Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ultimate X #5

I should say right up front that I really enjoyed the first story arc in Ultimate X (though I'm not sure if this is the final issue or if it's the last issue for creators Jeph Loeb and Art Adams or if they just tacked a "thanks" on the last page for the fun of it).

That said, it's a series that has tried our patience. It took just over 16 months to turn out five issues - but with artist Art Adams, you don't expect blazing speed - just incredible art.

He's provided that in spades - I mean, just look at that cover! The interiors are just as dynamic, loaded with life and energy and action galore.

Approaching this series I was most concerned about the writing of Loeb, who's been very erratic of late - but I think this was one of his better efforts. He's put together a series loaded with interesting characters, a different premise and quite a few surprising turns.

For those who came in late, Ultimate X tells the story of Jean Grey's attempts to rescue errant mutants and protect them from the government's attempts to track them down - and from evil mutants, as well.

This story is a bit of redemption for Loeb after the revolting Ultimatum series, about which the less said the better. This series (and Ultimate Spider-Man) have thrived despite that mini-series, not because of it.

So will this series continue or will it roll over into Ultimate X-Men? There are a number of potential stories set up here, so hopefully it will continue somewhere.

And as always, I'll keep watching for whatever project Adams tackles next. He's an artist worth waiting for!

Grade: A-


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Today's Comics

A bit of a thin week this time around. Here's what I picked up:

- FF #5 - This continues to build nicely, as the War of Four Cities takes some interesting turns.

- Flashpoint: Hal Jordan #1 (of 3) - What if Hal didn't become Green Lantern?

- Flashpoint: Project Superman #1 (of 3) - So where is the Man o' Steel during Flashpoint?

- Justice Society of America #52 - Hey, a guest appearance by the Challengers of the Unknown! Cool.

- Ultimate X #5 - How long has it been since the last issue?

- Uncanny X-Men #539 - Why does Wolverine always team up with the newest X-girls?

- X-Men - Prelude to Schism #4 (of 4) - Bought on a whim.

And that's it!

The Classics - 80-Page Giant #9

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesterday, when comic shops were just a dream, back issues were almost impossible to find, and reprints of old issues were rare indeed.

For those of us who grew up in rural settings, our only real source for reprints were comics like this one: DC's 80 Page Giants. This one is dated April 1965 and includes five tales starring The Flash (Barry Allen), including the story that continued to affect the DC Universe for decades to come.

That story, of course, is "Flash of Two Worlds," wherein the Silver Age Flash accidentally crosses over the dimensional barrier to Earth-2 and meets the Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick.

If this had been a Marvel Comics, the two would have fought it out due to a misunderstanding - but since this was a DC Comic, they had a calm discussion, recounted their origins and secret identities, became immediate friends and teamed up to take on a trio of Jay's old foes who had just embarked on a crime wave.

It was an elegant solution to the question: "Whatever happened to the heroes from the Golden Age?" It was a solution DC (and writer Gardener Fox especially) would build on in the years ahead.

I didn't see that comic when it was first released, but thanks to this reprint, I was able to catch up on that adventure and four others, including early appearances by The Pied Piper, Dr. Alchemy, Gorilla Grodd and Captain Boomerang.

Today we're spoiled by an overwhelming number of reprints (this is a great thing, of course). You can pick up that original "Flash" story in a black-and-white Showcase reprint, in the full-color Archives edition, and one day soon it'll probably be available in Omnibus and/or digital form, too.

Heck, if you have a few hundred bucks to spare, you can buy a copy of the original at a comics shop, a convention or on eBay! (All concepts that would have shattered my 9-year-old mind in 1965.)

But in my early days in comics, the only lifeline to the past was the reprint comics, and we had to depend on the good taste of the editor to load them with the classic and historic tales we wanted to read - like this one!

Grade: A


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dark Horse Presents #2

I should start by saying that I'm really enjoying the new Dark Horse Presents (and I enjoyed the original version, too), but I do feel a bit conflicted.

On one hand, it's a book that's loaded with great artistic talent - Neal Adams, Howard Chaykin, Paul Chadwick, Richard Corben, Michael Gilbert - the comic includes veterans and some talented up-and-comers. There's some strong writing here, although the length of the stories limits that element. The production values are top-notch, and you get a lot of comic for your money.

On the down side, it takes a lot of money to buy this comic, even though your eight bucks buys a lot more than any three regular-sized comics combined. There's some variation in quality, of course - some stories are strong (Concrete, Number 13, The Treasure), some are silly (The Wraith, Mr. Monster, Snow Angel) and some are almost impenetrable (Blood, Rotten Apple, Finder) - but they're all enjoyable.

I do think the eight-page limit on each story makes it difficult to get a story rolling - it really seems to be holding back Adams' Blood and Chaykin's Marked Man, for example. Only Chadwick's Concrete seems the thrive at that limit. It would be nice to see occasional stories that are longer (or shorter, for that matter).

Still, overall it's an outstanding package, and if you can deal with the price tag, it's a rewarding purchase.

Grade: A-


Monday, June 27, 2011

John Byrne's Next Men #7

This is a tough one to review (he said, after staring at the computer screen for the longest time).

Part of that is because this issue of Next Men (more or less) wraps up the opening story arc, and it's difficult to talk about without giving too much away.

The story by John Byrne has the members of the team trapped (and in peril) in different moments in history, while a group of futuristic scientists try to effect a rescue.

It's an involved story which makes great use of time travel and some of its more complicated angles, but it's not always easy to follow what's going on here, and it brings up a character who - quite frankly - I don't remember (though no doubt it'll be made clearer next issue).

As always, the art (also by Byrne) is outstanding, and the story features lots of twists and turns.

It would be difficult to start this series with this issue, but for those who've been following along, it's another strong chapter in a series - collect 'em all!

Grade: A-


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Secret Avengers #14

Even though the character has been around for what, almost 40 years, the Valkyrie is still mostly a figure of mystery.

She appeared as a member of the original Defenders team, but when that series was canceled she was relegated to guest appearances - and only a few of those.

Now she's back as a member of the Secret Avengers, and this issue focuses on her. We actually get some background flashes of her previous life in Asgard and how she earned her title.

Writer Nick Spencer makes an effort to parallel a story from the past with the present-day battle linked to the Fear Itself event, but the two stories of star-crossed lovers doesn't quite work - if they'd just had a few more pages to work with...

I like the art by Scott Eaton - he has a classic, illustrative style that captures the expressions and the heroic figures quite well.

It's good to see the Valkyrie getting some long-overdue attention, even if the story raises almost as many questions as it answers.

Grade: B


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rocketeer Adventures #2

I'm really enjoying this series.

The Rocketeer is a terrific character who's been sitting on the shelf for far too long. It's tragic that creator Dave Stevens is no longer around to guide the character's path, but thankfully we have some all-star talent stepping in.

In this issue, we have a story by Mark Waid about the beginning of "super-heroes" and the Rocketeer's humorous attempt to join their ranks. Providing the art on this story is the terrific Chris Weston, whose lush, expressive style is a perfect match for the era.

Darwyn Cooke is one of the top creators in comics today, and he shows why in an seven-page tale that evokes the adventure movie serials (though I doubt the serials would have allowed Betty to show that much skin). Still, it's fast, funny and a blast from start to finish.

Following an incredible pin-up by Geoff Darrow, the issue wraps up with a short tale of high-flying combat as written by Lowell Francis and drawn by Gene Ha. It's a clever bit of work and has a guest appearance by a certain Man who looks like he's made out Of Bronze (wink, wink).

I hope at some point we'll see some of these talents tackling a feature-length story, but so far, this series has been a blast!

Grade: A-


Friday, June 24, 2011

Flashpoint: Reverse Flash #1 (of 3)

Fandom's favorite topic is the upcoming DC Universe reboot, and we're all wondering how our favorite heroes will change after the end of Flashpoint.

It's just a guess, but I suspect one character who's going to end up changing a lot is the Reverse Flash.

That's because he's become ridiculously powerful and a ruthless killer. As he is now, he can travel through time, kill anyone at will, completely wipe an individual from existence and (apparently) completely change the course of history.

How can anyone fight that? It's the same problem with fighting the Flash or Superman - how can you go up against someone who can smack you around before you have the chance to blink?

This mini-series will (hopefully) tell us what the Reverse Flash / Eobard Thawne has done to alter reality. We see his obsession with Barry Allen and his repeated (failed) attempts to defeat his nemesis.

But when he decides to start altering past events, Thawne runs into some interesting challenges to overcome.

This is a grim story, as Thawne learns more about his power - and it looks bad for the good guys.

The story is written by Scott Kolins, and he does well here, laying out the horror of this high-speed monster running amok. The art is by Joel Gomez, and it's good work, although some of his figures are a bit on the stiff side. Still, some strong action sequences on display here.

So far, we haven't gleaned much more about the backstory of Flashpoint - but we seem to be getting there.

Grade: B


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ultimate Spider-Man #160

As a matter of policy we try not to spoil the ending of stories, but it's going to be tough to avoid with this issue of Ultimate Spider-Man.

After all, the last six (or so) issues have been labeled "The Death of Spider-Man," and Marvel went to the national media yesterday talking about how Spider-Man gets killed in this issue.

So there's that.

It's been a slow build to this final issue, as Spidey was seriously wounded and then had to confront the Sinister Six, including the Green Goblin, Sandman, Kraven, Electro, the Vulture and Doctor Octopus.

Spread over several issues, it's been the fight of Peter Parker's life - and it's the fight that (apparently) ends his life. (Nah, I don't really believe it, either.)

Still, it's a brutal, emotional roller-coaster ride that keeps you on edge right up to the end. Any reader who's been following the story will definitely find those final pages heart-rending.

It's great work by writer Brian Bendis, who is thankfully reunited on this story with artist Mark Bagley, who manages to balance the raw emotional scenes with the hoo-hah, over-the-top action sequences.

It's tricky to kill a hero - his end must be honest, it must require a heroic effort (and a sacrifice) and allow him some meaningful final words. Check, check, check and check.

Simply an outstanding end to a terrific series.

Let's bow our heads and pay honor to the Ultimate Spider-Man - practically since it started a decade ago, it's consistently been the best Spider-Man comic. Let's hope that run doesn't end here with an untimely death.

That would be too cruel.

Grade: A


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Comics Day - Who Dies Next?

It's Wednesday, and you know what that means - another comic book character has died!

But first, the rundown - here's what I picked up today:

- Secret Avengers #14 - You don't want to go to war with the Valkyrie.

- Captain America #619 - The wrap-up to Bucky's visit to a gulag. (Not a pretty story.)

- Conan: The Road of Kings #6 - The valley of the worm.

- Dark Horse Presents #2 - Lots of A-list talent on this one.

- Flashpoint: Reverse Flash #1 (of 3) - Revealing how Flashpoint happened.

- Incredible Hulks #631 - Taking on some big monsters.

- Mystery Men #2 (of 5) - More pulp-style hijinks,

- Next Men #7 - Wrapping up the first story arc.

- Rocketeer Adventures #2 - Hey, it's another all-star lineup!

- Sigil #4 - Learning lessons.

- Silver Surfer #5 (of 5) - Suckin' face in space!

- The Mighty Thor #3 - Hey, it's the Silver Surfer again!

- Ultimate Spider-Man #160
- Death comes calling.

And that's it!

The Classics - Gen 13 #1

Some comics get off to a strong start and continue a long run after the original creative team moves on (Superman, Spider-Man). Others get off to a strong start and then fade fast when the creators leave - like Gen 13.

Riding the wave of success Image Comics was enjoying, Gen 13 first appeared in 1994. Written by Jim Lee and Brandon Choi, it told the story of five young people who mysteriously develop super-powers. They form a ragtag team and find themselves in all kinds of strange situations.

The most important thing for any Image Comic, of course, was the artwork, and here it's provided by J. Scott Campbell with inks by Alex Garner. Campbell's work was a bit rough around the edges, but his overly detailed, heavily rendered style was perfect for the company, and his female characters were very sexy.

And that was ultimately the selling point for the series. The comic's most dominate feature was the tendency of the towering and voluptuous Caitlin Fairchild to have her clothing torn to shreds, leaving just enough coverage to keep the censors at bay.

The team was an interesting mix of young heroes, including the spunky Roxy, flame-throwing Bobby, Rainmaker and Grunge (is it ever a good idea to name a character after a fad?).

But the art was really the only reason to buy it. I think I stayed with the comic for the first 25 issues and I couldn't tell you a single story point from that run. I just re-read the first issue and I'm not sure I could explain it, either.

The series stuck around for about 70 issues, it spawned spin-offs and one-shots, it was brought back a couple of times with no success - and right now (as far as I know) the team in back in limbo, waiting for its next shot.

Probably the biggest problem was the lack of structure - an ongoing series generally needs some kind of foundation to rest on. The Avengers and the Justice League gather at their headquarters, the FF are a family, Spider-Man has a career and supporting characters - but Gen 13 just bounced around with no home, no purpose - no real story to tell.

The team has a lot of potential, but to date it's mostly unrealized. A shame, really. There's surely a market for the kind of sexy, light-hearted stories this series aspired to - but there's precious little of it out there today.

Grade: B-


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Avengers Academy #15

And then things got serious.

Last issue the Avengers Academy team got beaten badly by the Sinister Six (which is as it should be - unlike the recent issue of Iron Man, where they were treated like buffoons, the Six are experienced and deadly foes - they should never be an easy win for the good guys).

This time around, the Academy is in much bigger trouble as they're called into duty as part of the Fear Itself event.

The story by Christos Gage does a good job of portraying the horrors of war. There's nothing glamorous or exciting about it - it's brutal, dirty, soul-crushing work.

The event is actually affecting both the students and the teachers. We see the challenges the students experience, and the bigger ones faced by the adult members when they confront one of the hammer-wielding monsters.

The art by Tom Raney is quite good, with some powerful action sequences and strong emotional moments.

So overall, another strong effort and a solid start to this series. I think I prefer this book when it has a lighter tone - but there's plenty of room for serious stories, too.

Grade: B+


Monday, June 20, 2011

Gladstone's School for World Conquerors #2

The second issue of Gladstone's School for World Conquerors continues the lighthearted approach to super-villaining.

In this issue written by Mark Andrew Smith, the focus moves away (mostly) from the students in this most unusual school to some antics of heroes and villains outside Gladstone's walls.

While the students follow the action being televised live, we see a popular hero and villain mixing it up in the sky over Tokyo - but all is not as it seems.

The mystery at the heart of that battle also shows up at the door of the school as several villains square off in an inventive battle royal.

The tone is light and the story is fun, but this issue doesn't advance the story much further than last issue - so here's hoping for more next time around.

The art is a lot of fun, and Armand Villavert apparently has a good time designing scads of characters, monsters and big battles. My only suggestion would be for a little more variety in angles - almost everything is "seen" from an eye-level point of view.

But those are just quibbles. This comic is a fun, action-packed romp, and well worth checking out.

Grade: B+


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Alpha Flight #1 (of 8)

Alpha Flight is a team that was so messed up by stories that didn't work and assorted character demolitions that the only answer was to kill off the whole team (which took place shortly after House of M), and then bring them all back to life (which happened at the end of the Chaos War).

So the team is back in (more or less) its original version, with Guardian and Vindicator leading the team, Northstar and Aurora returned as bickering brother and sister, Sasquatch is back to his orange fur, Snowbird and Shaman are back to their mystic roots, and Marianna - well, she looks and acts completely different. We're not sure at this point what the deal is with Puck.

The beginning of this mini-series, as written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, the team finds itself in the middle of the world-wide battle unfolding in Fear Itself, as Vancouver is attacked by a transformed Attuma and his hordes of barbarians.

The battle is fast and furious and gives each member a chance to show off his or her powers - it's a good introduction for those who aren't familiar with the team.

The story seems to struggle in places - there's a political backstory developing, there's a mysterious plot against the team and a shock ending that wasn't really set up at all - but the pleasure of seeing the team back in operation makes it difficult to get too upset about all that.

The art by Dale Eaglesham and Andrew Hennessy is quite good - definitely going after the feel (though not the style) of John Byrne's original run. In other words, lots of solid super-heroing going on here.

The problem with the series is the same as always: bringing so many disparate heroes together into a functioning team. So far, they're off to a reasonable start.

Grade: B+


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Kirby Genesis #1

I get it.

With Kirby Genesis, writer Kurt Busiek and artists Jack Herbert and Alex Ross are doing their best to capture Kirby's high-energy, concept-dense style while keeping the story fresh and modern.

It's a difficult stunt to achieve, and this first issue feels like a rocket sled bouncing around as it hurtles down the tracks - but to their credit, it stays on course.

One of the many things Jack Kirby was a genius at was packing a heck of a lot into every story. Ideas just seemed to fly fast and furious, and the same can be said about this issue.

The story begins with the introduction of a young woman named Bobbi and a young man named Kirby (which seems like a mistake - it's the equivalent of a character saying, "That looks like something you'd see in a comic book!" - it takes me out of the story every time I read his name. Maybe it's just me).

Through their eyes we see a mysterious cosmic event in the skies above St. Paul, Minnesota - and that seems to trigger a number of related (or unrelated) events - aliens arriving on Earth, secret cities being uncovered, super heroes appearing - it's almost too much to take in all at once.

Longtime Kirby fans will recognize some (though perhaps not all) of the characters introduced here - and only the sharp script keeps it all understandable.

I'm not sure how the artists are dividing the work (though some pages are obviously painted by Ross), but the final product is impressive. It's not a Kirby imitation, but in a more modern, realistic style it does seem to capture the power at the heart of Kirby's work.

Attempts over the years to adapt some of Kirby's more "out there" ideas have usually not worked for me - but so far, I'm enjoying this one, and I'm encouraged by the potential.

It's not Kirby - but so far, it's a good use of his creations. I'm in.

Grade: A-


Friday, June 17, 2011

Wonder Woman and the Furies #1 (of 3)

This week I looked over three of the Flashpoint tie-in comics.

First I looked at Legion of Doom, out of sentiment for the old Super Friends cartoon. After a quick flip-through, my impression was that it seemed gory (with a gross final sequence).

Then I looked at the Gorilla Grodd comic, and saw several gross-out scenes with Grodd murdering people and ripping out spines. I passed.

(I should mention that I don't object to graphic violence in comics - when it fits the comic. Too many of the Flashpoint comics - judging by my quick perusals - just seem to be trying too hard to shock the reader at the expense of the story. OK, I'll hop off the soapbox.)

Finally I looked at Wonder Woman and the Furies - which I had expected to be the most violent of the bunch, considering the depiction of the Amazons in the Flashpoint series.

But then I saw the writing team was Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, and they've done some very good work lately. The art was by Scott Clark and Dave Beaty, and it's quite good, with more of a clean and classic approach. So I picked it up.

It actually has some downright sweet moments, and the first meeting of Aquaman (Aquaboy) and Wonder "Girl" is a delight, evoking memories of the old Kanigher-Andru stories with Wonder Girl and Merboy.

Of course, it's not all sweetness and light as we see what happens when two warlike legendary races try to put aside their differences - and end up going to war instead.

Oh, and the comic features the silliest instant costume change I've seen in comics in a while.

This is the backstory for the "present day" events in Flashpoint, and of the tie-in books I've seen so far, this one is the best. But that's not exactly high praise.

Grade: B


Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Avengers #14

One of the real challenges of having an Event is managing what happens in the regular issues of the comic starring the heroes involved.

Sometimes the writer plays with time and sets the stories before or after the Event. Sometimes the comic can focus on sidebar tales that are related to the Event but don't directly affect it (that was the strategy with the Avengers titles during the Secret Invasion).

Sometimes the title ties directly in, and that's what's happening with The Avengers as the series uses a time-hopping documentary interview to give us glimpses into the past, present and future of the Event, while that action portions tie directly into the Event - in this case, Fear Itself, natch.

So the majority of this issue is given over to the horrific battle between The Thing, who has been possessed by an evil Asgardian hammer, and the Red Hulk, who has a chance to prove his worth to his new team.

It is, as they say in wrestling, a true "slobberknocker," and a real treat for action fans. The story is by Brian Bendis with art by the returning team of John Romita, Jr., and Klaus Janson.

It's a powerful tale with more than a few shocks. There's not a lot of story there - it's mostly a throwdown between heavy-duty powerhouses - but that's a solid Marvel tradition that's always entertaining.

As tie-ins go, it's a good one. Not a lot of deep thought, but lots of action and destruction on view.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wednesday's Comics

Running late tonight! Today I picked up:

- Alpha Flight #1 (of 8) - It's a mini-series? Not exactly a vote of confidence.

- Avengers #14 - In wrestling, they would call this one a "slobberknocker."

- Avengers Academy #15 - Kids going to war - a terrible thing.

- Conan: Island of No Return #1 - Would you really want to go to an island like that?

- Flashpoint: Wonder Woman and the Furies #1 (of 3) - Let there be backstory!

- Gladstone's School for World Conquerors #2 - That is one wacky school.

- Invincible Iron Man #505 - Horror on a massive scale.

- Kirby Genesis #1 - Strange times at the Circle K.

- Ruse #4 - Wrapping up the case.

- Uncanny X-Men #538 - The end of the new Breakworld story.

And that's it!

The Classics - Green Lantern #40

Ah, the good old days when DC's continuity was still easy to follow. I thought it would be fun to look back on it as we steel ourselves for the upcoming reboot.

When this issue of Green Lantern was published in 1965, it was all easy to understand: the Silver Age heroes were all on Earth-1, and the Golden Age heroes were all on Earth-2.

Heroes from one world would occasionally cross over into the other to take part in adventures with their counterparts (both Flashes, both GLs, both Atoms, or the Justice League and the Justice Society). It was a clever yet simple solution to the problem.

Since then, it's all become muddied to the point that the DC Universe needs a clean wash to start over again (we'll see how long it takes them to start mucking up the new continuity).

This was a pivotal issue for more reasons than one - not only did it feature a crossover of the GLs (Hal Jordan and Alan Scott), but it also finally told the origin of the Guardians of the Universe (since expanded on) and the evil Guardian named Krona.

In the distant past Krona tried to discover the origin of the universe and caused a cosmic catastrophe. As punishment he was converted to energy and shot into space.

Krona manages to return to life when he makes contact with the Earth-2 Green Lantern's ring - thus the team-up and the fight for all existence.

It's a terrific story by John Broome as it neatly ties together all the separate plot points neatly while throwing in a few massive disasters just for fun.

The art is by the legendary Gil Kane, and while I've never been a big fan of Sid Greene's inking on Kane (it always seemed just a bit thick for Kane's thin lines), here the team does fantastic work.

The thing that makes me hopeful about the upcoming reboot is the idea that we could get stories like this again - ground-breaking, entertaining stories that feel fresh - but don't require a scorecard to sort out all the players.

Grade: A-


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Warlord of Mars #7

That's a great cover by Joe Jusko, but it almost feels like a mistake - I think every issue of Warlord of Mars I've seen so far has featured a nearly-naked image of Dejah Thoris.

But I digress. This issue continues the leisurely adaptation of Edgar Rice Burrough's A Princess of Mars, though I'm not sure of the legalities involved, since Marvel just announced it would be adapting that novel in the near future. Is the story in Public Domain?

Sorry, still digressing. This issue depicts John Carter's discovery of an Atmosphere Factory and its strange operator. He journeys to a nearby town, joins the air force, fights giant green Martians, and so on.

As written by Arvid Nelson, this isn't a bad series at all - it's just doling out the story very slowly.

The art by Lui Antonio is quite good, with strong action sequences and great facial expressions - though (as much as I hate to complain about such things), the females are all of the impossibly-proportioned-comic-book-female mold. A little variety would be nice.

As a long-time fan of Burroughs, I'm happy to see this work back in print - although I'll have to see if I can find out the answer to which one (if either one) is approved by ERB's estate. I prefer to throw my business to the company that plays fair.

Grade: B


Monday, June 13, 2011

Mystery Men #1

Sometimes the comic book gods are kind.

I somehow overlooked this book when I picked up my comics this week, but at the checkout I also bought a storage box, and then, in my rush to get back to work, I bolted out the door and left the box behind.

That evening a couple of friends mentioned how much they had enjoyed Mystery Men, so the next day I stopped in to retrieve my comics box and I picked up a copy of this issue.

I'm glad I did! The story by David Liss is set in New York in 1932, and it focuses on several pulp-style heroes and villains, and it's a cracking good yarn.

The central character is the man known as The Operative, who helps the poor by stealing from the obscenely rich. But after a loved one's tragic murder, he finds himself the target of a corrupt police investigation.

At the same time, an evil force is on the rise - and it may be more than any normal man can manage.

This is a fast-paced, hard-edged series loaded with terrific characters (one of whom has the coolest first appearance in recent comics memory), a razor-sharp storyline and genuine horror.

The art is by Patrick Zircher with colors by Andy Troy, and it's outstanding. Dark and evocative of the pulp era, the art is a perfect match for the setting.

I'm anxiously waiting for the next issue - and you can bet I won't pass it over by accident.

Grade: A


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Doc Savage #15

(Sorry to be running late with today's review, but your pal Chuck is way under the weather today, so this one will be very brief - expect tomorrow's review to be equally late and brief - but the good news is that I'm on the mend.)

I blasted the last issue of Doc Savage as being so bad that I would rather see the series canceled than see it continue like that.

The good news is, this issue's art is much better, as the reins are turned over to the capable hands of Dan Panosian, who delivers lots of solid action and prehistoric creatures.

The story by J.G. Jones is still a bit of a mess, but it shows signs of coming together. Maybe. Great cover by Jones.

Still not quite up to Doc's standards, but this issue is definitely a step in the right direction.

Grade: B-

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The New Avengers #13

This issue wraps up the "two-fer" adventure, only half of which actually featured The New Avengers.

In the modern-day adventure, the team faces grim reality when one of their teammates lies at death's door. That sparks an all-out, Jack Bauer-like interrogation as they try to track down the woman known as Superia.

The other part of the story is set in the '50s and features Nick Fury and his "Avengers Initiative" wrapping up their fight with a (presumably) fake Red Skull, who had created a nearly-invulnerable (also fake) Captain America.

The two stories dovetail together as Fury discovers the Red Skull's goals in the past adventure - and then appears to offer an all-too-convenient solution to the modern-day dilemma.

Which is to say, it's a complete cheat - and from now on, every time a hero gets seriously hurt, they just need to call Fury and he can fix the problem easily. (In other words, the solution is simply a terrible idea.)

This is a rare stumble for writer Brian Bendis, but the art is top-notch (as always), with Mike Deodato handling the modern stuff and Howard Chaykin managing the flashbacks.

We can also see why Chaykin is drawing this, since a key part of the story ties back to a one-shot story he penciled decades ago.

Chalk this one up as an interesting experiment that didn't quite work.

Grade: B-


Friday, June 10, 2011

Flashpoint: Emperor Aquaman #1 (of 3)

I think DC made a mistake revealing its upcoming company-wide reboot (or restart, or whatever).

Not that I think they're making a mistake - I don't - but since we know that happens after Flashpoint, it gives all the comics tied to that series the feeling of "Imaginary Stories" - like it doesn't matter what happens, because it'll all be fixed at the end.

As a result, I don't feel compelled to buy the attached mini-series (though I'll sample a few depending on the creative teams or the characters involved).

If they had waited another month to make the announcement, readers would have read the first issue and perhaps been more inclined to stick around to the end.

At any rate, this issue focuses on Emperor Aquaman, a very different character from the Sea King we know.

As written by Tony Bedard, this Aquaman is involved in a deadly battle between Atlantis and the Amazons led by Wonder Woman. This issue gives us a little bit of the backstory, although we still have gaps to fill.

Apparently Aquaman was betrayed and someone he loves was killed - and as a result, he destroys Themyscira, which forces the Amazons to win a new home in combat with England, and then Aquaman destroys most of Europe.

The artwork is by Adrian Syaf and Vincente Cifuentes, and it's a solid effort, with good, clean storytelling.

I realize this is (for all intents and purposes) an Elseworlds story, and events and Aquaman are being manipulated - but it's disquieting to see a hero behave in ways that would shame the most cold-hearted villain.

It's the Civil War thing all over again - personally, I prefer heroes who are actually... well, heroic!

Grade: B-


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Ultimate Spider-Man #159

With one issue to go before we see the final chapter in the death of Ultimate Spider-Man, you have to give credit to the creative team for wringing every lost drop of excitement out of this story.

Writer Brian Bendis serves up another edge-of-your-seat battle royal between what's left of the Sinister Six and what's left of Spider-Man.

You will remember that Spider-Man was shot saving Captain America (who repaid his effort by leaving him to die alone). In this issue he makes his way home where his friends the Human Torch and Iceman were defeated by the Six, leaving a badly wounded Spidey facing impossible odds.

This issue gives us his final effort as he tries to survive a withering assault.

The art is by series originator Mark Bagley (with Andy Lanning on inks), and it's outstanding work, with one amazing action scene followed by an ever more intense scene, and so on, right to the end of the issue (and oh, that final page).

The story is so tense I'm even willing to overlook some of the more irritating story oversights. For one, where is Peter Parker's mask? He was wearing it when he was shot, but when he arrives at his home his mask is gone.

But the most irritating event is something that would pop up in the TV show 24 from time to time. Someone has to get across town, and instead of taking an hour or more, they cover the ground in minutes. That happens here in an intense (and improbable) scene - but the story's so exciting, it's easy to forgive.

With a cliffhanger ending, it's going to be tough to wait a month to see what happens next. But that's all part of the fun!

One hopes that next issue isn't really the end of the Ultimate Spider-Man. This has been consistently one of Marvel's best books, and this series is a "must read."

Grade: A


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

New Comics!

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

- Annihilators #4 (of 4) - Dire Wraiths and Spaceknights - it's like old times!

- The New Avengers #13 - The two disparate stories finally come together. Sorta.

- Booster Gold #45 - Hey, it's Doomsday!

- Breed III #2 - Demon vs. alien!

- Doc Savage #15 - The art is much better now, thank you!

- Flashpoint: Emperor Aquaman #1 (of 3) - How Europe was destroyed.

- The Incredible Hulks #630 - Careful what you wish for...

- Journey Into Mystery #624 - Going to Hel.

- Morning Glories #10 - Strange dreams.

- Ultimate Spider-Man #159 - In a very bad spot.

- Warlord of Mars #7 - Hey, something's wrong - the cover doesn't have a nearly-naked woman on it.

And that's it!

The Classics: Hawkman #5

If you're looking for a good argument in favor of rebooting the DC universe, look no further than Hawkman.

This is a character whose history is a tangled maze for even longtime readers. In his first appearance in the 1940s he was Carter Hall, an archeologist who is a reincarnated Egyptian Prince who flies thanks to his knowledge about the mysterious Nth Metal. He teams with his reincarnated wife Sheira (Hawkgirl) Saunders and they fight the bad guys.

In the '60s the character was revived, but the science fiction elements were more prevalent. This version was Katar Hol, a policeman from the planet Thanagar, who chased a super-powered criminal to Earth, working alongside his wife and partner Shayera (Hawkwoman). They decided to stay to study Earth's crime-fighting methods (?), and disguised themselves as archaeologists.

When DC did a partial reboot in the '80s, Hawkman's life got messy. Through a convoluted series of stories, it was explained how Hawkman could be both a man of Earth and a Thanagarian of the same name. There was also some business with a Hawkgod, but I've blocked that out of my memory.

Then we found out that Hawkman and Hawkwoman were eternal lovers who fought evil and died together, only to be reborn and love again in the next generation. Then Hawkwoman was killed and reborn as Hawkgirl, whose memories of a previous life were scrambled, and she fooled around a lot before realizing her love for Hawkman - and then she was killed.

And I'm sure I'm leaving lots of stuff out here. Needless to say, it's a continuity mess that could use one more good descrambling.

But back to this issue. Released in 1964, this was the Hawkman whose adventures I loved. The stories were written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Murphy Anderson.

If I had to name a favorite artist from DC's Silver Age, it would be a tough call, since the list would include Gil Kane and Carmine Infantino - but I'd put Anderson at the top of the list.

His classic style was stunning - his heroes were perfectly proportioned, his women were stunningly beautiful, his layouts dynamic and clear, and his action scenes were powerful. He probably did more work as an inker than as a penciler, and he was certainly proficient at both - but I was always delighted to see his art, and he did some of his all-time best work on this series.

The story in this issue doesn't live up to the art, as the Hawks take on the Shadow Thief, a wonderfully designed villain who was ultimately kind of boring - he robs banks, the Hawks try to stop him, he escapes, plans a trap, the Hawks escape, the day is saved.

I get the feeling Fox thought he was a limited character, too, because he kept building in story points that made the character's return improbable. In his first appearance, we discover that the device that allows him to transform into a living shadow is also about to unleash a new ice age on the Earth! In this, his second appearance, he discovers the true identity of Hawkman and Hawkgirl.

But whatever the story's shortcomings, this issue is well worth tracking down for that incredible art by Anderson.

I see where the hero will be back soon with a new title, The Savage Hawkman, so we'll see which version of the character shows up (or if it's a new version altogether).

If only they could get Anderson to come out of retirement long enough to do a cover! And if the new version ends up "just" being a policeman from Thanagar, that would be ok, too.

Grade: B+


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

S.H.I.E.L.D. #1

Back from hiatus (and starting over with a new issue #1), S.H.I.E.L.D. is here to strain our collective brain.

This is yet another in a series of deep, carefully crafted stories by writer Jonathan Hickman (for further examples, see FF and Secret Warriors). It weaves together an ancient society dedicated to protecting humanity, some of the most famous characters from history (each of whom apparently led a secret existence), modern Marvel mythology and some mind-blowing cosmic concepts.

It's not an easy story to follow, but how rewarding for the reader willing to take the plunge! Tales of fate versus free will, human ingenuity against overwhelming odds, and the price of genius.

It's an amazingly complex work, and as a helping hand the back part of this book offers a helpful recap of the major characters - including Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Nostradamus and Nikola Tesla!

If it sounds like a crazy concept... well, it is. But it's also powerful and compelling - and great fun!

The art by Dustin Weaver is very impressive, and I assume the series took a few months off to give him time to catch up - he's obviously putting a ton of work into every page. Inspired work on display here!

This issue actually provides some answers, but there are still some major mysteries to solve, and the small matter of a civil war inside the organization to be settled.

This series isn't for the faint of heart, but I recommend it highly!

Grade: A-


Monday, June 6, 2011

Flashpoint: Secret Seven #1 (of 3)

My pal James recently mentioned to me that he's not a fan of detailed art. I told him he was going to hate this review.

I decided I wasn't going to pick up too many of the Flashpoint spinoff titles, but I couldn't pass Secret Seven up for two reasons: it's (mostly) drawn by George Perez and it features Shade the Changing Man.

I've raved about Perez's artwork in the past, and he just seems to keep getting better. With this issue he gets to tackle all kinds of strange images, but despite the amazing amount of detail, he keeps the story powerful, clear and easy to follow.

The story, written by Peter Milligan, introduces us to two key characters: Rac Shade, who has (apparently) been returned to his other-dimensional home (for mysterious reasons), and The Enchantress, a mystic figure who's searching for Shade for reasons of her own.

The issue mostly sets up the story, but it's a good start, and I'll be back for the rest of the series - though I'm not sure Perez will be there. The last five pages were handled by Fernando Blanco, who also did the layouts for 3/4 of the issue, with Scott Koblish providing the inks.

Getting back to Shade, I was a big fan of the character when legendary artist Steve Ditko created him in the '70s. We saw eight terrific issues before the character disappeared in the so-called "DC Implosion," a sad fate for a character with terrific potential - I thought it was Ditko's best work since his days at Marvel in the '60s.

Shade was brought back as a Vertigo character under Milligan, but I didn't pick up that series because it was obvious from a quick scan that it wasn't the same character.

Here Milligan seems to be trying to bridge the gap between the two characters (the original and the Vertigo version), and so far it's very interesting. The title also has a fun mystery going over the indentities of (and the fates of) the Secret Seven.

And look at that cover - Shade hovering over a crowd of hundreds of terror-filled faces. Is that enough detail for you, James? (Insert smiley face here.)

Grade: A-


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Hellboy: The Fury #1 (of 3)

This story has been building for quite a while, and this three-issue series is where all the chickens come home to roost.

Set in Arthurian legends and tying back to Hellboy's first appearance, we have two armies getting set to go to war - one made up of England's heroic (and quite dead) knights, and the other of the most foul demons and monsters.

At the center is Hellboy, who refuses to give in to fate or destiny and instead tries to carve his own path, even if it means he has to face overwhelming odds and an incredibly powerful opponent.

It's a terrific story, full of unexpected twists, lots of humor (dark and otherwise), and a worthy opponent for Hellboy.

The art by Duncan Fegredo is outstanding, with amazing detail, mood and dark menace. If Mike Mignola (who wrote the story) can't do the art, it's good to have a craftsman like Fegredo on the job.

Of course, I'm not sure how he feels about having to draw two armies getting ready for battle, but he certainly does it well.

This has been an outstanding series so far, and I'm anxious to see the next two chapters. Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Saturday, June 4, 2011

X-Men: First Class

I saw the X-Men: First Class movie this afternoon and enjoyed it quite a bit.

Set in the '60s (an interesting choice), it outlines the alliance of Professor X and Magneto as they track down mutants and try to combat the efforts of some evil mutants.

It's all cleverly woven with real-world events and attitudes. The story is (mostly) smart and well-done, though it seems odd to anchor the team so firmly in the '60s. So in the modern day these characters are all in their 70s, 80s and 90s? I guess it doesn't matter as long as they keep it set in the past.

It's fun to see the characters they include, with more than a few surprises there, and lots of "Easter Eggs" along the way.

If Stan Lee had a cameo, I didn't see him (and he wasn't listed in the credits as an actor) - a terrible oversight.

I can't say it's the best superhero movie ever, but it's fun with a solid story, and it's probably the best of the four X-Men movies, so that's pretty good.

I recommend it.

Static Shock Special #1 (One Shot)

Among the many mysteries in life is this one: why is Static not starring in a hugely popular comic book?

Created in 1993 by Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Derek Dingle and Michael Davis, Static is a teenager named Virgil Hawkins who gains superpowers during the mysterious "bang baby" event, where dozens were apparently exposed to a rare gas that left them transformed - some into super-heroes, others into super-villains.

Being an extremely intelligent young man with quick wits and a great sense of humor, he invents a heroic persona and uses his mastery of electricity to fight the good fight.

I liked the comic from that first issue - it really captured the feel of the original Spider-Man stories, with a great mix of serious adventure, smart stories, lots of humor and interesting personal stories.

The series enjoyed some success, spinning off into a good cartoon titled Static Shock. These days the character pops up every now and then in guest spots and one-shot issues like this one.

This issue is obviously intended as a well-deserved tribute to the sadly departed McDuffie, who died far too young.

The story centers around the release from prison of Static's uncle Teshome Hawkins, who was framed for a crime and spent 10 years behind bars. On his release, Teshome is targeted by a powerful gangster who wants revenge - and it's up to Static to figure out a way to rescue his uncle.

The story is written by Felicia Henderson and penciled by Denys Cowan. They do fine work - I especially like the art - but the story is just too truncated to have the desired emotional effect.

The issue is rounded out with a two-page feature that's a more direct tribute to McDuffie, and there are several pin-ups featuring characters from the Milestone Comics universe.

While this effort isn't quite up to the standards of the original series, it does show the potential of the character, which is sadly being wasted while he languishes in comic book limbo.

I honestly think Static could be a top-tier character IF he had an ongoing comic book with a solid creative team, and if he got any kind of marketing push. He could be the Spider-Man of the '90s - but if he's relegated to just occasional appearances, he'll never live up to his potential.

Frankly, it's criminal.

Grade: B