Friday, September 30, 2011

Superman #1

After seeing the early adventures of the Man of Steel in Action Comics, we meet the "modern-day" Superman in this issue - well, sorta.

I say "sorta" because after reading the story, I feel like I know almost nothing about Clark Kent or Superman.

That's a bit surprising, because this is a comic that bulges at the edges, as writer and layout artist George Perez has jammed it full of tiny panels and loads of words, including dialogue, text and newspaper clippings.

But despite all that talk, the story that spools out is a bit of a mess. We see the "rebirth" of the Daily Planet as a modern newspaper, we meet the now unmarried Lois Lane who's running a TV station, we see Clark angrily denouncing the new ownership of the Planet, Superman flies around a bit, fights some terrorists, then a mysterious fire creature appears out of nowhere, fights Superman, and is defeated with no clue about its origins, purpose or intentions.

Oh, I forgot - some alien creature sounded a horn from atop Mt. Everest. Why? Apparently you have to read Stormwatch to find out. Unless, like me, you just don't care.

I've always been a big fan of Perez's artwork, and his cover is terrific. The interiors feature his layouts with finishes by Jesus Merino and Brian Buccellato, and it's good, but feels crushed in by the sheer number of panels on each page. Not many artists can manage the "hyper-detailed" art that Perez manages - perhaps that's the problem.

If this issue was supposed to introduce Superman to a new audience, it fails. We get brief visits with a mob of characters, but never spend enough time with anyone to get a sense of their character.

Action Comics was inventive and clever, but this issue just feels sluggish and confused. I can't recommend it.

Grade: B-


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Aquaman #1

If one of the goals of this series is to make Aquaman a more respected hero, it's off to a pretty good start.

The story by Geoff Johns gives the hero more character than we've seen in far too long.

Here he helps the police stop some bank robbers with some impressive feats of strength, demonstrating his speed, skill and near-invulnerability (think Namor).

He stops in a restaurant for a meal where he gets to clear up some questions about his powers - and he gets to show that he's a good person, too (a very nice touch).

The artwork by Ivan Reis is outstanding, of course, with some amazing action sequences and some delightful real-world characters, too.

The comic sets up the first major menace for Aquaman to face - an invasion from deep below the ocean - and in keeping with the "New 52," there's a bit of gore thrown in at the end of the story.

Despite that, I enjoyed this comic and am glad to see Aquaman back in rare form. He's had a sporadic run in comics, with strong creators taking a turn (Nick Cardy and Jim Aparo being two of the best artists) and then the book falling into lesser hands.

Hopefully, this team will hang around for a good long run. It's off to a great start!

Grade: A


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Loads of Comics

I picked up entirely too many comics today, including:

- Aquaman #1 - Hopefully this will succeed and he'll no longer be a punch line.

- New Avengers #16.1 - Norman Osborn is back!

- Avengers Academy #19
- Final showdown with the Worthy.

- Secret Avengers #17 - This is a weird one (in a good way).

- Breed III #5 - You know how comics like to have a shocking final page? This one wins.

- Captain America and Bucky #622 - The Invaders!

- FF #9 - All-Out War.

- The Flash #1 - Barry's back again!

- Justice League Dark #1 - Vertigo meets the JLA.

- The Savage Hawkman #1 - Trying something different.

- Herc #8 - Spider Island tie-in.

- Journey Into Mystery #628 - Loki's plan unfolds.

- Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz #1 (of 8) - These delightful adaptations continue.

- Superman #1 - Metropolis on fire.

- Teen Titans #1 - Red Robin is putting the band together.

- The Mighty Thor #6 - Final showdown with Galactus.

- The Ultimates #2 - War with the gods!

- Voodoo #1 - Ah, the tender story of a stripper superhero.

Whew! And that's it!

The Classics - Superman vs. Muhammad Ali

I recently cracked open the vault and unearthed some of my old Treasury Editions (the oversized comics from the '70s), so just for fun we'll be looking at those for the next few weeks.

In the interest of complete honesty, I'll confess a couple of things about the Superman vs. Muhammad Ali Treasury Edition that was released in 1978 (the actual title of the issue, believe it or not, is All-New Collectors' Edition #C-56).

My first reaction to it was, "This has to be the stupidest idea for a comic ever." The idea of a boxer - any boxer - fighting Superman was, on the face of it, dumb.

My second confession - and this is a tough one to admit today - is that I wasn't a fan of Muhammad Ali in 1978. I was never a huge boxing fan (basketball was my favorite sport at the time), and my fleeting impressions of Ali was that he was a braggart and swell-headed - not exactly qualities I admired in a sports figure in 1978.

I picked this issue up because it was drawn by Neal Adams. Period.

So imagine my surprise when, after reading the comic, I found that it was immediately one of my all-time favorite comics - and it made me a fan of Ali.

The story by Denny O'Neil and Adams has Earth facing destruction at the hands of an alien armada - a force too powerful for even Superman to handle. The mad leader of the Scrubb offers a challenge - Earth's champion must fight the Scrubb champion, with the fate of Earth hanging in the balance.

To determine the Earth's representative, Superman and Ali fight an elimination round - but it's on the Scrubb planet, which circles a red sun, so Superman's powers are nullified.

The story that follows is full of twists, turns, improbable events, wonderful heroics and sports action sequences - and an incredible space battle!

It also features some insightful sequences with Ali explaining the art of boxing, and his own use of psychology to outmaneuver his opponent. It gave me new-found respect for Ali's intelligence and skill, and it made me reconsider my (formerly ignorant) opinion - and I became a fan!

Adams was at his peak as an artist here, with cinematic fight scenes, amazing alien vistas and emotional impact on each page. The cover alone is worth the price of admission, as it features dozens and dozens of '70s celebrities in the audience.

It's a wonderful thing when a comic book (even a big, 73-page-long one) can surprise and delight and defy expectations, and this issue did that and more.

It holds up just as well today as it did 33 years ago. Ali and I may be older (even Superman has changed a bit), but the Champ's exploits still loom large, and while this may be just the tiniest slice of his legacy, it's one I'll always be grateful for, because it opened my eyes to a real-life hero.

Not too bad for a comic book.

Grade: A+


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Invincible Iron Man #508

I've been enjoying Matt Fraction's run as a writer on Invincible Iron Man, and the artwork by Salvador Larroca has been excellent (and continues that run here), but I think the team stumbled a bit with this issue.

The story here ties in directly to the (quite good) Fear Itself event, but the entire issue just ends up being a stalling tactic.

The story has Tony Stark in Asgard (of all places), having talked Odin into allowing him to create some special weapons to help the Avengers fight back against the evil-hammer-empowered beings known as The Worthy.

But first there's an odd side-trip to show Tony's battle with some kind of weird Golem created by an ally of The Serpent. It's visually interesting, a bit confusing and ends up having no real impact except to delay the story long enough to get us to the final pages of the latest chapter of Fear Itself.

Iron Man usually doesn't work well in the realm of the supernatural, and this story is no exception. I'm looking forward to the wrapup of the event, but this issue could have been skipped - you wouldn't have missed a thing.

(That's not exactly true - Pepper Potts is in grave danger as she faces the amped-up Grey Gargoyle - but even that feels like a delaying action.)

My advice: wait 'til the tie-in is over, then run back to this series.

Grade: C+


Monday, September 26, 2011

Supergirl #1

Supergirl gets the "clean reboot" treatment in the "New 52" as this story starts with her arrival on Earth.

But the story by Michael Green and Mike Johnson takes a different path from past versions of the story, as the title character arrives in a meteor shower and emerges from her spacecraft dazed, confused and in a distant country.

The story that follows is pretty slim - there's a lot of action and very little illumination about her past (other than the fact that she is from Krypton), and she spends most of the issue fighting for her life.

I enjoy the battle sequences, but it would have been nice to have a bit more story and / or character development in there.

I like the art a lot. I'm not familiar with Mahmud Asrar, but he turns in some powerful work here, with great characters, excellent layouts and strong action sequences.

My only complaint (it's more of a question) has to do with Supergirl's costume. They're back to the "swimsuit with long sleeves and a cape" look, which is fine (no more bare midriffs or flying while wearing a tiny skirt, which always seemed impractical) - but the odd part of the design has to do with the diamond-esque "Superman logo" shield that is placed (without the logo) over her crotch.

Maybe it's just me, but it looks like she's wearing a diaper. It looks fine on the cover - like it's part of the design, like Superman's red trunks - but inside the issue it seems to be a separate component of the costume. Anyway, a minor complaint, to be sure.

I'm interested enough in the story to be back next issue, but here's hoping for a little less destruction and more explaining.

Grade: B+


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Wonder Woman #1

Let me start by saying that I'm against censorship. If DC Comics wants to pile on the gore in comics that should be mainstream, that's their right - but it seems to me that it's a questionable business practice.

(We should also note that DC has instituted its own ratings system, though you have to look mighty hard to find the tiny "Rated T Teen" wording on the cover.)

All of which brings us to the latest "New" Wonder Woman. This issue impresses by having more gore than any other "New 52" issue (that I've read) to date, though I somehow doubt the record will stand for long.

What's so gory about it? Well, in the opening pages, a mysterious woman takes up a huge mowing scythe and cuts the head off a white horse, with clear illustrations of the severed head and the headless body, which then spawns a horrific creature that rises out of the bloody carcass.

Who's ready for a snack?

Now, if you're into horror, that's prime stuff, I suppose. But I have to think there are still girls out there who might pick up an issue, expecting the adventures of the world's most prominent superheroine - only to find the pages bathed in blood.

OK, enough of that. If you can get past the gory elements, you actually have a darned good comic, as written by Brian Azzarello. The story is loaded with mystery, as a strange creature shows up at a woman's home (apparently in a remote area) and tells her she's in danger - all this just as she's attacked by two monsters.

Wonder Woman is brought into the story by clever means, and she's a bit of a mystery - but she gets plenty of opportunities to show off her fighting skills, and the menace she's up against certainly promises to be challenging.

The art by Cliff Chiang is excellent, with a unique style that's loaded with powerful images and distinct characters. Diana is fierce, powerful and beautiful - and she's built like a real woman, not the usual comic book caricature. (Interesting to note that she's lost the black pants and has returned to her star-spangled skivvies.)

As has been stated many times over the years, the Wonder Woman character has long been in need of an infusion of new ideas.

This issue offers up an interesting setting for future stories (though one that's not appropriate for young readers). Hopefully the new creative team can continue down the path and figure out who Diana is and why we should care about her adventures.

Grade: A-


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ultimate X-Men #1

First issues usually offer up some kind of origin or explanation for what the series is all about.

Not so much these days.

The first issue of Ultimate X-Men would leave a new reader completely confused, because little to no attempt is made to introduce any of the characters. Not a problem for long-time readers, but a big problem for newbies.

Through a series of vignettes, we meet some of the former members of the original Ultimate X-Men, we meet the new faces from the Ultimate X series, and we meet some homeless heroes from Ultimate Spider-Man.

They're a pretty dysfunctional group of heroes - some aren't even identified - and they're all on the run from the government, which has declared all mutants should be considered terrorists who should be shot on sight, while at the same time admitting a surprising connection between the mutants and the U.S. government.

For all the angst and anger, nothing really seems to happen here beyond the sketchiest of introductions, and the whole story seems to be moving at a languid pace.

The art by Paco Medina and Juan Vlasco is quite good, with some great character work - but it's almost all talking heads.

I hate to sound infantile, but I'd expect first issues to start like a crack of thunder - this one is just the rumble of possible stories down the road, if the reader can stick around that long.

Grade: C


Friday, September 23, 2011

Batman #1

Batman is the fifth Bat-related book I've reviewed since the "New 52" started, and the good news is, it's the best of the bunch.

(Here are the reviews of Detective Comics, Batgirl, Batwoman and Batman and Robin.)

The bad news is, like the other Batman books, this one has a graphic image of a character who was killed. Which is a shame, because it's the only black mark on an enjoyable issue.

It starts out with a heck of an action sequence, which gives artists Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion lots of opportunity to shine - and it continues through the rest of the issue. They do stunning work here, including an amazing panorama of the Batcave.

I'm also impressed with the story by Scott Snyder. It's a good jumping-on point for new readers, as it introduces the title character, his supporting cast (including three of four Robins), a few sub-plots and a cracker of a mystery.

The only disappointment is one page of gore - again, is Batman supposed to be a horror comic now?

But this is a strong foundation to build on, and of the Bat-books I've seen, this is the one you don't want to miss.

Grade: A-


Thursday, September 22, 2011

X-Men Schism #4 (of 5)

So if I were forced to sum up this issue of X-Men Schism in one word, it would have to be: "Dopey."

That's because writer Jason Aaron has provided us with a classic example of an "Idiot Plot," which is a story that only works if all the characters act like idiots.

This mini-series has been building toward the big breaking point, where the X-Men team will (apparently) separate into two (or more) different factions.

Up until now the story has focused on the rise of a vast array of Sentinels, the most reliable of villains, since they are giant robots that hunt mutants. With team members spread across the globe, a final deadly menace is marching on the home of the mutants on the island Utopia.

So of course that's the perfect time for Cyclops and Wolverine to get into an argument that somehow escalates into open warfare between the two.

I don't want to give away any more than that, and there are probably legitimate disagreements that would lead to a splitting of the team - but this isn't one of them. It's a silly, superficial argument as Wolverine objects to a decision by Cyclops that exactly mirrors similar moves Wolverine has made innumerable times over the years.

A well-written argument would have the reader thinking, "I can see both sides of this one - they both have a point." Not here. I was thinking, "Both of these heroes are acting completely out of character."

Let me add that there's nothing wrong on the art side of the equation, with Alan Davis and Mark Farmer turning in their usual stellar performance. There are wonderful quiet moments, fantastic splash pages and some incredible action sequences. Great stuff!

But the story... it'll just leave you shaking your head.

Grade: C+


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Day For Comics

Here's what I picked up today:

- Avengers #17 - More Fear Itself action.

- Batman #1 - Who can turn down buying a first issue of Batman?

- Captain America #3 - This has been very good.

- Conan: Road of Kings #8 (of 12) - Conan the Babysitter?

- Daredevil #4 - Also darned good.

- Dark Horse Presents #4 - Loaded with good features, including Beasts of Burden!

- Invincible Iron Man #508 - Fighting monsters in Asgard.

- The Red Wing #3 (of 4) - Fun with time travel.

- Supergirl #1
- Is it just me, or is she wearing some kind of diaper?

- Ultimate X-Men #1 - You know it's good if it's sealed in a plastic bag!

- Wonder Woman #1
- Definitely a different WW.

- Uncanny X-Men #543 - A new Juggernaut in town.

And that's it!

The Classics - 3-D Batman

We're all friends here, so I trust you'll forgive me if a confess a secret: I loved the '60s Batman TV show.

Yes, even as a 10-year-old, I knew the series was kinda silly and over the top - but this was at a time when the only place you could find comic book characters was in comic books!

Aside from reruns of the old Superman TV show (which was only slightly more serious), there were few shows on TV for comics fans. We embraced the Batman show fervently, and loved the villains, the gadgets, the earnest heroes, the cliffhangers - it was all great fun!

I was one of a sold-out crowd of kids who went to the movie theater to see the feature film based on the TV show. I clearly remember the cheer from the crowd when Batman first appeared on the screen - the show was a hit!

Even now I enjoying catching the show, even if the campy bits grate a bit more, and every comic fan grinds his or her teeth when a newspaper headline begins with "Zap! Pow!"

But for a year or two, Batman ruled TV and the merchandise flowed like water. Here's one of my favorite example: 3-D Batman!

Printed in 1966, I believe it's the first 3-D comic I ever saw. For those who have never seen such a thing, here's the splash page - who knows, if you have a pair of red and green glasses around, you might even see the 3-D effect.

The effects were pretty impressive, and if you could stand the headache, the stories were fun, too.

There were three in all - one of Batman fighting the Penguin, a Tommy Tomorrow story, and one with Batman fighting robots!

I always struggled with 3-D because of the instant headache that hit right after putting the glasses on. It doesn't seem to be as bad today, though I'm no fan of most 3-D movies (too murky).

Of course, 3-D was a fad that came and went (sort of like it's doing these days at the movies), and the same is true for Batman - soon after its sizzling first season, the show faded and was eventually canceled.

Ah, but it was fun while it lasted!

Grade: B+


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Batwoman #1

Since I don't read everything, I occasionally miss a really great comic series - and judging by the reviews of her past appearances, I did just that with Batwoman.

The only other appearance of the character I've read is the recent issue #0 - but months later, I have to admit that I remember almost nothing about that issue.

So I arrive at issue #1 not knowing much about the character, and now that I've finished the issue... I still don't know much.

Look, the art by J. H. Williams is wonderful (kudos also to color artist Dave Stewart) - it's lush, evocative and visually arresting, with some amazing page layouts. That part of the package gets top marks.

It's the story that struggles - or at least I struggle with it. The writers (also J. H. Williams, with W. Haden Blackman) seem to assume I'm already familiar with the title character, her secret identity and his friends.

But I'm not. We meet Kate Kane (Batwoman's secret identity), her partner in crimefighting (Flamebird, whoever that is), and some friends and relatives.

There's a beautifully-rendered page that I assume is supposed to illustrate her history, but since I don't know any of the characters pictured, I'm not sure what I'm looking at.

The main storyline has to do with a mysterious, ghost-like woman who is kidnapping children. So are Batwoman's adventures mystical in nature, or more like mainstream mysteries?

No answers in this issue, so perhaps the next issue or two will help clear these things up (assuming I can stay patient that long). The story just seems to drag very slowly, and nothing is resolved here - so if you pick up this series, be ready to be patient.

The old adage in comics is that every issue is someone's first issue, so the creators should make some effort to bring those readers up to speed (though I'll grant that it's a trick to do that without boring the long-time readers).

So, great art, weak story (so far) - I'm still not convinced that I was mistaken to pass up this series before.

Grade: B


Monday, September 19, 2011

Superboy #1

The "New 52" marches on, and brings us to a completely new version of Superboy.

This story starts with the title character being studied by the scientists who created him.

He's a clone of Superman (who presumably doesn't know anything about this) with human DNA mixed in. He's a mystery to the scientists, but we hear his thoughts and discover there's a lot more to the "Teen of Steel" than we might expect.

It's a solid story by Scott Lobdell, with the only drawback being that the whole "hero in a test tube" story has been used quite a bit lately - see Flashpoint: Project Superman for the most recent example.

Still, there are some good touches, including the true identity of the scientist known as Red, which may surprise you (unless someone spoiled it for you the way they did for me - durned Internet)!

The artwork by R. B. Silva and Rob Lean is quite good, with a fresh, clean look. There are a few minor quibbles - for example, at one point Superboy is supposed to be levitating, but it looks like he's just standing there. But those are minor gripes - I really like the look of this book.

The opening issue sets up some interesting potential directions for the series, and gives us a glimpse of a certain team you'd expect Superboy to be part of. It's a promising start, and hopefully future issues will make him less of a victim and more of a hero we can support.

Grade: B+


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Batman and Robin #1

At what point did DC decide to make all the Batman comics into horror titles?

I know, I'm old-fashioned, out of touch, a geezer - but so far I've read two of the "New 52" Batman comics (Detective Comics and Batman and Robin), and both are loaded with gory images and horrific deaths.

I'll grant that Batman lends himself to almost any kind of story, and the emphasis often changes - he's been depicted as a superhero, a detective, an adventurer, the world's most dangerous man, and a madman (to name just a few).

The focus in this title is on the relationship between Bruce (Batman) Wayne and his son Damian (Robin), and it looks like Bruce has a job on his hands. Damian is rude, disrespectful and not much of a team player. DC would be well advised to remember that these are the same qualities that encouraged fans to vote for an earlier Robin's demise.

There are three different stories at work here - the fight to stop a heist of some deadly materials, observing an important event, and a vicious attack on one of the Batman, Inc. heroes.

It's the latter story that has the most horrific elements (though there are other deaths in the comic), as an invisible foe commits a brutal and bloody murder, makes a vicious attack and then follows it up with a scene out of one of the Saw movies.

I don't expect Batman to be a comic for kids, but it is a character that young readers would gravitate to - but I'd hate to think that young readers were being exposed to this kind of graphic violence.

Look, the art by Patrick Gleason is very good, the story by Peter Tomasi is fine - I just wish the title that included Robin could be more of an "All Ages" comic.

Is that too much to ask?

Grade: B-


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Green Lantern #1

My first reaction to this issue of Green Lantern was: that guy on the cover looks nothing like Hal Jordan.

(Of course, I know it's actually Sinestro.)

Unlike every other "New DC" series I've looked at so far, you might never know that this issue was part of DC's "52." It picks up right where the "old" series left off, with no changes at all - not even an updated costume. Just a new #1 on the cover.

Hal is back on Earth, but he's no longer a member of the Green Lantern Corps - although perversely, Sinestro is once again a member of the team. Each character has his own struggles to deal with the new status quo, as Hal tries to manage living a normal life, and Sinestro feels the burden of wearing a hero's mantle again.

It's an odd first issue, but writer Geoff Johns gets the most out of it, and that final page suggests big events are on the way.

The art by Doug Mahnke is terrific - he just gets better with each issue, and here he seems to be channeling Brian Bolland, with sharp, precise features on the characters and powerful layouts.

Of course, i makes sense that this series wouldn't change too much for the "New 52" - it was already one of the best books DC publishes, so there's no reason to mess with success.

If only all the comics out there had that problem...

Grade: A-


Friday, September 16, 2011

Fear Itself #6 (of 7)

For some reason Fear Itself has not been getting as much attention as most events receive - no doubt the "New 52" has diverted attention away from it.

That's a shame, because in many ways this is one of the best "events" in recent Marvel history.

The Serpent is an incredibly powerful creature from Norse mythology that has created monsters from some of Earth's most powerful characters and used them to smash all opposition.

The only one who could stand up to the menace was Thor, and on the first page of this issue we see that he's unable to walk and barely conscious. Captain America has suffered two terrible losses - Bucky, who was killed, and Cap's shield has been smashed. Iron Man in is Asgard trying to create weapons that will give humanity a chance in the final war.

That's where this issue starts, and what follows is further building of the menace - and a sense of doom around one hero, who may not survive to the end of the next issue.

The story is taut, suspenseful and powerfully written by Matt Fraction, and there are some real gems in there (Cap gets a few great moments, including facing down Odin). The only "off" note is Spider-Man's side trip, which only serves to make him seem, well, selfish.

The art is excellent as always, with Stuart Immonen doing some of his best work. Cosmic blasts, panoramic scenes, intense action and quiet, personal moments all shine here.

It's all been building nicely, and next issue should blow the doors off. If you've missed this one, you've missed an outstanding series that combines the best of modern storytelling with a classic "everything's on the line" Marvel extravaganza.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ultimate Spider-Man #1

After all the hubbub about the new Ultimate Spider-Man, the first issue finally arrives so we can actually start judging it based on more than feverish speculation.

So my reaction after reading the first issue is that it's... OK.

Sorry to be tepid, but we don't really get much to go on with this issue. In fact, it feels just like the first issue of the original Ultimate Spider-Man, with writer Brian Bendis once again working a very decompressed story.

What Stan Lee and Steve Ditko did in 15 pages, Bendis and (then) artist Mark Bagley took six issues to cover - and this new series by Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli is crashing along at the same methodical pace.

Here's what we get in this issue: a little background on the first Spidey's origin, and we meet Miles Morales, a young man who is taking part in a lottery to get into a charter school (somewhat against his wishes).

There's really very little (so far) to differentiate him from Peter Parker. He's a smart young man who talks in a snappy, clever way (like so many Bendis characters), and then a strange accident leaves him gifted with special abilities. Sound familiar?

There are differences, thankfully. Both of his parents are alive, his father is African-American and his mother is Hispanic. He seems like a thoughtful young man, but we learn almost nothing about him here.

No doubt future issues will fill in the blanks, but it looks like the readers are going to have to be patient, because the story is spooling out very slowly - at least so far.

The art is quite good, and Pichelli tells a strong story despite the almost complete lack of any action scenes - we see a lot of real-world situations, and the characters are distinct, alive and expressive. I'm looking forward to seeing more of her artwork.

Am I hooked on this series, am I dying to see the next issue? Not really, although I am interested enough to keep reading for now.

I'm confident Bendis will tell a good story, but I'm hoping to see some evidence soon that this series will move in new and different directions.

Grade: B+


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Load o' Comics Today

Give DC credit, the "New 52" is at least getting me to try some comics I might have passed on otherwise. Of the seven I tried last week, I'll pick up at least one more issue of five of them.

As for today, I picked up way too many comics, including:

- Alpha Flight #4 (of 8) - This has been good so far.

- New Avengers #16 - A new member, as Daredevil finally joins!

- Batman and Robin #1 - Checking out the first issue.

- Batwoman #1 - Never bought the previous series, and everyone raves about it - so I've giving it a shot.

- Daredevil #3 - DD vs. Klaw!

- Fear Itself #6 (of 7) - This continues to build nicely.

- Green Lantern #1 - Funny, that doesn't look anything like Hal Jordan on the cover.

- Herc #7 - Spider-Herc?

- John Carter / A Princess of Mars #1 (of 5) - Two adaptations on the stands at the same time?

- Journey Into Mystery #627 - The Devil to pay.

- Mister Terrific #1 - Always liked him in JSA, let's see how this goes.

- Mystery Men #5 (of 5) - I've really enjoyed this series.

- Suicide Squad #1 - Another old fave.

- Superboy #1 - Giving it a try.

- Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1 - Also on a trial basis.

- Uncanny X-Force #15 - Is this a weekly comic now?

The Classics - The Badger #1

From the long-lost days of 1983, we present a classic comic that features the kind of wild, creative force of nature that we rarely see in comics these days.

The Badger starts out with a basic concept: that you'd have to be crazy to dress up in a costume and go out to fight crime. So it stars Norbert Sykes, a Vietnam veteran who had lost touch with reality, but vows to fight crime as The Badger.

Most comics would run with that concept, but writer Mike Baron had several additional twists to add. While in a mental institution, the Badger encounters a 1500 year-old weather wizard named Ham, who had been captured and imprisoned by his enemies (who, to be fair, had good reason to hate him) and transported to - of all places - Wisconsin.

Ham decides to team up with the Badger, and they (sometimes intentionally, sometimes accidentally) cut a swath across the criminal element of Madison.

The story was just crazy enough to work, and future stories would run the gamut from tidy little Zen-like fables to carnivals of violence. It was a wildly clever, brutal and thoroughly entertaining comic.

The art was by Jeffrey Butler, and while the early issues showed a few rough edges, there was no denying his talent for creating distinctive characters, realistic-looking fight sequences and dynamic layouts.

While not a book for children, the Badger was a sharp mix of street-level heroics and mystical adventures, and was a comic that made the wait for the next issue unbearable.

It's amazing to me that this comic and its older "brother," Nexus, aren't being published right now. Surely there's a company out there with the sense to bring some new life to these classic characters (preferably with the original creators on board, of course).

Come on!

Grade: A


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Static Shock #1 and Swamp Thing #1

(Let's wrap up the first week of the "New 52" with a double review.)

As I said before, I don't understand why Static Shock isn't a regular, ongoing incredibly popular comic.

It has all the potential in the world to be another Spider-Man - it stars a wise-cracking, likeable teen who uses his powers in creative, intelligent ways to take down the bad guys.

I've very happy to see the character back in his own title, even if they've transplanted him to New York and placed him under the wing of Hardware.

The story is written by Scott McDaniel (who also does the art) and John Rozum, but it falls just short of living up to the character's potential. They have to spend a lot of time and effort setting up Virgil / Static as an intern at Star Labs, where he has drawn the attention of some seriously evil opponents.

But I liked it enough to return for the next issue, and that shocking final page should get some attention, but I'm hoping for a more challenging opponent next time around.

Grade: B+


Here's another character who should never have gone away - the Swamp Thing.

That character has been treated rather poorly in recent years (I'm looking at you, Brightest Day), so it's good to see the character's return in an intelligent horror story.

In it we meet the restored Alec Holland (who still isn't Swamp Thing), as he gets a visit from Superman (making his first "modern" post-Flashpoint appearance).

The story includes some horrific imagery (and really isn't suitable for younger readers), but writer Scott Snyder has brought back the "real" Swamp Thing (even though there's surprisingly little actual Swamp Thing content in this issue).

Kudos also to artist Yanick Paquette for some amazing art and horrific scenes.

Outstanding work all around - this issue ranks at #2 for this week's comics.

Grade: A-


Monday, September 12, 2011

Justice League International #1

Once again, the continuity in the "New 52" has me confused.

Here we have the Justice League International, a team formed by the United Nations (apparently) without to consent of the "real" Justice League.

It includes a number of heroes who were members of past versions of the JLI, but seem to have no memory of that or of any previous version of the team. Fire, Ice, Guy Gardner, Vixen and Booster Gold all behave as though it's a new experience.

But Batman puts in an appearance and vouches for Booster as the choice to be the leader of the team. Is that because he knows about Booster's efforts to protect the timestream (as shown in BG's recently-ended series)? Or has that all been axed in the new DC?

It seems probable that this is a new beginning for the team and its members, and the "Bwah-hah-hah" version of the JLI never existed. Of course, it's the lack of humor that makes this just another team book.

Writer Dan Jurgens follows the superhero team mold - lots of characters, some snippets of characterization, some possible romance angles, some conflicts and a bit of action.

It's not bad at all, but there's nothing about it that really makes it stand out. The same is true for the art by Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan - it's quite good, with strong layouts, distinct characters, clear storytelling - but it's so crowded with characters and setup that the art team doesn't get to flew its muscles.

The comic has potential, but so far I'm not seeing it. Here's hoping the next issue takes things up a notch or two.

Grade: B-


Sunday, September 11, 2011


Continuing our look at the "New DC"...

Probably the most un-DC-like book I've seen so far is OMAC, which is based on the Jack Kirby creation, in which OMAC stands for One Man Army Corps.

It's unlike most DC Comics for a couple of reasons - for one, artist Keith Giffen is channeling Kirby's art style. It's not a slavish imitation, but many of the touches are there, but it has enough of Giffen's own style to keep it from being a rip-off of the King.

Secondly, it's an all-action issue, something that's very rare at DC. If you're looking for a plot, you won't find much of one in evidence here.

Here's the story: OMAC, a hulking blue monster (who doesn't seem to be very intelligent) shows up at a company that is a front for the evil Cadmus Corporation. He smashes a lot of stuff. That's it.

So if you're looking for thoughtful storytelling, this isn't the comic for you.

But I have to admit - it's a lot of fun. Giffen's redesign of the character is visually arresting (although I find the weird energy effect in OMAC's long, flowing mohawk distracting), he has a great time with all the knock-down drag-out fights, and it's a snappy read (Giffen co-writes the book with Dan Didio).

There are no continuity problems that I can see (OMAC was originally set in the future, of course, so that helps avoid those complications). The series seems to be carving out its own place in the new DC, and that works fine with me - I'm anxious to see where they go from here.

OMAC is a fun read - and that's something more comics should aspire to.

Grade: A-


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Detective Comics #1

For those of you keeping track at home, our score on the "New DC" so far is: One good (Action Comics), one OK (Justice League), and one poor (Batgirl).

Which brings us to the first Detective Comics #1 to feature Batman (since he didn't show up until issue 27 back in 1939).

Sad to say, I'd lump this one in the "poor" category.

There are good things about it - the art by Tony Daniels is well done, with some moody splash pages, loads of detail and a chilling Joker.

But Tony Daniels the writer lets the rest of the product down. The story focuses on Batman's pursuit of the Joker, but this isn't the diabolically clever opponent from the past. This Joker is simply a mass murderer - no more, no less.

He delights in killing, and does so in the most crass and graphic manners - including stabbing one guy to death with a knife, and biting out an opponent's throat.

The Joker works best when he's hatching a devilish scheme or is involved in a particularly loony idea - but we see none of that here. Just blood, violence and a Batman who seems capable but is easily outmanuvered.

Too many comics these days seem to be more focused on violence to shock their audiences - and if you like that kind of thing, here it is.

I prefer a more cerebral battle between these two old enemies.

Grade: C+


Friday, September 9, 2011

Batgirl #1

Continuing our look at the "New DC"...

After reading the first issue of Batgirl, I have to admit that I had the sinking feeling that DC has blown it again.

As I've said before, I thought DC missed a great chance to start fresh after the original Crisis on Infinite Earths back in the '80s - and despite all the promises of a fresh start, it looks like the "New 52" are anything but.

Oh, the characters have new costumes (Justice League) and their histories have been tweaked (Action Comics) - but apparently their backstories and the events of recent years are still (more or less) the same.

Thus, Batgirl is once again Barbara Gordon (just as when she first appeared in the 1960s) - but DC didn't reset continuity to a point before she was shot and crippled by the Joker, which led to her becoming the wheelchair-bound Oracle.

Instead, she has somehow miraculously recovered from her injury, and is back to being an acrobatic crimefighter.

Part of me is glad, because in my mind, Batgirl should be Barbara (just as the Flash should be Barry Allen and Green Lantern should be Hal Jordan. What can I say, I'm a child of the '60s).

I didn't like the story that put her in the chair, but having her magically recover is right up there with having Mephisto wipe out your marriage or waking up from a dream to find your long-dead husband taking a shower.

Now perhaps the story that explains her recovery will satisfy my misgivings. Gail Simone is a gifted writer, but it's going to take some spectacular efforts to make this right.

The story in this issue doesn't offer much hope - Batgirl confronts a gang who are terrorizing a family during a home invasion, and then encounters a mystery man who is murdering various individuals for unknown reasons. It's not bad at all, but it all feels very - well, typical, when it should be something special.

Let me add that there's no problem with the art - Adrian Syaf and Vincente Cifuentes turn in some powerful work here - lively, attractive and loaded with energy.

But so far, the story is a great disappointment - and so is the "New DC." They had a chance to start fresh with a new beginning for each character, with a clean slate and no baggage to worry about - but instead, they seem to have most of their comics still loaded down with decades of continuity, wrapped in a new look and a "first issue."

It's still early, but it's starting to look like another missed opportunity.

Grade: C+


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Action Comics #1

So this is the week the "New DC" hits with full force, sending out 13 new #1 issues.

Leading the pack has to be Action Comics #1, offering a fresh new start for Superman - which just happens to mirror the original start for the hero back in 1938.

Written by Grant Morrison, this issue takes us back to a point in time just after Superman has first started making himself known in Metropolis. But he's not an idolized hero - at least not by the law enforcement community.

Instead, he's the hero to the little guy, as he confronts the big, powerful and corrupt - and his tactics are anything but subtle.

The issue is being promoted as showing that the new Superman has "an attitude" - he's not a Boy Scout anymore. In fact, he borders on being a bully - sort of a "Punisher-lite." But he does fight for the weak and defenseless, so we can forgive him if he's a bit rough in his methods.

Lots of things about the character are different (I won't give them all away, obviously), but the one that jumps out is his "costume," which is made up of a short cape, a t-shirt, jeans and work boots. Not what we might expect, but it'll be interesting to see where his "real" costume comes from.

The art is terrific - I've never understood why Rags Morales, who has such a fresh, energetic and original style, hasn't been a bigger fan favorite over the years. Perhaps this title will open people's eyes. He does great work here, with pages of incredible power and scope.

Morrison did such great work with the Man of Steel in the All-Star Superman series, I was hoping he'd continue that level of greatness on this series - and this comic leaves me optimistic.

So far, just two issues into the New DC, I have to say that this is far and away the best comic so far.

It's a fresh approach to a classic character, it's interesting and it leaves lots of leeway for future stories. The sky's the limit!

Highly recommended!

Grade: A-


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New Comics - and a New DC

OK, here's the deal - your pal Chuck isn't going to be able to read and review all the new #1's from DC (although I'll get six of them this week, just for fun).

So here's an open invitation to send in your comments - as long or short as you like - about the new DC issues. I'll post your comments here, and we'll try to spot the keepers and avoid the stinkers (if any on either count).

You can either send in a comment at the bottom of this or any upcoming post, or email your comments to me at

So with all that said, here's what I picked up this week:

- Action Comics #1 - For the first time in 74 years, you can pick up an Action #1! (I rolled up my copy and stuck it in my back pocket, just for laughs.)

- New Avengers Annual #1 - Wonder Man needs some anger management.

- Batgirl #1 - Apparently Barbara got better.

- Detective Comics #1 - Batman vs. the Joker. What, again?

- Irredeemable #29 - Lots of twists and turns.

- Justice League International #1 - Far less humor content this time around.

- Kirby Genesis #3 - A meeting of the monsters!

- Morning Glories #12 - Things are certainly picking up speed.

- Mystic #2 - Two friends moving in two different directions.

- OMAC #1 - As a friend said, it's very Kirby-ish.

- Static Shock #2 - It's about time!

- Swamp Thing #1
- It's about time times two!

And that's it!

The Classics - Battle #62

For today's "Classic" review, let's look at one of the newest - and yet one of the oldest - comics in my collection.

This issue of Battle is cover dated February 1959, which means it was published before I started buying comics - but it's one of the newest comics in my collection because I bought it last Tuesday.

While I was in Louisville, Ky., for some work-related training I visited a local comics shop and discovered this little gem for a mere five bucks. It's hard to pass up a classic comic at the same price as some new comics!

Battle was published by... well, I don't think the company was named Atlas by '59, so let's just say it was by the soon-to-be-named Marvel Comics, and it's sort of a precursor to Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos.

It's loaded with six stories, each one a bit unusual (and several are definitely written tongue-in-cheek). But it features some strong artwork by some of the industry's top names. The writer(s) are unknown, but the artists are identified in the Grand Comics Database. They include Dave Berg, Joe Maneely, Dick Ayers, Joe Sinnott, Jim Mooney and Jay Scott Pike.

The lead story features Combat Kelly, and it reads just like a humorous Sgt. Fury story. Kelly and his pal Cookie are cornered at the edge of a cliff (as depicted on the cover), but they manage to escape, destroy a column of enemy vehicles single-handed, blow up the enemy's store of ammo and evade certain death. Not bad for five pages!

The stories range from the grim (commandos strike against German rail lines) to the whimsical (an aged man defeats an entire army that invades his village) to the downright silly (a company of soldiers defeats some Japanese invaders using... banana peels).

Is it a great comic? No, despite some fine art (to be fair, some of the art is a bit rough, too) and some fun moments, it's all a bit too light.

But it was well worth the five dollars for a fun look back at a comic from the pre-Chuck era.

Grade: B-


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Uncanny X-Force #14

While I'm not normally a big fan of grim and gritty stories, I make an exception when the stories are well-written.

The list of comic book writers who can do that is a pretty short one: Frank Miller, Ed Brubaker, Chuck Dixon and Beau Smith leap immediately to mind. But I think we can safely add Rick Remender to that list, thanks to his work on Uncanny X-Force.

This one is about as dark as Marvel gets. It focuses on a block ops team assembled by Wolverine to take out the bad guys too nasty for the "regular" X-Men teams.

A sign of how well-written the story is: I'm actually interested in the "Dark Angel Saga," even though it brings back a story I never cared much for: the Age of Apocalypse.

In a complex story that has the team working desperately to save the Angel, who has become the Archangel, the successor to Apocalypse.

It's a complex story that winds across alternate realities, involves some familiar (and not-so-familiar) faces, and includes brutal fight sequences and some deaths along the way.

It's all held together with strong characterization and lots of plot twists.

The art is unusual and very effective, as Jerome Opena works with color artist Dean White to deliver a unique, painted look to the art. It's dark and intense and perfect for the story. And oh, that last sequence...

The story is so disturbing in places, I wouldn't recommend it for younger readers - but older fans who can tolerate this kind of grisly tale will enjoy it.

Grade: A-