Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Classics - The Books of Magic #1 (of 4)

So here's a great idea for a story.

Start with a young boy who looks like any typical nerd - skinny, glasses, tangled mass of hair. He thinks he's just another kid, but then four mysterious men show up and reveal to him that magic is real and that he's actually a wizard - possibly the most powerful one ever.

That begins his education into the world of magic, lessons fraught with danger and excitement.

Of course, everyone knows the name of the young magician: Tim Hunter.

For those who guessed Harry Potter, don't feel bad - though the mini-series and continuing series called The Books of Magic was popular when it was first published in 1990, it was eclipsed by the hero of J.K. Rowling's books - even though the first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, wasn't released until June 1997.

Thankfully, there were never any lawsuits (both Harry and Tim benefit from being under the wings of Warner Brothers, of course) - in fact, now that the Potter movies are finished, perhaps they should look into the somewhat darker story that begins in this issue.

The four-part Prestige mini-series that kicks off the series was written by Neil Gaiman - who needs no introduction - and the first issue was drawn by the incredibly talented John Bolton - and an amazing bit of work it is, depicting everything from the origin of the Universe (and of magic) to the gruesome history of the practice of magic on Earth.

Each chapter features Tim being guided by a different figure from DC's magical universe - the Phantom Stranger, John Constantine, Mr. E and Dr. Occult.

The series provided a great primer for the world of magic in the DC Universe - and created a terrific new character at the same time.

It's a dark but extremely well-done series and well worth tracking down.

Those Harry Potter books are good, too.

Grade: A


New Comics - and an Explanation

Just back in town after a work-related trip, so please bear with me - I'll get the "classics" review up shortly.

In the meantime, here's what I picked up on this historic day for comics:

- Flashpoint #5 (of 5) - Secrets revealed! Universes changed!

- Herc #6.1 - Learning about Hercules - with art by Mike Grell!

- Incredible Hulks #635 - The end of the line for writer Greg Pak.

- Journey Into Mystery #626.1 - Learning about Loki.

- Justice League #1 - A new beginning!

- Rocketeer Adventures #4 (of 4) - More great art!

- Secret Avengers #16 - A wild one from Warren Ellis.

- The Mighty Thor #5 - Odin vs. Galactus!

- Uncanny X-Force #14 - A showdown between powerhouses.

And that's it!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Retroactive 1990s: Justice League America (One-Shot)

The Retroactive series of comics seems like an odd project for DC to tackle.

The company is focusing on the Flashpoint series and the assorted mini-series and one-shots that tie into that series.

Of course, the idea is (I assume) to celebrate the history of the company, even as we stand on the edge of its (presumed) end, and the beginning of a "new era."

That's commendable, but I can't imagine the sales on this series are anything to write home about. The $5 price tag and the fact that half the comic is a reprint seems like a tough sell.

I have to admit, I've only picked up two issues - the "Mod" Wonder Woman issue, and this one, which is dedicated to the Keith Giffen - J. M. DeMatteris - Kevin Maguire incarnation of the Justice League America.

That version was a big hit with the fans because of the humor, sharp writing, fun characterization and (of course) great art by Maguire.

I couldn't pass up one more story from that team, and while it's not the best thing they've ever done, this story does stand up well, it has a few laughs and lots of great art.

The reprint in the back is from the team's last issue during the original run, and it's fitting that the blurb at the end promises "A New Beginning."

That's what we'll get on Wednesday. Time will tell if new is better. Here's hoping!

Grade: B+

Monday, August 29, 2011

Dark Horse Presents #3

You'd think the Dark Horse Presents series would be a tough sale, since the cover price is a gulp-inducing $7.99.

But it's actually well worth the price for a couple of reasons.

First of all, it's a heck of a bargain - you get 104 pages of comic - about equal to four regular comics - at a cheaper price than three normal issues.

Second of all, each issue features some of the industry's top talent. This issue alone includes Dave Gibbons, Paul Chadwick, Steranko, Neal Adams, Howard Chaykin and Rich Corben.

And while each story is relatively short, they're an outstanding mix of action, humor, science fiction, fantasy, horror - in other words, a little bit of everything.

The Steranko feature is a chapter from his remastered graphic novel Red Tide, which features the private eye named Chandler. The author claims it was the first-ever graphic novel, and he makes a persuasive argument for it (feel free to discuss amongst yourselves).

There's also a rambling (and somewhat rare) interview with Steranko included. I'm not sure if the Red Tide story is being serialized here or if this is just a "sneak peek." (It is labeled Chapter One.)

Other favorite stories include: a new Concrete adventure in which the stone activist goes into crime fighting (sorta); Gibbons' look at a futuristic cross between a cop show and reality TV; Chaykin's analysis of a hit man; and the strange character known as Number 13.

I should add that, in addition to stories by hall-of-famers, there are several stories by some impressive up-and-coming talent, too.

I really like this series, and as long as they can maintain this caliber of talent, I'll be there.

Grade: A-


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Justice Society of America #54

So there's good news and bad news.

The bad news is, this is the final issue of the Justice Society of America. Also, the story here is pretty bad. (It's another one of those "demigod goes wild, destroys the city, and the heroes can't stop it" things.)

The good news is, the art is great - from the iconic cover by Darwyn Cooke to the interiors by Jerry Ordway - and DC has just announced that it will bring back the JSA in a few months, reportedly setting the team's adventures on Earth-2 (where it belongs).

I'm not sure if the "new" JSA will include heroes like the Golden Age Flash, Hawkman, Atom or Green Lantern (not to mention the original Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman), or if DC will stick to the heroes who aren't duplicated on Earth-1.

Whatever the case, it's good to hear the team is getting a fresh start, because it's been struggling since writer Geoff Johns left the series. It's been through various hands, and no one seems to be able to bring the series back to its former glory.

They tried splitting the team into two books (terrible idea), making the JSA a virtual army like the Legion of Super-Heroes (that didn't work), and giving the team a new setting and strange new villains to fight (no one cared).

What makes the JSA work is its sense of history and the family atmosphere - the idea that these old warriors are training the new heroes of today. Make them characters we care about, throw in some humor and some entertaining action sequences - and most important of all, tell a good story.

If they can achieve those goals, they can make the team as exciting and fresh as... well, as they look on the cover of this issue.

Here's hoping!

Grade: B


Saturday, August 27, 2011

FF #8

For quite a few issues of FF the story has been mostly concerned with moving all the characters into place (don't get me wrong, this has all been happening in a very entertaining manner, as you'd expect from writer Jonathan Hickman) - but with this issue, the action part of our program kicks into gear.

The four cities have gone to war, and the result is a chaotic battle that includes the return of a major character who was thought to be dead (no, not the Human Torch), the assembling of an army of super-villains, a diminished (but still potent) Fantastic Four (sorry, I mean FF) and a menace that just might destroy the world.

And that's just part of it all - we have inter-family squabbles, Reed's daughter trying again to outsmart her dad, and a scene I've been waiting for.

Dr. Doom has been treated poorly by writers in recent years - he was beaten badly - twice - killed, had his brain damaged, and forced to turn to his most bitter foe to be rehabilitated. Doom should be Marvel's most formidable foe, not a punching bag.

But in this issue - finally - we see a glimpse of the real Dr. Doom, and it's mighty satisfying - and, I suspect, just the beginning.

The art is by Steve Epting with colors by Paul Mounts, and they turn in some impressive work here, illustrating cosmic events, a cast of thousands and some Kirby-sized battles.

There are just four issues left until we (presumably) see the return of the Fantastic Four, and a story this big will no doubt take that many issues just to sort things out.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A-


Friday, August 26, 2011

John Byrne's Next Men #9

The final issue of this nine-issue story arc for the John Byrne's Next Men manages the difficult task of wrapping up a time travel story that, in lesser hands, would have been a confused mess.

Instead, it's a smart, clearly-told adventure that plays fair with the reader while offering up lots of surprises, interesting characters and clever twists.

Having suffered through a number of traumatic events - including developing super-powers, being tortured, assaulted and controlled (to name a few) - the surviving members of the Next Men may have found a way to alter their destiny, thanks to the time-traveling technology at their disposal.

But... (there's always a big "but," as the old joke says) the solution may mean the destruction of the team.

As always Byrne crafts a sharply detailed story (although Jazz gets to be a bit annoying here, her reactions are true to the character), and the art is fantastic, running the range from intimate moments to world-changing events.

I wouldn't recommend this issue to a new reader (wait for the collection), but this is a rewarding wrap-up for longtime readers, and paves the way for the next (and possibly final) Next Men story.

Grade: A


Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Ultimates #1

This issue arrived in a plastic bag, though the reasons why seem difficult to discern.

There are no big revelations, no shocks that require a barrier to keep the reader from turning to the last page.

(I know, the bag is there to hide which issue comes with a special autograph. It still seems silly.)

Anyway, here we have a new version of The Ultimates (or at least the latest version - there are no new characters on display). And the story starts off smack in the middle of a number of disasters-about-to-happen, and the team is spread thin trying to keep up.

Oh, and despite the cover, there's no Captain America to be seen here - he apparently quit the team during Ultimate Fallout.

The star of the book is actually Nick (Samuel Jackson) Fury, who is faced with deadly threats on a number of fronts, including some he's not aware of.

One features a somewhat-disguised Reed Richards, who has become a villain for no apparent reason, one features a mysterious naval assault on Uruguay, one focuses on the irritating presence of Asgard over the skies of Europe, with the additional question: just whose side is Thor on?

It's all big and bold and loaded with dark purpose, and obviously we're just getting the beginnings of the story here - but the series is off to a very disjointed start, and it seems like it would be a bit difficult for new readers to sort out.

Heck, I've been reading comics forever and I struggled in places. (What is a SEAR, anyway?)

There's certainly a lot of action to go around, but with the team scattered all over the globe, there's no sense of "team" established. Yet.

I like the artwork by Esad Ribic, which features a fresh and energetic style. It's a bit on the dark side, but that matches the mood of the story perfectly.

I have to admit that I'm struggling a bit to get into the "new" Ultimate Universe. They've worked so hard to tear it down, I'm not sure I have the energy to wait while they build it back up.

And frankly, the dark tone of this series isn't much encouragement. I trust writer Jonathan Hickman to turn in outstanding work - but at the moment, I'm on the fence with The Ultimates.

Grade: B+


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Today's Comics

Today I picked up:

- Captain America & Bucky #621 - The real story of their first mission.

- Dark Horse Presents #3 - A remasterered version of Steranko's Red Tide and an interview with the master.

- FF #8
- The build-up is over, it's time to go to war.

- Justice Society of America #54
- The sad end for a once-great series.

- Mystery Men #4 (of 5)
- This has been good and pulpy.

- Next Men #9 - The surprising end of the latest chapter.

- Retroactive 1990s: Justice League America
- One last go-round with Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire.

- The Ultimates #1
- Big trouble is brewing.

- Flashpoint: Project Superman #3 (of 3)
- A slugfest between Supermen.

- Uncanny X-Force #13
- Dark times in an alternate universe.

And that's it!

The Classics - Challengers of the Unknown #47

By the time this comic came out (it's cover dated December 1965 - January 1966), I was picking up fewer of DC's titles and gravitating toward Marvel's line - but one of the DC books I held onto the longest was Challengers of the Unknown.

(Don't worry, I eventually came back to DC's titles - but it took several years.)

Like The Doom Patrol, the Challs were very different from most of DC's heroes. For one thing, they didn't really get along, although it was obvious they were friends and good teammates.

But they would argue, they would tease each other, they would crack jokes - they just seemed like a fun group to be around.

Which seems funny, since their origin was a bit odd and decidedly serious. The four men who made up the team were each experts in their field: Kyle "Ace" Morgan (a pilot), Matthew "Red" Ryan (a daredevil), Leslie "Rocky" Davis (a boxer) and Walter Mark "Prof" Haley (a scientist). They survive a terrible plane crash, decide they're living "on borrowed time" and devote their lives to exploring the ultimate mysteries.

That brings them in conflict with an amazing array of monsters, aliens and strange life forms.

This issue was a particular favorite because of the lead story (there are two stories in this issue). In "The Sinister Sponge," an ordinary man is transformed into a Sponge-Man, capable of absorbing anything - sound, energy, even color.

This gave long-time (and vastly underrated) Challengers artist Bob Brown lots of room for fun visuals, as a crime spree leads to widespread destruction.

But the surprising thing about the story is the fact that it doesn't wrap up with a happy resolution. Writer Bill Finger (one of the greatest of the Golden and Silver Age writers) takes what could be another "Challs vs. a monster" story and makes it a tragic tale.

The Sponge-Man is actually the victim of a freak accident and led into crime by a con man. When his actions accidentally threaten the lives of the Challengers, the Sponge-Man saves them. But the ending of the story is the real surprise, though I won't spoil it here.

The backup story written by France Herron and drawn by Brown is a bit thin, as the team is trapped by Mr. Tic-Tac-Toe (honest!), and other than some nice art and a few clever uses of the game design, there's not much there.

In fact, the issue is a good synopsis of the team's comics: when they were good, they were great fun; but when the stories were just OK, the series suffered.

After too much of the latter (and a shuddering infusion of campy stories), the series ended with issue #75. There have been some attempts to bring the team back, but these days they're rarely seen.

It would be great to see a series take the team back to its over-the-top style - but these days, comics are a serious business, so perhaps we'll have to be satisfied with the occasional guest appearances.

Grade: B+


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Flashpoint: Wonder Woman and the Furies #3 (of 3)

Flashpoint #5 must be a heck of an issue, because apparently every mini-series dovetails into it.

In other words, after reading three issues of Wonder Woman and the Furies (a "mini-series within a mini-series") and the parallel Emperor Aquaman mini-series, nothing is resolved.

The Amazons and the Atlanteans are still at war, most of Europe is in ruins, Wonder Woman and Aquaman are both acting like villains, and just as the "final battle" begins, the issue ends with a "To Be Continued in Flashpoint."

Oh, the plotters are revealed, but their scheme frankly make no sense - the logic is essentially "we had to destroy the village to save it." Right.

But the good news is, we're almost at the end of this event, and we'll see how it all wraps up. As it stands, it looks like the entire series has just been an exercise of the creative teams deciding to turn all the characters on their heads just for the fun of it.

It hasn't exactly been DC's proudest moment. Here's hoping that final issue and the new, rebooted version of the DC Universe redeems this mess.

Grade: C-


Monday, August 22, 2011

Captain America #2

One of the tricky things about Captain America's ties to World War II is that it's more difficult with each passing year to reach back to his old foes, since they would all be reaching an advanced age by now.

But that's no obstacle to a clever writer like Ed Brubaker, who manages to link a modern adventure to Cap's experiences in WWII, keeping it all fresh and exciting.

He manages that by creating new characters, including Jimmy Jupiter, a clever "real world" approximation for a certain comic strip kid named Nemo.

It's a smart bit of business that explains why one of Cap's former allies - or would competitor be a better word? - is still young, vital and a good match for the super-soldier.

Steve McNiven is doing exceptional artwork here, working with inkers Jay Leisten and Dexter Vines, and colorist Justin Ponsor. The sequence where Cap leads an attack on a Hydra base is pure poetry.

So, great story, mysteries being revealed, strong action scenes, terrific art - all I can say is: you really should be reading this one.

Grade: A


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ultimate Fallout #6 (of 6)

So I'm assuming the discussion at Marvel went something like this:

"After we kill the Ultimate version of Spider-Man, we'll restart the series with a new issue #1!"

"Great, but there must be some way to squeeze a few more dollars out of this."

"Hey, we should do a mini-series that ties up all the loose ends left behind by the death of Spider-Man. We'll use top artists, writer Brian Bendis, make it a weekly so we can get to the new title and charge top dollar!"

"Terrific idea! But make sure all the events are teasers for the upcoming issues so we don't actually resolve anything."

"Yeah, and make sure you never actually show Peter Parker's body in case we have to bring him back from the dead faster than we'd planned."

"And let's be sure to put in a few emo scenes for Nick Fury - he's been too macho lately, we need to make him more likeable."

"Great! So the series will be an ad for the new Ultimate titles, not resolve anything, and cost the fans $24!"

"Exactly! Now, we haven't quite managed to kill off the Ultimate titles yet, so let's start planning the next mini-series..."

Grade: C-


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Avengers #16

It seems that the series most affected by an "Event" is the one that struggles the most with what to do while the event is running its course.

That seems to be the problem with The Avengers, as this issue is given over to a side-story that makes little sense and doesn't accomplish anything - unless you count "stalling for time."

Brian Bendis' story doesn't make sense because it's sandwiched in between two key moments in the Fear Itself series. We saw a key character get killed in one issue of the mini-series, and the next issue we saw Captain America's reaction to it.

This issue shows us that Cap took time in between those moments to fly to Europe with three key female SHIELD agents to try to track down the Red Skull's daughter Sin - but wasn't she always at the head of the invading army that's been smashing cities since the first issue of Fear Itself?

What follows is several pages of all-out action, and artist John Romita Jr. has fun putting the heroes through their paces.

But that's all there is to it - by the end, everything is back where it started, There's some solid artwork, a few clever lines - and a story that seems to be unnecessary.

Hopefully, once Fear Itself has run its course, this comic can go back to telling stories that matter.

Grade: C+


Friday, August 19, 2011

Daredevil #2

I love it when the comics companies create stories that are exactly what I've been hoping for.

That's what we're getting with the new Daredevil, as written by Mark Waid and drawn by Paolo and Joe Rivera.

For the first time in far too long, Matt Murdock is starring in a fun comic book.

The creative team has followed the time-honored technique of going back to basics - way back, to the original version of the character: Daredevil is a happy-go-lucky, wise-cracking hero who is blind, but had his senses increased in a radiation accident that also gave him a radar sense. He is The Man Without Fear. In real life he is Matt Murdock, a brilliant attorney who often defends the super-villains he captures. His best friend and law partner is Foggy Nelson.

And that's all you need! Recent events aren't entirely forgotten, however. This issue kicks off with a terrific encounter between DD and an angry Captain America, who has decided to arrest DD for recent crimes (the less said about Shadowland the better).

Daredevil's skill at debating serves him well, and we're quickly back to the legal subplot - and we find out (sorta) the mysterious plot against his client, which features a surprising guest-villain.

I really like the artwork - it has an open, freewheeling feel that matches the (new) tone of the comic. The action scenes flow nicely, and Rivera creates some clever new ways to depict DD's view of the world.

If you're not reading this, you're missing one of Marvel's most entertaining books.

Highly recommended - especially if you have a sense of humor!

Grade: A


Thursday, August 18, 2011

X-Men Schism #3 (of 5)

Let's see if I have this straight: according to this issue of X-Men Schism, children are the most deadly foe imaginable, some of the most experienced and powerful X-Men are patsies, and the friendship and loyalty of Cyclops and Wolverine hangs by a slender thread.

Jason Aaron's story gives us a newer and deadlier version of the team's old foes, the Hellfire Club - but now that group is led by several children who use their wealth and power to capitalize on the worldwide mutant panic by selling Sentinels to countries around the world.

But there are other facets to their plan, and in this issue they tackle a group of the X-Men at a public event. Most opponents would be concerned, going up against the likes of Magneto, Namor, Colossus and Emma Frost - but not these kids.

If it all sounds silly - well, it is. But the battle sets up a turning point that shows the first crack in the friendship of Cyclops and Wolverine (though it's a bit much that they get mad at each other over something they have little control over).

The best thing about this series has been the all-star artist lineup, and this time around we get Daniel Acuna, with lush painted art that's brimming with energy and menace.

I was just about ready to drop this series, because the story hasn't been working for me - but I was hooked by that final page.

So it looks like I'll be there until the bitter end.

At least the art is excellent!

Grade: B-


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

New Comics Day!

Here's what I picked up today:

- Sergio Aragones Funnies #2
- Good clean fun.

- Avengers #16
- Clearing up some loose ends.

- Avengers Academy #18 - The kids vs. two of the Worthy!

- Captain America #2 - Great art, great story - what's not to like?

- Conan: Road of Kings #7
- Conan captures a rare prize.

- Daredevil #2 - DD vs. Cap! I'm really enjoying this comic.

- Flashpoint: Wonder Woman and the Furies #3 (of 3) - The final showdown - almost.

- Invincible Iron Man #507 - Things get weird in Asgard.

- Journey Into Mystery #626 - Loki's getting into mischief again...

- Ultimate Fallout #6 (of 6) - Wrapping up loose ends.

- Uncanny X-Men #542 - Nothing stops the Juggernaut.

- X-Men: Schism #3 (of 5) - Attack of the new and deadlier Hellfire Club.

And that's it!

The Classics - Conan the Barbarian #25

This issue of Conan the Barbarian was a bit of a shock.

With the exception of a two-issue fill-in story drawn by Gil Kane, the penciling on Conan's comic (up to this one) was provided by Barry Smith (now Barry Windsor-Smith).

As I've mentioned before, Smith made amazing progress as an artist in that (more or less) two-year span. His first issue was frankly crude, but his final issue of the color comic was amazing - detailed, loaded with characters and life and showing off Smith's unique style.

And then issue #25 came along - and Smith was gone. It wasn't his last Conan work - he'd draw the adaptation of Red Nails for the Savage Tales magazine - but he had built a rabid fan base and we were shocked when he left so suddenly. (He is credited as the co-plotter on this issue, which is cover-dated April 1972.)

Luckily, one of Marvel's best artists took up the reins, and put his own indelible stamp on Conan's career.

"Big" John Buscema wasted no time in giving the book a different look. His Conan was a big, powerful, snarling brute, with long black hair and a square jaw. In virtually every panel he's hurling himself into action or snarling angrily.

The art wasn't as detailed as Smith's, but Buscema made up for it by amping up the dramatics and filling each page with interesting characters, intense events and loads of action.

Buscema must have enjoyed the title, because he stayed with it a long time, and also penciled a significant number of stories for The Savage Sword of Conan magazine.

He flourished (and suffered) under a vast number of inkers - I always thought his best work was seen on the rare occasions when he inked his own work. In this issue he gets solid treatment from his brother Sal Buscema. The great John Severin is also credited as an embellisher, but his work appears on a two-page Kull flashback that looks like pure Severin to me. Just to keep it all in the family, John's sister Marie does her usual outstanding work providing the colors.

Lest I forget to mention it, the writing was by Roy Thomas, of course, and it's a terrific story of wizards, some deadly mirrors and a gruesome fate.

I was a big fan of Conan before this comic came along, and I was so pleased with how well Marvel adapted that hero's adventures (though they had to sanitize things a bit, of course).

And kudos to Buscema for taking over a title that was so locked into one artist - and making it his own.

Grade: A-


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Incredible Hulks #634

I'm sorry to see Greg Pak's run on The Incredible Hulk(s) coming to an end.

Like any great writer, he shook up the status quo on this title, starting with the Planet Hulk story and continuing through his final story arc, of which this is the next-to-the-last issue.

It's the fifth part of the so-called "Wishing War," which has the Hulk dealing with the unexpected results when Tyrannus' Fountain of Youth is transformed into sort of an aquatic Cosmic Cube.

But there's confusion about whose wishes are being granted, and the story seeks to sort that out, all framed with an over-the-top battle that shows what happens when the Hulk really cuts loose (answer: it ain't pretty).

It a tale full of twists, turns and unexpected revelations - all of which have become a specialty for Pak.

The art is (I assume) by Paul Pelletier (I can't seem to find the actual credits in the comic, so I'm going by the cover credits), and it's quite good, if a bit on the dark side. It's all big and loud and violent as can be.

The only thing about the issue I don't care for is the cover - the coloring gives it all a muted look, and dragon and Hulk and the rocks all blend together. I know my eyesight isn't the best, but I almost missed this issue at the store - the cover didn't jump out at all.

But I'm anxiously awaiting that final chapter, and see how Pak wraps up his run on the title - whoever follows him on this comic has some big shoes to fill!

Grade: B+


Monday, August 15, 2011

Alpha Flight #3 (of 8)

I'm still on the fence with the new version of Alpha Flight.

One the one hand, I agree with almost everything the creative team has done.

They've restored the team's original line-up with relatively minor tinkering (Marrina looks and acts different and Puck and Vindicator are apparently crazy), but they've also turned the team into outlaws and most of Canada's leaders have apparently gone mad.

The story by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente is all over the map. There's a feeble attempt to link this mini-series with Fear Itself, but in this issue, the connection is almost non-existent. Alpha Flight is forced to go on the run - then they stop - and then they run again. Aurora is losing her mind - and then, after a disturbing incident, she's fine.

There just seem to be too many ideas (and characters) flying around here, and I suspect any new reader will be completely lost.

I like Dale Eaglesham's art a lot, although there's so much story here, he doesn't have much room to flex his artistic muscles - but the story is clean and clearly told.

Three issues in (and five to go) and I'm still not sure if I like this series. Apparently there are big events in the wind, so I'll hang on for now - but just barely.

Grade: B-


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Booster Gold #47

It's funny that Booster Gold often takes part in pivotal moments in DC history, but never really benefits from it.

A clever concept created (and often drawn by) Dan Jurgens, Booster is a man from the future who steals some futuristic tech and travels to modern times, where (he reasons) he can use his "abilities" to become a hero. First he has to overcome his own failings - narcissism and cockiness, to name two.

He did this in his original series, which also featured the first "guest star" appearance of the "new" Superman, right on the heels of John Byrne's reboot of the character in the Man of Steel mini-series.

But that didn't save Booster from cancellation. He's been a member of the Justice League, and he was one of the pivotal heroes in the weekly 52 comic - and he saved the multiverse, though no one knows it.

He returned to his own comic about four years ago, and it focused on his efforts to repair problems in the time stream - again, he got (almost) no credit for his work.

But here we come to the end of the road for Booster, as this is the last issue in the series (though don't worry, he'll appear in one of the new Justice League titles).

Sadly, he ends his run with a whimper, not a bang. Other than the Flash, Booster is the only hero who realizes that the Flashpoint reality is the wrong one.

So for several issues he fights Doomsday, works with a newly-created hero, seeks out the Flash - and then the story just crashes to a halt, with an ending that (while fitting in a way) is ultimately a cheat on the reader.

And this is why this comic never quite made it - the hero is tentative, his accomplishments are hidden (or cease to exist), which undercuts his heroism, and he's treated as a joke by the other heroes - not an equal. If they don't respect him, how can we?

It's a shame, because the character has great potential - but it hasn't been realized yet.

Nice art, though.

Grade: B-


Saturday, August 13, 2011

The New Avengers #15

Believe it or not, this issue of The New Avengers stars Squirrel Girl.

Largely a joke since her first appearance (despite carrying the pedigree of being created by comics legend Steve Ditko and Will Murray), the running gag is that she's actually a formidable opponent, having defeated villains like Dr. Doom and Thanos. Honest.

She's not actually a member of the Avengers, but she has been hired to be the nanny (and protector) of the infant daughter of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones.

Here we learn a bit more about her background and her abilities as she spars with Wolverine and finds herself in the middle of a major battle in New York.

The art by Mike Deodato is impressive as always - fluid and frenetic, with a Neal Adams-like hyper-realism, and despite the down-to-Earth nature of the heroine, Deodato gets to tackle some big action sequences.

So this issue isn't for everyone - not many readers are that invested in Squirrel Girl, after all - but reading this issue might change their minds. A bit silly, but lots of fun.

Grade: B+


Friday, August 12, 2011

Hellboy: The Fury #3 (of 3)

Hellboy: The Fury is the kind of comic that makes my job a real challenge.

That's because of my "No Spoilers" policy - I do my best not to give away anything that happens in a comic that might spoil your reading experience. (You know, like Marvel does when they give the news media a copy of the panel where Ultimate Spider-Man unmasks two days before the comic is released. Not that I'm bitter.)

This series, and several connected mini-series before it, all written by Mike Mignola, have been building to a big confrontation, and in this issue it happens. In spades.

Hellboy takes part in the most brutal fight of his career - and the events that spill out of it are frankly shocking and unexpected.

But I can't tell you about them, because that would ruin the story. So all I can say is, you really should be buying this comic. It tells a powerful story of horror and adventure with serious consequences.

The art is outstanding as well. Duncan Fegredo isn't Mignola, but he works in the same neighborhood, with a similar style and a great affinity for horror and brutal action scenes.

I can't talk any more about it - I'll give something away! Go read it now!

Grade: A


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fear Itself #5 (of 7)

Marvel has traditionally been very, very good at action.

I'm talking good ol' bare knuckles, knock down, drag out, slobberknocker, building smashing, city crashing, over-the-top-and-then-some battles.

And that's what this issue delivers - and much more!

How's this: a battle royale between Thor and a demon-possessed Hulk and Thing? It's the kind of big league battle we don't see too often these days, and it's entertaining as all get-out.

But there's much more going on here than just one fight. We see Iron Man's plan to fight back against the forces of the Serpent, and we see Captain America face one of his darkest moments.

Matt Fraction crafts a heck of a classic Marvel story here, with big stakes, big events and surprising twists.

Artist Stuart Immonen and inker Wade Von Grawbadger just seem to get better with every issue. Battle sequences are very difficult to do well - the artist must depict the flow of the story, maximize the dramatic impact and build the tension every step of the way. Immonen handles it all with great skill - the stakes are high in the story, and the art rises to the challenge.

So far, this event is living up to the hype - let's hope the last two issues can deliver as well!

Grade: A


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Comics Today

Here's what I got today:

- Alpha Flight #3 (of 8) - A team of outlaws.

- New Avengers #15 - Squirrel Girl fights back! (Honest!)

- Booster Gold #47 - The end of the road for Booster.

- Doc Savage #17 - Not quite the end for Doc.

- Fear Itself #5 (of 7)
- Now that's what we call a slobberknocker.

- Flashpoint: Emperor Aquaman #3 (of 3) - The conspiracy is uncovered.

- Hellboy: The Fury #3 (of 3) - Well, I didn't see that one coming.

- Incredible Hulks #634 - Monsters throw down.

- Morning Glories #11 - More mysteries unfold.

- The Red Wing #2 (of 4) - More time travel goodness.

- Ultimate Fallout #5 (of 6) - Change is in the wind.

And that's it!

The Classics - Concrete #1

Comic books will occasionally try the "real world" approach, but it usually doesn't work - or it doesn't last.

It's a concept familiar to fans of "hard" science fiction - you allow one flight of fancy in the story, but the rest of it is true to reality.

One of the few comic books (and perhaps the only one) to manage this is Paul Chadwick's excellent Concrete.

I admit that when I first saw the character in a short story in Dark Horse Presents, I thought, "A big guy made of rocks - it's a ripoff of The Thing."

I was way off base.

Concrete was a man named Ronald Lithgow who went on a camping trip with a friend. They were captured (apparently) by aliens, who transplanted their minds into the rock-like "Concrete" bodies. The two attempt to escape, but only Lithgow makes it - and the alien ship blasts off, never to be seen again.

This leaves Concrete trying to cope with being trapped in a powerful alien form while living in the real world.

And Chadwick sticks to that concept - there are no supervillains, no supernatural or science fiction elements other than Concrete himself. (There are mysteries and plenty of adventure, of course.)

Concrete graduated to his (its?) own comic in 1987, and Chadwick does amazing work here, both with intelligent scripts that are loaded with unique and interesting characters, and outstanding artwork that balances real characters, real-world situations and an inventive sense of layout and design.

This issue is a great example of the kind of events Concrete would take part in. Some coal miners are trapped in a cave-in, and Concrete uses his great strength to attempt a rescue.

It's a tense look at how super-strength might work for real, and an interesting look at how the media reacts to the events.

It's great to see Concrete still in action these days, once again appearing in the new Dark Horse Presents series. With stories crafted by a terrific writer and an outstanding artist (who happen to be the same person), this is a great series and well worth the effort to track down.

It's the real deal.

Grade: A+


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Jonah Hex #70

This issue of Jonah Hex is (I assume) going to be the last issue for a while, as the character spins off into a new comic next month, All-Star Western, as part of the "new" DC.

Writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti decided to wrap up the series with an odd tale under the classic title "Weird Western." It's a disturbing tale of Jonah's final moments on Earth, but the reality of the events are up to the interpretation of the reader.

As the "last" Hex tale it manages to bring closure in a suitably weird way, with a number of disturbing events and revelations along the way.

The art chores are shared by Ryan Sook and Mick Gray on the first half of the book, and Diego Olmos and Jimmy Palmiotti on the rest. Both halves are excellent, but special kudos to Sook, who brings a classic artistic flair to his work that evokes some of the industry's top names, like Alex Raymond, Hal Foster and Bernie Wrightson.

It's a strong finish to the series (with some truly disturbing images) and some cameo appearances that will delight long-time readers.

Thank goodness this isn't the end - the creative teams have done some fantastic work on this series, and I'm anxious to see where they go from here.

Grade: A

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mystic #1

Well, this one suckered me right in.

Mystic gets off to a great start with that wonderful Amanda Conner cover - you can tell the nature of the two lead characters just by their expressions!

I haven't read any of the previous comics from CrossGen with this title - and I don't think I've ever run into work by any of the rest of the creative team involved - writer G. Willow Wilson, penciler David Lopex, inker Alvaro Lopez or colorist Nathan Fairbairn - but I hope to see more of their work in the future.

That's because this issue is just a heck of a lot of fun. It follows a fairly well-worn story: a couple of young women long to escape from an orphanage where they are treated badly by the wicked woman who runs the place, but many obstacles are in the way.

Nothing really unexpected happens as the basic story rolls along (although there are lots of surprises in the setting and the mechanics of this world) - but it's all told with a feisty, energetic take - and the lead characters are a delight.

The dark-haired Giselle is impetuous but pragmatic, and is always pushing Genvieve, the smart dreamer, into taking chances.

I really like the art - it's not overly dramatic, but it's focused on the emotions and the expressions of the lead characters, which helps make them that much more attractive and interesting.

It's a fantasy setting (of sorts), but the characters "feel" real - and that's not an easy trick to manage.

I wasn't expecting much out of this issue - so what a delight to find an entertaining story with some good twists on an old tale. Recommended!

Grade: A-


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Irredeemable #28

It's unusual for a comic books series to star a villain, and certainly there may be no more bloodthirsty bad guy in modern comics than the Plutonian.

This issue of Irredeemable brings "Tony" back to Earth after a sojourn in a mental hospital (of sorts) in deep space. For one of his first acts, he kills untold millions of people.

Which makes me wonder - has writer Mark Waid painted himself into a corner? Tony has Superman-level powers (actually, his powers are more on a level with the Silver Age Superman - he can do virtually anything). Only one hero can match him, and Tony brought back several other super-powered mental patients with him, forming his own team of immensely-powerful villains.

So how can this series end? With the destruction of life on Earth? With the death of the Plutonian? I'm not sure anything less than one extreme or the other will satisfy.

Peter Krause provides strong, dynamic artwork, with disaster striking on both a global scale and on a more personal level.

I have to say, even 10 years after 9/11, it's still upsetting to see this kind of widespread destruction depicted so casually.

It can be entertaining to see the bad guy win occasionally, but one hopes the good guys - if there are any still left - can still manage to win the day. But their chances are looking more slim with every issue.

Grade: B+


Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Punisher #1

Here's a character who has starred in some great comics - and some poor ones.

The Punisher started his career as a villain, and by many definitions he's still one - after all, he kills people. Granted, they're all bad guys who (many would say) deserve to be killed - but that doesn't make what he does any less illegal.

In the hands of the right creative team (Chuck Dixon, Garth Ennis, Mike Baron and Gerry Conway spring to mind as some of the best writers so far), The Punisher's adventures have all the allure of a good revenge flick, where the protagonist is so greviously wronged that he takes the law into his own hands and metes out justice on his own terms - no matter the cost to himself.

Frank Castle's origin (shockingly not repeated here) is that he's a war veteran who sees his wife and children brutally killed by mobsters. He somehow survives and dedicates his life and his incredible combat skills to permanently wiping out criminals.

This new series gives us a fresh look at the character - in fact, he's almost a complete mystery. He doesn't speak, there are no thought balloons - he's a ruthless machine of destruction.

The story begins with a tragic event - several gunmen crash a wedding party and cause a wholesale slaughter. (Need I mention that this is not a comic for young kids?)

What little exposition that's provided comes from the detectives investigating the case - but the Punisher is running his own investigation.

There's also a short backup story with a look at another grisly incident that gives the title character more of a chance to play hero. Sort of.

This is a grim, intense tale, told intelligently, that doesn't serve up the answers on a plate - the reader has to work a bit to sort it all out. But it's a excellent take on the character, and I look forward to more stories from writer Greg Rucka.

The art is by Marco Checchetto with colors by Matt Hollingsworth, and it's dark, grim and quite good. He knows just when to reveal and when to imply, and there are surprising touches of beauty next to true horror.

This isn't a comic for everyone. Some prefer more straightforward storytelling, and you don't get that here. Instead you get a story that's hard as nails and challenging.

But oh, the rewards.

Grade: A-


Friday, August 5, 2011

Flashpoint #4 (of 5)

With just one issue to go, it's time for the Flashpoint event to build to a fever pitch... but it doesn't quite happen.

Instead we get a series of quick scenes that seem to serve to keep the story dragging along until we get to the final page, and the moment we've been waiting for.

But first, The Flash, Batman and Cyborg have to gather a team of super-heroes - but almost everyone they track down is dysfunctional, surly, mentally imbalanced, or all three.

The story spends entirely too much time on gathering the forces, and then when they're together, instead of focusing on the Reverse-Flash (who's responsible for this alternate timeline), they travel to Europe to stop the continent-destroying battle between Aquaman and Wonder Woman.

It all serves as setup for the final issue, when we'll learn how the mess that is the Flashpoint reality becomes the (hopefully) more easily-understood reality of the New DC.

The strong point in this series, as always, is the artwork by Andy Kubert and Jesse Delperdang - fresh, dynamic and always in service to the story, they turn in great work here.

I'm anxious to see the final issue to see how this all sorts out - but it seems like the trip to get here has taken a lot longer than it should've.

Grade: B-


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ultimate Fallout #4 (of 6)

What a bunch of crap.

Oh, I'm not talking about the "new" Ultimate Spider-Man, who we meet for the first time in this issue.

I'm not even talking about what the story does to Reed Richards, one of my all-time favorite characters.

Or the last five pages, which flew in from left field and stayed there.

No, I'm talking about the fact that the "surprise" unveiling of the new Spider-Man didn't talk place in the pages of this issue. Instead, the panel with the character pulling back his mask was released the day before to news media, who snapped it right up and ran stories telling us more about the character than the story itself reveals.

I know, Marvel has to sell comic books, and advance publicity pumps up sales - but these spoilers completely ruin the reading experience.

I should point out that I was trying to avoid the stories. I like to be surprised by events in the books and comics and movies and TV shows that I enjoy. But for reasons that elude me, the marketing concept is, "Let's tell them something big is going to happen, and then give them the art so they can show it and people will rush into the comics shops and scoop up those issues in a speculation frenzy."

And if it ruins the story for those poor schlubs who've been following the story patiently for years, who cares?

Hopefully one day they'll realize, "We can build buzz by telling them that something shocking will happen, but we won't tell them what happens so the readers can enjoy the surprise!" (Don't hold your breath waiting.)

As for the controversy around the new Spidey and his racial background - who cares? Anyone of any race, gender or age could be Spider-Man. Should we be shocked when they shake up that angle?

Anyway, enough ranting. As for the comic itself, it's actually extremely average, although the artwork by Sara Pichelli, Salvador Larroca and Clayton Crain is quite good. We see "Spider-Man" fighting a lame villain, exhibiting some spider-powers, and that's about it.

We catch up with Reed Richards, another favorite character who's been mentally twisted out of shape. The final story sets up some "shocking" revelations that mostly adds up to a big, "Who cares?"

And that seems to be the imminent fate of the Ultimate Universe. In attempting to make it different from the regular Marvel Universe, the creative teams have smashed it all beyond recognition.

I've been following it since the beginning, and with each new story I find it more and more difficult to care. Probably because they keep killing off my favorite characters - or at least assassinating their personalities.

Grade: C-