Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Avengers #4

There's something special about Marvel's fourth issues.

In the original Avengers run, the fourth issue featured the Silver Age return of Captain America. In the original Fantastic Four #4, the Sub-Mariner made his return. (For what it's worth, Amazing Spider-Man #4 introduced the Sandman, and X-Men #4 featured the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.)

For this fourth issue of the "Marvel NOW" Avengers, the focus is on Hyperion. But this is a new version of that character.

There have been several versions of Hyperion - some heroes, some villains, all from different dimensions, and all (more or less) knockoffs of Superman. But this is a new character, and his origin (told here) takes some very interesting turns.

It's (apparently) all part of writer Jonathan Hickman's long-range plan, and it's building nicely. The art for this issue is by Adam Kubert, and it's truly impressive, with dynamic characters and stunning environments.

I was expecting big things from Hickman on the title, and so far, he's exceeded my expectations. No complaints here, except for the fact that I have to wait for the next issue!

Grade: A


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

New Comics Today

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

- Aquaman #16 - Rescue mission to save Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman!

- Avengers #4 - The origin of Hyperion.

- Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill #1 - Len Wein and Steve Rude? Sold.

- Before Watchmen: Ozymandius #5 - Planning the future.

- Flash #16 - Showdown with Grodd.

- Hawkeye #7 - The storm hits.

- Joe Kubert Presents #4 (of 6) - More classics from the master.

- Journey Into Mystery #648 - Sif's transformation.

- Shadow #9 - Fighting in the skies!

And that's it!

The Classics - Action Comics #584

Those of you who were reading comics in 1986 remember the impact when John Byrne did something that had (to the best of my memory) never been done before: he rebooted a long-established character.

And they don't get any more established than Superman.

With the Man of Steel mini-series (launched right after the universe-changing events in Crisis on Infinite Earths), he retooled everything about Superman, managing to get back to the basics, while at the same time modernizing the characters, the settings, and introducing new challenges and menaces.

After the mini-series, Byrne took over writing and drawing two titles: Superman (which got a new first issue) and Action Comics, which maintained its numbering but changed format and became a team-up comic.

Being no man's fool, Byrne immediately stacked the deck for his first issue by teaming Superman with DC's most popular title, the Teen Titans.

The issue leaned on a beloved Marvel sensibility, as the Titans were forced to fight a Superman who was apparently deranged.

It's a fast-paced, action-packed issue that allows Byrne lots of room for dynamic art (wonderfully embellished by the legendary Dick Giordano), some nice character moments and a couple of good plot twists.

He loses a point for loading a bit too much text into a single preachy panel at the end, but that's easy to forgive since it makes some important points.

But overall, it's a fantastic start to Byrne's rein on the comic that started it all.

Grade: A


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Homecoming #3

I really want to like Aspen's Homecoming comic, and it has some strong points.

The art is lovely, the girls are beautiful, and the basic concept is solid.

The story involves an invasion of monstrous aliens, a beautiful and powerful teenage girl named Celeste who mysteriously appears, her group of teenage friends (think of Archie and his friends in a slightly more realistic setting) and the strange powers they all gain.

The big problem is that none of it feels real.

I know, it's a comic book - but none of the characters are depicted as anything more than stereotypical kids, and we get no clue as to how they're reacting to these aliens and their strange new powers.

There's a nice cliffhanger ending, but that (and the aforementioned solid art) is about all this comic has going for it.

There's still time to sort this all out - but we're not there yet.

Grade: B-


Monday, January 28, 2013

Wolverine and the X-Men #24

So I was at the comics shop and several guys there were laughing at this cover of Wolverine and the X-Men.

They weren't surprised by the cover - one even made the odious joke that Storm was the X-Men's "bike" (in other words, everyone gets a ride).

I stood there wondering: is that true?

I admit that over the long and winding road of X-Men continuity, Storm has no doubt had a few relationships - I remember one with Forge, and there's her recent marriage (and sadly, divorce) from the Black Panther.

But other than a date or two, I don't remember any other lasting or serious relationships, and certainly I have no memory of her sleeping around casually.

So that brings us to this "true love" issue, focusing on a assortment of relationships, none of which seem to be going well.

It's a fun, lighthearted issue (for the most part), but the final scenes with Storm and Wolverine (on which the cover is based) seem totally out of character. Perhaps there are some plot twists that will sort it out.

One can only hope.

Grade: B+


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Wonder Woman #16

I'm crunched for time today, gentle readers, so let me cut to the chase.

Wonder Woman is an outstanding comic, assuming you can get past the fact that it's violent and not at all suited for young readers.

The expanding story keeps building on the pantheon of gods and the conflict that has Diana trying to find a peaceful solution to an escalating war.

Add in the first "New 52" appearance of the New Gods (or to be more specific, Orion), and you've got a great read.

Terrific art, compelling story - well worth your time, if you don't mind a few buckets of blood (and other disturbing images).

Not for kids, but mature readers will enjoy it.

Grade: A-


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Young Avengers #1

One of these weeks I'll be able to do every review about an Avengers-based comic. I picked up three of them this week (though I'm only reviewing two).

Today's topic is the returning Young Avengers.

The short-lived original series was creative and clever, but never really found its audience.

This time around, the team is fractured and there are new characters involved - happily, that includes (teen) Loki, whose series recently wrapped up in Journey Into Mystery, and Marvel Boy / the Protector / Noh-Varr, whose Avengers career imploded during the Avengers vs. X-Men event.

Most super-team first issues are all about assembling the team, but there's not much assembling going on here - this issue is all about introducing the characters. Some have straightforward intentions, and others are more mysterious.

Kieron Gillen is the writer on this series, and it's off to a solid (if somewhat disjointed) start. The art is by Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton, and it's very good, with a nice, polished look to it. I especially like the double page splash that kicks off a battle in space.

The issue leaves us with more questions than answers (what happened to the woman Noh-Varr was in love with?), but there are several good stories bubbling here.

I wasn't floored by this issue - the characters are mighty thin so far - but it's enough of a hook that I'll be back for the next issue.

Grade: A-


Friday, January 25, 2013

Justice League #16

The challenge with a team as powerful as the Justice League is finding an opponent that can stand against powerhouses like Superman and Wonder Woman.

This issue has that and then some.

It continues the "Throne of Atlantis" event, and it's heating up nicely. The story suffers a little "Marvel-itis" as Aquaman fights against his teammates in an odd attempt to stop the invasion of Atlantis' army.

But it's all to good effect, as we see just how overwhelming the menace is, and the League is forced to go to "Plan B" - which is a nice setup for yet another Justice League comic.

Geoff Johns turns in a strong story here, with an interesting take on Atlantis - but the real star is Ivan Reis' art. Several splash panels are particularly good, but my favorite depicts something we see all too rarely: Superman taking command.

I haven't talked much about the Shazam backup feature in this title, mostly because we're just getting slivers of the story with each issue - but things certainly kick up a notch this time around as Black Adam returns (for the first time) to battle a shocked Shazam. The art by Gary Franks is something special.

There have been a few stumbles along the way, but this series continues to be one of the best of the "New 52."

Grade: A-


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Uncanny Avengers #3

What a distasteful comic this is.

It's loaded with death and destruction, as the Red Skull has somehow gained the mental powers of the dead Professor Xavier and is manipulating the people of New York into attacking and brutally killing their fellow citizens - all gleefully depicted over and over.

The Uncanny Avengers show up and manage to achieve very little, other than to become the pawns or victims of the Skull. (Wouldn't Tony Stark or Reed Richards have devised some kind of defense against this kind of telepathic invasion by now?)

Even worse, the entire issue is narrated in a heavy-handed and overly dramatic style that feels incredibly out of date.

Once again, the only real saving grace is the powerful artwork of John Cassaday, who seems to be doing his best to make something out of this mess (with a more-than-able assist by colorist Laura Martin).

Look, this should be my favorite comic of the week. I love the cast of this Avengers team (Captain America, Thor, Scarlet Witch, Wolverine, Rogue and Havok), I love the art, I like the idea of them working together to help improve human / mutant relationships, and I'm all for them taking on a major menace like the Red Skull.

Instead, we're getting recycled plots, grim and gritty stories that are more horror than hero-based, and terribly stilted writing.

Any Avengers book - thanks to the summer blockbuster movie - starts life ahead of the game. But this comic is stuck in reverse.

I can't recommend this one at all.

Grade: C-


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

New Comics Day

Pretty big haul at the comics shop today. I got:

- Avengers #3 - Fighting the impossible.

- Uncanny Avengers #3 - A new power for the Red Skull.

- Young Avengers #1 - Because we need more Avengers comics (but it's ok if it's as good as they say).

- Before Watchmen; Minutemen #6 (of 6) - The wrap-up.

- FF #3 - Who is Johnny Storm?

- Green Lantern #16 - Learning the tricks of the ring.

- Justice League #16 - The battle with Atlantis heats up.

- Masks #3 - Gathering more allies.

- Sword of Sorcery #4 - Featuring Constantine.

- Winter Soldier #14 - Wrapping up Brubaker's run.

- Wolverine and the X-Men #24 - Logan and Storm, sittin' in a tree...

- Wonder Woman #16 - Meeting of the gods.

And that's it!

The Classics: Action Comics #601

I admire it when comics companies try something original - even when the experiment fails.

With this issue of Action Comics, published in 1988, DC tried to create a 48-page weekly comic.

Impossible, you say? Well... yeah. But give them credit for courage.

The idea was to feature five 8-page stories in each issue, starring an assortment of characters - some well known, some not so much. And since Action has always starred Superman, they made him the only permanent feature - but only gave his a two-page, "Sunday Comics" format.

Even with top writer Roger Stern and classic artist Curt Swan handling the creative end, two pages just wasn't enough to get any story momentum going.

As for the other features, they ran the gamut from good to fair to truly awful.

The awful came from the most unexpected source - a Green Lantern story drawn by Gil Kane! The problem was the terrible characterization by writer Jim Owsley, making GL shallow and casually killing off a beloved character. Terrible.

Max Collins and Terry Beatty return with an adventure of the vigilante Wilddog - a surprisingly violent (but well-crafted) tale for this mainstream DC comic.

One of the delights is the return of the Secret Six, a team of spies not seen since its short-lived series in the '60s. Written by Martin Pasko and drawn by Dan Spiegle, it recaptured the fun of the original series.

Mike Baron and Dan Jurgens have fun in a story starring Deadman, who conducts a one-ghost war on drugs.

The final story is an offbeat bit of business with Blackhawk, though most of the story is a history lesson as a lead-in to the "new," sleazy Blackhawk. A surprising stumble for writer Mike Grell and artist Rick Burchett.

I wonder if the problem with this kind of series is because of the difficulty most modern writers seem to have with short stories. The 10-page story was the norm in the Silver Age and before, but most comics since then have been "feature length" - maybe most writers just lack the knack of crafting a story in a small space.

Maybe it was the lack of "big name" characters, or maybe readers just didn't want too follow a weekly comic.

Whatever the reason, this experiment only lasted 10 months, and then Action Comics went back to its old format. A shame it didn't work - but kudos to DC for giving it the ol' college try.

Grade: C


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Captain America #3

As a fan of both the Avengers movie and the Captain America movie, it's been great to see the "First Avenger" gain popularity. (I base this on the growing amount of Cap-based T-shirts, hats, etc.)

I had the same reaction when the character first reappeared in the '60s - even though he had no real powers, his immediate command of every situation, his determination and leadership skills made him a great addition to Marvel's Silver Age.

His new series has certainly taken an unusual approach - sort of a "Planet Cap," not unlike the new direction the Hulk took several years back.

After a recent battle with mad scientist Arnim Zola, Cap finds himself exiled to Dimension Z (a particularly primitive and hostile environment), attempting to protect a young child named Ian.

They find themselves captured by a primitive (but powerful) tribe, and survival is in doubt.

So far it's been an interesting story by Rick Remeder, though a bit on the dark side.

The art is by John Romita, Jr., and it's outstanding - amazing action sequences and emotional moments. I especially enjoy the flashback sequences focusing on Steve's childhood.

Just for fun, the issue ends on a cliffhanger - one of those "how will they get out of this one" things.

So far, the series has been a bit grim, but it does feature the Cap that's been drawing fans of late - a leader, a fighter, never at a loss of a plan.

Here's hoping for more of the same!

Grade: A-


Monday, January 21, 2013

The High Ways #1

Now there's something you don't see very often:

Science fiction.

Writer and artist John Byrne channels Robert Heinlein and creates The High Ways, an entertaining story about the three-man crew of a space ship that's hired to pick up a shipment on Europa, a moon that orbit Jupiter.

The focus is on the newest member of the crew, a green navigator named Eddie Wallace. It's a useful way to introduce us to the mechanics of walking on a space station, the need for a hardsuit (space suit), how they manage an eight-month-long journey, and the etiquette for receiving a visitor halfway across the galaxy.

This is definitely the kind of story I enjoy. "Hard" science fiction, real-world applications, characters who also act like real people, interesting solutions to difficult obstacles, and terrific art.

Byrne is on his game here, as he gives the space setting a realistic feel (no easy task) and the characters loads of personality.

It's sad that there's so little "real" science fiction represented in comics (not to mention high quality SF), so we have to treasure it when it arrives.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Sunday, January 20, 2013

All-New X-Men #6

Writer Brian Bendis is the master of the slow rollout, as he takes months to cover the same ground comics once needed 15 pages to tell.

That's not an altogether bad thing, because it allows him time and space to dig down into personal stories and give the reader more insights into the mind and motivations of different characters.

For example, here we're six issues into the All-New X-Men, and we're still slowly piecing together the new life of the original teenage version of the team (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast, Angel and Iceman), now relocated (if that's the right word) from the past to the present.

They're trying to adjust (and understand) a world where Professor Xavier's dream about peace between humans and mutants seems to be in complete ruins.

Even more troubling is the future they face - Jean is dead, Scott is the most hated man on Earth (well, almost), Hank is a furry monster, and even Iceman and the Angel have serious changes to contend with.

This issue focuses on Jean and Scott - she's trying to cope with her new telepathic powers, and he's trying to understand this new world.

The story features clever, funny dialogue, some great twists and some touching moments.

I like the artwork by David Marquez, although some of the page layouts are a bit hard to follow - some spill across two pages, but it's not always obvious. But that's a minor complaint - his character designs are strong and his action sequences are sharp.

This series may be taking its sweet time, but so far, it's been a fun ride. Works for me!

Grade: A-


Saturday, January 19, 2013

New Avengers #2

Marvel Comics, as a general rule, are beloved for their high-flying action sequences.

Don't buy this issue if that's what you're looking for, because the only action appears in brief flashback and flashforward scenes.

You should buy the issue, however, if you're looking for an intelligent, challenging and riveting science fiction tale.

In the first issue of the Jonathan Hickham version of the New Avengers, the Black Panther stumbled on a chilling scene, as a woman named the Black Swan destroyed a nearby planet.

Realizing that the entire planet is in danger, T'Challa assembles the Illuminati (and the newest Avengers incarnation) - Black Bolt, Namor, Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man, Captain America and Dr. Strange.

What follows is a clever analysis of the true threat - and the terrible decisions that may face the group.

The art is by Steve Epting is excellent - dark, foreboding and yet very attractive. It's tough to make a story visually interesting when it's mostly about characters sitting around talking, but he does a terrific job, jumping from cosmic concepts to face-to-face confrontations effortlessly.

This comic is very different from the usual super-hero team story, and all the better for it. Hickman is really pushing the boundaries of super-hero stories here, and the result is an epic story on a cosmic scale.

It's going to be interesting to follow along.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A-


Friday, January 18, 2013

Batman #16

So this is one of those "run the gauntlet" stories where the hero has to get from "Point A" to "Point B" while dealing with an array of traps, enemies and obstacles.

Luckily, I love those kinds of comics!

This issue of Batman continues the "Death of the Family" story (which is nearing its end), and I have to admit it's been somewhat tough sledding - mostly because I don't buy any of the other comics in the series, including Batgirl, Batman and Robin or Nightwing (and whatever others there might be). And I'm not going to start buying them just because of a crossover event - sorry, DC.

As a result, I'm not sure what's been going on around the edges of this story - though, to its credit, Batman's battle with the Joker has been relatively self-contained here.

It's a grim battle of wits (with a few improbable events along the way), but it's a well-crafted tale (that leans a bit on the Arkham Asylum video games) with lots of surprising guest stars.

As always, writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo turn in top-notch work - but I'll be glad when this issue gets back to being a bit more self-contained.

Grade: A-


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Savage Wolverine #1

When Frank Cho is involved in a comic book project, attention must be paid.

That's because he's one of the most gifted artists working in comics today. His art combines the strengths of Frazetta, Adam Hughes and Neal Adams into a fresh, sculpted style.

His character designs are stunning, with men who fit the heroic ideal, and women who exceed it.

Savage Wolverine is his latest undertaking, and it plays to his strengths. It includes a) a beautiful, scantily-clad woman; 2) a powerful hero; and 3) dinosaurs.

Cho is sometimes criticized for two things: his writing, which often takes a back seat to the art; and his difficulty of producing a comic series on a regular schedule.

Here he's crafted a clever bit of business that drops Wolverine (via mysterious means), Shanna the She-Devil (her of the tattered, tiny bikini) and some SHIELD agents into the Savage Land, where they must fight to survive against vicious attacks while solving the mystery of an island that is loaded with menace.

It's a great excuse for Cho to draw some amazing dinosaurs (his Raptors are especially fine) and, well, Shanna.

What more reason do you need?

This series is off to a strong start - here's hoping it continues.

On time.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

New Comics Day

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

- New Avengers #2 - More than one universe at risk.

- Avengers Assemble #11 - Facing down an angry Hulk.

- Batman #16 - Running the Joker gauntlet.

- Captain America #3 - Fighting for survival in another world.

- Conan the Barbarian #12 - Facing death.

- Daredevil #22 - A team-up with someone pretending to be Spider-Man.

- The High Ways #1 - Science Fiction in the Heinlein style!

- Indestructible Hulk #3 - Going undercover.

- Saga #9 - Rescue mission.

- Savage Wolverine #1 - Frank Cho writing and drawing? Works for me!

- All-New X-Men #6 - Sorting out life in the future.

And that's it!

Classic Comics - The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen #1

It's the mark of a great writer: being able to take what seems like a simple concept, and making it into a classic.

That's just what Alan Moore did with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. First published in 1999, the series began with a simple premise: that all the fictional stories really happened.

Which may sound simple, but (needless to say) during the history of mankind there have been lots of stories written, and the task of sorting them out, making them work together and keeping all the characters true to their origins was a herculean task - but Moore makes it look easy.

He gives the tale an adventure base (it is a comic book, after all) - the British Empire is threatened by a mysterious foe, so in 1898 the government sets out to assemble its own team of extraordinary individuals, in hopes they can match the menaces arising.

The first recruit seems an odd one - an (apparently) ordinary woman named Mina Murray. Yes, that's the Mina who was prominently featured in Bram Stoker's Dracula. Is she now a vampire or is she a normal woman who was traumatized by her encounter with the legendary Count? It's never really spelled out (unlike the film version of this team), and the reader must draw his or her own conclusions.

Mina seeks out the legendary explorer / hunter Alan Quartermain, and finds him lost in a world of drugs. (Needless to say, this comic isn't appropriate for young readers.) She also team up with the infamous Captain Nemo, who pilots the Nautilus.

Most of the series is given over to the assembly of the team, but it's fascinating to watch the recreation the England of 1898, how the characters interact and what kind of (fictional) world they live in.

Moore is happily teamed here with artist Kevin O'Neill, and what a perfect choice he is. Each page is filled with stunning, intense, glorious art, and also loaded with amazing details - it's almost a trivia contest, trying to figure out who some of the people depicted are.

It's an ingenious series, combining history, fiction, humor, culture and action in a bigger-than-life canvas. Its loaded with big ideas, shocking events and loads of surprises.

With the warning that it's just for adults - there are some truly unsettling incidents in the story, and plenty of salty language - this series is challenging, intelligent and a delight to read.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A+


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Guest Review: Honey West and Kolchak #1

Glen Davis is here with a guest review of a new series that teams up two classic TV shows:

I remain a fan of Moonstone Comics despite their very intermittent publishing schedule.

The company teams up two of its more successful licensed properties in this series: the hard boiled private eye Honey West and the supernatural reporter Kolchak.

While the two seem an unlikely duo, the story makes it work by setting the story during the '70s, when Kolchak was little more than a copy boy. This inexperienced version of Kolchak is certainly novel, and helps fill in the gaps of Kolchak's history. Honey West seems a bit tougher than usual, but we'll chalk that up to the influence of action movies.

The two meet while investigating an analogue of the old Playboy clubs, and find something evil behind the hedonistic veneer.

Not bad. I'm not sure the art cariacture of Kolchak fits, as Darren McGavin was playing Mike Hammer on television during the '50s, and he didn't much resemble the callow youth, but that's a quibble of the smallest category.

Overall, a quality effort that makes both characters look good.

Grade: A-


Monday, January 14, 2013

Wolverine and the X-Men #23

Even when the story includes wholesale destruction and mutilation, you have to hand it to Wolverine and the X-Men - it does so with a great sense of fun.

In this issue, for example, we have the wrap-up to a story that includes evil spells, a Circus designed to steal souls, a contingent of X-Men and X-students, and Frankenstein's Monster.

Well it's not exactly that monster (who had his own Marvel comic back in the late '70s) - rather it's a new version of the creature as invented by the new Dr. Frankenstein, who happens to be one of the annoying kids who make up the new Hellfire Club (and serve in this series as the main opponent of the X-Men).

So, anyway, as you can see - lots of crazy stuff going on here, courtesy of writer Jason Aaron, and it all shoots past at top speed, only slowing down for an occasional funny remark or murder attempt.

The art is by Nick Bradshaw, and it's quite good, especially considering the army of characters he's dealing with here. I especially like the double-page splash of the X-Men swinging into action - it would make an excellent poster.

So aside from my usual gripe that I don't like the idea of the Hellfire Club being made up of kids, it's a strong issue and, like so many of the issues in this series, a lot of fun to read.

Grade: A-


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Earth 2 #8


I keep buying this comic waiting for the real James Robinson to show up.

He's the writer who created so many great issues of Justice Society and Starman - but his work on Earth 2 feels like a different writer at work.

It's loaded with unlikeable characters, all reboots of classic characters. It's a grim world loaded with hopelessness and destruction.

And this issue, even more so. It focuses on the Warlord from Apokolips, Steppenwolf, who has been hiding in a small country - and then things get ugly. And we meet his powerful ally, a woman warrior wearing (of course) a skimpy costume.

The issue, frankly, makes me sad. For some reason, they decided to change Steppenwolf's classic Kirby look into a standard "big musclebound guy in armor." The entire issue is given over to his story - no sign of the other members of the JSA here - so it's all death and destruction.

The art by Yildiray Cinar is good, solid superhero fare - and he certainly has a knack for drawing beautiful women.

But eight issues into this series and I'm only hanging around because I was such a fan of the original Earth 2 concept - but so far, this has been very disappointing. I don't think I can hang on much longer.

Grade: C+


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Action Comics #16

Every now and then a comic book comes along that feels like it's just packed full of goodness.

Like Action Comics #16.

Writer Grant Morrison has turned his final storyline into a true romp, with loads of characters, references only long-time fans will catch, Superman facing impossibly difficult attacks, and all of it created by an evil imp from the 5th Dimension.

The truly impressive thing is that Morrison takes some of the silly elements from the Silver Age (and before), updates them to modern standards and makes it all work - somehow.

For example, imps from the 5th Dimension like Mr. Mxyzptlk have been comical characters (with the exception of one Alan Moore story) - until now. We look in on the grown-up members of the Legion of Super-Heroes as they deal with a drastically altered future. Krypto, Superman's pet, is back and very intimidating. Kryptonian mummies, multi-colored kryptonites are represented, and on and on... it's an amazing flurry of creativity on display.

Through it all, Superman is amazingly calm, using his intelligence to fight back against impossible odds.

Have I mentioned how much I hate to see Morrison's run end next issue?

The art is also a treat, as Brad Walker and Rags Morales divide the penciling duties, and keep the craziness flowing nicely.

The story is probably a bit confusing for new readers - Superman's enemy in crashing together different timelines, bringing back some of the pivotal moments in Superman's life.

It's a fun, rollicking story that provide lots of smiles for this fan.

Grade: A-


Friday, January 11, 2013

Star Wars #1

I've been a big fan of Star Wars since I saw the first film (before they added the title, "A New Hope") with a sold-out crowd at a local theater. I returned many times to see it again and again.

As a fan, I bought the entire run of Marvel's comic books based on the movie, a series that ran the gamut from truly bad to quite wonderful.

But after the comic books rights moved over to Dark Horse, I started losing interest - perhaps because the story subjects seemed to move away from the original cast and into other corners of the Star Wars universe.

This issue, happily enough, gets back to basics (which always seems to be a good idea with long-running series). It's set shortly after the original film, with Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, Darth Vader and Wedge all dealing with the challenges they faced after the destruction of the Death Star.

There's a lot to like about this issue - the stunning Alex Ross cover, the fact that Brian Wood is writing it (and all the characters speak with the proper "voice"), and the interior art by Carlos D'Anda, which is quite good, even if Luke and Leia are slightly off-model in a couple of panels (a minor quibble).

The story has the Rebels looking for a new base while the Empire continues to seek the Rebels. The only problem is, in getting things set up for new readers, everything just seems to be moving in slow motion.

The issue begins with a trio of heroes under attack - but the only result is that we get to see how tough Leia is. Han and Chewie make a mere cameo appearance - hopefully we'll see more of them in upcoming issues.

It's a bit of a slow start, but I suspect (or hope) things will pick up from here.

It's nice to be getting a new start with this series, especially given the recent announcement that there's a seventh Star Wars film in the works.

I'm not sure of the plot or the creative teams involved, though I love the idea that it will bring back Luke, Leia, Han and the rest.

What can I say? It's a great time to be a Star Wars fan!

Grade: B


Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Superior Spider-Man #1

After reading this comic, my friend Pete told me he liked it, but I wouldn't.

He was right.

(Oh, and we'll be talking about the events spilling out of Amazing Spider-Man #700, so if you haven't read it yet, spoiler warnings and all that.)

So here's where we are - Dr. Octopus has been dying for the last 100 issues, so he somehow switched / merged his mind with Peter Parker's, switching Parker's mind to his dying body.

And in issue 700, Peter "died" with the Doc's body. However, Ock has now been exposed to Peter's life and lessons, and vows that he'll be a greater hero than Spider-Man ever was.


So this issue shows us the "new" life for Peter Parker, fighting crime (sorta) with a vicious edge Spider-Man never had, ogling Mary Jane's chest and generally behaving like a jerk.

It still feels like a seamy, desperate attempt to garner sales - and is no doubt succeeding in that respect (it's a first issue, after all) - but it's a dark day for the character, having to stoop to such low antics to get attention (and the implications of rape hanging over Mary Jane's future are particularly unsettling).

The art by Ryan Stegman has some nice energetic moments, but it's all too busy and cartoonish for me - there are many panels in there that I have no idea what's going on.

The end of the issue includes a twist that seems to indicate the creative team is already backpedaling on this storyline - but this is the last issue I'll be picking up for a while, so it doesn't really matter to me.

It's sad - Spider-Man has been one of my favorites for a long time. But "my" Spider-Man hasn't been around for a long time, and I'm starting to wonder if I'll ever see him again.

Grade: D+


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

New Comics Today

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

- Action Comics #16 - That is one crazy (but fun) comic.

- Earth 2 #8 - Setting up the next big bad guy.

- Fairest #11 - Horrific tale.

- Fantastic Four #3
- Watch that first step!

- Superior Spider-Man #1
- That'll be the last one for me.

- Star Wars #1
- Luke and Leia and Darth!

- Thor: God of Thunder #4
- Still fighting the God Butcher.

- Wolverine and the X-Men #23
- Clown attack!

- World's Finest #8
- A hero falls!

- First X-Men #5 - The merciful end.

And that's it! Oh, and I finally got my copy of The Shadow Special!

The Classics - Leave It To Chance #1

For the life of me, I don’t know why Leave It To Chance wasn’t a huge hit.

Perhaps it was lost it the grim and gritty wave of comics that were common in 1996.

It was a series very much along the fanciful lines of Harry Potter (with perhaps a bit of Nancy Drew tossed in there), focusing on young Chance Falconer, a 14-year-old girl who dreams of following in her father's footsteps as an occult investigator.

Her dad has other ideas - but that doesn't stop her from seeking trouble on her own - so she finds herself in the middle of numerous adventures, hijinks and close scrapes, but never loses her optimistic spirit.

She’s a smart, funny character (who happens to have a pet dragon) - this comic had all the proper ingredients for a terrific series.

Written by James Robinson and drawn by Paul Smith, it was (and is) a pure delight and well worth tracking down. Robinson was riding high - this was published while he was working on the excellent Starman - and Smith spent years drawing the X-Men, and his work here is even more fantastic and light-hearted.

In a just universe, we'd be celebrating the 17th anniversary of this title - but we'll have to settle for the 13 excellent issues that were printed.

It would be nice to think that there'd always be room for well-crafted, warm-hearted adventure comics - but that's not always the case.

But for a couple of years - we had magic.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mars Attacks Popeye (One-Shot)

For those who came in late (apologies to The Phantom), Mars Attacks started out as a series of bubblegum cards in 1962, which told the story of a gruesome attack on the Earth by Martians wielding death rays and assorted horrible weapons.

A cult favorite, it spawned a feature film directed by Tim Burton back in 1996, and have appeared in numerous comic book adaptations, mini-series and one-shots.

Looks like it’s time for more one-shots, though certainly even the insane Martians have never come up against a more unbeatable foe than Popeye.

Yep, this zany issues combines the two most disparate comics characters since The Punisher met Archie Andrews (as Dave Barry says, I am not making this up).

Happily, it’s all done in the throwback / Segar style like the ongoing Popeye comic book, so it’s all in good fun - lots of punching and smashing and carnage, lots of mangling of the English language - but like the best villains, there are always plenty more Martians where those came from.

Don’t expect anything deep or meaningful here - it would be a disappointment if it were anything more than just a fun-filled comic adventure with some laughs sprinkled in.

Kudos to writer Martin Powell and artist Terry Beatty for their fantastic work, recapturing the timeless allure of Thimble Theatre - and throwing in some monsters for good measure.

Grade: B+


Monday, January 7, 2013

Fathom #8

The past few issues of Fathom have moved the characters into place, and with this issue, everything changes.

Aspen (Fathom) Matthews is searching for the Professor who has threatened (or perhaps already killed) her friends, but she arrives too late for revenge - but who has ended the threat?

To find the answer to that, the comic turns back the clock and reveals the fate of her friends (and enemies) - and it's not what anyone might expect.

The end result is a transformation and what may be a new ally - or an even greater threat.

It's a compelling story by David Wohl, although (fair warning) it doesn't really feature much of the title character - but it works as a (you should pardon the phrase) sea change for the storyline.

I really like the art by Alex Konat, with strong character designs, exotic environments and powerful layouts. It doesn't hurt that he (or she) draws incredibly beautiful women, of course.

This year (amazingly enough) marks the 15th anniversary of Fathom - this is Volume 4, for those who are counting - and this issue gets the party off to a great start!

Grade: A-


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Hellboy in Hell #2

One of the great things about the Hellboy series (and there are lots of great things about it) is that you never know what to expect.

That's certainly been the case with Hellboy in Hell.

After getting killed (honest!) in recent continuity, he finds himself getting a tour of Hell, coutesy of guides who seem to owe a debt the Charles Dickens and "A Christmas Carol."

In this story, written and drawn by the amazing Mike Mignola, Hellboy makes some disturbing and unsettling discoveries as he is again forced to face his (possible) destiny.

It's a grim story with some unsettling revelations - yet even in this terrible land with a grim fate in store for our hero, Mignola manages to infuse some humor along the way - and his artwork, of course, is raw and stunning.

Like virtually every other chapter of the series, this is not to be missed.

Grade: A-


Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Flash #15

This will come as a shock to you, but everyone is different.

With comics readers, some only care about the art, while others focus on the writing. I lean toward the story side myself (though I enjoy good art, of course). The gold is when both are outstanding.

Sadly, that hasn't been the case with The Flash - which has been the source of much pain for me.

That's because the character has been one of my favorites since I was a kid, and I was thrilled when they brought back Barry Allen.

But since the "New 52" started, The Flash has been written by artist Francis Manapul, and while his art has been exceptional, the story has not.

Part of the problem is that nothing ever seems to be resolved. Promising story elements are introduced but continue to limp along, including the Speed Force dimension, the people stranded there, the newly-powered Rogues, problems with the Flash's powers, the threat of Gorilla Grodd, Barry's father being framed for murder, his relationship with Patty, his changing powers - you get the idea.

These plots (and subplots) have been running since the re-start and show no signs of resolution. Even worse, The Flash just seems to be a punching bag. Issue after issue, he gets thumped on by the bad guys - he spends this issue recovering from his near-death at the hands of Grodd.

The saving grace for the series has been Manapul's art, and even though he draws a mere eight pages in this issue, they're impressive, with stunning layouts and design elements.

But he really needs some help with the story side. Give us a reason to root for Barry, allow him some victories, resolve some story lines. Move beyond the Rogues, let us get to know the supporting characters.

This can be a great comic, it's very close to being there - but it needs consistency and tighter storytelling first.

Grade: C+


Friday, January 4, 2013

All-New X-Men #5

Despite some trepidation over the whole time=travel aspect that has moved the original teenage X-Men (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, the Beast, Angel and Iceman) to the present day, I have to admit that I'm totally hooked on this series.

Which is pretty impressive, because I had pretty much given up on the X-Men series altogether. The whole thing just got so big, with dozens of characters, convoluted (or discarded) storylines, arbitrary changes to characters - it just became too much to keep up with. So I was only collecting the Uncanny X-Men comics, and I was ready to drop that one when the Avengers vs. X-Men series hit.

Then I heard that writer Brian Bendis was taking the X-reins, and I decided to hang around to see if he could right the ship.

So far, on All-New X-Men, he's done just that. He's populated it with characters you like and care about, the focus is on key members of the cast, the story is compelling, it takes several surprising turns, and it's just plain fun - and that last is exactly what this title has been sorely lacking.

It doesn't hurt that the art is by the excellent Stuart Immonen, who turns in wonderful, moving moments here, and an amazing double-page splash that recreates some intense historic moments.

The focus here is on Jean Grey and Hank McCoy, and both characters make some major strides here (in more ways than one) - and it just feels "right" that the focus is on the "real" X-Men, and actually brings that team together with the "New" X-Men - thus the title of this comic, the "All-New" X-Men.

There are lots of reasons to like this comic, but I'm especially grateful that is brings Jean Grey back to us (and like the Beast, I was always a fan of the green costume, too).

I love it!

Grade: A


Thursday, January 3, 2013

The New Avengers #1

Jonathan Hickman set the bar high with his first two issues of the new version of The Avengers - but I believe this issue of his New Avengers is even better.

Where The Avengers is all about a big team of heroes handling a big menace, here the focus is smaller, more personal - but just as cosmic.

The beginning centers on one of my longtime favorites, the Black Panther, as he explores a mysterious anomaly in Wakanda, and finds himself facing a formidable menace on another world.

How formidable? He's forced to turn for help from a group of the world's greatest heroes - even though that he doesn't exactly see eye-to-eye with them.

It's a science fiction-based story that's smart, touching and loaded with mystery.

It doesn't hurt that the art is by Hickman's co-creator on quite a few classic Fantastic Four issues - and Steve Epting turns in wonderful work here, ranging from dynamic action sequences to quiet moments of humanity.

So, an impressive start to this latest chapter in the Avengers family adventures.

You really should be buying this comic!

Grade: A


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Comics for a New Year

At the comics shop today they tried to talk me into buying My Little Pony, but I passed.

Instead, I got:

- New Avengers #1 - Hickman, the Black Panther and the Illuminati? Sold.

- The Flash #15 - Defeated?

- Hellboy in Hell #2 - Not a nice place.

- Iron Man #5 - The next step.

- Joe Kubert Presents #3 (of 6) - Amazing stuff.

- Manhattan Projects #8 - Strange science.

- Mars Attacks Popeye (one-shot) - My money's on the sailor.

- Road to Oz #4 (of 6) - Love this series.

- All-New X-Men #5 - The past meets the present.

And that's it!

The Classics - Legion of Super-Heroes #300

This isn't the 300th issue of the Legion of Super-Heroes, but it is a wonderful celebration of that super-team.

The Legion were squatters. The title originally belonged to Superboy, with the first issue about "the adventures of Superman as a boy" being published in 1949.

But in the '70s, the Legion started appearing as a back-up feature in Superboy's comic. The team was so popular, it eventually earned co-starring rights, and the comic became Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes. In 1980, the Legion bounced Superboy out of the title completely, and three years later, the comic celebrated this milestone.

And what a treat this issue was for long-time fans. The story by Paul Levitz has the team trying to help a mysterious figure who is somehow in touch with alternate realities. That provides a great excuse for a series of short stories that offer a look into a different version of the Legion - each one drawn by an artist with past connections to the adventures of the Legion.

And what a line-up! The framing sequence was by then-current artist Keith Giffen, and the features included Kurt Schaffenberger, Howard Bender, Frank Giacoia, Curt Swan, Dan Adkins, Dave Cockrum, James Sherman, Joe Staton and Dick Giordano (not to mention the army of artists who worked together on the cover).

As a long-time fan, it was wonderful to see those artists back on the Legion - it really made this issue special - and since we've sadly lost several of those artists, this may have been their last take on the team.

The story itself is just OK, but the art is the gold in this anniversary issue.

Grade: A-


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Executive Assistant Iris #1

Someday this series will make a fun action movie.

The idea behind the Executive Assistants is that a group of beautiful women (each one named after a flower) are trained to be bodyguards or assassins - whatever the job might be.

That can be a lot of fun, as Iris swings into action against would-be killers and assorted attackers - though I have some trouble accepting that she fights a half-dozen killers who are armed with machine guns - and her weapon of choice is a sword. (The old saying is, "Never bring a knife to a gun fight.")

Still, the comic is the equivalent of an action flick - lots of fight scenes, a difficult mission, some underlying mysteries to solve, and a larger threat looming.

It's all part of a 10-part series crossing over between this series and the Executive Assistant: Assassins series.

The story by David Wohl is fast and fun, but not particularly deep. The art by Alex Lei is good, with a focus on combat and beautiful women, but the layouts are a bit flat in places.

So a bit on the light side, but 'tis all in good fun - and certainly the star is easy on the eyes.

Grade: B