Wednesday, October 31, 2012

New Comics

Here's what I picked up today:

- A + X #1 - Can't have too many Avengers-based books (apparently).

- A vs. X: Consequences #4 - More loose ends.

- Aquaman #13 - Final fight with Black Manta.

- Joe Kubert Presents #1 (of 6) - Sad and amazing.

- Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom #3 - Great stuff!

- Mighty Thor #22 - Trial of a god.

- Winter Soldier #12 - Guest starring Wolverine.

- Wolverine and the X-Men #19 - Also guest starring Wolverine.

And that's it!

Idolized #3

Everyone knows that reality TV is mostly phony, right?

The producers manipulate the images presented, what stories we hear, which characters seem likable, which ones are annoying - you get the idea. They do this to try to create compelling characters you'll either love or hate, and this (they hope) will keep you coming back for more episodes.

(They can even manipulate the votes. Notice we never see exact totals - they just name a winner.)

That seamy underbelly is a rarely-seen side of the business - and one that we see a bit of in this issue of Idolized, which is an attempt to combine reality TV and superheroes. Young heroes are auditioning for a spot on an Avengers-like super team as they compete in the "Superhero Idol" TV show.

The character we're following is Joule, a young woman with energy powers who has a number of secrets she's hiding - and one nearly gets her booted from the show. It's a solid story with a plot that twists and turns as she runs into unexpected problems.

The story doesn't quite make the leap to exceptional - this one is a bit too much of a repeat of last issue, right down to the contrived cliffhanger.

Still, it's a solid issue, and especially for reality show fans, worth checking out.

Grade: B+


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Guest Review: Madame X

Glen Davis returns with a review of a comic that (apparently) stars Madame Xanadu:

I keep wanting to like National Comics and DC Comics presents, but DC keeps pushing me away.

Madame X is an updated version of the horror hostess/magic slinging superheroine Madame Xanadu. I always thought Mildred, the young blond witch hostess was better looking, myself.

In this incarnation, Madame X is a former celebrity fortune teller, complete with tragic backstory, now using the tarot in her work as an investigator for a New Orleans law firm.

In this issue, she is called to defend a self styled queen of Voodoo in the zombie murder of a city councilman running for mayor, who was publicly feuding with her. The mystery itself is not fair play, but easily solved using the find the Christian method so effective in episodes of Law and Order.

There really isn't anything here to hook you into buying a potential series. It seems DC traded an Elvira type image for The Good Wife, without checking to see if there was an audience for turgid low octane horror.

Grade: C-


Monday, October 29, 2012

Captain America #19

Sad to see that this is Ed Brubaker's last issue as the writer on Captain America.

He finishes up his run with a strong issue (with excellent art by Steve Epting) that offers a look at Cap's motivations, wraps up some loose ends and sets the stage for the next creative team.

Brubaker's run on the title has been impressive, crafting some long-running storylines, bringing Cap through some improbable stories that would never have worked with a lesser writer, including the death (and rebirth) of Cap, and bringing Bucky back to life in a clever and convincing way that made him a viable modern character - and I would never have believed that could ever happen.

The next team has some big shoes to fill - let's hope they're up to the challenge!

Grade: A


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Maggie #1

I admit to being a big fan of The Simpsons cartoon, and while it has had its ups and downs, it has maintained a high level of quality over the years.

There are a couple of reasons for that.

Like MAD Magazine, the show keeps up with modern pop culture as a never-ending source of humor - but is well-written enough to be timeless and avoids getting locked into a set time period.

It doesn't hurt that (unlike a live-action show) the kids never age.

Bongo Comics has produced an amazing number of comics based on Simpsons characters, and the latest one focuses on the littlest member of the family, Maggie.

She's a particular challenge to base stories on since she's a baby and doesn't talk.

Bongo wisely turned most of the issue over to the king of humor comics, Sergio Aragones, and he turns in several funny stories, including Maggie's big break in show business and getting her revenge on Bart.

He also creates a paper doll cut-out centerpiece and a puzzle page - what a guy!

It's a fun package of clever stories and great comic art, including work by Carol Lay, Patric M. Verrone, Max Davison and Mike Kazaleh.

It's a must-buy if you're a fan of the Simpsons (and if you're not, what the heck?).

Grade: A-


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Guest Review: DC Comics Presents #13

Today's guest review is courtesy Glen Davis, who gives us a look at a Black and Blue comic:

Black Lightning and Blue Devil are two characters that always seem on the verge of hitting it big, but for whatever reason, DC just can't seem to push them over the hump into "A" list status.

Both characters have had their own titles, and both earned membership to the various incarnations of the Justice League of America, but they've never really fulfilled their potential.

Black Lightning, created in the 1970s by Tony Isabella, is the first African American hero at DC, and in the first incarnation of the series was a clever commentary on the two duelling stereotypes of black men of the era: the cool competent Sidney Poitier type and the angry Jim Brown type.

Despite a certain amount of acclaim, the title was a a victim of the DC implosion. Black Lightning went on to become a member of The Outsiders in the 1980s, and the character lost his way a bit.

Isabella brought the character back in the '90s in a big way, but the character was not seen much for a while after that title ran its course, until Judd Winick brought him back a few years ago. Since then, he's been fairly prominent, even joining the Justice League, but is still not an "A" list property.

Blue Devil exploded into the DC Universe in the 1980s. Created by Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn and Paris Cullins, he was a stuntman who got zapped by a demon and stuck in the devil costume he was wearing while making a movie. Originally a light-hearted feature, Blue Devil went through several udpdates, losing the lightness, and most of his supporting cast, but joining the Sentinels of Magic and the JLA.

Marc Andreyko, a reliable professional, reintroduces and teams up the two heroes to go up against Tobias Whale, DC's knock off of Marvel's Kingpin.

Apparently the two heroes knew each other in the past. What should be a fun tale just feels hopelessly generic, with nothing to draw you into the plot besides a rather rudimentary plan on Whale's part of finding out who the heroes are and killing them. The story really could star any two heroes with similar powers. There's no real sense of what makes each character unique.

Andreyko still has two issues to pull a rabbit out of his hat, but this issue doesn't promise a whole lot. I hope this isn't another wasted opportunity for two characters that deserve better.

Grade: C+

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Avengers #32

OK, this is officially my favorite comic of the year so far.

That's because it features the return of one of my favorite characters, one who's been "missing" for far too long.

It's also a story that revives a favorite setting that dates back a few decades ago, unnamed here (as well as the hero) to avoid spoiling a delightful story.

Writer Brian Bendis is wrapping up his long run on this title, and it looks like he's making an effort to wrap up some loose ends before he goes.

There are a few gaps in the logic of this issue, but those are picky points - this is a fun romp as the story gets back to basics.

Throw in some great art by Mike Mahew and the criminally-underused Brandon Peterson, and you have an issue that's not to be missed.

I want you to read it so we can talk about it.

Grade: A


Today's Comics

Rather slim pickings today. I got:

- Avengers #32 - This issue is officially my new favorite comic of 2012.

- Captain America #19 - Sadly, Ed Brubaker's final issue.

- FF #23 - Sadly, Jonathan Hickman's final issue.

- Flash #13 - Gorilla my dreams.

- Invincible Iron Man #527 - Sadly, Matt Fraction's final issue (I'm sensing a theme).

- Journey Into Mystery #645 - Loki's final issue.

- Maggie #1 - Love that Aragones cover!

- The Shadow #6 - The bloody conclusion!

And that's it!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Daredevil #19

Holy cow, I went four years without missing my "review of the day," and now it's happened twice in the last month. Sorry about that, gentle readers - I've been working on a project that has me swamped, but hopefully I can go back to building my next streak starting... now.

What a terrific comic this is.

And it's a credit to writer Mark Waid that he trots out an old chestnut - is the hero losing his mind? - and makes it work.

The story focuses on Daredevil trying to sort out his life after a series of events that make him wonder if he's losing his grip (including a moment when he literally loses his grip).

It leads to a shocking confrontation and a great cliffhanger.

It doesn't hurt that the art is provided by Chris Samnee, one of the best in the business right now. With stunning layouts, clean and clear storytelling and mastery of mood and setting, he just gets better with each issue.

If you aren't already, you really should be buying this comic. There's a reason why it keeps winning awards: great art, sharp writing (you never know what's going to happen next) and compelling events - it's a terrific comic!

Grade: A


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Guest Review: New Crusaders #2

Glen Davis is back with a review of the latest incarnation of Archie's classic super-team, the New Crusaders:

After the events of last issue, the next generation of heroes are holed up in the secret headquarters beneath Joe Higgins's house.

The book introduces several new characters, including a talking space monkey named Dusty, without interrupting the momentum of the first issue.

There's the expected character study as the teens deal with the sudden changes to their world, and find out who their parents really were.

Unexpectedly, Riverdale, home of the other Archie characters, is mentioned as being nearby. One has to think crossovers are coming in the future, possibly even between the Archie parody heroes, like Pureheart, with the New Crusaders.

From there, we get some action in the Danger Room, that time-honored tradition of creating team unity. Ultimately, they accept their destiny, as if there were any doubts.

The backup story, a meeting of former sidekicks, Dusty, the Boy Detective, and Roy, The Super Boy, tells some of the history of the MLJ hero universe, and introduces some new characters, including Kalthar, a Tarzan-like jungle hero that could grow to the height of 15 feet, mainstays The Black Hood and The Fox, and Darkling, an '80s addition to the pantheon who apparently came to a bad end.

It also introduces some other villains. This all tends to clarify things, giving the reader just enough information to be tantalizing, but without becoming too involved and convoluted.

The art is fine, done in the Archie style. I wonder if they're going for some sort of animation deal?

Grade: A-


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Guest Review: Honey West #7

Glen Davis is back with a couple of guest reviews - the first one is based on a TV show that stars a beloved character:

I was very surprised that Moonstone Comics picked up the license for Honey West.

I thought she was all but forgotten, and that private eye series were out of style. Still, Moonstone has seen success with the foxy private eye.

Created by GG Fickling, the husband and wife team of Gloria and Forest Fickling, West debuted in the novel This Girl For Hire. The character appeared in an episode of Burke's Law, and was given her own series starring the toothsome Anne Francis.

The television version and the book version were very different, as in the books West was always losing her clothes, and was a bit of a bimbo, while she was a high tech PI on television.

In this issue, a done-in-one story, Honey investigates the death of a beauty contestant. It's a lot like watching a 30-minute mystery TV show as several suspects are introduced and dismissed in short order before Honey learns whodunnit.

The mystery is pretty decent, but the art, especially the depictions of Bruce, Honey's pet ocelot, is a little rocky in some places. Still, the creators seemed enthusiastic, and I was entertained.

Grade: B+

Justice League #13

As always, the problem with a team comprised of the most powerful heroes in the DC Universe is coming up with an opponent who can stand up against them.

I'm not so sure that writer Geoff Johns manages that in this issue of Justice League, but this issue is focused more on setting up the latest adventure, which centers around a new version of Wonder Woman's villain, the Cheetah.

It's a way of addressing the question: why doesn't the League work together all the time? The answer, of course, is because they can sell more comics that way - or, if you prefer, they can tell other, more interesting stories with different characters - and the League members aren't exactly joined at the hip.

At any rate, it's a fast-paced story that's part personal discussion (let's not forget that kiss between WW and Superman) and part action sequence as the members of the League take on an amped-up Cheetah.

The art this time is by Tony Daniels, and it's quite good, especially in the frenetic action sequences. His art can get a little too busy in places, but that's a very minor complaint about a very talented artist.

Not a bad issue at all, with a good cliffhanger ending - but I was expecting a more worthy menace. But it's too early to judge - this one still has time to grow.

Grade: B+


Friday, October 19, 2012

The New Avengers #31

Writer Brian Bendis has apparently decided to bring this run on The New Avengers full circle.

He started this incarnation of the series with a story that pitted the team against a mystic menace - and now another one is attacking the world's sorcerers.

As a Dr. Strange fan who wasn't crazy about the way he was de-powered (and de-sorcerer supreme'd) in that story, I'm hopeful that this one will set things to right.

The issue definitely has the feel of the end of an era, as two key members of the team decide to leave - and it may mean the end of the team.

The art is by Michael Gaydos, whose dark, realistic style seems an odd mix for a super-team. I like it, with one bone to pick - I don't care for his version of The Thing at all.

I have to admit, I'm sorry to see Bendis stepping down from the Avengers line. He was a controversial choice to take over the series, and I don't agree with everything he did (see: Dr. Strange, breaking up Hank Pym and the Wasp, killing Hawkeye), but his batting average was very high, and he's left a distinct mark on the series, which has become the hottest "family" of titles at Marvel.

Looking forward to seeing what he tackles next.

Grade: A-


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Avengers Assemble #8

This comic should be called the Marvel Movie Magazine, since it almost exclusively stars everyone who's been in (or will be in) a Marvel Studios movie.

We're talking The Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk), the Guardians of the Galaxy, Thanos - heck, even the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man make an appearance (and their films are from a different studio).

It's all a good introduction for new readers who might have been lured in by the movie - it all stands alone, it's a big, hoo-hah cosmic battle as Thanos (stop me if you've heard this one) gets his hands on a Cosmic Cube and uses it to make himself a virtual god.

Which means bad news for the good guys, of course - but they do have some surprises up their sleeve.

The issue also serves as a great lead-in to the new Guardians of the Galaxy comic, which will premiere (with Bendis writing) in February.

With great art by Mark Bagley and a fun story (though it does lean a bit on the original Jim Starlin Thanos story), this has been an enjoyable series so far and well worth tracking down.

Here's hoping the creative team that follows can maintain the high standards.

Grade: A


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

New Comics

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

- New Avengers #31 - Bendis' final Avengers story?

- A vs. X: Consequences #2 - Cyclops in the big house.

- Avengers Assemble #8 - Thanos vs. everybody!

- Before Watchmen: Minutemen #4 (of 4) - The grim finale.

- Daredevil #19 - What a great comic.

- Justice League #13 - Battling the Cheetah?

- Popeye #6 - An amazing throwback to greatness.

- Sword of Sorcery #1 - Nice to see Amethyst back.

- Mighty Thor #21 - The sizzling finish to "Everything Burns."

- Wonder Woman #13 - Into a war zone.

And that's it!

The Classics - The Atom #1

Sometimes you get lucky.

By 1962 I was really getting interested in superhero comics, and at this point I was almost exclusively buying DC's heroes - especially The Flash and Green Lantern.

I didn't see any of The Atom's earlier appearances as a try-out in Showcase, but by good fortune, I picked up this comic - the first issue of his own title.

I was immediately hooked. Written by Gardner Fox, the story was based in science fiction, giving the scientist Ray Palmer an interesting power - he can control his size and weight, so he can shrink to any size, become light or heavy and was clever enough to use his powers in creative ways to fight the bad guys.

His opponent is Jason Woodrue, a creature from another dimension who can change and control plant life - and threatens to use his creations to conquer the world. A cut above the usual villains, Woodrue never achieved much fame until Alan Moore brought the character back in a pivotal role when Moore reinvented Swamp Thing.

But I digress. The thing that really sold this issue was the artwork by the incredible Gil Kane (whose work I loved on Green Lantern's comic) and inker Murphy Anderson, about whom I gush all the time in this space. (Interestingly, the creative team received credits on the splash page - unusual in DC's comics at the time.)

With inventive layouts and powerful character designs - not to mention a fantastic superhero costume for the hero - Kane's work was in a class of its own, and made this title a must-buy item. That cover really stuck with me - the idea of getting caught in a Venus Flytrap was vivid and horrifying.

DC was really surging at this point, with top creative teams tackling Hawkman and the Justice League of America - they helped put DC at the top of the sales charts - at least for a while - and they got me hooked me on comics.

Fifty years later and I still haven't recovered!

Grade: A-


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Wolverine and the X-Men #18

I admire this issue of Wolverine and the X-Men for the simple reason that it manages to actually fit, continuity-wise, into the final issue of the whole Avengers vs. X-Men event, all without making any apparent errors. (But there are some spoilers, so read the AvX story first.)

The issue bounces back and forth between the events in that issue and the attempts at the Jean Grey School to keep things "normal" for the students.

Of course, there's not much normal about the school, as it's loaded with odd young mutants. (Say, didn't the mutants all go away at some point? Where did this crew come from? Ah well.)

There's angst, broken hearts, betrayal and assorted other dysfunction going on, along with a menace or two from the school's newest enemy.

It's all very tragic and fast-paced and heartfelt. It only marginally holds together (you would think they would suspend class during the end of the world), but it is clever and sets up lots of storylines for the year ahead.

But hopefully they'll get a few issues in before the next event comes along and disrupts things.

Grade: B+


Monday, October 15, 2012

Fantastic Four #611

We pause now to pay our respects to the Fantastic Four comic, Marvel's flagship title that ushered the company into the Silver Age, on the occasion of this, its final issue.

What's that? But it says "Final Issue," right there on the cover under "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine."

Yeah, I know. This is only the final issue of the original numbering for this title - it reboots next month under the "Marvel Now" banner with a new creative team and a new first issue.

So this is the final issue from writer Jonathan Hickman, who has done an amazing job crafting a new course for this title while using many of the classic characters, creating truly cosmic events and yet keeping the focus on the family at the heart of the title.

For the past several issues he's been wrapping up some of the loose ends still dangling from the multiple stories he's been weaving - and for this issue, that means bringing back the wait-wasn't-he-killed-just-a-few-issues-back Dr. Doom.

This would be a tough issue for a new reader to pick up, as it resolves several gnarly plot points and takes Doom to a new universe (no, not "the" New Universe) where he's free to create... well, everything.

It's a different kind of trap, and one that only Doom's greatest foe can unlock.

I'm sorry to see Hickman end his run on this series - his scripts have been challenging, intelligent and often touching. Some might complain that they were too complex, but you'll never hear me gripe about a comic that makes me think - and requires the reader to actually pay attention.

He's added a number of new characters and new settings to the series, and reinvigorated some old characters - his stories should reverberate through the title for years to come.

What better legacy could a writer ask for?

Grade: A-


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Executive Assistant Assassins #4

Another day, another comic that stars a scantily-clad female warrior. (The reviewer's life can be challenging, he said tongue-in-cheekily.)

But the Executive Assistant Assassin stories can be a bit challenging ethically.

They're a guilty pleasure, based on the idea of beautiful women who are trained from birth to be the ultimate business associate, capable of defending their clients from attack - which usually involves lots of death and destruction, of course.

All of which would be fine, except the Assistants (as near as I can tell) don't have much choice about their profession - they're part of the program from birth, and their avocation could easily be viewed as a kind of prostitution.

So it's all in how you look at it. The latest issue focuses on "Executive Assistant" Sophora, who is hired to be - of all things - a pirate.

Her life is complicated by the fact that she's in love with a pirate - something her master is not likely to appreciate. And her loyalty wavers when she's forced to commit ruthless acts against innocent victims. But will her training trump her ethics?

It's a solid story by Vince Hernandez, with strong, sexy art by Lori "Cross" Hanson and Jonathan Bolerjack, with lots of action and good girl art on display.

So your enjoyment depends on your take (action bonanza or exploited female?) - but it's a well-crafted comic that you'll enjoy.

Unless you don't.

Grade: B-


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Ame-Comi Girls #1

While I certainly don't object to comics that are basically excuses to include lots of drawings of beautiful women wearing scanty costumes, I usually don't seek out such titles. What can I say, I'm a story guy.

But I made an exception with this first issue of Ame-Comi Girls for two reasons: the issue was drawn by Amanda Conner and writen by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray.

That's the same team that made Power Girl such a delight in recent years. That comic featured lush, sexy and energetic artwork and a fast, funny and clever script.

They manage to bring that same energy to this issue, which is something of a retelling of Wonder Woman's earliest adventure.

We first meet the Amazons as they're forced to defend their home in a bloody battle against an invading army. This directly leads to Diana becoming an ambassador to "man's world."

The series is apparently based on a line of toys that feature prominent DC heroines and female villains dressed in skimpy, suggestive versions of their costumes. This story has a bit of fun with that, though it doesn't manage to actually give a good reason for the different version of the costume.

The only disappointing thing about the issue is that the story is 30 pages long, but Amanda Conner only did 20 pages of art. The rest of the issue is drawn by Tony Akins and Walden Wong, using odd panel layouts and more cartoonish characters - not a good match with Conner's work.

Look, this issue is a light bit of fun. I'm not sure if the series can sustain the rather slim concept, but this was entertaining - sexy and insubstantial, with wonderful art (for two-thirds of the issue).

Grade: B+


Friday, October 12, 2012

Batman #13

So apparently the Joker lost his face over in Detective Comics, and now, a year later, he has returned and reclaims it as part of a murderous rampage.

Now I admit that I don't know much about skin (biology isn't my strong suit) - but I suspect that, once separated from the body, it would quickly dry out and grow brittle (unless it was properly treated and prepared, I suppose).

Maybe I'm wrong. The Joker's face is apparently now a mask, strapped to what's left of his face - and his sanity seems to have completely passed, as well.

He launches into a murderous rampage in this issue, confounding Batman and an army of policemen (and, no doubt, the reader as well).

It's a grim, grisly tale that will wind through most of the Bat-titles, in a naked attempt to get up all to buy up a hefty stack of DC's comics.

Ah, but that trick never works with me - I'll continue to buy the Batman title, so we'll see if I can continue to follow the story without those added chapters.

To recap: a sharp (if grisly) script by Scott Snyder, and excellent (if grisly) art by Greg Capullo, and a compelling (and yes, grisly) beginning to a Joker "event."

There's a definite theme growing here. I advise buckling up.

Grade: B+


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Uncanny Avengers #1

In the race to the "great comic" finish line, it's always a great idea to have John Cassaday providing the art - that gets you about 9/10s of the way there.

So Uncanny Avengers is in great shape without even opening the cover.

Cassaday is one of the best in the business right now, with a unique vision, great character designs (and characterizations), and fresh and powerful layouts.

He's done some tweaks to the costumes of the heroes involved, with an eye toward making them a bit more realistic - or more practical. The only one that's going to take some time to adjust to is the Scarlet Witch - instead of the bathing suit she's been wearing forever, her new outfit is more of a leather suit and overcoat look.

So the art is terrific. So the question is, how's the story?

The first issue of any team comic is generally devoted to putting the band together, and this one's no different. The twist is that Captain America is trying to build a team that's half (or slightly more than half) composed of mutants, in order to heal the wounds left by the Avengers vs. X-Men event.

So the Rick Remender story gives us lots of the recruiting thing, a eulogy for the hero lost in AvX, some random (and inexplicable) violence, and a shocking final page that's about as gruesome as anything I can remember seeing in a mainstream Marvel comic.

Which is a bit disappointing - to my mind, an Avengers comic should be accessible to all ages - but I can't recommend this one to young readers.

So a bit of a disappointing start for this series - it's nine-tenths of a good comic, but still doesn't manage to get to tha "great comic" mark.

Grade: B+


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

New Comics Today

Here's what I picked up today:

- Ame-Comi Girls #1 - Amanda Conner art? I'm there!

- Avengers #31 - Wrapping up loose ends.

- A vs. X: Consequences #1 - Aftermath.

- Uncanny Avengers #1 - Building a new team.

- Batman #13 - Joking around.

- Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan #2 (of 4) - Strange new world.

- Captain America #18 - The mad conclusion.

- Conan the Barbarian #9 - The land of ice and snow.

- Fantastic Four #611 - The final issue! (Yeah, right.)

- Invincible Iron Man #526 - Facing the Mandarin.

- Wolverine and the X-Men #18 - More aftermath.

- First X-Men #3 - There's something familiar about that pointy-eared mutant.

And that's it!

The Classics: Daredevil #4

When I first started getting hooked on comic books, I was mostly reading DC Comics - but it wasn't long before i discovered Marvel Comics, and I fell for them in a major way.

Although I was reading by the time the first "Marvel Age" comics appeared in 1961, I didn't pick up on them right away. This, for example, is the first issue of Daredevil I read (it was printed in 1964) - but I immediately loved the character and the concept.

(I'm not sure if I actually spent 12 cents on it - my friends and I often traded comics, so I might have swapped another issue for it.)

What set the early Marvel stories apart from their DC counterparts was a combination of a soap opera storytelling format that focused on characters and love interests, great action sequences, dynamic art and - perhaps most importantly - the flawed hero.

Where DC's heroes were giants of science or superpowers, Marvel's heroes were more down-to-Earth. Iron Man had a bad heart, Thor was crippled as Don Blake, the Hulk and the Thing were monsters, and Daredevil was (and is) blind.

And if DD struggled under an odd concept (and a strange yellow, black and red costume), he also had to overcome another problem - the lack of a consistent artist.

The first issue was drawn by Bill Everett, the next several (including this issue) by the great Joe Orlando, to be followed by Wally Wood and John Romita before enjoying a long run under Gene Colan.

Orlando provides great art in a surprisingly static story here, as DD faces the Purple Man, who has the power to control the minds of anyone he meets. So it's not exactly a slug-fest, but Orlando creates great characters and brings the city to life.

He's inked by Vince Colletta, who has both fans and detractors, but I have to say, his style is very effective here and complements Orlando's detailed art.

The secret of Daredevil's success lies in his catchphrase - the Man Without Fear. In this issue, he stands alone against a mob of people and an opponent who seems to be unstoppable (at least by a single, unarmed man). More than once he'd take on overwhelming odds and succeed thanks to his wits and courage.

It was actually an inspiring comic - a rare breed then and now.

Daredevil didn't immediately become my favorite comic - he had some tough competition on the Marvel side of the fence - but for me, he immediately jumped over a huge stack of DC heroes and became a comic to watch for.

Grade: B+


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Homecoming #2

The first issue of this series was an interesting mix of Buffy and science fiction, as a mysterious girl (Celeste) with strange powers appears, takes her place at a normal high school, and finds herself and her new friends in the middle of a fight with a monstrous alien.

A typical first day of school.

But the sophomore episode of Homecoming seems to be struggling a bit.

That's because, in the aftermath of the alien attack, four friends were gravely injured, and in curing them, Celeste has given them alien powers, too.

Which might sound like an interesting beginning for a new super-team, but the powers that we're shown in this issue are just kind of... ordinary.

It doesn't help that the issue mostly consists of the teens standing around talking about events, and a strange (and mostly unexplained) alien encounter.

The art by Emilio Laiso is quite good - expressive with strong layouts.

Look, this series is still setting things up, so it's not fair to judge the title by this chapter - hopefully the next issue will get things back on track.

Grade: B-


Monday, October 8, 2012

Fairest #8

I have to confess that I was about ready to drop this series.

I enjoyed the six-issue story arc that started Fairest, but I've never read more than a few issues of Fables, so I feel like I'm always trying to catch up and figure out who all the characters are.

So I wasn't going to pick up this issue - but just couldn't bring myself to pass up this one after seeing that terrific cover by Adam Hughes (not the first time I've been lured into a purchase by his terrific art).

And I'm glad I did! It focuses on Rapunzel, who suffers under an unusual affliction - her hair grows at an alarming rate. That forces her to stay hidden from the "real" world - but a shocking (and quite unusual) attack forces her out of hiding - and right into the middle of a fight for her life.

It's an interesting story so far by author Lauren Beukes, and excellent art by Inaki Miranda - with creative, unique layouts and expressive characters. One double-splash page I would almost have sworn was drawn by Neal Adams.

It's just the first chapter of this story, but it's a good start to an unusual (and adult) story.

And have I mentioned the cover?

Grade: B+


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Earth 2 #5

So I continue to be somewhat torn about the Earth 2 series.

I've always liked the Justice Society of America, and I can tolerate the idea of rebooting these classic heroes (which so far includes the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, the Atom and maybe the Sandman), but the new setting for the comic is, well, depressing.

It's set on an alternate Earth where the planet has been devastated by an attack from Apokolips (finally repulsed, but at the cost of the lives of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman) and now faces death from the mysterious menace of The Grey, which is led by the monstrous Grundy.

It's a good action series, the story by James Robinson is solid - but it's all unrelentingly dark and grim - which runs counter to the optimistic, friends-and-family version of the JSA we've enjoyed in past decades.

The art by Nicola Scott and Trevor Scott is quite good, with strong layouts and good character designs (except for the new Green Lantern costume, which isn't growing on me at all).

So it's pretty solid superhero team action, but still no emotional connection and the setting is dismal - so this book still has some work to do to win me over.

I like it enough to stick with it for now - but only just.

Grade: B


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Daredevil: End of Days #1 (of 8)

This is like unearthing a time capsule from the late '80s.

Daredevil: End of Days is (apparently) a story about Daredevil's final days.

It's brutal, vicious, bloody, graphic and really not very good at all.

Which is surprising, since it's written by Brian Bendis and David Mack - and certainly Bendis had a long and impressive run on the regular Daredevil title.

But this is a story intended to shock, as death and destruction run rampant, and the greatest casualty is Daredevil's personality (which is to say, I don't like the monster they make him out to be).

It all runs especially counter to the fine portrait being offered these days in DD's monthly comic by Mark Waid.

The story has me split into two camps - it uses a hoary plot device to gin up some mystery, and then references the cinematic source for the idea, just in case we thought the writers were stealing it. Which they are.

However, the running internal dialogue newspaper writer Ben Urich conducts rings very true, and includes some clever bits.

The art is also a bit of a throwback, though I'll never complain about Klaus Janson's outstanding pencils and Bill Sienkiewicz's inking. They're a fantastic team, and the raw action is perfectly captured (though not for the faint of heart).

It's an interesting story with some good twists - I just wish it had been a story about Daredevil, rather than the brutal imposter they've dropped into his place.

Great art, but I can't recommend this one.

Grade: C-



Friday, October 5, 2012

Action Comics #13

Wow, did I love this issue of Action Comics.

Which is slightly surprising, since it includes a character whose "new" incarnation I don't care for at all (see last week's reviews) - but it's a brief and meaningless cameo.

What I love about it is the backup story (more on that in a moment), and that the main story is a solid Halloween tale that brings one of my favorite bits of Superman lore to the modern day - the Phantom Zone - and returns one of my (sentimental) favorite characters to the title (here unnamed to avoid spoiling the surprise).

The story is a clever bit of business by Grant Morrison (though I seem to have missed the part where Superman builds his Fortress of Solitude), introducing some Kryptonians to Clark's world.

The art by Travel Foreman is quite good - moody and dark, as even a science fiction horror story requires.

But my favorite part, by far, is the touching love story at the heart of the issue. That is brought to the fore in the backup feature by writer Sholly Fisch and penciler Brad Walker.

I don't want to give anything away, but it's a surprisingly sweet and touching tale that brought genuine tears to my eyes. How often does a comic book do that?

A special issue, and highly recommended!

Grade: A+


Thursday, October 4, 2012

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

Ah, the crucial final issue of a maxi-series, loaded with potential - and questions.

Will the ending satisfy? Can they tie up all the loose ends? Who will live, and who will die? Does it set up future story lines? And stuff like that.

So, let's run down the questions at hand.

Q: Will the ending satisfy?

A: Well,it is an ending. But I doubt it will satisfy completely. It doesn't come out of left field - it was basically set up at the beginning of the series, which I appreciate - but it also takes the easiest solution to the problem at hand. Grade: B-

Q: Can they tie up all the loose ends?

A: This effort mostly succeeds - most of the things left unresolved can spin off into future adventures (including the fate of Marvel Boy / Protector / whatever he's called now and a surprise appearance in this issue who's quickly offered membership in the Avengers). Grade: A-

Q: Who will live, and who will die?

A: That would be telling, but as is traditional with these things, there's one major death to contend with.

Q: Does it set up future story lines?

A: There it does succeed, setting up a cross-pollination between the Avenger and X-Men titles, which promises to be fun - or at least interesting. Grade: A

Q: And stuff like that.

A: Let's see: the issue features a sharp script by Jason Aaron and excellent art by Adam Kubert. It feels like a good attempt and tying the story back to the House of M mini-series that (sorta kinda) kicked off the modern era of event comics.

But it feels like the writing team hesitated to take this story to the limit. It was a good opportunity to bring back some long-missing characters and correct some long-standing mistakes.

But, the series provided some great action sequences, some good twists and turns, and provided a new angle for the X-books to spin off from.

So, a solid series, with exceptional art and a good (if not quite exceptional) story. Well worth checking out.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

New Comics Day

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

- Action Comics #13 - A visit from a phantom.

- Avengers vs. X-Men #12 - The finale!

- Before Watchmen: Rorschach #2 (of 4) - A grim confrontation.

- Daredevil: End of Days #1 (of 8) - The final Daredevil story?

- Defenders #11 - Explaining the impossible.

- Earth 2 #5 - Showdown with Grundy.

- Fairest #8 - The cover sold me on this one.

- Green Lantern #13 - The new GL takes flight.

- Road to Oz #2 (of 6) - Meeting the Fox King.

- World's Finest #5 - Power Girl goes through more outfits...

And that's it!

The Classics - Showcase Presents Showcase #1

I've talked before about the fact that we're living in a Golden Age of comic reprints, and what better proof than DC's series of Showcase Presents collections?

For the cost of five (or seven) new comic books, you get a hefty book loaded with more than 500 black-and-white pages reprinting classic comics.

One of my favorites is the recent one with the symmetrical title Showcase Presents Showcase, which reprints the first 21 issues of the "try-out" title from the late 1950s.

It includes the first appearances of The (Barry Allen) Flash, Challengers of the Unknown, Adam Strange, Lois Lane and Rip Hunter, Time Master. Even without color, what a deal!

The idea of the series was to devote an issue or two to a new character. If it caught on, it could result in a new comics series. If it failed, the company only lost sales on an issue or two, then it was on to the next idea.

I was lucky enough to interview DC editor Julius Schwartz in the late '80s, and I asked him about this historic series. The appearance of The Flash in Showcase #4 marked the return of DC's heroes - only Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman's comics had survived the hero "downturn" of the '50s.

Schwartz didn't edit the first three issues, which featured such immortal characters as the Fire Fighters, King of the Wild and The Frogmen. None of those attracted much attention, and Schwartz talked the management into trying an updated version of a Golden Age hero - The Flash.

He assigned one of the top artists in his "bullpen" to illustrate Robert Kanigher's story, and Carmine Infantino was the perfect choice. A master draftsman with a sleek, futuristic style, design skills way ahead of his time and a great eye for action and character design, Infantino made the series an instant classic.

The character did well enough to return in three more Showcase issues before being spun off into his own title, and paving the way for Green Lantern, Hawkman, Atom and eventually, the Justice League of America.

For a longtime fan like yours truly, these collections are a wonderful way to relive classic stories or read others for the first time, all in an affordable and attractive package.

Some of the stories are dated, some are a bit slim, but the issue is loaded with great art (including Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert, Mike Sekowsky and Al Plastino, to name a few) and great writers, including Gardner Fox, Jack Miller and John Broome.

Lots of fun and highly recommended!

Grade: A


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Idolized #2

I wasn't sure how this series would hold up for me, given my general dislike for reality television.

But so far, Idolized is holding my attention.

That's mostly because the story by David Schwartz offers a good balance between reality TV dramatics, a mysterious motive that compels the woman known as Joule, and the brief glimpses of her future.

The only problem is that the lead character isn't particularly likable. She doesn't interact with the other contestants much, so we only get the driven part of her personality - it would be nice to know more.

But, contrarily, I do like the mystery aspect of her backstory - the slow reveal there is very effective. (Of course, it's possible to provide character without spoiling her mysterious past.)

I do like the art by Micah Gunnell and Pasquale Qualano - it's loaded with energy, animation and angst. Some nice design work, strong layouts and sharp character designs, too.

This series is walking a fine line between melodrama and superhero action, and it's a heck of a balancing act - one step too far in either direction and it all falls down.

But so far, it's very entertaining. Which is more than I can say for most actual reality TV shows.

Grade: B+


Monday, October 1, 2012

The Spider #5

The best compliment I can offer about this series devoted to The Spider is that it manages an excellent modern version of a pulp hero.

And they don't get much pulpier than this one, as thousands in New York face death (or have been killed) by a deadly gas that turns its victims into zombies.

Kudos to writer David Liss for crafting a strong story, a delightfully vicious menace and an evil mastermind who manages to be somewhat sympathetic, even while plotting mass murder.

The dialogue is a real delight, and The Spider's reactions are entertaining - he definitely isn't the normal breed of hero.

I like the art by Colton Worley, although there are a couple of panels that are a bit murky and difficult to follow. But his characters are well-crafted, the action scenes are great and he excels at depicting the faces of the characters. Solid work all around.

The Spider's always taken a back seat to pulp heroes like The Shadow and Doc Savage, but this series is a great step toward changing that and bringing him up to the front lines.

More like this, please!

Grade: A-