, the dialogue crackles, and the action is intense. And it's always great to see Killraven again!

Of course, it never hurts having artists like John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson working on your comic - they turn in some stunning pages here, and I especially enjoyed watching Thor cut loose on the bad guys - something we don't see often enough.

If you haven't been following this story, you'll want to wait for the collection - but this is one of my "read it in the car" comics. In other words, after I pick up my comics at the shop (usually over my lunch break), I drive back to my parking space at work, and if it's an issue I'm anxious to read, I'll do so before going back to work.

This is one of the few that I always read in the car - that's how much I look forward to it. So, highly recommended!

Grade: A


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Superman: Secret Origin #6 (of 6)

This is one of those comics that I enjoyed in spite of its content.

Superman: Secret Origin has been retelling and modernizing the story of Clark Kent's earliest adventures as the Man of Steel, and mostly doing a good job of it.

The art by Gary Frank and Jon Sibal has been fantastic, giving the story a realistic and intense edge.

I've enjoyed the personal touches, too, as the familiar cast - Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White in particular - meet and befriend Superman.

It's obvious that writer Geoff Johns in evoking the feel and style of Superman: The Motion Picture, right down to the visualization of Christopher Reeve as Superman. It's also fun to catch some of the bits that link to that film.

Where the story stumbles badly is in its use of the military as the "bad guy." Soldiers take over the Daily Planet newsroom and open fire on Superman in the middle of downtown Metropolis. Hard to believe, even if they've been duped into believing that Superman is a menace.

The reason for the fight ending is even more far-fetched, but I won't give it all away.

Thankfully, the good outweighs the improbable, and the overall series serves as a good primer for the future adventures of Superman. Recommended!

Grade: B+


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wednesday is the Day for Comics!

Here's what I picked up today:

- Avengers #4 - This one is a lot of fun, as Thor cuts loose.

- Batman #702 - The wrap-up to the "R.I.P. missing chapter."

- Captain America #609 - Cap vs. Zemo!

- Fantastic Four #582 - Fighting alongside Dr. Doom.

- Justice League of America #48
- The wrapup to the JSA crossover.

- Legion of Super-heroes #4 - No one expects Darkseid!

- Namor The First Mutant #1 - Have to give it a try - it's the Sub-Mariner!

- Prince of Power #4 (of 4) - Will Amadeus Cho become a god?

- Secret Warriors #19 - The wrap-up to the Howling Commandos last stand.

- Superman: Secret Origin #6 (of 6) - Finally!

- Thor #613 - Goin' to Hell!

- Ultimate Mystery #2 (of 4) - Capt. Marvel freaks out.

- Wonder Woman #602 - Getting brutal.

And they gave me a freebie - Wolverine Saga, which previews the new Wolverine comic, and the one about his daughter, Wolverine, Jr. and one of the four super-teams he's a member of! Sheesh!


The Classics - My Greatest Adventure #80

This week's issue of DC Universe Legacies included a mention of the origin of the Doom Patrol, so that inspired me to dig out this issue of My Greatest Adventure, which featured the first appearance of that team.

With a cover date of June 1963, this comic stood out from all other DC titles at the time, and I became an instant fan of the team.

It's surprising that DC ever published this thing - it's so far out of the norm for the company. At a time when all the heroes were pals, cheerfully taking on the bad guys, this issue tells the story of four misfits - people who find themselves ostracized because of strange accidents.

The leader was called The Chief - a man of great intellect, but he was confined to a wheelchair. Rita Farr had been a famous actress and athlete until she was exposed to a strange mist in the jungle, and found she could control her size - she could become a giant or shrink down as Elasti-girl. Larry Trainor was a pilot who survived a terrible plane crash, but his body was hit by radiation and he found he could create a radioactive image - a Negative Man - that could fly. Cliff Steele was a daredevil whose body was smashed beyond repair, so the Chief put his brain into a mechanical body and he became Robotman.

What made the book interesting was the dark tone throughout, provided by writer Arnold Drake (who was credited on the letters page - surprising for DC).

Trainor could only be seperated from Negative Man for 60 seconds at a time, or he would die. Robotman was even more bitter and angry than the Thing - and his body would often take a disturbing amount of punishment in battle. For example, in this issue one of his arms is destroyed in an explosion.

Adding to the mood was the incredible art by Bruno Premiani, and the editors were obviously delighted with his work because they also gave him a half-page write-up on the letters page. His art is amazingly detailed, lush and gave this comic a "real world" feel that few artists could manage.

I think the only thing that kept him from being one of the biggest artists of the Silver Age was the relatively small number of comics he drew. An amazing and too often overlooked talent.

I won't get into the controversy over the fact that this comic and Marvel's X-Men came out so close together and with so many similarities. Did one steal ideas from the other? I wasn't there, so what do I know? I'm fine with chalking this one up to coincidence.

At any rate, it was an amazing start to the series, and the quality continued for quite a few issues, with strange villains, dark storylines, grim revelations (such as when they gave us a look behind Trainor's bandages).

Sadly, the team eventually devolved into yet another "hip" DC title, along the lines of Metamorpho. But those early issues are real gems, and stand out as some of the best DC comics from the '60s.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Usagi Yojimbo (One for One)

This is an interesting series from Dark Horse Comics as they offer up reprints of first issues for a buck (thus, One for One).

This week's selection includes two outstanding choices: Hellboy (you can read a recent review right here) and Usagi Yojimbo, an outstanding adventure comic that might not look too adventurous... until you read it.

Here's what I said about this comic a couple of years ago:
If you haven't read it, Usagi is a masterless samauri - a ronin - who wanders across the face of Japan in the early 17th century, selling his services as a bodyguard. Humans are replaced by anthropomorphic animals - thus our hero is a rabbit. In fact, his name literally means "Rabbit Bodyguard." But these aren't "Funny Animals" (though occasionally there is humor on display) - it's an adventure series, and a darn good one.
This issue is a good starting point for those who haven't discovered this comic yet. You get a short intro to the character as Usagi encounters an old friend and some hostile police officers.

The issue only has one flaw: it's a continued story, and to get the rest of it, you'll have to haunt the back issue boxes or buy the collection. Thankfully, this is a series that's easy to catch up on, because all the back issues are available in collected form.

It's not cheap to gather them all, but the stories and art by Stan Sakai are outstanding.

It's impressive that he's guided the character through 24-plus volumes since Usagi first appeared in 1984.

If you're not sure if this is a comic for you, here's a great way to find out at an affordable price.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A-


Monday, August 23, 2010

Avengers Academy #3

With this issue of Avengers Academy I feel my interesting starting to seriously wane.

It's not that it's a bad issue. It's the usual good mix of action, soap opera and character backstory - this time focusing on Hazmat, a girl who's become viral and is trapped in a protective costume.

The art is still quite good as Mike McKone and Andrew Hannessy continue with a strong effort, with great character designs, fun layouts and clean, clear storytelling.

The problem is that the premise of the story by Christos Gage is shaky. Would these instructors really take their young charges to a prison filled with super-villains, even in an attempt to get them "Scared Straight?" It seems dubious.

But the biggest offense is that the story crosses over into the Thunderbolts comic, which I haven't bought since Kurt Busiek wrapped up his run on the original series (this falls under my "you can't buy everything" rule).

I might forgive it if this title was better established, but at this point I'm still trying to decide whether or not to stick with it, and my reaction to this stunt is to drop this series.

It's actually a pretty good comic, but it's not so compelling that I can't be driven away by sales stunts like this. And that may have just happened.

Grade: B


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Justice Society of America #42

I've said it before and I'll say it again: what happened to James Robinson?

He was once near the top of my list of comic book writers, thanks to work like The Golden Age and Starman - but his recent work, while professional, doesn't have that old spark of ingenuity or character development.

Instead he's cranking out generic superhero fare, like the ongoing crossover between the Justice Society of America and the Justice League of America.

The story has the Starheart coming to Earth and taking control of the original Green Lantern and his children Obsidian and Jade. It's causing chaos all over the Earth, which results in the JSA and the JLA working together.

There's a big battle on the moon, where not all is as it seems - but it's just a big fight that spills all over the place. Artists Mark Bagley and Norm Rapmund turn in stellar work as always, but sadly, that's the only good reason to pick up this issue.

In fact, if you read the last chapter, skipped this issue and read the final chapter in JLA #48, you'd probably think you didn't miss a thing.

It's a shame - when a writer as good as Robinson tackles a comic, I expect much more than just the same old thing. But that's all you'll find here.

Grade: C


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Secret Avengers #4

I feel confident that the week is fast approaching wherein I could do a week's worth of reviews based only on Avengers comics.

This week was close. I picked up three Avengers-based comics, including New Avengers, Avengers Academy, and today's topic, Secret Avengers. If I had picked up Avengers and the Infinity Gauntlet, I would have been two-thirds of the way there.

Ah well, to the topic at hand. Here we reach the end of the first story arc, and I wish I could say it was an amazing ending - but it's not.

It's really a hodge-podge, as we get to see Steve Rogers formulate a way to beat Nova, who's been enslaved by the mystic Thorned Crown.

The problem is, aside from one other team member who (improbably) prevents disaster, the rest of the team just keeps busy with a side threat that appears out of nowhere and goes back there after its purpose has been served.

It's an anticlimactic conclusion to a battle that had built nicely over the previous issues - but at least it does leave us with a tantalizing mystery to solve.

The art by Mike Dedato, Jr. (as always) is outstanding - detailed and crackling with energy.

I still feel that this opening storyline has been a bit of a stumble. With a team that lacks the powerful heavy hitters, it seems odd to send it off on galactic adventures. Surely there's plenty of mischief to sort out at ground level in the Marvel Universe.

This opening series has had its ups and downs, but I think the series has a lot of potential. It just hasn't realized it yet.

Grade: B-


Friday, August 20, 2010

DC Universe Legacies #4 (of 10)

With this issue, this series finally catches up... to me!

I started reading comics in the early '60s, which matches up to most of the events in DC history presented in this issue.

DC Universe Legacies is all about looking back at the history of DC's greatest heroes (both super and non). And these are stories I read when they were newly printed (as much as I hate to admit my ancient nature).

The premiere of the Doom Patrol, the Metal Men, the Teen Titans - all those are among my earliest memories of reading comics.

But this issue tackles an even thornier matter - explaining away the original crossover between Earth-1 and Earth-2, and turning it instead into a generational passing of the torch - and I must say, the Justice Society founders are awfully forgiving on the new heroes swiping their names. You'd think someone would resent it a little.

This issue continues the high standards set by this series so far - great story by Len Wein, as he sorts out the tangled web of '60s DC continuity and makes sense of it all - and terrific art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Dave Gibbons (and kudos to Scott Kolins for his art on the framework).

The backup feature is something special, too, as it features a reunion of some familiar faces from DC's war comics. It's a touching tale by Wein with art by the living legend, Joe Kubert - and it answers an important question that's been speculated about for decades. It's a tale that will leave you wiping away a manly tear. (Unless you're a woman, of course.)

So, once again, here's a series that's highly recommended - a great primer for new readers, and a real blast from the past for us old-timers.

Grade: A-


Thursday, August 19, 2010

New Avengers #3

Every good Avengers writer has to give us a demon invasion at some point, and here Brian Bendis gets it out of his system.

The mysterious demon that possessed Dr. Strange, Son of Satan, Luke Cage and Iron Fist has made off with the Eye of Agamotto, the key weapon of Earth's Sorcerer Supreme.

As a result, an army of demons is invading our world, and the sky has turned to blood. Of course, that means the New Avengers have lots of opponents to hit, and the action moves along fast and furious.

At the same time, Iron Fist finds himself in another dimension, and comes face to face with the mysterious figure behind these events - all of which makes for a surprising final page.

You definitely get the sense that Bendis is reworking the ground rules of magic in the Marvel Universe - so we'll see how that goes.

The art in this series continues to be outstanding, as Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger continue to outdo themselves. From huge splash pages to mystic settings, from humor to all-out action, their work is terrific.

For some reason I always get worried when Bendis writes a magic-based story, but so far, this one has been all kinds of fun.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Comics Today

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

- Atlas #4 - Such an under-appreciated series.

- New Avengers #3 - Well, I didn't see that cliffhanger coming.

- Avengers Academy #3 - This one's been surprisingly good so far.

- Brightest Day #8 - Same for this one.

- DC Universe Legacies #4 (of 10)
- Great art, great recap of DC history - lots of fun!

- Justice Society of America #42 - This JLA crossover has had great art, but not much of a story.

- Secret Avengers #44 - Steve Rogers takes on another identity?

- The Spirit #5 - Couldn't pass up the Kaluta back feature.

- Uncanny X-Men #527 - Interesting cover, with Emma Frost and the Sub-Mariner getting cozy.

- Usagi Yojimbo "One for One" - can't beat the price.

The Classics - Solo Avengers #1

Right now we're going through Avengers overload, as Marvel cranks out quite a few Avengers-related titles, capitalizing on the team's "hot" status (and preparing for next year's movie, no doubt).

But this isn't the first time for that phenomenon. By December 1987 (the cover date for this issue) Marvel had added to the original Avengers title a team spin-off - the West Coast Avengers - and this issue, Solo Avengers, which was a "split" book designed to throw the spotlight on a rotating cast of team members.

And the first issue looks mighty familiar, as the first half of the book was dedicated to the leader of the West Coast team, Hawkeye, and the second half - for this issue - starred his new wife, Mockingbird.

Both stories were written by Tom DeFalco, and while he's had his share of great stories, this isn't one of them. The first features Hawkeye struggling as he faces a trap by a bunch of third-rate henchmen, while the second story gives us the same tale from Mockingbird's viewpoint.

The art is the most interesting thing about the book. Hawkeye is drawn by penciler Mark Bright and inker Joe Rubinstein, and they turn in some solid superhero art here. Nothing terribly flashy, but strong and professional.

The backup story is more interesting - it features a young Jim Lee as inked by the legendary Al Williamson. It's quite a combination, evoking strong influences from John Byrne. It's a bit crude compared to his modern work, but it's a good effort that demonstrated a lot of promise.

This comic wasn't a huge success, although it held on for 40 issues (it was retitled Avengers Spotlight for the last half of the run).

Actually, I'm surprised that they haven't revived this title to go along with all the other Avengers books crowsing the shelves - New, Secret, Academy, etc.

Give 'em time...

Grade: C+


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Morning Glories #1

Here's an interesting and twisted new title from Image Comics.

Morning Glories is one part college drama, a smattering of superhero team comic and a healthy dollop of Lost.

On the surface of it, it all seems normal enough. The comic is set in a prestigious academy where only the best and brightest may attend.

After a rip-snorting (and somewhat grim) beginning, we meet the newest additions to the school - six young people with distinct and interesting personalities. We also get some hints about the dark purpose behind the school - and more than a few mysteries unfold.

Written by Nick Spenser, it's not an upbeat, happy comic at all - there are a lot of bad things lurking just below the surface here. But it's certainly interesting, and well worth checking out.

I like the art by Joe Eisma a lot - he's dealing with (mostly) everyday settings here, but he keeps the pages interesting and the characters original, appealing and lively.

I'd warn (again) that this is not a peppy, feel-good story - but it is dark and compelling and a heck of a good start. I'll be back for the next issue.

Grade: A-


Monday, August 16, 2010

Adventure Comics #517

Writer Paul Levitz has an interesting balancing act going on here that should benefit readers new and old.

While he tells the story of the "modern day" Legion of Super-heroes in that title, in Adventure Comics he's taking us back to the earliest days of the organization.

It's a clever way of (slightly) retooling the concept and introducing the Legion to new readers. It's also a part of the Legion's story that (as far as I know) has never been told. When the team first appeared in the late '50s they were already organized, working together and adding new members.

This storyline starts with the original trio - Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl, and it offers an interesting look at their early training, their relationship with each other, and throws in a few surprises along the way.

It also addresses a question I have wondered about - how does Saturn Girl, whose power is mostly passive (telepathy) manage to hold her own alongside two powerhouses?

The artwork by Kevin Sharpe and Marlo Alquiza is good - solid and professional, marred only by a few odd character poses here and there.

I also enjoyed the backup feature with the Atom (Ray Palmer). The 11-page story moves briskly as the Atom tries to uncover a mystery attacker and stay alive in the face of a deadly trap.

He takes an action that seems ill-advised (which I won't relate here for fear of spoiling things), but by and large it's a good story. Kudos to writer Jeff Lemire and artists Mahmud Asrar and John Dell on strong work.

So, two entertaining features that long-time fans will no doubt enjoy, but they're accessible enough that new readers should have no trouble following along.

Grade: B+

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Linking to Amazon

Hey, your pal Chuck is finally giving in and allowing a few commercial-type links on the Comic of the Day blog - hope that's OK with everyone out there. (As a certain site always says, Chuck's gotta eat!)

I plan to keep it limited to sites I use myself - for example, Amazon.com will be showing up here regularly. (I'm putting their kids through college!)

The way it works is, I'll post links to their site. If you click on the ad, it'll take you to Amazon's site. If you buy something, I'll get a few pennies out of the deal - which I'll promptly spend on more comics. There are no obligations on your part - use or ignore the links as you see fit.

At any rate, it's an experiment. Let me know what you think!

Here are our first links, which tie into tomorrow's review:

Ultimate Spider-Man #13

I've been a big fan of the Ultimate Spider-Man series since the beginning because it's been a good balance of strong writing, great art, terrific action and lots of humor.

This issue, not so much.

That's because the ongoing storyline is moving into some dark places that just doesn't fit this title. Leading up to this issue, the Chameleon has taken Peter Parker's place and has uncovered Spidey's big secret. (I should mention that the Chameleon is very different in the Ultimate Universe - here he's apparently a con man who's always looking for a way to steal money and he acts completely without conscience).

In this issue, the bad guy uses Spider-Man's costume and webspinners to start doing some very bad things - and of course Peter is getting the blame.

It's a dark, grim storyline that seems to work against the strengths of the artist, David Lafuente, who's much better at lighthearted stories. The art is good here, it's just not a good match.

The issue is disappointing because it leans on one of my biggest problems with Ultimate Spidey - namely, that everyone knows his secret identity! Mary Jane knows, Aunt May knows, the Human Torch, Iceman, Gwen Stacy, Nick Fury, most of SHIELD, Norman Osborn, Peter's classmates all know - it would be shorter to list the ones who don't know his secret ID.

It just makes it too easy for the fight to always walk in his front door, and it takes him further away from being a regular kid in the "real world" side of his life.

It's rare when an issue of this comic doesn't rate a grade in the "A" range - but everyone slips up now and then, and for writer Brian Bendis, this is such a time.

Grade: C+

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Green Lantern Emerald Warriors #1

As discussed in this review several months back, I'm a longtime fan of the Green Lantern named Guy Gardner.

DC hasn't made it easy. They've made him the comic relief, they've given him brain damage, they made him a jerk, they depowered him, and they dropped him in the middle of a crowd of thousands of Green Lanterns from across the universe.

But you can't keep a great character down - especially since we're seeing a resurgence of the Green Lantern mythos at DC Comics.

There's a new film in the works based on Hal Jordan and that series was the basis for the incredibly successful mega-series, Blackest Night - so it's no surprise that DC has decided to expand the line, and with Emerald Warriors the focus is on the Lantern who's tough as nails and takes no prisoners - Guy Gardner.

The story by Peter Tomasi follows closely on the heels of elements set up in Blackest Night and earlier GL issues, as Guy undertakes a mysterious mission into the galaxy's Uncharted Sectors.

He's apparently working with Atrocitus, the leader of the Red Lanterns, though the purpose of the mission hasn't been revealed - yet.

The artwork by Fernando Pasarin and Cam Smith is outstanding, with lots of over-the-top action sequences, excellent character designs and striking layouts.

It's not a perfect beginning to the series - there are a couple of sequences that make almost no sense at all (I'm looking at you, final scene) and others that are confusing (what are Guy and Ganthet doing with the Book of the Black?), and the opening action sequence doesn't do much other than establish Guy as a tough space cop.

But I'm willing to forgive those failings, because it's great just to see Guy back in action and back in character, as a smart, rough and ready hero who's willing to do the dirty jobs to protect the innocent. Oh, and I'm also glad to see him starring in his own comic, rather than sharing the lineup with a cast of dozens in Green Lantern Corps.

About durn time.

Grade: B+

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Incredible Hulk #611

For quite some time writer Greg Pak has been building to the events in this issue.

Bruce Banner has been unable to "Hulk out" for a while, and in the meantime he's been training his son Skar to be ready to fight - and kill - the Hulk.

The wrap-up to the "Hulked Out Heroes" storyline led to Banner finally changing into his big green alter ego - and it's the moment Skar has been waiting for.

What follows is an impressive battles between powerhouses, with some unexpected twists and revelations (some of which work and some of which don't - some of the symbols seem to be a bit scrambled in there somewhere).

It all seems to happen a bit too fast, and even though I'm not a fan of decompressed stories, it felt like this one needed a little more room to cover all the bases.

The art by Paul Pelletier and Danny Miki is very good - lots of dynamic layouts, intense emotions and bigger-than-life battles here.

I'm happy to see some kind of resolution here - the Hulk family of stories is just too weighed down right now with sons and "Shes" and doubles - it needs to be trimmed down to a manageable size, and if this is the first step in that process, I'm all for it.

Grade: A-

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Superman #702

The walking adventures of Superman continues in this issue (behind an outstanding cover by John Cassaday), and I'm still having trouble getting worked up about it.

Which is not to say it's bad. So far it's a refreshing change for the Man of Steel, as he encounters (mostly) down-to-Earth problems, and makes his way through neighborhoods, meeting people and connecting with real-world problems (with one notable exception in this issue).

But where stories like this are a good change of pace between the big, universe-shaking storylines, here the effect seems to be to diminish Superman.

I know, he started out in the '30s fighting for the little guy and taking on neighborhood problems - but when you have the kind of powers Superman has, he should be involved in the big issues of the day, or taking on the natural and man-made disasters that threaten the world.

I feel like a Scrooge talking this way - I do appreciate the change of pace courtesy of writer J. Michael Straczynski - but it just feels like change for the sake of doing something "really different," rather than a clever new direction for the book.

The artwork by Eddy Barrows and J.P. Mayer is quite good, with some fresh layouts and fun action sequences.

I'm going to give this series another couple of issues to catch hold, but I have to say that so far it's just not getting the job done. Your mileage may vary.

Grade: B-

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Today's Comics Haul

Here's what I picked up today:

- Adventure Comics #517 - For the Atom backup more than the Legion, uh, down front.

- Doc Savage #5 - As my friend James said, I'm buying this for the Justice Inc. backup strip. Sadly.

- Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #1 - Had to give Guy Gardner my support.

- Incredible Hulk #611 - Father versus son!

- Invincible Iron Man #29 - To the Rescue!

- Morning Glories #1 - Looked interesting, with an "early X-Men" vibe. Maybe.

- Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier #2 (of 4) - I liked the first issue a lot.

- Superman #702 - In Detroit? Hey, I was just there a few weeks ago!

- Thanos Imperative #3 (of 6) - This is building nicely (or badly, depending on how you look at it).

- Ultimate Spider-Man #13 - Bad things are happening here.

The Classics - Weird Worlds #3

It occurs to me from time to time that if I really wanted to build big traffic numbers here at Chuck's Comic of the Day, I'd do regular posts about the sexiest women in comics, or do a "Babe of the week" feature or something along those lines. (Which is really not such a bad idea, now that I think of it...)

After all, sex sells - and I see the proof of that every time I check the reader numbers for this site.

The single entry that gets the most readers on this site is the review of DC's Weird Worlds #1, which featured two of Edgar Rice Burrough's most famous heroes (next to Tarzan, of course): John Carter of Mars and David Innes in Pellucidar.

To be honest, I'm not sure why that post gets big numbers - perhaps it's the ERB connection, or the mention of John Carter (who's starring in an upcoming movie).

But I suspect it has more to do with the mention of Dejah Thoris, one of the sexiest women to appear in comics up to that point, thanks in no small part to the incredible art by Murphy Anderson.

I even included an interior panel of art showing off the Princess of Mars, and pointed out that she didn't have a belly button - after all, she was hatched from an egg.

For whatever reason, that review was hugely popular, so I thought, "I should review the second issue of this comic." I looked it over, and there were only a couple of tiny drawings of Dejah.

The third issue would be my last chance, because it was Anderson's last issue as artist - thankfully, as you can see here, he doesn't disappoint, although Dejah seems to have sudden gained a belly button and her outfit is slightly more modest (which looks like a late addition by the editors at DC).

What about the comic, you ask? Well, the Marv Wolfman-written story continues the adventures of John Carter as he becomes friends with the four-armed green giant, Tars Tarkas.

They fight their way through the Barsoom (Martian) equivalent of the underworld, only to land in even more trouble.

The second half of the comic features some surprisingly horrible scenes, as David Innes learns more about the horrible masters of Pellucidar, which is the prehistoric world at the center of the Earth.

It's a great story by Len Wein and great art by the criminally-underrated Alan Weiss.

In other words, it's another terrific issue (cover dated December 1972 - January 1973) loaded with the usual break-neck action and adventure - and a dash of sex.

Now I can't wait to see if this post gets numbers like before. If so, I might have to make this a regular feature.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hellboy: The Storm #2 (of 3)

It's a shame that we don't see an issue of Hellboy every month - but considering the high quality of the issues we get, it's difficult to complain.

The adventures of writer and creator Mike Mignola's character run the range from tales of adventure to chilling horror stories, character studies and straightforward action tales, and you can credit Mignola with crafting a character - and a world - that allows for so much range in material.

Right now the series is in the middle of a rip-snorting lead-up to a story with devastating consequences for both the world and the title character.

War is coming, and Hellboy finds himself in the middle. To stop an incredibly powerful adversary, he may have no choice but to face a fate he's been fighting to avoid practically since he was born - one that might end with the destruction of... well, everything!

Mignola manages an amazing mix of horror, the supernatural, heroic battles, over-the-top action and even humor - it's an unbeatable combination that owes a debt to Jack Kirby, Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, Arthurian legends and an assortment of other mythological creatures and events.

And if Mignola can't provide the art (aside from the excellent cover), then thank goodness for Duncan Fegredo, whose style manages to echo Mignola's without copying it. Loaded with moody detail, dramatic layouts and intense action, he's a great match with this character.

If you haven't been following along, you'll probably want to hold out for the collections - but I don't have the patience to wait that long.

Mignola's Hellboy is an automatic purchase for me - there's no other comic like it and few to match it. Highly recommended!

Grade: A

Monday, August 9, 2010

Magnus, Robot Fighter #1

My favorite Gold Key comic returns (thanks the kind people at Dark Horse Comics) with this issue of Magnus, Robot Fighter.

For those who came in late, the adventures of Magnus are set in the year 4000. He was raised and trained by the intelligent robot 1-A to protect mankind from the danger posed by robots. He's intelligent and powerful, with steel-smashing strength.

This issue wastes no time getting down to business, as Magnus tries to foil a kidnapping attempt by several rogue robots.

We get a quick recap of his origin, and his first Gold Key issue by the great Russ Manning is also reprinted in this comic (making it a heck of a bargain at $3.50). We're quickly introduced to his supporting cast and several entertaining action sequences are thrown in there, too.

Thankfully this is a reboot and not a continuation of the Valiant version, which started out well but ended very badly.

Written by Jim Shooter, this new edition seems to be trying to have the best of both worlds, with more realistic action in the setting of a (mostly) Utopian future. The characters are lighter and more fun, but still realistic.

The art on the new version is by Bill Reinhold, and his work is strong and professional in every way. He doesn't get a chance to do much in the way of splash pages or bold layouts - there's just too much story to squeeze in there - but his action scenes are fierce, the characters well-realized and his women are beautiful.

It's interesting to compare this new version with the original issue - the art is more detailed and the coloring and printing process much more sophisticated, but both issues are very straightforward action / adventure stories, and they're both very entertaining.

I'm not sure the new team is quite there yet - this story seems to just end in the middle, rather than flowing into the next issue - but there's a lot of potential, and I have high hopes.

Best of all, it's great to see Magnus back in action - when handled properly, he's a timeless hero, like Tarzan (he was originally designed to be a sort of Tarzan in the future, of course).

Here's hoping for a long run, and bigger stories in the future.

Grade: B+

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Batman Odyssey #2 (of 12)

I'm still not sure what to make of the Neal Adams maxi-series, Batman Odyssey.

Of course, it's great to see Adams back at work on the Dark Knight - his artwork is as fresh and energized as ever, with incredible layouts, tons of detail and an amazing "real world" feel to each panel.

It's the story that I'm not quite sure about. It takes us into two flashback stories for Batman - one set right after he first dons his costume (which was equipped with pistols), and one that takes place soon after the first Robin swung into action.

Each story centers around a lot of gunplay, as Batman tells the story about the first two times he was shot.

The second story (a scene from it is the source of the cover art) gives us a truly over-the-top scene in which Batman is caught in an intense hail of gunfire. It's one of those moments where the story becomes very hard to believe, because no armor could protect a human body from destruction in that kind of situation - so if Adams is trying for realism - and that seems to be the point here - he's kind of defeating his purpose here (although he does provide some well-crafted comic book-type explanations along the way).

The story also spends a surprising amount of time explaining why a hydrogen-powered engine won't blow up if you shoot it.

But these are minor complaints, and there's still plenty of time in this series to shed light on these events.

Frankly, I'm just delighted to see Adams back at work again - he's always been one of my favorite artists and comics creators, and his work is an automatic "buy" for me.

But I'm looking forward to some clarification on the story here.

Grade: B+

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Brightest Day #7

The beef with the Brightest Day maxi-series has been that it's too fragmented - we only get snippets of stories about each character brought back to life by the White Lantern.

The other big problem is that we really don't know what's going on here. Why were these characters brought back to life? Why do some of them still have a connection to their "Black Lantern" side?

Thankfully, this issue finally moves beyond the mini-stories we've been getting, and sets up - or at least teases - the real purpose for their return.

Of course, we can't talk about it without giving too much away - but writer Geoff Johns (working here with Peter Tomasi) has used the story device before of showing glimpses of the future, and here it's the center of the story.

It's a good way to hook the reader, as these flashes entice us to hang around to see how these stories play out.

As usual, the art is something of a mix, from outstanding pages to average work - which is to be expected on a comic that uses five artists - Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syal, Scott Clark and Joe Prado - and three inkers.

But for the first time since the series started, the story seems to be kicking into gear. Hopefully we'll see more of the same for the rest of the run.

Grade: B+

Friday, August 6, 2010

S.H.I.E.L.D. #3

I have to say that I'm really enjoying this series, but I'm not altogether sure what to make of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The story is fun to sort through, as it takes famous scientists and pivotal figures from history and turns them into - well, superheroes (only without the longjohns).

The series, written by Jonathan Hickman, is telling the secret history behind the organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D., which is one part super-science and one part super-sized conspiracy theory.

This issue centers around Isaac Newton (whose name was misspelled on the alternate cover to this comic - come on, people!) and his thirst for knowledge, which leads him to the brink of the ultimate secret.

We also see how Galactus was stopped in 1582... but to say more would be telling.

Complementing the story is some fantastic art by Dustin Weaver with colors by Christina Strain and Justin Ponsor. The detail is really impressive, the characters are distinct and original, and the splash pages are stunning.

I assume the book is on a bi-monthly schedule because it takes that long to create the art - but it's certainly worth the wait.

For anyone who's up to the challenge, this promises to be a rewarding series as it explores some of the hidden corners of the Marvel Universe.

It's quite a balancing act between the historic and the fantastic, and it should be fun to see if Hickman and Weaver can keep it going.

Grade: A-

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Avengers Prime #2 (of 5)

There's a lot to enjoy about Avengers Prime - the inclusion of Marvel's "Big Three" Avengers, a fun story and terrific art - but I also have a bone to pick.

Writer Brian Bendis is all about the characters and getting their voice right, and he largely succeeds - Thor is brash yet regal, Iron Man (Tony Stark) is glib and overconfident, and Steve Rogers (Captain America) is confident and in control.

But it's with Steve that Bendis stumbles badly. He depicts Steve getting cozy with a beautiful maid - which means either Bendis or Steve have forgotten about Sharon Carter, the former SHIELD agent Steve loves (she was carrying his baby, for crying out loud). Of course, perhaps he's the victim of a spell - we'll see. But Steve's not acting in character, and that's surprising, coming from Bendis.

The story centers around the three Avengers being tossed into a world of magic, and they're immediately separated and face some serious bad guys along the way.

The real star of the issue, though, is artist Alan Davis, working with inker Mark Farmer and colorist Javier Rodriguez. They turn in a textbook example of outstanding artwork, with great layouts, energetic characters, humor, action, beautiful women, handsome men, gruesome monsters - what more could you ask?

I could quibble with a few story points, and a key player's involvement seems to contradict an ongoing story in Thor's comic, but this issue is so much fun that I can't fault it for these minor problems - any reader would easily earn a No-prize explaining these things away (if they still gave out No-prizes).

Lots of fun!

Grade: A-

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Here's what I picked up today:

- Avengers Prime #2 (of 5) - Fighting against the odds in the Nine Realms.

- Batman Odyssey #2 (of 12) - Why does Batman keep getting shot?

- Brightest Day #7 - Finally, some answers!

- Captain America #608 - Zemo's plan revealed.

- Hellboy: The Storm #2 (of 3) - Building up to something big.

- Irredeemable #16 - What's up with that sidekick?

- Magnus Robot Fighter #1 - Glad to see this comic back again.

- Secret Warriors #18 - The Howling Commandos and Captain America, together again!

- S.H.I.E.L.D. #3 - Taking on Galactus?

- Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom #3 (of 6) - Facing an army of unbeatable robots.

And that's it!

The Classics - Skull the Slayer #1

This week we have a "forgotten" classic for you - a comic that only survived for eight issues, but while it lasted, it was a wild ride.

Skull the Slayer was an interesting entry into the "barbaric hero" line of comics, because the story was set in the modern day (the issue is cover dated August 1975).

Written and created (and the first issue was even colored by) Marv Wolfman, the comic begins with a flight carrying some unusual passengers, including: Jim Scully, who's an accused murderer and veteran of the Vietnam War; a physicist who's always angry; a beautiful young woman; and a shy young man.

As the plane flies through the area known as the Bermuda Triangle, it passes through some kind of space warp and crashes in a prehistoric land. The survivors are separated, and Skull soon finds himself fighting for his life against dinosaurs and the elements.

The art is by Steve Gan, an artist who turned out quite a bit of work and then left comics to work in animation and other publishing ventures. It's a shame, because his work is excellent - he manages to combine elements of Gil Kane (who did that awesome cover) and Al Williamson. His characters are chisled, his settings amazingly detailed, and the action is raw and powerful.

Re-reading this issue after all these years, it's interesting to note a few similarities to the TV show Lost. The story seems on the surface to be a typical "marooned on a deserted island (with dinosaurs added)" tale, but we soon see that there are many more mysteries to be uncovered.

But when you get down to it, Skull is just a modern-day gladiator - an unlikely hero fighting the forces of nature to stay alive.

Sadly, the story would quickly spin off into far less interesting directions - but that first issue was just brimming with potential. If ever a comic was ripe for a well-thought-out reboot, this one is it.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Captain Action #1 (Season Two)

I've mentioned before that I'm a fan of the original Captain Action toy (yep, I had one of those, lost somewhere in my misty childhood) and I loved the '60s comic book - but aside from one issue of the recent team-up with the Phantom, I haven't been following the new Moonstone comic.

It's apparently been successful, since it is back for a "Season 2." But since I haven't been reading it, I admit that the story leaves me a bit lost.

Written by Steven Grant, we find Captain Action's grown son (who apparently has the same abilities) using his powers of instant disguise to take the place of President Obama - but he quickly abdicates the post and seeks out his father, the original Captain Action.

They soon find themselves under attack by some Russian super-agents, and mayhem ensues.

I'm new to the series, but for all the world it feels like the '90s Valiant Comics - lots of action, a slightly confused plot, some interesting subplots swirling around, and a sudden ending to the story (but not a cliffhanger).

Part of the reason for that "feel" is the art by Manuel Martin - it's very much the Valiant kind of right-down-the-middle, not too flashy but reasonably solid superhero action. He just needs some more practice to iron out a few panels with some rough anatomy. But there's a lot of potential there.

The comic also features a back-up story with Action Boy that doesn't really go anywhere - it's just a glimpse of his tortured days as a kid in school.

I wish I could give this a stronger recommendation - I love the character and I think there's a lot of potential here, but they're not there yet.

Grade: C+

(By the way, full disclosure requires that I admit that I'm reviewing this comic from a pdf supplied by the publisher, Moonstone.)