Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 10 Comics of 2010

As I’ve mentioned before, I think "Top 10" lists are complete crap.

They’re always subjective and I never agree with them. But we can’t let a little thing like that stop us, can we?

My list is in no way inclusive, since there are hundreds of comics that were published in the past year that I didn’t read. As always, these are the top 10 of the hundreds of comics I reviewed for this blog. Your mileage may vary.

I gave out quite a few “A-” grades this year, but only 30 “A” grades - and no “A+” grades, which means none of the comics I read this year really knocked my socks off (last year I awarded four "A+" grades).

First, some honorable mentions, any of which could easily have found a spot in the top 10:

Astro City: Silver Agent
Avengers: Prime
Batman and Robin
Conan the Cimmerian
Dark Avengers
DC Universe Legacies
The Flash
Green Lantern
The Incredible Hulk(s)
Jonah Hex
New Avengers
Power Girl
Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour
Secret Avengers
Secret Warriors
Thanos Imperative

Lots of good stuff there! (Oh, and if you're looking for the worst comic of 2010, it was Wolverine: The Best There Is.)

Here’s my list of the best (in reverse order, natch):

10. Warlord #12

Here’s a comic that (sadly) apparently flew under everyone’s radar.

I've always been a big fan of Mike Grell's Warlord.

At times, the book has been handled by other creators, and the results were usually disappointing. But with Grell writing and drawing, the comic has almost always been excellent.

This revived version of that character's adventures has been entertaining, but seemed to struggle under the weight of a lot of backstory.

It's been surprising to see Grell working so hard to squeeze in so many characters, trying to bring readers back up to speed on the mythology of the character.

In this issue, we see the reasons behind Grell's haste, as the title takes a genuinely shocking turn. It was almost three decades ago that Grell set up the story that reaches its climax in this issue, and it's amazing to see it unfold.

More than that I will not say, except to add that the art is exceptional. I could quibble with a few page layouts, but the fact is, Grell is still the master of this kind of swashbuckling action/adventure story.

Any reader who fondly remembers those original Warlord stories owes it to himself (or herself) to buy this issue. Don't say I didn't warn you.

9. Thor The Mighty Avenger #6

It never fails - you find a new comic you really like, and it's snatched away by the old devil named "cancellation."

As I mentioned in this review, I arrived late to this comic - but am I glad I found it before it disappeared!

Marvel announced this week that it was canceling Thor: The Mighty Avenger with issue number 8 because of low sales, and that's not surprising.

Well, it's surprising because it's such a good comic, but it's not surprising considering that Marvel is flooding the market with Thor-related comics these days (you'd think there was a movie in the works). It's easy to see how this gem could get lost in the sea of product.

It's such a fresh take on the character, placing him in a reality separate from the usual Marvel digs. He's been banished from Asgard and forbidden to return - but he doesn't know why.

While that mystery plays out, he's become involved with Jane Foster, a museum curator and a much more developed character than the original version (forgive me, Stan). Their relationship is sweet.

But don't think the series is action-free. Thor gets plenty of chances to sling his hammer, and has a memorable confrontation in this issue with Heimdall, the guardian of the Rainbow Bridge. That character shows off some amazing (and previously unknown) skills here, and you have to like any fight that includes an appearance by Fin Fang Foom.

The writing by Roger Langridge is terrific, and Chris Samnee's art is original and refreshing. It's different, and it's not the usual blustering God of Thunder that some writers and artists have portrayed - but it's a clever take on the concept.

If you've missed the comics, and you're a fan of Thor, you can pick up the collections that are on the way. I'm a big fan of the original Thor comic, but I enjoyed this one a lot.

Chances are that you will, too.

8. Siege #3

This is the point in this mini-series where we move beyond mere story and launch into that most beloved of Marvel traditions: the knock-down, drag-out, no-holds-barred, bare-knuckles brawl to end all brawls.

All the players have been assembled and moved into place - all that's left is a fight on a huge scale.

Writer Brian Bendis gets in a few good shots of sharp dialogue, but this issue hinges on the art, and Olivier Coipel (with inker Mark Morales and colorist Laura Martin) delivers a haymaker here.

He gets to run wild with splash pages of heroes and villains lunging into action, and great scenes of absolute carnage.

Need I mention what a delight it is to see (the real) Captain America and Thor doing what they do best?

This issue almost flies by too fast, and we're left with a cliffhanger that unleashes the ultimate menace - a fight that I have no idea how the heroes are going to survive.

Isn't that great?

This issue is lots of fun - a cool splash of water after the long dreary trudge of the Dark Reign. I'm looking forward to the grand finale!

7. Ozma of Oz #1

As a longtime fan of L. Frank Baum's Oz, I've been thrilled with Marvel's adaptations of the first two books in that series.

And now here's the first issue in the adaptation of the third book, Ozma of Oz.

While I enjoyed Baum's second book, The Land of Oz, I have to agree with those readers who felt he'd made a mistake in not including Dorothy Gale in that story.

It's an oversight that is corrected in this book, as Dorothy finds herself thrown overboard during an ocean voyage (she's sailing with Uncle Henry to Australia), and she washes up on the "shore" of Oz.

She has a companion - Billina, a talking chicken. About their adventures (and their amusing debates) I'll say no more, except to urge you to give it a read.

Writer Eric Shanower is a long-time fan of Oz and his enthusiasm shows in his adaptation of the original story - it really has the "feel" of that classic story.

The art by Skottie Young continues to be a pure delight - part innovation, part animation. The characters are lively and delightful, and the scenery is creative, unique and otherworldly (in a great way).

I'm going to keep raving about this series until you try it, so you might as well give in. I'd hate for anyone to miss this.

6. Batman: Return of Bruce Wayne #1

It's interesting how similar this storyline - on the face of it - is to the recent death and return of Captain America.

Since the writers of both series (Ed Brubaker and Grant Morrison) are comics pros and darned good writers, the similarity must be a coincidence - and comics history is loaded with similar events (Man-Thing and Swamp Thing, anyone?)

If memory serves, Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne picks up from the climax of Final Crisis, wherein Batman was apparently destroyed by Darkseid's Omega Effect blast - but instead was sent back in time to the dawn of man.

It sounds like a problem easily solved, and Bruce (Batman) Wayne leaves a message on a cave wall designed to bring some time-traveling help - but that would be too simple. There's a lot more going on here that Batman (and we the reader) aren't aware of.

What we do have is a surprising and often brutal battle for survival, with Morrison providing lots of twists and turns along the way.

The art is by Chris Sprouse and Karl Story, and it's outstanding. Powerful layouts, great character designs, brutal fights and several outstanding splash pages - really impressive stuff here.

I should add that other than the "lost in time" element (and the hero's inevitable return), this story really has nothing in common with Captain America's recent return - other than great art and story, that is.

5. Hellboy / Beasts of Burden

So here's a comic that, on the strength of the concept alone, would make it one of my favorite comics of the year.

After reading it, I'm happy to report that it's even better than I hoped it would be - which is pretty amazing, because let's face it, most team-up / crossovers end up being crap.

Perhaps this one works because both comic creations - Mike Mignola's Hellboy (the demonic creature who was adopted by mankind and fights on its side against horrors of all kinds) and Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson's Beasts of Burden (dogs in the neighborhood of Burden Hill carry on the long tradition of protecting the people in the town from supernatural horrors) - are a similar mix of horror and humor, triumph and tragedy.

The two are brought together in a touching way. as a mysterious dog tugs on Hellboy's coat and leads him - somehow - to the dogs and cat who make up the "Beasts."

Somehow Hellboy can understand them. In their own comic, the Beasts can talk to each other, but not to humans (think Watership Down), though this is never exactly explained.

They go in search of a horror that lives deep underground, and the lives of our heroes hang in the balance.

You might expect horrific images in a Hellboy story, but don't let the inclusion of cute dogs and a cat fool you into thinking this is a fuzzy animal story - the Beasts of Burden tales are just as grisly, horrific and often heartbreaking as any comic I can remember reading.

This issue is written by Evan Dorkin and drawn by Jill Thompson, and it's just amazing. The characters are expressive, the settings haunting and beautiful, the monsters horrific - it's just a scary delight from start to finish.

If you're not a fan of horror, then this isn't for you.

But if you enjoy it, this is a comic you must not miss.

4. Fantastic Four #586

Writer Jonathan Hickman has been waving several big stories over his run on the Fantastic Four, and those threads reach their breaking point with this issue.

Mr. Fantastic is dealing with Galactus (though someone should tell cover artist Alan Davis that Reed no longer wears the short-sleeved uniform). The Invisible Woman is caught between two warring undersea nations. The Thing and the Human Torch are facing an overwhelming alien invasion.

And next issue, one of the four will die. (I'm still guessing the one killed will be the Human Torch, but that's just a wild guess.)

The art by Steve Epting is excellent, loaded with lots of big events and intense moments.

As I've said before: you really should be buying this series. It's big, bold and daring - and it keeps moving in unexpected directions, pushing the boundaries of the super-hero saga. What's not to like?

3. Blackest Night #8

Do I even need to review this issue?

Surely anyone who's been following the Blackest Night story wants to see how it all wraps up.

This issue features the final showdown between the forces of light (and life) and the forces of darkness (and death). There are quite a few twists along the way and more than a few surprising turns of events.

Writer Geoff Johns has crafted a solid ending to the series, with lots of good scenes along the way that will bring a smile to the face of most fans.

Penciler Ivan Reis with inkers Oclair Albert and Joe Prado and colorist Alex Sinclair deliver stunning visuals here, with numerous full-page and double-page splashes, every one stunning in detail and powerful images. Kudos to the art team for doing fantastic work and delivering it on time!

The ending leaves plenty of room for future storylines, and the series itself serves as a good springboard for the future of DC Comics.

It's shaping up to be a brighter tomorrow, thanks to this series (and despite its dark and sometimes grisly moments). I'm anxious to see what the future holds for DC, and fans should thank Geoff Johns for his efforts in getting DC's house in order.

Now if only the other creators can go forth and do likewise...

2. 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!

1. Man With the Getaway Face

Recently I finally got around to reading The Hunter, the first graphic adaptation featuring Richard Stark's Parker, and it was a surprise.

I hadn't read the original books, so after a quick skim it looked like a hard-boiled detective story. It has that feel to it, but Parker is not a heroic figure at all - he's a hardened criminal who lives by his own code, and uses his brains and his incredible toughness to overcome any obstacle.

Here we get the story of an attempt to rob an armored car, and the struggle to put together a team that can work together. It's not my favorite kind of story, but one thing guaranteed I'd be reading the story: it was adapted by Darwyn Cooke, one of the top writer/artists working in comics today.

And since Frank Miller seems to be taking an extended break from Sin City, it's good to finally have another testosterone-loaded story floating around.

If you were put off by the high price on The Hunter ($24.99), then here's a real bargain for you - The Man With the Getaway Face can be yours for a mere two bucks! It's 24 pages long, printed on oversized paper with a two-color process.

It's raw, hard-edged and impossible to put down. Cooke shows his storytelling chops by crafting a story with relatively little action, but loads of tension and drama, great characters and a story that will keep you guessing.

Cooke is that rare breed - few writers are great artists, and few artists are great writers - but Cooke does either craft with equal skill, and my rule of thumb is simple - if he's working on it as artist, writer or both, I'm buying it.

He hasn't disappointed me yet.

The Avengers #8

I find it impressive that I'm enjoying this comic even though I don't care much for the storyline (for reasons mentioned in last month's review).

This issue focuses on a reunion (of sorts) of The Illuminati. That group is made up of five of the Earth's most powerful defenders, gathered together before (and during) Marvel's Civil War to covertly tackle some of the biggest menaces facing the Earth.

One of their adventures involved the Infinity Gems. When combined, the owner controlled all reality - as Thanos demonstrated some years back.

To safeguard the gems, they were divided among the members of the Illuminiati - but now The Hood has somehow gained the knowledge and the ability to track them down.

This issue also involves the Red Hulk, who goes to the Avengers for help in dealing with The Hood.

While the storyline doesn't do much for me, as always, writer Brian Bendis works his usual magic with crisp dialogue and great characterization.

The real star of the issue, though, is artist John Romita, Jr. and inker Klaus Janson. They're doing amazing work here and have picked up the torch carried for so many years by Junior's dad and John Buscema. Lots of powerful craftsmanship on display here.

Bendis might yet win me over with this story, but there are lots of things to dislike. Bringing back the Illuminati brings back the ghost of the evil Tony Stark who brought about the vile Civil War. The Hood is a poor substitute for Thanos (or any number of cosmic menaces). And the all-powerful weapon bit has been done to pieces.

But even with that, this is a comic that pops to the top of my reading stack and stays there. Go figure.

Grade: B+


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Batman: The Dark Knight #1

As a general rule I'm a sucker for first issues, but there were several reasons to pick up Batman: The Dark Knight.

You have to give DC credit for nerve, since "The Dark Knight" title really belongs to Frank Miller for his amazing series about an aged Batman - I'm somewhat surprised to see them allow a different creative team to bring out a series under that title.

The art is by David Finch (with inking by Scott Williams), and he's a terrific artist, known for his outstanding covers. He holds up that end of the deal nicely here - the art is detailed, moody and very well-crafted.

The story is written by Finch, as well, so the question is: how does he stack up as a writer? The answer: it's too soon to tell. I can't say that anything about this issue really amazed me or indicated that he's a force to be reckoned with - but it's not a bad beginning at all, and I'll wait until the end of this first story arc before deciding.

The story follows Bruce (Batman) Wayne as he searches for a missing woman from his past. His search brings him up against a couple of well-known enemies... and that's about it for this issue.

If I gave out "Incomplete" grades, this issue would get one. It holds promise, but things seem to be moving slowly, with scenes included that don't seem to move the story forward.

I'll be hanging around through the first story arc, but unless the quality of the story picks up, that'll be it for me.

Grade: B


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Last Comics of 2010

I'm working on my "Best Comics of 2010" list, which should be posted on Jan. 1 - but in the meantime, here's what I picked up at the comics shop today:

- Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine #4 (of 6) - Story's a mess but the art is nice. Will it ever end?

- Avengers #8
- The return of the Illuminati.

- Batman: The Dark Knight #1 - I'm a sucker for first issues.

- Captain America #613 - Cap on trial.

- The Flash #8 - Actually, it's all about the Reverse-Flash.

- Green Lantern #61 - Actually, it's about The Spectre.

- Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead #1 (of 2)
- This book just keeps getting better.

- Justice Society of America #46 - More bad things happen.

- SHIELD #5 - Nobody expects Tesla!

- Secret Warriors #23
- Filling in the blanks.

- Ultimate Thor #3 - The end of Asgard.

The Classics - Mage #1

It's impressive to note just how good writer and artist Matt Wagner was from the very beginning.

Not long after launching what I believe was his first comic for the company Comico, the impressive Grendel, he followed it with another epic saga - Mage.

This first series of stories, subtitled "The Hero Discovered," introduced Kevin Matchstick, a young man with great taste in T-shirts. He meets an odd homeless man on the street and soon finds himself trying to defend what he assumes is a man being mugged in a back alley.

But he's stunned by his own abilities - especially after he punches a hole through a brick wall with his bare fist.

He has another encounter with the homeless guy, who apparently has magical powers - and some answers to Kevin's questions.

It was a great start to the series that had its roots firmly based in Arthurian legends. It's a bit rough around the edges, both in terms of story and the art, but it holds up fine today (which you can't say about a lot of the stuff published in 1984) - and it's a series that just kept getting better, just like its creator.

Wagner's art is a bit rough here, but loaded with power and energy - especially the fight scenes, which are brutal and intense. His layouts are vibrant and clever, and his storytelling very clear (aside from a couple of rookie panel-flow mistakes).

This was just the beginning of a long and productive career that continues to this day. I'm always anxious to see what work Wagner will do next - especially when he returns to his roots with Mage and Grendel.

Grade: B+


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Incredible Hulks #619

As much as I've been enjoying The Incredible Hulks, I can't shake the feeling that the Chaos War crossover is a poor fit.

That's probably because the Hulks seem to be firmly rooted in the mainstream of the Marvel Universe (which is mostly science fiction in nature), while the Chaos War is more mythological and magic-based. Or maybe it's just me.

The crossover has provided some powerful opponents for the Hulk family - in this case, it's the return of the Zom-possessed Dr. Strange, and the Chaos-controlled Abomination.

The bad guys are searching for Rick Jones' wife Marlo (who makes a welcome return in this issue) because of her brief former link to the personification of Death.

As a result of the Chaos War, the dead are rising again and confronting (or aiding) the living. It all feels just a little too freshly-borrowed from the Blackest Night, though in fairness, that series certainly wasn't the first to bring back dead characters.

At any rate, there's a lot of fighting, yelling and smashing going on here, but it all feels like a sidebar to the main series - interesting, but just marking time.

The script by Greg Pak is excellent as always and the art by Paul Pelletier and Danny Miki is outstanding - but frankly, I'm looking forward to the wrap-up to these events over in the excellent Chaos War mini-series.

Then the Hulks can get back to working out their own problems.

Grade: B+


Monday, December 27, 2010

Morning Glories #5

This issue of Morning Glories wraps up the first storyline in this dark but fascinating series.

So far we've been introduced to the main characters - six teenagers who are enrolled in a mysterious school. They're cut off from their families and the outside world, and subjected to a number of strange and deadly tests.

The purpose of all this continues to be a mystery, but it's an intriguing one. But don't think this is a "Harry Potter" type series, aimed at young children - it's grim, horrific and sometimes gruesome.

There are mysterious forces at work here, and it remains to be seen whether or not the trials these teens face are for their own good - or just part of some sadistic plot.

Whatever the case, the mystery is compelling, the characters are interesting, and I'm anxious to see where it goes from here. Kudos to the creative team - writer Nick Spenser and artist Joe Eisma - for crafting the year's most surprising book. (Also, the covers by Rodin Esquejo are outstanding.)

Like the TV show Lost, we'll have to wait and see if they can "stick the landing." But so far, so good.

Grade: A-

Sunday, December 26, 2010

DC Universe Legacies #8 (of 10)

The holiday rolls on, so here's another short review.

The DC Universe Legacies series has been recounting the history of DC, as seen through the eyes of a retired police officer.

As much as I've enjoyed the series, I have to admit that the closer the timeline moves to the present, the less interesting I find it.

This issue focuses on the return of Superman after his death (and I must admit I still don't quite understand how he returned from the dead, even after reading this issue and the originals), Batman's return from a horrible injury and Green Lantern's turn to evil.

The comic is expertly done, with Len Wein writing and Dan Jurgens and Jerry Ordway providing excellent art - but I didn't care for these stories when they first appeared, and I'm still not crazy about them.

It was a time in comics when tearing down the hero was the thing to do. I especially hated what they did to Hal Jordan - one of my all-time favorite heroes - and I actually stopped reading Green Lantern until he returned to the role.

The back-up feature here is very interesting. It's a retelling of the first appearance of the New Gods, written by Wein and drawn by Frank Quitely, who does outstanding work as always.

This issue doesn't work as well for me, but your mileage may vary. Still, it's well worth picking up - history can't always be to our liking, I suppose.

Grade: B

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Fantastic Four #586

Merry Christmas, all! Hope you're having a great holiday!

(Let's make this review a quick one so I can get back to the A Christmas Story marathon!)

Writer Jonathan Hickman has been waving several big stories over his run on the Fantastic Four, and those threads reach their breaking point with this issue.

Mr. Fantastic is dealing with Galactus (though someone should tell cover artist Alan Davis that Reed no longer wears the short-sleeved uniform). The Invisible Woman is caught between two warring undersea nations. The Thing and the Human Torch are facing an overwhelming alien invasion.

And next issue, one of the four will die. (I'm still guessing the one killed will be the Human Torch, but that's just a wild guess.)

The art by Steve Epting is excellent, loaded with lots of big events and intense moments.

As I've said before: you really should be buying this series. It's big, bold and daring - and it keeps moving in unexpected directions, pushing the boundaries of the super-hero saga. What's not to like?

Grade: A

Friday, December 24, 2010

Batman, Inc. #2

The new series titled Batman, Inc. features Bruce (Batman) Wayne going around the world to recruit an international team of Batmen.

I'm impressed with how Grant Morrison manages to include elements from the Silver Age adventures of this hero, but keeps it fresh, edgy and modern.

The story is set in Japan. The villain of the piece, Lord Death Man, actually has roots in a mostly forgotten long-ago adventure, but here he is reinvented as a horrific killing machine, and several innocent victims (and at least one hero) suffer as a result of his attacks.

Batman is aided in this adventure by Catwoman, who has an agenda of her own, and the mysterious Japanese hero, Mr. Unknown. It's an entertaining romp (though sometimes a grim one), with lots of twists and unexpected events.

The art is by Yanick Paquette and Michael Lacombe, and it's very good, with lots of dramatic action scenes, great characters and loads of detail.

So far, this series has been a lot of fun, and I'm anxious to see if the result is really the "Batmen of All Nations" approach.

The Silver Age rides again! (And I'm all for it!)

Grade: A-


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Secret Avengers #8

We're at the halfway point in this story that brings back Shang-Chi and his father Fu Manchu (he whose name cannot be spoken in the actual comic for legal reasons), and the plans of the bad guys are starting to become clear (although we're still not sure why anyone would want to bring Fu Manchu back to life).

The action centers around two big battles - one a violent attack on the ground in Hong Kong, and the other a battle high in the sky.

Writer Ed Brubaker continues to weave an interesting mystery here, and he introduces a little-known hero from World War II who makes a formidable opponent for Steve Rogers - and a potent ally for the "other" Nick Fury.

I'd pick up this comic just to see Shang-Chi in action again, but it's also a darned good adventure, with the good guys finding themselves facing a serious challenge.

There's not much more to say about Mike Deodato's fantastic art that I haven't raved about before - but he continues to turn in Hall of Fame work here.

I'm really enjoying this book, and the storyline is much more in line with what I would expect from a "Secret" team - covert operations, working behind the scenes to protect the world, lots of hoo-hah action - you get all that and more in this series.

Good stuff!

Grade: A-


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

'Twas the Last Comics Day Before Christmas...

Big day! I got:

- Secret Avengers #8 - Taking on Fu Manchu (sorta).

- Batman, Inc. #2 - Traveling the world, making friends.

- DC Universe Legacies #8 (of 10) - It's a new wave.

- Fantastic Four #586 - One issue away from a death.

- Incredible Hulks #619 - More Chaos War stuff.

- Invincible Iron Man #33 - Race against the clock.

- Kull: The Hate Witch #2 - Back to Atlantis!

- Morning Glories #5 - The wrap-up to the first stoyline.

- Ultimate Doom #1 (of 4)
- Can Reed really be the heavy here?

- Ultimate Spider-Man #151
- Enjoy Spider-Man on the cover, 'cause he doesn't appear inside the comic (although Peter Parker does).

- Warlord of Mars #3 - That poor girl on the cover is going to catch a cold.

- Wonder Woman #606 - Relaxing at home.

- Uncanny X-Men #531
- A new team of X-Men?

And that's it!

The Classics - Fantastic Four #52

This issue of The Fantastic Four was smack in the middle of the long run that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby enjoyed on this series.

And by this point, both creators were at the peak of their powers. They had just wrapped up a long series of connected stories that introduced the Inhumans, brought Galactus and the Silver Surfer to the Earth for the first time, and this issue marked the first appearance of the Black Panther.

Cover dated July 1966, the Panther seems to be the villain in this issue. He lures the Fantastic Four to Wakanda, his kingdom in Africa, where they find themselves in an amazing, futuristic setting.

The Panther appears and attacks the team, quickly separating them and defeating the
heroes one at a time. Each battle is a pure delight, as the Panther triggers special traps and uses his own skills to overcome Marvel's "First Family."

If there's a weakness in this comic, I can't find it. The action is inventive, the story rockets along at top speed, there's plenty of humor (The Thing is one of the few heroes who can be funny even while he's losing a fight), the dialogue is terrific, the characters are memorable, and the ending is a real surprise.

This story is memorable for another reason - it's the first to feature a black super-hero. I don't remember feeling any kind of surprise about that - it makes sense that an African Prince would be black, after all. But it was a ground-breaking event - though of course Gabe Jones, as a member of Sgt. Fury's Howling Commandos, was also a black hero, just a non-powered one.

It's always a delight when a creative team really starts to click, and Lee and Kirby were on fire by this point in their careers. Lee's wordsmithing was never better, and Kirby was at the peak of his skills (ably assisted here by the great Joe Sinnott on inks - in my opinion, Joe is the all-time best Kirby inker).

Each issue seemed better than the last - just an amazing achievement in comics. As a 10-year-old, by this point the FF was my favorite comic book of them all - and it would hold the title for years.

Grade: A+


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wynonna Earp: The Yeti Wars

This collection is like a breath of fresh air in the fetid swamp of modern-day comics.

Wynonna Earp, for those who came in late, is the descendant of a certain well-known western lawman - but in the modern world, she's not fighting against bad guys in black hats. She spends her time fighting against the supernatural forces that prowl the underworld.

She was dreamed up by "Real Man" Beau Smith, and her adventures tend to be raucous, violent and lots of fun. (In a year that has movies based on Cowboys and Aliens and The Green Hornet, how has this character not been scooped up for one of Hollywood's leading ladies?)

In this collection, the violence includes a pack of murderous, Hulk-sized Yeti (or as we called them when I was a kid, Abominable Snowmen).

The trade is a wild and wooly action romp from beginning to end - one part action film, one part comic adventure, a smidgen of professional wrestling and the sense of fun of a classic Jonny Quest cartoon - a heck of a fun combination!

The art on the main feature is by Enrique Villigran, a pro who's vastly underrated - he has a classic line, a great feel for action sequences, and he creates some gnarly monsters.

There's also a backup feature, Blood in the Harvest, drawn by Manuel Vidal, and his art is more stylized but moody and effective.

If you're looking for navel-gazing or deep thought, shop elsewhere - but if you're looking for a fun read and lots of action, this is the book to check out.

Grade: A-


Monday, December 20, 2010

Mighty Samson #1

There aren't many comics that I missed when I was young - even if it was just an issue or two, I picked up just about every super-hero-related comic book printed in the '60s.

But somehow I never got an issue of Mighty Samson. It's all a dim memory now, but perhaps I thought the comic was based on the Biblical figure.

If that's what I thought, it turns out I was wrong. Instead, it's an adventure set in the future - 500 years "after the end of the world." Humanity has been reduced to a barbaric state, and monsters roam the wild lands.

We meet Sampson at his birth, where he demonstrates amazing strength, and then the clock jumps forward 19 years to his adventures as a powerful adult (though one with limited intelligence).

The first issue focuses on the backstory and setting the stage for future adventures, and we really don't know much about the title character yet, although he doesn't come off as particularly likeable or heroic - just powerful and impulsive.

The story is a relatively straightforward update of the title's first issue from 1964, which was written by Otto Binder and drawn by Frank Thorne - two great talents. (That first issue is reprinted here.)

The new version is written by Jim Shooter and J.C. Vaughn, with art by Patrick Oliffe. I like the art here, and Oliffe provides strong art and clear storytelling.

I'm sorry now that I missed the original series - it's a good, post-apocalyptic setting with characters that show a lot of promise. Hopefully this will do well and the original stories will get the reprint treatment they've afforded Magnus, Robot Fighter and Doctor Solar.

We can hope!

Grade: B+


Sunday, December 19, 2010

John Byrne's Next Men #1

As a big fan of just about every comic John Byrne has worked on, I'm glad to see the long-awaited return of the Next Men.

The group had starred in a 30-issue series back in the early '90s, and when it was canceled Byrne said it would be back... eventually.

So it took a while, but happily that day has arrived. But the long run of the original series and the long gap between means the first issue has to cover a lot of ground - and it does.

Byrne actually manages to condense the original 30 issues of the series into a single story, bringing us up to date and back to the cliffhanger that left the original series hanging.

For those who came in late, the Next Men are five young adults who live in a virtual reality world. When they awaken into the real world, their super powers manifest in a disturbing way.

Nathan (Scanner) has super-vision, but his eyes have mutated so he must wear special glasses to protect them. Jack (Brawn) is incredibly strong, but he is a danger to everyone around him, because he could easily crush them accidentally. Bethany (Hardbody) is invulnerable, but can't feel anything. Danny (Sprint) can run at amazing speeds, but his legs are huge. Only Jasmine (Bounce) seems normal with her amazing agility.

It's a real-world take on super-heroes, and while it can be grim at times, it's also loaded with great stories and characters.

Byrne's art on this series is outstanding. I've been a fan of his art since I first saw his work in an issue of Charlton's E-Man, and he just keeps getting better. His characters are lively, animated and each stands out from the other. His backgrounds and landscapes are incredibly detailed, and his skills as a storyteller are excellent - each panel and page flows into the next.

New readers may feel a bit of whiplash in reading this issue - there's a lot packed in there - but it's an outstanding series and I couldn't be happier that it's back.


Grade: A-


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Uncanny X-Force #3

I picked up the first issue in this series, liked it fine, but didn't pick up the second issue - I think I was suffering from "mutant overload."

But I was talking with my friend Clint the other day and he asked if I was reading the Uncanny X-Force. When I said no, he told me he was really enjoying it - and that it had revived his lagging interest in comic books.

So I figured I'd give it another shot - and I have to admit, it is a well-crafted comic.

The story by Rick Remender has the "Black Ops" branch of the X-Men journeying to the moon, where the (literally) newly-reborn Apocalypse is being tutored in the ways of evil.

But he's just a child, so the question is: does he have any choice about his fate? And are the members of X-Force justified in killing a child who may become a monster?

Wherever Apocalypse goes, his four horsemen are never far behind, and their origins are revealed here as they take on - and take down - the X-Force team.

It's an exciting, often grim conflict as the two teams square off, and there are lots of surprising twists and turns along the way.

The art by Jerome Opena and color art by Dean White is very impressive. It's dark, lush, intense and perfectly suited to the story.

I'm glad I listened to Clint and gave this series another shot. It would be easy for the creative team to make this just another grim and gritty title - but instead they've made it much more.

Instead of a super-hero comic, they've crafted something that's a lot closer to a war comic. It's different, it's dark, and it's a darned good read.

Grade: A-


Friday, December 17, 2010

Green Lantern #60

I've always been a fan of the team-ups between the Silver Age Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and The Flash (Barry Allen) - but this issue doesn't quite deliver that.

What we get instead is a version of the old Marvel schtick where the two heroes fight each other. (Should I admit that I love that bit? Always have.)

As always, there are extenuating circumstances. GL isn't really fighting The Flash - he's actually fighting the demon Parallax, who has possessed Barry's body.

That leads us into a fast-paced battle between the two, as Parallax tries to break Hal both physically and mentally.

It's all part of the ongoing battle between the Lanterns (so many colors!), and we finally get an answer about who the mysterious figure is who's capturing the entities - and we get some hints about what that individual has in mind.

Doug Mahnke continues to turn in some outstanding artwork, although this issue features four different inkers providing finishes, so that makes it a bit uneven - but still a cut above most art teams.

I'm glad to see some answers in this issue, and I hope this means we're moving toward a resolution to the whole multi-lantern storyline. It's been an interesting ride, but it definitely feels like it's been going on a bit too long - or that we at least need a bit of a break before moving on to the inevitable war.

Still, Green Lantern continues to be one of DC's best comics, bar none.

Grade: B+


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Avengers Academy #7

Ever so often a comic arrives and I think, "Isn't that nice - they made this one just for me!"

That's what I thought when I picked up this issue of Avengers Academy, which (as you can plainly see) features the return of Giant-Man!

Hank Pym is famous for having several different identities over the years, and my personal favorite is this one. He's been Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, Dr. Pym, Yellowjacket again, and most recently, The Wasp. (Did I miss any?)

Naming himself after his "deceased" ex-wife always seemed creepy, so I'm thrilled that he's finally going back to his roots.

I suspect part of the reason has to do with the new Avengers cartoon (which is actually quite good). Giant-Man is one of the key characters, and his characterization in the cartoon is perfect. He's incredibly capable, both as a scientist and as a super-hero, and obviously in love with the Wasp, who seems to be his exact opposite - flighty, impulsive, funny, emotional - they're the classic romantic comedy couple who seem to be mismatched but are actually perfect for each other.

(It's a shame Brian Bendis, the writer of the regular Avengers comic, is so committed to the idea that the two are a doomed couple who should never have been together. It damages the potential of the couple almost as much as the execrable story where Hank lost his mind and slapped the Wasp.)

This issue focuses on Giant-Man, and is a real delight as he tackles a powerful opponent who should be out of his league - but as we see in this story by Christos Gage, when he's written intelligently, there are few foes that this hero can't handle.

The art is also outstanding, as Mike McKone teams with inkers Dave Meikis and Scott Hanna to turn in some strong artwork. He has a great sense of scale and has a lot of fun with the action sequences.

This issue is almost perfect, although it hesitates and stumbles a bit at the end, as the creative team backs away from what would have been a bold move - but I suppose they have to save something for the future issues.

With an outstanding cast of characters (both classic heroes and the young ones in training) and a strong set-up, this comic just keeps getting better.

It's not the best Avengers comic out there, but it's close to the top - and that's high praise indeed.

Grade: A-

CORRECTION: Apparently the art for this issue was actually provided by Tom Raney, not Mike McKone (which shows what I know about art) - there was an error in the credits. Sorry for the mistake!


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Comic Book Day Again

Here's what I picked up today:

- Avengers Academy #7 - The return of Giant-Man. Finally!

- Brightest Day #16 - I refuse to call him "Blaquelad."

- Chaos War #4 (of 5) - The war of the gods heats up.

- Conan: The Road of Kings #1 - Roy Thomas back on Conan? Sounds like a good idea to me!

- Doctor Solar #4 - More fighting with gods!

- Green Lantern #60 - Teaming up with (or against) the Flash!

- Mighty Sampson #1 - It's Gold Key week!

- John Byrne's Next Men #1 - Well, it's about darn time!

- Uncanny X-Force #3 - Because my pal Clint told me I should be reading it.

- Wynonna Earp Yeti Wars - Gotta love any comic with monkeys in it! (Yeti are monkeys, right?)

And that's it!

The Classics - DC Showcase Doom Patrol #2

It's something of a cheat this week as I review the recently-published second volume reprinting 20 issues of the Doom Patrol from 1966-68.

It's a tough review, because I have a real love/hate feeling about these DC Showcase reprints (I feel the same way about the Marvel Essential reprints).

I love them because it's great to be able to pick up reprints of so many issues, many of them hard (or impossible or just really expensive) to find. They've reprinted comics I never thought I'd see again, including the Elongated Man, Wonder Woman's Silver Age adventures, Metamorpho, the Haunted Tank and the Doom Patrol.

I'm always glad to see these reprints and I eagerly buy them up. But sometimes I hate reading them.

There are a couple of reasons for that.

These stories weren't meant to be read one right after the other - each comic was published with the idea that there would be a month between each issue. Reading one right after the other leaves me feeling overloaded with that character - and the lack of a break between stories just magnifies any flaws in the story, where things don't quite match up from issue to issue.

And of course, sometimes the comics aren't as good as I remember. These issues of the Doom Patrol are a great example of good ideas gone bad.

How I loved the series when it first started! It was dark, dangerous and edgy, and the art was lush and well-rendered. That's all changed by the time we get to the issues printed here - and I have to admit, I don't think I read any of these when they were originally published. By this time I had given up on most of DC's books and was spending almost all my money on Marvel's comics.

It's easy to see why I left. About 20 issues into the run and this comic had completely changed in tone and style. I assume these changes came about by demand of the editors, because writer Arnold Drake was a darned good writer.

But these comics are not his best work. They're jokey, campy, loaded with bad attempts at modern slang, the attempts at adding soap opera elements is ham-handed, the action is plodding and the villains are just goofy - like Mr. 103, Mandred the Executioner and Videx, Monarch of Light.

They tried adding new heroes, but they were dull, too - Mento and Beast Boy (though the latter was eventually brought back, given a personality and renamed Changeling).

Artist Bruno Premiani provided the art for virtually the entire series (though most of the covers were by Bob Brown), and the quality was strong throughout, though not quite up to those first issues.

And those covers! I had heard long ago that one of the reasons Marvel was beating DC in sales at this time was because DC's covers always depicted the heroes losing. I didn't believe it until I read this collection - it's true, almost every single cover shows the Doom Patrol being beaten or overpowered - or running away in fear - from the villain. I'm not sure that's why the comic failed, but it probably didn't help!

It's no surprise that the series was canceled in 1968, although you have to give them credit for doing the unexpected with the final issue - they actually gave the series an ending.

The series started with so much promise and ended so badly - but it's still interesting to see the arc play out. And that's why I enjoy these Showcase books, even when the stories inside fail to impress.

I'm still glad to support the effort - otherwise we might never see these stories. Good or bad, they're part of comics history and they should be available for future generations to read and enjoy. (Or not enjoy.)

Grade: C+


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Thor #618

Finally, this issue addresses a problem this series has had for I don't know how many years.

Several years ago Thor's father Odin, the ruler of Asgard, was "killed" and exiled to some strange version of the afterlife, wherein he fought a never-ending battle with Surtur the Fire Demon (if I'm remembering correctly).

The idea was to put the throne in Thor's hands and spin some stories out of that situation. To be honest, I always thought it was a terrible idea, right up there with Spider-Man unmasking and teen Tony Stark.

Most ongoing comic books are all about the appearance of change without actually changing anything permanently. That's why Spidey unmasking was a bad idea (it cut that character off from his supporting cast and his civilian activities), teen Tony was a bad idea (do I even need to explain that one?) and "killing" Odin was a bad direction.

Odin is necessary to maintain Thor's home (Asgard), the status of his friends and fellow warriors, to provide impetus for missions, answers to questions, provide a judge to render punishments and perhaps an occasional tender family moment.

With Odin gone, Thor had all those things hanging around his neck, and writers had to go through contortions to relieve Thor of those responsibilities. The smart thing to do, of course, would be to return Odin to the throne - and perhaps that's what we're seeing unfold in the latest issue.

We also see Thor returning from his last mission - returning Loki to the land of the living - and now he and the Asgardians learn about an invasion that threatens the nine realms.

Up to now, Matt Fraction's story has been laying the foundation for the coming war. With this issue, the plot really starts bubbling.

The art, as always, is terrific. Pasqual Ferry creates some amazing vistas, strange and terrible creatures, and some great heroic shots of the title character.

This story's been a bit slow in developing, but if it ends up bringing Odin back (as I'm hoping), then it'll be well worth the wait.

It takes a while, but usually companies wise up eventually. They erased everyone's memory about Spider-Man's identity, and we haven't seen teen Tony in decades. Just one more to hit the trifecta...

Grade: A-


Monday, December 13, 2010

The Flash #7

Any good hero needs a good villain, and that's presumably the reasoning behind turning over the latest issue of The Flash to the history - and possible future - of one of his enemies.

The focus here is on Captain Boomerang, the recently resurrected member of Flash's Rogue's Gallery. As a result of the events in Blackest Night / Brightest Day, not only is that character back among the living - he also has a new power. He can generate energy boomerangs that explode on contact, and he throws them with pinpoint accuracy.

It actually seems a bit early in the run of this title to be taking these side-trips, but the story by Geoff Johns is quite good and makes the character more than just a one-note opponent for The Flash.

The art is by the outstanding former Flash artist Scott Kolins, and his work just keeps getting better all the time.

As a result of some surprising moves by Boomerang, the groundwork is laid here for future issues - and we still have to see how his fate plays out in connection to the White Lantern.

So, a solid issue, though one with precious little actual Flash content - but any Flash fan (or fan of the old Suicide Squad) will enjoy it.

Grade: B+


Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Incredible Hulks #618

Fresh off one (almost) world-smashing adventure, the Hulk Family (I'll never get used to that idea) finds itself right in the middle of another apocalyptic event - the Chaos War.

For those who haven't been following that story, the god known as the Chaos King has destroyed the Dream Dimension, throwing every mortal in the world into eternal sleep. Then he destroyed the Underworld, which somehow has eliminated death, so everyone in the world isn't injured despite the world-wide destruction - they're just sleeping.

The Hulks are somehow unaffected by the sleeping curse, so they spend their efforts trying to stop the destruction, only to find themselves dealing with a mysterious ally - and facing a dead opponent who escaped from the Underworld (that's him on the cover).

The problem with all this magic-related stuff is that it defies logic - anything can and does happen. But the story has a couple of "grabber" moments, as the Abomination proves to be even more deadly than usual - and another unexpected opponent puts in a return.

With lots of shocks, this story ties in well to the ongoing Chaos War story. Writer Greg Pak does his usual outstanding job managing all the characters, and artist Paul Pelletier and Danny Miki turn in some outstanding artwork - dark, detailed and powerful.

The creative team has this series hitting on all cylinders, as the stories careen from one big adventure to the next - which is why it's one of the best books out there right now.

Grade: A-


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Thor The Mighty Avenger #7

I have to take some of the heat for Thor The Mighty Avenger being canceled.

When the first issue came out, I didn't buy it. (You can't buy everything.)

But then my friends started telling me how good it was. By the time the fourth issue came out, I decided to take the plunge and pick up all four issues (my comics shop still had copies on the shelf - good for me, bad for the title).

I was glad I caught onto the comic - it was (and is) an absolute delight. A fresh, fun look at the Marvel version of Thor, it washed away all the past continuity and recast the basic concept.

That's not easy to do - the Ultimate series is littered with the bodies of comics titles that creative teams decided to "improve." (They didn't.)

But writer Roger Langridge has been clever about what he kept and what he discarded. He kept the basics of the mythology, while jettisoning the concept of the alter ego, Dr. Don Blake. He kept the sweet romance between Thor and Jane, put Thor (and the reader) in the dark about why Thor has been sent to Earth, and shows the Thunder God being a down-to-Earth hero of the people, doing the right thing because it's the right thing to do.

It's funny, touching and just plain fun to watch Thor discover this new world and fall in love with Jane Foster.

The art is a perfect match for the series - Chris Samnee has a fresh, original style that evokes the feel of a Kirby and a Ditko without aping their styles - but it has that classic comics aura around it. This is an artist to watch.

Sadly, we'll have to watch him elsewhere, because the powers that be have decided next issue is the last for this series. Perhaps the sales will spike or the chorus of fans will make themselves heard, and we'll see more of this excellent version of Thor.

Here's hoping!

Grade: A