Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Captain America #15

Sad to hear that writer Ed Brubaker is nearing the end of his run on Captain America - he's been turning in consistently outstanding work for years now.

His final storyline begins here, as Cap and his allies face off against a terrorist organization led by the new and deadly Hydra Queen, her ally Bravo (and old opponent for Cap) and Baron Zemo.

They have Cap on the ropes after pitting him in a deadly match against an old ally - and now he has to face a murderous army of new and powerful enemies.

It's a dark story as it sets up the final confrontation between SHIELD and Hydra - and an overwhelming challenge for Cap.

The art is by Scot Eaton and Rick Magyar, and it's quite good - dynamic and gutsy, with some gripping action sequences.

Completely off the topic, I'm glad to see Cap getting such great treatment lately - starring in an excellent film of his own, then starring in one of the biggest movies of all time (The Avengers) - and getting first-class treatment in his own title, thanks to Brubaker's outstanding guidance.

I've been a fan since Cap was reintroduced in the Silver Age, and I couldn't be happier!

Grade: A-


Monday, July 30, 2012

Trio #3

OK, I'm pretty sure writer / artist John Byrne is messing with us.

The third issue of Trio continues to echo some well-known notes from comic history: the cover is a take on one of Byrne's X-Men covers; it features a Galactus-type menace; the Namor-like Nautilus plays a pivotal role; and the team itself seems just one member off from being a fantastic foursome.

None of that is to take away from the entertainment value of the comic, as the Trio prepare to fight against an attack by Nautilus and his leviathan, only to face an even bigger threat (literally) in the form of an alien ship that may destroy the planet.

The story's a lot of fun as events play out on a big, science fiction-themed stage. The art is quite good - Byrne never delivers any less than top-notch work - and he gets to cover a lot of ground here.

Despite (or because of) its well-trod origins, this is a comic that longtime fans will enjoy. It's Byrne working in a format he knows well, and he delivers the goods.

It's a fun, Marvel-sized adventure and well worth tracking down.

Grade: A-


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Wonderland #1

There's such a wide variety of comics being published today, it's an expensive proposition to buy them all - but now and then it's fun to try a series you haven't read before.

There are quite a few of these Grimm Universe / Zenoscope comics, and I've never read any of them - so this issue of Wonderland seemed like a good place to give it a try.

Seemed like.

Judging by the covers to the issues I've seen so far, I had assumed that this series was set up to appeal in a 'Good Girl Art' / 'Bad Girl Art' way, as it takes well-known, public domain characters, adds in lots of scantily-clad supermodels, and watches the cash roll in.

Nothing in this issue indicates that I've made a mistake.

It offers almost nothing in the way of information or backstory (my recent re-reading of the original Alice in Wonderland was more help than anything here).

It focuses on two women (who I assume are descendants of the original Alice) and a new, bloody incarnation of the Mad Hatter. The women are on the run from a mysterious menace. We also get a glimpse of the Red Queen (who's - brace yourself - scarily clad).

The focus here is on the art by U. Ken Marion, and it's quite good, with a style similar to Ron Lim.

The story by Raven Gregory is pretty slim. For a first issue, it would be nice to get something in the way of backstory - all we get are the names of the two women (Calie Liddle and her daughter Violet) and that the've escaped from Wonderland. No idea who they are, what Wonderland is, why there's so much death and blood involved, or - most importantly - why we should care.

Granted, this series isn't aimed at me - and I can't judge the whole line by a single issue - but there's nothing here that urges me to add these titles to my weekly list. Seems like a missed opportunity to me.

Grade: C+


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Wolverine and the X-Men #14

One of the sweetest love stories (and longest-developing) was the one between Kitty Pryde and Colossus.

Both characters have been through the literary grinder over the years - they've been killed, resurrected, exiled, brainwashed, possessed and otherwise mistreated.

One of the great touches from the Wheadon / Cassaday Astonishing X-Men series was that it reunited the long-separated couple and reignited their romance. Since then, they've been separated... uh, because they're cast in different X-Men series, I suppose.

But this issue of Wolverine and the X-Men is something of a reunion - but not the one we might have preferred.

Colossus has been possessed by the Phoenix Force, so he's become a god (of sorts) - and he tries to reconnect with Kitty by taking her on a "hot date," but can the gulf between them be bridged?

It's a bittersweet tale by writer Jason Aaron and artists Jorge Molina and Norman Lee, but fans will no doubt be divided over the outcome.

Superhero fans hate to admit it, but most of us have a romantic streak in there somewhere, so we hang on these stories of the ups-and-downs of relationships.

As such things go, this is an interesting take on the age-old tale.

Grade: B+


Friday, July 27, 2012

Green Lantern #11

In his original incarnation in the '60s, Black Hand was a lightweight villain.

His main bit was stealing power from Green Lantern and reciting proverbs that somehow tied in to each criminal act.

Definitely not one of John Broome or Gil Kane's greatest creations, but he made a reliable menace.

The modern version of Black Hand is at the opposite end of the spectrum - he's now a grim and gritty embodiment of death, killing at random at bringing dead bodies back to life.

This issue, written by Geoff Johns, is mostly about dealing with loose ends, as Hal Jordan and Sinestro wrap up their visit to the Indigo Trible, take a look at Sinestro's surprising home, and get ready to confront a new evil.

But the focus is on Black Hand, who escaped the Indigo Tribe by killing himself - only to be resurrected by a Black Lantern ring. Now he's a threat to every living thing - and could we see a return to the Blackest Night?

The art by Doug Mahnke is excellent as always, and once again, it's inked by a small army (no idea why this is). The art is crisp, the characters perfectly realized, and the design reflects a strong Bolland influence.

There are quite a few story elements bubbling along nicely here - and with a new war in the offing and the threat that the Guardians may put an end to the Green Lantern Corps, this is going to be a comic to watch.

Grade: B+


Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Avengers #28

So here's an issue of The Avengers focusing on the Red Hulk - which would be fine if I cared at all about that character.

But I don't.

For those who came in late, the Red Hulk is actually General Thunderbolt Ross, who's been hunting the (original green) Hulk since that character's first (gray) appearance. A few years ago Ross became a Hulk, too. (How? No idea.)

He was brought into the Avengers to bring some much-needed muscle, but he's a soldier first, so this issue focuses on his decision to act alone and take out one of the Phoenix Five - but he'll do it as a man, not as a monster.

Writer Brian Bendis takes an unusual approach with this issue, as the first 10 pages feature no word balloons - just some narration by Ross. It's an interesting and effective look at the thinking of a military man.

It also allows Bendis to stay out of the way of artist Walter Simonson, who turns in some intense, powerful work here - he manages to channel some of the kinetic style of Kirby without being an imitation of the King.

Give the creative team credit - they crafted a story about a character I don't like - and despite myself, I enjoyed it!

I hate it when that happens.

Grade: B+


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

New Comics!

Today's visit to the comics shop brought in a big haul, including:

- Aquaman #11 - Unraveling an ancient mystery.

- Avengers #28 - Red Hulk, the assassin?

- Before Watchmen: The Comedian #2 (of 4)
- The dark side of the '60s.

- Captain America #15
- Terror on the streets!

- Captain America & Iron Man #634 - Batroc the Leaper? I'm there!

- FF #16 - The Inhumans return home.

- Flash #11 - It's like a Heat Wave.

- Green Lantern #11 - Like a bad penny, Black Hand turns up (bad joke for old comic fans).

- Hawken #5 - Learning a hard truth.

- John Carter: Gods of Mars #5 (of 5)
- Final showdown!

- Manhattan Project #5 - An alien problem.

- Spaceman #8 (of 9) - Near the end.

- Mighty Thor #17
- Facing a nightmare.

- Trio #3
- A towering menace.

- Winter Soldier #9 - Looking for a friend.

- Wolverine and the X-Men #16 - Kitty Pryde's hot date.

- Wonderland #1 - Considering how many of these Grimm's Fairy Tales comics there are, I figured I should try one.

And that's it!

The Classics - Our Army At War #203

It's easy to kick yourself over comics you missed.

Recently I talked about how, as a youngster, I bought precious few western comics.

Same story for war comics.

I did pick up a few issues of Sgt. Fury, and my brothers had a few issues of Sgt. Rock - and that was about it.

Big mistake, as this issue clearly demonstrates.

Published in 1969, this "80 Page Giant" (for a quarter!) is actually a collection of classic stories, and a celebration of some of the finest artists who worked on DC's comics.

The stories were all written by Bob Kanigher - not one of my favorite writers, but he did his best work in war comics. The first story is a classic Sgt. Rock story as illustrated by living legend Joe Kubert, and this story is a good example of why he's so revered. It's loaded with amazing action, numerous splash panels and intense emotions, all in service of a story about Easy Company learning whether or not it can survive without Rock.

The second story is by one of the few artists who belong in the same ranks as Kubert - Russ Heath, who illustrates a Haunted Tank story. It's the gimmick-laden tale of how Jeb Stuart discovers a previously-hidden ability to sense where the next attack is coming from, but Heath gives it amazing depth and detail - never anything less than stunning work.

None of this is to take away from the other two artists included - Mort Drucker, who would achieve greater fame for his comedic work, provides a fun story of Mlle. Marie taking on the Nazis, and workhorse Irving Novick crafts stories for Jonny Cloud and the team known as Gunner, Sarge and Pooch, and as always, he turns in excellent work.

DC's war stories could run the range (as this issue shows) from intense combat to silly morality tales, but their batting average was high, and most issues provided lots of entertainment and some terrific art.

I just wish I'd picked up more of them back when they were easier to track down.

Grade: A-


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Soulfire - Grace #1

The five-issue Soulfire miniseries has offered a look at the five masters of Samusara.

Each issue has focused on a different character (like this issue's Grace) or ability of each master (Hope, Despair, Faith and Power).

The focus has been on the powerful figure named Malikai - a pivotal figure in the new world of magic. The five have been searching for him, and here they pool their resources to solve the mystery - which involves a deadly battle and a visit to a frightening locale.

The story is by J.T. Krul, and it's pretty straightforward, wrapping up the story threads from the previous series and setting up the next big event.

The art is by Pasquale Qualano, and it's quite good, with sexy heroines, nasty creatures and mystic settings.

My only complaint is that it all wraps up rather abruptly - but that final page certainly whets the appetite for the next story.

Grade: B+


Monday, July 23, 2012

Daredevil #15

For over a year now, the creative team on Daredevil has been doing consistently excellent work.

For proof, look no further than the recent Eisner Awards, where the Man Without Fear walked away with three awards: Best Continuing Series, Best Single Issue for Daredevil #7, and Best Writer to Mark Waid.

And there's a reason for all this: it's one of the best comics being published today.

It's a simple combination. Great characters, original stories, excellent artwork, clever solutions to difficult challenges, and a healthy dose of humor.

Daredevil has faced overpowering opponents, five crime cartels at once, solved grisly crimes and seduced beautiful women (though not all in the same issue).

But in this issue he may finally face defeat. Last issue he was spirited away to Latveria, where an underling of Doctor Doom's performed an experiment that slowly destroyed his senses - including his radar sense.

Cut off from the world, how can Daredevil hope to survive, much less escape?

The answer lies in yet another clever tale from writer Mark Waid, loaded with surprising twists and turns.

The art is by Chris Samnee, and it's wonderful - he's quickly become one of my favorites, and this issue is loaded with clever visual styles, some dramatic confrontations and powerful layouts.

If you have any interest at all in superhero comics, you should be buying this one. The creative team puts on a clinic in each issue in how to do comics "right."

Grade: A


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #2 (of 4)

This tale of Silk Spectre as a girl (well, a teenager) has her on the run from her domineering mother and finding a new life San Francisco in the 1960s.

It's a fun, free-spirited story (written by Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner) that has her leading a double life: by day a hippie chick, living with her boyfriend and some other artistic friends, going to parties and having fun; at night she dons a costume and fights the bad guys using the fighting skills her mother taught.

It feels, for all the world, like a really well-done comic from the late '60s (without being retro). The stakes are small, but the story is tightly drawn and loaded with characters you care about.

There's an odd side-story about attempts to reinvigorate music sales via a designer drug, and it's fun to see icons make guest appearances (like Frank Sinatra and the Beatles, though they're never named).

But that part of the story is mostly silly, though it does provide a good cliffhanger.

But the star of the show, as always, is the artwork by Amanda Conner. Here she leans heavily on the nine-panel grid (as used so effectively by Dave Gibbons in the original Watchmen series), and fills it with wonderful, expressive characters, animated crowd scenes and some hard-hitting action sequences.

Lots of fun, very enjoyable, and a real blast from the past.

Grade: A-


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Film Review - "The Dark Knight Rises"

Just back from seeing a matinee of The Dark Knight Rises, and I have to say, it was very good.

Not perfect by any means - it's too long, too broad, very dark and takes its sweet time getting to the point - but there are some great action sequences, clever story bits and quite a few twists and turns. Most of the characters get some good bits of business along the way, and there are several strong hero moments.

It helps that the cast is so strong. Christian Bale's Batman has a lot to overcome (in many ways he has too much to overcome), Bane is a terrific villain here - very smart, very deadly, always one step ahead of the authorities and quite powerful - the first physically formidable foe Batman has faced in the movies.

Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle (never referred to as Catwoman) is a fun, ambiguous character who gets several good scenes along the lines of Scarlett Johansen's Black Widow - just when you think you see her real feelings, you realize you haven't.

There are lots of other great characters here - but I don't want to say too much for fear of giving something away. There are some nifty plot points and great supporting performances. It does, very effectively, tie up the three movies into a solid trilogy.

I walked away from it with similar feelings to The Dark Knight - that it was a great movie, but would have been better with about 30 minutes trimmed out of it. It's not as much fun as The Avengers, but it's an outstanding comic book movie.

Highly recommended!

Captain Marvel #1

See, I really want to like this comic.

I was a big fan of Marvel's original Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell), even though he went through numerous changes as the assorted creative teams tried to come up with a winning combination.

He was a Kree Warrior who used advanced technology to fight the bad guys, he was super-powered up, sent into the Negative Zone and could exchange places with Rick Jones, he became cosmically aware, fought Thanos, escaped the Negative Zone and became a cosmic hero - and then he died.

His legacy (and name) continued with varying success, as the name was handed off to other characters, including a new hero (now Photon, I think) and his son (not sure what happened to him - dead, maybe?).

Carol Danvers became a hero as a result of one of Cap's adventures, and she became Ms. Marvel - at first wearing a cutout version of Cap's uniform, then getting her own, Dave Cockrum-designed costume. She's also gone through quite a few changes, but for a while now she's been part of the Avengers.

For reasons that defy explanation (except that Marvel owns the rights to the name and someone has to fill the title), Carol decides to take the name of Captain Marvel. She dons a new costume (somewhat modeled on the Gil Kane-designed version from the '70s) and sets out to honor Cap's memory.

It doesn't really make sense, since Carol Danvers was a Colonel in the Air Force - but what does logic have to do with it?

This issue, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, reintroduces the character and establishes some of her inspirations - but the story never really takes off. I like some of the dialogue, but you don't get much of a sense of who Carol is and why we should care about her. And the opening action scene didn't make much sense at all.

I really struggled with the art, too. The issue features a wonderful, sleek cover by Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines and Javier Rodriguez, but the interior art is a completely different style. Dexter Soy creates a dark, grim setting for Carol's adventures. The painted art is terrific, but the dark feel doesn't seem to match the promise of the cover. And I don't understand the mask at all (sometime it's there, sometimes it isn't).

An origin issue needs to establish the character, her supporting cast, the extent of her powers or set up an ongoing storyline - and this issue doesn't manage any of those.

It's not a bad issue at all - it offers some insights, and puts the story in motion - but it didn't really work for me. But then, I still miss Mar-Vell.

Grade: B-


Friday, July 20, 2012

Justice League #11

It's one of Marvel's mainstays (this summer's event book is based entirely on it), but for some reason the trick doesn't seem to work at DC.

I'm talking about the whole "heroes meet and fight for some reason or another." The entire Avengers vs. X-Men series is based around that premise (not to mention the Avengers movie), but when DC tries it, the results just don't seem to work.

Take this issue if Justice League. It starts when the League is recovering from a devastating attack by the powerful menace known as Graves - a battle that took place on the League's orbiting satellite.

They pursue the villain, but when the true threat is revealed and Wonder Woman decides to go solo, the result is a all-out beat-'em-up between two heroes. And then another hero.

And for some reason, it doesn't really work at all.

The art by Jim Lee is nice, but the fighting just feels like it's tacked on to fill out an otherwise-thin issue.

It's the first issue of the "new" JL that hasn't really worked - so that's not a bad percentage. But it is disappointing.

Grade: B-


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Avengers vs. X-Men #8 (of 12)

So here's what I love about this issue of Avengers vs. X-Men: it's a love letter to the Golden Age. Sorta.

It picks up right where the last issue left off, with a Phoenix-powered Namor launching a tidal wave against Wakanda (the Black Panther's nation). That's a flashback to one of the Sub-Mariner's original appearances when he launched a similar watery attack against New York City.

Most of this issue is given over to that kind of all-out action, as the Avengers face down an enraged Namor (which is bad enough ordinarily, but add in some godlike power and you have a real problem).

The story is scripted by Brian Bendis, and it rockets along at top speed. The art is by the excellent Adam Kubert with inks by John Dell, and they amp up the action as the battle rages across Wakanda.

You don't buy this series looking for deep storytelling, and this one offers up a few interesting incidents - but it's mostly just here to provide a slugfest.

A bit old-fashioned, but good clean fun. Nothing wrong with that.

Grade: B+


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

New Comics!

Here's what I picked up today:

- Avengers vs. X-Men #8 (of 12) - Namor vs. everyone!

- Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #2 (of 4)
- Peace, love and understanding.

- Captain Marvel #1 - Funny, she doesn't look like Mar-Vell.

- Daredevil #15 - Lost in Latveria.

- Fantastic Four #608
- The mysteries of Wakanda.

- Invincible Iron Man #521 - Stark as the Mandarin's pawn?

- Journey Into Mystery #641 - An unexpected crossover with Alan Moore?

- Justice League #11 - Hero vs. hero!

- Infernal Man-Thing #2 (of 3) - More Gerber strangeness.

- Saga #5 - Twists and turns.

- Spider #3 - Bad times in New York.

- Wonder Woman #11 - Battle with the Gods.

And that's it! (I was hoping to pick up the new Concrete issue, but my shop didn't carry it. Bummer.)

The Classics - Archie #217

It's always fun to track down an old issue of Archie and see how the world's oldest teen holds up in different eras.

This issue was printed in 1972, at a time when Archie and I were about the same age (give or take a few years). I must say, he's holding up much better than yours truly.

Anyway, the clothes look vaguely familiar, though I don't remember the girls all wearing mini-skirts in high school (I'm pretty sure I would have remembered that). Durn dress codes!

The biggest laugh in this issue came from the title of the opening story: "The Gay Blades." It's all about the janitor, Mr. Svenson, raging against the teens at school for tracking water and slush all over the halls. The solution is absurd but cute.

After a couple of (frankly lame) one-page gags, the second story places Archie in the challenging role of delivering a package to Veronica despite a blizzard. You'll see that ending coming a mile away.

The third story is all about the teens discovering a new way to eat ice cream. Also a silly one. Perhaps this was the inspiration for Ben and Jerry's?

The final story is the best of the bunch, as Mr. Weatherbee tries a different approach to getting Archie to school on time.

Look, this is the kind of stuff that's been the meat-and-potatos for the Archie series for decades without end - take a bunch of likable characters, lavish on some wonderful comic art (in a Dan DeCarlo style, even if he doesn't do the actual art), add some fluffy humor, a couple of genuine laughs, the latest fashions, a little romance, and you've got a winning formula.

Some of the Archie comics are better than others - this one's just an average example (needed more Betty) - but it's a light bit of entertainment that any young reader would enjoy.

Even geezers like your pal Chuck can appreciate it for being a slice of Americana - dependable, fun and reliably entertaining.

Grade: B-


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Fantastic Four Annual #33

Some comics have to win you over, and others have my affection before I open the cover.

This Fantastic Four Annual, for example, gets that pre-purchase love from me - for several reasons.

First, it's written and drawn by Alan Davis (with Mark Farmer inking), and he's one of my all-time favorite creators. His art is terrific and his stories are clever and thoughtful.

Second, it's a Fantastic Four Annual - and it has the proper number on it, instead of the usual "Annual - 2007 - #1" designation. Yep, I'm a traditional kinda guy.

Third, it features the sadly-neglected super-team created by Davis, The Clandestine, a family of mystic / mutant / who knows what (but they sure are powerful) - I'll follow them anywhere, especially if Davis is involved.

Fourth, It features Dr. Strange - and I mean the real Doc, with the "real" costume, the Cloak of Levitation, the Eye of Agamotto, and back to being the Master of the Mystic Arts.

Finally, it stars the Thing and the Human Torch, working together in an odd, time-traveling, mystical mind-bending adventure.

It's great fun, though it's surprisingly dark and a bit twisty - but it's a meaty bit of work, and readers will have to pay attention of face the prospect of getting lost. Very entertaining and well worth the effort.

I have a couple of minor quibbles. Since it's an Annual, it would have been nice to have a few extra features in there - some pin-ups, a "behind the scenes" feature - maybe "How Alan and Mark Created This Issue/"

But that's just me being grouchy. The good news is, this is the first chapter of a three-issue crossover into next month's Daredevil and Wolverine Annuals - all written and drawn by Davis.

I can only hope they also include the Clandestine!

Grade: A-


Monday, July 16, 2012

New Avengers #28

Since the Phoenix Force has empowered five of the X-Men, the Avengers find themselves outgunned - and several have been imprisoned.

So what better topic for this issue of New Avengers than a jail break story?

The focus is on three Avengers - Luke Cage, Hawkeye and Spider-Woman, as they plot their escape.

Kudos to writer Brian Bendis for taking a hoary topic - a prison escape - and giving it a different spin, thanks largely to the characters involved.

The art by Mike Deodato is impressive - especially for his use of shadows to set the mood.

I can't say much about the issue without giving too much away, but this is a strong story that manages to fit around the edges of the big Avengers vs. X-Men series.

It does seem a bit odd that the New Avengers series seems to have dropped the whole Iron Fist plotline that's been dominating for the past few issues.

Perhaps it's moving over to the A vs. X series? Time will tell.

Grade: B+


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Batman #11

Almost a year in to the "New 52" and we finally reach the end of the first story arc in this series - and it's been well worth the wait.

The story of the Court of Owls has easily been one of the best Batman stories in recent memory.

But that's because it took big risks, tweaked elements of Batman's origin (without actually changing anything) and created a new and challenging opponent for the Dark Knight. In the Owls they've created a secret society with unlimited resources that has (somehow) been operating in Gotham City since long before Batman appeared.

Before the creative team gets the big head, I have to point out that there are several hugely improbable events in this issue, and the ending isn't quite as definitive as one would like.

This issue ends up being a slugfest between Batman and the final Talon - and one that may have a sinister and surprising connection to Bruce Wayne. The issue is filled with improbable stunts, including one that involves a jet plane (could any man actually hang on the wing like that?), a dive from far above Gotham (Batman's solution would have cut him in half), and one of my favorite movie bits - outrunning an explosion.

But those are minor quibbles - comics are filled with improbable action sequences, of course - and it does provide an explosive conclusion to the epic story, even though it leaves Bruce with many unanswered questions.

But hats off to writer Scott Snyder and artists Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion for crafting a legendary tale that gets this series off to a tremendous start.

Here's hoping their next story arc lives up to this one!

Grade: A-


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Avengers Assemble #5

I thought this comic was designed to link the Avengers film with the Marvel Universe - using the team lineup from the film while keeping the story with regular continuity.

But as of this issue of Avengers Assemble, that idea seems to have flown, and it looks like this series is actually set in the reality of the film - sorta.

There are two events that indicate that. The first is depicted right there on the cover, as Hawkeye and the Black Widow find time for a serious smooch. In the Marvel Universe, Natasha is in a relationship with Winter Soldier, and Hawkeye is "dating" Spider-Woman.

The second event is the team's reaction to an attack last issue by Thanos. This issue focuses on a meet-and-greet between the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy (who are apparently in line to star in an upcoming film), and that cosmic team explains about the menace facing the Earth.

For some reason The Avengers don't seem to know much about Thanos (or is that just my reaction to the explanation for those who came in late?). It seems odd, since they've faced off several times. But if this is the movie Avengers, that would explain the confusion.

At any rate, the issue features the usual terrific dialogue by writer Brian Bendis (especially Rocket Raccoon) and terrific art by Mark Bagley.

This is a bit of a slow issue, as it involves lots of exposition and setting up the gathering of the two teams - but it looks like this story will really bust loose next issue.

So bear with the creative team while they put the game piece in place - should be lots of action next time around to make up for it.

Grade: B


Friday, July 13, 2012

Before Watchmen: Minutemen #2 (of 4)

One of the ways the original Watchmen series was innovative was that it focused on characters who played the part of heroes - but weren't necessarily heroic.

They had different motives - some noble, but most had more base reasons. It was a bit of a shock for comic readers who had been raised on generations of good guys fighting for truth, justice and the American way.

I have friends who loathe comics like that - but there's no denying that comics were never the same afterwards.

Which brings us to this issue by writer / artist Darwyn Cooke, which expands on the concept even more, as we learn more about the real origin of the Minutemen - a group that was created more as a public relations stunt than as a group of civic-minded heroes trying to do the right thing.

Thankfully, there are characters in here we can cheer on - but there are also developments that are shocking and disturbing. (This is not a comic for young kids.)

It's a difficult issue to discuss without giving away essential plot points, but it's a gripping tale about a truly different team dynamic.

As always, the art is fantastic - clever layouts, clear storytelling, intense staging - Cooke is an outstanding talent.

I'm not sure if it's the inspiration of following in the footsteps of a legend, if it's just the fact that they're working with great source material, or if it's the talent of the creative teams (it's probably all three), but the Before Watchmen titles have all been excellent - and this may be the best one of the bunch.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Walking Dead #100

Even though my tastes in comics are (obviously) pretty mainstream, I don't always pick up on what's "hot" in the industry.

The Walking Dead is a great example. It's one of the most successful non-Marvel or DC titles, it sells tons of issues and collections every month, and it spawned a successful TV series (and all the merchandising that entails).

And I've never read an issue until now.

Why? I dunno - I've never been a big fan of zombies (they're disgusting, they're usually slow, they eat brains (or other organs) - I get it. If you like that sort of thing, more power to you. it's just not my cuppa.

But, any comic that makes it to its 100th "anniversary" issue deserves credit, so I decided to break down and give it a try.

My first reaction is, I can see why this is popular. Written by Robert Kirkman, it's a grim piece of work. It has solid characters, dangerous situations, backstories for everyone, lots of tension and horror riding on every decision. We see the protagonists in a very tough spot and we ache to see how (or if) they'll escape.

The art is by Charles Adlard with gray tones by Cliff Rathburn, and it's quite good. Dark but with a realistic feel to it, he presents an array of characters, a world that's gone to hell and an existence loaded with harsh realities. He also has one of the most brutal, violent scenes in recent memory. (This is not a comic for young readers, folks.)

I can admire the craft and the style of the comic, but if this issue is any indication, it just isn't for me.

It's bleak, it's unsettling and it depicts a world that most of us would prefer to avoid.

Congrats to the series on its great success, and I'm glad they're not harmed by my disinterest- 'cause I won't be back for more.

As the great Don Thompson said, "If you like this sort of thing, here it is."

Grade: B-


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Comics Today

Here's what I picked up this week:

- New Avengers #28 - Jail break!

- Avengers Assemble #5 - Meet the Guardians of the Galaxy!

- Batman #11 - The finale of the Court of Owls.

- Before Watchmen: Minutemen #2
- Behind the scenes.

- Captain America #14 - Fighting a friend to the finish!

- Conan the Barbarian #6 - Death in Argos!

- Defenders #8 - Tracking a killer and a mystery.

- Fantastic Four Annual #33
- Alan Davis and Clandestine? Wild horses couldn't keep me away!

- The Shade #10 (of 12) - How do you defeat a god?

- Spider-Men #3 (of 5) - Battle with Mysterio.

- Swamp Thing #11 - The return of Arcane.

- Walking Dead #100
- My first issue of this series.

- Wolverine and the X-Men #13
- Gladiator vs. the Phoenix.

And that's it!

The Classics - Hawkman #19

Through the magic of nostalgia, I find that I tend to remember only the good in most series.

For example, I would have sworn that I loved all the comics in the Silver Age Hawkman series. Then I re-read this issue from 1967.

Yeah, not so good.

This despite the fact that it features art by the wonderfully talented Murphy Anderson, and a story by one of my all-time favorite DC writers, Gardner Fox. This was not one of Fox's better efforts. (Anderson's work is always terrific.)

This is the second part of a story that has Hawkman's home planet Thanagar mysteriously missing. Hawkman had teamed up with Adam Strange (who has a cameo here) to defeat the menace of the Man-Hawks, an alien race of hawks who wear masks that give them power. (Honest!)

Somehow the Man-Hawks have moved Thanagar, and Hawkman comes up with a plan to track it down - but first he has to deal with a couple of silly, deep space menaces that were apparently created to fill out the pages in the issue.

The story just makes one odd leap after the other, ends up with the menace of a reptilian race that teams with the Man-Hawks... ugh... I think I'm losing the will to live, so I don't think I can talk about the story anymore.

Look, I love this version of Hawkman. A policeman from another planet who comes to Earth with his beautiful, incredibly capable wife Shayera / Hawkgirl and fights crime using his anti-gravity belt and mechanical wings to fly. They usually arm themselves with classic weaponry from Earth's history.

Most of his adventures are wonderful little mysteries, alien challenges, or clever science fiction adventures.

This one, not so much - but every writer has "off" stories, and considering his incredible output, Fox can be forgiven for a minor stumble here and there.

But the art is great!

Grade: C-


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Rocketeer Adventures 2 #4

This is the second round of mini-adventures starring the Rocketeer, and while they've all been quite good - even exceptional - I'm glad to hear the next mini-series will be a single storyline (by Mark said and Chris Samnee, no less).

But give IDW credit - they went out with a killer lineup this time around.

It starts off with a story by Louise and Walter Simonson that takes Cliff (Rocketeer) Secord to the nation's capital for a fund-raising effort to support the troops and ends up in an aerial dogfight. As you'd expect from the creative team, it's high-energy and lots of fun.

The second story is the wildest of the bunch as writer Dave Mandel and artist J Bone tell the story of "Cliff Secord, Warlord of Blargon." It's a terrific takeoff on the whole John Carter concept (and is kinder than most reviews of the fine big-budget film that I recommend). It's very funny and has a great punch line.

The last story is by writer / artist John Byrne - it's loaded with terrific art, a fun story and some nifty action sequences. Its only fault is that the story is almost identical to the one by the Simonsons. (Proof that great minds think alike, I suppose.)

But that's just the most minor of complaints - it's wonderful to see so many talented creators giving their time and efforts to continuing the character created by Dave Stevens.

Long may he reign!

Grade: A


Monday, July 9, 2012

Executive Assistant Assassins #1

I readily admit that my interests cover a wide range of stories.

I like the intellectually challenging work, I enjoy straightforward tales of heroism, I (sometimes) relish the dystopian tale, I relish uplifting stories, and I like the lowbrow stuff.

So I admit that I enjoyed this issue of Executive Assistant Assassins (which probably belongs in the latter category).

It's the latest in a series of stories about trained killers who happen to be beautiful women. (I should also confess that I've never read the previous stories in this series.)

It's a story right out of the best of the "B" movies, as a secret academy trains women from birth to be the ultimate Executive Assistant, able to handle any situation, including business management, (ahem) personal service or bodyguard duties.

This story actually focuses on two different aspects of the academy. The first is the life - such as it is - of Executive Assistant Lily, who has fallen from grace and is forced to dance in sleazy dives to make a living. Of course, she can't leave her violent past behind, and it catches up to her.

We also focus on the academy itself, which faces some unexpected competition, with deadly consequences.

The story by Vince Hernandez clips along at top speed and never really slows down enough to show the flaws in the story. The art is by Jordan Gunderson, and it's solid, good-girl art with some strong action sequences mixed in.

This one is shaping up as an all-out action romp and - eventually - a revenge flick. Don't pick it up expecting deep thought or political correctness - but it is a lot of fun!

Grade: B+


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #1 (of 4)

There's a long tradition in comics and pulps of heroes who are self-made.

They develop their superhuman abilities through hard work, exotic studies and natural intelligence - and I've always enjoyed those characters (face it, that's more impressive than the usual "struck by magic / exposed to radioactivity" type thing).

So alongside Doc Savage, Batman and Shang-Chi, you can add Ozymandias.

This issue written by Len Wein lovingly recounts that character's life story from birth to adulthood.

Adrian Alexander Veidt was an exceptional child who learned to deal with a world that was not fair. He studied hard, overcame difficulties, crafted his mind and body into an exceptional machine, and eventually became "The World's Smartest Man," and (of course) a pivotal figure in the Watchmen series.

The mood of the book relies heavily on the stunning artwork by Jae Lee. It's sterile, which perfectly matches the clinical way Veidt describes his growth. The art has classic elements, mystic touches and a unique design. Truly exceptional work here.

The only part of the issue that didn't quite work for me was at the very end, where we see Adrian's transformation into Ozymandias. It just felt forced, rather than a carefully calculated way to advance his plans.

But future issues may correct that impression, and I'll certainly be around to find out - this is yet another exceptional issue in this series. Will any of the Before Watchmen comics stumble?

Grade: A


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Earth 2 #3

Hey, did you hear that Green Lantern is gay?

Of course, we're talking about Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern from the 1940s.

In writer James Robinson's update of Earth 2, Alan seems to be the same hero in every other way (which is as it should be), and he's the latest to get rebooted in this modern-day, alternate Earth version of the Justice Society.

In a world that has lost its mightiest heroes (Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Supergirl and Robin), new heroes are needed.

This issue picks up moments after the end of the previous issue, as Alan somehow survives a terrible train wreck. In a similar method to the original character's origin, he finds himself the recipient of incredible power, and a warning that a great evil is coming that will overshadow even that of Darkseid.

I certainly like the idea of GL being recast as the pivotal hero in the war ahead - it's the least they can do, considering that this character has gone through the biggest transformation, with a tweaked origin, new costume and modern-day updating.

But there are other members of this pro to-Justice Society in the mix, as The Flash (Jay Garrick) meets a new Hawkgirl, and there's a mention of another hero already being up and running.

We also get a look at the next big opponent, as one of GL's greatest villains also gets a reboot.

The art is by Nicola and Trevor Scott, and I like it a lot. It's organic and energetic - in fact, my only complaint is that I'm not crazy about the new Green Lantern costume - it just seems rather generic and too... green.

I really like the pace of the story, I'm enjoying watching the band get back together, and I think the creative team is working well together.

I still miss "my" JSA, but this is an entertaining - if different - take on the classic, and so far, I'm glad to hang with it.

Grade: A-


Friday, July 6, 2012

Action Comics #11

There's so much to like about Grant Morrison's version of Action Comics.

Superman is a genuinely likable character - not for his powers, but for his caring attitude. He worries about people, takes the time to help the regular citizens who are affected by his super-battles, he's smart, hard-working and worries about his friends.

He's in a bit of a corner because his alter ego, Clark Kent, was apparently killed last issue, and he's decided to allow that to stand in order to protect his friends from the dangers of being friends with Superman. So what happens when he has second thoughts?

There's a major menace on the horizon, a mystery threatening the Earth, and I love his response to the challenge: he smiles.

How wonderful to have a hero who's an optimist, who's not perfect but who's trying his best to deal with the incredible menaces that pop up daily in Metropolis.

The art is quite good, though it's a mix of two artist styles. There's the kinetic, energetic style of Rags Morales and Rick Bryant, and the more organic, rough-and-tumble work by Brad Walker. Both quite good, but not a seamless mix.

The story's only flaw is in the ending, which seems very abrupt and cliff-hangerish without properly being set up.

Still, this continues to be an excellent series - the best Superman since Morrison and Quitely's All-Star Superman, which has been the gold standard for a while.

Grade: A-


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Avengers vs. X-Men #7

During the House of M mini-series, the Scarlet Witch famously said the words, "No More X-Men" - and most of the world's mutants lost their powers.

The phrase for this issue of Avengers vs. X-Men is "No More Avengers" - and it looks like it might come true.

That's because the godlike power of the Phoenix Force has been divided among five different X-Men - Cyclops, Colossus, Namor, Emma Frost and Magik - and they've been using the power to cure the Earth's problems.

But the Avengers (perhaps rightly, perhaps wrongly) don't trust the Phoenix, so they've been opposing the "Phoenix Five" by spiriting away the mutant named Hope, who's caught squarely in the middle. The Avengers feel she's the key to stopping the Phoenix, and the X-Men feel she can reverse the Scarlet Witch's spell and revive mutants around the world.

Escalating the tension is the only hero who seems able to hurt the Phoenix - the newly-returned Scarlet Witch (and how nice to see her again as a hero - I truly hope her character is back in action after this feuding is over).

In the meantime, everyone has lots of reasons to fight fight fight - which is really what this series is all about.

The art by Olivier Coipel and Mark Morales is quite good, despite the incredible crowd of characters they're asked to depict. I really need a scorecard to keep up with many of these characters - especially on the X-Men side. There sure are a lot of them, considering most of them supposedly went away.

At any rate, there are some interesting wheels within wheels here, and one of the "Five" goes rogue here (no, not Rogue the mutant).

Still an interesting read, but this series has a habit of repeating itself - and this issue, as artfully done as it is, just seems like more of the same from last issue.

Grade: B+


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Comics on the Fourth of July!

Kudos to my comics shop for being open despite today being a holiday (Happy Birthday, America!) - here's what I picked up:

- Action Comics #11 - Why must there be a Clark Kent?

- Avengers vs. X-Men #7 - No more Avengers?

- Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #1 (of 4) - Growing the perfect child.

- Creator-Owned Heroes #2 - Comics on the edge.

- Earth 2 #3 - It's the new (old) Green Lantern!

- Fairest #5 - Who doesn't love a good cat fight?

- Invincible Iron Man #520 - The Mandarin wins?

- The Infernal Man-Thing #1 (of 3) - Written by Steve Gerber!

- Popeye #3 - Great series!

- Rocketeer Adventures 2 #4 - Simonson and Byrne in one issue!

- World's Finest #3 - Fighting a radioactive man.

And that's it!

The Classics - Two-Gun Kid #66

I have to admit that, when I was a kid, I was never a big fan of western comics - I was more into super-heroes. (Shows what I knew.)

But I would occasionally pick up one of Marvel's western comics. There were three that enjoyed long runs: Kid Colt, The Rawhide Kid and Two-Gun Kid.

The first two were very similar in concept - a young gunslinger is mistakenly accused of being a criminal and goes on the run, hoping to prove his innocence someday. The Two-Gun Kid is modeled after a typical super-hero, complete with a secret identity (in real life he's frontier attorney Matt Hawk), a mask and a regular supporting cast, including love interest Nancy Carter and best friend Boom-Boom (who must be an ancestor of Dum-Dum Dugan).

The difference is, Two-Gun works with the law. This issue is a solid example of the usual Stan Lee - Dick Ayers stories, as an old enemy assembles a small army of desperadoes and takes over the town of Tombstone. The story's actually pretty silly, as Two-Gun uses several unlikely tricks - and a convenient calvary charge - to deal with the army of criminals.

This issue from 1963 is a great showcase for some terrific artists, including: a strong cover by the excellent Don Heck; solid, professional storytelling in the main story by Dick Ayers; and a nifty little backup story that is credited to Ayers but sure looks like Gene Colan to me.

Since I wasn't smart enough to pick up these westerns when I was a kid, I make it point to track them down when I can. This issue, for example, was obtained at a recent comics convention.

I've also been reading the recent Essentials collection of The Rawhide Kid and enjoying those all-out action tales by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Hey, better late than never!

Grade: B-