Thursday, February 28, 2013

Batman Incorporated #8

Here's where I complain about the ongoing policy of DC (and Marvel) to leak the details of each shocking event to the media.

The game-changing turn of events in this issue of Batman Incorporated has already been spoiled in numerous news stories - and in the "Channel 52" back-up feature that appears in every single issue DC published this week! (Not to mention the fact that the cover gives it all away.)

I know, they're just trying to sell more comic books - and the news leak has proven to be a successful way to do exactly that. The irony is, the company alerted most comics shops too late to allow them to increase their orders - so lots of fans won't be able to lay hands on this issue until the inevitable reprint.

But it's criminal that readers are robbed of the opportunity to be shocked by the events at the end of the issue.

The story features a showdown between Batman, Talia, the daughter of Ra's Al Ghul, and their son, Robin.

It's a violent, action-packed battle from start to finish as Batman faces a death trap, and his Robins (past and present) fight against Talia's army of assassins.

It's loaded with surprises (well, except for the really big one), as writer Grant Morrison brings his Batman arc full circle, and draws events to a close (of sorts).

I'm not crazy about what happens here, because it crosses a line that should be avoided as much as possible - but I'm certainly anxious to see where it goes from here.

Recommended - if you can find a copy.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Pile of New Comics

Another big week at the comics shop!

I picked up:

- Aquaman #17 - A guest appearance by the Sea Devils!

- Uncanny Avengers #4 - Whose side is Thor on?

- Batman, Inc. #8 - Does something happen in this issue?

- Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan #4 (of 4) - a flip book?

- FF #4 - Valentine's Day!

- The Flash #17 - The end of the Gorilla War.

- Guardians of the Galaxy #0.1 - The origin of Star-Lord.

- Hawkeye #8 - An old flame returns!

- Joe Kubert Presents #5 (of 6) - The final fate of Sgt. Rock?

- Journey Into Mystery #649 - Sif runs wild.

- Masks #4 - A gathering of heroes.

- Nemo: Heart of Ice - A spinoff from the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

- Rocketeer: Hollywood Horror #1 - Always glad to see this hero back in action.

- Uncanny X-Men #2 - A new school for mutants.

- Young Avengers #2 - Mother knows best.

And that's it!

The Classics - Strange Tales #178

Writer and artist Jim Starlin made his reputation during his original run on Captain Marvel (we're talking about the Marvel Comics version of that hero, of course - the first version).

In a relatively short time, he created a new villain - Thanos - who would become one of Marvel's biggest menaces, he brought the cosmic back to Marvel, and he created an epic that stands today as one of the all-time best.

So what could he do to top that? The answer was Warlock, which (for some reason) was sandwiched into the revived title, Strange Tales, in 1975.

As with Captain Marvel, Starlin was faced with the challenge of remaking a character who had been through the mill. Starlin devoted four pages right off the top to recapping Warlock's history, from his creation as an experiment by evil scientists in Fantastic Four, to his battle with Thor, his encounter with the High Evolutionary, his adventures on Counter-Earth and an encounter with the Hulk.

Whew! So, it was a mess. Starlin solves this by promptly ignoring all that had gone before and dropping Warlock into a murderous attack by alien members of the Universal Church of Truth, and an encounter with the powerful entity behind the church and the shocking secret that creature hides.

It was a stunning start to an amazing adventure. Sharply written, tackling a taboo subject (how did he manage to talk Marvel into letting him base a story on an evil religious movement?), loaded with fantastic artwork, crackling with energy and darkness and subversion - it was like nothing being published in the comics mainstream.

He also gave a new twist to Warlock's Soul Gem, as he transformed it into something out of a Michael Moorcock story.

And it was just the beginning! Starlin would use the series to tackle adult issues, challenge comics traditions, and provide an ending that stunned the reading audience.

There aren't many comics that still have a powerful impact 40 years later. This one does!

Highly, highly recommended!

Grade: A+


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Shadow: Year One #1

For a variety of reasons, I recently fell behind in reading the latest issues of The Shadow being published by Dynamite.

I finally corrected the oversight, and I (mostly) enjoyed the stories, although I'd be the first to admit that these stories don't "feel" like the pulp character.

Oh, The Shadow is still the dark avenger who readily deals death to evildoers, and he still has the ability to cloud men's minds. The problem is, in focusing on his alter ego as Lamont Cranston, the character seems - well, ordinary.

He seems to spend a lot of time bedding his main agent, Margo Lane, perhaps in an attempt to make the series more "adult."

But my love of the original stories keeps me hanging on, and there's enough of the pulp hero to keep my interest.

This Shadow: Year One series holds a great deal of promise, and some danger as well.

The promise belongs to series writer Matt Wagner, who's long since proven himself to be an excellent writer - and as the cover shows, he's also an outstanding artist.

The interior art is by Wilfredo Torres, and it's quite good, if a bit flat (perhaps because of the muted colors).

The danger in the series is in revealing too many secrets behind the character. The Shadow works best as a man of mystery, and I think it's best if we don't know all there is to know about the character.

This story takes us back to 1929, when The Shadow decides to set up base in New York. It's a bit of a slow start, but the series is loaded with promise.

I have great faith that Wagner will deliver on that promise. But as always, we'll have to wait and see. (I'll resist the urge to say, "Only the Shadow knows.")

Grade: A-


Monday, February 25, 2013

Action Comics #17

Writer Grant Morrison keeps extending his run on Action Comics, which is a real bonus for the readers.

You get the sense that he's just having too much fun in this over-the-top, fight to the finish that threatens to end with the death - again - of Superman.

It's wildly imaginative, as Superman is forced to relive some pivotal moments in his life, and the magical (and evil) Lord Vyndktvx has assembled an army of Superman's greatest enemies who are doing their best to kill the Man of Steel. And it genuinely looks like they're going to succeed.

The story is a bit of a challenge to follow, so it's not for the weak of heart - in fact, I suspect Morrison's run on this title will be best read all at once, because there are story threads that started with the first issue and wind their way through the following issues.

The art is something of a mixed bag, with Rags Morales turning in some outstanding work, with Brad Walker splitting the duties (and pages) right down the middle. Walker's work isn't as strong as Morales, but he holds up his end of the tale.

There's also a touching backup feature by Sholly Fisch and Chris Sprouse.

I hate to see Morrison's run end (presumably with the next issue) - he's been creating the best Superman stories since, well, Morrison's All-Star Superman series.

It's great to see the Man of Steel being treated with intelligence and imagination. He should be the greatest hero in comics - and for the past year-and-a-half, he's earned the title.

Grade: A-


Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Avengers #6

I'm really enjoying this series, even if the past few issues have had precious little of the usual Avengers on display.

But writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Adam Kubert have been doing something that's all too rare in comics these days: creating new and interesting characters.

This time around, the focus is on a character that's always been a bit of a mystery - Captain Universe.

In the past, the character has been more of a force of nature that seems to "possess" individuals in time of need. But this time around the individual holds a dark secret - and the power seems to be much more than we thought it was.

Add to that the inquiries by Shang Chi, the uncovering of the mystery man who holds a link to a major threat to the Earth, and a disturbing encounter between the team's youngest members and someone pretending to be Spider-Man, and you have another impressive issue.

The creative team has been weaving it all into something very special.

If you haven't been following this series, you're going to regret it.

Grade: A


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Justice League of America #1

And now, a new Justice League book, one that doesn't star any of the major heroes featured over in Justice League - but this is the Justice League of America.

It strikes me as a book that's doomed to fail, despite having top-notch creators working on it. It's written by Geoff Johns, one of DC's best, and it's drawn by David Finch, one of the best in DC's lineup.

But the issue just feels terribly dysfunctional. It's devoted to the classic "first issue of a new team" theme: putting the band together.

The focus is on Amanda Waller (looking much more model-like than the original version, I'm sorry to say) and Steve Trevor assembling a team that will work for the United States, and - if necessary - defend the nation against super-powered menaces, whether villains of heroes.

The crucial thing for any team is that it has to get along - and there doesn't seem to be much chance of that with this lineup: Hawkman (who's apparently a killer - what a shameful treatment for a great character), Katana (ditto), Catwoman (a thief), Vibe (a mystery so far), Martian Manhunter (who left the "original" Justice League under harsh terms), Stargirl (a pop idol), the newest Green Lantern (accused of being a criminal) and Green Arrow (who at least has his own TV show now).

So a mixed batch, and no real connection between any of them. Who will be the leader? Where will they be based? Why should they work together?

All those questions will have to wait for future issues. Hopefully there's a clever plan that will bring this group together and have them working like a team - but I'm afraid this first issue felt more like a manufactured event than a natural gathering.

Here's hoping this all works out well - but at the moment, I'm dubious.

Grade: B


Friday, February 22, 2013

Nova #1

I should admit up front that I liked the original version of Nova.

Liked. Not loved.

The original concept was (in my eyes) an attempt to create a new Spider-Man (sympathetic teenage kid who gains powers, has a sense of humor) by way of Green Lantern (hero gains powers from a mysterious alien who's part of a galactic peacekeeping force).

But it never really clicked, and Nova drifted in and out of the limelight for decades. The most recent version enjoy some success, but then was (apparently) killed in battle with Thanos (but Starlord was also apparently "killed," and he seems to be back among the living (tune in next week for more of that), but the fate of that Nova remains to be seen.

Which brings us to the new version. We know up front that the art is going to be excellent, with Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines providing big, bold and beautifully rendered action.

The question is: which Jeph Loeb would show up? The one who's turned in great scripts in the past, or the one who, well... didn't?

Good news! The answer is "A" (so far). He spins a story that provides a surprising back story for young Sam Alexander, a teenager growing up in a small town in the middle of nowhere. His father seems to be a loser - the school janitor - but he may hold a greater secret.

Some bits of the timeline seem to be a bit off (considering two of the heroes featured in a flashback), but the concept is a solid one, and it's a very promising start.

If the story pans out, we should find ourselves with a new hero who happens to be a sympathetic teen with extraordinary powers - and a sense of humor.

It's just crazy enough to work!

Grade: A


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Justice League #17

The final issue of the "Throne of Atlantis" event brings with it some changes in the status quo for the Justice League.

Up to this point, the team has refused to change the lineup or add new members (apparently the one time they broke that rule, things went badly - but that's a story waiting to be told).

But when they face a menace that's too big even for the powerhouse members of the League, they're forced to recruit help - and those characters will (apparently) form the basis of the new team, the Justice League of America (we'll review that issue in a couple of days).

The battle comes to a head here, as secret plans are revealed, confrontations result, and Boston faces destruction.

It's a strong story by Geoff Johns paired with excellent art by Ivan Reis (with three pages provided by Paul Pellietier).

Johns has a good reputation for managing events like this, and he can add this one to the list. The ending may be a bit too convenient, but it moves both this series and Aquaman's own into some interesting directions.

The League is getting bigger - it remains to be seen if it's getting better. Here's hoping!

Grade: A-


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

New Comics Day

Picked up quite a few comics at the shop today, including:

- Action Comics #17 - Morrison just keeps going. This is a wild story!

- Avengers #6 - Universe Man, Universe Man, size of the entire universe, man.

- Black Beetle #2 - Friends have been recommending this one.

- Captain America #4 - Is that Big Barda? Nah.

- Conan the Barbarian #13 - The Cimmerian's 100th issue at Dark Horse!

- Daredevil #23 - Blast from the past.

- Green Lantern #17 - Diving headlong into the next event.

- Indestructible Hulk #4 - A big problem at sea.

- Justice League #17 - The conclusion of the battle with Atlantis.

- Justice League of America #1 - Putting the team together.

- Nova #1 - Origin time!

- Saga #10 - Ghost hunting!

- Shadow Year #1 - Back to the beginning.

- Sword of Sorcery #5 - Assassins on the loose.

- Thor #5 - Showdown with the godkiller.

- Savage Wolverine #2 - Dinosaurs and Shanna the She-Devil. What's not to like?

- Wonder Womsm #17 - Getting help from the gods.

Whew! And that's it!

The Classics - Strange Tales #120

Continuing our Strange Tales reviews, lets move back a little over a year from our last review, when Nick Fury took over the front half of this "split" comic.

From issue #100 to #134, the front half starred the Human Torch (with frequent guest appearances by other members of the Fantastic Four).

This issue from 1964 was a natural, as the Torch met his "opposite number" from the X-Men, the mutant hero Iceman. But when this comic hit the stands, young Chuck didn't pick it up.

Not because I didn't want it - I just never saw the issue. (Circulation was hit-and-miss in the early '60s.)

But the adventure was mentioned in an issue of the Fantastic Four, so I searched for it - but I didn't manage a copy until a couple of decades later, when I picked it up at a comics convention.

I wish I could say it was worth the wait - but it really wasn't, even though the story features the team supreme - Stan Lee on script and Jack Kirby on art (with Dick Ayers inking).

But with only 14 pages to work with, not every issue could be a classic. This one is pretty straightforward, as the two heroes happen to be on a teen cruise that's hijacked by the evil Captain Barracuda (who was never heard from again after this issue, as far as I know).

The battle was inventive, and it was fun to see the two heroes working together, but there's really nothing exceptional here.

The second half of the issue goes to Dr. Strange, with Stan Lee and Steve Ditko handling the creative chores. It's not one of his better adventures, as he confronts the terrors of a haunted house with a plot twist torn from the pages of The Twilight Zone.

Like the first half of the comic, the art is exceptional, but the story is mighty thin.

That was typical for these split comics - they really didn't establish strong storylines until they started using continued stories, which didn't really kick in until 1965.

At that point, the stories (and artists) could spend more time developing the plot and characters - but it didn't do the Torch any good, since by that time he (and Giant-Man) had been booted back to their team books (though it took a while for Giant-Man to return to the Avengers).

The pre-'65 stories were solid fare for kids, but Marvel - and Stan and Jack and Steve - were just about to hit their stride.

Grade: B-


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Secret Avengers #1

As part of the whole "Marvel NOW" experience, we now have a new first issue for Secret Avengers - a title that seemed to struggle through most of its existence (the exception being the ones written by Warren Ellis - well worth tracking down).

But I digress. The idea of a team of Avengers that handles the darker operations won't go away, and now a new creative team is trying a new approach.

The only Avengers in this issue are Hawkeye and the Black Widow, and they certainly lend themselves to this sort of story. They're recruited by SHIELD to take part in a covert operation against an unusual threat (there's a nice cameo by Agent Phil Coulson, who had a pivotal role in the Avengers movie).

The story includes the "new" Nick Fury - the newly minted Samuel Jackson version, who is apparently taking the place of the original Fury. As a fan of the original since I was a kid, I can't say I'm crazy about the idea - but it looks like the new status quo.

The art by Luke Ross is very good - dark and moody, a perfect fit for the story.

The story written by Nick Spencer plays out like a spy novel, with several twists and turns, but the story never really comes together, and the shocking twist at the end doesn't really work.

As a friend said a while back, I prefer stories about heroes who act heroically. Not much of that on view here.

Grade: B-


Monday, February 18, 2013

America's Got Powers #5 (of 6)

When this title started it seemed to be yet another Reality TV-based title, with superpowered individuals fighting in an arena for a worldwide audience.

But America's Got Powers has become much more than that.

The basic idea is that a mysterious alien event grants young people super-powers, and an evil government program has gathered them together to fight on national television (supposedly) for the right to join a super-team.

But from that beginning the story has evolved into science fiction territory, a tale about the investigation into the secret behind the powers, and a young man who seems to be the most powerful of them all - he's able to trigger super-powers in others, including those who didn't have them before.

That all comes to a head in this issue, as the forces for and against the government fight over control of this pivotal ability - and the final solution may have deadly consequences.

The story by Jonathan Ross has really taken off, just as I was about to give up on it.

The art by Bryan Hitch is fantastic, of course, though I admit I'm surprised that he's drawn such obvious caricatures of actor David Tennant (as the heroic scientist) and former politician Sarah Palin (as an evil senator).

Seems to me that's an open invitation to a lawsuit, but what do I know? Ross is a celebrity, maybe he asked them.

The series started strong, sagged a bit in the middle, but seems to be moving to a strong finish. Next issue will decide it!

Grade: A-


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Powers: Bureau #1

The Powers series is a tough one to nail down - it's a police drama in a world where superheroes exist. It throws in some science fiction, mythology, sex, adult situations and lots of cussing.

It's sort of comics by way of Quentin Tarantino.

The focus is on two investigators (formerly with the police, but now with the FBI): Christian Walker is a former "Power" (read: superhero) who dropped his secret identity when he lost his powers - and he joined the police force in their special Powers Investigation Unit. His partner was Deena Pilgrim, who gained powers, sorta lost her mind, lost her powers and has joined the FBI.

This is the latest restart for the series, as writer Brian Bendis and artist Mike Oeming create the hard-hitting, grim world these investigators have to face.

This is not a series for everyone - it's often vulgar, ugly and sometimes disgusting. But it's also action-packed, compelling and loaded with great art and story. It's up to you to decide if it's your kind of comic.

This story is about as rough as it gets. The FBI is investigating a black market that deals with Powers semen. Yep, you read that right. It's responsible for death and mayhem and our investigators may face the same fate.

As always, Oeming's art is powerful, hard-edged and perfect for this story. Bendis' script pulls no punches.

It's not for everyone - but if you enjoy this kind of crime thriller, you won't find anyone doing it better than this team.

Grade: A-


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Star Wars #2

So far this new version of the original adventure continues to build nicely.

For the first time in far too many years, we're back to the cast of the first Star Wars film (also known as A New Hope) - Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca and Threepio, in this issue.

This story picks up right after the destruction of the original Death Star, as the Rebellion seeks to find a new base to continue its fight against the Empire. But there's a problem - apparently the Empire has a spy in place, and they're setting traps for the Rebels.

The story continues to build slowly, but there are some nice character moments for Leia, and we finally catch up with Han Solo and Chewbacca and a certain other familiar opponent.

Considering that the Star Wars movies are primarily action and adventure, this series has skimped a bit on the action side as it sets the story in motion (though there are some brief bursts of action in here).

But I'm really enjoying this series so far - it provides a warm nostalgic buzz and brings back a beloved set of characters in a familiar but exciting setting.

With strong art and good writing, I'm signing on for the long haul here. If you're a Star Wars fan (and who isn't?), you should do likewise.

Grade: A-


Friday, February 15, 2013

Uncanny X-Men #1

Setting aside the silliness of yet another first issue for the Uncanny X-Men, this is shaping up to be the darkest of the three X-Books I read (the other two are All-New X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men).

While "All-New" focuses on the original teen X-Men who've been brought to the present day, and "Wolvie" revolves around the Jean Grey School for Gifted Students, this comic - apparently - will follow the X-Men team being formed by the renegade Scott Summers, who everyone has decided is some kind of monster.

(I still call BS on that whole story - he was under the mind control of a malevolent force - the Phoenix - something every single hero has experienced, many of them more than once.)

The story starts with an interesting mystery, as an unidentified informant meets with SHIELD to reveal the dangers being posed by Cyclops. The last-page revelation of that individual is well done (though also a bit of a cheat).

The story by Brian Bendis is otherwise pretty predictable, with lots of building-shattering battles going on - but there are also some good character moments.

The art by Chris Bachalo is quite good. I like his art a lot, but I have to admit that there are some pages that are brilliant, and a few that I don't really understand at all. But when he's on, the art is amazing.

So it's a solid start for this "new" series - but since it's essentially focusing on the "bad guys" in the X-family, it has a challenging road ahead of it to see if it can hang onto its audience.

Grade: B+


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Batman #17

As I confessed when this "Death of the Family" series started, I didn't buy all the stories featuring the other members of the Batman family.

The only Bat-book I buy is this one, and while that's been sufficient to follow the story thread, by this final issue I do feel like I've missed out on some key events.

This doesn't bother me enough to make me track down the issues I missed - but it does take away from the effectiveness of the story.

Even at that, the conflict with the Joker has been well choreographed, with a proper mixture of action, adventure and horror (with a slice of humor here and there).

Getting past a few of the "when did that happen" moments, we get the final conflict, along with some clever revelations about both the Joker and how he sees Batman and Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl and the others.

It's always a bit of a trick, building moments that fit in between existing lore. The Court of the Owls story managed it with great success. This one seems to require a bit more suspension of disbelief than I can quite manage.

But it's still a solid story by Scott Snyder with excellent art by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion - certainly a cut above the "New 52" average.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

New Comics Day!

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

- Americas Got Powers #5 (of 6) - Battle royal!

- Secret Avengers #1 - A rough day for Hawkeye.

- Batman #17 - Final showdown with the Joker.

- Before Watchmen: Comedian #5 (of 6) - The horrors of Vietnam.

- Fantastic Four #4 - A mysterious prophecy.

- High Ways #2 - Mystery upon mystery while orbiting Jupiter.

- Manhattan Projects #9 - Strange science.

- Popeye #10 - Toar, an American hero!

- Powers Bureau #1 - Hey, it's back again!

- Star Wars #2 - More adventures post-"New Hope"

- Wolverine & the X-Men #25 - A field trip to the Savage Land.

- Uncanny X-Men #1 - A surprising twist.

And that's it!

The Classics - Strange Tales #135

In 1965 Marvel Comics surprised fans by ending two long-running features.

Well, half-features.

Marvel had three "split" comics - Strange Tales, Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense. Suspense was in good shape as home to both Iron Man and Captain America, but the other two comics lost two of the four features. Astonish kept the Hulk but lost my old favorite, Giant-Man. In his place, the Sub-Mariner took over.

But Strange Tales took an even more surprising turn. It kept Dr. Strange as the backup feature, but replaced the solo adventures of the Human Torch with a brand new version of Nick Fury.

Fury already had a comic of his own - Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos - but that was set during World War II. For this issue, we followed Fury into the "modern day" as he emulated the wildly popular spy genre (thanks to such stalwarts as James Bond and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) and became Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I seem to remember thinking it was a bad idea. I liked Nick Fury, but I was a bigger fan of the Human Torch (especially since most issues also featured the Thing), and the spy thing seemed an odd fit.

All those concerns vanished immediately - Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (with inker Dick Ayers) created an amazing, fast-paced story that crammed more action into 12 pages than most comics today manage in months.

They show Fury being recruited by the secret organization (the acronym stood for Supreme Headquarters for International Espionage Law Enforcement Division). They establish Life Model Decoys, the menace of the evil counterpart organization Hydra, SHIELD's flying cars, the Helicarrier (in a stunning full page splash) - and they toss in several assasination attempts along the way.

I was immediately sold on the idea, and the stories just got bigger and bolder as the months flew by.

The backup feature was worth the price of admission - Lee and Steve Ditko were taking Dr. Strange to new heights, as he began a quest to find the mysterious being known as Eternity, all while trying to avoid the minions of his enemies Dormammu and Baron Mordo.

This story is a small masterpiece, with plot twists, deadly attacks and loads of surprises, as Strange deals with a deadly trap.

By using continued stories and fast-paced adventures all jammed full of fantastic ideas and enemies, Strange Tales succeeded - even though it was an idea that shouldn't have worked. Could a super-spy and a magician share a comic?

But it was one of my favorites, thanks to the creative teams involved, all working at the peak of their powers. Great times!

Grade: A+


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Fearless Defenders #1

An amazingly short span of time has elapsed since the last attempt at a Defenders comic (which was actually a very good comic, if a bit unorthodox) - but here's Marvel right back in the game with The Fearless Defenders.

The problem is: it's not the Defenders.

Oh, the Valkyrie is in it, and it seems to be a non-team (in the sense that there are no leaders, no rules, no structure, no meeting place) - but so far, it's just a team-up comic between Val and bionic detective Misty Knight.

The original Defenders team was made up of Dr. Strange, Namor and the Hulk (one could argue that the Silver Surfer belongs, too), and in my mind, for a team to carry the name, at least one of those characters has to be on the roster.

Instead what we have here is an updated version of the Lady Liberators, a one-and-done gathering of Marvel's female heroes in an early issue of The Avengers (wait, the group made another brief appearance in a recent issue of the Hulk).

I actually like the concept of an all-female team of heroes (whether or not I like the name the team has here), but this title has a ways to go to win over its audience.

The comic is taking the gradual rollout approach, gathering the team members very slowly. So we only have two heroes involved here, and the menace they face - Asgardian zombies, of all things - offer no challenge at all.

So the story is barely under way and the art is solid but not exceptional - this is not the recipe for making a strong impression with new readers.

Shock us, surprise us, delight us - just don't give us the same old thing. With the wrong team name on the comic.

Grade: C+


Monday, February 11, 2013

Legend of the Shadow Clan #1

Aspen Comics is celebrating its tenth anniversary with a clever campaign - "10 for 10."

It's releasing 10 special comics, each costing one dollar. Some are ongoing titles, and others are brand-new - like this one, Legend of the Shadow Clan.

It trots out an old favorite - ninja clans - and gives it a different spin.

The first half of the issue seems unconnected to the second half. It focuses on a secret operation on a ocean cruiser - one that is attacked by brutally efficient (and seemingly unstoppable) ninja warriors. It's all pretty run-of-the-mill stuff.

The story doesn't really take off until the second half, which focuses on a family and gives us some people to care about - especially when a member of the family finds himself caught in an attack by the same ninja force.

That's the part that brings the reader to the edge of his or her seat, and lifts the issue above the standard "ninja clan" tropes.

With a solid story by David Wohl and Brad Foxhoven and strong art by Cory Smith (with some strong hints of Sal Buscema's style on display), this is a solid start to a new series.

And you can't beat the price!

Grade: A-


Sunday, February 10, 2013

World's Finest #9

I've been following the new World's Finest series for a couple of reasons: nostalgia for the original title (which teamed up Superman and Batman) and because I like both Power Girl and Huntress.

There are lots of reasons to like the comic: writer Paul Levitz is an excellent craftsman, artist George Perez has been one of my favorite artists for longer than either one of us would probably like to admit, and the artists who fill out each issue (including Cafu in this issue) are top-notch.

But despite all that, this series hasn't really taken off. Part of the problem may be that both heroes are cut off from the rest of the DC Universe. Both crossed over from Earth-2 and have been spending their time and resources trying to get back - but they have avoided any encounter with Superman or Batman (though they did have a recent run-in with Robin), which makes no sense, since those heroes could (possibly) be of help.

Also, each issue has the same basic format. A threat pops up, the Huntress fights gamely, Power Girl swoops in and does the hefty lifting, gets shot and stunned by a high-tech weapon (possibly from Apokolips), the fight is ended and that's about it.

It just feels like the series is running in place, perhaps stalling for time before an upcoming event of some kind. Or maybe it's editorial interference.

For a new comic trying to establish itself, they should be fighting to bring in readers with a new and fresh approach.

DC, you've got thoroughbreds working on this comic. Let 'em run wild!

Grade: B


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Hellboy in Hell #3

Hokie smokes, they just don't make comics like this any more. (Actually, I don't think they ever made comics like this.)

Mike Mignola has returned to the art and writing of Hellboy just in time for that character to return to his hometown (thus the title, Hellboy in Hell).

He has managed to create an entirely new version of Hell - one loaded with plotting relatives, strange menaces, battles to the death and some unsettling revelations.

It's all dark, alien and compelling.

Mignola always manages to add a slice of humor, too, and that makes it that much more fun.

We're learning some long-held secrets behind Hellboy's true origin, getting some glimmers about the makeup of the afterlife, and watching a fascinating story coming to life.

It's also wonderful to have Mignola doing the art again. His style is actually a bit different here - it's more nightmarish, less detailed, but just as powerful as ever (if not more so).

It would be tough to start reading the series with this tale, but for any fan of Hellboy, this is a story not to be missed.

Grade: A


Friday, February 8, 2013

Avengers #5

After wrapping up the initial adventure with the new, giant-size-roster version of the Avengers, writer Jonathan Hickman is apparently back-tracking a bit and introducing some of the new members of the team.

Last issue focused on Hyperion, and this time we learn about Smasher.

Both of those characters take inspiration from some of DC's most famous creations. Hyperion has long been Marvel's version of Superman, and Smasher mixes together bits of Superman, Green Lantern and the Legion of Super-heroes.

Which is not intended as a slam - almost every super-hero has a predecessor (or inspiration), after all. It's all in what the creative team does with the latest recipe. If they give it an original twist, then it's easy to tolerate a touch of homage. Outright thievery, of course, is frowned upon in this establishment.

Thankfully, this is an excellent brew. Working with the talented Adam Kubert, they've fashioned an origin that manages to be a galaxy-spanning adventure with a foundation set in an Iowa farm. It's always nice to see a new interesting character added to the roster of any comics company.

This really is a special series - not to be missed!

Grade: A


Thursday, February 7, 2013

New Avengers #3

I know the title says New Avengers, but this is actually a continuation of the Illuminati.

That's the name given (in the Marvel Universe) to a select gathering of heroes - the top minds - who have set themselves up to tackle the impossible menaces.

The group includes Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man, Namor, Black Bolt, Dr. Strange and Professor X. In the wake of the Dark Reign, Captain America also joined the group - and the current storyline has drawn the Black Panther into the group.

This issue addresses the problem caused by the death of Charles Xavier, and presents a possible solution to the Earth-shattering menace.

For mysterious reasons, alternate Earths (from other dimensions) are threatening to collide with (and thereby destroy) the Earth.

The team quickly plans a defense - but also must face the unthinkable danger that they might be forced to destroy another planet to save their own.

The issue is loaded with big concepts and several shocking turns - several that may have serious effects on the Marvel Universe for years to come. In other words, another terrific story by writer Jonathan Hickman.

The art by Steve Epting and Rick Magyar is perfect - dark and menacing, epic and sprawling - very impressive work.

My only beef with this series (other than a single plot element I can't discuss without spoiling things) is the covers. They are excellent works of art and cleverly designed - but I'm old school when it comes to covers, and these don't really sell the story inside. Even the logo is easy to overlook. This issue (and the previous one) had abstract covers that give no real indication of the story inside - I worry that they're not drawing in readers.

And that would be a shame, because this is a cracking good story, working with big, cosmic concepts and affecting the status quo in the Marvel Universe - and that's a rare feat. I'd hate for any readers to miss it because of a cover.

Grade: A


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

New Comics Day!

Another Wednesday, another visit to the local comics shop - ain't life grand?

Here's what I picked up today:

- Avengers #5 - Is that the Legion of ... nah, couldn't be.

- New Avengers #3 - An impossible challenge, a shocking outcome.

- Fearless Defenders #1 - You can't fool me, this is the Lady Liberators.

- Earth 2 #9 - Make room for Dr. Fate!

- Fairest #12 - I think I prefer the sexy gal covers to the ones with the skeletons.

- Hellboy in Hell #3 - The Devil you say.

- Iron Man #6 - Tony will play the part of Captain Kirk.

- Road to Oz #5 (of 6) - Thoroughly delightful.

- World's Finest #9 - Raid on Starr Island.

- All-New X-Men #7 - A discussion with Mystique.

And that's it!

The Classics - Action Comics #544

Character reboots are pretty common these days, but they've actually been around for a while - just not as obvious as more recent efforts (sit down, New 52).

Here's a good example, from the pre-Crisis days of 1983.

Superman has long been a challenge for DC, perhaps because he's been around for such a long time. To keep him current (and to spark sales), the powers that be would occasionally tweak things to try to breath new life into the Man of Steel's adventures.

So on the occasion of Superman's 45th Anniversary, they made a modest effort to shake things up in the pages of Action Comics.

But instead of changing Superman, they made the changes to his two greatest villains - Luthor and Brainiac.

And they both needed help - Luthor had been doing the same super-science crimes for decades, but never really seemed like a threat to Superman. The story by Cary Bates is one of his better efforts, giving Luthor real menace, a tragic reason to hate Superman even more, and a powerful suit of armor that put him on more even footing.

The art on the first half of the issue was by the team supreme, one of the best to ever work on this title - Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson.

The second story was written by Marv Wolfman, and took a super-science approach to retooling (literally) the alien intelligence known as Brainiac. The art was by the legendary Gil Kane, who turned in a solid run on the Man of Steel's adventures (recently collected) and was perfectly suited to breathing new life into this series.

The neatest thing about the issue, though, is the contribution by Superman's original creators. It includes a short essay by original Superman creator Jerry Siegel about the origin of his most famous character, and there's a drawing of the hero by original artist Joe Shuster (perhaps the last drawing of Superman his failing eyesight allowed).

I think the efforts of the creative teams paid off in the short term, as their work sparked some new interest in Superman - but it would take an even more serious effort to really succeed.

That would finally arrive a few more years down the road in the form of the Crisis on Infinite Earths event - but this was a good step along that path, as it forced the Superman family of titles out of a familiar rut and into more creative and fantastic efforts.

Grade: A-


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Flash #16

Of all the "New 52" books I've read, this one has to be the most frustrating.

That's because The Flash keeps coming so close to being a good comic book - but it's still not there.

The art is terrific. Francis Manapul (who also co-writes) has given the book an original, fresh look that's visually one of the most interesting comics in DC's lineup.

His layouts are clever and original, his character designs are excellent, and his incorporation of graphics and design elements have given us some stunning visuals.

But the story just plods along endlessly, and The Flash never seems to actually accomplish anything.

Last issue, he used the mysterious Speed Force (which is what gives him super-speed) to "accelerate" his mind, allowing him to look at the possible outcomes of his forthcoming battle with Gorilla Grodd, who has attacked the city with an army of powerful and intelligent apes.

Unfortunately, his look into the future shows no way to succeed, so he takes a different tact. And just when this issue seemed to be getting somewhere - we hit that final page and its not-so-surprising outcome.

Look, we're 16 issues into this title and I've read every one of them - but I barely remember anything that happened.

This is a title that begs to get back to basics: Barry Allen as a Police Scientist, Flash as a hero who uses his intelligence and his powers to save the day. Clear up the (non-existent) love triangle - or at least bring it into focus. Flesh out the supporting characters, and give them a reason for hanging around.

That would at least be a good start. What we're getting now is great art - and a bad start.

Grade: B-


Monday, February 4, 2013

Joe Kubert Presents #4 (of 6)

There's a certain amount of sadness in reading this series, since the legendary Joe Kubert passed away recently.

Which means we're seeing some of the last works by that writer / artist / editor / creator.

Thankfully, we're seeing all those aspects of Kubert (wait, I left out colorist), as he assembled this collection that includes one of his long-delayed creations, The Redeemer.

Originally planned as a mini-series 30 years ago, the story followed the different lives of Jim Torkan, a heroic figure who faces evil and temptation across the centuries, as we follow him in different incarnations.

It's a clever idea that allows for almost any setting and any time period. This issue focuses on Torkan's life just after the Civil War, as he travels out west and gets involved in assorted adventures (and runs into a familiar face along the way).

As always, Kubert's art is amazing. His characters are real, with heft and weight and emotions clearly on display. Like a great director, Kubert knows when to thrill us with expansive, detailed action sequences, and when to "push in" for maximum effect.

The issue is rounded out with two other features: Angel and the Ape by Brian Buniak is a comical, sexy romp that includes a big fight with mechanical dinosaurs; and another tale of Sam Glanzman's experiences during World War II as a sailor on the U.S.S. Stevens.

This is an outstanding series - a final chance to catch a glimpse of work by a master of the craft, taken from us all too soon.

Grade: A


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Hawkeye #7

I've been meaning to pick up this series, because friends have been raving about it.

And I've always liked Hawkeye - but for some reason this title flew under my radar.

But when they announced that proceeds from the sale of this issue would go to help the victims of Superstorm Sandy, how could I resist?

So I'm happy to report that the word of mouth was spot on - this is a great comic!

Matt Fraction provides a story that takes the two Hawkeyes - Clint Barton, the card-carrying Avenger, and Kate Bishop, the teen who took the name when the original Hawkeye "died." (He got better.)

They're both "real world" stories about what each hero encountered when the storm hit New York and New Jersey. The stories are a great mix of drama, humor and real-world tragedy.

The art is a perfect match as Steve Lieber gives a striking, real-world look to the older Hawkeye's neighborhood adventure, and Jesse Hamm takes a more lighthearted approach to the younger Hawkeye's wedding party from Hades.

With great dialogue, interesting characters and terrific art, this title has made its way onto my "must buy" list. I recommend you go out and do likewise.

Now to see how difficult it is to track down the previous six issues...

Grade: A


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill #1 (One Shot)

There are a handful of artists whose work, over the years, I have bought automatically.

Among them are: Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Gil Kane, Jim Steranko, John Byrne, George Perez, John Cassaday - and Steve Rude.

Rude manages to combine some of the best elements of all those artists - Kirby's power, Ditko's acrobatics, Kane's sculpted characters, Steanko's creative layouts, Byrne's energy, Perez's enthusiasm and Cassaday's spark.

I discovered his work like most fans - in the pages of the incredible Nexus series he created with writer Mike Baron.

So when I saw he had drawn this one-shot issue of Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill, I snapped it up immediately.

And as always, Rude does not disappoint. His art is so wonderfully alive, iconic and yet fresh and original. From the joyous cover to the sports montage and comic audition scenes, his work hasn't lost a step.

Writer Len Wein (who was the original editor on the Watchmen series) gives us the origin and story of Dollar Bill, a hero who was created as (of all things) a bank mascot. But what starts as an acting gig soon becomes much more.

It's a solid story with highs and lows, but the real star here is Rude's artwork.

Why he's not working on a regular series is beyond me - he's one of the best in the business.

Grade: A-


Friday, February 1, 2013

Aquaman #16

Geoff Johns has managed to produce some of the best events at DC, and he's done it by keeping them "small."

In other words, the story has been told in a single title (or two), rather than trying to coordinate a sprawling tale across dozens of series ("The Sinestro War" is another good example).

His latest achievement is the "Throne of Atlantis" story that's spooling out in the pages of Aquaman and Justice League - by keeping it under control he's able to give the story more immediacy, more punch, without having to find ways to spread the story around.

This issue acts as something of a preview for the upcoming "other" Justice League title, which will add "of America" to the team's name. So while Aquaman goes on a rescue mission, it's up to the "other" League to fight against the invading army of Atlantis - and the story ramps things up by adding another combatant and revealing the surprising power behind the event.

The art by Paul Pelletier and Art Thibert is quite good, with solid, dynamic layouts and clear storytelling.

By weaving the story through two monthly comics, it's kept things moving at a fast clip, and given all the characters room to shine.

Very impressive!

Grade: A-