Thursday, May 31, 2012

Classic Comics - Brave and the Bold #51

Now this is the kind of comic I think of when I think about The Brave and the Bold.

For a while it was a showcase for team-ups between assorted DC heroes, and since that was unusual at DC, it was a treat in this new format. This time around, we got Aquaman (and Aqualad) and Hawkman (and Hawkgirl).

They team up - well, sort of, since they're rarely working together on this adventure - to fight an old enemy of Atlantis who has been transformed by a strange gem. He's become a lizard-like creature with wings, and he sets out to conquer both the skies and Atlantis.

There are no credits listed in this issue (which was typical for DC in 1964), but the Grand Comics Database lists the writer as Bob Haney and the artist as Howard Purcell.

The story, frankly, is mostly silly. The heroes run around, are victims of sneak attacks, barely recover, and then solve the problem by the most unorthodox method possible.

The art seems to veer between exceptional and average. The cover is terrific, and there are some wonderful illustrations inside - but the characters often seem thin and wasted, and some panels are very cluttered. But that's being picky - overall it's a strong effort from Purcell.

The "assorted heroes teaming up" concept only ran until issue #66 - which I thought was a shame, because I liked the freshness of it, even though some of the stories were less than stellar.

After that this comic became another vehicle for the hugely popular Batman (thanks to the TV show, of course), but it remained a team-up comic until it wrapped with issue #200.

But it was fun while it lasted.

Grade: B-


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

No Comics Today?

Your pal Chuck is taking a brief break from blogging - sorta - so no new comics today - and in fact, none this week.

But, to keep my "Review a Day" commitment going, I'm going to present "Classic Comic" reviews all week - and just for fun, we'll make them all about some of my favorite issues of the '60s and '70s version of The Brave and the Bold (lots of variety in there).

Just in case you're curious, here's what I plan to pick up this week:

- America's Got Powers #2

- Batman Annual #1

- FF #18

- Hawken #4

- Next Men Aftermath #43

- Powers #10

- Rocketeer Adventures 2 #3

- Ravagers #1

- Ultimates #11

- Wolverine and the X-Men #11

And that's it! Be back in a week with new reviews!

The Classics - The Brave and the Bold #47

One of the things I really enjoy about The Brave and the Bold is the way the series tackled a wide range of stories (I feel the same way about Showcase, too).

This issue featured an angle that was never terribly popular, although I loved it: Strange Sports Stories. It has a nifty kind of logic behind it: kids like sports, kids like science fiction - let's mash the two together and see what happens!

I don't know if it was the concept or the chance to draw guys who weren't wearing long underwear, but artists like the great Carmine Infantino (who draws both stories in this issue) seemed to jump at the chance.

(At least I think it's Infantino - in 1963, DC didn't have credits listed.)

The opening story tells about a young boxer who shows great promise, but when he loses a fight he finds himself tempted by an alien who offers a deal worthy of Satan - he offers to make the fighter unbeatable! But of course there's more to the offer than meets the eye...

The second story is a delight, as all sports are outlawed on Earth in the 30th Century (as a safety precaution, of course) - but a secret sports society flourishes. Which is good, because when aliens invade the Earth, the sports team in our only hope.

I'm not sure how long this series ran - at least four issues, I think - but I really enjoyed them, though I admit it was mostly because of the science fiction element, and the terrific artwork by Infantino, one of DC's all-time best.

While Marvel excelled at monster and fantasy tales, DC was the best when it came to these clean and clever science fiction stories, and the sports angle just made it that much more fun.

They're tough to track down these days (though many of the stories were later reprinted), but well worth the effort.

Grade: A-


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lord of the Jungle Annual #1

We have a guest review for you today, as our pal Glen Davis takes a look at the first Lord of the Jungle Annual.

Here's Glen:

For a long time, the practice of publishing annuals went out of fashion, along with five-week events. They simply weren't selling, and really weren't worth the money.

Most annuals seemed to be little more than a mediocre, meaningless fill-in story, with relatively easy to find reprints and a couple of character description pages for back up, maybe some pin-ups.

Dynamite decided to revive the Annual with Lord of the Jungle.

A notation informs us that this story takes place after issue #8 of this series, which is still several months away, but appears to be between the first novel, Tarzan of the Apes and the second novel, The Return of Tarzan. This places it well before World War I, probably 1908-1910.

After encountering an orphaned lion cub, Tarzan is captured by a boastful Great White Hunter and shanghaied to New York City to face an undefeated fighter. It's never quite made clear whether this fighter, Starker the Superlative, is a boxer, a wrestler, or some kind of whatever they called a mixed martial artist back then.

There's a bit of anachronism here, as Starker appears to be some kind of proto-Nazi, and at the same time, a victim of anti-German feeling in the United States. However, there was very little anti-German feeling before WWI. Theodore Roosevelt was a big fan of the country, as were many other influential Americans.

Nazis were not any kind of movement until the 1930s, either. At least the artist didn't give Starker duelling scars or a monocle. He just looks almost exactly like the mechanic who beat up Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark before getting shredded by a propeller.

After an anti-climatic fight, followed by a rather easy escape, and denouement, Tarzan is shipped back to the jungle in a meaningless story. Dynamite didn't have to revive THAT part of the annual.

Grade: C-


Monday, May 28, 2012

Soulfire #8

You can never go wrong with a good old fashioned "good vs. evil, light vs. dark" conflict, and that's what you get in spades in Soulfire.

A band of reluctant allies are faced with the destruction of... well, everything, brought about by an evil force: the Chaos Creatures.

The threat seems insurmountable - with the final hope being a hero who's willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

It's a strong wrap-up to the series and it paves the way for the next big event, the Search for the Light.

Writer J.T. Krul turns in a strong finish to the Soulfire series (or at least this volume), and artists Jason Fabok and Jose Varese provide striking visuals that reflect the power and the heart behind the story.

Since this is the final issue in the run, it might be tough to start here - but it's well worth tracking down those back issues.

Grade: A-


Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Mighty Thor #14

It's been nice to see Walt Simonson providing covers on the last two issues of The Mighty Thor (as well as interiors on The Avengers) - I just wish the story on the inside was as good the cover.

Well, that's probably a little too harsh - the story by Matt Fraction is just moving on well-trod ground, that's all.

Hoping to aid a dwarf named Hreidmar, Thor traveled to the land of Nidavellir (I think my spellcheck just choked) where he found a mysterious door with a message on it from Odin, warning that it should never be opened.

Thor, of course, opens it.

This unleashes a nightmare horde that his strength is useless against. Of course.

The rest of the issue focuses on Thor's former mortal vessel, Dr. Don Blake, who asks for the Enchantress' help in becoming a god - but the results are surprisingly gruesome.

The art is by Pepe Larraz, and it's quite good - I especially like the Infinite Library.

This has been a strong series up to this issue, so it's easy to forgive a minor stumble - and I am curious to see where the story goes from here.

I just wish it didn't seem all too... familiar.

Grade: B


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Secret Avengers #27

Back in the '80s when the Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi-series was released, DC quickly tried to tie all its titles into that runaway hit.

Many of those tie-ins had just marginal connections to the event, and became known as "red sky" comics, since that was the only actual connection for a few of them - characters noted the color of the sky as it was depicted in Crisis.

In Secret Avengers, we have another red sky comic.

While Avengers vs. X-Men is a runaway hit, titles like this are only connected by a tenuous thread. Back on Earth everyone is worrying about saving Hope and keeping the Phoenix Force from destroying the planet.

Meanwhile, the Secret Avengers were dispatched to deep space to try to stop the Phoenix - and now they find themselves on the Kree homeworld Hala, trying to save that planet from the Phoenix Force.

In the meantime, more than one of their teammates has gone traitor, the others are recovering from their encounter with the Phoenix, and the Kree are all acting crazy.

Oh, and Captain Marvel (as in the Kree Captain Mar-Vell) is apparently back from the dead and also a traitor.

As a big fan of the original (Marvel version) Captain Marvel, I'm glad to see him back, though I suspect he's just here to hand his title over to Carol Danvers, so she can drop the "Miz" and become the newest and latest (and hopefully last) Captain Marvel.

But the whole issue is a mess - except for that terrific Alan Davis cover. The interior art by Renato Guedes just seems a poor match for this title. He's a strong artist, but his style is more suited to alternative work - not mainstream superheroes. The characters all seem "off," in awkward poses.

I can't recommend this one - the story just rambles all over and never really gets anywhere. Even the occasional glimpse of the Phoenix - in the sky, no less - can't jump start this one.

Grade: C+


Friday, May 25, 2012

Aquaman #9 (and, which DC hero is gay?)

I started to review this issue of Aquaman and realized I didn't have much to add to my last essay: the issue features great art by Ivan Reis and a solid story by Geoff Johns as we learn more about Aquaman's mostly-unknown past.

In other words, you should be buying this comic - it's very good.

Grade: A-

But rather than leave it at that, I thought I'd take a moment to discuss the issue that's been burning up the Internet for the past few days: which DC hero is gay?

Last week DC announced that it's about to reveal that one of its "main heroes" in the "New 52" is actually gay.

So everyone wonders, which hero is it? There are several ways DC can go: they could make it one of the characters on an alternate Earth, with the most popular guess being the Superman of Earth-2.

That's almost too easy, so let's look at the other candidates:

Aquaman is one, though he's been clearly shown to be in a relationship with his wife Mera, so we'll assume that rules him out.

Superman is no longer a married man, but I find it hard to believe DC would make such a radical change in their most famous character.

Batman is another likely candidate except for the long-running gags about him being a pedophile for running around with kid sidekicks - so I'm assuming DC would want to avoid that mess.

Robin / Nightwing (or some iteration of Batman's sidekick) seems like a likely choice, but is he a high profile-enough character?

Wonder Woman is another possibility (and might explain why she broke up with Steve Trevor, if they were ever actually dating) - but DC's most high profile gay character right now is Batwoman, and they may not want it to be a "female only" club.

Green Lantern has been portrayed as a skirt chaser from the start, so he seems unlikely.

The Flash actually seems like the most likely candidate, if just because his backstory hasn't been fully detailed yet (though I believe he is in a relationship with a woman).

But I think the answer will be... Shazam (the former Captain Marvel), since he's just been rebooted and they're doing their best to chart a new course for that character.

Then again, Earth-2 is still appealing.

Hopefully the day is fast approaching when the answer to "Which hero is gay or straight?" will be: who cares?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Batman Inc. #1

Back again after a brief Bat-hiatus is writer Grant Morrison guiding Bruce (Batman) Wayne and son Damien (Robin) Wayne in Batman Incorporated.

I like the basic concept, with Batman organizing and leading a sort of "Batmen of Many Nations" team of heroes. They're all gathering in Gotham City to face the impending threat of a group known as Leviathan, which plots to take over the business of crime in that beleaguered city.

I feel a bit torn on the issue, because it has some clever bits of business, a deadly game targeting Robin, and an interesting (if combative) relationship between father and son - but it also just drips (literally) with extreme violence and graphic situations set in a slaughterhouse - nasty business.

The art is by Chris Burnham, and while some of it is quite good - I really like the double-page splash at the top of the issue, for example - but there's also an unseemly amount of blood on display. But Burnham seems to be channeling Frank Quitely, and doing quite well by him.

To be honest, I haven't decided if I like Batman Inc. or not. It all feels just a bit too much like a Vertigo book - not really my favorite take on the Dark Knight.

This issue ends on a solid cliffhanger, so I'll be back to see this opening story arc through - but if the stories continue to be this lurid, I won't be sticking around past that.

Grade: B



Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Comics Today

Here's what I picked up at the comic book store today:

- Aquaman #9 - A deadly showdown with Black Manta.

- Secret Avengers #27 - Is that really Capt. Marvel?

- Batman Inc. #1 - Getting the band together.

- Captain America & Hawkeye #631 - Cap is a dinosaur?

- Captain America #12 - Taking on Scourge.

- Fantastic Four #606 - An amazing journey.

- Flash #9 - Gorilla my dreams!

- Irredeemable #37 - The last issue!

- Journey Into Mystery #638 - Hell on Earth.

- Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz #7 (of 8) - Can a horse live in Oz?

- The Mighty Thor #14
- Nightmare world.

And that's it!

Classic Comics - The Defenders #62

Through its first incarnation, The Defenders enjoyed some prime writing talent, including Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart and Steve Gerber.

All three turned in excellent work and made their mark on the series. Those talents tend to overshadow another writer whose work I enjoyed quite a bit on this and other titles - David Kraft.

His work in the late '70s featured quite a few entertaining twists - but this is the one that stands out most clearly in my mind.

This issue is a (mostly) comedic take on the hoary "recruit new members for the team" bit. The twist was that the Defenders didn't really want any new members - they were happy with the existing roster, which included Nighthawk, Hellcat, Valkyrie and the Hulk.

It seems that amateur filmmaker (and comic relief) "Dollar Bill" had made a documentary about the team without their knowledge, and gave it to a TV network to broadcast. At the end of the film he pointed out that The Defenders were a "non-team," with no charter or rules - so any hero could be a member!

The next morning, the team is swamped with a small army of second-tier characters looking to join - and the situation just gets wilder with every page. (And we all now what happens when a bunch of Marvel heroes get together for the first time, right?)

Aside from a serious (and unconnected) sub-plot, the issue was given over to this offbeat situation - and the story, while improbable, was undeniably fun.

The art is by the legendary Sal Buscema with inks by the equally legendary Jim Mooney - but the printing doesn't do them any favors. It's a solid, professional job, but not the best work by either artist, I must admit. Of course, it's the kind of story that would give any artist (except maybe George Perez) nightmares, with dozens of costumed heroes running amok.

Still, kudos to Kraft for his excellent work on this series - and you'd also do well to track down the project he tackled after leaving Marvel: he created Comics Interview magazine, one of my all-time favorite comics publications.

Grade: B+


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Hulk Smash Avengers #3 (of 5)

First of all, let me say: holy cow, what a great cover by Lee Weeks and Andy Troy!

But the caveat is, the art inside Hulk Smash the Avengers can't live up to that cover. It feels like penciler Karl Moline and inker Jay Leisten were trying to evoke an '80s vibe for this "flashback" adventure - but it never quite works, the art seems splotchy and the page layouts don't quite gel.

What the comic does have in abundance is heart, and that's thanks to the fine writing by Roger Stern, a writer who turned in excellent work in years past on both the Hulk and the Avengers. (Once again I ask, how is it that he's not writing a regular title for someone?)

He manages to introduce the main players, gives everyone bits of business, covers the history of the Avengers up to this point in time, and throws the Hulk into the mix for some unexpected carnage.

He also provides a couple of surprising observers who will bring a knowing smile to the face of many long-time fans.

So, a nice dose of nostalgia, a "done in one" issue, and a fantastic cover.

Not bad at all.

Grade: B+


Monday, May 21, 2012

Daredevil #13

Mark Waid has quietly made Daredevil into one of the best comics on the stands.

And that's because the focus is on the very clever story, as Daredevil finds himself at the heart of a gang war like no other.

The McGuffin at the heart of the matter is - of all things - the number "4" from a Fantastic Four costume. Because of its unstable molecule construction, it's a perfect hard drive - and it contains information on five crime syndicates, including Hydra, Advanced Idea Mechanics, Black Spectre, Secret Empire and Agence Byzantine.

Our hero has been able to survive this overwhelming opposition by pitting each group against the other - but that all falls apart in this issue, as all five groups attack Daredevil.

I've said before how much I enjoy reading stories that star smart characters - and that's exactly what you get here.

The artwork is by Khoi Pham, with inks by the great Tom Palmer, and while it's a little uneven in places, there are some wild action scenes along the way.

Daredevil can't be an easy character to write - he's essentially a normal man with a few extraordinary abilities - but Waid has crafted a funny, intelligent hero here, and it's great fun to follow along.


Grade: A-


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Conan the Barbarian #4

The true sign of a great fictional character is that he or she (or it) holds up under diverse creative teams.

Certainly Conan the Barbarian fits that description. We've seen a wide assortment of talent spinning tales based on Robert E. Howard's character. Some have been great, some just OK, and some have been poor.

Happily, this series falls into the "great" category.

His depiction in this comic is a bit different from the usual muscle-bound brute, but it's very entertaining - and just as valid.

Writer Brian Wood gives us - of all things - a romantic Conan, longing for the attention of the she-pirate Belit (who, like Conan, is a virtual force of nature).

This story finds Conan playing a deadly game, as he takes part in a plan that requires him to put a lot of trust in Belit and her pirates.

The art this time around is by James Harren, who continues the style established by Becky Cloonan - a stark and stylized look at the characters - but also adds some beautiful scenery, including a double-page vista of Messantia that would have earned a "thumbs up" from Hal Foster.

I'm enjoying this version of Conan - more contemplative than his usual self, but one who's learning and changing because of his relationship with a fierce woman.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A-


Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Avengers #26

Now that the chaotic Avengers vs. X-Men event is in full swing, we're starting to see some fraying around the edges.

That's because several comics are covering the same ground - and the events seem less than consistent.

For example, this issue of The Avengers covers similar territory to Secret Avengers - but the events (and the costumes of some of the characters) don't exactly match up.

It's not enough to ruin the comic, but it does give that "speed bump" feeling to the events.

This issue, as written by Brian Bendis and drawn by Walt Simonson, gives yet another look at the space mission that features several Avengers trying to stop the Phoenix Force in deep space.

The focus is on Thor, who does most of the heavy lifting, and Noh-Varr, The Protector (former Marvel Boy), who's facing a moral dilemma.

The issue looks great, with Simonson offering up a huge, cosmic vision for the proceedings - and it's always great to see him back on Thor.

If you can overlook the (mostly minor) continuity glitches, there's a lot to enjoy here. If you focus in on such things, this might be one to skip.

Grade: A-


Friday, May 18, 2012

Justice League #9

So here's the score for the first nine issues of the new Justice League: an ok first issue, a strong five issues after that as the team's (new) origin is revealed, a couple of good fillers, and then there's issue, which is mostly blah.

Oh, I'm confident the next story arc will be an interesting one, and this issue follows the Geoff Johns / Jim Lee format (so far) of a slow start building up to a strong finish, but it's tough to be enthused when the comic is all setup and not much else.

There's plenty of mystery afoot, as we meet this arc's villain (I think) at the beginning, we have flashbacks to moments of angst in the young lives of our heroes (for no particular reason) and we have villains being attacked for mysterious reasons.

The only thing that isn't mysterious is Batman calling on Superman for some help when facing a mob of villains. If Superman was my pal, I'd call him everytime I got in a fight.

Even the Shazam backup gets an "Incomplete" score, because we just get a few glimpses of Billy's school life, he gathers some new antagonists (right out of the Afterschool Special handbook) and we see what his nemesis-to-be is up to.

I have faith that it'll all lead somewhere interesting, but for this issue, faith is about all I've got.

Grade: B-


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Avengers vs. X-Men #4

I freely admit that I'm a sucker for the old Marvel formula, "Heroes meet, heroes fight," even though I know the third part of that is always "heroes team up to fight the bad guy."

It's tried, it's true, and when done right, it's entertaining.

Look at The Avengers movie, which featured (at one point or another) almost every hero fighting with every other hero.

Thus we have the success of the Avengers vs. X-Men event, as one army of heroes fights another army of heroes.

And it works! The action is actually a bit thin in this series, because the fighting part of the program has been farmed out to other titles - Uncanny X-Men, Avengers, Versus, etc.

We get lots of glimpses of those fights, but the majority of this issue is given over to an actual discussion with Hope, the mutant at the heart of the threat.

The Phoenix Force is making its way to Earth, and the mutants are welcoming it as a possible cure for their race - while the Avengers are more concerned about the fact that the Phoenix tends to destroy worlds on a regular basis (we've seen three worlds destroyed in this series so far).

There's a lot to like here - a sharp script by Jonathan Hickman, and more excellent, cosmic-scale artwork by John Romita, Jr. and Scott Hanna.

I enjoyed this issue much more than the last chapter, because the characters actually are behaving... well, in character. They seem a little quicker to use their intelligence, rather than punching first and asking questions later.

But there is a lot of punching, too.

Grade: A


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Good Day for New Comics

I picked up lots o' comics at the shop today, including:

- Avengers #26 - The enemy within!

- Avengers vs. X-Men #4 - Fight around the clock!

- Conan the Barbarian #4 - Fighting alongside Belit.

- Daredevil #13 - In hot water this time.

- Fantastic Four #605.1 - How it all began. Sorta.

- Hulk Smash Avengers #3 - Roger Stern writing? Hulk will buy puny comic!

- John Carter: Gods of Mars #3 (of 5) - Adapting the ERB classic.

- Justice League #9 - Things go badly.

- Manhattan Project #3 - One of the strangest comics around.

- Saga #3 - How can a cover be cute and grisly?

- Shade #8 (of 12) - More dark doings.

- The Shadow #2 - Lots of gunplay.

- Winter Soldier #5 - Wrapping up a Doom-filled adventure..

- Wonder Woman #9 - Going to the chapel.

And that's it! Whew!

Classic Comics - Detective Comics #475

I talked about writer Steve Englehart last week and his excellent run on The Avengers.

After about four years on that title (and Captain America, among others) he had a falling out with Marvel and moved over to DC Comics in 1977, where he proceeded to write some of the all-time best stories for the Justice League and for Batman in an all-too-brief run on Detective Comics.

He started his run on the Dark Knight with an excellent two-issue tale drawn by Walt Simonson, and then he launched into an amazing six-issue series with the talented Marshall Rogers.

In the span of those issues, Englehart managed to redefine Batman as a sane man, a great detective and hero who must deal with a crazy world; he gave Bruce Wayne his first believable love interest in the sexy Silver St. Cloud; and repurposed several Batman villains into serious threats, including The Penguin, Hugo Strange and Deadshot; and recast The Joker into a truly scary and unpredictable force of nature.

This is the Joker we've been seeing ever since. Dennis O'Neil had returned the Joker to his original status as a madman (as opposed to the almost loveable clown from the TV show), but Englehart took the character to the next step - a character arc that culminated in the most recent Batman film and the brilliant portrayal by Heath Ledger.

This issue is the next-to-the-last in the Englehart/Rogers run, and it features Batman dealing with the realization that Silver has divined his true identity.

The Joker shows up with a truly insane scheme. He has used a chemical to give all the fish in the area his grisly smiling face. For what purpose? He appears at the local patent office and demands a patent on all fish sold, because they have his face.

When the man in charge explains that it can't be done under patent law, the Joker vows to take his life at midnight - even though the man will be held in a locked room, with the police and Batman on hand to protect him.

It's a dark delight of a story, with a Joker both completely unpredictable - and quite deadly.

Not only is it an outstanding story, but the art is amazing. Rogers makes Gotham come alive, his characters are precise and lively, his women beautiful, his villains chilling, and his Batman dramatic and invincible (love that huge cape).

The only strike against it is the poor printing, which smudged some of the darker scenes. But in a way, it just adds to the mood.

It's a fantastic series, and each issue is a gem - but the Joker nudges this one to the top of the list. And Batman has never been better.

Highly, highly recommended!

Grade: A+


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Trio #1

It's always nice to see new work by legendary artist / writer John Byrne, and Trio is a special treat for those who prefer his work when he "gets back to basics," as he famously did when he took over the Fantastic Four.

Trio is (at least so far) very much a traditional superhero comic - and I couldn't be happier.

Like any origin issue, this first issue is dedicated to introducing us to the new heroes (and apparently they aren't the only ones in the world they inhabit).

The three characters are introduced via fight sequence, of course. First we meet the small, powerful stone-like guy known as Rock (or "Three" by his teammates). "One" is the one-dimensional, elastic-ish woman known as Paper, and the other member of the Trio is, natch, Scissors (or "Two") - he has long blades for hands (sometimes) and is amazingly fast.

And if it seems a bit thin and predictable, well, you don't know Byrne very well.

He throws in twists and surprises along the way, and the issue ends with lots of questions to bring us back for the next round.

Oh, and we also have a major (and somewhat familiar-seeming) menace moving in on the city.

Byrne's art is as expressive and energetic as ever - he seems to be having a lot of fun here, and the characters and page layouts are lively.

If I were cynical, I would think that Byrne was having fun with readers, pressing those old familiar buttons, and creating characters that are similar to past successes without being direct copies.

But I prefer to think he just enjoys working with this kind of primal superhero format. I certainly had a heck of a lot of fun reading it!

Grade: A-


Monday, May 14, 2012

Wolverine and the X-Men #10

So 10 issues into this series and finally Cyclops stops by for a visit.

And that's about the most exciting thing that happens in this issue of Wolverine and the X-Men.

It's the ongoing problem with any event series - the issues that involve the main characters have to somehow mark time while the actual story is rolling out in the main title.

That's why this issue takes place between issues of Avengers vs. X-Men, as Cyclops tries one more time to bring Wolverine - or some of his X-Students - over to his side of the battle.

Other than an increasingly strange side story about the Angel (who has apparently had his mind wiped clean), that's all we see in this comic.

There's some clever dialogue by writer Jason Aaron, and the usual art by Chris Bachalo (and four inkers) - some panels are amazing, and a few are incomprehensible.

I can't recommend this one - it's just marking time while things actually happen in AvX.

For completists only.

Grade: B-


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Green Lantern #9

I have to admit that I'm impressed when a writer manages to surprise me.

I've been reading comics for over (ulp!) 50 years now, so many comics seem like just more of the same - but not this issue of Green Lantern.

We finally get the answer to the mysterious origin of the Indigo Lantern Corps, and it's one I certainly didn't see coming. (We even find out what the strange word "Nok" means!)

Green (Hal Jordan) Lantern is up against the wall, because he wears a green ring created by Sinestro - and Sinestro is now under the control of the mysterious Indigo tribe.

That sends Hal on a journey to discover the power source behind the Indigos - and I won't reveal any more for fear of taking away from a good story, but it's a surprising twist.

Doug Mahnke (who should be the latest superstar, based on his excellent craftsmanship on this series) does his usual stellar job on pencils here, though I'm surprised to see four inkers listed in the credits. That seems to be an ongoing condition in this series, and that doesn't help maintain consistency in the artwork.

A heck of a story and a strong cliffhanger to lead us into the next chapter.

Grade: A-


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Free Comic Day

I'm running a week late here, but let's take a look back at a half-dozen of the Free Comic Book Day offerings (and as always, feel free to send along your own comments about any of them that you picked up - you can send a comment at the bottom of this post or email it to the address over on the right side of the page).

The Avengers

First up, riding the wave of the incredibly successful movie, we have The Avengers: Age of Ultron, which is slightly disappointing because it's a reprint of a recent "Point-one" issue.

But it's only slightly so, because it features a sharp story (and the usual sizzling dialogue) by Brian Bendis and fantastic art by Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary.

It's a battle of brains with some nifty twists and turns along the way, and well worth tracking down.

Grade: A-

DC: The New 52

The good thing about this issue is that it features a new Justice League story.

The bad thing is that I'm not crazy about the offhanded way the Geoff Johns story creates (or recreates) two beloved DC heroes using crass origin trickery. I prefer both as either a total mystery or more down-to-Earth (respectively).

But the story does give us some background on the mysterious Pandora and sets up the next big event for DC, the Trinity War.

By the way, I almost missed the ending of the original story - it's "hidden" in the gatefold poster at the center of the issue.

Grade: A-

Bongo Comics Free-for-All

Bongo consistently puts out some of the funniest comics around, and this issue is a good sampler.

It includes a saga of the Simpsons and the Bear Patrol, as Homer and his fellow hunters are forced to deal with bears who are targeting celebrities.

There's also a short biographical story by Sergio Aragones about a get-rich-quick scheme he devised as a child.

As if those stories weren't enough, flip the book over for a short story starring Spongebob Squarepants.

Fun stuff!

Grade: B+

Serenity / Star Wars

Now here's a book that should warm the heart of any geek (like me, for example).

It's a flip book that divides the issue between two great science fiction / science fantasy franchises.

One is an adventure with the cast of Serenity. This story takes place after the film, which is certainly worth your time to track down after you've watched the Firefly TV series. It's a light bit of business, but the creative team has the "feel" of the series down.

The other half of the comic is a Star Wars adventure starring Han Solo and Chewbacca. Need I say more?

I didn't think so.

Grade: A-

Donald Duck Family Comics

As I've said before, I have a tough time passing up a Disney Duck comic (whether it stars Donald or Uncle Scrooge McDuck).

There are three stories in this issue, including some early efforts by the great Carl Barks (there's a reason why he was known as the "good duck artist"). You'll also find quite a few one-page gags.

All vastly entertaining, no matter how many times you've read them. And if you haven't read them, boy, are you missing out!

Grade: A

My Favorite Martian

Here's one I couldn't pass up because of my fondness for the original TV show, which I remember watching on our old black-and-white TV set.

It's all about a Martian - Uncle Martin - who is trapped on Earth. He hopes to repair his spaceship and return to Mars, but he never quite manages to succeed.

He's also in danger of being discovered, but manages to stay clear thanks to his Martian powers and the help of his human friend, Tim.

This issue is a reprint of an old Gold Key comic and is promoting a reprint volume of all the original comics.

Nice work from a more innocent time.

Grade: B+

Mouse Guard

This is the most impressive of the Free Comic Book Day offerings, if just because of the packaging.

This is a small hardback book, loaded with a number of previews for existing or upcoming books, including the Mouse Guard (natch), Labyrinth (based on the movie), Rust, which tells the story of a boy and a jet pack, The Dapper Men, who live in a world outside of time, and Cow Boy, the grim tale of a tiny cowpoke.

Lots of excellent work here, and the sampler does its job, because now I want to check out those other series.

Nicely done!

Grade: A-


Friday, May 11, 2012

Avengers Assemble #3

Have I mentioned that I loved the Avengers movie?

Marvel has created Avengers Assemble to tie in to the film (at least in terms of its lineup and its proximity to SHIELD), while keeping the story firmly set in the "real" Marvel Universe. And the issue does a solid job of evoking the feel and pace of the movie.

Longtime readers might be understandably skeptical when learning that the villains opposing the team are the Zodiac, a group of bad guys that have never posed that much of a threat in the past.

But all that has changed, as each member of the team (representing a different sign of the Zodiac, natch) is powerful enough to challenge Thor and the Hulk.

That makes for an intense, all-action issue as the heroes try to cope with being outgunned, and they try to discover the secret behind the new powers of the Zodiac.

Like the movie, the comic is fast-paced, loaded with funny dialogue, and breezes along to its shocking last page (which got an "It's about time" out of me).

I've long been a fan of Mark Bagley's art (here inked by Danny Miki, with Paul Mounts providing the color art), and he continues to do amazing work here, balancing a small army of characters, keeping the action tense but clear and easy to follow, creating great heroes and powerful, kinetic pages of art.

Of all the Avengers comics out there, this is the one most accessible for new readers or fans of the film. Good thinking, Marvel!

Grade: A


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Batman #9

The Batman Family of comics started out the "New 52" as a crazy hodgepodge of stories, but as of this month the line has been taken over by the threat of the Court of Owls.

Scott Snyder has crafted a terrific menace here as Batman finds himself outmatched - almost - on his own turf. Not just in Gotham City, but in the Batcave itself, as he's attacked by a group of Talons (the almost unstoppable soldiers working for the Court of Owls).

This is a fun, intense action issue as Bruce Wayne and his allies try to protect Gotham's leaders from assassination at the hands of the Talons.

It's not often you see Batman pushed to the limit, but that's where he finds himself again, as he's outnumbered and outgunned - but never outsmarted.

It's also rare to find a Batman comic that's so action-heavy - but it's expertly handled by artist Greg Capullo, who's doing some of the best work of his career.

The creative team has managed to return Batman to the top tiers - where he rightfully belongs, of course. Let's hope he stays there a while.

Same for Snyder and Capullo.

Grade: A


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Stack of New Comics

A huge haul for me - because today was my "Free Comics Day" (the owner was nice enough to hold some back for me, since I wasn't able to go on Saturday). Here's what I got:

- New Avengers #26 - An Iron Fist-related story.

- Avengers Assemble #3 - A real slobberknocker, and the true enemy is revealed!

- Batman #9 - Fighting the Owls with home court advantage!

- Captain America #11 - The Scourge is back!

- Captain America & Hawkeye #630
- Fighting with dinosaurs!

- Fairest #3 - She's as cold as ice.

- Fatale #5 - More horror, pulp style.

- Green Lantern #9 - The dark secret of the Indigo Corps.

- Hulk Smash Avengers #2 (of 5) - Hulk will steal spotlight in Avengers movie! Then smash!

- Journey Into Mystery #637 - Oh boy, a crossover! How I hate 'em!

- Lobster Johnson #5 (of 5) - The final frenzied free-for-all!

- Memorial #5 - Questions and Answers

- Trio #1 - John Byrne does a back to the basics comic.

- Ultimates #10 - The end for humanity?

- Wolverine and the X-Men #10 - A chat with Cyclops.

Then from the free comics pile I got:

- Avengers: Rise of Ultron
- Good comic, but a reprint.

- DC: The New 52 - Previewing the next DC Event - or the next JLA story, anyway.

- Bongo Free-For-All! - A fun cluster of stories.

- Donald Duck Family Comics - I'm incapable of passing up a Disney Duck comic.

- Dark Horse flip book, with Serenity (thank you!) and a Star Wars / Han Solo story (thanks again!)

- My Favorite Martian - I liked that show when I was a kid.

- Mouse Guard - It's a hardcover book, for cryin' out loud!

And that's it! (Whew!)

Classic Comics - The Avengers #144

Here we wrap up our month-long look back at some classic issues that star the heroes from the biggest movie of the year.

By the 1970s, The Avengers comic book had been written entirely by two writers - Stan Lee and Roy Thomas.

A couple of issues after the 100th issue, Roy turned over the reins to a new and (mostly) unknown writer, Steve Englehart, who would go on to write the comic for about four years - and would become my favorite Avengers writer.

That's because he became a master of weaving existing continuity into something bigger and more cosmic than anything readers had seen before.

But some stories were smaller and more personal - but reflected that same awareness of the Marvel Universe.

This issue from 1976 is a particular favorite, even though it ventures into territory most superhero writers would never consider: Marvel's line of comics for girls.

In the '50s and '60s the company created a number of titles for female fans (though I'm sure some guys read them, too) - comics like Millie the Model and Patsy Walker featured humor and romance (sometimes leaning one way, sometimes the other).

Englehart had used Patsy in his short-lived run on The Beast's solo appearances, and when that comic was canceled, he moved the former member of the X-Men over to The Avengers - and soon, Patsy followed.

This issue recaps her back story and launches her into the most unexpected direction yet, as it let her make the leap from romance comics to superhero status (where she remains to this day)!

And that was just a small part of the story that was part of a crossover / battle with the Squadron Supreme (the JLA, anyone?), the Serpent Crown, the Roxxon Corporation and The Cat / Tigra!

(Oh, and you also get to enjoy the brief "Iron Man has a nose on his mask" period.)

The artwork was by a young George Perez, and I was (and am) a big fan of his work. His pencils here (inked by Mike Esposito) may not be quite as polished as his later work, but the signs of his genius were clearly in view. He brought a fresh energy to the title that meshed perfectly with the sparks Englehart was throwing off.

It was a great time to be an Avengers fan.

Sort of like right now!

Grade: A


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

World's Finest #1

Here's an interesting revival of a classic DC title that brings back fond memories.

One of the earliest comics I can remember buying was an issue of World's Finest, which featured regular team-ups with Superman, Batman and Robin.

This time around, they've taken an unusual approach. This comic features Supergirl and Robin - but not the ones from "our" Earth. As seen in the first issue of Earth-2, Supergirl and Robin (Bruce Wayne's daughter) travel through a mysterious, Boom Tube-like portal.

As we see in this issue, they arrived on our world five years ago. The story shows part of the story about how they adapt to their new life, and their primary purpose.

The comic is written by Paul Levitz, who seems to be enjoying the chance to restore these characters he helped create back to their proper place in the DC Universe.

The art is by a couple of seasoned veterans, as George Perez handles the modern-day part of the story, and Kevin Maguire provides the flashbacks. Both are long-time favorites of mine, and they turn in excellent work here.

The comic would be worth buying just for the art, but thankfully there's also a solid story as we get to know the two friends better and learn about their place in the world.

The issue is somewhat burdened with the need to sort things out, though long-time fans probably won't mind.

I'm not sure how they'll feel about Power Girl's new costume - it's missing a particularly eye-catching feature (ahem boob window ahem), but she does spend time walking around in shredded clothes, if that's any consolation to the oglers out there.

The Huntress, though, looks much more at home in her old protective costume, rather than the modified swimsuit she was wearing for a while.

A solid start to the series, and a good tie-in to the excellent Earth-2. I like the return to roots for these characters, and it's good to see them getting treated to some top creative talent.

More like this, please!

Grade: A-


Monday, May 7, 2012

Dial H #1

When I was a kid one of my favorite comics was Dial "H" for Hero.

It starred a kid named Robby Reed who discovered a mysterious artifact that looked like a phone dial. He translated the characters on the dial, and found that by dialing the letters "H-E-R-O" he could randomly become a number of strange heroes.

It was all light-hearted and imaginative, and fun reading for a kid.

I freely admit that the series doesn't hold up well today - it's a basic premise and the creative team didn't really do much with it or flesh out the characters at all.

So it was canceled after a short run, and later efforts to revive it have failed.

Here's the latest, as the series is retitled Dial H - and to be honest, I didn't much care for it.

Like so many of the "New 52" titles, this one is placed squarely in the Vertigo end of town - a dark, scary, grim and gritty place where our hero is a disgusting slob named Nelse who sees his friend being attacked on the street and for some reason he ducks into a telephone booth and tries to dial for help - only to find himself transformed into a gruesome hero.

There are some clever ideas on display in the story by China Mieville, but I can't get past the complete change in style from the original optimistic version to this depressing tale.

The art by Mateus Santolouco fits the sad and gloomy world our "hero" inhabits, but the look doesn't appeal to me much.

The cover by Brian Bolland is delightful, but you have to wonder why they would use his art of the cover when it's so far removed from the art inside.

I'm afraid I can't recommend this one at all.

Grade: C+