Friday, August 31, 2012

Green Lantern Annual #1

Of all the mega-events that have plagued comics in recent years, some of the best have spun out of the Green Lantern series.

The Sinestro War is one of the gold standards for such tales, as it had far-reaching effects and told a cracking good tale at the same time. Events since then have been a bit hit-and-miss, and this annual kicks off the next big event - the Rise of the Third Army.

It places the Guardians in the role of the bad guys, as they collectively decide that the universe needs to be controlled. To that end, they set out to dismantle the existing Lantern Corps (including their own creation).

Apparently the feeling is that the third time is the charm - the Guardians tried the Manhunters (went crazy), the Green Lantern Corps (too independent), so now they're creating the Third Army, which takes a disturbing form.

The issue is a bit disjointed, as we uncover more ancient mysteries connected to the Guardians, we see longtime characters face death, get a glimpse of The First Lantern, and learn the fate of Black Hand.

It just seems to be trying to cover a lot of ground quickly. It does have the good sense to enlist strong artists for the job, as Ethan Van Sciver and Pete Woods turn in powerful visuals.

The event promises a three-month-long epic covering four different "Lantern" series.

We'll have to wait to see if this is another "Sinestro War" - or something far less.

Grade: B+


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Justice League #12

Superman and Wonder Woman, sitting' in a tree...

Well, that's about the maturity level of the whole thing.

But give DC credit for coming up with a great ratings stunt - I was lucky enough to pick up the last copy of this issue of Justice League at my comics shop.

To longtime fans, this isn't such a big deal (although having Superman tied up in WW's magic lasso on the cover is pretty kinky) - the two have locked lips many times before, from Imaginary Tales to John Byrne's Action Comics to Kingdom Come.

They're a natural couple, of course - DC's most powerful male and female, they seem a much better match than Superman with Lois Lane or Wonder Woman with Steve Trevor.

The whole issue just seems to be one long setup for the final lip lock. The team spends the issue fighting a threat that seeks to attack them where they're weakest - through the "ghosts" of their loved ones.

That leads us to the inevitable "should we break up the team" scene, which is happening for too early in the run of this series. The team works best when all the heavy hitters are on board, and writing out characters just defeats the purpose.

So just an "OK" story this time around from writer Geoff Johns, framed with some strong art from Jim Lee (and a nifty preview page at the end by Ivan Reis).

It's a shame the issue that gets all this media attention is actually one of the weakest in the 12-issue run so far.

Go figure.

Grade: B


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Comic Book Day

Lots o' comics today. I got:

- Aquaman #12 - Lots of people trying to kill lots of other people.

- Before Watchmen: Minutemen #3 (of 4) - Getting grim.

- Captain Marvel #3 - Fighting in a lost war.

- FF #21 - Heart breaker.

- Flash Annual #1 - Taking on the Rogues.

- Green Lantern Annual #1 - Death comes calling.

- Journey Into Mystery #642 - Everything burns.

- Justice League #12 - Superman and Wonder Woman, sitting in a tree...

- Phantom Lady #1 - Different costume?

- Popeye #4 - Blast from the past.

- Powers #11 - Tidal wave.

- Spaceman #9 (of 9) - Well, that was a weird one. In a good way.

- Mighty Thor #18 - More Alan Davis!

- Trio #4 - Expect the unexpected.

- Winter Soldier #9 - Brainwashed.

- Wolverine and the X-Men #15 - Sorting out school attendance.

And that's it!

The Classics - Sandman #75

The question readers wondered as Neil Gaiman wrapped up his legendary run on The Sandman in 1996 was: how would he tie up the epic tale?

The answer was: he didn't.

Which was just as well, because it was an impossible task.

Over its more than eight years, the comic had covered an amazing variety of tales, introduced a new mythology to the DC Universe (one that virtually no one outside of Gaiman would touch), created innumerable characters and set the bar impossibly high for fantasy tales.

Sandman was always a book about stories (which also happened to include some amazing art), so it was natural for Gaiman to return to the world's greatest storyteller for the final issue - William Shakespeare.

Where a previous visit to the Bard was connected to his story A Midsummer Night's Dream, this time around the focus is on The Tempest and how it relates to both the author and Dream himself.

It's an intelligent, finely-crafted story by a master of the art form, winding together history, art and imagination.

The art is by Charles Vess, and it's beautiful work - expressive, with a gentle, flowing, organic line. He works in a classic style, and I'm a huge fan.

There have been quite a number of Vertigo Comics from DC, but few attain classic status. Alan Moore's Swamp Thing is outstanding, but I think Sandman holds the spot at the top of the list.


Grade: A+


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

America's Got Powers #3 (of 6)

As a general rule, I'll buy any comic drawn by Bryan Hitch.

His designs are fresh and original, his art is dynamic, and he's really carrying the Neal Adams "realism" banner these days (at least when Adams isn't carrying it himself).

And his work on this series has been nothing less than excellent, as he depicts a world of the near-future and dozens of super-powered people duking it out.

But it's the story by Jonathan Ross that seems to be running out of steam fast.

Perhaps it's my own burnout with "reality TV," which is obviously the basis for this series.

(The gist of it: a mysterious event leaves numerous young people with super-powers, they're being exploited by an evil government program and they duke it out on national television for the right to join a super-team.)

This issue focuses on the mysterious teen known as Zero, who may - or may not - be the most powerful character yet.

The exploration of what his powers are and how they operate ends up being pretty tiresome, actually.

This series may yet redeem itself, depending on where the story goes from here, but right now, the art is the only real reason to pick it up.

Grade: C+


Monday, August 27, 2012

Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom #1

I'm delighted to see the adventures of The Rocketeer continuing, especially since we're finally getting a feature-length adventure.

Up 'til now, IDW has issued two mini-series with various creators offering their take on Dave Stevens' high-flying hero, but they've all been vignettes.

Here the creative team has room to (you should forgive the phrase) spread their wings.

And what a creative team it is! The story is written by Mark Waid, who has long since established himself as one of the great talents working in comics today. He's the modern-day Archie Goodwin, and you know you'll always get a strong, entertaining story from him.

The art is by Chris Samnee, one of my favorites of the "new breed" of artists. His Toth-like, expressive style is perfectly suited to a period piece like this. He's great with the high-flying heroics, and he also crafts a luscious Betty, too.

This issue is all about setting up house, as a mysterious ship arrives in the port of Los Angeles, carrying a deadly menace - and more than one enemy who has a score to settle with the Rocketeer.

It's fast-paced, funny and exciting - like all the best Rocketeer stories, it's part pulp adventure, part movie serial (with a dash of Indiana Jones) and part action comic.

So far, it's off to a great start!

Grade: A


Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Flash #12

Here I am, DC - an absolute fan of The Flash since I first read his Silver Age adventures in the early 1960s. I've suffered through terrible story lines, and enjoyed great ones.

I want to love this comic.

I don't love this comic.

I do love half the comic - the artwork is phenomenal. Francis Manapul is back with this issue, providing stunning images, creative layouts and clever designs.

This issue's story is something of an improvement over recent issues, but it still misses the character by a mile.

The good news is the return of the Flash's Rogues Gallery. The bad news is the Flash doesn't really do anything but watch while they go to war with each other.

And that seems to be the big problem with this series. Despite his incredible speed, Flash seems to spend most of each issue not doing much of anything. Barry Allen has allowed his friends to think he's dead so he can devote time to fighting crime - but he has to get a minimum wage job to survive, which would seem to make it difficult to find time to fight crime, right?

The series just seems to be working against the strengths of the series - it needs more focus on Barry's "real" life and some creative challenges for his alter ego.

I want to be a fan - but the comic has to give me more to hang on to. So far, it's not managing that at all.

Grade: B-


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Wolverine Annual #1

Quietly, with very little fanfare or publicity, writer / artist Alan Davis has crafted a trio of summer annuals for Marvel, starring the Fantastic Four, Daredevil and Wolverine (with Dr. Strange thrown in for good measure).

Each issue also included a crossover with Davis' under appreciated team, the Clandestine. As a big fan of - well, all of the above, really - I eagerly picked up all three annuals.

All three feature great artwork, as you'd expect - but of the three, this is the one where the story seemed to be struggling the most. Perhaps that's just because Wolverine seems a odd fit for the story, or because the story just seems to be struggling under the weight of all those characters.

It's a bit surprising, but there's still a lot to recommend this issue. Have I mentioned how great the art is? With sprawling action sequences, a disturbing battle with Wolverine at its center, great character designs and some clever flashbacks to the earlier career of a certain mutant hero, the comic crackles right along from start to finish.

It's the story that doesn't quite get it done - the good guys may win the battle, but it's never clear just how they manage it.

Still, even Davis' less successful stories are better than most. It's a solid trilogy with amazing art. What's not to like?

Grade: B+


Friday, August 24, 2012

Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan #1 (of 4)

I keep waiting for the Before Watchmen series to fall on its face, and it looks like I'll have to keep waiting.

For the Dr. Manhattan series, we have another "killer's row" of creators (can two guys make up a row?). Writer J. Michael Straczynski channels Vonnegut in a story that hops merrily along the strange timeline (and lifeline) of the title character.

The art is a (sadly) rare modern example of interior art by the great Adam Hughes. He provides amazing renditions of a number of characters, some "real world" figures and some set firmly in the super-hero world. The art is riveting and lush, with stunning layouts and designs throughout.

(Though given his incredible gifts for drawing beautiful women, it seems wrong that he only draws a half-dozen panels with Silk Spectre. Thank goodness for that cover.)

It's an amazing issue as we get an overview of Dr. Manhattan's life throughout his existence, from the accident that created him to his superhero career and his new home on Mars.

The story is deceptive, too, because it seems to be covering ground well covered in the original Watchmen series - but just as I was starting to think, "I've seen all this before," the story takes a very surprising turn.

I'm not sure if this is the best of the "Before Watchmen" series so far, but it's another outstanding addition to the lineup. Very impressive.

Grade: A-


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Amazing Spider-Man #692

I rarely write outright negative reviews, because I know someone put a lot of work into each comic, even if some succeed and some fail.

But boy, if ever a comic begged for a bad review, it's this one.

For his 50th Anniversary issue, the powers that be decided that this milestone issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, the company's greatest, most successful and best-known character should be used... to try to create a new hero.

(If I could insert sound effects, you'd hear a trombone player going "Wah-Wah-Waaaah.")

Yep, the main story focuses on Peter Parker demonstrating a new discovery to some high school students from his alma mater, but when something goes terribly wrong, it leaves one kid with great powers - and all Spidey's responsibility.

I know, after reading Spidey's adventures for most of the last 50 years, I've often thought, "If only Spider-Man had a teenage sidekick - hey, they could call him Alpha!"

It reminds me of Marvel's ill-fated attempts to create a New Universe - it's all forced and manufactured (presumably by committee) and - worst of all - manages to belittle both Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, all to deliver a joke.

The issue also features a couple of humorous back-up stories, and they're fine - though the first one doesn't focus on Spidey at all and the second one makes him look like the biggest, lamest loser ever (though a loser with a good heart).

The Spider-Man I always liked was not a loser. He had problems and obstacles to overcome, and occasionally ran into funny situations, but he would always do the right thing and eventually triumph through brains, power and determination. He wasn't a screw-up or a numbskull - and that seems to be the attitude in the final story.

Oh, I did like the one-page origin recap with the lovely Romita Jr. and Jansen art.

But this issue reminds me why I haven't been buying the Spider-titles for about two years now.

They keep forgetting to put the real Spider-Man in there.

Sorry. Gave it a shot. Didn't like it at all.

Grade: D


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

New Comics Today!

A light week this time around. Today I picked up:

- America's Got Powers #3 (of 6) - Got powers or No?

- Beyond Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan #1 (of 4) - Nice Adam Hughes art!

- The Flash #12 - Facing the Golden Glider?

- Invincible Iron Man #523 - The calm before the War.

- Lobster Johnson: The Prayer of Neferu #1 (one shot) - Battling dark forces.

- Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom #1 - Mark Waid and Chris Samnee? Sold!

- Amazing Spider-Man #692 - Happy 50th Birthday, Spidey!

- Wolverine Annual #1 - Alan Davis and more Clandestine!

And that's it!

The Classics - Frank Miller's Ronin #1

Hot on the heels of his enormous success with Daredevil and The Dark Knight Returns, writer / artist Frank Miller tackled his most unusual project yet: Ronin.

(I defy anyone to explain how this mini-series has not been made into a movie, by the way.)

Miller used the occasion to combine different art styles, including a Moebius-inspired look at a fortress set in a grim, dystopic future (depicted in a much rougher, gritty style), and a stylized look at a masterless Samurai warrior (a Ronin) in ancient Japan.

The three are linked through the mind of a strange boy in the future, who somehow looks into the past to see the battle between the Ronin and a powerful demon.

It's a gripping tale that offers a number of surprises, some incredible action sequences and a unique storyline - especially for 1983.

This series, in combination with his Dark Knight work, marked a real turning point for Miller, both in terms of art and storytelling.

Given the freedom of being at the top of the industry, Miller walked his own path from this point on - continuing to work on superheroes (most notably Batman, Daredevil and Elektra), but eventually concentrating on his own creator-owned work, most especially his long-running (and widely varied) Sin City and 300.

His art, too, became more expressive, almost surreal at times, breaking news ground and establishing Miller as a master craftsman.

This mini-series is often overlooked in looking back at his career, but more than anything else, this marks the spot where he went from being a true star to being at the top of the industry.

Grade: A+


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Homecoming #1

So, here’s another one of those “hot naked girl shows up in my swimming pool one night” kinda stories, with a science fiction twist thrown in for good measure.

Homecoming is a new series from Aspen that takes place in the once-sleepy town of Hillcrest, where nothing ever happens.

Until, well, see paragraph #1.

The naked girl is Celeste, and she mysteriously disappeared 10 years ago. When she returns to her home, she finds a teenage boy named Hunter Wilson living there - and thankfully he knows her back story, because that saves us all a lot of time.

Hunter manages to enroll her in his high school (kids and computers - what can’t they do?), and she quickly settles into her new life - or she tries to, until an alien killing machine smashes into the school intent on murder.

The story by David Wohl and Scott Lobdell spools out on pretty solid ground here, though it sticks to tried-and-true “B” movie / alien invasion storylines.

The art by Emilio Laiso is very good, managing to combine realism and an expressive, ever-so-slightly cartoony look.

The end result is a little bit Buffy, a smidge of Alien, and a dash of Freaks and Geeks.

A pretty good combination so far!

Grade: B+


Monday, August 20, 2012

The Victories #1 (of 5)

You can often expect hard-nosed, cutting-edge violence from writer / artist Michael Avon Oeming (see his work on Powers with Brian Bendis), but he takes things a step further (hard as that may be to believe) with his mini-series The Victories.

The opening splash page is a giveaway, as it features an image of a dead rat lying in a pool of blood, surrounded by maggots.

This opening story revolves around an encounter between the "hero" known as Faustus and the werewolf-like villain called the Jackal. It's a grim and gritty battle between two vicious characters.

The title of the comic comes from the super-team that Faustus is a member of, though we learn very little about the rest of that group in this issue.

So obviously, this is not a comic for kids. (I'm not sure I'm old enough to be reading this.)

But, the artwork is outstanding. Oeming's style is unique, powerful and always captivating.

If you enjoy these kind of Sin City-like tales, or if you're a fan of Oeming's work, you'll enjoy this one. But more squeamish readers should stay away.

Grade: B+


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Saga #6

This comic is seriously messed up.

But that's a good thing!

One of the things I love about Saga is that it's completely unpredictable. Just when you start to feel comfortable and think you know where the story is going, it suddenly moves in unexpected directions.

But it all follows an internal logic, so it never feels like writer Brian K. Vaughn is just throwing curves to shock you.

The story follows an unusual family. Two aliens whose races are at war have somehow fallen in love and produced a child - and the Saga in the title is apparently the life story of that little girl.

They're definitely an odd couple. Alana's race is science-based, while Marko's uses magic. They have a babysitter who's a ghost, and they hope to escape the planet-wide manhunt that's been dogging their trail by finding the Rocketship Forest.

And that doesn't include the focus on the bounty hunters who are in pursuit, or the strange and deadly royal investigator who's after them, and... well, let's just say a lot has happened in this opening story arc.

The art is also a real treat. Fiona Staples has crafted some amazing work here - sometimes panoramic, sometimes personal, but always fresh and exciting.

I can't advise picking up this issue cold - better to wait for the soon-to-be forthcoming collection - but this is an amazing, creative story that will mess with your mind in all the best ways. Profane, vulgar, creative and imaginative as can be, it's well worth tracking down.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A-


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Daredevil #17

This issue is a "done-in-one" comic that gives writer Mark Waid the chance to explore a hidden corner of Daredevil's history - and it gives him a chance to work with the talented artist Mike Allred.

Allred's work almost defies description - he seems to channel a Silver Age spirit through his art. It really looks like the kind of kinetic, high-energy style you might have seen in a Marvel comic in the '60s or '70s.

And that's not intended as a slam at all - I really enjoy his work! It's fresh and always in motion, and the storytelling is clear and easy to follow.

His anatomy isn't always spot on, and the layouts are sometimes odd - but you could say the same thing about some of Jack Kirby's work.

Allred manages to impart a real sense of fun to his work, so it fits perfectly with Waid's new and improved "Man Without Fear."

And speaking of Silver Age, this issue feature one of DD's goofiest villain from that era - and makes good use of him.

Works for me!

Grade: B+


Friday, August 17, 2012

Before Watchmen: Rorschach #1 (of 4)

I have no way of knowing for sure - it's just a hunch - but I suspect that, of all the Before Watchmen comics, the toughest one to write must be the one starring Rorschach.

That comes from the fact that (in my opinion), he's the most popular character to emerge from the original series - and the most unusual.

A "normal" man, Rorschach is also virtually unhinged, unswerving in his dedication to fighting evil in all forms, and single-minded and brutal in his methods. In many ways, he's barely a hero.

Taking a figure like that and ending up with a fascinating character is a tribute to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (with a special tip of the hat to Steve Ditko, whose characters The Question and Mr. A were an obvious inspiration).

DC has again, wisely, turned the creative reins over to two top creators - writer Brian Azzarello, who tackles the gritty world of Rorschach with gusto, and artist Lee Bermejo, who creates a hard-edged, brutal world for the character to inhabit.

It's rough stuff, and certainly not for kids - but it's a brutal story that finds Rorschach tracking down a run-of-the-mill criminal, and finding himself in a deadly trap.

This isn't a story for everyone - it's gruesome. But it's true to the character and his original appearance, so most fans will love it.

Grade: A-


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Avengers vs. X-Men #10 (of 12)

I hold out hope that this series still has a few surprises up its sleeve - because at this point, it's walking down a well-trod and (frankly) obvious path.

Avengers vs. X-Men took a surprising turn when the Phoenix Force was split among five X-Men, who proceeded to use their cosmic powers to solve the world's problems.

That had promise - after all, how do the Avengers fight back against an opponent who's doing good works?

Sadly, that idea didn't last long - by this issue, the remaining members of the Five are being corrupted by their absolute power and have become tyrants.

That leads Cyclops to confront the Avengers in their final hideout, a battle that seems hopeless - until he faces the mutant known as Hope.

It's a solid issue as far as the action goes, the script by Ed Brubaker is quite good, and the art by Adam Kubert and John Dell is outstanding - but it just feels like things are following the most obvious path ahead.

I've been enjoying the series so far, but it remains to be seen if the creative team can mange to "stick the landing."

Grade: B+


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Hey Kids, Comics!

Here's what I picked up from my local comics shop today:

- Avengers #29 - More feudin' and fussin'...

- Avengers vs. X-Men #10 (of 12) - Cyclops vs. Hope!

- Before Watchmen: Roschach #1 (of 4) - Some rough stuff.

- Captain Marvel #2 - Fun with time travel.

- Daredevil #17 - Welcome aboard Mike Allred!

- Fatale #7 - More mystery and horror in '50s Hollywood.

- Green Lantern #12 - Zombie attack!

- Saga #6 - A most unexpected enemy.

- The Shade #11 (of 12) - FIghting gods.

- The Victories #1 (of 5) - I know nothing about this one, but Michael Avon Oeming's always a good bet.

- Wonder Woman #12 - Everything changes.

And that's it!

The Classics - Joe Kubert

Sad to hear the news this week of the passing of the living legend, Joe Kubert.

In the pantheon of all-time great artists, writers and editors, Kubert definitely belongs in the top ten, along with Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Gil Kane, Stan Lee, Joe Simon, Steve Ditko and Carmine Infantino (to name a few).

Kubert famously started working in comics while just a teenager (and maybe even before that), and he carved out a spot as a powerful storyteller. And he just got better as the years passed.

He started out in the superhero ghetto, but soon made his lasting mark on DC's war comics, most famously co-creating that company's most iconic character, Sgt. Rock. But he also drew the occasional superhero, including the first appearances of the Silver Age Hawkman.

He eventually became editor of the war comics, and he also took over the adventures of the beloved Edgar Rice Burroughs character, Tarzan, in 1972. He did it all in that series - writing, drawing and editing - and it was that work that opened my eyes and made me a fan of Kubert, as I wrote in this "Classics" review in 2010:
It's interesting to look back and realize how tastes can change in the blink of an eye.

For example, Joe Kubert's art never really appealed to me when I was young, although my only exposure to it was in the pages of of the '60s version of Hawkman.

At DC Comics, I much preferred the "cleaner" art of Murphy Anderson, Gil Kane or Carmine Infantino. (I should add that I never read many war comics, so I sadly missed out on untold years of great Sgt. Rock stories. Thank goodness for DC Showcase reprints!)

But then I picked up this, the first DC issue of Tarzan (which continued the numbering from the previous publisher - this issued is cover dated April 1972).

The issue was edited and drawn (and presumably adapted by) Joe Kubert, and what a revelation! Here was an incredible depiction of the first Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan novel, drawn with amazing skill and power. Here was a master at work, with lush jungle vistas, raw emotions on display, vivid animal life, life-and-death battles and amazing heroic (and villainous) figures.

How could I have overlooked a talent like this? Kubert's style was perfectly suited to Tarzan's adventures, and from that day forward I avidly sought out every comic Kubert worked on.

So my apologies to Joe for ever doubting his talent - hey, I was just a dumb kid! I'm glad to say I've learned the error of my ways.

Grade: A+
And at that point (40 years ago!!), Joe was just getting warmed up.

He did work most comics fans never saw, as he took over the production of the U.S. Army's PS Magazine, which focuses on - of all things - proper equipment maintenance.

He'd go on to create countless comics and graphic novels, he'd start the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon Art and Graphic Art that has graduated a small army of creators now crafting the future of the industry - and his legacy continues through his incredibly talented sons, Adam and Andy.

He isn't really gone, of course - his work will continue to entertain as long as comics endure - but it's sad to lose him at the age of 85, when he was still creating stunning work - easily visible in the latest Before Watchmen: Nite Owl series - and he'll be terribly missed by comics fans all over the world.

A job well done, Joe, and a career for the record books.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Idolized #1

So-called "Reality TV" has been around for more than a decade now, and just like detective dramas and sitcoms, it's now (for good or ill) an integral part of national television.

I'm not a huge fan (though I admit to following Survivor in its early years and watching a season or two of American Idol), but it's not surprising to see the genre making its way into comics.

Idolized is the latest attempt to merge comics and American Idol, and so far - it's a solid effort.

It focuses on Joule, a beautiful young woman who lives in a world where superpowers are commonplace. She sees the TV show "Superhero Idol" as an opportunity - not for fame and money, but as a chance for revenge.

But are we getting her true story, or is this just a fabrication for the TV cameras? It's one of the things that can make or break a reality TV show, as the manufactured drama isn't nearly as interesting as the real thing. We're getting just enough of a look behind the scenes to wonder, but we'll have to watch as the mystery unfolds.

The story is written by David Schwartz, and it's very effective in setting up the series, and presenting the possibly-tragic origin of Joule. The art is by Micah Gunnell, with colors by David Curiel, and it's quite good - lively and animated, the style seems to owe a lot to Art Adams (who also provides the striking cover).

The series also offers a stunning photo cover, as model Rachel Clark provides a real-world look at Joule.

I ended this issue with the same opinion as I posted about issue #0: this is certainly off to an interesting start. Idolized may be one to watch.

Grade: A-

Monday, August 13, 2012

The New Avengers #29

It's fitting that, as writer Brian Bendis nears the end of his run as overlord of The Avengers, he gives us one more issue filled with nothing but heroes sitting around a table and talking.

As much as I enjoy action-packed comics, I've grown to love these issues, too. They quietly shed light on characters in corners we've never really seen before. And Bendis doesn't restrict himself to the characters in his own titles - he gives us insights on Prof. Xavier and Reed Richards, as well.

The story centers around the (possibly) final meeting of the Illuminati - a small group of heroes dedicated to saving the planet.

They face what may be an insurmountable obstacle in the Phoenix Force, and they have to face up to the fact that they may not be able to change the outcome of the coming final conflict - and what that might mean for the Earth.

The issue is swimming in great art, from the cover by Ron Garney and Jason Keith to the rich interiors by Mike Deodato, including an awesome flashback to World War II.

There were many doubters when Bendis took over this title, but there's no arguing with success. I haven't been in agreement with everything he's done, but it's always been entertaining and unexpected.

I'm looking forward to his next project!

Grade: A-


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Archer and Armstrong #1

The recent revival of the Valiant Comics line hasn't really caught my interest until now.

I really enjoyed the original Archer & Armstrong series - as created by Barry Windsor-Smith, it was an quirky mix of action, humor and interesting characters. It teamed up a religious pacifist (who also happens to be the world's greatest fighter, similar to the hero of the classic TV show Kung Fu) with a drunken powerhouse of a brawler (who also happens to be an immortal).

That odd couple made for some very funny and entertaining stories.

So now they're back in a new version of the same concept that (somewhat) follows the original story, except that it largely eliminates my favorite part - the humor.

This Archer's roots are as a conservative Christian, being part of a sect that doesn't believe in evolution, denounces the outside world and is raising an army of young warriors in an amusement park. It all feels like a cartoon, not a serious (or even humorous) look at that culture.

We get a glimpse of Armstrong's origin, but he has very little to do in this issue, unless you count vomiting on another guy in a bar.

And frankly, if that's what counts as humor these days, leave me out.

The art by Clayton Henry is ok though not exceptional. Technically solid and featuring well-rendered characters, the linework seems a bit thin - it would be nice to see a little more variety in there.

This just feels like a thin version of the original, with watered-down story and art, and virtually no humor. Lots of action, though.

But this issue didn't hook my attention at all, so I won't be back. Someone let me know if it gets better.

Grade: C+


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Batman #12

What do you do after an epic adventure?

(Aside from going to Disneyland, that is.)

That's the challenge facing the creative team on Batman, having wrapped up the 11-issue-long epic involving the Court of the Owls.

Wisely, they chose to take this issue in a completely different direction, creating a story that feels like something Will Eisner might have cooked up for The Spirit (and that's high praise indeed).

It steps away from Batman's world for much of the issue and focuses on a woman named Harper Row, who works as an electrician in the world below Gotham City. She's devoted to her brother, but a fortunate encounter with the Dark Knight changes her world - and she makes a surprising discovery about how Batman operates.

It's a clever story, a touching one, and introduces a (as far as I know) new and interesting character to Gotham.

The art is an odd mix between the fresh, down-to-earth art of Becky Cloonan (who handles the first 21 pages) and the more slick, finely-crafted art by Andy Clarke (on pages 22 to 28). I like both artists, but their styles don't really mesh well.

(We note that regular artist Greg Capullo provides the cover, and otherwise takes a break this month.)

So, another terrific issue in the most consistently outstanding series in the first year of DC's "New 52."

Grade: A-


Friday, August 10, 2012

Spider-Men #4 (of 5)

The title of this series may be Spider-Men, but the focus has really been on Spider-Man (as in The Amazing, not Ultimate).

That's mostly because the story has taken Peter Parker and dropped him in the Ultimate Universe - which is especially traumatic, because his counterpart in that world was killed - and there are a perplexing number of similarities between the worlds - and differences.

This chapter is especially designed to tug at the heart-strings, because it's all about Peter facing this version of his loved ones, including Gwen Stacy, his first love who met a tragic end in the Marvel Universe.

The story is loaded with emotional moments, and writer Brian Bendis makes the most of it, loading up some wonderful dialogue and bittersweet observations.

I like the art by Sara Pichelli a lot - the characters are very animated, and their expressions really shine through. She also does an excellent job making the distinction that Peter is older (though not a geezer by any means).

There's not much in the way of action in this story - it's all about the emotions - but judging by that final splash page, next issue will more than make up for it.

And hopefully Miles Morales will have a bit more to do, too.

Grade: A-


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Avengers Assemble #6

Of all the Avengers comics out there (and there's a pack of 'em), this is the only one that feels like it directly ties into the (quite wonderful) Avengers film.

That's intentional, of course. In fact, Avengers Assemble is doing its best to tease the just-announced, non-sequel Marvel film that's in the works, since it co-stars the Guardians of the Galaxy and features Thanos as the big bad.

Writer Brian Bendis is really swinging for the bleachers with this one, as it takes both teams into deep space and into battle with an alien race, all while Thanos prepares to use one of the deadliest cosmic weapons ever created - at least until next issue, when (according to the next issue blurb) he lays hands on an even deadlier force!

So the stakes are escalating rapidly and even an army of heroes can be outgunned.

This series is building nicely, and I'm really enjoying Mark Bagley and Danny Miki's art (and Paul Mounts' color art) - the heroes are dynamic and individualized, the action is over the top but always clear and easy to follow, and the pages are loaded with great layouts and lots of energy.

This is a colossal conflict on a really big stage, and the question is: how can the good guys possibly win?

We're all anxious to see the answer to that one!

Grade: A-


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Comic Book Day!

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

- Archer and Armstrong #1 - Couldn't resist.

- New Avengers #29 - The Illuminati have a discussion.

- Avengers Assemble #6 - Teaming with the Guardians of the Galaxy!

- Batman #12 - Recovering from the Owls.

- Before Watchmen: Ozymandius #2 (of 4) - Becoming a hero.

- Captain America #16 - The big finale!

- Conan the Barbarian #7 - More fun with Belit!

- Creator Owned Heroes #3 - Out of the ordinary.

- Daredevil Annual #1 - More with the Clandestine!

- Fairest #6 - Facing down an evil fairy.

- Fantastic Four #609 - Thing vs. Hulk?

- Spider-Men #4 (of 5) - Heart breaker.

- Mighty Thor #18 - Secrets from the past.

And that's it!

The Classics - Justice League of America #57

Contrary to the substance of many comics today (which are all about sturm and drang), the industry in the 1960s and before spent quite a bit of effort - from time to time - in promoting positive values.

DC was especially "in your face" about it, including single page public service messages, with Superboy and Superman encouraging kids not to litter, to stay in school, to be kind to others - that sort of thing.

There was something very sweet and endearing about those efforts, and I have to admit I remember them having a positive effect on my attitudes.

But sometimes, they went a bit overboard.

That was the case with this effort in 1967, as the Justice League of America promoted the idea of equality in the story with the wonderful title, "Man, Thy Name Is -- Brother!"

The story by Gardner Fox (one of my all-time favorites, this issue aside) has all the subtlety of a ball-peen hammer, as it focuses on League sidekick Snapper Carr's efforts to learn more about three young men who have interesting stories to tell - stories that would tie in to his assignment to cover "Brotherhood Week."

Since the regular team meeting has just ended as the story begins, three of the heroes - the Flash, Hawkman and Green Arrow - offer to help (not like they have anything more important to do), and they journey around the world to meet the three men and help Snapper.

This brings them into three small adventures against small-time crooks, each time aided by the young man they're investigating. Each young man is a member of a minority (in the U.S.) - a black man, a Native American and a man trying to help people in India (he's not a minority, but the people he's helping are - in a way).

Each young person is down on their own life because they've encountered prejudice and been told they can't succeed - nothing a little pep talk by a superhero can't cure.

The story is extremely thin and sometimes silly - these crooks should offer no challenge to these heroes - yet they do. (No super-villains in evidence here.)

The artwork is by classic JLA artist Mike Sekowsky, with some heavy inks by Sid Greene (the finished product is almost more Sid than Mike), and as always it's clear, clean storytelling by two masters of the craft.

It's easy to look at this story as terribly corny now (and it is), but it was a different world at the time, and if a bit ham-handed, this was a push in the right direction, shoving back against the casual prejudice that was all too common at the time.

But times were changing - thank goodness! And every effort like this helped make that change happen. It's easy to imagine young readers seeing this story and realizing that there was no place in the world for rascism.

So, not a great comic - but it is an important one.

Grade: B-


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Spider #4

Considering that I'm a fan of pulp heroes, it's surprising that I have not read any of the original pulp adventures of The Spider until this year.

Part of the reason is that only a limited number of his original adventures have been reprinted since the early 1960s.

But the character pops up from time to time as a comic book character, and the latest version is quite good.

It focuses on Richard Wentworth, a wealthy genius who pits his abilities against murderers and monsters, all while posing as the criminal known as The Spider.

The story plays out of a big stage, as a criminal mastermind unleashes a gas that turns people into zombies - and death runs riot through the city.

The story is by David Liss, and it holds true to its pulpy, high adventure roots, and throws in some great dialogue and characterization - The Spider has some great comebacks here.

The art is by Colton Worley, and it's very impressive. It has a painted, dramatic look, loaded with mood and almost photographic images - his depiction of faces is truly remarkable.

Not many creative teams are able to capture the hard-edged vibe of those pulp stories from the '30s, but you'll find it here. The stories are set in the modern day, but they're true to their source.

Who could ask for more?

Grade: A-


Monday, August 6, 2012

Soulfire #1

Continuing right where last week's final issue of the "Search for the Light" mini-series left off, the fourth volume of Soulfire deals with the immediate repercussions.

And it looks bad for the good guys. The powerful Grace has somehow been transformed into a force for evil, and her first act is both deadly and devastating.

The Soulfire series might be a bit challenging to sort out immediately for new readers, because it's set in a world where magic works and dragons are a common sight - and like most fantasy stories, you'll have to wade through some unusual names and characters.

Thankfully, there's a quick recap on the credits page that'll help bring you up to speed.

The story is by J.T Krul and Frank Mastromauro, and it has a good balance between action and setup for the story that's rolling out. The art is by Mike DeBalfo, and it's very good - he's especially adept at drawing beautiful women (as the cover indicates), and gets to design numerous "looks" for the newest villain in town.

This is the kickoff to a new volume for the series, so it's a good jumping-on spot for new readers, and should appeal to fans of fantasy.

Grade: B+


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #2 (of 4)

It's easy to forget that the Before Watchmen series are for "Mature Readers" - after all, each issue looks like any other comic book.

Only the most observant would note the tiny, sideways "Rated M Mature" note in the lower left-hand corner.

But if someone picked up this Nite Owl issue not knowing about its content, they'd quickly figure it out. That naked girl on the third page is a dead giveaway.

The issue focuses on the unlikely team of Nite Owl (II) and Rorschach, as they venture into a seamier side of the underworld.

Aside from the lurid story (expertly crafted by J. Michael Straczynski), the real draw for this issue is the outstanding artwork by the son / father team of Andy and Joe Kubert. They create a world of grit and soot - it feels real, populated with actual human beings, flesh and blood and emotions and frailties.

So far, the Before Watchmen series has been loaded with excellent stories and terrific art. This issue keeps that string alive - even if it's not recommended for kids (but then, the same is true of Watchmen).

Grade; A-


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Action Comics #11

Even though I've been reading comics for virtually all my life (not counting the first six years, about which I remember little anyway), I have to admit I have no idea how long it takes to actually create a comic book.

When I was a kid, it seemed simple. Every month, Stan and Jack (or Stan and Steve or Stan and John or Roy and Neal) would crank out at least one and sometimes several comics - always on time.

Which brings us to Action Comics, the first 11 issues of which have featured sharp, clever, inventive stories by Grant Morrison - and art by a small army of artists.

The primary artist has been the talented Rags Morales - but apparently he can't turn out enough artwork to fill a monthly comic. As a result, the credits include a crowd scene of artistic talent. For this issue, it lists pencillers Morales, Cafu and Brad Walker, and inkers Rick Bryant, Bob McLeod, Cafu and Andrew Hannessy.

The end result is something of a hodgepodge, with excellent panels of art running side-by-side with panels with poor anatomy, odd layouts and confusing designs.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of Morales - I just wish his work filled the issue.

Times are different and styles change, and maybe that's why so many of today's artists seem to struggle with the task of keeping up with a monthly comic - but if Kirby and Ditko and Byrne and Kane and Adams could do it, surely there must be artists out there who can keep up with the demand.

Art by committee just isn't getting the job done here.

Oh, and Morrison isn't completely without blame - the resolution of this issue was silly.

Grade: B


Friday, August 3, 2012

The First X-Men #1

After doing fantastic work for years at DC, Neal Adams moved to Marvel in the late '60s, and his first work was on the X-Men.

I remember being stunned by his work - it combined the dynamic energy of Kirby, Steranko's fresh designs and layouts, and the kinetic stylings of Buscema.

Adams immediately became one of Marvel's top artists, and one of my personal favorites - I happily bought everything he drew.

After a few years, he focused on other endeavors, and his comic book art only appeared occasionally. That's (happily) changed in recent years, as he seems to be focusing more on creating new work. At DC, he revisited Batman in a maxi-series, and now he's back on the "prequel" comic, The First X-Men, as both artist and co-writer with Christos Gage.

The issue focuses on the struggles of mutants before Professor Xavier formed the first X-Men team, as Wolverine and Sabretooth join forces to track down mutants before a mysterious government agency finds them. It's a good combination of familiar characters and some new faces.

The story's fine - it's all setup and gathering the characters at this point - but the reason to pick up this comic is the art.

Adams really seems to be going all out to prove he's still one of the big dogs in the industry - each page crackles with energy, he loads on lush details and dramatic, emotional layouts. And there's a jaw-dropping double-page splash that should delight any comics fan.

The story seems to be playing fair with past continuity so far - which is only fair, since Adams built quite a bit of it.

So far, so good!

Grade: A-


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Avengers vs. X-Men #9

This series has been playing with expectations.

One might think that the Avengers would easily win in a war with the X-Men, but with the Phoenix Force merging with five X-Men, it's the Avengers who find themselves outmatched and underpowered - and the outlook gets worse as the issue begins.

Even worse, the dark side of the Phoenix is asserting itself - and in the team's darkest moment, what hope can Spider-Man have against a much more powerful opponent?

Credit Jason Aaron for turning in the kind of story that gives the wall-crawler a chance to shine and demonstrate the heart and courage of a hero (Aaron adds some great dialogue, too).

The art by Adam Kubert and John Dell, and it really sings - some powerful splash pages, cinemascope-style layouts, and strong action sequences.

On the down side, this is one of those stories where you can clearly see the creative team pulling your strings - but the story is fun and brings back memories of past heroics, so I'll give it a pass. Good, solid super heroics here.

Grade: B+


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Comics Today

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

- Action Comics #12
- Fighting the man of the future.

- Avengers vs. X-Men #9 - Spider-Man makes a stand.

- Beasts of Burden: Neighborhood Watch (One-shot)
- Horror and doggies.

- Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #2 (of 4) - Teaming with Rorschach. Sorta.

- Daredevil #16 - The battle within.

- Defenders #9
- Getting weirder.

- Earth 2 #4
- Taking on Solomon Grundy.

- Invincible Iron Man #522
- Working for the Mandarin.

- The Shadow #4
- More pulpy goodness.

- The Spider #4 - And even more!

- World's Finest #4 - Taking on a radioactive giant.

- First X-Men #1
- Neal Adams returns to the team.

And that's it!

The Classics - The Phantom Stranger #7

I've always liked comics characters who were mysterious.

There aren't many - Wolverine was one of the few, and his mysterious origins were explained long ago. The Phantom Stranger seems to be about to suffer the same fate, as DC's "Free Comic Book Day" publication spelled out some of his backstory.

A terrible mistake - the heart of the character is that we don't really know much about him. Is he an angel, a man, an alien, or a mystical creature? No idea.

We just know that he shows up at the right time and fights against the forces of supernatural-based evil. No power blasts, no apparent powers at all - just someone with special knowledge and good timing.

The character has rarely been better than he was in this series in the early '70s - but as of this issue, he wasn't quite there yet. At this point, his stories were strictly formula - basically a step up from Scooby-Doo cartoons, right down to the teen sidekicks and the cartoonish Dr. Thirteen, whose goal is to debunk any mystical events.

They're faced with the mystery of "The Curse" - a death sentence placed on any man who falls in love with the daughter of... I don't know, the guy who owns a spooky castle by the ocean. The story by Bob Kanigher is just silly, with lots of death and the most improbable of solutions.

Where the issue shines is in the artwork by Jim Aparo, who overcomes the script's failings by providing amazing art. Moody and lush, each character is a unique individual, and their emotions play out clearly. The layouts are fresh and original, and his use of shadows is stunning.

Even better days were ahead for this title, as young writer Len Wein brought some fresh ideas and strong storytelling to match Aparo's terrific art - but we'll save that for another review.

Grade: B+